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JOHN KING, USA

New Developments in Penn State Scandal; Interview With Arizona Senator John McCain

Aired November 14, 2011 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.

Tonight: new developments and new questions in the still- spreading scandal over the alleged sexual abuse of young children by a former Penn State University assistant football coach. Tonight, a second charity that helps adolescent boys is checking to see whether any of them had contact with the former Penn State defensive coach Jerry Sandusky, who is now accused of raping at least eight boys over a 15-year period.

The Fresh Air Funds says its records show Sandusky did serve as a host for inner-city children.

Also today, the housecleaning continues at the charity Sandusky founded and where he met all of the alleged victims we know of so far. The board of directors for Second Mile announced an internal investigation today and its CEO for the past 28 years has quit.

Plus tonight, new questions about the judge who over the objections of prosecutors OKed Sandusky's release on bail. Get this. Her biography lists her as a volunteer at Sandusky's Second Mile charity.

Today, the Big 10 Conference announced it's taking former Penn State head coach Joe Paterno's name off its football championship trophy. Paterno was fired last week after it came to light he was told about one of Sandusky's alleged rapes back in 2002 but apparently never told police, although he did tell university higher-ups.

Now Pennsylvania's legislature is expected to change state laws requiring employees of universities to report the sexual assault of a child.

State Senator Kim Ward is co-sponsoring such a bill. She is with us tonight. Also with us is Ernie Allen, and he's the president and the CEO of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. And in New York helping us with the legal issues, former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin, a legal contributor to our sister network truTV.

Senator Ward, I want to start with you. I'm holding up the paper here. This is what you sent around to your colleagues saying help me here, co-sponsor my legislation. You explain what it does. Help our viewers understand. If your bill were the law of the land a year ago, two years ago, five years ago in Pennsylvania, what would it have done to prevent what happened at Penn State?

KIM WARD, PENNSYLVANIA STATE SENATOR: Well, the bill that I am proposing would make mandated reporters out of every employee of an education -- higher institution of education.

That's not the case right now. So therefore, anyone who witnessed what they witnessed -- allegedly witnessed, and I believe them, this would have had a law that would have mandated them to report not only to their immediate superiors, which is the present law. This legislation would have mandated them to report to the leader of the institution and the Department of Public Welfare's child line. And that would have made it much harder for them to keep this on the inside, if anyone or anyone there suspected that something was going on.

This law would have made it much harder, because they would have had to report it to a public entity.

KING: Sunny Hostin, weigh in here. Obviously, as specific a change as we can get from this, we should get. As specific a requirement to learn the lesson of this, we should.

But it seems nuts, forgive me, in the case of the one assistant coach or he was a graduate assistant at the time who allegedly was an eyewitness to the rape of a child, under current Pennsylvania state law, he's required to do nothing?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: It's extraordinary, isn't it? I mean, he is -- he was supposed to be required to report it to his immediate supervisor, and that is what he did. And that is why there was no criminal exposure for him.

But the law clearly needs to be expanded, it needs to be strengthened, it needs to be tightened up and I think that's what the senator is trying to do. This is the law in the land for mandatory reporters everywhere. We're talking about nurses, doctors, educators, K-12, need to report it to law enforcement or to a hot line. That needs to be the case across all educational authorities.

KING: Ernie Allen, weigh in here. The senator's bill requires if a state university employee sees this, they have to report it to their supervisor, and also to the Department of Public Welfare. Is that good enough, or should they be required -- would you prefer they be required to pick up the phone and dial 911 or call the police, not somebody who might be in an institution that's looking to protect itself?

ERNIE ALLEN, CEO, NATIONAL CENTER FOR MISSING AND EXPLOITED CHILDREN: Well, John, child protective services has specialized skills. They should evaluate these. But our preference is that they report them to police. These are crimes. And in order to protect the child, we need to prosecute the person responsible.

KING: So, Senator, why not add the police?

WARD: Well, it is something I believe that Governor Corbett is talking about, and it's something I'm sure we will be talking and discussing in more depth. But today, for example, in our meetings, some senators were saying, well, if we contact the police, then you're going to have a lot of people calling for every little thing. We would like to train folks to know what child abuse is.

You know, we have had a couple of hearings. The committee I chair, Aging and Youth in the Senate, has had a couple hearings on child abuse, and some of the things that are in the present law are just shocking. And it's something that we need to change.

And one of the things that was just so, so interesting and just really kind of disgusting is that presently in our present law, if someone is accused of child -- if a child comes into an emergency room and they have obviously been abused, a doctor saying they're abused, if they don't have a perpetrator, a name to hook on to that, that is never recorded as child abuse.

