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Herman Cain Blasts 'Smear Campaign'; Sheriff's Advice: Get a Gun

Aired November 1, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

More breaking news this evening in the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations drama. One of the women who accused the Republican presidential hopeful of inappropriate conduct back in the 1990s now wants to tell her story, but for now is legally prohibited from doing so.

"The Washington Post" quotes the woman's attorney as saying she's asking the National Restaurant Association to release her from a confidentiality agreement she signed as part of a cash settlement. Now, Cain headed that restaurant trade group at the time and he denies any sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior and today he told our sister network HLN the allegations have surfaced now as part of a political smear campaign.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would simply say, why are you bringing it up now? Obviously someone is encouraging them to bring it up now because I'm doing so well in this Republican nomination. That's all I would say.

Why are you bringing it up now? Secondly, are you being used to try and help paint a cloud and help sabotage my candidacy? That's all I would say. I would just simply ask a question as to why they would do that now.


KING: That has apparently angered at least one of the women. Here's what her attorney, Joel Bennett, told "The Washington Post" -- quote -- "It's just frustrating that Herman Cain is going around bad- mouthing the two complainants and my client is blocked by a confidentiality agreement."

Joining us now on the telephone is our chief legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

Jeff, if she signed a confidentiality agreement a dozen years ago and the Restaurant Association signed that agreement, presumably, Mr. Cain signed it as well. She can't get out of it on her own, can she?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You're making some assumptions there that I'm not sure are valid. We don't know what's in the contract.

My guess is Herman Cain did not sign that confidentiality agreement, it was probably directly between her and the National Restaurant Association, so it's really up to the Restaurant Association about whether they want to waive it. Presumably they'd be influenced by Herman Cain saying let her tell her story, but first place he hasn't said that yet, he will be sure to be asked that soon.

Second place, we don't know what the Restaurant Association will do. But to get to the bottom line, chances are, when someone wants to tell their story in the United States of America, they wind up telling it and I expect we will be hearing from this woman sooner rather than later.

KING: You have that expectation. And I suspect you are right.

Let's go through how this would work legally, though. If she signed the document a dozen years ago, if it's just between her and the Restaurant Association, then nothing Mr. Cain is saying would take away the agreement, correct? It would have to be the Restaurant Association itself which the only statement they have made on the record is that they can't and won't comment on personnel decisions made a long time ago.

TOOBIN: Probably, although, again, it depends on what the confidentiality agreement actually says. There might be a provision in it that says it's waived if a former employee of the National Restaurant Association speaks.

In that case, her attorneys could argue he's voided it. That's why the wording of the contract, because that's what a confidentiality agreement is, makes all of the difference. What does it say? Is she still bound by it?

KING: And would it be typical to have some penalty in there for violating it? Obviously there was a financial settlement here, reports are in the five figures. Is there, if you violate this you pay a penalty or you simply maybe forfeit the money?

TOOBIN: That's the custom. The custom for employees who leave and sign confidentiality agreements is the agreement says, if you breach this, you have to give whatever money we gave you back.

And obviously she -- even though it's many years later, especially since it's many years later, she doesn't want to give that money back. That's the risk she runs in breaching it. Who knows if they would ever go to court to enforce it, but she's being advised by cautious lawyers. They want to make sure she's not at risk of losing her money.

KING: And that was the last point I wanted to raise. If she just decides she wants to speak and she does that, the Restaurant Association would have to decide to court to block her and seek an injunction or seek to penalize her. Most unlikely, don't you think?

TOOBIN: The National Restaurant Association is not usually the center of national political controversy. I cannot believe they are pleased to be in this position. They want less attention rather than more attention, and they are sitting around presumably thinking, how do we get out of this thing without getting our name dragged through the mud?

The last thing they will want to do is file some lawsuit which would only guarantee much, much more publicity.

KING: Jeff Toobin helping us work out the legal issues tonight. I a fascinating case. We will stay on top of that question.

Word of the two sexual harassment allegations and two cash payments by the Restaurant Association surfaced just as Mr. Cain emerged as a force in the Republican race. He's leading most national polls among the Republican contenders now and in first or second place in most of the key early primary and caucus states.

But this crisis could impact that in part because Cain's explanations have been inconsistent, in some cases contradictory. At first, for example, he said he was not aware of any financial settlements with the two accusers.


CAIN: As far as a settlement, I am unaware of any sort of settlement. I hope it wasn't for much, because I didn't do anything. But the fact of the matter is, I'm not aware of a settlement that came out of that accusation.


KING: Within hours, though, he was discussing one of the cases, including the settlement, in great detail.


CAIN: And I did this, saying, "You're the same height as my wife," because my wife is 5 feet tall and she comes up to my chin. This lady is 5 feet tall, and she came up to my chin.

So, obviously, she thought that that was too close for comfort.


KING: Today Mr. Cain said this to HLN's Robin Meade when asked about his changing story.


