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Joe Paterno Hires Criminal Attorney; GOP Race Reshuffling

Aired November 11, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Important breaking news in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal tonight. Former Penn State coach Joe Paterno is hiring a high-profile criminal defense attorney. In a statement just put out by Paterno's son, he says -- quote -- "He," meaning coach Paterno, "is absolutely distraught over what happened to the children and their families. He also wants very much to speak publicly and answers questions. At this stage, however, he has no choice but to be patient and to defer with the legal process. He cooperated fully with the grand jury and he will continue to cooperate with that investigation as we move forward."

That announcement and that statement from the Paterno family comes only a short time after the university's president announced another member of the football team's coaching staff is out. Assistant coach Mike McQueary placed on indefinite administrative leave today. As a graduate assistant back in 2002, McQueary reported seeing the team's defensive coordinator at the time, Jerry Sandusky, raping a 10-year-old boy in the shower at school's football complex, but McQueary reported the incident not to the police but to the head coach Joe Paterno.

Sandusky now charged with raping at least eight boys over a 15- year period and there's outrage over what prosecutors believe was a cover-up at the school. Two former top university officials face criminal charges. The president and legendary coach Paterno now have been fired.

Tonight, Penn State's interim president says there may be more revelations and more victims.


RODNEY ERICKSON, INTERIM PRESIDENT, PENN STATE: It certainly appears from what we know. We do not know everything that happened, obviously. We have seen the presentment of the grand jury. But, clearly, this is an ongoing investigation. But it does appear that certainly some individuals were afraid to make known what they might have seen.


KING: All this on the same day the mother of an alleged victim came forward to tell her story in public for the first time. With her voice disguised, she told ABC's "Good Morning America" she became alarmed when her son came to her asking for help to go online and look up what he called sex weirdos.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I asked who he was looking up. And he said he wanted to see if Jerry was on there. And I said, well, why would you look him up? And he said, I don't know. He's a weirdo.

And I proceeded to ask him if there was something he needed to tell me. And at that point, he didn't indicate anything. I called the school and expressed my concerns. I told them to pull my son down to the guidance office and talk to him. And they did. At that point, they called me, telling me that it was very important that I get there immediately, which at that point, I already had suspicions, so I kind of knew what it was about.


KING: Later tonight, Penn State students will hold a prayer vigil for the victims of the sex abuse scandal.

With us now, criminal defense attorney Trent Copeland, reporter Sara Ganim with "The Patriot-News" of Harrisburg. Roxanne Jones is a Penn State graduate and a former ESPN executive.

Sara, I want to start on campus with you there, this dramatic news, the statement from coach Paterno's son that he would like to speak out but he can't because of the legal process and he's hiring a high-profile defense attorney. Sara, what does that tell you?

SARA GANIM, "THE PATRIOT-NEWS": Well, we really don't know. The attorney general has made it very clear that Joe Paterno is not a target of this investigation, he probably will be a witness and that he cooperated fully, so, you know that move it could go either way.

I think that a lot of people in a situation where it has been this tense and this many -- this much public outrage, get an attorney just to consult. And I think that is what we could be seeing here. He's also probably going to be one of the key prosecution witnesses against athletic director Tim Curley and now resigned vice president Gary Schultz. And so clearly there is always some concern that you want to get some counsel and some help in your testimony.

KING: Trent, come in on that point, in the sense that is it a safety valve, standard operating procedure with a grand jury investigation and other things ongoing? Or as the university goes back to square one and tries to retrace who knew what went when, and who did what when, is this a sign that perhaps, even though the attorney general at the moment says the coach is not a target, things could change?

TRENT COPELAND, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: John, I think, frankly, you know, what Joe Paterno is doing is well within his rights and clearly within his best interest, because remember he's not just hiring any lawyer, John.

He's hiring the lawyer who George Bush Sr. hired to represent him in connection with this Iran-Contra affair many years ago. This is a high-profile lawyer. This is a guy who knows what he is doing. He didn't just hire any lawyer.

This guy, this lawyer is going to be charged and tasked with the responsibility of trying to clear coach Paterno of any charges associated with perjury and obstruction of justice because as you said in the outset, look, they're going to go to square one. I'm not so sure that Joe Paterno is out of the woods in terms of criminal liability here, because remember if Joe Paterno was given graphic information from this graduate assistant, and that was graphic information in terms of the fact that there was sex going on in the shower, then coach Paterno was obligated to take that information and to give it in the same graphic detail that it was given to him.

If he doesn't do that, under Pennsylvania's Child Protection Services Act, he's violated law the law. If there are any inconsistencies in Joe Paterno's testimony to the grand jury and inconsistencies from what McQueary says he told coach Joe Paterno, then Joe Paterno has violated the law and he's in violation of that law in a very fundamental way.