So we have been working on child abuse through the summer. We have had hearings, we have passed some bills. And we will -- I'm sure we will talk more in-depth about the police issue.

KING: Well, you certainly have more urgency now.

And, Ernie, I want you to come in on that point. The senator just noted, in her view, that if the child doesn't tell the doctor, well, this is the person who attacked me, it doesn't get recorded.

How does Pennsylvania stack up next to the country? I want you to look at this, our viewers to look at these statistics -- 8.3 cases per 1,000 children, those are child abuse investigations in Pennsylvania. Nationally, there's 40.3 cases per 1,000 children -- 15 percent of the investigations in Pennsylvania lead to reports labeling an incident as child abuse, nationally, 35 percent.

So is Pennsylvania doing something wrong?

ALLEN: Well, Pennsylvania has outstanding law enforcement. We work with Pennsylvania law enforcement every day. But you can't investigate, you can't prosecute these cases if you don't learn about them. I think strengthening Pennsylvania's mandatory reporting law is really important, and it's important for every Pennsylvania citizen to view themselves as a reporter.

KING: And, Sunny, is there also -- I don't know what the right word for it is here, but there is a culture here about this legendary program. It's a legendary, iconic institution on campus, and now we hear the judge who let Jerry Sandusky out on bail did not disclose to anybody in advance she was involved with his charity.

Prosecutors object, and the judge still doesn't say, well, I might have a potential conflict here. It leads me to think that there's some culture here that we need more than new laws. We need to crack the culture.

HOSTIN: Oh, there's just no question about it. It's extraordinary. And I have the bond document here. It is extraordinary, John, that Jerry Sandusky was allowed bail in the first place, without any conditions.

I mean, I was a child sex crimes prosecutor, and each and every time you have these types of allegations, you ask that bail be set, if at all, very, very high. But you also ask for monitoring equipment. You ask for passports. You ask that they not be allowed, the perpetrator, alleged perpetrator, not be allowed to be within any distance of a school.

My understanding is that he lives right next to an elementary school. So it is just really extraordinary to me that this was the type of bail that was set. It's also extraordinary to me that she did not divulge that she had some sort of connection. We don't know what the connection is, right? She is listed as a volunteer for The Second Mile. We don't know if it was a one-time volunteer thing. We don't know the nature of the relationship.

But because of that, she was supposed to divulge, at least to the government, and certainly to the defense team, there could be this apparent conflict of interests, this appearance of impropriety. And I have just never seen in all my years of prosecuting these kinds of cases this type of bail package for someone accused of these crimes.

KING: And so, Ernie, the coach was set free. He, like anyone else in America, deserves the presumption of innocent until proven guilty. But to the point Sunny just mentioned, his house is close to an elementary school. He has been released on bail.

What, in your view, could and should be done just in case to protect those children?

ALLEN: Well, certainly schools should be alert. Parents should be aware of that proximity.

One of the things that hopefully everyone will glean from this is the offenders who prey upon children don't match society's stereotype. They seek legitimate access to the child. We should never be surprised when an offender is a volunteer at a youth organization or a coach or a baby-sitter or a teacher. They're in every walk of life. So parents should be alert and aware, not just to Sandusky, but to all of those people who are preying -- or paying unusual attention or interest in their child.

KING: And, Senator, there's no question this has shocked and saddened and stunned your state. I want you to listen. You mentioned the governor earlier, you mentioned there may be other proposals as well. I want you to listen to Governor Corbett this morning saying he believes there will be new laws, other new actions taken, and he believes they will be taken pretty quickly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. TOM CORBETT (R), PENNSYLVANIA: We have to make sure that the change in the law is one that is effective. It's easy enough to take a look to see what other states have done. But I'm sure that within the next few weeks, you will probably see bills become public.

I wouldn't be surprised to see if a bill was passed within -- between now and the end of this year.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now and the end of the year. That's the governor on "Meet the Press" yesterday.

Now and the end of the year. Give us a sense, Senator, just in terms of if I were having a conversation with you six or eight weeks ago and I mentioned Joe Paterno and Penn State, there is a very different tone to the conversation and the urgency in your state today.

Give me a sense when you talk to your colleagues about what needs to be done to turn the page here, and to hopefully, hopefully have a -- a teachable moment sounds weak -- something that comes out of this where we could say the state and the country learned an important lesson.

WARD: Well, I think that some of the bills -- for example, the two I have here and actually Senator Fontana has a bill. He's on the Democratic side. This is a nonpartisan issue.

I think that these are going to be done very, very quickly. I have had great support today. I think half of the senators have now signed on to these bills to be co-sponsors, and great, great support from the leaders in the Senate, Senator Scarnati and Senator Pileggi. They have been very supportive. They said today hopefully we can maybe get something done by the time we're finished in December.

