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Fast and Furious Controversy Escalates; Wall Street Protests Continue

Aired October 10, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: And good evening, everyone.

Tonight, the fight over the botched government gun trafficking program Fast and Furious escalates. The chairman of a congressional oversight panel tells Attorney General Eric Holder the country's top law enforcement officer is either incompetent or a liar.

And as the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators grow yet again, Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann says she isn't sure what the demonstrators want, but she says she is certain of this.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... has no business and no obligation having to pay for Wall Street's bad bets. That's their bad bets and they can eat them.


KING: Well, Congresswoman, yes, and we're not so sure. Different political goals perhaps but both movements are taking full advantage of our precious right of free speech. What we don't know is whether the protesters from the left will ever rival the Tea Party's punch at the polls.

Plus, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, struggling to stay viable in the Republican presidential race, delivers a major foreign policy address.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Only Pakistan can save Pakistan. Only Afghanistan can save Afghanistan. And right now, we should focus on America saving America.


KING: Here's the question. Is borrowing a page from Ron Paul Huntsman's path to popularity?

That and more ahead, but up first tonight the dicey mix of God and politics. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has been marching methodically through his safe and steady strategy hoping to win the Republican presidential nomination. But just as it appeared he was weathering a major challenge from the Texas Governor Rick Perry, the Mormon question thrust front and center by a Southern Baptist minister who backs Perry and calls Mormons members of a cult.


REV. ROBERT JEFFRESS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF DALLAS: Part of a pastor's job is to warn his people and others about false religions.


KING: Back in 2007, he was then seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Romney addressed questions about his faith in a speech at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me assure that you no authorities in my church or of any other church for that matter will ever exert influence on presidential decisions. Their authority is theirs within the province of church affairs. And it ends where the affairs of the nation begins.


KING: Now top Romney aides see no upside they tell me to their candidate joining this revived debate. In their view, a small slice of evangelicals have problems voting for a Mormon and there is little or nothing they think Romney can do to win them over. But a second Mormon in the Republican field, the former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, today told CNN that Governor Perry should repudiate the Texas pastor who said a vote for Romney would lend credibility to a cult.


HUNTSMAN: Make an immediate and decisive break, period.

This kind of talk, I think, has no home in American politics these days. And anyone who is associated with somebody willing to make those comments ought to stand up and distance themselves in very bold language. And that hasn't been done. And Rick ought to stand up and do that.


KING: Who gets hurt more by this dustup? Governor Romney or Governor Perry?

Joining us from Atlanta, Ralph Reed, the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. Also with us, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, Ralph Becker.

Ralph Reed, to you first. As someone who is very familiar with evangelical voters, what do they say specifically when you're at an evangelical -- maybe it's in Iowa -- an evangelical church or in South Carolina, two critical states coming up on the Republican calendar? What is the objection evangelical voters have to Mormons? RALPH REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, John, I don't think it's a newsflash that there are deep and abiding theological differences between evangelical Christians and the Mormon Church.

That really goes back to the 19th century. It is deep, it's historical. By the way, it is not confined to evangelicals. It would be true of any orthodox Christian denomination. But I think evangelicals are sophisticated enough and subtle enough to understand that they're not electing a bishop. They're not choosing a pastor and they're not electing pope or a rabbi. They're choosing the CEO of the nation.

When you go out and you survey these voters and you ask them what the number one issue facing the country is they don't say Mormonism. They don't say religion. They say jobs and the economy. So my advice to Mitt Romney which admittedly is unsolicited and it's free, so take it for what it's worth, is don't be defensive about this. He can lean into it. He can make it very clear that while there are theological differences, he shares their values. He shares their stands on the issues.

And what the country is doing, John, is they're hiring a new leader to run the government and to be CEO of the nation and to turn this economy around and create jobs. They want to know that Romney is pro-life, pro-family and pro-marriage. But they're not insisting that he share their theology.

KING: And yet, Mr. Mayor, at a time Governor Perry has been slipping a bit in the polls, and he's been struggling a bit and Governor Romney has been solidifying his support and trying to raise more money and to keep his front-runner status, this pastor first gives a speech implicitly saying Romney is not good enough, he is not a Christian and then walks in and tells reporters saying Mormonism is a cult and a vote for a Mormon is a lot to lend credibility to a cult. I assume you don't see an accident here.