So, look, it goes to the issue of what did he know, when did he know it, and what did he convey? And I'm not sure if there are inconsistencies -- and that is what is being reported -- there are inconsistencies between what McQueary says he told Joe Paterno and what Joe Paterno told that grand jury and importantly what Joe Paterno told athletic director, because if Joe Paterno downplayed it, Joe Paterno said it looked like it was horseplay, then the reality is that may explain why the athletic director didn't also didn't take this to authorities because frankly he didn't get the information that he should have gotten.

So, I think there are clearly issues associated with this that might implicate coach Joe Paterno. He's not out of the woods.

KING: And, Roxanne, you have called -- you're a former Penn State cheerleader, I should let our audience know that, and your involvement with ESPN and sports, you had been among those calling for the coach to step aside.

When you hear this tonight, Joe Paterno, 46 years the head coach, this iconic figure in college sports and on your campus, hiring a high-profile criminal defense attorney, what goes through your mind?

ROXANNE JONES, PENN STATE UNIVERSITY GRADUATE: I think it's exactly what we just heard.

I don't think he's out of the woods yet. I don't think this is just an offensive move by him. I don't think we have the whole story. And I don't think that he's out of the woods yet. I'm not the legal expert here. But I agree 1000 percent what he just said. I think we need to keep in mind that we don't have the whole story. I think that there's more to come. And he needed a top-notch lawyer because these are serious, serious allegations.

KING: Sara, coach McQueary also placed on indefinite leave. He is the one eyewitness we know from the grand jury report to what happened, one of those horrible incidents back in 2002. Is this being done to safeguard him? There have been threats against him in the middle of all this. Or could he too now be facing legal issues that could reflect on the university?

GANIM: Well, you know the only thing that we know from today is that Governor Tom Corbett in a press conference right before the new university president's press conference, said that there were some issues regarding whistle-blowers and also some question of who was going to be a witness in this case when they were deciding what to do with McQueary's status as an employee of Penn State.

So, you know, I think that this McQueary story is evolving. Yes, there were threats made against him. And that was the reason that last night they said that he wasn't going to be on the sidelines or in the box coaching at Saturday's game. Now we're finding out today, late today, that he's on paid administrative leave and that's indefinite.

KING: Trent, if you believe the grand jury report and other things that have been reported he's an eyewitness to a child sexual assault, and he called coach Paterno, not the police. What is his legal liability?

COPELAND: You know, look, John, he has -- fundamentally, according to law, he's not violated the law. He had an obligation to report this to his authorities. And I suppose that is what he did.

But it's hard to imagine. Most red-blooded American men, it's hard to imagine that you could watch a child being molested, being sexually assaulted and not do anything. Whether he's violated the letter of the law, I suppose there's an argument that maybe he did not. But he clearly violated the spirit of the law. We can call this a morality play or not, but there was something not right here. I'm still not certain that we have not seen the last of McQueary also being potentially indicted in this case.

KING: Under the cloud of all this, Roxanne, there are a lot of questions about the future of the program and the future of the coaching staff, and there's a game tomorrow.

And Dan Shaughnessy, a prominent sports columnist of "The Boston Globe," writes this: "It's still not too late to fire the coaching staff, cancel the game and cancel the season. Before the legal system plays out and the jail sentences are issued, before the glacially- paced, ever-sanctimonious NCAA gets around to its sanctions, Penn State has a chance to deliver a message and restore some of its soul."

Do you agree with Dan Shaughnessy or you think that is too far?

JONES: I have a lot of respect for Dan. I used to edit Dan.

I agree with him. And those thoughts ran across my mind, too. I don't want to in any way cheat the players who, you know, worked really hard this season, but I think that really takes a backseat. I just don't see how we can go into a game with hundreds of thousands, a hundred thousand people cheering, and wearing all blue, very celebratory, with this hanging over, these serious, serious, serious and very sad allegations hanging over the university.

I don't like how it looks at all, at all.

KING: Well, Sara, you're standing on the campus the evening before this big game. It's normally a very festive, a very rowdy, excited time on campus. What is it like tonight?

GANIM: You know, it's a little bit quiet here tonight, especially for a Friday night before a football game. And remember this was supposed to be a huge football game. It's the last home game of the season and the first home game against Nebraska since Nebraska joined the Big 10.

This is supposed to be -- tomorrow is supposed to be huge. Now it's going to be huge kind of in a different way, and a not-so-fun way. We did hear from president Rodney Erickson that there was some factions of students that are considering wearing all blue in support of victims. And he was very proud of them for that.

