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Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; Jerry Sandusky Arrested Again; Syrian Leader Denies Brutality; Interview With Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann

Aired December 7, 2011 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone, a remarkably busy news day.

And we begin tonight in Pennsylvania, where Jerry Sandusky was arrested today for a second time, the former Penn State football coach taken into custody after six new child sex charges were filed against him. The Pennsylvania attorney general said these charges involve two new alleged victims who met Sandusky through his charity for underprivileged kids. It's called The Second Mile.

The total number of alleged victims now stands at 10.

Let's get the latest now from Sara Ganim. She's a reporter for "The Patriot-News" in Harrisburg and also a CNN contributor.

Sara, Jerry Sandusky arrested again. The judge granted bail but he's still in custody, correct? He's not posted that bail?


His attorney said that because the arraignment wasn't until 3:00 today, that he probably wasn't going to be able to get $250,000 cash or in the form of a bail bondsman or in the form of property posted, so he would be spending night in jail. His attorney wasn't happy about it. He said if Jerry Sandusky was going to flee, he would have done it a long time ago. He's known he's been under investigation since late 2008 and he's been cooperative.

He offered to turn himself in. In fact, he did turn himself back in November when those charges were accidentally posted to the state court Web site and everyone found out that he was going to be charged before they planned it. The prosecutors asked for $1 million. They didn't get it. It was kind of a happy medium.

KING: Sara, the second wave of charges, obviously this is a case that affects not only Jerry Sandusky but the Penn State community. The college itself is in a way under investigation. What's the impact in the community of the second wave here?

GANIM: Well, you know, that's unclear.

We just came back from court, however. You know, everyone was talking about how Jerry Sandusky was wearing a Penn State wrestling track suit to court. And that kind of just shows you how much -- how intertwined that case and this scandal is.

And how people are feeling right now on campus is that they just can't seem to get away from it, as much as they talk about how this should be about one man or a few men's actions, that they feel like this has encompassed the entire university.

KING: Our contributor and fine reporter Sara Ganim, Sara, thank you for your time tonight.

There's also a big development in another big investigation, this into Bernie Fine. Remember, he's the former Syracuse University basketball coach who is also accused of sexual misconduct with minors. A district attorney in New York said today that although the allegations are credible he cannot bring charges against Fine because the statute of limitations has expired. However, the DA says he will revisit the case if necessary.


BILL FITZPATRICK, ONONDAGA COUNTY, NEW YORK, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: I can't bring Bernie Fine to justice for what he did to Bobby Davis and Mike Lang. And if there's other victims out there, we will certainly pursue them to the fullest extent of the law.


KING: There is a federal investigation into one of the allegations. Bernie Fine says all of them are false.

Let's discuss these two cases with Florida Assistant State Attorney Stacey Honowitz. She is a supervisor for the sex crimes unit in Broward County, Florida.

Stacey, let's start with Jerry Sandusky. The judge, again, granted him bail. Is this typical in a case like this that you would have a second wave of allegations and, as a prosecutor, would you try to keep him behind bars?

STACEY HONOWITZ, FLORIDA STATE ATTORNEY: Well, absolutely. I mean, I don't think a lot of people are shocked. This is what happens, John, in a lot of these very high-profile, big pedophile cases.

Victims initially don't come forward until they hear other victims come forward. The fact that he got re-arrested is not a big surprise. I'm sure prosecutors thinking and asking for $1 million bond, it would be tantamount to no bond because it's so high, they want this person behind bars because I bet you there's more to come.

These type of allegations could stretch out for a very long time. And as more victims hear that other people aren't afraid to come forward, they might just come forward. Don't be surprised if new allegations surface within the next couple of weeks.

KING: Stacey, shifting to the Bernie Fine case, the DA in New York says statute of limitations has expired but the charges in his view are credible. Do the feds have greater flexibility?

HONOWITZ: Yes. Lots of times, that does happen. If the state investigation has to cease, then the federal investigation might come in take over and you might have more leverage with the federal investigation.

Also that's why a lot of legislatures are looking to change -- when allegations come out about sexual abuse they come back to haunt people later, later on in life. And so the statute prevents them from going forward. So a lot of legislatures are coming forward and changing the statute of limitations.

So here in this case, the DA says it's not credible, let's turn it over to the feds and see if they have anything they can do.

KING: Veteran prosecutor Stacey Honowitz, Stacey, thanks for your legal insights tonight.

Now to politics. Iowa votes first in 27 days but the Republican presidential competition shifted right here to Washington for several hours today. Six of the candidates spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition all promising to be better friends to Israel, and more.


JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're in a deep funk as people. We are dispirited, we are dejected, we find ourselves in an economic hole with no leadership and no confidence.

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And I'm telling you, they don't want me up here. This city is not ready for me.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: An incumbent is rarely turned out of the White House and he will resort to anything. As you know, class warfare and demagoguery are powerful political weapons.


