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JOHN KING, USA

Gadhafi's Last Stand; Turmoil in Syria; West Memphis 3 Freed

Aired August 19, 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: Good evening, everyone. We begin tonight with major breaking news in Libya and in Syria. We know from our correspondents covering the battlefield in Libya that the rebels are beginning to make important progress in their goal to encircle Tripoli, cut off the supply route, and ultimately march on the Libyan capital. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is hearing tonight from her sources of preparations for perhaps a final last stand by the Libyan dictator. Barbara Starr with us now live with the details. Barbara, when you talk about a last stand, what are your sources telling you?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, they say that there is some indications, they believe an assessment, if you will, that Gadhafi could be preparing for a last stand, that it possibly would of course be in Tripoli, his last major stronghold where he has some capability.

What they don't know is what would this last stand look like. They're looking at the notion it could be Scud missile launches, it could be an all-out military assault one last time on Libyan civilians. They do not know. But that is the major concern at this hour. No firm indications that Gadhafi yet is ready to pack up and go, that maybe he plans one last effort before he finally decides. John.

KING: And so Barbara, that is the worry, the concern at the Pentagon, that perhaps the Libyan would use his Scud missiles, other weaponry that he has at his disposal to lash out. Is there any sense that the United States would encourage its NATO allies to give him a shove if you will before he can lash out?

STARR: You bet. I mean, the question is, what's the tipping point here that would make Gadhafi go once and for all. They are going to continue to tighten the screws. They are going to continue the bombing campaign. And it's one of these cases yet again, follow the money. When Gadhafi finally runs out of money to pay his mercenaries, to pay his own troops, the thinking is they may all turn on him, refuse to fight, and then he's really got nothing left. It could be an ugly few weeks ahead before all of this is sorted out, John.

KING: And Barbara, you say as of now, no indications Gadhafi is ready to pack it in. There are rumors from time to time, there is some talk of people close to him have been in touch with the rebels. If word came that Moammar Gadhafi wanted to leave, that somebody had offered him a safe haven somewhere, would the United States and NATO get in the way or would they say please go, we'll even help you?

STARR: Well, you know, that's the calculation, what do you do? There is an arrest warrant for him with the International Criminal Court. Technically he can't really just fly out of Libya. There is a no-fly zone. He's got to ask NATO, could he sneak on board an aircraft that already has permission to fly and go somewhere? Could NATO fighter jets track him, could they arrange for him to be arrested on the ground wherever he lands? Or is he just going to get in that unmarked vehicle and drive across the border of one of his neighboring countries and seek refuge there? These are all the things that are being looked at right now, all the questions, no answers tonight, John.

KING: Barbara Starr with the breaking news at the Pentagon tonight. Barbara, thank you.

And as we look now to see just what would happen, we know of course this is the Libyan battlefield. The most immediate pressure on the regime comes from the area closest to Tripoli, right off in here. And as this has all played out, Sara Sidner has been tracking, tracking the rebel offensive. And she joins us. Zawiya is one of the key refinery towns. Before I get to Sara, I just want to show you why it's so important. See the pipelines coming through here, the supply routes into Tripoli. Sara Sidner is just in the Zawiya area, we don't want to say exactly where, but she's tracking the rebel offensive. She joins us now live.

Sara, in the sense of the momentum, you hear Barbara Starr at the Pentagon saying they're worried Gadhafi may be planning a last stand. What is the sense, what is the status of the rebel offensive?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you what the status is, because we were right there on the front line as they are battling Gadhafi's forces in the eastern part of that strategically important city, Zawiya, and there was an absolutely fierce firefight. In fact, we had to flee the area because it was getting so intense. However, the rebels have said and we believe that they have secured quite a bit of that city, about 80 percent at this point in time, and so they're battling for about 20 percent. And they do believe that they will break through the line, that they will break Gadhafi's forces in the area and be able to push on to Tripoli in the next couple of days, perhaps in the next five or so days. Those are the ranges that we're getting from them.

We did see rebels who were able to control a tank. They had a few tanks that they had gotten off of Gadhafi's forces that they were rolling through the city and using to their advantage. And of course they have how become in control of an oil refinery, one of the last functioning refineries in the country. And also, as you might imagine, they've been able to cut that supply off for now from Tripoli, and Tripoli has a very difficult time getting its hands on fuel. We know that fuel is scarce there, so the rebels are feeling quite good about some of the victories that they've been able to make them, and they've been able to make them, John, with help from NATO, because there have been NATO strikes in the past 48 hours here. KING: And Sara, I just want to reiterate that point. I'm showing our viewers on the map right here, Zawiya is here, you see the pipelines coming through. If they can choke off the capital, why not just choke him off or why do they think that they should march on Tripoli you say within two to five days? Why not wait and see if they can essentially snuff the regime out by choking the supplies?

