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JOHN KING, USA

Moammar Gadhafi Surrounded; Libyan Missiles Missing; President Obama's New Jobs Plan; Perry's 2012 Debate Debut

Aired September 7, 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.

Tonight new details of President Obama's new jobs plan, top Republicans call it stimulus deja vu while many Democrats complain it's not bold enough to make a big impact. Plus, Rick Perry's national debate debut, what did his campaign for Texas governor tell us about taking and throwing a political punch?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I think it's pretty rich that an individual who voted 95 percent of the time for every budget that came before you, you've raised the debt limit nine times in Washington, D.C., and to stand here in front of the people in the state of Texas and say, trust me, I'm going to balance the budget, that's a little tough to understand.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Up first, though, breaking news tonight in Libya. There are missing missiles, thousands of them, and mounting concerns here in Washington they could fall into the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. And as we speak tonight, the Libyan rebels who forced Moammar Gadhafi from power claim to have their former dictator surrounded. They won't say where, but they insist he won't escape this time.

CNN's Ben Wedeman live for us in Tripoli. Ben, the rebels have claimed to be on Gadhafi's close trail before. Do we view credibly these indications tonight from their spokesman that they have Gadhafi surrounded?

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm approaching these claims with a certain amount of skepticism. We've heard them before. We've heard a variety of officials with the National Transitional Council making these claims and then it sort of comes to nothing. I think we really have to wait until they can really come forward with some solid evidence they actually know where he is. This is a vast, a huge country.

And there's a lot of territory in which to hide. Moammar Gadhafi is known for his like of road trips, being able to move around the country. He doesn't like to fly. He prefers to drive, and he may be doing a lot of driving. The rebels don't have a lot in the way of surveillance equipment to know where Moammar Gadhafi is. It's all rumors and hearsay really. So, I think we can hold off on concluding that they actually know where he is just yet -- John.

KING: We will continue to press for more details and evidence. As we do, Ben, another alarming story, you and your team have been able to see, these stunning weapons depots that have cases and crates but missing the main ingredient, up to 20,000 surface-to-air missiles missing in Libya. What more can you tell us?

WEDEMAN: Well it -- actually according to estimates, Libya had 20,000 of these surface-to-air missiles ranging from fairly old ones like the SA-7 to the SA-24, which is the top of the line Russian surface-to-air missile with a range of 11,000 -- 11,000 feet. And we saw the empty boxes for those SA-24s. Now, this is not the only arsenal that's been looted. Now, we spoke to Human Rights Watch, and they said -- and this particular member of Human Rights Watch I've been with really just throughout the country, and he said that in every city they went into, where arsenals were looted, the first thing to go were these surface-to-air missiles.

So, it's a cause of real concern, not just in Libya, but, of course, in places like Washington and European capitals as well. Now, when we approached the NTC with this information, asking them why they hadn't secured the sites, whether they knew where these missiles were, they were really stunned, taken off guard by this information. And they -- we have been pursuing them throughout the day to se if they have any information as to whether their troops took it or they know who took it, and they seem to have no clue whatsoever. But I think some of the clues are there on the spot in these warehouses. If these were ordinary rebels in an organized military unit, they would have taken them in their boxes. Instead, you can see they've been pried open, in some cases with crowbars, and the contents taken away -- John.

KING: Ben Wedeman live for us in Tripoli tonight, urgent reporting, Ben, thank you.

Let's take just a closer look at just the threat Ben is talking about and what folks are worried about if these missiles fall into the wrong hands. Manmade portable air defense system, you hold a surface- to-air missile and fire it up -- I'll give you a glimpse here of what it looks like -- pull the picture down too fast -- essentially shoulder mounted surface-to-air missiles that can be fired up.

What are the potential targets for these things? They can take down a plane, a helicopter, a drone, the United States has used those all throughout the Middle East. They can also take down a cruise missile if properly administered. The question here is what is the range as well. They can shoot something flying as high as 11,000 feet. They can reach from where they are fired off the shoulder for about 3.5 miles, again, a huge concern. And here is the number here, 20,000 as Ben just noted coming into the conflict. Some of them obviously used during the conflict, the question is now how do you possibly get a reliable inventory? And the Obama White House says it is urgently pressing Libya's transitional government to do more to find these missing missiles, but the House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers says the president needs to take much more aggressive steps.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R), INTELLIGENCE CHAIRMAN: You know, the United States brings some unique capabilities to this fight, so with their permission, I think, and working with our NATO allies, we should be bringing today this special capability to this problem. But, remember, the politics of should we be there and no boots on the ground, and I'm not talking about boots on the ground, big military, anything like that, you know, surge of diplomacy here with the special capabilities and I think we would do ourselves, the region, the world, a great favor by finding, accounting for this and then rendering it safe.