KING: Also in politics tonight, new CNN/"TIME"/ORC polling shows dramatic, dramatic gains by the former Speaker Newt Gingrich in the first four nominating contests.

Gingrich now big leads in Iowa, South Carolina, and Florida and he has cut deeply into former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's lead in the state of New Hampshire.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think people are coming to decide that they like substance and they like somebody who actually has balanced the budget, reformed welfare, cut taxes, gotten it done for real.

So I think there's probably a little more resilience in my support than in some of the earlier folks who made a run at this.


KING: Much more on those new numbers and other big campaign news in just a few moments.

Turning though overseas tonight, a simply flabbergasting, flabbergasting statement by the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He says he did not order the bloody crackdown of the nine-month uprising that has left thousands dead.

Listen to what President Assad tells ABC's Barbara Walters.


BASHAR AL-ASSAD, PRESIDENT OF SYRIA: We don't kill our people. Nobody kill -- no government in the world kill its people, unless it's led by a crazy person.

For me, as president, I became president because of the public support. It's impossible for anyone in this state to give order to kill.

BARBARA WALTERS, ABC NEWS: Do you feel guilty?

I did my best to protect the people. So you cannot feel guilty when you do your best.


KING: But as CNN's Ivan Watson reports, Assad's words are being met harshly and bluntly by the diplomatic community.


IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I have been amazed by the reaction I have been getting from Western diplomats, political scientists who are longtime Syria watchers and of course Syrian opposition activists.

They have used terms like delusional, insane, Bashar al-Assad is a madman in complete denial of the situation in Syria, all of this in reaction to his performance in that ABC News interview when he denied ever ordering Syrian security forces to punish anti-government demonstrators, in which he claimed also to enjoy much of the support of the Syrian population and in which he also claimed that Syrian loyalists to the government were making up the bulk of the more than 4,000 people that have been killed since anti-government protests began last March.

Now, amid this chorus of criticism and the growing number of former Syrian allies, the Arab League, Turkey, here, former close political allies that have now imposed sanctions against the Syrian government, there is a strong show of support this week from the powerful Lebanese Shiite movement Hezbollah, where its leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, stood strongly by Bashar al-Assad in a speech he gave in Beirut on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the bloodletting has not stopped inside Syria. Fighting raging along the Turkish/Syrian border according to Syrian news sources, the Syrian state news agency, and according to the anti- government militia known as the Free Syrian Army -- back to you, John.


KING: Ivan Watson there.

For more perspective, we turn now to CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend in New York and here in Washington, Syrian human rights activist Mohammad al-Abdallah.

Fran and Mohammad, thanks.

I want to play a little bit more of this interview, because it is simply astounding, simply astounding.

First, let's listen to more Barbara Walters sitting down with President Assad, essentially denying he's the president of the country, he's the strongman who succeeded his father, but ask him about the troops and the military, and he says, not my problem.


WALTERS: Do you think that your forces cracked down too hard?

AL-ASSAD: They are not my forces. They are military forces belonging to the government.

WALTERS: OK, but...


AL-ASSAD: I don't own them. I am president.


AL-ASSAD: I don't own the country, so they are not my forces.

WALTERS: No, but you have to give the order.

AL-ASSAD: No, no, no.

WALTERS: Not by your command?

AL-ASSAD: No, no, no. We don't have no one's command. There was no command to kill or to be brutal.


KING: No command given to kill or be brutal.

Stand by for just one more second. I want to go back in time, and we have been at this for months, and he said they're not his troops, no command given to be killed or brutal. Then how do they explain this?

We can go back through the videos posted by brave activists in Syria, and find time and time again where you clearly see troops, you see protesters gathering, you see them shot upon.

Mohammad, this is your country. When President Assad says, not me, wouldn't do it, I don't control the troops, must make your blood boil.

MOHAMMAD AL-ABDALLAH, SYRIAN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: He's lying about it. He's responsible. Legally, he's responsible. Constitutionally, he's the commander in chief of the army and the armed forces in the country and he's the one in charge.

And his brother is in charge and leader of the Republican Guard who is taking charge, the unit for the army who is making most of this crackdown in Daraa and Homs and elsewhere in the country. He's in direct charge of this. He met his own definition of crazy when he lied. That's scaring me, because he's copying Gadhafi interview with Christiane Amanpour when he denied totally anything happening in the country.

KING: Fran, to that point, there's denial and there's delusion. What is the endgame for Bashar al-Assad? Does he think he can simply lie his way and everybody will just eventually turn their attention elsewhere?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: No, John, look, I think the statement is despicable and it's untrue, but it's manipulative.

This is classic Bashar al-Assad. It's crumbling around him. Even his Arab allies have abandoned him. It's really beginning to come unglued for him. This is his ability to distance himself from his military troops. Of course he doesn't want to be held accountable. He saw the whole discussion unfold as regards Libya and holding Libya and Gadhafi and his son and Abdullah Senussi accountable in the International Criminal Court.