But I think what we also need to look for tomorrow is whether or not there are going to be protesters, what the security is going to be like, what the ticket sales are going to be like. Are people really going to show up for this? And there's a high focus on security because of all of those concerns. I think that tomorrow, you know, could be unlike any other football Saturday ever in Happy Valley.

KING: Sara Ganim, Roxanne Jones, Trent Copeland, appreciate your help with this dramatic news tonight. This is a story we need to stay on top of for days, perhaps weeks and months. Thanks to you all.

President Obama is due in San Diego any time now, his first stop on a nine-day trip, where the China challenge will be priority number one.

Up next, we will ask CNN's Fareed Zakaria what the president wants and what he's likely to get.


KING: There's evidence tonight of a significant reshuffling of the Republican presidential race, new numbers that explain why Rick Perry is feverishly trying a mix of humor and humility in a bid to save his faltering campaign.

The Texas governor's stab at late-night comedy is part of the damage control for a mind-numbing debate gaffe.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Hey, listen, you try concentrating with Mitt Romney smiling at you. That is one handsome dude. Yes. I wanted to help take the heat off of my buddy Herman Cain.




KING: And it's not every day that you hear a big state governor and candidate for president say this:


PERRY: You know, I said something at the Orlando debate that was arrogant.


KING: Or this:


PERRY: I want the people who disagreed with me on that day to know that I'm sorry.


KING: Here's why Perry is so sorry. A new McClatchy/Marist poll out tonight stacks the GOP field this way.

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney at 23 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich at 19 percent. Businessman Herman Cain 17 percent. Texas Congressman Ron Paul 10 percent and Governor Perry in single digits at 8 percent.

Well, safe to say Speaker Gingrich senses an opening, even in New Hampshire, where Romney has had a big lead for months.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I believe that everybody who assumed that one particular former governor of a neighboring state was automatically going to dominate New Hampshire is in for a great shock, because I think we can have an honest debate about what we need in Washington and what we need in America, and I have a hunch that we're going to do very, very well appealing to people.


KING: Is the GOP really ready to go back to the future with Speaker Gingrich?

CNN contributors Erick Erickson and James Carville are here representing the right and left respectful. With us in just a moment will be former Republican Congresswoman Susan Molinari. She knows Newt Gingrich quite well. For the record, though, she's a Mitt Romney supporter.

Erick Erickson, I want to start with you. And I want to show our viewers Governor Perry walking out on stage last night in "David Letterman." We have the video of him -- oh, we don't have that video, I'm told. Governor Perry makes this appearance last night.

Erick, humor is a great gift in politics. Self-deprecating humor helps people think, OK, the guy understands he fell down. Score Governor Perry's attempt at using humor to make the gaffe go away.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I have got to say I have heard a lot of reporters say today that he probably had better press yesterday than all the candidates have had one in single day in the last six months or so.

And you got to think looking at the ratings of the shows he was on today, about two-and-a-half more times people saw him do the mea culpa tour than they saw his actual debate flub. So I think to that degree it helped him.

KING: James, humor helps. You know that. Another thing that helps is money.

And one of the big questions now is, Governor Perry has slipped into single digits. He had this big gaffe. A lot of his national fund-raising might dry up, so what he is trying to do is move the national poll numbers up, try to show that he's on the way up, not the way down. So he's spending almost $1 million on air. He's the first candidate to go national with TV ads, FOX News, a conservative audience.

Here's little snippet of that ad.


GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, HOST, "ON THE RECORD": I'm curious, what did your wife say to you first?

PERRY: Last night?

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes, after that happened. I'm curious.

PERRY: My wife said, "I love you."


KING: That's not the ad. That's the governor on "Greta Van Susteren" last night. That's how my Friday night is going so far.

James Carville, to drop $1 million on FOX News right now tells you what?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know, it tells me that he got money, he raised a lot of money and he's not doing very well and he's not going to do very well for the simple fact that he's in an endeavor that he is completely ill-suited to do. He can't run for president. He doesn't have the skill, he doesn't have the ability to be on a national stage.

That's clear to everybody. And it's abundantly clear to these Republican primary voters who have watched this thing very closely. And he can't buy his way out of this. He's just dug himself in a hole. I thought he was funny. It was a good try. I respect his campaign for trying this. But it's evident that Rick Perry is in over his head by 1,000 miles.

KING: Congresswoman Molinari, you're a Romney supporter. We will get that on the table.

Let's start with Rick Perry. James said he's in over a mile. You know the dynamic of this race. We have watched as the Republican electorate tries to decide who will be the challenger?


KING: Right. Who will be the guy? And then we will let Romney and this guy -- we will let them fight it out, and we will pick a winner.