KING: Senator Kim Ward, Sunny Hostin, Ernie Allen, thanks for coming in today. It's a horrible conversation to have, but it's a conversation we have to have to watch out, A, how the case is handled against coach Sandusky, but also what changes are made in the state laws in Pennsylvania, a conversation for the country as well. Thank you for all for coming tonight.

And this important programming note. "ANDERSON COOPER 360" has Jerry Sandusky's attorney. It's his first television interview. That's CNN tonight at 8:00 Eastern. You won't want to miss that.

Up next, Senator John McCain, remember, he was the Republican nominee for president last time. Today, he tweeted he's very disappointed in something several of the candidates who want to be the nominee next time talked about in the last debate.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Important developments today in what may be a crucial week in the uprising against the Syrian leader, Bashar al- Assad. The Arab League now suspending Syria because of the regime's attacks on civilians and its refusal to talk with opposition groups.

But there's no letup in the killing. As you can see, reports say at least 13 civilians died today, adding to the year's death toll of some 3,500. Also today, Jordan's King Abdullah, the leader of Syria's influential neighbor, became the first Arab leader to call on Assad to step down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING ABDULLAH, JORDAN: If I were in his shoes, I would step down. However, it -- it's not -- if I was in his position, I would -- if it was me, I would step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status quo that we're seeing. And, again, I don't think the system allows for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The United States made a similar call for Assad to step down back in August, but is there more Washington could do now?

Joining me is Senator John McCain.

He's the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator McCain, let's start with Syria.

More killing, more bloodshed, some tougher action from the Arab League.

What should the Obama administration, what should the United States Congress be doing right now?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, some tougher sanctions, to start with, John, and including getting the Russians and the Chinese to stop blocking larger sanctions through the United Nations. Also, encourage Turkey to continue to play a leadership role.

The Turks have gone from apologists to -- for Syria to very strong measures being taken by Erdogan, the prime minister. And we ought to be helping out in as more ways as we possibly can, providing encouragement, providing condemnation for what Assad is doing and stating unequivocally that the killing cannot go on forever, or otherwise, more stringent measures are taken.

But the Arab League measures that were taken, I think, are very important and we could see the same kind of thing that happened in Libya, although the situation is vastly different.

KING: You mentioned the Chinese and the Russians. They don't want tougher sanctions on Syria. Senator, they also don't want tougher sanctions on Iran.

Does there have to be another way, that does not involve the United Nations Security Council, where those two countries consistently say no?

MCCAIN: Well, first of all, you know, the Russians are going into WTO, the Chinese are trying to be -- act like a grownup superpower. We should -- there's a lot of pressure points we could put on the Russians and the Chinese that, you know, would just point out to the world that they're out of step. They -- they're -- they are -- are in support of the Iranians. They're supporting the Syrians. And they're certainly not acting in a mature fashion.

And so I think we could put a lot of pressure on them.

KING: A lot of foreign policy conversations in the presidential campaign of late. Let's turn to that. There was a big Republican debate this past weekend. I know you were watching it.

You know, if we went back to the last campaign, John McCain and Barack Obama disagreed on most things, but they did agree that it was time to start working toward closing Guantanamo Bay. They did agree that certain enhanced interrogation tactics, like waterboarding, equal torture and should be outlawed.

Listen to some of your party's candidates for president Saturday night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R), TEXAS: Using those techniques that we know will extract the information to save young American lives. And I will be for it until I die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HERMAN CAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't see it as torture. I see it as an enhanced interrogation technique.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELE BACHMANN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I were president, I would be willing to use waterboarding. I think it was very effective. It gained information for our country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Bachmann, Cain, Perry there. The Romney campaign said after the debate he does not consider waterboarding to be torture.

What did you make of that, Senator?

MCCAIN: I'm disappointed. Ask any military lawyer, ask any person who knows about the Geneva Conventions that we're signatories to. We actually prosecuted Japanese war criminals specifically for the act of waterboarding against Americans.

And just two additional points, John.

One, it doesn't work. If you put enough physical pain on somebody, they will tell you whatever they think that you want to hear in order to -- for the pain to stop.

And second of all, what about our moral standing in the world?

It -- Abu Ghraib was a terribly damaging situation and one that we still have not recovered from. I still want to close Guantanamo Bay. But the Obama administration has mishandled it so badly that it can't be closed now.

But the point is that waterboarding is a -- is a -- is an affront to all of the standards that we believe in and adhere to of humane treatment of people who are human beings.

And, of course, I am disappointed at the statements that were made.

And, again, it doesn't work.

KING: You say it doesn't work, sir.

Do they just not get it?