CAIN: I just started to remember more. Remember, in 12 years, a lot of stuff can go through your head. This wasn't exactly something that I had top of mind where I was trying to recall every little detail that went on 12 years ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: A defiant Cain predicts his campaign will not be harmed and he says he had a record fund-raising day Monday as the allegations dominated the news cycle.

And with this story has come a racially charged subplot. Cain himself calls it a high-tech lynching. Remember that's the same term Clarence Thomas used when his Supreme Court nomination was in question because of Anita Hill's last-minute sexual harassment allegations.

Look at this fund-raising e-mail from the Cain campaign -- quote -- "They're engaging in a high-tech lynching by smearing his reputation and attacking his character. The idea of a black conservative like Herman Cain as the GOP nominee is Barack Obama and the left's worst nightmare."

That has now become a rallying cry in conservative circles. Listen to this exchange between Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter last night.

Hannity: "Both Herman Cain and Clarence Thomas used the term high-tech lynching. Is that accurate?"

Ann Coulter: "Yes, yes, it absolutely is, absolutely. And it's coming from the exact same people who used to do the lynching with ropes and now they do it with a word processor."

Hannity: "You mean the Democratic Party?"

Coulter: "Yes."

Among those who agrees with Ann Coulter is Brent Bozell. He's president of the Media Research Council. And someone who fiercely disagrees is our CNN contributor Roland Martin.

Brent, I want to start with you. How can you say -- what evidence is there that the Democratic Party and the left has anything to do with it this?

BRENT BOZELL, PRESIDENT, MEDIA RESEARCH CENTER: Do with what, John? That's the issue. You know, we have been talking about this for 36 hours now, I'm so going to ask you a question. What's Herman Cain done wrong? What's the accusation? What's the fact in the matter?

KING: I would say this. I would say you're absolutely right, there is no evidence he has done anything wrong and on this program we have been very clear to say innocence until proven guilty.


BOZELL: But it worse than that, John. It's worse than that. It's worse than that.

There's not even an accusation. And he's on trial. There's no accusation. What's he being accused of? Sexual harassment means anything you want it to mean. You know that. What's the -- none of us know. And we're talking about this for 36 hours? That's a lynching.


KING: If a Democratic candidate for president had been the head of a trade group or some private association and had been involved in cash settlements for sexual harassment allegations whether they -- maybe that Democrat would say they're baseless just like this. You wouldn't think that as a news story?

BOZELL: If there wasn't a specific charge, I would say the same thing, absolutely. I would say that, John. What is the accusation? Politico's going to run a story. What's the charge? They say they have got it, what is it? I'm waiting to hear what the charge is. Yet this man's been on trial for 36 hours. What's the charge?

KING: Roland, you reacted quite strongly to the idea that there was a high-tech lynching and again that term became front and center during the Clarence Thomas confirmation process.

You sent out a tweet today. "Hey, conservatives, this is a lynching." And you had a picture of a tweet there, we're not going to show it on television here, "But what is happening to @theHermanCain is not a lynching."

Roland, what got you so mad?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, John, we should show the photo. I believe CNN should, because Brent just sat there and talked about it's a lynching.

No, let's me tell you something, when you saw black men hanging from trees, their bodies burned, that's a lynching. A lynching is not when you have Herman Cain standing at the National Press Club singing "Amazing Grace."

At end of the day here's what you have. You have a story done by Politico that talked about allegations made against Herman Cain, a settlement from the National Restaurant Association. If the NRA wants to release the information, then so be it. But what Brent is trying to do with that fictitious e-mail he sent out earlier they want to shift the conversation away from Herman Cain and now try to make it about a race discussion. It is not.

It is offensive for him and Ann Coulter Rush Limbaugh and others to even sit here and try to compare what is happening to Herman Cain to lynching. Lynching, people were murdered, were killed. What's happening to Herman Cain is what is called big boy politics. If you run for president, this was going to come up. How do you not think it was going to come up?

KING: Brent, let me come in on that point. Even if this is a smear, even if it's opposition research whether it's from the left or maybe even another one of the Republican campaigns, how does it have anything to do with race, to Roland's point?

BOZELL: How do you -- first of all, how do you disprove a negative? Again, I'm going to say Roland...


KING: People are asserting this is because you have a prominent African-American conservative, that that's why this is happening. Where is the evidence?


BOZELL: Oh, I'm saying that there is a special disdain that the left has -- I'm sorry for this -- that the left for black conservatives. Absolutely I'm saying it.

And I'm saying they showed it against Clarence Thomas and they're showing it against Herman Cain. Herman Cain said in May, folks, this is going to happen. And it has happened. Look, if that term is acceptable for Justice Clarence Thomas, it's acceptable for me. If it's acceptable for Herman Cain, it's acceptable for me.


BOZELL: And, Roland, I want to ask you, what's the charge?