As he sees his own control crumbling he doesn't want to be held accountable. I actually think the statement is despicable in its cowardice. He's looking to not be held accountable ultimately for the acts of brutality of the military forces for which he is clearly responsible.

KING: Happy to add despicable and cowardice to the list that includes lying, reprehensible and more.

I want you to listen here -- some 4,000 people, at least, killed, the United Nations say. Some human rights groups think the number's higher than that. Fran, you make the point about Assad looking around the region and seeing regimes crumble and yet listen here, and he thinks, I still have much popular support.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL-ASSAD: I don't have problem. For me -- both public support -- this is the most important thing. But when I feel the public support declined, I won't be here. Even if they say or they ask or not, I shouldn't be here if there's no public support. That's conclusive.


KING: That's conclusive, he says.

But again Mohammad, you know the country. We have seen people for months putting their lives at risk, protesting in the streets. If it happens once or twice you don't necessarily know the depth and the breadth of the support. When it happens for months after months and people are being killed and tortured, can he sit and say I have the support of a majority of Syrians?

AL-ABDALLAH: He never had the support. He succeeded the power from his dad. He didn't even get elected as he claimed in the interview somehow.

And scaring me more, he's adding the United Nations (INAUDIBLE) organization that -- partner in the plot and the conspiracy against Syria, and that's a new tone in the Syrian government propaganda. And another thing the Syrian government responded to the U.N. Human Rights Council report. And their response was published in November 28 with the U.N. report. And he is denying that they received the report ever. He's lying.

KING: He's lying. I think we could say that without a doubt.

Mohammad, Fran, thanks for coming in tonight. We will continue to watch this one play out.

When we come back, is your Justice Department and your tax dollars, are they part of operations designed to crack down on drug trade in Mexico that in the end are actually helping the thugs and the smugglers? That's next.


KING: Here's a provocative question.

Is an agency of the United States government using its power and your money to help Mexican drug cartels launder millions of dollars in profits? That allegation is being made now against the Drug Enforcement Administration as part of its program to try to track and crack the drug money trail.

"The New York Times" reports it's very similar how it operates to how the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms permitted Mexican drug smugglers to buy American weapons through Operation Fast and Furious, that, again, program designed to learn more about cartel operations.

Congress is investigating Fast and Furious. And now that investigation will be expanded to include these money laundering allegations.

And the man leading that investigation is Congressman Darrell Issa. He's chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Mr. Chairman, thank you for your time tonight.

You sent this scathing letter to the attorney general asking questions about this program. He was supposed to brief your committee tonight and he's to testify tomorrow. Have they sent any materials up to you on this day that calms you down a bit and answers some of your questions?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R-CA), OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Not yet at all. As a matter of fact, the "New York Times" report, which is very disturbing, seems to be following the same pattern as Senator Grassley discovered nearly a year ago, and that's a denial and delay. They're saying there's nothing to brief and they're refusing to brief us.

But as you noted, tomorrow we will have the attorney general back, primarily to explain how he gave less-than-factual information, some would say false, or that he lied, but he clearly told us he didn't know about this program when in fact he did. He described weeks, when in fact it was months that he knew about Fast and Furious and did nothing to really bring that to Congress' proper oversight.

KING: Let me read a bit from your letter.

You write in this letter: "The existence of such a program again calls your leadership into question. The managerial structure you have implemented lacks appropriate operational safeguards to prevent the implementation of such dangerous schemes. The consequences have been disastrous."

I want to -- Mr. Chairman, address your answer to a Democrat out there who says, here's a Republican on a witch-hunt trying to get Eric Holder. Address your answer as to why you think he's not qualified or competent to be this nation's top law enforcement officer.

ISSA: Well, John, as you might know, I have not called for his resignation. I have raised the concerns not just about Eric Holder, but about Lanny Breuer, quite a while ago the U.S. attorney Burke, who did step down, Weinstein -- Weinstein -- a number of other -- Hoover -- a number of other individuals that we found knew about this program and failed to stop it.

We're not looking for political appointees. We're not looking for career professionals. We're looking for the many points in which a program that was destined to fail was put together and continued on for a long time leading to the death of Brian Terry and clearly in the neighborhood of 200 people in Mexico have died with these weapons, and more will die.

It's the safeguards. It's all that, the management. Is Eric Holder ultimately accountable? Yes. Do I have confidence in him? No. But let's understand there's a lot of other safeguards that failed, and our responsibility to the Democrats, as you said, is to make sure that the Justice Department fixes these, not for this administration, but for any administration. There should have been career professionals who put a stop to this, not just political appointees.

KING: Well, let's talk about this money laundering case. Let me ask you just a yes-or-no question.