First of all, I really can't comment on what someone may have said elsewhere. But, in my experience, here in Salt Lake City -- I'm not a Mormon. I certainly live among a lot of Mormons and it is like any other community I have lived in.

There are great people here. It's a warm place to live, hospitable place to live. And people are folks like everywhere, except, here, I think we tend look out for each a little more.

KING: And so, Mr. Mayor, in a place out West where Mormons are not as unique, shall we say, if you look at a map and the demographics -- and we're going to do that later in the show -- there are more Mormons in the West. When you hear a Southern Baptist preacher say it's a cult, that they're not Christians and a vote for a Mormon is a vote to back a cult, what goes through your mind?

BECKER: It just doesn't make any sense to me. That certainly isn't my experience both in working among Mormons in business, working in the political realm, serving as mayor of a community that has Mormons and non-Mormons.

Our goal is to work together and make a great American city. And the divisions -- certainly people know differences among their faiths. But when it come to our community and things that we want in our community, there is not a difference between Mormons and non-Mormons.

KING: Ralph, you mentioned that you think this is -- the governor should just ride it out. Governor Romney should not lean into it, is the way you say it, lean into it. If you look at the polling data, there is some evidence to support that. "The Washington Post"/ABC poll, are you less likely to support a candidate who is Mormon? These are Republican primary voters.

Back in 2006, 36 percent. So nearly four in 10 said they were less likely. Now that number is down to 20 percent. To what do you attribute that, Ralph Reed? Is that because Governor Romney ran before, Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader of the Senate, is a Mormon? Or are people of all faiths getting more familiar with Mormons in politics?

REED: I really think it is a couple of things, John.

Number two, I think the novelty has largely worn off. And I think every time you have a pioneer or a path blazer, whether it is Alfred E. Smith as a Roman Catholic in 1928 and then later Kennedy in '60 or whether it was Joe Lieberman being the first Jewish American to be on a ticket, there is appropriately a lot of discussion. There is a real novelty to it, and I think in a good way, by the way, welcoming people to the process and breaking down old barriers of exclusion.

But I think, this time, Romney has been around the track before. He has run before. He has checked all the boxes. And to his credit, he has appeared at all these prominent social conservative gatherings, including one that the Faith and Freedom Coalition did in Orlando in conjunction with Presidency 5.

And the other reason, I think, not greatly noted, but significant, is that as the marriage debate has proceeded around the country, particularly in California in 2008, it was cooperation between Mormons and evangelicals on their belief that marriage should be defined as a man and a woman that helped win 31 out of 31 state referenda on marriage.

The California marriage amendment would not have passed without the Mormon Church.

KING: You mention that cooperation. And you also mentioned the forum you held down in Florida. Every time you organize a forum like this, the organizers of a forum or event are responsible for who they invite.

They know who they invite. And I was talking to Tony Perkins about this on Friday. He's the Family Research Council president who is part of this Value Voters conference. There is no secret that Pastor Jeffress has said those things about Mormons in the past. So when you ask him to introduce Rick Perry, you know what you might get. Another gentleman invited to speak at that forum is Bryan Fischer from the American Family Association. And Governor Romney even before Mr. Fischer spoke, criticized him. But let's listen first to Mr. Fischer.


BRYAN FISCHER, DIRECTOR OF ISSUES ANALYSIS, AMERICAN FAMILY ASSOCIATION: Every advance of the homosexual agenda comes at the expense of religious liberty. The greatest long-range threat to our security and liberty is not radical Islam, but Islam itself.

Not a single one of our unalienable rights will be safe in the hands of a president who believes that we evolved from slime and we are the descendants of apes and baboons.


KING: Governor Romney spoke just before that and he seemed to know what was coming. Listen here.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We should remember that decency and civility are values, too. One of the speakers who will follow me today has crossed that line, I think. Poisonous language doesn't advance our cause. It has never softened a single heart Nor changed a single mind.


KING: Ralph, to you first. Ralph Reed, does Governor Romney have a point?

REED: I think he has a point.

I think that he was echoing what John F. Kennedy said when he addressed the Houston Ministerial Association in September of 1960 when he said the issue in this campaign should not be what kind of church I believe in, for that should matter only to me. It should be what kind of America I believe in. I really believe, John, that's the kind of campaign Mitt Romney is running.