KING: You talk about should be there today, which implies we are not there today, at least not at the level which you think is necessary, with each passing day, with these things floating around and the thriving black market in that part of the world, what are the risks?

ROGERS: Well it's huge. We know that al Qaeda has already expressed an interest in getting their hands on it. Other groups that are on the state sponsored terrorist list are interested in getting their hands on it. We know that. We do believe there was some public reporting, some open-source reporting by folks in Northern Africa that they believed some of these weapons systems already moving around and they're very, very concerned about it. And here's the thing, John, on this.

We know from every kind of an endeavor that happens this way where there's a radical change in the government like this, there's a takeover or throwing a dictator out, there is a sense of economic hardship for, you know, weeks, months, maybe sometimes years after. Well, these weapons systems are in such high demand in the world and people are willing to pay for them, it gets pretty easy for desperate people to get a hold of these things and start selling them to anybody that will buy them.

KING: You mentioned people want to buy these things. One of the concerns as outlined by the president's top counterterrorism adviser today is not only are these things loose and he says the administration is pressing the transitional government, but he is talking about these weapons are floating around Libya and John Brennan raised this concern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN BRENNAN, W.H. HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: When you look at al Qaeda and it's not just the Islamic fighting group that you know was a real concern and still has people in different places but a lot of the senior al Qaeda members are Libyans, you know, (INAUDIBLE) you know (INAUDIBLE). You know they're all, you know many of them, senior ones are Libyans.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: So, you have a senior al Qaeda leadership that has many Libyans in it. These weapons are floating around in a country where presumably these people have contacts and friends, right?

ROGERS: Absolutely. And think about it, you had the Tauregs, which is kind of a nomadic tribe there that Gadhafi supported in overthrowing Niger some years ago that are very loyal to the regime, but I'm sure would love to try it again and they're kind of the organized crime of nomadic groups. You can imagine if they start getting their hands on this stuff and what that means proliferation wise for these weapon systems across a whole spectrum of pretty bad actors who really want to get their hands on it, and that's why I have been so concerned and we need to act now. I would not wait too long to try to deal with this problem.

KING: What's the hang-up? You say you want to act now, we shouldn't wait too long. The administration says it's worried, too. What is the hang-up? What do they need to do tomorrow or should they have done yesterday?

ROGERS: Well, it's political will. I would -- I know we have capabilities that aren't in use and I would argue we need to put those capabilities to use for our national security interests.

KING: What are we talking about? I know it's sensitive intelligence but when you say capabilities you mean people who can hunt them down, you mean intelligence resources to find them, be as specific as you can, sir.

ROGERS: I'll say, yes, John, we have people who have a unique set of capabilities that can help locate these materials that can help render them safe in all cases, not only the missile systems but the chemical weapons. We need to -- there's been several solutions that have been put on the table. All of them take too long, and they're old models. I argue we have a unique opportunity here because the National Council is interested in solving this problem to get that sign-off, working with our NATO partners and get our special capabilities people on the ground so that we can deal with these weapons systems.

And that to me, it's really not happening at the pace I believe it better happen, and just the reporting I think CNN has done, too, on the fact that some of these weapons systems are already talked and rumored about being moving around in Tripoli and other places causes even greater concern. And the urgency here is I think significant.

KING: Let me ask the chairman of the Intelligence Committee one last question, and that is based on the latest information you have received, does the United States government have any clue where Moammar Gadhafi is?

ROGERS: This is the where's Waldo question. I think it's a matter of time and we have some good ideas, but it's going to take a little bit of time, and the rebels are even having some difficulty locating him. I think we're going to find him. But, remember, he controlled a lot of these areas pretty well and pretty tightly and has a good deal of support in certain areas. So, we believe that he's probably going to be attracted to one of those areas where he has that local support and can hang on as long as he thinks he's going to be able to do.

KING: Chairman Rogers appreciate your time tonight.

ROGERS: Thanks, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend is with us now, she was President Bush's national security adviser -- homeland security adviser and serves on the external advisory boards for the CIA and the Homeland Security Department. In 2010, she visited high- ranking Libyan officials at the government's invitation.

Fran, I want to start with this report tonight from the rebels, now the transitional government, that they have Gadhafi surrounded. Do we trust them to be credible? They obviously have it in their interest to let them think -- have the Libyan people think that they're making progress.

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: No and let's remember, John, this is the same sort of propaganda that we heard from them, they had two of the sons in custody and then they didn't have them in custody. And so I think we've got to view any public statements from them with a great deal of skepticism.

KING: So let's come to this urgent security concern I was just discussing with Chairman Rogers. You are well plugged in, in the intelligence community. What is the fear, 20,000 surface-to-air missiles at the beginning, there are other weapons, too, automatic weapons and the like, but these seem to be the biggest threat people are worried about. What is the latest intelligence on where they are? Have many of them crossed the border?