MARTIN: Excuse me, Brent. I'm going to answer this here.

Here's what you have, John. You have people on the right who despise Reverend Al Sharpton, who despise Reverend Jesse Jackson Sr. And so I can sit here and say, people on the right doesn't like some blacks on the left, people on the left don't like some blacks on the right.

This is not a race issue. And Brent knows it. What he wants to do, John, is to shift this conversation. Notice that's why Rush and Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Brent, they all are now parroting the same phrases. At the end of the day, we're talking about when you run for president, things in your past are going to come up. So whether you are...

BOZELL: What things?


BOZELL: ... John Kerry and the whole Swift Boat.


MARTIN: Excuse me, Brent. I didn't interrupt you.


BOZELL: For the fourth time the question, I'm going to ask the question. What's the charge? What is the accusation?


MARTIN: You need to go talk to the National Restaurant Association who clearly conducted their own investigation.

Look, you have a news Web site.


MARTIN: Excuse me, Brent. I didn't interrupt you.

You have a Web site, NewsBusters. Go do your own research, go do your own reporting. But what I'm saying is this here. Whether it was Senator Kerry and Swift Boat, whether it was John Edwards, whether it was President Obama right now and Solyndra, the reality is stories come up, issues come up that get investigated. And so this is a long line. But it is nonsense for you to try to sit here and make it a race issue.


BOZELL: You have got him on trial and you won't tell me what the charge is. What's the charge?


MARTIN: He's not on trial.

KING: I don't think we have anybody on trial. I think we have a man who was the head of a major trade association.


BOZELL: Oh, come on. Come on, John. You're tell me that Herman Cain is not on trial right now? Come on. You're better than that. Of course he's on trial.


KING: I think there are questions. He's running for president of the United States and this story was published by a reputable news organization that accounts cash payments from an organization he headed to two women. He says those accusations are baseless. I take him at his word until I know otherwise, but the payments were made. And then, Brent, he did complicate things by having some contradictory statements.


MARTIN: Yes, he did.


KING: I concede it was 12 years ago and maybe it took some time, but he did complicate things by having inconsistencies in his initial explanations, did he not?

BOZELL: John, if you take him at his word and there's not a scintilla of evidence against him, why are we on the air talking about this? (CROSSTALK)

MARTIN: Well, first of all, John, well, here's the deal, though.

Listen to what John just said, Brent. And, Brent, I read your press releases. If this was reversed, you would be sitting here slamming John King by saying how dare you not talk about this here?

The fact of the matter is he gave an emphatic that I had no knowledge whatsoever of settlements. Few hours later, he all of a sudden begins to say he did. Either you did or you didn't. And so, all of a sudden he begins to say I talked about the size, she came to my wife's chin.

And so all of a sudden, is he saying that's what the comment was? So again, Brent, you can dance around this but what I'm saying is, if you want to make the argument that we shouldn't be discussing it at all, that's fine, but it is shameful for you and others to sit here and compare it to lynching. I'm saying, Brent, stop with lynching. Stop with lynching. Stop using the phrase.


BOZELL: Yesterday morning, he said he didn't recollect anything. By last night, he recollected a little tiny fact. That's all he recollected.

MARTIN: OK. All right. He was emphatic no settlement.


KING: I don't want a shouting match for the entire program here.

Brent, I do want to give you -- to Roland's point there -- and, Roland, please let Brent finish his answer here.

MARTIN: Absolutely.

KING: He says where does the race part come from, Brent? Please, take the floor.

BOZELL: I do believe that there is a special disdain that the left has for black conservatives. Whether it is Clarence Thomas, whether it is Herman Cain, whether it is Thomas Sowell, anybody who stands up as a black conservative is attacked mercilessly by the left and I think they're attacked far more fiercely than white conservatives are.


MARTIN: When I listen to conservatives attack Reverend Sharpton, Reverend Jackson, I hear the same thing. So, that's just weak.

KING: We're not going to settle this debate here tonight. I appreciate both of you coming on the program. And we will continue the conversation as necessary. We will see how this one goes forward. Brent Bozell...


KING: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

KING: When we come back, we will get some perspective from an executive who worked very closely with Herman Cain in the private sector.


KING: If you're just joining us, there is breaking news tonight in the sexual harassment allegations surrounding the campaign of Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain.

One of the women who accused him of sexual harassment back in the 1990s now says through her attorney she wants to tell her story. "The Washington Post" quotes that attorney as saying the woman's trying to be released now from a confidentiality agreement she signed more than a dozen years ago with the National Restaurant Association.

Mr. Cain headed that trade group at the time. He denies these allegations.

Last night, we talked to his longtime executive assistant as we tried to learn more about Mr. Cain, the man, from friends of his as to whether they believe anything like this could be possible.

Let's talk to another former longtime associate right now.

Joining us now from Miami is Frank Taylor. He's a former Burger King executive who worked with Herman Cain from 1983 through 1986.