SIDNER: There's a general sense that people are tired of waiting. And what you'll hear from them is they'll say, look, we've been dealing with this for 42 years. The opposition just wants to see this come to an end as soon as possible. And they believe that they can make that happen by pushing further and further and further into Tripoli, where they know that Gadhafi's stronghold is there, they know that's where his major support is. But in their minds, they believe this is the real key to getting him to either leave or something worse. I mean, they are pretty much saying we no longer want Gadhafi in power here, we no longer want Gadhafi even in the country. And so they feel like they should push forward, that they should have help from NATO in doing that. And that is what they're expecting to do. Whether or not they will be able to do it, John -- I mean, obviously you're going to have a major firefight. That is what we're hearing and that's what the rebels also believe, John.

KING: Sara Sidner, bravely on the front lines for us in Libya. Sara, thank you so much.

Also important developments tonight in the Syria political crisis. Let me switch to the map here. How has the regime of Bashar Al-Assad answered demands from Washington and other western capitals that he step down? By defiantly shedding more of his countrymen's blood. Thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets across Syria today, and eyewitnesses and human rights activists report at least 23 deaths at the hands of security forces.

Let us show you some of the demonstrations. You won't hear gunfire here, but what an inspiring scene this is. In the town of Homs (ph), people waving their shoes, the bottom of their feet, saying Assad must go. In this town, but you do hear here as you move over here, Al-Kasia (ph). It is a suburb of Damascus. Demonstrators on the street, you hear the gunfire there, the regime opening fire on its own people.

CNN's Arwa Damon is covering Syria developments from Beirut tonight.

Arwa, across the country of Syria, we see protests today and we also see evidence of a continued crackdown. Is that crackdown essentially President Assad's answer to the United States and other international pressure?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, the concentration today appeared to be in the southern province of Dara, where there were numerous towns where anti-government demonstrators said they were being targeted. And again, many people wounded, many people unable to go to hospitals. They're being treated in these secret underground clinics because they're afraid that the government is going to come in and detain them if they try to go to a regular hospital. And so on the ground in Syria, it would seem that absolutely nothing has changed.

KING: And in the sense that Friday traditionally has been the day of larger demonstrations because of the tradition of Friday prayers, any sense comparing this Friday to past Fridays, any way to quantify whether the condemnation, the explicit call for Assad to go from the United States and the U.K. and Germany and France has had any extra inspiration or motivation, if you will?

DAMON: Well, we hear from the activists, that at least makes them feel as if they are no longer alone. They have been highly critical and disillusioned with the west, especially with the United States, because it had taken so long to get to this stage.

On the one hand, by sheer use of force, the Syrian government to a certain degree has managed to shrink the volume of the demonstrations, but it has not succeeded in stopping them, it has not succeeded in silencing the streets, and you can be sure, John, that the minute the Syrian government actually decides to withdraw its security forces, massive demonstrations are going to take place.

KING: And we've talked many times in recent months about the importance of Assad's relationship with Iran. How about the importance of the relationship with Russia, which today says not only will it not join the calls for him to step down, but essentially making the case that he needs more time?

DAMON: Yes. And activists will tell you how much more time is a country like Russia willing to give Syria, how many more people have to die before this coalition of voices calling for the president to step down actually grows.

When it comes to Russia, though -- I mean, Russia supplies weapons to Syria, continues to do so. The two countries have a fairly close relationship. And it's not just about Russia. It's also about the relationship with China and India, Turkey also still not calling for President Assad to leave. And so the Syrian government is aware that the international community is still divided on this issues, and that does still allow for the government to feel at the very least as if it does have a certain position of power.

KING: Arwa Damon, tracking Syria for us tonight from Beirut. Arwa, thank you.

So often when we show you the videos of the disturbances, they're out here, Hama, Homs, Latakia. But look at this today, a glimpse at the political tensions right inside central Damascus. Look at this video here. It was shot right in the center. Anti-government activists posted it online. They say their march after Friday prayers shattered, listen, by police bullets and tear gas.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(SHOUTING)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Earlier today, I spoke to a Syrian activist who was an eyewitness to this scene. He goes by the pseudonym Alexander Page, grew up in the United Kingdom, but lives in Damascus now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"ALEXANDER PAGE", SYRIAN ACTIVIST: Protests were going to head to another area where another protest was taking place in Nida (ph), but what happened was, as soon as we started walking towards the area, there were numerous accounts of gunfire. Gunfire was taking place basically from all directions. We -- people took cover. The crowd dispersed immediately.