TOWNSEND: Well and there's not good intelligence. The real concern, John, is when you look at the SA-24s, which you explained, these are high-capability surface-to-air and remember all NATO is used in Libya has been air power, and so it's a direct threat to not only to NATO's mission but, of course, if they cross borders, potentially to the U.S. I mean, these are the sorts of things they're very, very difficult. Once they start moving around and the weapons depots are split up, it becomes much harder to ever put back together an accurate inventory.

KING: You heard the chairman and he's trying to be, "A" diplomatic and "B" protect sensitive information about he thinks the administration is using old-school ways of going about this and he wants to do things faster. What are the unique capabilities he's talking about? Are these special operations, intelligence, spies on the ground? Is there special technology the United States has at its disposal? Help us.

TOWNSEND: Well for sure that there is overhead special technology that the U.S. can use to try and begin the tracking process, but I think what the chairman is suggesting is that alone isn't enough, you do need human intelligence to help get and get back either to disable them or to buy them back. You'll remember there were programs after the Afghanistan war decades ago to buy back surface-to-air missiles and I think that that's what he's making reference to there. That's not enough. You do need clandestine operators on the ground who can either seize them, disable them or buy them back and that you need to do quickly if you're going to be effective.

KING: You know Gadhafi and you know his regime, and we're going to play some video that casts him in a somewhat favorable light -- I'm going to call this the Gadhafi home video. I want to show you this because I want to see if you understand this side of Moammar Gadhafi. This was obtained by Reuters and it shows family members apparently, hopefully we can put it up on the screen here. He's with family members, apparently a grandchild here and the like. After the video's showing torture chambers and prison cells, this suddenly comes out. It's a, quote-unquote, "lighter side of Moammar Gadhafi". What does this tell you?

TOWNSEND: You know, frankly, John, I don't think it tells me anything. Do I think that there are war criminals whether from Hitler to Saddam Hussein to Moammar Gadhafi that have a different side with their families, absolutely. I don't really care. I'm not interested. What I care about is how they treat their populations and it's been unlawfully in using torture and using oppression. And so the fact that he may have been kind to a grandchild I just don't think is relevant to how we see him.

KING: Is this in your view something they just happened to find or is this because there are so many horrible things about Gadhafi out there that some calculated orchestrated efforts have leaked this?

TOWNSEND: I absolutely believe that. Look, (INAUDIBLE), the head of his intelligence service is still at large with Gadhafi. He is the sort of individual who would have access to media outlets and people who could have moved such a video and so I think we've got to presume that this is a calculated effort by pro-Gadhafi forces.

KING: Fran Townsend, thanks for your help tonight. Appreciate it.

And still to come here, a cold-blooded assassination by Syrian security forces captured on tape. It will shock you.

And next new details of the jobs plan President Obama will present to Congress this time tomorrow night.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This time tomorrow night President Obama will be addressing a joint session of Congress to outline a new White House jobs proposal. Administration and Democratic sources tell CNN the price tag could reach $400 billion. We're told the president will promise to find a dollar in spending cuts for every dollar of new spending. Let me give you some of the highlights here. We're told the president will have about $50 billion for unemployment insurance program to extend unemployment benefits for those who have been out of work some of them for so long.

About $300 billion to $400 billion total here, $120 billion to extend the payroll tax cut for employees. The president says that would put more money into the economy. There are at least $30 billion here in funding to refurbish schools, billions more to state and local governments to keep teachers on the payrolls and the likes as well as new money for infrastructure, to repair roads and bridges. The president presents this proposal to a joint session of Congress and to the American people at a time as he gears up for re-election public opinion of his handling of the economy -- of the economy -- is at an all-time low. A bit earlier amid all of her reporting on the details of all this, I spoke to our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: So, Jess, from a policy impact proposal, what does the White House think this package will do in terms of creating new jobs, how many, how fast?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well they argue it will have an enormous impact if passed in its entirety. They say that it would impact state job growth because as you know when there are layoffs at the state level, that has a ripple effect. So, if there's hiring of teachers and first responders, there's state aid in there as we've learned. That this jobs program for school renovation gets laborers quickly to work at schools.

And then there's also these tax credits that I've been hearing about that would incentivize hiring of unemployed workers who have been out of work for a long time. There's a lot in this package, John, that would incentivize hiring of the chronically unemployed, seniors, low-income workers and veterans and that's where they're targeting all of this. Of course, Republicans have a very different take, but here at the White House they're terribly optimistic.

KING: And so, you mentioned a different take from the Republicans. How do they deal with the very, very difficult politics? The Republicans control the House. They say this is stimulus deja vu and we're hearing from some Democrats who think at least from what they've heard so far that it's too small, too timid.