Mr. Taylor, thank you for your time tonight.

Let me just start there with that question. In any of your experience with Herman Cain, did he say or do anything that you would interpret as potentially offensive, potentially someone might see as sexual harassment in his language, in his mannerisms, in any way?


KING: Describe him in the professional set, particularly because that's the issue at hand here, his dealings with women.

TAYLOR: Certainly, I saw Herman Cain in a number of social situations. He would occasionally go to happy hour with the region's staff at a nearby Bennigans on Friday nights.

I traveled with him to various meetings and conferences with franchisees and other Burger King employees, saw him social situations in restaurants, in bars, and in some cases in nightclubs, and I can honestly say that I never saw Herman Cain do anything that I would consider to be inappropriate.

KING: You know, he makes a point himself that he has a sense of humor and sometimes it rubs the people the wrong way in politics or sometimes it seems a little out of context in politics. He's brash, he's certainly very confident. Anything at all that somebody might misinterpret?

TAYLOR: Well, certainly when you shake hands with Herman and the times that I have seen him since I worked for him, he's not someone that just comes up and gives you a handshake. He gives you a handshake, a slap on the back, a big hello. That's just his style.

Herman is a very outgoing person. And, you know, he's someone that you know -- is -- you know, has no problem in giving you a pat on the back or maybe put a hand on the shoulder, but it's certainly just part of the way he is.

KING: You just heard a conversation that got a little bit heated, and from the conservatives you hear a lot of people saying this is not a legitimate news story, why are we covering this, and part of it is the allegations were made when he was head of a serious organization here and he was the chief executive of that organization. And part of it politically now is his response to this.

You know him well as a chief executive and as a colleague. As you have watched in the last 24 to 36 hours initially he would say nothing, then he said he knew nothing about this, they were anonymous sources and then he said he knew nothing at all about any settlements. Then he was discussing the settlements in some detail. Has that part of it surprised you, that his story has evolved?

TAYLOR: That part is a surprise.

I would have thought that the campaign would have had a more coherent response. In working with Herman Cain, he was an individual who did have a grasp of details. He's a big picture type of person. But he also when I worked with him certainly had a grasp of the details.

KING: You say had a grasp of the details. As a chief executive you're also very mindful are you not of your behavior, and if there had been an accusation about this -- you say the campaign should have pulled this together more quickly. You would assume that Mr. Cain would remember it quite well, would you not?

TAYLOR: That's hard for me to say.

KING: Hard for you to say.

But when you say a detail-oriented person, explain what you mean.

TAYLOR: I was the numbers guy for him. He would know the numbers, as well as have the broader strategy. Would I think that if such a situation occurred that Mr. Cain would have remembered? Yes, but that's just my point of view.

KING: As you have watched all this unfold in the last couple of days, what's gone through your mind?

TAYLOR: I certainly was shocked when I heard the first reports on Sunday. It's just not fitting with the Herman Cain that I know.

KING: Would you vote for him?

TAYLOR: You know, I think it's too early to tell. We're still a year away from the election. And I'm certainly not in a position on who I would support at this time.

KING: Frank Taylor, appreciate your insights tonight on your former associate and friend Herman Cain. Really appreciate your time. Thank you.

TAYLOR: Thanks for the opportunity.

KING: You're welcome, sir.

Coming up here, a South Carolina sheriff who has some controversial advice for people in his county. He says it's time to get a gun.


KING: An exasperated South Carolina sheriff is raising eyebrows with his provocative crime-fighting advice, get a gun.

That's right. Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright says women in his community should forget about buying mace and instead apply for a concealed weapons permit. It's advice that has national gun control organizations up in arms. But Sheriff Wright isn't backing down.

His anger stems from a weekend attack allegedly committed by a repeat offender. Listen here, and it's clear Sheriff Wright knows what he's saying is going to cause a bit of controversy.



Got a lady on Sunday, afternoon, guys, Sunday, walking her dog, and this animal comes up and attacks her. It's almost too bad that somebody with a concealed weapons permit didn't walk by and hear the cries. That would fix it. I'm tired of looking at these victims. I'm tired of looking at these people saying, there's life after this.

I think I better stop before I get sanctioned.


KING: Sheriff Wright joins us now.

And, Sheriff, I want to pick up right there.

During that news conference you also held up a fanny pack, at one point saying you can get a gun, you can put it in a little fanny pack like this, I want you to get a concealed weapons permit. You kept saying over and over and then at the end you said I better stop before I get sanctioned.

What were you worried about, sir?

WRIGHT: I was worried about my wife. I wasn't worried about what some of these other gun control people think.

KING: Well, let's talk about that. As you know, you say this is a solution. This man, you call an animal. It is your hope that somebody -- you wish that somebody with a concealed weapons permit had been in the park that day. Is that what you're saying?