The crowd actually became around 500 people who were actually standing there and standing up to the people who -- to the government who were firing randomly at the protesters. We could see people wearing plain clothes who were standing with the security forces. And they were the people who were actually taking on the assault.

KING: And you see, we're showing the video, you see some of the demonstrators throwing stones. I'm sure the government would say that the protesters instigated this by throwing stones and security forces reacted. Take us through the sequencing.

"PAGE": Yes, definitely. What the government is going to do is they usually have someone filming, presently (ph) from Syrian state TV, and they're probably going to use that clip to say that they were throwing rocks. But they would probably cut out the audio card to prove that there wasn't any gunfire. But this video actually proves there was gunfire and there was shelling of tear gas and poisonous gas at the peaceful protesters.

KING: And obviously, we're not there, and so we get these videos from Youtube and this one in Damascus, we see them from all around the country in recent months. And you can see some things, and the eye does not lie, but some things we can't be quite sure of. You see some tear gas in this video. You say they were also firing bullets. Were they firing live ammunition, were they firing rubber bullets? What were they firing?

"PAGE": There's been no accounts of rubber bullets in Syria. They haven't wasted their time. The (inaudible) regime does not hesitate to use live bullets at pedestrians, at civilians. They don't care about the consequences. The idea of attacking or taking the fall on the peaceful protesters is dispersing the crowds. If random gunfire in the air does not disperse the crowds, then they immediately start firing and trying to actually target people, and that has happened a lot recently.

KING: You go by the pseudonym Alexander Page to protect your security there. The government says it knows who you are and it identifies you as a Mossad agent, an agent for Israel. How would you answer that?

"PAGE": These are basically cheap allegations just to basically make us, the pro-democracy activists, look bad. They're worried about people being infatuated with the idea and actually taking part, as well, so they make us look bad, basically. This hasn't stopped -- has not stopped me, hasn't stopped a lot of people who have been accused on Syrian state TV.

KING: We're having this conversation over a computer connection called Skype, using the Skype program, but you did not want to show your face. And explain to our viewers just why you think that's a risk.

"PAGE": Anyone who is working online against the government or taking part in the protests is a target and will be detained and probably tortured and might be killed. If my face goes on TV, then I think it would be minutes before they came and took me away from my home.

KING: "Alexander Page," speaking to us tonight from Damascus. Sir, we appreciate your help and your insights and we wish you safety.

"PAGE": Thank you.

KING: Still ahead, a goodwill basketball game turns into a brawl in China. Just as Vice President Biden pays an important visit.

And next, after 18 years in prison, the West Memphis three are free men tonight, yet the state still says they're guilty of brutally killing three young boys.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: An amazing moment in Arkansas today. As onlookers cheered, three men who had spent 18 years in prison after their convictions in a horrific murder case, walked free. It's partly because new DNA evidence can't connect them to the crime scene, and partly because some high-level celebrities took up their cause. They've been known as the West Memphis three. They were teenagers when a jury convicted them of the 1993 killings of three young boys, but over the years, the doubts grew. One of the men, Damien Echols, was on death row before a complex legal maneuver set him and his companions free today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAMIEN ECHOLS, WEST MEMPHIS 3 DEFENDANT: You know, basically, when we went to trial the first time, they came in with ghost stories, rumors, innuendo, things that really had nothing to do with the case whatsoever. And they know now they were -- the whole world was watching, they would not be able to do the same thing. They would have to come with some sort of concrete physical evidence, and they didn't have any. And they knew that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's David Mattingly has long been covering this case. He interviewed Echols in prison. David, this hearing was a bit of a surprise. Take us inside the courtroom when bang, the West Memphis three will be free.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was a small courtroom, it was absolutely packed. There was about 15 to 20 armed officers in that room to maintain order. There were families members in there for both the West Memphis three and for the young boys who were killed.

When the judge started explaining all the twists and turns behind this complex legal agreement, everyone slowly was able to hear that the West Memphis three was going free, but not until they entered guilty pleas to first-degree murder charges and acknowledged that the state of Arkansas does have evidence that they could use to convict them.

Well, in the end, the West Memphis three went free, and the emotions that have been surrounding this case continued. There was a short outburst from some parents of the boys inside the courtroom. One father standing up and yelling at the judge saying you've just opened a Pandora's box letting this man off of death row. But there are other parents who have come around in their way of thinking, actually supporting the West Memphis three, and hear comments now from both sides. You can hear the emotions at play.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVEN BRANCH, VICTIM'S FATHER: I don't know what kind of deal they worked up. I mean, what, now you get some movie stars and a little bit of money behind you, and you can walk free from killing somebody?