In theory, it's a good idea for our Justice Department, our cops, to be trying to learn as much as they can about what the bad guys are doing and potentially getting involved in things like this, yes or no?

ISSA: Yes.

KING: And so in this case, what do you think went wrong? And I want to read you a little bit from the "New York Times" article that lays it out.

You have a former DEA agent that says, you're trying to do this with as small amounts of money as you can, but it says they tell you to bring $250,000 and they bring you $1 million. What's the agent supposed to do then? Tell them, no, he can't do it? They will kill him.

Meaning you're trying to use a small amount of tax dollars as the bait here so you can learn, but sometimes it takes more to -- my language -- to play. Is that OK?

ISSA: Well, the real question is not how many dollars. It's how long do you let it go on? When do you roll up the intermediaries, the people you have trapped in a sting like this, and then use them, flip them, if you will, to be your operatives? Those techniques are well- known by law enforcement.

The real answer is, you try to make sure no money, no guns, no drugs leave your control. And, more importantly, you use people that you have credible indictable evidence against to turn them to help you go up the chain, because ultimately you need insiders, you need people who have flipped.

That process, we have oversight on Judiciary and we want to make sure it works. In my case, when you have an out-of-control program like Fast and Furious, where 2,000 weapons went walking with no traceability waiting to be found at the scene of murders, that shows they didn't use good law enforcement techniques and nobody put a stop to it.

Is there a fine line of when do you use some of these things and track them? Of course. And we don't want to tie the hands of law enforcement. But when you see these kinds of abuses and then a cover- up, the American people have to ask, where are the safeguards, both with career professionals and with political appointees?

That's our responsibility to do, and we're hoping the attorney general begins to cooperate, where up until now, Justice has been delaying and denying.

KING: You have a lot of questions about these programs, and you have uncovered a lot of things that are wrong about these programs.

I want to ask you to try to set the scales for me, if you will, in terms of the Fast and Furious and now this money laundering program. They're designed to track and to learn about the cartels. On balance, has the United States gained valuable investigative information and hurt the cartels or are our tax dollars and the weapons and all that going in a way that the drug lords are benefiting from what we're trying to do to hurt them?

ISSA: Well, clearly, these weapons represented a net gain, a huge amount. Just one straw buyer bought 700 that passed into the hands of the cartel, far more than one would legitimately say you need in order to prove a case.

The problem is, on balance, we are no better off in the war on drugs than we were at the start of this. And there have been no big wrap-ups of major cartels as a result of either of the programs. Having said that, again, we don't want to tie the hands of law enforcement. We want these safeguards to be in place.

And when Attorney General Eric Holder say he wasn't informed, we have to ask, why is it all of his lieutenants very close around him, number one, number two, number three lieutenants, were actively involved and yet Eric Holder says that he didn't know? And there's not so much as one e-mail going from any of these individuals turned over to the attorney general that we have been provided, so it looks like he's out of touch, like he's not able to manage or not interested in managing, and that's an important distinction.

KING: We will track the questioning tomorrow. Chairman Issa, appreciate your time tonight.

ISSA: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

When we come back, if you go back to the spring, Michele Bachmann was the rising star of the Republican race. But she has sputtered since. The question now, as Iowa prepares to vote, can she survive?


KING: Michele Bachmann was an early surprise in the Republican presidential race, riding strong performances in an Iowa straw poll and in the early debates into a top-tier spot in the polls.

But she has faded dramatically since. Look at this. In our new CNN/"TIME" Iowa poll out tonight, Congresswoman Bachmann is in fifth place with support from just 7 percent of likely caucus goers. And our new numbers from the first four states on the Republican calendar reinforce her recent struggles, fifth in Iowa, fifth in New Hampshire, fourth in South Carolina, but with just 6 percent in support, and fourth in Florida as well, but with just 3 percent of the likely Republican vote.

Can the conservative and Tea Party favorite turn things around?

Congresswoman Bachmann nice enough to be with us tonight.

It's good to see you.

That is a fundamental question. We're less than four weeks from Iowa voting. If you come in fifth percent -- fifth place in Iowa, is that the end?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, in every race I have ever had, people have always said she's never going to do it, she's never going to win, and I have won. They have all been nightmare races, but I have ended up winning.

People said I couldn't win the Iowa straw poll. I won. I think we're going to be surprised on January 3, because this has actually been a political Wall Street, where you see one candidate up and then down. We think we're perfectly poised to be in the top spot by January 3.

KING: You believe you can win Iowa?

BACHMANN: Oh, I think that we can. And that's what we're intending to do.

KING: But where is your line if you don't? Is it top three, continue? If you're in fourth or fifth, is that the end?

BACHMANN: Well, that is what the media is concerned with. We aren't. We are concerned with winning. And so we're focused on the shift. And the deck reshuffled this weekend on Saturday with Herman Cain, and now we're seeing dramatic support switching over, so we're excited.