And do you need to have a conversation with the person who would like to be the next Republican nominee or -- or maybe you don't like this, is your party more to your right?

Does your party agree with them and not you?

MCCAIN: Well, judging from the applause that -- in the clip that you just played, obviously a lot of people agree with them. Again, it's a -- it's a matter of the president telling the American people about the Geneva Conventions and why we didn't torture prisoners in World War II. That was because they held Americans as prisoners. And why we prosecuted people for the very same act of waterboarding after World War II was over.

Ask any military lawyer and they will tell you that it is illegal. I hope they will look into the -- into the issue.

KING: You just mentioned the president has had a hard time keeping his promise to close Guantanamo Bay and how he's handled it. I don't want to revisit that, but I'm often -- I'm fond of often saying running for president is very different than being president.

I want you to listen to Governor Romney here talking about Iran at the debate Saturday night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: If we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: It sounds great, Senator.

But easier said than done?

MCCAIN: Well, I think it's easier said than done, but I think that -- that Governor Romney is on the right track here. We have to make it clear to the Iranians that they cannot and will not have a nuclear weapon. And one of the greatest conundrums that we face today is whether Israel will take unilateral action in order to remove that possibility, as well.

they have acted in the past, in the case of the Syrian reactor, in the case of an Iraqi reactor. And I'm -- I think that this is a -- a situation that cries out for American leadership and we should lay down a marker on the Iranians.

But again, the Russians and the Chinese, because we can squeeze them harder with sanctions on their banking system and their oil exports, as well.

KING: You went through a lot of debates back in 2000, more debates back in 2008. We're watching a lot of them in this Republican season. Two debates ago, Governor Perry, to use his words, "stepped in it." That came up a little bit Saturday night.

Listen here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SCOTT PELLEY, MODERATOR: Governor Perry, you advocate the elimination of the Department of Energy.

If you eliminate the Department of Energy...

PERRY: I'm glad you remembered it.

(LAUGHTER)

PELLEY: I have had some time to think about it, sir.

(LAUGHTER)

PERRY: Me, too.

(LAUGHTER)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The last time you were with us, Senator, it was after a rough debate for Governor Perry. You suggested he get a little bit more sleep. I just wanted to close on that light note to see if you have any more advice for him.

MCCAIN: I don't, except that I think he did the right thing by injecting humor. Americans love humor. That's why Will Rodgers and Mark Twain are still two of our favorite Americans.

KING: Senator John McCain, appreciate a little...

MCCAIN: Thanks, John.

KING: -- a little humor at the end of the conversation, an important conversation about Syria and other world challenges.

Sir, thank you for coming in tonight.

Appreciate it.

MCCAIN: Thank you.

KING: For the first time, Herman Cain's wife speaks out about allegations he sexually harassed women, and perhaps not a moment too soon. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Gloria Cain says she just can't believe it, can't imagine her husband of 43 years sexually harassing anyone or groping Sharon Bialek, as the Chicago woman alleged in a nationally televised news conference a week ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GLORIA CAIN, WIFE OF HERMAN CAIN: To hear such graphic allegations and know that that would have been something that was totally disrespectful of her as a woman, and I know that's not the person he is. He totally respects women. I looked at especially this last lady, and the things that she said, and I'm thinking, he would have to have a split personality to do the things that she said.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, in that interview with FOX News, Gloria Cain also was asked if she ever imagines living in the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

G. CAIN: Sometimes, I let myself go there. But then I try to pull myself back, in that I don't want to start projecting too far in the future, because then I would worry more.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our new CNN/ORC poll tonight suggests Mrs. Cain and her husband might not need to worry so much. The new numbers are dramatic allegations the allegations of possible sexual harassment are taking a toll on the Cain candidacy.

Look at this. The new national poll of Republicans shows Mitt Romney again atop the GOP pack, but former Speaker Newt Gingrich has surged into what is essentially a statistical dead heat. Cain is now running a distant third at 14 percent support among Republicans nationally. That is down 11 points from just last month.

Sixty percent of Republicans think the allegations are overblown, but this is important. Four in 10 find them to be serious. That matters in a close race. And there is a giant gender gap at play here. Among all Americans, 42 percent of men say the allegations are serious -- 61 percent of women say that.

So can Cain recover and did his performance in this weekend's foreign policy debate help or hurt the cause?

CNN contributors Mary Matalin and Erick Erickson are here tonight.

Mary, I want to start with Gloria Cain. She has not been heard from in the campaign. They decided that they needed to have her out in the public sphere. She did an interview with Greta Van Susteren of FOX News. Will that help him?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, particularly coming on the same day as the boyfriend at the time of the allegation is validating it.