Do you think Perry is done? When you look, he has money. He is not going to get a lot more unless he proves himself. But he has a good infrastructure and he's a big state governor. Now he has got Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich sort of ahead of him right now in getting that spot.

You think he's down or out?

MOLINARI: I think right now he's done. I think because we have seen the flavor of the day change so much, I think the next week is going to really decide an awful lot for the Republican primary voters. How does he do in this debate on Sunday that's going to be on foreign affairs?

That's going to be a real test. People have to take very seriously whether someone can really maneuver through the nuances of geopolitics, if you will. But I also think he has to get his numbers back up. You have been talking about -- showing new polls that show him going down. Does Herman Cain survive another week? Can Newt Gingrich sustain where he is right now? I think this next week is going to very telling as to whether Perry is out or just down.

KING: And let's show the McClatchy poll numbers again, Romney 23 percent, Gingrich 19 percent, Cain 17 percent, Paul 10 percent, Perry 8 percent, Bachmann 5 percent.

Congresswoman, you served with Speaker Gingrich in the House of Representatives. He left under what I will call not the best of circumstances. His reputation was not so stellar at the time. But he has performed very well in these debates, which have had a huge influence on the race.

Is the Republican Party ready to go back to the future or is this a holding place for voters who are still looking? (LAUGHTER)

MOLINARI: I'm just putting so much of my own personal experience with Newt...



MOLINARI: Let me get that out of the way and try and be as unbiased as possible.

Newt is a person I think who can be absolutely very smart and has done very well and acquitted himself very well in the debates. But I also think at a time when he -- if he is still at this level, first of all, he doesn't have the money the rest of the candidates do. We know that he doesn't have the organization.

And you know what? If he becomes a serious contender, just like with Herman Cain or Rick Perry or anybody else, once you get a little higher up there, the background, the history, it all comes out again. And how long can you sustain that background at this level?

KING: James, we showed those poll numbers, Herman Cain at 17 percent. That is the first indication. This poll was completely conducted after Sharon Bialek came forward, after you had a public face accusing him of sexual harassment.

There are the McClatchy numbers. Herman Cain down a bit from other national polls previously. Look at these numbers from a new CBS News poll tonight, Republicans only in this poll. Women who support Cain for the Republican nomination, in October, it was 28 percent. It's now 15 percent. So he's lost half, he's lost half of the support he had among Republican women.

That tells you, even though in the national polls he's still doing OK, he's got a problem.

CARVILLE: Yes, of course he has a problem.

As you recall, in 1992, after we went through some of this, we had a problem after that, too. We were able to come back. I'm doubtful that Cain can do it. But give him a chance. I don't think Perry has any chance to come back.

But the amazing thing about these polls are -- and when you add independents, you see this -- Romney's number is 23 plus or minus one. It's the most consistent thing that you see in polling, and it's literally every time. There's never a surprise about to Romney.

And the question is, at what point does he bust above 25 percent in these polls? And he's only 2 percent away, but it's been months and he can't do that. And I'm fascinated and would be interested to see how Erick thinks about that or Susan, because it has gone on for a long time now. I suspect it will change, but I'm still waiting. KING: At what point does he start giving money to Cain and Bachmann and Santorum to keep them in the race is my other question, just so he just get to that one-on-one?

Erick Erickson, to that point, if you're looking for -- and we have been looking for this person for a long time, Perry is spending nationally on FOX hoping that he can boost his numbers up and it can be him again. Herman Cain is still it for the moment. Newt Gingrich is the guy on the rise. Who will be the conservative alternative to Romney?

ERICKSON: I have absolutely no idea right now. This really is one of the most volatile polling seasons I have seen.

Go back to November of 2010 and start averaging in the polling, Mitt Romney has never, ever gotten 25.00. That's the highest he's gotten averaging the polls. And everyone else bounces up and down. In fact, if you delve into the polling, you actually see Rick Perry on an upswing, along with Newt. So, people are still trying to find someone besides Mitt Romney. And I think if this is a settling election, they settled in 2008, and look what happened.

KING: Volatility is the catchword in Republican politics.

James Carville, Erick Erickson, Susan Molinari, thanks for coming in on a Friday night, big debate tomorrow night, a CNN debate next week here. Let's watch. This race is playing out. It's interesting.

President Obama is on his way first to Hawaii and then to Asia. Among his visits, head to head with China's leader. We will ask CNN's Fareed Zakaria about the China challenge next.


KING: Asia dominants President Obama's agenda for the next nine days, as he attends summits in Hawaii and Indonesia and also pays a visit to Australia.