WRIGHT: Yes, sir, it's exactly what I'm saying.

I'm really tired of looking at some of these women that we have to look at and tell we have had this gentleman in our criminal justice system over 20 times and we couldn't do anything with them and we're sorry they're back on the street raping you.

And I'm tired of people who feel like the form of justice that we have now is working, because it's proof positive that it doesn't. He's been in the system 20 times since 1983 and it's pretty apparent that he's not going to get the message.

KING: How in the world does he keep getting out?

WRIGHT: I wish I knew.


KING: But isn't that the real failure? If this guy's an animal, and is a repeat offender and is an obvious threat, shouldn't he be behind bars?

WRIGHT: I certainly believe that he should be behind bars.

And if we can't -- if we don't have enough prisons, everybody's hollering about space, let's bring the chain gang back and do that, but let's make somebody held accountable, instead of patting him on the back and telling him that a little bit more probation is what you need until you get rehabilitated. And he had no business being on the street attacking this woman.

KING: I understand your frustration. And I'm sure many people understand your frustration and appreciate your outage. Some though as you know think what you're suggesting is vigilante justice, having citizens carrying weapons and they could pretty easily make a bad call, couldn't they?

WRIGHT: Well, a police officer could make a bad call, for that matter.

I'm certainly not advocating that vigilante justice. I'm advocating that law-abiding citizens who meet the criteria and want to arm themselves do so and be trained by a professional and protect their rights.

KING: The Brady campaign, as you know, is a group here in Washington named for the former White House press secretary, James Brady. It advocates strict gun control across the country. If you go to its Web site, it gives South Carolina a ten out of a possible 100 points on gun control and it says, quote, on the Web site, "South Carolina has weak gun laws that help feed the illegal gun market and allow the sale of guns without background checks."

Then we asked them specifically about what you said, Sheriff, in response to this crime, and they said this: "To tell a woman to carry a gun is tantamount to telling her to put herself at much greater risk for being shot and killed. Sheriff Wright's suggestion is a bad idea."

How would you answer that?

WRIGHT: I would suggest that they pop their head out of the sand and understand that, when you make gun laws for control, only the law- abiding citizens are going to abide by them and all of the thugs that are out here raping women and robbing people and shooting them, that's the reason why they are able to put all of these programs on TV, "World's Dumbest with Guns" because they have them there. So only people that it's going to affect when you do gun control is the law- abiding citizens.

KING: Those who have those permits, are they making any impact on crime?

WRIGHT: Well, we had a gentleman about six weeks ago that was followed by two noncompliant gentlemen. I'll just leave it at that, and they came up to him in his own driveway, followed him from an ATM, approached him in his own driveway, threatened to hurt or kill him with a crowbar. The gentleman that was accosted had a concealed weapons permit, killed the gentlemen and shot at the other one, and I didn't have to tell his family that he was killed for about 65 bucks. So that guy won't be a repeat offender anymore.

Now, I'm certainly not advocating that everybody should die that commits a crime. There comes a point in time that, you know, you have to defend yourself, and don't be so naive to think the police can be everywhere. I'm the sheriff of a pretty large county. I'd like to be everywhere, but I'm not going to blow smoke in your ear and tell you that everything's great when it's not.

KING: What about the resource questions. One of the debates here in Washington, you know, the president wants to have this jobs bill that would give states and local communities more money to keep police on the books. In terms of resources, you say you can't be everywhere. I appreciate that, sir. Do you have the same amount of men, more men, fewer men than you had, say, three, four or five years ago?

WRIGHT: We've increased our numbers just -- just a small amount: 1 percent, 2 percent. But putting a cop on every corner is still not going to solve crime. KING: Sheriff Chuck Wright of Spartanburg, South Carolina. Sir, we appreciate your time tonight.

WRIGHT: Thanks for letting me be on.

Let's circle back now to our top story, the potential fallout over sexual harassment allegations against the Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain. Mr. Cain says the allegations are baseless, and he also says if those who are pushing them are trying to hurt his campaign, that he's going to prove them wrong. Listen.


HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yesterday online we had one of our highest fund-raising days in the campaign. One of the highest ever. So what it has done, I believe, it has backfired on those that are trying to put a cloud over my campaign, because they can't shoot down my ideas.


KING: Well, what is the highest ever? The number Herman Cain just mentioned, well, that's tonight's number, $400,000. The Cain campaign says it raised $400,000 online just yesterday as these allegations, of course, were all over the news media for the month of October. The Cain campaign says it's had its best month, $5 million raised in October. Welcome to November. We'll see how that continues.

Up next here, the Justice Department reveals an alleged plot to attack U.S. Citizens.


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

The Justice Department just announced the arrest of four men in Georgia calling them members of a fringe militia group. They're charged with plotting attacks on U.S. citizens with explosives and the biological toxin ricin.