And, by the way, I believe that's the kind of campaign Rick Perry is running, I might add. I think these candidates will all be judged on the merits, not only by evangelical voters but by all voters. And I'm very comfortable that this election, both in the Republican primary and in the general election in November of 2012, will be decided on the issues of jobs and the economy and who can best strengthen our families and restore values and who is uniquely qualified to lead America into the 21st century.

I don't think that these debates are insignificant. But I don't believe for a moment that somebody will be excluded from the White House because they're a member of a particular church any more than I thought Barack Obama would be excluded because he was an African- American.

KING: Mayor Becker, I want to close with you. And my friend Ralph Reed is a pretty good politician. I was asking him about the language of Bryan Fischer from the American Family Association and whether Governor Romney was right to say that poisonous language does not advance our cause.

You heard Mr. Fischer talk about the homosexual agenda. You heard him talk about Islam, all of Islam. You heard him talk about those who believe in evolution. What did you think of that?

BECKER: Well, it lacks basic civility that I think is what creates a good civic dialogue. And in our community, we have taken on discrimination. We have passed a non-discrimination ordinance that eliminates discrimination against LGBT community in housing and employment.

The first portion of our community that spoke up in favor of it in our city council meeting was the LDS Church. And we have a long ways to go to bring people together. We find that I can tell you, as mayors in this country, for our job is to take care of the basic needs of people, that the kind of bickering and disservice that is done by our elected officials sometimes in Washington, D.C., and by others to create the divisiveness and not address the real issues in a sensible way is really counterproductive to what we need in this economy.

We have benefited through the Recovery Act. Our streets are better. We have teachers in our classrooms. Our public safety officials are able to do their job and we're able to advance jobs as a community. We need to do the same thing as a nation in terms of creating jobs and improving our economy. And to divert from that, I find really a bit counterproductive to the real needs of our community and people across America.

KING: Mayor Becker, Ralph Reed, appreciate your time tonight, gentlemen. We will stay in touch as the campaign unfolds.

And still ahead here, if you like movies, odds are you have a stake in tonight's number.

And next, violent clashes in Egypt raise worries about the military government's commitment to law and order and to democracy.


KING: A White House statement today describes President Obama as deeply concerned about the latest surge of violence in Egypt. The president is calling for restraint on all sides.

More than two dozen people died, close to 300 injured over the weekend in clashes between military police and supporters from Egypt Coptic Christians. It's the worst violence since the revolution that forced President Hosni Mubarak from office back in February.

Our senior international correspondent, Ben Wedeman, is in Cairo.

And, Ben, when you have a sentence like that, the worst violence since the revolution, give us a state of what's happening.


These clashes in fact took place on the street below me about this time yesterday, the worst clashes since the revolution. And unlike the revolution where it was the people against the regime, now what you have is on the one hand, the army and its supporters, and Coptic Christians and Muslims as well, many of whom are angry at the fact that the military government is incapable, they say, of maintaining law and order.

In fact, I'm doing this live shot with our windows closed just because a little while ago, a group of young men who apparently are on the payroll of the police started throwing rocks through the window here.

KING: How much of a concern is that any disruption in society, whether the source of it be to the Coptic Christians or anyone else, could then cause the military government to say, no, we need to slow down even more?

WEDEMAN: Well, this may be the case. Certainly there are supposed to be elections held next month, parliamentary elections. Now some people are saying no, given the tensions in the streets, maybe it's not such a good idea, because, oftentimes, elections in Egypt even in the days of Hosni Mubarak were very violent affairs.

Now, of course, the political system has been thrown wide open. There are all sorts of new parties popping up every other day. And certainly the competition for power, or at least seats in Parliament, will be intense. And when there is intense competition in a place like Egypt, violence is soon to follow.

KING: Ben Wedeman for us tonight in Cairo, Ben, thank you.

Joining us now is Elijah Zarwan. He witnessed the clashes in Cairo. He is also a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

Mr. Zarwan, just give me your eyewitness account of exactly what you saw.

ELIJAH ZARWAN, INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP: When they reached the state television building, they were chanting that people want to overthrow field marshal (INAUDIBLE) which is a chant from the original 18 days that roughly translates as get lost, anti-military, anti- military rulership slogans.