JOHN MARK MEYERS, VICTIM'S FATHER: They're going to have to stand up in court and lie and say they're guilty of a crime that they didn't commit, and that is total hypocrisy. It's the most crazy thing I've ever heard in my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: The judge acknowledged that this is probably not going to make any of the pain go away for anyone, not the pain that the parents expressed when they lost their children and not the pain that the West Memphis three themselves have endured over the last 18 years that they've been behind bars.

KING: Remarkable case and remarkable coverage from CNN's David Mattingly. David, thank you so much.

Just a short time ago, I spoke with the attorney for another of the Memphis Three defendants. Jeffrey Rosenzweig represents Jessie Misskelley, who had been serving a life term.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEFF ROSENZWEIG, ATTORNEY FOR JESSIE MISSKELLEY: Well, Jesse's got a lot of catching up to do. Remember, 18 years ago, there weren't cell phones and obviously computers and everything were a lot different. And he's just got a huge amount of catching up in society to do.

He's -- as came out in many of the hearings, he's got some limited intellectual resources, but he's -- but I think he'll do all right. He's going to need some guidance and readjusting back to society, because he really hasn't been anywhere but the prison system since he was 17 years old.

KING: And that has been his -- what you call limited intellectual resources -- it's been a source of controversy here, because he does have an IQ of only 72. Some would say that's borderline mentally retarded. And he delivered a confession back in the day, confessed to this, but what he confessed to, his presentation of it was divergent from the facts of the case, the investigation as gathered by police. Do you believe he was tricked into that?

ROSENZWEIG: Well, he was tricked, coerced, bamboozled, whatever verb you want to use, but he was, as I say, basically mentally retarded or borderline at best, and didn't understand what he was getting into. They fed him details and told him he would be free if he recited those details. And of course all that was litigated before. But back then, there was a much less firm understanding in society and in law enforcement and psychology about false confessions. And there's a lot more understanding now about how people, particularly people of limited intellectual abilities, can be tricked and whatever into falsely confessing, which of course was the evidence against him in this case.

KING: Your client and the two other defendants have freedom tonight, but we do not have clarity. I have a statement that just came out from the state attorney general that says, "I continue to believe that these defendants are guilty of the crimes for which they have now been twice convicted." And as you know right there at the courthouse, the local prosecutor made clear that he agreed to this deal, but he still thinks -- listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT ELLINGTON, PROSECUTOR: I have no reason to believe that there was anyone else involved in the homicide of these three children but the three defendants who pled guilty today. And it's why we moved forward. And so as far as the state's concerned today, and I speak for the state as the prosecutor for the second judicial district, I believe that this case is closed and there will not -- there are no other individuals involved.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You have freedom, but you don't have clarity. Any hint, any reservations in the back that you should have held out and gone through the additional proceedings to maybe get a new trial as opposed to having this complex legal maneuver that gets you freedom but still has the state saying your client's guilty?

ROSENZWEIG: That's a different question, and different lawyers, different people could argue it different ways. My client was on board with it. He wanted to go home, and he despaired of ever being able to fully clear his name in the sense that some people -- some cases, the evidence just doesn't exist that could clear, because particularly as the result of the passage of time, and this was we thought the best result possible under the circumstances.

KING: Mr. Rosenzweig, again, thank you so much for your time.

ROSENZWEIG: Thank you, sir.

KING: Vice President Joe Biden is in China. His trip seems to be going much better than a goodwill visit by a basketball team. We'll see exactly what we mean in just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Vice President Joe Biden is on a major trip to China, but so far the big headlines are more about a brawl involving another high-profile American visit. Check out these images from what is supposed to be a goodwill basketball game between Georgetown University and the Baiyi (ph) Rockets, a Chinese team whose players are from the People's Liberation Army. Amateur video clearly shows a Rockets player ramming Georgetown guard Aaron Bowen (ph) and then throwing a flurry of punches at Bowen's chest. With that came chaos. More punches. Chairs thrown. Water bottles too. Unbelievable. Well, the game was called and the teams met Friday in Beijing to make peace, or at least detente.

It is the economy, not basketbrawl, that is at the center of Vice President Biden's agenda. The long-term trends of this relationship are not terribly encouraging if made in America is your standard of excellence. Let's take a look at what I mean by that. If you look at projections of the U.S. economy and the Chinese economy. There we go. You'll see in terms of GDP, the United States economy much bigger than China's, much bigger than China's (inaudible). In 2019 or so, the Chinese economy expected to surpass the United States. That's one way to look at it.