Today for the first time a top official at Justice Department expressed regret over programs to put U.S. guns into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The now-discredited operation, Fast and Furious, and an earlier program called Wide Receiver were supposed to uncover illegal weapons smuggling.


LANNY BREUER, ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, CRIMINAL DIVISION: I regret that in April of 2010 that I did not draw the connection between Wide Receiver and Fast and Furious. And moreover, I regret that even in earlier this year that I didn't draw that connection.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's mother, Dorothy Rodham, died today. She was 92.

Up next, here, score one for consumer outrage. One of the nation's biggest banks just decided to let you keep a bit more of your money.


KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour. Erin's here with a preview, and Erin, the little guy wins one: Bank of America dropping that $5 debit-card fee after customer complaints. Does -- does that mean consumer outrage wins?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: I think it does, and this is an issue, John. I mean, I've had a real issue with banks doing this. They've started to do it earlier this spring. They started to test things like ATM fees at banks, you know. JPMorgan tested a $5 one if you went to a Bank of America ATM. This was a debit-card fee.

The banks said they needed to do this to make up for the added costs of financial reform. Now, looking at all of the analysis out there, there are added costs, all right, and there is a shift in how people account for credit-card transactions.

However, the numbers that I've seen -- and we've looked into this -- for Bank of America, analysis I saw by Credit Suisse First Boston, analysts there actually said they would make more money because of these ATM fees and these debit card fees, $5 fee, after the financial reform than they did before. So they really didn't have much of a leg to stand on.

Customer revolt, Molly Catchpole (ph) was the young lady in her early 20s who started that online petition, and she stuck with it. And I think it really shows that it made a difference.

So a win there for customers, but I would say, John, be careful, because you don't know where the fee will materialize. Because they're not going to give up.

KING: Yes. They always try to find a new way.


KING: What else you got coming up?

BURNETT: Well, I know you've been talking about Herman Cain and how one of the women who was involved in this settlement or agreement, as he calls it, her lawyer now says that, well, she should be released from her agreement with the National Restaurant Association and able to give her side of the story. We're going to get the legal background of that, whether it can really happen and what she might really have to say. Obviously, really important for Herman Cain.

And then we're going to be talking about a story that really captured my attention today, John. That -- that flight that left Newark and flew to Warsaw in Poland, all the landing gear failed on the 767, and that is the belly landing. Can you imagine being on that plane?

KING: Whew!

BURNETT: And we're going to talk to Captain Sullenberger, who is the other -- the man in charge of the other famous landing. Apparently, they can't remember a time when you've seen landing all three sets of landing gear, all the backups failing, Boeing 767, but that's what we saw there. So we're going to talk to him and find out what really happened on that plane.

KING: You've got the right guy to explain, A, what the book says to do and, B, how the heart pounds when you're doing it.

BURNETT: Oh, gosh. It's a nightmare. All right. Well, we'll see you soon, John.

KING: See you, Erin. Thank you.

Now Herman Cain's inconsistent explanations about the sexual harassment allegations made against him in the 1990s, are they hurting his efforts at damage control? And how much might this hurt his campaign?

Joining us now from New York, veteran Republican strategist Ed Rollins; in Jacksonville, Florida, Billie Tucker, with the Tea Party Alliance in Florida. Here in Washington with me, Democratic strategist CNN contributor, Donna Brazile.

Billie, I want to go straight to you first, someone out there in touch with the grassroots as we've seen Mr. Cain rise in the polls, one of the places he's rising is among Tea Party members. But when you're talking to folks in the movement, what do they make of this?

BILLIE TUCKER, TEA PARTY ALLIANCE: Well, they love Herman Cain. He's great. He's one of us. He's just a normal guy who actually lived the American dream, and that's why they love him so much.

KING: And the conversations in the last 24 hours or so about these allegations, are people concerned? Do they want to hear a better explanation? Are they satisfied with his explanation?

TUCKER: Well, they're not really happy about it at all. And it's a little bit of a different take, John. They feel like this is another political hit. And people really just want to talk about the issues, and they don't want all the stuff drug up from someone's past. So people aren't really siding with the other side on this. They're probably going to side with Herman Cain.

KING: And it is an interesting perspective. Ed Rollins, if you were listening at the top of the program, Brent Bozell and Roland Martin were going at it, and you've heard what conservatives are saying that this is some sort of a smear campaign by the Democrats or the left, in which a report in a news organization, I think there's a bit of a stretch that there is where it came from, but if you look at the Drudge Report, if you look at the front -- front page of the Drudge Report, it says Obama/Cain, right at the top, "Is America Ready?" You see that.

To what do you attribute this, Ed? Is this a smear campaign? Is this the left going after an African-American conservative?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I don't know. I don't know anything but what I've read, and the bottom line here is obviously a number of years ago he did something. He can't quite remember what it is. He may before it's all through. Or we may have one of the other participants telling the story.