Around the time that they reached the state TV building, gunshots started to ring out. There was scattered gunfire for about 30, 45 minutes, people running in every direction. And, eventually, as this dragged on, it would drag on for hours, mobs of people apparently responding to state TV broadcasts, calling on people to come down and support the army, saying that the protesters had killed three soldiers, began coming in -- began arriving on the scene and fighting with protesters.

Some were chanting God is great, there is no God but God, the people want to overthrow the cops. It was a terrifying spectacle and complete chaos. And it in the melee and the chaos, it was very difficult to distinguish who was Christian, who was Muslim, who was with the army, who was against the army. They all were Egyptians.

KING: And the tensions, the sectarian tensions between the Christians and the Muslims and the Christians within the society are hardly new. What in your view made this different and took it to a new level?

ZARWAN: Well, I think what was most significant about yesterday was that it was primarily an anti-military protest.

The Copts had specific grievances regarding the government's response to an attack on the church in the south of the country. But they came out last night to protest the military's use of force in dispersing an earlier protest against that attack on the church.

Another thing that makes it different is the role of the state media. There have been unconfirmed, mounting eyewitness reports. I didn't happen to see this myself. But there have been unconfirmed reports that the military was directing the mobs. What's clear is that the authorities on the ground did very little to control them and that state television coverage at the time bordered on sectarian incitement.

KING: And if that's the case at what you rightly note is an extremely sensitive time, what does it tell you about the military's intentions if indications are that it is using state television and inciting or at least supporting mobs on the street, giving them free rein to do things? What does it tell you about their commitment to moving forward in an open and democratic process?

ZARWAN: Well, I think it's too early to blame this on the military leadership.

The prime minister has called for an investigation. The latest reports that I have heard is that there are independent respected lawyers and doctors at the Coptic hospital now conducting autopsies and collecting evidence. So that appears to be off to a good start. I wouldn't want to prejudge the results of the investigation until it comes out.

So I do think that it is too early to lay the blame for this at the military leadership's feet. However, that is what the opposition is doing. Many people in the opposition immediately saw this as (INAUDIBLE) fault and speculate that they may have stage-managed the entire event as a way to pave the road to further liberal measures, extending the emergency law, for example.

Some had even talked about postponing or canceling the elections on the grounds that at a time of such unrest, such volatility, it would be impossible to have fair and free elections. KING: You say a lot can change between now and then. Are you worried that one of the things that could change between now and then is an increase in violence?

ZARWAN: It is certainly a risk. The sense I get now is that everybody was alarmed and horrified at what they saw yesterday. And people are taking a step back to breathe and to think. And that's good.

As many problems as there have been between Christians and Muslims in the country, everybody here will tell you and I have seen it myself that Christians and Muslims are very often good friends. They attend each other's weddings, funerals, eat together. But there is a troubling underside to those relationships.

KING: Elijah Zarwan, appreciate your insights tonight and your stunning eyewitness account of the violence. Take care, sir.

ZARWAN: It was my pleasure.

KING: And still to come here, tonight's number, how one company's about-face affects the way you watch your favorite movies.

And, next, what is about it the Mormon faith that alienates some evangelical voters? That's tonight's "Truth."


KING: Mitt Romney's Mormon faith is now a flash point in the Republican race for president. Always a factor, it moved front and center Friday when a prominent Southern Baptist minister endorsed Texas Governor Rick Perry and said a vote for Romney would be a vote to give credibility to a cult. That minister, Dr. Robert Jeffress, detailed his views in an interview right here Friday night.


JEFFRESS: Historical Christianity has never embraced Mormonism as a part of its faith. In fact, for many years, the Southern Baptist Convention did label it on its official Web site as a cult.


KING: On Sunday, Pastor Jeffress told his 10,000-strong Dallas congregation he would not back down.


JEFFRESS: Part of a pastor's job is to warn his people and others about false religions. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Mormonism are all false religions. And I stand by those statements.


KING: It is fascinating and frankly sometimes more than a little frustrating to watch others involved in politics deal with the Mormon question, like Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council and the organizer of that Friday event where Dr. Jeffress played the Mormon card.