I mentioned made in America. Look at this, if you go back to 2000, the blue line is the United States. We dominate manufacturing. Right, right, right? Boom, look at this, China is catching up right now, and by 2015 to surpass the United States in terms of its manufacturing output. Wow. In fact, China's vice president during this trip referred to the, quote, fundamental change in the balance of the economic relationship.

And listen to how Vice President Biden here characterizes China as he raises concerns about China's currency and the access to Chinese markets by U.S. companies.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Only friends and equals can serve each other by being straightforward and honest with them about the perceived injustices or the perceived tilting of the playing field.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: So how important is this trip and what are the biggest issues in U.S./China relations? Let's get some perspective from our friend Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed, the vice president is in China. There are issues right front and center, including the U.S. debt, including security questions. He also wants to meet the next generation of Chinese leaders. What's the most important item, action item, for Vice President Biden in China?

FAREED ZAKARIA, HOST, CNN'S GPS: My sense is that there is no single action item that's important. The most important thing they are trying to do is to build a strategic relationship with China. This is something that I think has been a cornerstone of American policy ever since Henry Kissinger. And this has been Kissinger's basic approach, which is that the United States and China need to be having a strategic conversation that talks about where they see the world going, how they understand their interests, that is American interests, Chinese interests, where they intersect, because there are going to be so many moments of friction and so many issues of friction, because these are two such large connections that have so many things at stake that you want that world to be framed within the context of a broader strategic dialogue.

And I think the point you made which is the introduction to the next generation of Chinese leaders and beginning that strategic conversation with them is going to be very important so that the next time there is some kind of incident involving, you know, a U.S. plane or ship or trade talks or the currency issues, it doesn't overwhelm this broader sense that were are strategic partners.

KING: And this meeting, of course, does happen at a time we're worried about the deficit here. And China, obviously, is the largest holder of U.S. debt. And so, the vice president lands. He's greeted by his counterpart, Vice President Xi Jinping, who says he's glad to see you, I'm glad you can make the trip because I know you're so busy with national affairs back at home -- and the vice president answers with this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You are national affairs. You are our national affairs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: There are a number of ways we could read that, but I can see critics of the administration jumping all over that. You are our national affairs.

What does that tell you about -- maybe I guess it's the economics of the relationship at the moment.

FAREED: I think that's exactly what he meant and I think that Vice President Biden should be congratulated for saying that because, first of all, it was something that I think the Chinese would appreciate hearing, that they are at the top of our priority list. And it's entirely true.

Look, these are the two largest economies in the world. We're economically interdependent. China is the largest foreign holder of U.S. debt. We are their largest export market. We're bound together.

You know, this is why people -- when they casually talk about China doing something against us or us doing something against them don't realize we'd each be shooting ourselves in the foot.

KING: And he was greeted, the state-run news agency wrote this editorial. "As the United States largest foreign creditor, China has much at stake over U.S. economic policy changes and a stable U.S. dollar. Therefore, Washington's handling of all related issues in a responsible manner will contribute to the steady growth of China-U.S. ties."

I suspect if the Obama administration said something like that about China like it does about floating the currency quite often, China would say stop meddling in our internal affairs. But do they believe because of that stake, that financial stake, they have every right to meddle in ours?

FAREED: I wouldn't take umbrage at it. I wouldn't be bothered by it. We need pressure to tell us that we need to run our affairs in a responsible manner. One of the problems with being the super power of the world with having the reserve currency of the world is there ain't a lot of market pressure on you.

You know, we can still borrow cheaply from the world. We -- our debt is denominated in our own currency. We can print dollars if we need to, to repay it.

That means that you don't have the kind of normal accountability and market test that other countries face when they do stupid things.

So, I'm all for a little bit more international pressure. It's only going to make us handle our affairs more responsibly. Who cares who says it? The question is: is it correct?

And, by the way, what the Chinese are saying is correct. We need to be more responsible in the way we handle these issues.

KING: Next, a new tropical storm forms in the Atlantic.

And later, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who spoke -- accusing President Obama ruling by fiat, trying to arrange back door amnesty she says for illegal aliens.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest you need to know right now.

The United States government today announced the first sale of oil and natural gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico since the BP spill. That sale will be in mid-December. A new tropical storm Harvey formed in Central America today and is forecasted to hit Belize on Saturday. Storm systems that could turn into Irene and Jose a bit farther out in the Atlantic.

Vacationing in Martha's Vineyard, President Obama today took his daughters, you see them right there, to the bookstore. Later, he headed to the golf course.