YELLIN: Absolutely. I mean and they know they're going to get, you know, on the one hand Republicans rejecting it outright, many of them, Democrats saying not even close to enough. The bigger picture is if Congress does nothing, you're going to see the president, first of all, making his case to the American people, and then effectively campaigning against a do-nothing Congress. Not just for the next few weeks and months as Congress debates this up until Christmas, but even through next year and as part of his campaign, a president campaigning effectively against Washington if they don't do something about jobs.

KING: And also, Jess, we will get this new proposal, new details, but it will immediately lead us into a chapter, a little bit of movie we've seen before in the sense that how does he pay for it?

YELLIN: Right.

KING: The Republicans say no new taxes, Mr. President. And the Democrats are nervous well what are you going to cut?

YELLIN: Right, and you know we've heard him talk about no doubt he's going to talk about closing tax loopholes, we've been told this, and also paying for some of this by raising taxes on the wealthy. But we also know that there will be proposals before the super committee, he will make a proposal to the super committee that's likely to include changes to entitlement programs likely Medicare and Medicaid and Democrats are deeply concerned that it will include cuts to these programs that are key priorities for Democrats. And in this environment, even if the Republican House won't support this jobs plan, they're more likely to support the cuts to Medicare and Medicaid and so that's what Democrats are really worried is coming down the pike and deeply upset that the White House will allow that to happen -- John.

KING: A big night ahead for the president tomorrow, Jessica Yellin with many of the details, Jess, thanks.

YELLIN: Thanks.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: And among those who will be listening most closely are Democrats who will share the ticket with President Obama in tough 2012 battleground states like Ohio Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown who is with us live now. Senator, from everything you have been told, is this big enough and bold enough or is the president trimming back a bit because he knows he has to deal with the Republican House?

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Well, I think he wanted to be bigger and bolder. I think this is a good first step. Emphasis on infrastructure, that's good. I think we need more highways, bridges, water, sewer, broadband, ports, harbors all of that, but a good start. I think that -- I think Republicans are going to look at it a little differently from news reports for this reason. I spent much of August in places like Marietta and Toledo and Mansfield and Dayton, Ohio, and the talk wasn't about cutting the budgets.

As important as it is to balance the budget, and about pay-fors and all that, the talk was about what are you going to do about job creation? And Republicans heard that. Unless they were only at their country clubs, Republicans heard those discussions, too, and those admonitions and if they're just going to block any approach the president takes other than more tax cuts for the rich and war which they never pay for, they only want to pay for disaster relief and pay for tax cuts for workers, which is a good thing, not a good thing. I mean it is -- I think they're going to have to govern a little differently.

The other thing is after -- as we begin to do this, there are things we could do that don't cost money. I appreciate the money going to the states to preserve teachers and to keep teachers and cops on the beat, teachers in classrooms and all that, but we're going to work on currency legislation. The president can (INAUDIBLE) with China. The president can enforce trade rules as he has done better than his predecessors and that directly creates jobs. I've seen it in Youngstown. I've seen it in Finley, Ohio, in Lorain, Ohio, and Butler County, Ohio, near Cincinnati, when the president stands up and enforces trade law, we bring the currency bill to the floor. We got bipartisan support, overwhelming bipartisan support to level the playing field with China.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWN: That's the kind -- we're not going to bring back millions of jobs that have been lost during the last decade but we're going to begin to see manufacturing and job growth in excess. We've seen manufacturing job growth the last year but not -- it's way too anemic and this could be -- this can help to and stimulate that kind of job growth by playing fair and enforcing trade rules with the Chinese.

KING: Well Senator, you heard Republican candidate for president, Mitt Romney, saying if he's elected, yesterday, he would do that. He would stand up to the Chinese. He called them the biggest violators in the trade -- in trade -- in fair trade around the world out there yesterday. When was the last time the president of the United States, the current president of the United States said that?

BROWN: Well I'm surprised the guy that went to Tiffin, Ohio, with Bain Capital and shut down American Standard, one of America's great companies that we've all seen their products and he's talking about standing up to the Chinese. It's not really in Mitt Romney's DNA. But I don't care about that.

What I care about is this president, the president of the United States standing up on currency, standing up on trade, enforcing trade rules and that's manufacturing jobs. And just 30 years ago almost -- over 25 percent of our GDP was manufacturing. Today it's only 10 or 11 percent. Germany's is almost twice that. And we've got to have a policy where we stand up for American workers and American small companies. I want to see them export more, but we can only do that if we have trade rules that work, and the president stands up on that. As I said, he has actually done that better than his predecessors, but he's got to be more aggressive than he has been.

KING: Senator, you just said you hoped Republicans would view things a little bit differently after being home and around the constituents, but Leader McConnell today said he viewed this essentially as you know many stimulus that it's more government spending and he said the president should have learned a lesson from that. Do you think, do you really believe we are going to have a jobs bill that the president will sign or are we just -- is this speech just going to set off a campaign jobs debate?