The China challenge is a dominant if not the dominant focus. And there are tensions both on economic and security issues.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria here now with some insights on this delicate diplomacy.

Fareed, when President Obama is sitting from President Hu Jintao, what is the single most important thing the United States president wants to walk out of that meeting with?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I think more than anything else, President Obama is trying to establish the kind of strategic dialogue with China where you can bring up things like the currency issue, the fact that the Chinese use their currency to artificially keep their goods low, in a way that doesn't trigger a trade war, that doesn't get the Chinese to storm out of the room, but gets them to do something about it. Remember, China is now the second largest economy in the world. They're big boys. You can't brandish a stick and expect that they're going to jump. It's using pressure effectively with China, which means developing a relationship and making them feel that the United States is in there with them as a partner, but we want them to do things that are in our interests as well.

KING: And the question is, who has the upper hand in the interdependency right now, if you will? China owns a lot of our debt. The Europeans just wanted China to help. That didn't happen in the first round. It could happen in the future.

But yet, then again, China, its economy is struggling a little bit. Inflation is up. It needs Europe and the United States to get back on its feet, because they're the ones buying Chinese products. Who's on first? Bad pun.

ZAKARIA: For the United States and China, I think of it as essentially a kind of mutually assured destruction situation, which is the Chinese could hurt us really badly by dumping a lot of U.S. Treasury bills, which make the dollar plunge. It would make our interest rates go up.

But what would that do? It would mean we would stop buying Chinese goods. And we are still an enormous consumer of Chinese goods. And that would mean unemployment would rise in China. So they can only do something to hurt us by hurting themselves. It's mutually assured destruction.

In the short run, however, you have to say, you know, it's a pretty simple situation, as it with any scenario with a debtor and a creditor. The creditor has more power. The guy who has cash is, generally speaking, in a better position than the guy who needs debt.

The Chinese are sitting a little more comfortable these days.

KING: When you travel the country and you talk to people about what drives their economic anxiety, fairly or unfairly, right or wrong, China comes up a lot. When you ask people in manufacturing community and when you asked unemployed people, they view this global economic challenge and they view China as threat, not as a friend.

How much does, the politics of China, factor into, he's the president of the United States, but he's also a candidate for reelection? And listen here. Mitt Romney, at the moment the leading Republican candidate, has decided that bashing China is good politics.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: China is almost on every dimension cheating. And we have got to recognize that. They're manipulating their currency and, by doing so, holding down the price of Chinese goods and making sure their products are artificially low- priced.

It's predatory pricing. It's killing jobs in America. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: He's pretty close to right, if not completely right, on the facts, but is that good politics at the moment?

ZAKARIA: Well, it's probably good politics. What's striking about that, because I was struck by those quotes. This is a break with 40 years of Republican foreign policy. From Henry Kissinger and Richard Nixon, if you look at what the Republican line on China has been, it has been towards integration. China is a strategic partner, cooperation, making sure that we have a win-win and no trade bashing, no protectionism, none of that.

Romney is doing something very interesting here. He has decided that public mood, even in the Republican Party, is so hostile to China that they don't -- they don't care about free trade anymore. And he may well be right. I'm sure you've seen the same polls.

Support for free trade is down substantially in this country in both parties. The Democratic Party was always beat because of those strong labor unions and things like that. But it's now also weakened the Republican Party. What you now have supporting a kind of free trade and let's try and have a cooperation relationship with China, is an elite consensus at the kind of policy wonk level. But you go below that, and there's no support for it. And what Romney is doing, is he is the first guy to scratch that surface.

KING: I remember Bill Clinton back in 1992 saying he wouldn't do any business with the butchers in Beijing.

ZAKARIA: That was -- that was a Democrat. Remember, that was unusual.

KING: I just agree. What they say on the campaign trail often is very different by the time they get to the White House. Fareed Zakaria, appreciate your insights.

And don't miss Fareed's special, "Fixing Education." It airs tomorrow night at 8 p.m. Eastern. Very important program there.

Still ahead here, tonight's "Number" helps you understand how thankful you ought to be this Veterans Day. Robin Meade is here to help, too.


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

White House officials today sent a congressional committee some internal e-mails about the failed energy company Solyndra. The White House did not fully comply with the committee's subpoena. Solyndra's bankruptcy has left taxpayers liable for half a billion dollars of government-guaranteed loans.

President Obama is offering U.S. assistance in the investigation of today's helicopter crash that killed Mexico's interior minister. He's in charge of Mexico's battle with the drug cartels.

Several important developments today in Europe's debt crisis. Greek officials swore in a new prime minister and a new unity government committed to cutting that country's deficit. The Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, expected to resign tomorrow, as soon as his parliament approves its own austerity program.