The critical thing here in any kind of crisis management, which I do a lot of, is that of tell the truth. And I can tell you, having done this for a long, long time, in almost every case, the version of the truth -- and I'm not saying this is Herman's side -- but the version of the truth your client tells you usually is not the version of the truth that ends up being the story.

So from his perspective, like I said last night on this show, whatever the story is, however he gets it out, finds out about it, get it out there, tell it one time, stick with it, and move on. This is an untraditional campaign. He obviously is a popular guy. He's got a big personality. A lot of people like him. We'll see where it goes.

KING: Donna, where do you think it's going?

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, this is Cain versus Cain. This is not the liberal left or blacks, or anyone else attacking Herman Cain. This is Herman Cain, who's a front-runner now in the Republican Party, and he's coming under scrutiny from the media and other candidates who are trying to beat him at the polls.

So I think Herman Cain should have gotten in front of this story. He should have been prepared for the questions. And he should have, you know, pretty much put out the facts and stuck with them.

KING: Billie Tucker makes an important point that she does not see any fallout at the moment. Here's the baseline by which we can judge this. We're going to show you a new -- this is a new Florida University/WSVB-TV poll -- conducted by Suffolk University, excuse me.

Choice of Republicans for president among Florida voters: Mitt Romney, 25 percent; Herman Cain, 24 percent; Speaker Gingrich is at 11; Governor Perry at 9; Congressman Paul at 5; Governor Huntsman at 2 percent. So Herman Cain in a statistical tie right now in your state of Florida, Billie. This poll was taken before these allegations hit the newspapers and hit the television shows, so it's a good baseline. We'll look back in a week, look back in two weeks and see if Mr. Cain's going up or down.

What do you make of the fact that in your state, which is pretty important -- we go Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and then it's off to Florida -- you've got a dead heat, a Romney/Cain dead heat? TUCKER: Well, what we make of it is, Mitt Romney's been campaigning for six years, and Herman Cain hasn't been out there that long. And so he's pretty neck and neck with him and just says that he's resonating with the grassroots. The grassroots want to have an opportunity to have their own candidate, and Herman Cain is right now at the top of the line.

KING: Ed Rollins, isn't this -- to continue state by state, not just the national polls, state by state Herman Cain is proving that he's a force in this race. So a lot of us who've been at this a while, you know, we keep saying, "Well, does he have any infrastructure? Does he have an organization? Can he sustain it?" Is he going to prove us wrong?

ROLLINS: Who knows? You know, none of this matters at this point in time. Now what Florida is obviously a media state, ten big media markets. It's very similar -- I grew up in California. It's very similar to California. It's kind of a mini nation.

I think what the poll, this poll indicates is very much reflective of the national poll. Twenty-five percent do not want Romney and they're going to find somebody else, whether it's Herman Cain or somebody else. Right now it's Herman Cain.

And I think to a certain extent, the infrastructure, television, all those kinds of things matter as we move closer to voters voting. Right now it's all about polls, which are someone picking up a telephone. Who do you like? A list of names. And obviously, a fourth of the voters like Herman Cain right today.

KING: He is a very likable guy, Donna. He plays that up, and he is a likable guy. He's a great communicator. He's a very good -- he's in the brands business, when he's in the business community, and he's branded himself quite well as the apolitical guy.

When you look at these numbers like that, what's the test for his sustainability?

BRAZILE: You know, John, you can lead in the polls today, but the bottom line is, do you have the organization to win? It's about recruiting delegates. It's about being able to put together an organization.

Cain has shown that he's likable. He's been a doll (ph) in the religious right and the conservative movement now for more than a decade. Can he weather this current storm? Can he weather the storms to come? And can he win the Republican nomination?

KING: And Billie Tucker, does this matter to you? They also asked in this poll, general election hypothetical match-ups. Obama versus Romney, it's a dead heat, 42/42 in the state of Florida, which as we all know, sometimes decides presidential elections. Sometimes made by 500 votes or so. Forty-two/42 there.

And if you do Obama versus Cain, it's 42/39. So that's pretty close. Mr. Cain still pretty close. Governor Romney a tiny bit stronger.

Does that matter when you talk to people? Are they looking at the general election match-ups now? Or is this about ideology: I want a guy who supports me and my issues?

TUCKER: They want a guy that supports us. That's what it is, because we really are tired of all the establishments picking and choosing who the winners are going to be. We want our voice heard, and it will be heard this time.

KING: And if you look at this poll, Ed, I want to put up the -- put up the statewide poll again, if you could. Because we see this in just about every state. Mitt Romney, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry. If you view this as a horse race, Ed Rollins, and you got Romney, Cain and Gingrich, if you're Governor Perry, how do you get around? You know, you've got to pass a few people to get back up to be in contention for the front. He's had a tough stretch here.