BROWN: I think if the president leads and the president goes all over the country and he sets up that the Republicans they won't pass an infrastructure bill because they're protecting tax subsidies for the oil industry, they're protecting tax cuts for Wall Street hedge fund managers, that's why they won't send us -- that's why they won't use those dollars for infrastructure and keeping teachers in the classroom and firefighters in the fire stations and police officers on the beat, if that's the way the Republicans are going to stand and the president points that out, I think you're going to see some Republicans up for re-election thinking, you know, maybe we ought to actually do something about jobs and work with this president.

KING: Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, sir, appreciate your help tonight --

BROWN: Thank you.

KING: We'll keep in touch as all this plays out.

And still to come here, shocking video from Syria tonight -- look at it right there, troops gunning down an unarmed man.

And next, the new Republican presidential front-runner makes his debate debut. What do Rick Perry's gubernatorial debates tell us about his boxing skills?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Texas Governor Rick Perry tonight participates in his first debate since joining the Republican presidential race. He will step on stage as the undisputed leader in the national polls, but with big questions about whether he is ready for this more challenging political stage. Governor Perry refused to debate his Democratic opponent in last year's election, but he did face off against his Republican primary challenger and he has in the past been involved in multi-candidate debates. Look at those and you come away with this impression. Perry isn't shy about drawing sharp contrasts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: And you have a clear choice in this campaign. Whether or not you want higher standards, Chris, or whether you want to go back to lower expectations and less accountability. Whether you want to have a vigilant security of our border or the benign neglect of the Congressman Bell and his former colleagues in Washington, D.C.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, what are his strengths and weaknesses as a debater?

Let's ask two journalists who know Perry and his style well.

Ken Herman, columnist with "Austin American-Statesman," and Jake Silverstein, editor of "Texas Monthly."

Ken, to you first. When you look at Perry the debater, what is his greatest strength and in your view, his greatest weakness?

KEN HERMAN, AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN: His greatest strength is his greatest strength as a politician. He knows what he believes and he knows how to enunciate it in sound bites. He's solid in it. He knows how to hone in on differences with his opponents.

His weaknesses, possibly, people can get under his skin. He's kept that under control in his debates and we'll see how it happens tonight in the game show atmosphere in an eight-candidate debate.

KING: Game show atmosphere of an eight-candidate debate. Well put.

Jake Silverstein, again, strengths and weaknesses as you look forward to his first debate.

JAKE SILVERSTEIN, TEXAS MONTHLY: Every debate that Perry has been in, he's been the incumbent. He's accustomed to be in the drive's seat and he plays that role well, and, again, he finds himself tonight I think in that same position. He's good at staying focused and staying on message and not making mistakes. And I think that that's exactly what he'll do tonight.

KING: I want to play a little segment here, one thing that could come into play is his record as Texas governor. He's the only active governor in the race. There are some former governors in the race.

And in past debates, one thing that has come up has been the tough enforcement of the death penalty in Texas. This is back in 2002, a debate against Democrat Tony Sanchez. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PERRY: I do not support a moratorium on the death penalty. Texas is a tough place if you're going to kill our police officers, murder our children, but our system is fair. One of the ways that we made it even fairer and better last legislative session, I pushed through a piece of legislation for DNA evidence to be used.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's back a long time ago, Ken Herman, but he is not shy and he's pretty firm if you question his record as Texas, he doesn't blink.

HERMAN: No, he doesn't. And on the death penalty he still firmly believes in it. I think polling shows Texans still believe in it. But there's been some chipping away at that where we've had cases, like lots of states have, where DNA evidence have shown we have the wrong person on death row. We have one case that's kind of ongoing that show that possibly the wrong person was executed.

But he's solid on that. I don't think he's going to back away. And the state has also made changes in recent years to allow life without parole as another option to the death penalty. In the past, it was either the death penalty or a life with parole. So, that has changed and indicated a little bit of change in thinking.

But there's no doubt that Governor Perry supports the death penalty and I don't think we'll see him backing away from that at all in this race. KING: When governors run for president, Jake, one of the question is do they have a world view. He's a border state governor. He's had to deal with the immigration issues and trade issues with Mexico. But more broadly, does Governor Perry have a world view, or is that a potential weakness as he starts answering questions about whether it's Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and beyond?

SILVERSTEIN: I think that's exactly one of the areas in which he does have a potential weakness tonight and an area in which you're going to see Romney go after him and perhaps Ron Paul and other people hat have more national experience than Perry does. I mean, the key for him is to come out of this debate appearing electable, because right now, that's the main thing that Mitt Romney has going for him, is this idea that Rick Perry is too fringe, too radical, perhaps even too Texan to be a credible candidate against Barack Obama in the general election.

So, if the goal is to be electable, then I think if past performances are any indication, Rick Perry is pretty good at appearing electable in a debate.