I asked Mr. Perkins whether he considered Mormonism to be a cult. Here's his answer.


TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, let me say this, John. I do not see Mormonism as the same as Christianity.

Now, whether it's defined as a cult, I don't know. I would say it's not Christianity the way evangelicals view Christianity.


KING: Romney's Republican rivals also have, shall we say, less- than-direct answers.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that they believe that they're Christians.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He says he's a Christian. I believe he says...

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is so inconsequential as far as this campaign is concerned.


KING: Well, here's tonight's "Truth."

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints calls itself a Christian faith, but there are some significant differences in its teachings that draw criticism from some other denominations. The Mormon faith believes Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and the son of God.

It was founded in 1830 by Joseph Smith, who claimed to have received word of God from an angel. In the Book of Mormon, Jesus Christ is said to have visited America in 34 A.D.

Joining us now from New York, Dr. Richard Bushman, a professor emeritus with Columbia University, a practicing Mormon who has written extensively on the Mormon culture and the Latter Day Saints.

Dr. Bushman, thank you for coming in.

When you do look at the big differences between the two faiths, specifically one of the things many evangelicals say, they find it implausible, some of them say impossible, is this idea that Jesus appeared in the Americas in 34 A.D.

When you have differences in teachings like that, do you at least understand the core of the disagreements and the questions?

RICHARD BUSHMAN, PROFESSOR EMERITUS, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Well, that certainly is one thing that they look at. The whole Book of Mormon story of having prophets here in America, much as in Jerusalem in ancient times, and then culminating in Christ's visit. That's disturbing, because most Christians and certainly evangelical Christians put all their confidence in the Bible -- in the Bible story. That is the one source of revelation and truth.

And Mormons have simply expanded that picture to say there are other people in the world, including people in America, who had prophets and who saw the savior after his resurrection.

KING: And when you hear the word "cult," where does it come from? The labeling of Mormonism as a cult?

BUSHMAN: Well, "cult" is a very tricky word, because it has kind of a nasty connotation. It implies brainwashing and extreme behavior of various sorts. But then it has technical definitions, as well.

The -- Dr. Jeffers defined it as a religion that is founded on a man, rather than a religion founded on Jesus Christ. And he's referring, of course, to Joseph Smith.

But for Mormons, that doesn't quite make sense. It would be like saying that evangelical Christianity is founded on Paul, because he preached the Christian gospel on behalf of Christ. And Mormons look upon Joseph Smith in exactly the same way that evangelical Christians look at Paul, as a spokesman for the Christian gospel.

KING: You joined us Friday night, and you were not happy. That's my, as benign a term as I can have it -- with how Dr. Jeffers brought up the word at a political forum, saying it was a cult, saying a vote for Romney would be a vote to give credibility for a cult. I want to ask you. Maybe it's a bit of an odd question.

Is the proof of this conversation, though, in the political context, is there some evidence that actually some progress has been made from your perspective? In the sense that I was just talking earlier in the show about a poll that says back in 2006, nearly 40 percent of Republican voters said they wouldn't vote for a Mormon or they would have reservations about voting for a Mormon? That number has been sliced about in half.

BUSHMAN: Well, I think there's been an immense change. I've been aware of it, just comparing 2008 with the 2012 campaign as it's getting going, how -- and the number of people who are beginning to say that the treatment of Mormons as a strange and weird and unacceptable religion is moderating.

And the fact of the matter is that America has always been a very tolerant nation. We've had to, because there's been such diversity of religious belief. But there's always been a margin. If you were beyond that edge, then you're not accepted within the -- sort of the general Christian consensus. And little by little, groups have worked their way into the range of acceptable religions. I think Catholics certainly have come that far and Jews. And now Mormons and Muslims are still at that edge. And Mormons are working their way in. And I think that this little dust-up we've had recently is just one of the skirmishes along that border as Americans, as the people are trying to decide are Mormons within the realm of acceptable religion.

KING: Dr. Bushman, once again, appreciate your insights and your history lesson for us, as well as your religious teaching, as well. Dr. Bushman, thank you very much. We'll stay on top of this one.

Too big to fail came to Europe today. Just wait until you see Wall Street's reaction.


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

Some disturbing news from Radio New Zealand that reports a mayday call has been issued from a stranded container ship that's been leaking oil onto the coast. A significant new spill, the radio says, now coming from that ship. Those on board are evacuating.