When we come back -- the Obama administration just announced it's changing the priorities on who gets deported, which illegal immigrants get deported. Next, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer who says it's back door amnesty. She accuses of president of acting like a king.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" is coming up at the top of the hour. Anderson is here with us in a preview.

It's a busy night of breaking news, including in Libya.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, CNN'S "ANDERSON COOPER": Yes, it certainly is.

Moammar Gadhafi could be preparing to make a last stand in Libya. Two officials fear this could include a military offensive against civilians. We got reporters on the ground in Tripoli. And with opposition forces about 30 miles outside of Tripoli, we'll also hear what a campaign to take Tripoli could look like from former NATO supreme allied commander, General Wesley Clark.

We're also going to take a look at our crime and punishment segment. A live report from Aruba tonight where Gary Giordano is still being held in connection with a disappearance of an American woman named Robyn Gardner. New details tonight about insurance policies taken out on both of them by Gary Giordano, $1.5 million policies. Giordano is also being questioned bay police. We'll tell you whether he's cooperating.

Those stories and, of course, John's tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour.

KING: Looking forward to all that, Anderson. See you in a just few minutes. Thanks.

COOPER: Thanks.

KING: Conservatives tonight are accusing the Obama White House of providing backdoor amnesty to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants. At issue is a dramatic change in how the administration will prioritize deportation proceedings. The new policy will halt those proceedings against illegal immigrants who are deemed to pose no threat to national security or to public safety.

Included in this group are thousands of illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States when they were young children. You might remember late last year, the president and Democratic allies in Congress tried to protect this group by passing the so-called DREAM Act arguing those brought here with small children should not be punished for the illegal acts of their parents. But the legislation stalled in Congress.

And now, critics say the administration is using its executive powers to sidestep the legislative branch.

Arizona Republican Governor Jan Brewer suggests the president is abusing his executive power and needs to be reminded he is not a king above the law.

Governor Brewer with us tonight from Phoenix.

Governor, the administration says it needs to prioritize, that the deportation proceedings, the courts, are backlogged and that 79 percent of these people who would be affected by this new policy have done nothing wrong, no criminal record, no threat to public safety. So, why not set them aside and deal first with the people who do pose a threat.

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: Well, we're a country of laws. We believe in the rule of law, John. And the bottom line is, is that they are illegal aliens entering our country. And we simply cannot sustain that kind of activity.

Bottom line is it's a backdoor to amnesty and I don't believe the American people support that.

KING: Should it just be, then, if you get caught, you go into court and you're rounded up? Or should there be some prioritization in the sense that some of these people served in the military, some of them are primary caretaker, some of them might be attending college or university in the United States and have done nothing wrong except maybe get stopped for a traffic stop or something like that?

BREWER: For him to declare by executive fiat, if you will, that he and he alone is going to give amnesty to hundreds of thousands of people, something's wrong. It's terribly wrong. And I don't think the American public -- the American people are going to stand for it.

KING: So, are you more upset with the process, that the Congress last year wouldn't pass this, therefore the president is using his executive power? Or are you more upset with that, or you're more upset with the fact that the president is saying, look, if you're faced with a backlog system, a clogged court system, his point, they say, is they would rather deport -- prosecute and then deport somebody who poses a public safety risk as opposed to prosecuting and deporting someone who at the age of one or two or three was carried across the border by her parents and had nothing to do with it?

BREWER: Well, John, you know, we have a problem and we -- a real problem. Bottom line is that they are doing illegal things. And he, as president of the United States of America was elected to act like the president. And to work with Congress who is the body that -- not enforces, but writes the laws of which we're supposed to follow representative government. The president doesn't have the authority to override Congress. And if I were in Congress, I would be highly assaulted with his attempts of doing this in this manner.

It's a backdoor to amnesty.

And last month, I believe it was, he spoke to the National La Raza Association saying, I believe, and I can't quote totally, saying that he was tempted to do it by executive order, but that shouldn't be done because that wasn't the democracy of what America was founded on.

So, he knows the difference. He's made the statement. He's on record. He knows exactly what he's done.

And I believe that the American people agree with me that he ought not to be doing this and that we ought to enforce the rule of law in America.

KING: As you know, a lot of those organizations you mentioned, La Raza, a lot of Latino Hispanic organizations, have been very critical of this president, saying he promised to deal with comprehensive immigration reform in his first year and he hasn't done so. They believe that he should have done more to get the DREAM Act passed.

Do you see this as a policy decision by the president or do you see this as 2012 is around the corner and many Latino groups are saying, Mr. President, do more or you can't country on our votes?

BREWER: I think exactly the latter. I think that, of course, he's playing politics. He wants that Hispanic vote. And he's looking towards 2012.