And she is such a lovely woman. Yes, that's very helpful. But I don't think it's determinative, because people who have made up their mind have already made up their mind one way or the other on the substance of it.

The larger problem is where you started. He did not perform on Saturday night. And he doubled down on his nonperformance today at a Wisconsin editorial board. And he just -- he's worn out that place where people were giving him slack for being a non-politician.

And his vague answers and his lost answers of the likes he gave today in Wisconsin are a bigger problem for him in the long run than this recent unpleasantness, I think.

KING: Well, Mary mentioned it. He was doing an editorial board interview with the Milwaukee newspaper "Milwaukee Journal Sentinel" editorial board. He was asked where he agreed and disagreed with President Obama's handling of Libya. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: So you agreed with President Obama on Libya or not?

H. CAIN: OK. Libya.

President Obama supported the uprising, correct? President Obama called for the removal of Gadhafi. Just want to make sure we're talking about the same thing before I say, yes, I agreed, or, no, I didn't agree.

I do not agree with the way he handled it for the following reason. No, that's a different one. See, I've got to go back. I've got all of this stuff twirling around in my head.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Erick, he's not being asked about some policy in some country that we haven't dealt with front and center. He's not being asked, you know, what are the historical relationships with, you know, former Soviet bloc republics. He has been asked about something that has been on the front page for months and months and months. What does that tell you?

ERICK ERICKSON, REDSTATE.COM: He should have ended with an "oops" and done damage tour tomorrow like Rick Perry did on his gaffe.

You know, my problem with the Herman Cain campaign has never been this scandal, the sex scandal or what have you. It's been that he has risen to the top, and he has bush league staffers with him.

And top staffers should not send him, particularly, to Wisconsin to the editorial board there because his chief of staff, Mark Blunt, has problems in Wisconsin with election law there. They're going to get into those questions. He shouldn't be doing editorial boards to begin with. This to me -- Herman Cain has a staff problem that's now going to get him wiped out.

KING: I met Mary Matalin many campaigns ago when she was working for President George H.W. Bush, and that campaign had a pretty good staff.

I always called the Cain campaign staff -- forgive me, folks -- but the Island of Misfit Toys, is where I think they belong.

Here's what's happening, Mary. If you look right now, look at our opinion of Cain, favorable/unfavorable. And we've talked about this before. He rocketed up to the top because people liked him. They were looking for an alternative. Maybe they were looking for a conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. Maybe they didn't like Rick Perry's introduction to the race, looking around.

And they meet this new guy. He's not a traditional politician, but his favorables are now 47 percent. This is among Republicans only. Unfavorables go up from 8 percent in June to 31 percent now. That's trouble with a capital "T", Mary, if likability was your chief currency.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's what happens when you get to be the -- in the front-runner position. It never doesn't happen. So that's not too unusual.

But we have to remember that his ascent was steeped not or grounded not so much in his candidacy, although the 9-9-9 thing was provocative and got people to pay attention. But it was more grounded. His ascent was more grounded than Perry's descent. So that poll you showed earlier, Perry has stabilized.

And Cain -- I don't -- I don't like to make these pronouncements, as we are fond of doing in the punditocracy, but he's just on a trajectory that can't be supported by either, as Erick says, his campaign or his -- what we also see in focus groups is people like him, even though that's diminishing, which is normal. But they don't see him as president. And while they have issues with Perry, they do see him as president. While they have issues with Newt, they do see him as president. And we're always going in -- primary electorates always have this in the back of their mind, who versus Obama? So he just -- he doesn't cut it on that level. I mean, Erick, disagree or agree on that point.

ERICKSON: Look, the presidency, the one thing where has near plenary power is on foreign policy. And this Pakistan issue on Saturday night, and then this issue on Libya, the president doesn't have to go to Congress for much of this stuff. And Cain has shown -- suggesting to people that maybe he's not ready yet.

KING: And Mary, you know, governors have run before your guy, George H.W. Bush ran against Bill Clinton, saying he didn't get it. But in terms of how governors maybe are new to the national stage, compare that to Herman Cain issue. I was just watching -- Erick just mentioned the Pakistan question. I was frankly, again, front and center, one of the biggest stories. You're not asking the name of the president of some far-away country somewhere. His answer was rambling and amateur.

MATALIN: Well, yes. And particularly compared to Governor Perry's, which was pretty solid. And he opened up a whole new avenue of thought on his foreign aid. Like, how do we dispense foreign aid?

So he's been -- whatever his debate gaffes were, which they were nonexistent on Saturday. He was stellar. Too bad nobody watched that one. He's consistently opened up good issues, provocative issue positions, and he has a good record. So - and Cain is going in reverse. And Newt is -- Newt is -- Newt is where Newt is.