In Texas, finally authorities report 100 percent containment of the Bastrop wildfire. That's near Austin. It burned for 49 days across 34,000 acres, destroyed 1,500 homes.

A U.S. defense official confirm to CNN tonight that systems that control U.S. military drones have been infected with a computer virus. The official won't tell us how the classified system was infected but says the virus has not stopped drone flights worldwide.

It was a huge day on Wall Street. The Dow Industrials soared 330 points on renewed hopes for a solution to the European debt crisis. Part of that hope comes from today's first bank bailout of that crisis. Dexia will receive the equivalent of $121 million from France, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

And that brings us to tonight's "Number," 25 million. That's the number -- average number of subscribers to Netflix, which is making news by abandoning plans to split its movie and streaming DVD rental operations. The plan was to split them. Netflix has the streaming. Qwikster was supposed to have the DVD rental. That's how they were going to do it. That is gone tonight.

Instead, what they've decided to do, well, when this word came out, I should say first it wasn't greeted very well. It wasn't greeted very well. "Dear worst CEO in the history of CEOs." "Wow, this is really truly a step backwards." You can see unhappy Netflix.

Instead they've changed the plan. Investors at least thought when the day started, thought this was a good idea, to keep the Netflix streaming. Look at this. The stock went up this morning. Then as the day played out, maybe people aren't so sure how this is going to work out. That's how it happened today. This little footnote. Between 8 and 10 p.m. tonight, 20 percent, 20 percent of the downstream traffic on the Internet is people streaming Netflix. Twenty percent during the peak times of 8 to 10 p.m. So a busy time to watch the movies right there.

All right. We're going to take a quick break here. When we come back, back to our political conversation. How will Mormonism play in the Republican race? And other dynamics in politics, as well. James Carville and Ed Goeas, they join us next.


KING: The Mormon question is back, along with the debate about whether his faith is an obstacle to former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Four years ago as he was seeking the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, Governor Romney addressed the questions head on in a speech delivered at the George H.W. Bush Presidential Library.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When I place my hand on the Bible and take the oath of office, that oath becomes my highest promise to God. If I'm fortunate to become your president, I will serve no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A president must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.


KING: So will he have to give such a speech again? Or should he ignore prominent Southern Baptist pastor who on Friday endorsed Romney rival Rick Perry and promptly labeled Mormonism a cult?

Let's talk it over with CNN contributor, Democratic strategist James Carville and the veteran Republican strategist, Ed Goeas.

Ed, let me start with you. This is playing out in your party.

No. 1, should Governor Romney give another speech? Should he deal with this at all? I assume it might come up. These questions are likely to come up. We have two debates over the course of the next week. What should his strategy be?

ED GOEAS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it/s coming up at a very opportune time. You have the two debates coming up, I think, at some point. Not he needed the visit but voters needed to visit the issue of Mormonism and come to a decision on whether they're comfortable with it. And I think they'll find that they are comfortable with it.

It is not an issue that's a concern for the general election. At that point, these very voters you're talking about will be a choice between is Mormonism important or is Barack Obama remaining as president important? I think for right now, it's a good time for him. I think he -- you've seen him with a ceiling of about 30 percent. I don't think he's going to break it until those voters have visited the issue and come to a decision that they're comfortable with.

KING: James, Governor Huntsman, former governor of Utah, who is another Mormon in this race, told Wolf Blitzer a bit earlier that he thinks Rick Perry should repudiate this pastor. He said he should break any relationship with him. The Perry campaign said he has no relationship beyond being an acquaintance with him. But is there a burden on Governor Perry to do something here?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It could be. It's an opportune time. This debate is supposed to be limited to economics, as I understand it. But I can't believe that something like this is not going to crop up. I think it would be good if it did.

I think that Governor Romney has to have the outstanding case to make that Mormons have served this country with distinction for a long period of time. And you know, like I've said on this show before, the Udall family, the first family of the Democratic Party of the moment, and Senator Harry Reid. So it's not an issue to me.

But this -- the guy that brought this up is the pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, which is a pretty big -- pretty big deal. And maybe it would be good if Governor Romney did say -- did say something. You can't expect people to be responsible for everything their supporters say. You know, that's a little bit of a stretch, too.