The news overseas caused stock markets here to surge. The Dow Industrials and the S&P 500 ended the week higher than they opened on Monday.

Today's "Number" when we come back, well, it has nothing to do with those bells on Wall Street and everything to do with why we should be thankful today. That's next.





KING: Tonight's "Number" is something that we should all be thankful for: 21.8 million. Twenty-one point eight million veterans, that's the number of military veterans here in the United States, 21.8 million reasons to say thank you on this Veterans Day.

Now, 2.3 million of those veterans have served in the wars of Iraq and Afghanistan. Get this: 837,000 of those also served back in the first Gulf War more than 20 years ago.

And part of our tribute to veterans from the CNN family is a special HLN program, "Salute to the Troops: Stories of Courage." Among the heroes who spent some time with my colleague Robin Meade is Dan Nevins. He lost both of his legs while serving in Iraq and is now part of the Wounded Warrior Project. Look here.


DAN NEVINS, VETERAN: I'm leaning farther back (ph). One leg is amputated, and the other one is in traction, pins holding it together. And they say, "Hey, we're going to go skiing next month and they want you to come."

I'm like, OK, I lost a leg. Did you lose your eyes? Do you not know what you're dealing with here? And they said, no.

So now it's my greatest joy to be able to walk into a Walter Reed or Brook Army Medical Center to that person who has lost a leg or both legs and walk with pants in, with no hitch in my gait. And walk in and say, "Hey, I'm Dan. Nice to meet you." As soon as I see that -- that look, they give me that look of, "Hey, you have no idea what I'm going through," and that's when I tell them, you know, "Six years ago I was exactly where you are. And I have two prosthetics. And no one notices that I do. And I just climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and am climbing Mt. Abu Kabo (ph) next year. There's nothing that I can't do. And there's going to be nothing that you can't do."


KING: Robin Meade is here with us now.

Robin, you get chills watching this story there. Veterans are always close to your heart, but for this project, you spent a lot of time with veterans like the brave sergeant there. What stands out?

ROBIN MEADE, CNN ANCHOR: There are so many stories that folks are going to see tonight. And you have to have your Kleenex ready, I'll tell you that, because when you listen to people like him, it's so inspiring and moving how much fight they have, right? They want to serve the country and protect us all. And even when they get injured, people like him, they're so resilient and ready to go.

One of the things that stands out to me is how important family seems to be in the strength of our military. For example, you know, we -- we were able to be there as a battleship was pulling out of Jacksonville, Florida, going for deployment. And I was so struck by this little kid who said, you know, "I told my daddy that he doesn't have to bring me any gifts when he comes back, because he's the gift." Like his mother coached on how to look at every day Dad is gone, is a day that's closer to when Daddy comes home.

KING: Well, one of the heroes you spent some time with, and I was thrilled when I saw this as part of your rundown, is Captain Scott Smiley. I happened to meet him about three years ago. He was blinded. He was wounded. He helped save his men back in Iraq. And it was remarkable when I met him and his wonderful wife standing by him. He came to Washington for a Washington Wizards game as part of a tribute to him there.

Let's listen -- let's listen here to a little bit of his story


CAPT. SCOTT SMILEY, U.S. ARMY: I went through the dark and dreary times. Depression, anxiety, stress, not being able to take care of my family. It was dark.

TIFFANY SMILEY, SCOTT'S WIFE: I was there when he came into the hospital. And as we were going into his room, saying, "Hi, Scotty," and he was all bandaged up, like his whole -- his eyes, everything. He said -- and I just said, "Hi, Scotty."

And he said, "Hi, Tiff."

I'm like, "Hey, hey, he still -- you know, he knows who I am." And it definitely wasn't the homecoming that I ever wanted. And that was probably the hardest part for me. Because I'd always envisioned, you know, them coming home, a big celebration, and it's a happy time. And this wasn't a happy time. This was a struggle.


KING: A struggle, but help our viewers understand the remarkable lesson of this amazing couple.

MEADE: So here's a man, that I would imagine could probably retire on full benefits after being blinded. He is now the first guy in the military in the army to be active duty but fully blind. He -- no, he did not want to retire, and he is still serving our country.

At the time that we talked to him, John, he was helping with the rehab hospital at West Point facility, so he was helping people like him or people to become better leaders in the military. He didn't want to cease. He's also a daredevil, from what I can tell. How about you when you met him?

KING: He was -- you know, here's a guy who's still not afraid to go to sports events, still not afraid to mix it up with athletes. Somebody whose disability is -- maybe it's -- maybe it's a little bit of a speed bump but not the roadblock that you would think for somebody. Just the courage is just awe-inspiring when you spend some time with him.