KING: Ken, I'm going to ask you a question, Ray Sullivan, the governor's communication director was on MSNBC this morning, and, you know, Governor Perry, like many now Republicans in the South, was a Democrat years ago. There weren't many vibrant Republican Parties in a lot of places.

And he said, though, to prove his Republican bona fides, if you will, that he twice voted for Ronald Reagan. He was then Al Gore's chairman in 1998. Has he ever been asked the question, if you twice voted for Ronald Reagan, how was it that Al Gore was preferable to Ronald Reagan's Vice President George H.W. Bush?

HERMAN: I don't know if he's been asked that directly, but I'm going to guess at his answer. Back then Rick Perry like a lot of Texans was a southern conservative Democrat. John, you may be too young to remember but we used to have people like that in the South. We don't really anymore and Perry followed the course that a lot of Texans did when they became Republicans.

I first moved to Texas in the mid-'70s in small town east Texas, which is more like the Deep South in Texas. And having grown up in Brooklyn, New York and live in Florida, I was kind of shocked at the people in east Texas who called themselves Democrats. To my view, they never should have been Democrats. But that was the only party.

And that's what Rick Perry was. I can't imagine that becomes a big problem for him in this campaign, but we'll see.

KING: And, Jake, as we await this first debate tonight, two more in the next, over the course of the next couple of weeks, from a style point -- is Governor Perry somebody who is likely to throw the first punch in a debate or does he prefer to wait and then counterpunch?

SILVERSTEIN: I can see Rick Perry throwing the first punch. In the 2002 debate against Tony Sanchez, he got a lot of strong punches in that debate. And he's certainly not afraid to go in the offensive.

The thing I'm most interested in tonight is to see what Ron Paul does. Paul to me is sort of the Debra Medina of this race. Medina, of course, was the libertarian-style candidate who ran against Perry for the Republican primary nomination in 2010 and she kind of give him fits because she got to his right.

Perry doesn't like it where people can get to his right and I can see Ron Paul giving him fits tonight. Of course, he's already gone on the attack before the debate with -- accusing him of cheerleading for Al Gore in 1988.

KING: We'll watch the debut tonight and the performance in the days ahead, Ken Herman and Jake Silverstein, appreciate your help and insights on Governor Perry. Thank you.

And still ahead here, Syrian troops gun down an unarmed man and the embattled regime calls off a planned meeting with the Arab League.

Plus, Sarah Palin is giving more hints she's interested in the 2012 presidential race and getting pushback from the most unlikely place.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

As first reported on CNN, the former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson is on his way to Cuba, hoping to negotiate the release of jailed U.S. contractor Alan Gross who the Cubans accuse of trying to set up Internet networks.

A new written statement from former Vice President Al Gore blasts President Obama, saying the president, quote, "appears to have bowed to pressure to polluters," and, quote, "by killing new clean air regulations for ozone."

President Obama called Texas Governor Rick Perry this afternoon to express his concern for Texans hurt by wildfires. One of the top priorities right now is called the magnolia fire. It's near Houston.

A busy hurricane season, even more active tonight. Tropical storm Maria formed in the Atlantic, east of hurricane Katia. The new tropical storm Nate, a threat to Mexico. Look at that, wow.

Next here, new video of what passes for justice in Assad's Syria. We'll warn you now, it's bloody and brutal.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ANDERSON COOPER 360" coming up at the top of the hour. Anderson's here now with a preview.

How are you doing? ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": I'm doing well, John, thanks very much.

We've got a big evening tonight. A big win in court today for the defense team of Amanda Knox. An Italian judge rejected a request for new DNA testing for evidence. The father of Knox going so far as to say prosecutors have no case left. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel here?

CURT KNOX, FATHER OF AMANDA KNOX: I do from a peer case standpoint. When you take a look at the forensic evidence and you just use pure common sense of how horrific that scene must have been where in the room where Meredith lost her life and to have nothing of your person, no spit, no saliva, no blood, no skin cells, no hair, it leads you down a path of saying what other answer can they come up with except acquitting the two of them?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: We'll have more of the interview at the top of the hour.

Also an important ruling in Aruba of the disappearance in the American woman Robyn Gardner. Her traveling partner Gary Giordano lost an appeal and we'll remain in custody for another 60 days. We'll have a live report from Martin Savidge in Aruba who today spoke with Giordano's lawyer.

Those stories, plus, keeping them honest tonight. A look at the political bickering in Washington on both sides of aisle, and the truth is, unless it comes to a screeching halt, any attempt to get the economy going will likely do the same.

We'll also have new information about President Obama's jobs plan which he's going to be announcing tomorrow. That and find out who's on tonight's "Ridiculist."

All that at the top of the hour -- John.

KING: Looking forward to it. We'll see you in just a few minutes. Thanks.