KING: Why is it that some people are either uncomfortable or they're trying to, I don't want to say be too cute. What was the old Bill Clinton line? Too clever by half or too cute by half.

And the question was, when this question came up. The Perry/Romney or the minister versus Romney but some of the Republican other candidates for president are asked the simple question. The Mormon church. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, says it is a Christian faith. Do you agree? Listen here.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that -- I believe that they believe that they're Christian.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He says he's a Christian. I believe he's a Christian.

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is so inconsequential as far as this campaign is concerned.


KING: It reminded us a bit of questions not too long ago about whether the president of the United States was a Christian.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS: Can you just state very clearly that President Obama is a Christian and he is a citizen of the United States?

BACHMANN: Well, that it isn't for me to state. That's for the president to state.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president says he's a Christian. I accept him at his word.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), MINORITY LEADER: The president said he's a Christian. I take him at his word.


KING: Why does this happen?

GOEAS: Well, there are going to be these differences. I think some campaigns think that perhaps they have an advantage by getting into this. But the bottom line is...

KING: What's the advantage? To appeal to a tiny slice of evangelicals who can't stomach Mormonism or think it's a cult or...?

GOEAS: Or to establish that they're different somehow than the voter, to create a wedge between the voter and that person. But I don't think it's going to happen in this case.

Most Christians that I know work every day on trying to have a closer relationship to Christ. A closer relationship to God. There's a great deal of respect on the Mormons, those of us that are not Mormons but Christians see them living those principles on a day-to- day basis and I think it's going to be a nonissue.

I think this is going to be a much bigger opportunity for Mitt Romney to move his campaign forward than it is going to be an opportunity for any of the other candidates to drive a wedge with voters.

KING: Why is religion hard in politics?

CARVILLE: Well, you know, it's hard, because we like to cover it. The guy from the First Baptist Church says something.

I don't know in the end how much this plays with the voter. I mean, I don't know that Senator Lieberman would be in on the ticket in 2000, if anything, could have helped.

I think that we tend to pay a lot more -- the big problem Romney has, the Republicans don't like him. He can't move a number. He can't win a straw vote. You know, they just are dying to get somebody else that looks like they're going to have to take him to the prom.

This problem is not his faith. This problem is that, by and large, a huge swath of Republicans are just very skeptical about him being a nominee. That's what he's got to overcome. Much more than anything else.

KING: Is -- is that the issue? Because James makes an interesting point. If you look at the national polling, the national pollings aren't worth very much once we get to Iowa, in New Hampshire and South Carolina.

But for now you look at it just to see where he is. And he's been in the mid-20s, Romney, just forever. I mean, it's just a flat line. If it were an EKG, we'd be worried about it. But the question: why can't he grow? What's the issue?

GOEAS: Well, I think two things. One is if you look at the Iowa and the New Hampshire polls, he is doing much, much better. Those are the more realistic polls at this point.

I think there -- I think we entered this election cycle with kind of a belief that we didn't want to fall into the trap as Republicans of picking the next one in line. Romney had run before. So I think there was a certain standing back from Romney because of that.

But I also have to say there was a lot of us who -- I put myself in this category -- that was not necessarily the biggest fan of Mitt Romney, who has watched him not push the panic button when Perry's numbers jumped way up, and it seemed to be not overcoming and leaving them in the dust. He has performed very well in terms of the debates. He's run a very strong campaign.

For most Republican voters, the issue of who can beat Obama is no longer the issue. The issue is we believe we're going to beat Obama. It's a matter of who will make the best president. And I think in that shadow, looking at that, Romney seems to be owning up pretty well.

KING: That's the question in the next series of debates, including the Bloomberg one this week, the CNN one next week. Worth watching.

Up next, a leading Republican -- James, you're going to stay with us -- a leading Republican says the attorney general is either a liar or incompetent.


KING: Testy relations between the Obama White House and House Republicans go well beyond the high-profile fight over taxes and spending and the role of government. One leading Republican now suggests the president's attorney general is either incompetent or a liar.

And other Republicans wants that same attorney general and his Justice Department to investigate whether the administration broke the law in how it handled the loan to a now-bankrupt clean energy company called Solyndra.