KING: You can tell from your comments in recent days, getting tougher about Speaker Gingrich and Governor Romney, that you seem surprised that a year after the Tea Party made its name, that you have these two conservatives, yes, but not what you describe, I think, as Tea Party grassroots conservatives, at top of the pack.

I want you to listen to something you said just yesterday on FOX.


BACHMANN: They're the great pretenders right now, because they're trying to pretend, and talk, and walk like they're conservatives, when they hardly have a conservative record and they have a serious problem on Obamacare, among a lot of other issues. So, it's -- they were the father and the grandfather of the Obamacare legislation.


KING: There have been debate after debate after debate after debate. The candidates have been to Iowa, in Governor Romney's case, more to New Hampshire.

The voters have had a lot of chances to look at these candidates, to hear them, to hear the critiques like that in the debates in the back and forth. And yet Speaker Gingrich now by far leading the pack in the polls, and Governor Romney by far in second place in the polls.

The voters disagree with you, don't they, about the great pretenders?

BACHMANN: This isn't over by a long shot. We have 70 percent of the American people who are unsure, and they're paying attention, they're dialing in now. They're looking to see who is the true core conservative in this race.

There's no political surprises with me, absolutely none. And people want to know who their champion will be and who can debate Barack Obama and take him on. I can shred his radical policies in the debate. And I have proved myself. And I will be the best one to defeat him in 2012.

KING: To what you do attribute the success of Newt?

BACHMANN: Well, it's because he's very good at co-opting the conservative language. And he's using that conservative language, but his record completely belies his language.

No one has been more the epitome of a Washington, D.C., insider than Newt Gingrich. He's taken over $100 million for influence peddling in Washington, D.C. His office is located on the Rodeo Drive of Washington, which is K Street. And he's taken over $1.6 million to influence senior Republicans to keep the big mess at Freddie Mac going. I was trying to shut it down.

On a whole host of issues, he's wrong on immigration; he's wrong on global warming. He was wrong on the $700 billion bailout. He was wrong on Libya. On issue after issue, his positions have hardly been conservative. He's had more in common with Barack Obama than he has with the conservatives. That's not what we can have for our nominee.

KING: Let's talk about the president. He gave a big speech in Kansas yesterday, and it's a defining speech, the White House says. And I'll give the president this one. I think he was exactly right. Not my job to pick the prescriptions but on setting out the defining challenge of our time, he said, was helping the middle class actually think, if you work hard and play by the rules, you can do better.

Of course, he thinks your party has it wrong. Let's listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We simply cannot return to this brand of "you're on your own" economics if we're serious about rebuilding the middle class in this country.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: I want to go through two things here you said. In August, in front of a Tea Party crowd in South Carolina, you said, "We do believe, unlike Warren Buffett, that taxes are high enough already," meaning don't raise taxes.

You told the Associated Press on November 7, "I think that people who can afford to pay more need to pay more." Which is it?

BACHMANN: Well, what it is, is growing the economy. And what I said by that is I intend to abolish the tax code. I'm a federal tax litigation attorney, and what I want to do is abolish the tax code.

And I'm saying that, if you are middle class or lower middle class -- people who are upper income need to pay at least the same rate as people who are middle or lower. They can't pay less.

Today we have unequal rates, and people who are wealthier, sometimes are getting away with paying less because the tax code is all about special interests. And what I want to do is have the tax code apply the same to everyone. That's very different.

I want a tax code that's going to have equal treatment under the law. That's not what we have today.

What Barack Obama is calling for is more intervention by government in the economy. He doesn't know how to grow the economy. He doesn't know how to create jobs. I do. I'm a job creator myself. I'm a successful private businesswoman and I'm a trial lawyer -- a federal trial lawyer on taxes. I get what we need to do on changing the economy, and that's what I'll do.

KING: I want to play this video. It's now received more than 2.4 million hits on YouTube.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mommy is gay, but she doesn't need any fixing.


KING: Take me back to that moment. The little boy said, "My mom is gay, but she doesn't need any fixing."

BACHMANN: Well, I just wrote a brand-new book called "Core of Conviction." And I've been having book signings and wonderfully attended. And a woman came up with a little boy who looked to be about 8 years of age, and he was whispering to me. I couldn't hear him. I leaned down closer. I still couldn't hear him. I leaned down even closer.

This little boy was looking down at his toes. He obviously didn't want to say what he was put up to say. And I just think it's reprehensible when someone uses a little child to advance a political agenda. That's what was going on at that book signing. I'd never do that to one of my children, and it's really unfortunate that this poor little boy was used in that way.

KING: What's your message to him and his mom, then?

BACHMANN: My message is that I -- I believe in equal treatment for all Americans, and I think that's what we need to have and respect for each other. I think that family is very important.

And I am very unashamed. I believe that we should all be allowed to have our opinions respected. And I stand for marriage, and marriage between a man and a woman.

