CNN CNN


 

Return to Transcripts main page

JOHN KING, USA

Romney's New Strategy; Jury Votes Death in Home Invasion Case

Aired December 9, 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, a busy Friday in the news.

And we begin tonight in Connecticut, the jury's recommendation, the death penalty by lethal injection. That word this afternoon in the home invasion trial of Joshua Komisarjevsky. He was found guilty five weeks ago in the triple murder of Jennifer Hawke-Petit and her two daughters back in 2007.

The random brutality of his crime shocked the nation. A judge now will consider the jury's recommendation and make a final conversation. Komisarjevsky's accomplice, Steven Hayes, already sentenced to death.

Just moments ago, the sole survivor of the attack, Dr. William Petit, the father and husband of the victims, spoke to reporters.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. WILLIAM PETIT, SURVIVED DEADLY HOME INVASION: The Petit, Hawke, Graham and Chapman and families would really like to thank the jury for their very difficult decision on this case.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Deborah Feyerick has been covering this case from the beginning. She's in New Haven, Connecticut, tonight.

Deborah, take us inside the courtroom when we get the verdict, death by lethal injection.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it was very emotional during the reading of the verdict, death on all six counts that Joshua Komisarjevsky was facing. He looked straight ahead, showed no real emotion and then at the end led out in handcuffs.

Members of the Petit family and supporters who have been here every day of the month-long trial and then the penalty phase, they seemed relieved, but they were filled emotion that finally it would end because you have to remember, this is one of two trials. But now it's over.

And I even asked Dr. Petit, I said, do you feel elation, do you feel exhaustion, peace? And he paused. He said, not elation, but, yes, peace, and that it was an enticing prospect to perhaps get to, in his words, normal life and he used the quotation marks. This has just consumed really every day, every hour for them as they have come to this courthouse, tried to have their presence felt by the jurors. One juror told us that in fact there was a lot of crying, but in the end, even though they looked at the sum total of Joshua Komisarjevsky's life, the child abuse, being ignored by his parents, just things -- it was not a happy childhood, they said ultimately there was nothing that could justify anything that happened in the house that night, the seven hours of torture, of forcing Jennifer Hawke-Petit to the bank to withdraw what amounted to ransom money and then raping and strangling her before setting the house on fire, killing those two girls.

There's a sense of peace tonight, and perhaps it's ended -- John.

KING: Perhaps. Perhaps. Deborah Feyerick on the scene of the verdict today, Deborah, thank you so much.

Moving on now to Pennsylvania, the former disgraced former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky spent his first full day at home wearing an ankle bracelet, and preparing for a court date next week.

"Patriot-News" reporter and CNN contributor Sara Ganim has been on top of the story from the beginning.

Sara, Jerry Sandusky's free on bail. His wife released a statement saying he is innocent and asking people to have an open mind. What is the reaction in the community?

SARA GANIM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: well, people have been talking about Dottie all day, what she knew, what she may have heard, especially after the release of the second grant jury presentment which say that one of the victims, victim number nine, alleged that he screamed out for help while being assaulted in the basement of the Sandusky home hoping Dottie would help him but no help came.

That prompted the statement that Dottie released proclaiming that she's standing by her husband, that he is innocent, that they are hoping that people in the community will wait to give him a chance to prove that innocence. But you know, I guess the big question that we have been hearing today is, is she now a part of the investigation? Could she be charged?

The answer is that, unless you have come kind of direct knowledge of child abuse, no. But it's an ongoing investigation. We haven't really heard either way on charges against several people who are kind of peripheral players; the A.G.'s office is only saying it's ongoing. That's something we have been hearing a lot today, John.

KING: What do we expect from the next round in court, Sara?

GANIM: Well, you know, Tuesday is the preliminary hearing for Jerry Sandusky. We expect to hear from several, if not all, of the victims that are known to the attorney general's office. That could be up to eight, maybe more. We expect to hear from them. That's expected to last all day. I think it could go possibly into another day. We do know that Joe Amendola was at the Sandusky home all day today preparing his client, Jerry Sandusky, for what's going to go down on Tuesday. He did say to reporters, though, however, including CNN, right before he went in that anyone who is expecting a bombshell out of Tuesday is probably going to be let down.

KING: Sara Ganim for us on the important news there, still the first time Jerry Sandusky in court face-to-face with his alleged victims.