Aggressive but fair oversight from the House Republican majority, or politically-driven letters, questions and subpoena threats designed to embarrass the Democratic administration.

Let's continue with James Carville and Ed Goeas.

James, you know Eric Holder, the attorney general, quite well. But I want you to listen here. This is Darrell Issa. He's talking about Fast and Furious. The testimony the attorney general gave to Congress about when he found out about this program, essentially this gun-trafficking program and a lot of these guns ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels. They were then used in murders on both sides of the border, so it's been a huge embarrassment for the administration.

And on the question of when Eric Holder knew it, Darrell Issa flat-out thinks he's lying. Listen.


REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: Clearly, he was overseeing an organization that let 2000 weapons walk, knew they were letting it walk, and concealed that from not just Congress but also from the ambassador in Mexico, the Mexican people and so on.


KING: And then Darrell Issa, James, writes a letter to the attorney general saying, "Operation Fast and Furious was the department's most significant gun trafficking case. On your watch it went wrong. Whether you realize it yet or not, you own Fast and Furious.

You know Eric Holder. Would he lie to Congress?

CARVILLE: No. And by the way, if he did, it's pretty -- something that wouldn't be hard to prove. Because somebody would have told him. There would be a paper trail. And as I understand it, there's an internal investigation in the Justice Department about this and also, as I understand it, this entire program started under the previous administration.

It may go wrong. The idea -- this happens a lot of times with law enforcement. They let some of the guns through and hope they can track them, I think, up the food chain if you will. The idea that the attorney general is going to go out there and lie is pretty far- fetched. Particularly on something like this where it's not the hardest thing in the world to prove it.

KING: The attorney general said in a letter before this latest response -- Darrell Issa's letter was a response to the attorney general who on Friday sent a letter saying, "Such irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric must be repudiated in the strongest possible terms."

This will be interesting in any event, but this is the senior law enforcement official in the United States of America. They have Republicans in Congress saying he's lying or he's incompetent. It's a pretty high charge. Do they need to deliver? GOEAS: Well, if you look at some of the answers he has given, he does look like a lawyer parsing the words from time to time.

I think at some point, they're going to -- the issue is not the act very often. It's what appears to be the cover up or the cover up that gets you.

At some point, looking at all the information on this, at some point they're either going to have to throw somebody under the bus for not doing good staff work, or for not driving home the point of what he was reading. This is what it was all about.

But I think there's more smoke here than maybe don't think that the attorney general is lying, but I think there was an effort to minimize the effect of this in the politics of this, and that's what's going to end up being in trouble. Go ahead, James.

CARVILLE: The charge that somebody is incompetent, that's a common charge in a campaign. That's what it is. I mean, plenty of people in the Bush administration, I never would have called Alberto Gonzales golfing? OK.

But saying that the attorney general knowingly lied to a congressional committee, that's -- that's a pretty -- you better have something to come with on that. Incompetence is something that, you know, they may view as incompetent, something like that.

But if this guy has given sworn testimony and probably will give more sworn testimony and if Issa has anything to come forward with, it will be something to know. I don't -- the charge of incompetence is not one that's unusual in American politics. Charging a cabinet member with incompetence is not something unusual. Lying to Congress is.

KING: Is the attorney general of the United States -- he's the top law enforcement officer in the country. If you're going to do it, you better be able to prove it.

GOEAS: And James is exactly right. Incompetence is not unusual. At some point, we have to own up to it and move on, as opposed to continuing to try to get -- get into this back and forth.

KING: I want to close tonight -- I'm going to jump in here. I want to close tonight. Herman Cain has shot way up in the polls. Way up in the polls. Listen to this. He knows in the debates people start asking more credible questions to see if he's a credible candidate for president. Listen to what he told James Brody.


CAIN: I'm ready for the gotcha questions. And they're already starting to come. And when they ask me who's the president of Ubeki- beki-beki-beki-stan-stan, I'm going to say, "You know, I don't know. Do you know?"

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: He's just having fun there. Let's watch Herman Cain in debate. Bloomberg debate tomorrow night, a CNN debate a week from tomorrow night, an important time for president.

Ed Goeas, James Carville, thanks for coming in.

That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT," ready to take it away right now. And Erin, you've got an interview with the Donald tonight.