But I think it's going to boomerang on him. I believe that all legal citizens in America understand that we all play by the rules -- the rule of law.

KING: Governor Jan Brewer, appreciate your time tonight.

Next, Michele Bachmann gets her facts wrong -- again. Does matter?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This just into CNN: "Reuters" is quoting a spokesman for the rebels and reporting Moammar Gadhafi's former right hand man, Abdel Salam Jalloud has defected to rebel-held territories in Libya's western mountains.

Another breaking story tonight -- this one out of Pittsburgh. You're looking here at aerial pictures of a flash flood which has killed at least three people tonight, according to our CNN affiliate, WTAE.

We will keep track of both of these breaking stories tonight. Let's move on though on the campaign trail today. The Texas Governor Rick Perry visited a Florence, South Carolina, hospital and he promised to make big changes in the new Obama administration health care reform law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On day one, when I walk into the Oval Office, there will be an executive order on that desk that eliminates as much of Obamacare as I can have done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also in South Carolina today, Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman -- in a radio interview, Congresswoman Bachmann says people recognize the United States in what she called, quote, "an unstoppable decline."

But listen carefully to the list of countries she says are doing better.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The rise of China, the rise of India, the rise of the Soviet Union, and our loss militarily going forward.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

KING: The Soviet Union, most of you probably remember, ceased to exist in 1991. That isn't Congresswoman Bachmann's only misstatement this week -- or in a long time.

Does it matter?

Let's ask CNN contributor Erick Erickson. He's editor in chief of the conservative blog redstate.com, and Ryan Lizza, Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker."

Ryan, I want to start with you. First, you wrote an article, "Leap of Faith," in the "New Yorker," in the August issue, and you talk about she does this a lot. And then she goes on to try to correct it and fix it. Some of them are slipups that, humans make slipups.

But if you want to be commander in chief, the Soviet Union?

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: Well, what happens is, this is a small one, right? McCain did this in 2008, I believe. Other politicians do that. It's not the biggest deal in the world.

The problem is once you get a reputation for being loose with the facts, for not being careful with what you say, even the small ones like this get magnified, become a big deal, and are damaging to your campaign. And this to me is probably one of two of her biggest liabilities. She's not careful with the facts. KING: Not careful with the facts, Erick Erickson, in a time when look, she just had a great performance out at the Ames, Iowa, straw poll. She has jumped to the lead in the broader statewide poll and in Iowa. She's down in South Carolina, knowing that if you can win in Iowa, your next best place as a conservative Tea Party, Christian conservative candidate, go to South Carolina.

She has traction right now. She is the surprise of the race at least up until Governor Perry gets in.

Do grassroots conservatives -- do they worry when you have a cumulative record, some of them silly things, but some of them important policy things that in a year where Republicans think we can probably beat Obama, do you worry about her?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, there's a cumulative affect on this. I think Ryan's right on this. A few of them, it doesn't matter. I mean, the president himself has said there were 57 states. Things like that don't catch on unless it becomes habitual.

And at that, once you get past this is the liberal media playing it up sort of stuff that a lot of conservatives will say, then if it keeps up, if this narrative develops that she's become a diva as one narrative is going or she's not careful with the facts, then people do start to have concerns -- and you do start to see a slow trickle in her support in the polls.

And she's going to have to work very hard to overcome that. She really needs to run a flawless campaign for the next few weeks and be seen as not the diva a lot of people have painted her in the past few weeks to get beyond this.

KING: And so, you have some factual missteps I'll call them or mistakes, some historical slipups, if you will. Then the question is, is she credible on policy? Because if you view her as a credible candidate on policy, people say, OK, we all have slips in the tongue. Trust me, in this live television environment, I have them all the time.

One of the things she said this week for people out there worried about energy prices is elect Michele Bachmann president and you'll get this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN: The day the president became president, gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. Look at what it is today. Under President Bachmann, you will see gasoline come down below $2 a gallon again. That will happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That will happen.

She speaks with certainty, and that's great as a candidate. Voters like to respond to that. On the Web site they say, she'll ease restrictions on domestic drilling. She'll back federal regulations on the shale gas industry.

But I've covered many presidents and gas prices go up and down, and presidents always say I can help, and rarely can they.

Is that overpromising?

LIZZA: Yes, sure it is. No president is going to get gas to go back to under $2 a gallon. It's probably not a good policy anyway.

And one thing about her candidacy so far, and this may be across the board as true, because it's not that period in the campaign yet, been very light on policy specifics. She hasn't laid out what exactly what her energy policy is. She hasn't laid out exactly what her health care policy is, except for repealing Obamacare.