But essentially, the whole dynamic is as it always was. There's the quarter that are for Mitt, and then there's the 75 percent "ABM," anybody but Mitt. So we're just cycling through that 75 percent, but we're narrowing it down to, I think, Perry and Newt.

KING: Well, people start voting in fewer than 50 days. So the Republicans -- that "ABM" crowd or whatever you want to call it, they better pick soon. Mitt is hoping they're split.

Mary, thanks for coming in.

Erick, as well.

Up next, a Supreme Court sets the stage for what will be one of its biggest decisions in years.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Today the Supreme Court announced it will take the case against President Obama's health-care law. Expect oral arguments in late February or March and a ruling by June on whether it's constitutional for the federal government to require you to buy health insurance.

The FBI reports hate crimes in the United States continue at a steady pace. The latest numbers, some 6,628 cases in 2010. That's about two dozen more than the year before.

New disclosures show Warren Buffett's finally getting into tech stocks. His company, Berkshire Hathaway, invested in chip maker Intel and satellite television service DirecTV in the third quarter, in addition to his previously disclosed purchase of shares of IBM.

The stock market's started the week on a losing note. The Dow Industrials, NASDAQ, S&P 500 down about 1 percent, again on worries about Europe's debt crisis.

Our "Number" tonight has nothing -- nothing -- to do with Wall Street. It is 35 percent. That is the highest -- that is the highest Mitt Romney has ever fared in one of our national polls.

Now, 26 percent is the highest Governor Romney has been with the Texas governor, Rick Perry, in the race.

If you check it out -- watch this here -- this is it. And a lot of Republicans talk about this. You see Romney. These are national polls of Republicans. Look at that line. Mid 20s. Just look at that flat line. Pulls out, pulls out. He's at 24 in our latest poll just out today. Wow.

In a hospital -- you know what I mean. If you see that on the graph in the hospital you know what that means.

But Romney is still the leader of the pack. Here's Governor Perry, got into the race in August. Zoomed to the top, foom (ph). Debates didn't help. He's down to 12 percent right now.

Speaker Gingrich, a lot of Republicans -- when his staff collapsed in June said he's done. Watch this. He's low, he's low, he's low, he's low, he's low. Bang, up comes Speaker Gingrich, 24. Romney, 22. Gingrich. Twelve percent for Perry. You just heard in the last conversation. Will one of these guys, Perry or Gingrich or somebody else, emerge as the conservative challenger to Romney?

More on that and on new numbers showing, wow, how America is divided. Next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin's here with a preview. And you have more important information on the Penn State investigation.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. We do, John. We're going to be talking to the state senator who said he would ask senate leaders to move a bill that he actually introduced back in 2005, which is incredible when you look at it now, because that bill would have made it against the law to not report child abuse. That's right: in Pennsylvania it's not a problem if you don't report it to authorities.

He put forth a bill in 2005 to change that. Interesting to think how things might have been different if that law had been in effect back when this all started. So we're going to talk to him about that. We're also going to have on an American who was held in an Egyptian jail as a spy this summer, John. Find out his story, what's really going on there.

Plus, the bottom line on the Herman Cain story tonight, as his wife gets ready for her interview.

And Silvio Berlusconi. You know how I couldn't resist him. And now he's gone, John. So we found a replacement.

KING: I look forward to that. I'm just going to leave it right there. But I look -- I do look forward to that. Erin, we'll see you in just a few.

BURNETT: All right. See you soon.

KING: All right. See you then.

First it was Bachmann, then Perry, then Cain. Now Newt Gingrich is the surge candidate in the Republican presidential race.

Our new CNN seed (ph) poll shows Mitt Romney atop the GOP pack. But check this out. Gingrich is on his heels and up 14 points from just a month ago.

A second new national poll out tonight reinforces just how polarized our political environment is these days. The battleground survey conducted from Politico at George Washington University finds the country evenly divided when voters are asked to choose between reelecting President Obama or picking an unnamed Republican opponent for president. And evenly divided again when asked if they plan to vote Democrat or Republican for Congress next fall.

That survey was conducted by Republican Ed Goeas and Democrat Celinda Lake, who are with us tonight.

So let's start there. We have this 43-43. I was going to say 50-50 country. But there's a group in the middle that doesn't know what to make of anything.

You know, I have this theory sometimes. In 2008 the country elects a president who's probably a little bit left of the country as a whole. Then in 2010, the Tea Party comes along, and it elects a House and goes probably a little further to the right than the country is as a whole. So will 2012 be the tie breaker? Or are we going to have another evenly divided?