COOPER: OK.

KING: New violence and shocking new images out of Syria today. A human rights reports at least two dozen people dead, mostly at homes where tanks pulled into the city center and heavy gunfire broke out.

Also today, a video showing Syrian soldiers executing an apparently unarmed man surfaced on YouTube. A quick warning, while we can't confirm the authenticity of this video, and we have blurred the man's image, the pictures are bloody and upsetting.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS) KING: In addition to those gunshots, the soldiers say the man was sentenced to death by firing squad.

Also on YouTube, this video of anti-government demonstrators in the Syrian city of Aleppo. They took to the streets as activists questioned the circumstances of a local scholar's sudden death.

With us now, Syrian human rights activist Mohammed al-Abdullah, and the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, now a professor at Harvard.

Mohammed, I want to start with you. When you look at this video of what call looks like a state-sponsored execution, Syrian troops gunning down a man -- we have to be careful we can't independently confirm the videos because we're not there. But the images seem pretty clear.

What goes through your mind?

MOHAMMED AL-ABDULLAH: First of all, the brutality of the regime that (INAUDIBLE) to kill people and the killing without any logical processing.

And the second thing, to end of this video, it has to end, the first one is to scare protesters that this is going to be your fate if you protest in Syria. And the second one is to more on the sectarian violence if you can recognize the accent of those members in the army, they are from a minority and they are encouraging the majority to say, the minority was killing us, the soldiers from the Alawite minority.

KING: Nick Burns, 21 days now since President Obama finally in the view of many came around and said Assad must go. What does this tell us? Obviously, the administration has very few leverage to bring about regime change. Can it do anything here?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FMR. UNDER SECY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, a tragic day, John, in Syria. I think it does point to the fact that the United States does not have a military option here. The Arab League, the U.N. Security Council, the Syrian opposition are not requesting that the United States intervene militarily, nor would the Obama administration want to.

So, what can they do? The E.U. last week passed oil sanctions on the import of Syrian oil. That oil supply was very important to the Syrian economy. They can continue to pressure economically. Keep up the political pressure.

And, John, I think the most important thing -- this is going to be a battle for dignity, human rights and the rule of law. Those are the words that Robert Ford, the American ambassador in Damascus, put on the embassy Facebook page. He said that's what this is about.

That's what the protesters have on their side. They have the moral strength here against this hypocritical and brutal Assad regime. And as long as the United States can highlight those issues which, of course, we all believe in, human rights, the rule of law and dignity. I think that's probably the most effective weapon that the United States, the Obama administration, can use to combat the Assad regime.

KING: So, the question is, then, Mohammed, does the power of the moral argument and the moral assistance and whatever diplomatic assistance the United States and others can provide, is it enough to encourage and continue the resolve of the demonstrators who when they see these videos know the risks of going out in the street?

AL-ABDULLAH: It's enough to encourage them, but it's not enough to end this battle. That's why we need more international help and international assistance. People are seeing more and more talking about protecting civilians and the international community's responsibility to act immediately and try to protect civilians in Syria. As long as Russians and Chinese, they are opposing any U.N. resolution of the Security Council, we still disabled and we cannot really send -- have any kind of protection for civilians. Neither observers or people -- international observers or any committee to investigate the human rights violation. That's why the U.S. and the E.U. should more work on the Russians and Chinese position in the U.N. Security Council.

And the Arab League, they just submit initiative to the Assad last week and he postponed the visit of the head of the Arab League committee. And that's another sign that Assad is not going to accept any kind of initiative or proposals to stop this killing and it's going to continue and the military option.

KING: Nick Burns, what does that tell you? The head of the Arab League was supposed to come to Damascus, the regime canceled the meeting, postponed the meeting, said due to, quote, "circumstances beyond our control." What does that tell you about their tactics and strategy?

BURNS: It tells me the Assad regime is totally isolated. They don't have a defender in the Arab World. They may have one or two countries around the world, perhaps North Korea or Cuba, defending them. But the entire international community is turning against them.

This is going to be a battle for the hearts and minds of the Syrian people. They are now, the majority of them, expressing the fervent home this regime will fall. I think this regime's days are numbered. You can see it.

And it won't be through military intervention by the United States as was the case in Europe, as the case in Libya. It will be because this is a grassroots revolution produced by the Syrian people. I don't think the Assad regime has anyone to turn to at the present moment.

KING: Nick Burns, Mohammed al-Abdullah, gentlemen, thank you for your time tonight.

Up next here, Palin fatigue. You might be surprise who's getting tired of her now.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: The Sarah Palin waiting game is taking a most interesting turn. She was in both Iowa and New Hampshire this week but the former Alaska governor, of course, is not in any of the three GOP presidential debates scheduled this month. Soon, soon she says, she'll let us all know if she will join the Republican race.