I want to close -- you also got to have a little bit of fun. Tell us about your tour of a naval destroyer.

MEADE: Yes. So you know, a lot of people are not able to -- well, most people can't say that they've been inside a naval destroyer. But after you watch the show tonight or other nights on the weekend, you're going to be able to say that you were able to see inside.

So we were on the USS Farragut, the captain there taking us through. Now not only do we get to see really neat pieces of equipment. But of course, what makes this all work together are the people onboard there.

And I was so surprised to learn -- I said, and who pilot this ship? Because you think, oh, this must be, like, the hardest job. They said, well, that's the guy straight out of high school. He actually has the wheel, but we're the ones who do all the navigation equipment, which kind of struck me. It's an amazing tour, and I think our folks will really enjoy seeing that.

But, I think the stress of this special is that, you know, the military itself is a family and that our family members back home are the backbone for so many of those military members.

KING: Amen to that.


KING: And we won't miss it. Robin, thanks for being with us. You won't want to miss it. Robin Meade's "Salute to the Troops: Stories of Courage," HLN 7 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Watch it at least once as we all say thank you to our veterans on this Veterans Days. And our thanks to Robin Meade for sharing those stories tonight.

One of the many veterans I keep in touch with is someone I met while covering the first Persian Gulf War back in 1990. Colonel Bill Snelling back then was a top aide to General Colin Powell. Now he teaches. He's retired. Teaches at Syracuse University and is part of a remarkable collaboration with troops from nearby Fort Drum, New York.

As we speak tonight, some of those troops are deployed in one of the more dicey, more combat-laden portions of Afghanistan. Let's take a quick look right here. We zoom into Afghanistan. The 3rd Infantry Brigade, Combat Team Spartan, is deployed down in here. Two big provinces, 228 villages, 90,000 people.

Why is this area so dicey? Let's take a close look. In part, it is the birthplace of the Taliban, the hometown of Mullah Omar. Right down here where the Spartans are deployed, this is why. The red areas, the darker the red, the stronger the Taliban. And if you look at some of the dicey territory, the Spartans are deployed in some of the more mountainous, difficult terrain of Afghanistan. A lot of combat in those areas, too.

Now, before deploying, these soldiers took a government class at Syracuse University. And their commanding officer, Colonel Patrick Frank, told me earlier this week the lessons have proven invaluable as his troops now try to turn the page in these Taliban strongholds.


COL. PATRICK FRANK, COMMANDING OFFICER, 3RD BRIGADE COMBAT TEAM, FT. DRUM: A lot of fighting there over the last 12 months. But that town has been reborn. If you were to go there, you'd see a giant flag, an Afghan flag, flying from the location where Mullah Omar owned Mujahideen and really started the Taliban movement.

Throughout the district, there are now 14 schools where last year there were only two. And 200 of a 1,000 students are girl students. That was not here last year. So there has been a tremendous amount of progress, even in areas such as Zari (ph) district.


KING: The colonel says the relationship also helps with morale during these long, very dangerous deployments.


FRANK: It's tremendous, John. We've done a lot of fighting this summer in a place called Nula (ph). And there was a Taliban tactical operations center at that location. You've seen the photos of our soldiers down there with both the basketball and the football that they received from Syracuse University. To have that has been tremendous. It is a connection that our soldiers would not have in most cases with the vision of one NCAA Division I programs such as Syracuse.


KING: We traveled to the campus and to Fort Drum to get a closer look. The troops get some college lessons, and the football and basketball players, well, they get a first-hand sense, up close, of why we should all be so grateful this Veterans Day.


JIM BOEHEIM, MEN'S BASKETBALL COACH, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY: I just don't believe we care enough about the people who protect us. And without them, we're -- we don't have a country here. Without these men and women, we have no country, we have no chance to have the things that we have. We had an opportunity to do something with the soldiers. It was the best thing that I think with have ever done having them down here. We're going to go up there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the time. This is the place and we are the team. We think that also resonates with the Syracuse basketball team. As we know that you're going to bring a championship trophy back to Syracuse this year. And know that the Spartan brigade soldiers that are already deployed in Afghanistan are going to be rooting you on the whole way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're proud of you. We're going to try to do some work here this year and make you proud of us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This gun has been around since World War II.

KRIS JOSEPH, FORWARD, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL: They got to go through a whole day with us. And it was like to get their minds off of what they go through every day. They come down and play basketball and still be competitive and see what we go through on a daily basis.

We also wanted to experience -- not everything that they went through, but to get experience what they go through, as well.