KING: Congresswoman, thanks for your time.

BACHMANN: Thank you, John.

KING: Thank you.

Next, an update on that infamous governor convicted of trying to sell President Obama's former Senate seat.


KING: Welcome back. If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now.

The former governor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich, sentenced to 14 years in prison today, that for his conviction. Remember, he tried to sell Barack Obama's former Senate seat. Governor Blagojevich must report within 90 days.

The so-called morning-after pill will remain prescription only for girls under 17. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled a Food and Drug Administration recommendation that the pill, Plan B One-Step, be made available without a preparation to all sexually active girls.

And a 20-year-old Georgia man named Ryan Brunn was arrested today and charged with murdering 7-year-old Jorelys Rivera. She disappeared last week. Brunn works at the girl's apartment complex. He's scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow.

Our "Number" now, as we prepare to return to politics, tonight's "Number," 8,697, eight thousand six hundred and ninety-seven. That, according to Reed Wilson of the Hotline publication, the number of campaign ads aired in Iowa as of this point in the campaign.

Seems like a lot, right? Well, take a peek. If you go back four years, by this point, 26,000-plus ads had been made. That's three times, essentially. Now, of course, remember, No. 1, the campaign four years ago started earlier. No. 2, you had not only a Republican nomination at play; you had the Democratic contest, as well.

So local TV stations in Iowa not yet making the kind of money they made back then.

When we come back, we're going to go state by state, state by state and show you just why Newt Gingrich right now is, without a doubt, this: the Republican front-runner.


KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at top of the hour, just a few minutes away. Erin's here with a preview. Erin, what have you got?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. Well, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, well, everyone thought he would be a candidate, perhaps, for the Republican nomination, is in Iowa tonight, as you know. Arriving, speaking on behalf of Mitt Romney. So we're going to be talking about that, breaking that down live as he speaks.

Plus, we actually did the math on something that really shocked us, John, about child abuse in America. We're going to break that down for you.

Plus, we're very excited about this: a dark-horse candidate announcing their candidacy for president on our show tonight. That's coming up exclusively top of the hour. Back to you.

KING: Can't wait to find out. We'll be watching. Erin, thank you. See you in just a few minutes.

And Erin noted Governor Christie's out in Iowa for Mitt Romney. If you still think Governor Romney is the Republican front-runner, give me and I bet -- I bet -- you'll change your mind. Let me show you what I'm talking about.

Four new polls out tonight: CNN, "TIME" magazine and ORC. We'll start in Iowa. Iowa votes first, less than four weeks from today. Look at this: Newt Gingrich, 33; Governor Romney, 20; Ron Paul, 17; everybody else in single digits. A 13-point lead for Newt Gingrich in Iowa.

New Hampshire comes next. Governor Romney has led here forever. But look at how much Gingrich has cut into his lead now, 35/26. Ron Paul again third at 17. Everybody in single digits. Romney still leading in New Hampshire but no longer by a very comfortable margin.

Let's go on. South Carolina votes third. Look at this: more than 2-1, Gingrich, 43; Romney, 20; everyone else in single digits. I sound like a broken record, right?

Florida votes fourth. Let's look here: 48 percent; Romney 25. Almost 2-1 there for Newt Gingrich. And one more time, everyone in single digits.

That's the horse race. Let's go back through the states. Because if you go back and take a look, you see why Gingrich is right now, without a doubt, the front-runner.

Overall support there, 33 percent in Iowa. He's getting 31 percent of the very important organized evangelical vote in the state of Iowa. Ron Paul next, Mitt Romney there. That's a very important number for Newt Gingrich. People were suspicious, could he get that grassroots evangelical support at the moment. He's doing just fine in the state of Iowa.

Let's move over to New Hampshire. Look here. Moderate, liberal voters and conservative voters, Romney and Gingrich splitting the conservative vote. The reason Romney's ahead, he's doing much better among moderate to liberal Republicans in New Hampshire right now. Keep an eye on that as we go forward to New Hampshire.

Want to move on to South Carolina. Again, evangelicals a critical constituency. Among born-again Christians, Gingrich is clocking Romney there, 48-18 percent. But he's also holding his own, not only holding his own, winning among those who say they are not evangelicals, 39-26. The depth of his support is across the party. It's not a niche for Gingrich.

Here, one more in Florida. You see the same thing happening among conservatives. That's been the question> who will emerge as the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney? That has been the defining question of the primaries. Among conservative Republicans in Florida, Gingrich, 54 percent of them; Romney, 23. There's your answer right there. He's winning among evangelicals and among non-evangelicals.

One last caveat: Iowa votes first. When it does, often things change. This is just Florida. More than half of the voters say they might change their mind. The numbers are similar in South Carolina, similar in New Hampshire. So Gingrich is without a doubt ahead. Iowa will change things.