ROLLINS: He has. And the advantage that he has, though, once again is he's a guy sitting there with $20 million. He's got operatives that know how to put a team together. You know, obviously, Newt has come back. I think he's a viable candidate. He doesn't have an organization or structure yet. Cain doesn't have a structure and organization yet. We'll see.

I mean, it's a long ways to go before voters actually cast votes. Plenty of time to do that for these four or five that have the money, the resources, the volunteers, the organizations. Several of those candidates that are on that list don't have those abilities to do that. And, obviously, the Tea Party can't support five different candidates. I think at this point in time they've chosen -- they've chosen Mr. Cain as their candidate.

KING: And will that stick, Billie Tucker? What's the buzz about Governor Perry?

TUCKER: Well, there's a lot of buzz about Cain, Newt and Perry. So right now, whenever we answer our phone at the Tea Party office, people are saying, "I want to get involved in all three of those campaigns."

So the grassroots, they're ready to go. They're just looking for the right person. And we feel like, by the time January rolls around, that we'll have that person. We'll know who it is.

KING: I want our Democrat to weigh in on this one. David Axelrod is the president's top political adviser. He's out in Chicago getting the campaign up and running. Here he does a "Washington Times"-affiliated radio show today, "America's Morning News." And we've been trying for some time to figure out. It was hope and change back in 2008. What will the slogan be in 2012? Donna, listen to David Axelrod.


DAVID AXELROD, OBAMA ADVISER: I think that he came to office at a time of tremendous challenge for this country. You know, the economy was in free-fall. And we had two wars. And, you know, someone said to me the other day, you know, his slogan should be -- should be "GM is alive and bin Laden is dead."


KING: Does that fit on a bumper sticker, "GM is alive and bin Laden in dead"?

BRAZILE: Well, look. I think Obama has a great deal of accomplishment. He can go back and tell the American people the things that he was able to fix and the things that he would like to continue to work on in his next term. It's about vision, and I think the president will have that.

KING: That's not "Morning in America," Ed Rollins, "GM is alive and bin Laden is dead."

ROLLINS: No, it's not "Morning in America," but I think...

BRAZILE: It's truthful.

ROLLINS: The most telling thing in this very, very critical state, a Republican has to win Florida in order to win, is either one of our front-runners are really in a dead heat with him. I think it's a weakness of him.

KING: Ed Rollins, Billie Tucker, Donna Brazile. Appreciate your time tonight. It's a fascinating race. It gets more fascinating by the day.

President Obama rolled out the red carpet today for local news anchors. Critics call it a political ploy where the president is slumping in the polls. Who got an invite? You might be surprised. That's tonight's "Truth," next.


KING: Call it the audacity of incumbency or maybe the Rose Garden strategy on steroids. All around America tonight, local news stations are speaking these words: "We're live from the White House."

Take a look. The Obama administration rolling out the red carpet today for selected local news anchors. Being live from the White House meant this: broadcasting from the South Lawn; an interview with the president; a chance to chat with members of the cabinet; and a White House staffer from the home town of each of those stations; lunch with senior advisor David Plouffe; a first-floor and a White House garden tour; and a chance to ask a question at the daily White House briefing. Guess what? The perks didn't end there.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One of the most surprising things, let's just say, whenever the White House dog came out and made a visit to everybody, that was certainly a surprising thing. Bo won a lot of hearts, and everybody kind of fawned all over him as well.


KING: Now the national news coverage has been anything but fawning lately. And so Team Obama, well, they called an audible and doing that, they took an age-old truth to a new level. For a president running for re-election, there's no place like home.

Ten local stations or media groups invited. And pull out a campaign 2012 target state map, and you'll quickly get the picture. Only Texas and Nebraska on that map are not Obama target states, but he raised a lot of money in Texas. And that Omaha station, guess what, has a lot of viewers across the border in swing state Iowa. No apologies from Team Obama.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We need to reach Americans where they live, if you will, to communicate with them via the media that they consume. And in this case, you know, the local television is obviously something that a lot of Americans rely on.


KING: Incumbents always use the perks of the presidency for political gain. Official trips, meaning at taxpayer expense, more often than not take the president from key battleground states, or they help offset the costs of political fund-raisers and the like.

A president can also change the day's headlines by popping into the East Room or the Rose Garden for an announcement. The very term "Rose Garden strategy" is born of a dynamic as old as the building.

The power of the presidency is a potent political weapon. Live at the White House today, just the latest twist as team Obama takes the Rose Garden approach to a new level.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also, just to go in and meet the president face to face is something I've never done in my career. I've done this for 25 years. And I was never granted a one-on-one personal live interview with the president at the White House, as well. When you walk around here, there certainly is a mystique.


KING: With high unemployment and a stubbornly sluggish economy, President Obama will need more than a little mystique to win re- election. But truth is every little bit helps in a close political environment, and local news viewers across the country tonight are seeing vivid proof team Obama isn't shy about using every perk of incumbency.

That's all for us tonight. We'll see you tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.