CELINDA LAKE, PRESIDENT, LAKE RESEARCH PARTNERS: Well, the good news is, when you actually look at the data underneath and we get to run against a real Republican instead of a generic Republican -- generic Republican never harassed a woman or flip-flopped on an issue, so it's a little bit of an unfair comparison.

But when we get real Republicans to run against, we have advantages of five and six points, so I think we're feeling a lot better about the real contest. KING: You make that point. You think that the president -- and certainly, we've seen him improving his standing a little bit in recent days. You agree he's better now than he was a month or two in some ways -- in some ways. However, you write this analysis, saying there's an opening for the Democrats among independents. You write an analysis that says this guy is Jimmy Carter.

ED GOEAS, PRESIDENT & CEO, THE TORRANCE GROUP: He is Jimmy Carter, in several different measurements. Right direction, wrong track, worst in the country in decades.

But more importantly, if you look at his job approval, being upside down by 8 percentage points. At this same period of time Jimmy Carter was upside down by 7 points. These are -- they are the only two presidents at this stage of the campaign that were upside down in terms of their job approval. So there's a comparison there.

In terms of the country being divided, it's divided, but one of the things that I think Celinda does mention in her analysis that certainly is something to look at very closely, is we've seen another spike in the direction of Republicans on intensity.

We were running about 7, 8 points. We're now back up into the double digit that we were leading into the 2010 campaign.

KING: That has to scare you a bit.

LAKE: It does.

KING: If you look at 2006-2008, it was Democratic intensity that caused the wave. In 2010, it was conservative Tea Party Republican intensity that caused a wave. To Ed's point, when you're looking at an incumbent president, you're essentially asking do you want to keep the car? Do you like your car; do you want to keep it?

I want to show the wrong-track numbers on the screen. This is from your polling. We go back as far as July 2009, 51 percent. So a slight majority in 2009 said the country is heading in the wrong direction. You see at the end that spike up, 75 percent.

If 3 in 4 Americans think the country is going in the wrong way, the train is on the wrong track, do you really think they're going to reelect the conductor?

LAKE: Well, I think part of the problem is there are two conductors right now. There's the Republican Congress, and there's the president.

And I think in 2010, people said, "I don't care who is in charge. We'll put anybody in charge. We'll put our neighbor in charge. We'll put our dog catcher in charge." And I think the 2011 election showed that a lot of people think, "Hey, there's bad change here. They're going too far."

So I think that 2012 is going to be a real choice, as you said. The pendulum swung both ways. Now we're going to come and we're going to make a real choice.

I also think that character is going to matter. And in this poll, the president's numbers on character off the charts.

KING: Incredibly likeable president still.

LAKE: And respected.

GOEAS: In terms of that measurement. But they are -- ultimately, they're going to come back to looking at the performance. And if you look at the different performance measurements we tested, whether it's on the economy, whether it's dealing with Congress, which got much worse, whether it's jobs, which he's been campaigning on for the last two months that did not get any better, or looking at spending, he is going to -- he is upside down by all those measurements between 18 and 31 points.

So ultimately, they're going to start by saying, "Do I want to rehire this person?" I kind of tease Celinda a little bit that when they talk -- when she talks about character being a key issue in this campaign, that's kind of code word for "All we're left with is character assassination." And so that's the type of campaign we're running.

LAKE: You don't have to assassinate anybody, though, probably because they're doing a good job of it themselves.

KING: Our poll -- our new national poll is in the field a couple days after you guys.

LAKE: Yes.

KING: Most of the numbers -- most of the numbers match up pretty good. Which tells you you've got a relatively stable -- in terms of the mood of the country, it's pretty stable.

But to your point about independents, we had Romney -- in our new numbers, Romney beats Obama. He's the only leading Republican candidate who beats him, just by a couple of points. But if you -- if you ask about -- among independents, just among independents, we have -- broke out the cross tabs. Romney, 51. Obama, 43.

When you look at these Republicans -- now I know you've mentioned a candidate who flip-flops on the issue. I'm guessing Governor Romney is likely the person you have in mind when you mentioned that. But when you look at all of the Republican candidates right now -- we watched what the DNC is spending its money on, what Team Obama will spend its money on -- do you worry about him the most?

LAKE: Well, I think we think, like the voters think that he is the likely nominee. And so I think that's why -- frankly, I'm really personally surprised that Perry didn't do better. And I think that there's a whole bunch of Republican voters -- one of the most significant things there is there are a bunch of Republican voters who can't coalesce behind the frontrunner. That really says something. KING: This is in our poll, and 61 percent of Republicans say they might change up their mind. The voting starts in 48, 47 days in Iowa. Is that a high number?

GOEAS: And the key point is voting starts in 61 days. We are at the beginning of the process, not the end of the process.