SCOOP JARDINE, GUARD, SYRACUSE UNIVERSITY BASKETBALL: We work so hard for the country. And we just want to give back. With the things we do, our partnership between Syracuse University and Fort Drum is very -- you know, we're fortunate enough to do that.

JOSEPH: It was only paintball, and it hurt really bad. So imagine if it was real bullets. I mean, I got a lot of respect for those guys.

BOEHEIM: I'm just proud to be able to do this. We're doing a small part, a little tiny part. I'm proud to be -- have our team involved in this. I'm proud to be involved in this. And I hope that, by example, we get some more people involved in doing things with the people that are doing so much for our country.


KING: Up next, is stepping in it, as Governor Rick Perry puts it, ever a good thing for a campaign? Tonight's "Truth" tests the notion that the bigger the blunder, the higher the price.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Here's an indisputable "Truth." One gaffe defined the week in politics.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would -- I would do away with the Education -- the Commerce. And let's see. I can't -- the third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops.


KING: In all, it was a 51-second struggle in which Rick Perry never did get to No. 3. And to many in the punditocracy, three words summed up Perry's failed search for three agencies: rest in peace.

Without a doubt, Governor Perry has a lot -- no, a ton -- to prove when he takes the debate stage tomorrow night at South Carolina and again next week here in Washington. But here's tonight's "Truth." Big gaffes aren't always campaign ending.

And while Perry's is more damaging than most, because it re- enforced existing doubts, other factors in the Republican race suggest it might probably be a bit too soon to write him off. Campaign history is full of gaffes that seemed huge at the moment but faded with time.

You would think, for example, right, that a guy running for president of the United States would know just how many states he hoped to lead.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is just wonderful to be back in Oregon. And over the last 15 months, we've traveled to every corner of the United States. I've now been in 57 states. I think one left to go.


KING: Fifty-seven states. That guy also forgot his Senate committee assignments from time to time. And well, he had a few other doozies. But last we checked, he was president. Still 50 states, too.

And not too long ago, there was another Texas governor who had -- shall we say -- a gift for stepping in it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name the president of Chechnya?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name the president of Taiwan?

BUSH: Yes, Lee.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you name the general who's...

BUSH: Wait, is this -- is this 50 questions?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, it's four questions, and four leaders and four hot spots.

BUSH: The new Pakistani general has just been elected. He's not elected. He's the guy took over office. He appears he's going to bring stability to the country. And I think that's good news.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you can name him?

BUSH: General. I can name the general.


BUSH: General.


KING: Now, that guy, too, despite a lot of mocking, was not to be misunderestimated [SIC]. In fact, he had just the right strategery [SIC] to win the presidency not once but twice.

But Rick Perry's big gaffe came in a nationally televised debate, you say. Well, yes, it did, as did this attempt at rewriting Cold War history.


GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't believe that the Romanians consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union. I don't believe that the Poles consider themselves dominated by the Soviet Union.


KING: Oops. President Ford would go on to lose a close contest to Jimmy Carter. And some smart people do think that debate gaffe was a factor.

Now the country's post-Watergate funk and the Nixon pardon also played a role.

And when it comes to big presidential debate gaffes, well, don't forget Ronald Reagan's meander down the Pacific Coast Highway.


RONALD REAGAN, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I couldn't completely neglect the beauty around me. The Pacific out there on one side of the highway, shining in the sunlight. The mountains of the coast range rising on the other side. And I found myself wondering what it would be like for someone -- wondering if someone 100 years from now would be driving down that highway, and if they would see the same thing. And with that thought, I realized what a job I had with that letter.


KING: Now, critics jumped all over that. Proof, they said, the Gipper's mind just wasn't so sharp any more. A couple of weeks later, the voters delivered their verdict. Reagan won re-election in a 49- state landslide.

Now, Walter Mondale was a weak opponent, so Reagan's gaffes didn't matter as much. Governor Perry has to hope now for a similar dynamic.

We know it's true that a decent slice of the Republican electorate wants a conservative alternative to the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney. That was Perry's place when he entered the race and shot up to near 30 percent in the national polls.

Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich are now in his way, as Perry tries to climb back up from single digits. It's a steep hill, and a good conservative is supposed to be able to name three federal agencies to cut in his or her sleep, let alone in a debate after hours and hours of practice time. But is it a fatal gaffe?

"Truth" is, the voters decide that, not the pundits. And history shows the voters are often quite forgiving.

Governor Perry has enough money to make a run at it, and the guys in his way, Cain and Gingrich, well, they have their own liabilities. Again, though, it's a steep hill. And if he's asked in the next debate what agencies he would cut, "Truth" is, he better be ready with three, four, maybe even more.

That's all for us tonight. We hope you have a fabulous weekend. We'll see you right here Monday night. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.