So, so far she's been sort of skirting by on generalities, buzz words. At some point, she's going to have to flesh some of that out.

KING: And, Erick, is that pressure exacerbated, increased, because Governor Perry gets into the race and he goes directly, tries to appeal to Christian conservatives, goes directly, tries to appeal to the Tea Party, what you would think of Michele Bachmann's piece of the Republican pie right now. We talk about the pressure he puts on Romney, the front-runner.

Does he maybe put more immediate pressure on Michele Bachmann?

ERICKSON: I do think he puts more immediate pressure on Michele Bachmann, but, you know, juxtaposed this with what Ryan just said, that maybe it's not good policy to have gas below $2 a gallon. You know, there are a lot of voters out there who would scratch their heads and say, yes, we want gas as cheap as we can get it.

But, you know, on this particular example, you've got Rick Perry, he's from Texas, the oil state. And he's going to compete with her on this? He's going to compete with her for evangelical voters -- it's going to be very hard.

But what happens when Sarah Palin gets in on September 3rd, like a lot of people seem to think she is -- well, that's going to be even more.

KING: That's what you call a perfect segue in the television business, Mr. Erickson.

ERICKSON: I tried to help.

KING: Thank you very much. The check's on the mail.

You know, Sarah Palin, the Ames, Iowa, straw poll, the Republican debate, Sarah Palin came into the state fair, a lot of Republicans didn't really like it. They thought can we please have a spotlight around the big event, just once? Not only did she come to Iowa but today, she put up on her Web site another very flashy video promising, not only does she like Iowa, but she'll be back. Have a taste.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NARRATOR: The secret is out, it seems within

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Sarah Palin was also at the fair today.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: And on this day, she happens to be in Iowa.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another leg of her One Nation bus tour.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Welcome to the Iowa state fair. Congratulations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's a normal person, just like every one of us. And I like that. I'm a farm wife. It shows she can do what we can do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Very nice, very nice to us, our small kids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She seems very down to earth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's pretty solid. She's awesome.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, Erick, you teed me up for that. So, I'll let you go first. We've talked for months, oh, no she's not going to run. Oh, no, she's not going to run.

People are starting to think, oh, my, maybe she's going to run.

ERICKSON: You know, I'll believe it when I see it at this point. It certainly looks like it. She'll have something on September 3rd in Iowa, which is the anniversary of her speech to the Republican National Convention.

You know, I still say I'm not sure she's going to run. If she does run, it's going to be a very nontraditional campaign. And I've heard a lot of people for a lot of years say they're going to run nontraditional campaigns and that typically doesn't work out so well. She's probably the person who could do something different and still make a go of it.

But she's going to be hard pressed to fight Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann and Mitt Romney's probably doing the snoopy dance right now.

KING: I am -- I'm not even going to ask what the snoopy dance would look like with Mitt Romney doing it.

ERICKSON: Very stiff.

KING: I'm sure already, I'm going to have e-mails and tweets saying why are you paying attention to Sarah Palin? Why are you paying attention to Sarah Palin? Why are you paying attention to Sarah Palin?

LIZZA: I was tweeting while you guys were doing that.

KING: And I would always say, because if she gets in, she would have such a huge impact on the race. Is this a -- I have to be careful with my words because I'm in the lame stream media and I'll get crucified for it, but is this flirtation or is this more and more real?

LIZZA: Well, all the moves she's made over the last few years I don't think any of us in the media could have predicted. So, it's really not -- it's not wise to predict what she's going to do. She's not always a rational actor. It's very hard to judge. But she does seem to be doing what you would do to be able to make the decision. It doesn't mean she's going to do it, but she wants to set up everything she needs to do to get in the race.

There's room in the race. Michele Bachmann is not faring that well right now. Rick Perry, there's a lot of frustration with Rick Perry among the Republican establishment.

It's -- Iowa is -- still could be open for her if she gets in. But as Erick said, all this is great news for Mitt Romney, who's running as sort of a conservative to moderate Republican, and while everyone else is lining up on his right, fracturing that very conservative vote.

KING: She would make a huge impact. My question is, when you call people, fund-raisers, activists, no one says she's saying do this, do that, start raising money -- but, boy, she would have an impact. But she can produce a good video, though.

LIZZA: She could produce a good video and she gets our attention. And, you know, maybe she's turned on the mainstream media. Maybe she likes us a little bit more because a lot of CNN reporters --

KING: Wolf Blitzer and Don Lemon in that video.

Ryan Lizza, thanks for coming in. Erick, as well. Enjoy your weekend.

We'll see you back here on Monday. That's all for us for now.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.