Not soon enough, say many people you might view as Palin allies, even potential supporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN COULTER, ANNCOULTER.COM: No conservative on TV will criticize Palin because they don't want to deal with the hate mail. You know, you say her voice is a few octaves too high or perhaps Michele Bachmann's speaking voice is more modulated and you'll be inundated with enraged e-mails and letters.

LAURA INGRAHAM: She had to do more heavy lifting on the policy stuff to be taken seriously. I just simply think she's not all that interested in it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Could it be? Is Palin fatigue spreading on the right?

CNN contributor Erick Erickson is among those who thinks yes. Also here CNN contributor John Avlon who is no Palin fan from the get- go.

Mr. Erickson, to you first. You wrote this in your -- you submit to us every day a posting for the blog, it is time for Sarah Palin to fish or cut bait, enough is enough. Why suddenly are people on the right saying, give us the answer?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, because in the past month or so, a lot of us have been inundated with a pernicious strain of Palin fan, I've started referring to simply as cult of Palin people. They've wrapped up into the cult of personality with Sarah Palin.

They're not helpful to Sarah Palin. They've become extremely angry. They've become extremely hostile to everyone. It has a lot more to do with these people than with Palin.

But at some point, Palin has to take responsibility for 'em. And her speeches are whipping a lot of people into a frenzy, keeping a lot of people on the sidelines. And people are tired of being teased. I thought -- I put up a post at Red State this morning and thought I was in the minority of conservatives online. But suddenly realized that I'm not alone, there's a vast majority of conservatives who really like Sarah Palin but like her less and less each day because of a lot of her supporters.

KING: Eric says, like her less and less. So, let's show some numbers we have here. Her favorability among Republicans and independents, the two groups she would need -- we don't expect her to get a lot of Democratic votes if she's going to run. But if you look at there -- Republicans, September 2008, 94 percent down to 78 percent. Still good but that's a big drop if you want to be the Republican nominee.

And among independents you would need in a general election John Avlon, from 54 percent -- not great but OK in 2008 -- to 33 percent now. So, is she hurting herself if by teasing?

JOHN AVLON, CN CONTRIBUTOR: She's been hurting herself for a long time. And we've seen a slow-motion Palin implosion over the last year or two. It's not just favorability. It's about whether she's prepared to be president.

When you ask her questions her numbers have been under water and upside down since even 2009 among her alleged base, Tea Party supporters. The long you draw this out, here's what we know, she hasn't taken the process of running the president seriously. She doesn't seem particularly interested in governing because she left her office.

So, it's no surprise people are getting tired of this tease. She's a very campaigner. She's talented. She's got a real constituency. But it's been consistently diminished as Bachmann and then Rick Perry have come in and claimed some of that conservative populist support.

KING: Now, I'm not a Palin defender but I just want to take a piece of what you said there.

AVLON: Sure.

KING: She's not taking the process seriously. She's not taking it seriously, Eric and John. By the way, we traditionally say it. You have debates now. Therefore, if you're going to be a candidate, get in and join your colleagues up onstage.

She seems to have this opinion that she can wait, that her base is strong enough, that she can get in late. And she also says she has legitimate family concerns. Among those, though, Eric, you're not always in alliance with who are saying enough, is a guy who actually thinks she's leaning toward running, Karl Rove. Let's listen to him this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, if you keep going to Iowa and you keep going to New Hampshire and you keep making speeches like she's been making, you have to think that she's, you know, that she's going to get in. And as I said, I wouldn't bet the ranch on it. I put a little bit more money that she's going to get in. But it really is inexplicable for her to continue this as long as she has. If she wants to be a kingmaker, there's a different way to go about doing it. And the longer she looks like a candidate, and if she doesn't become a candidate, the weaker she'll emerge out of this politically.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ALVON: I mean, look. I mean, first of all, there are objective ways to judge how serious you are. Running for president is a serious business, it's a serious job. You build a campaign. You start taking yourself to policy school, and you develop an apparatus. You don't think you can do it on the basis of your charisma.

And Eric makes a larger point in this column I think, which is that our politics is looking too much like a cult these days. And so, on the fringes, folks whip themselves into a frenzy where any dissent is a sign of dire disloyalty.

ERICKSON: There's a larger point, though, John, and I think this is where a lot of conservatives made the break is that we were a lot of us inundated by supporters saying September 3rd would be the day. And then when Karl Rove said it would be the day, all of a sudden, Sarah Palin portrayed herself as some sort of media victim, that he was saying she may run and announce on September 3rd, and somehow he was the bad guy.

You know, that just doesn't work out. She has not had a job for two years. Some of these people have full-time jobs. And she's the one dithering to the very end? That's not the way it works.

KING: I look forward to all of our inboxes. My voice mail is probably going full right now. That's all the time we have gentlemen.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.