But let's take a closer look now, dig deeper with CNN contributors Mary Matalin and our CNN contributor David Frum, as well, and "TIME" magazine deputy Washington bureau chief Michael Crowley.

Mary, I want to go to you first, as someone who has taken candidates through this process. When you look now, not only is Gingrich ahead by double digits in three of the four early states, when you go dig deep into the poll, where are his weaknesses and you look at the incomes, and you look at how people work, you look at the evangelicals and non-evangelicals, his support is pretty consistent and solid, which makes it hard to get at him, no?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Right. Weaknesses don't pop out. His strength pops out. He's been the first of the ABMs, the "anybody but Mitts," to consolidate not just conservatives but to consolidate across the continuum of conservatives. And on the right issues.

The No. 1 issue is economics, and they're all for them. And what he did today, and we all saw him earlier with Wolf, is what he needed to do. We talked about this last night. We're now on Icarus watch. OK? So we saw today that his wings are not wax. He's really doing everything he needs to do.

There's one thing to remember about Iowa that never shows up in any of these commentaries. They don't -- they're very civil people. They're very sophisticated people. When the instinct for these campaigns now is going to be going to it on attack in the final three weeks, Iowans -- Iowans don't like that. KING: Well, let's fall on these points. You make the Icarus comparison again. About a week ago, Newt Gingrich spoke to Jake Tapper of ABC News and said -- he said, "I'm going to be the nominee." And we saw some of that self-importance that many people think would be his undoing.

Listen to Newt Gingrich here dialing it back, self-correcting, if you will, being much more humble when Wolf Blitzer asked him today, "Well, you're going to be the nominee, right?"


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I think that -- look, remember, I was way down here, and now I'm up here. So I know you can go way back down here.

We still have a lot of work to do. With the next four weeks in Iowa, then a real rush in New Hampshire, then on to South Carolina, then on to Florida and Nevada. I mean, all of those within about a month. So I think if we have a little interview right after Nevada, we'll have a better sense of how real it is and of what's actually happening.

KING: It has been, Michael, one of the big things to watch. If you covered Newt back in the day, and I did, he was combustible. He made mistakes. He got the feel that he was here to save western civilization. In this campaign, when he starts to step out into that world, he self-corrects pretty quickly.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes, he does. I mean, that was a really remarkable show of restraint. If he can keep that up, boy, he could be golden. I think that is really the test right now.

He's his own worst enemy. There's nothing he can do about his long record of pretty dramatic statements that he's made over the past several years when he was in the House of Representatives. There is a long list of -- frankly some of them are kind of wacky things he's said.

But if he can maintain that disposition and demeanor, it will be a lot harder to beat the Newt that we know kind of pops off and says things that he's cleaning up after once a day.

KING: Does it stun you to see the rally -- it's not a rally. We've been Perry had it. Bachmann had it. Cain had it. But Newt has it by numbers and across the depth and the breadth of the party, way more than anyone had it.

DAVID FRUM, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Take me completely aback. Newt Gingrich, if your problem with Mitt Romney is that he's been on many different sides or two sides of many different issues, Newt Gingrich has been on more sides of more issues than anybody in this race.

But what Newt Gingrich is offering people about is a high- conflict candidacy and a high-conflict presidency. It's hard to believe that anyone who is so vehement on a position today could have been just as vehement a week ago, where on the opposite side was Mitt Romney because he's milder mannered. Oh, yes, I can imagine that he once said exactly the opposite. With Gingrich it just blows you out the water.

But it is going to be a high-conflict candidacy against President Obama. It's going to be a high-conflict presidency if he makes it. That's something I think should give Republicans pause.

KING: You've made him the nominee. In that sense, I want -- right now Mitt Romney is turning his attention. He spent so much time on Barack Obama. Here's his new ad in Iowa. And get the hint: this is about Gingrich.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think people understand that I'm a man of steadiness and constancy. I don't think you're going to find somebody who has more of those attributes than I do.

I've been married to the same woman for 25 -- excuse me, I'll get in trouble -- for 42 years.

If I'm president of the United States, I will be true to my family, to my faith, and to our country. And I will never apologize for the United States of America.

I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message.


KING: Now, Speaker Gingrich is on his third marriage. The evangelical voters are important in Iowa. Wolf Blitzer asked him about this ad today.


GINGRICH: I suspect everybody who runs for office at this level has had some flaws at some point. Other than Christ, I don't think anybody has been flawless. But you've got to decide, and in my case I'm 68 years old. I have a very strong marriage to Callista, as you know. I'm very close to my two daughters. Chris and I have two wonderful grandchildren in Maggie and Robert who are my debate coaches.

And people have to look at all of that and decide is he now a person who's matured and who I'm comfortable having lead the country?


KING: Mary, does that answer -- answer the ad?