One of the things we see in politics is that the nominee that comes out of the end of the process doesn't look like anything like the nominee or the person going into the process.

And in fact, independents, and one of the key thing on independents is angry independents that end up voting in a presidential year. We know where they are. They're going to end up not being all of those that you're reporting. And some of those that you aren't reporting.

But independents are not who the Romney and the other Republicans are campaigning to right now. They're campaigning to the base. So of course, you're not going to see the independents doing it, as well.

The one thing we saw in our poll that I think will be interesting in talking about other national polls is we looked at the 108 -- the 11, 12, 13 states that are the toss up states on the Electoral College. Those states, all the numbers got better for the Republicans. Romney was tied with Obama. And on the generic ballot we were leading by nine points.

KING: Spend more time going state by state as we move on.

LAKE: Well, and it...

KING: I'm sorry, Celinda. Thanks for coming in. We're out of time.

LAKE: Thank you.

KING: We'll come back to these issues, though.

Up next, a prominent Christian preacher says that he doesn't trust President Obama. It doesn't sound very Christian, right? We'll put Dr. Bob Jones to the "Truth" test.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's a lesson all of us learn, usually from our mothers, at a pretty young age. If you don't have anything good to say about someone, then just don't say anything.

And t hen, of course, there's the golden rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself. You can find lessons along those lines in the writings of Confucius or the Torah, or if you like, in the teachings of Jesus Christ. Both Luke and Matthew, for example, quote Jesus as saying, quote, "Do to others as you would have them do to you." Or "So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the law and the prophets." Good advice, right? No matter your faith.

Too bad Bob Jones III won't follow it. That name ring a bell? Dr. Jones is the chancellor of Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina. A bio posted on the conservative Christian university's Web site says of Jones, quote, "He grew up in a Christian home and trusted Christ as his personal savior in his early high school years." So then, he has this in common with President Obama.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What does it mean for you to trust in Christ? And what does that mean on a daily basis? I mean, what does that really look like?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, as a starting point, it means I believe in -- that Jesus Christ died for my sins and that I'm redeemed through him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Except, Dr. Jones doesn't see the president as a brother in Christ. To the contrary. Dr. Jones said this to "National Journal": quote, "I have no reason to think he's a Christian. Anyone can say he's a Christian. Some people will say whatever they think is politically helpful -- the politically helpful thing would be. I say, where is the evidence that he's a Christian?"

So this, for Dr. Jones, a third generation Christian preacher, apparently isn't good enough.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: They're called to fix what was broken in our world. A call rooted in faith is what led me, just a few years out of college, to sign up as a community organizer for a group of churches on the south side of Chicago. And it was through that experience, working with pastors and lay people, trying to heal the wounds of hurting neighborhoods, that I came to know Jesus Christ for myself and embrace him as my lord and savior.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Dr. Jones is hardly the first evangelical minister to question the president's faith or to at least add a question mark when talking about it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKLIN GRAHAM, SAMARITAN'S PURSE: You can be born a Muslim. You can be born a Jew, but you can't be born a Christian. The only way you can become a Christian is by confessing your sins to God and asking his forgiveness and by receiving Jesus Christ by faith into your heart. That Christ died for our sins, shed his blood on Calvary's cross, and that God raised him to life.

If you're willing to accept that and believe that and let Jesus Christ be the lord of your life, God will forgive your sins. He will heal your heart and that's the only way you can become a Christian.

And so if the president has done that, then I would say he's a Christian, if that's what he has done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: "If that's what he has done." Note the skepticism at the end.

But earlier in that interview, at least, Franklin Graham said he takes the president as his word. Dr. Jones clearly doesn't. If you keep reading that "National Journal" interview, well, you come to understand why and just where Dr. Jones is coming from.

Quote, "I have a great distrust for him. I think he's moving the country in a socialist direction as fast as he can. His whole background, to me, is colored with suspicion." Colored with suspicion. Well, I could pounce on that line. But, instead, I'll invoke the golden rule.

But, then asked about false rumors the president is Muslim and wasn't born in the United States, the "National Journal" writes that Dr. Jones paused and chuckled and said, quote, "I have my personal thoughts about that, but I'm not sure I want to make this public."

That's a long wind up to tonight's short but important "Truth." Dr. Jones should know better. Read the good book. The lord says -- he accepts as his savior -- preaches over and over again about the virtue of tolerance and loving thy neighbor.

There are plenty of critical issues to debate in the year ahead. Replaying old side shows about faith and birth certificates is a waste of time.

And "Truth" is, those who speak in the name of God, as a third- generation preacher claims to, have a higher responsibility to be careful, to lead by example, to set the tone for civil discourse or, to put it more succinctly, to be Christian.

That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.