MATALIN: The ad was not initially constructed to attack Newt. It was constructed to defend Mitt, his weakness being inconsistency. And he's trying to make a point: "I'm consistent. I'm a consistent human being. So you're going to have to translate my life consistency into my -- to make up for my record deficiency."

But you don't -- there's nothing in your polls, John. There's nothing that we've seen. You just read the evangelical numbers. Newt's baggage and wives are just not an issue for the constituency for whom one would expect that it - that it would be. And his Catholic conversion requires a very deep self-examination. I think he did that.

We've known him for over two decades. He's finally happily married. He's financially secure. He's just exuding the maturity that -- that he wants us to think that he has. I think he does have it.

KING: So how, then, David Frum, if Romney is going to get him, bring him down, what is the issue debate, the specific issue or issues where, if you were advising Romney, you would say, "Here's your way to get the speaker?"

FRUM: Well, Mary pointed out, a lot of those things Mary pointed to as features are really bugs. The question of Newt's financial security, that is a bug. How did he achieve that financial security? He didn't create a company that did real goods and services. He was a lobbyist in all but name, selling access.

He -- if the question of constancy outside of realm marriage, you say, well, the big knock on Mitt Romney is he used to be for a health- care mandate. Now he's sort of against it.

Well, Newt Gingrich also used to be for that same health-care mandate. It's going to be those same complex of issues.

But I think the real question, if I were advising Mitt Romney I would say is, the question to Republicans is do you want to make this election a referendum on the Clinton presidency? Because nominating Newt Gingrich means you are going that. You're putting Bill Clinton on the ballot, and he's pretty popular right now.

KING: That's a way to put it. But as David makes his point, when you look at these numbers in our new polling, we've had such a volatile race. Donald Trump was the alternative. He didn't even run. Then Bachmann. Then Cain. Then Perry. I might have the order a little mixed up, but we've seen the ball bounce around.

When you dig deep here, though, I used the word volatility. I will still say today I'm not sure the voters won't give us another surprise or two. But this is very different than it was as we get closer to the votes. Iowa votes in 27 days. It seems like there's a hardening at the race, after months of volatility, right?

CROWLEY: Yes and no. Another number that really struck me throughout those four state polls and every one between 48 to 55 percent of respondents said that they are not certain this is their final choice. They might still change their mind. So remember, that fluidity is still there. That said, to your point, I do think that, to some degree what we're seeing is maybe not a coalescing around Newt but that these people who just are finally realizing "I don't want Mitt Romney." There was a sense just before this Newt surge that everyone is kind of saying, well, now it's going to be Romney? Cain has gone and gone. Who else is there going to be? It's going to be Romney. And I think there's a rejection of that. So to some degree, it's almost not a positive flow toward Newt, but it's a negative flow away toward Romney. And that would be the scary thing for Romney, because there's not a lot he can do about that.

KING: Not a lot he can do about that. We'll see if Iowa reshuffles the deck. We'll keep looking between. Michael, David, Mary, thanks for coming.

Tonight's "Truth" considers whether Iowa will answer Rick Perry's prayer.


KING: It can be easy to assume the Republican nomination battle now boils down to Gingrich versus Romney. But given all the volatility this cycle, and recent years, for that matter, the voters could well have another surprise in store.

Rick Perry wants to be that surprise. He wants to be this campaign's comeback kid. His new Iowa TV ad telegraphs the strategy.


GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian. But you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.


KING: Now, there's a little desperation there but also some logic. More than half of the voters in the Iowa GOP caucuses last time described themselves as evangelicals or born-again Christians.

But here's tonight's "Truth." I don't see Rick Perry as this cycle's Mike Huckabee. Things feel very this time around. For starters, the evangelical vote is split. In our new Iowa poll tonight, Governor Perry runs fourth among evangelicals. And among this group, he has to worry about those who trail him, as well as those who are ahead of him. Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann and former senator Rick Santorum, for example, get 9 percent and 7 percent of the evangelical vote respectively.

Now, the rules of the caucuses do allow some horse trading. So forgive the pun, Governor Perry may yet have a prayer. But truth is, this is another area where getting into the race so late hurt him.

Senator Santorum, for example, has been in the homes and the churches of people supporting him. He knows their names. Governor Perry is playing catch up in the retail politics department.

And that's the looking-over-the-shoulder perspective. If he looks at the candidates well out in front of him, Governor Perry will see evangelical voters more or less in line with the rest of the Republican electorate, more for Gingrich, a steady walk for Romney and a modest but solid block of Libertarian support for Ron Paul.

The candidates who have made persuasive cases on the economy or in the debates are atop the pack. And truth is, Governor Perry is running short of time to prove himself on those fronts, which at least so far, are this campaign's biggest tests not only for evangelicals but for all slices of the Republican electorate.

We'll see you tomorrow right here. Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman among our guests. And remember, we'll be on the road all next week in Iowa. But that's all tonight. See you then.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.