Sara, thank you tonight.

Moving on now to the campaign trail, more evidence tonight the Romney campaign is prepared to battle all out in Iowa and battle more aggressively against Newt Gingrich. The former Massachusetts governor drew several sharp contrasts with the former House speaker today, including what you might call two out of this world attacks in this conversation with "The Des Moines Register."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I saw the speaker had a measure that I read about which was to put a permanent colony on the moon to mine rare materials from the moon.

I think we have got some other priorities for our spending before we do that. He even talked about a series of mirrors that we could put in space that would light our highways at night. I have got some better ideas for our resources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Speaker Gingrich also faced a tough attack today from Senator Rand Paul. He's a Tea Party favorite, also the son of presidential contender Congressman Ron Paul.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Newt Gingrich was a big champion of the bank bailout. I don't know how he can be considered a conservative or appeal to Tea Party voters. I don't just know how once people get to know who he is and what he supported, I don't know how the Tea Party could support him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Former Texas Governor Rick Perry also sat down with "The Des Moines Register" editorial board and his Christian faith was a major topic.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My faith teaches me that this is an all-powerful creator, that when a bird falls from the sky, he knows it. And I believe that. And that is part of who I am. And I'm not going to change that. If people decide that, listen, you know, your religious faith is -- you know, scares me off, my religious faith hadn't gotten in the way in Texas from the standpoint of making us the most economically powerful state in the nation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's come back to Washington now.

And take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: House will be in order and the chair lays before the House a communication from the speaker.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's the House gaveling in for the start of the business day. Their business day lasted two minutes. That's right. How long was your workday? Theirs, two minutes. The Senate wasn't even in session today. Is it an early Christmas here in Washington?

The Democratic leader of the House, Nancy Pelosi, and other House Democrats were accusing Republicans of just that, setting the stage now for a showdown over the extension of a payroll tax cut.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE MINORITY LEADER: We are working to make sure that we can honor the budget requirement that we have legislation before the end of the year. We're past the fiscal year, but before the end of the calendar year, before we can leave for Christmas.

We can't leave for the holidays without finishing that work. And we can't leave for the holidays without passing a payroll tax cut for the middle class.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's bring in our congressional correspondent, Kate Bolduan.

Kate, maybe you can help me. Is there no holiday cheer up there?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I would say not so much holiday cheer at the moment. Number one, not a lot of people are around as you rightly pointed out.

But, also, here's the latest on kind of where things stand. There was a lot of back and forth this week, John, between Democrats in the Senate, Republicans in the Senate, as well as especially the Republican leadership in the House. Despite the fact that the Senate voted down two additional proposals to extend the payroll tax cut, one Democratic measure, Republican measure, and the fact that the president was quite involved with talking about the payroll tax extension and the House unveiled some of the details of their proposal to extend the payroll tax cut, there's still no clear path to compromise here and that's because it seems both sides have really become dug in.

The latest, today, House Republicans formally unveiled their proposal to extend the payroll tax cut. It does extend the tax cut, as well as extend unemployment benefits, which many people up here have set as also a priority. But here's the key that really shows that Republicans are spoiling for a fight here with -- or especially a showdown with Democrats as well as the president.

They're linking these extensions to a provision that would speed up approval of the Keystone pipeline. The president has obviously come out to say he would reject that. He did that earlier today -- earlier this week. But Republicans are pushing forward on it. They call it a job-creating measure. Democrats call it a poison pill.

No surprise, John, to you or our viewers, both sides are accusing the other of playing politics. So it's a very critical week coming up if they're going to make or break the payroll tax extension.

KING: Let's hope they get it done next week. But we see record an it's-incumbency sentiment in the polls. And I think most Americans would think coal in all of their stockings.

BOLDUAN: Not a surprise. Yes.

KING: We will stay on top of this one. Kate Bolduan, thanks tonight on Capitol Hill.

BOLDUAN: Thanks, John.

KING: Considered it case close against Boeing. A contentious issue between the airline maker and a major union has been settled. So today the National Labor Relations Board dropped a complaint against Boeing at the request -- that complaint was dropped at the request of the machinist union.

When the board filed the complaint it drew the ire of Republicans who accused the administration and the board of meddling in business. Basically the complaint asserted that Boeing was retaliating against union workers in Washington state by building a giant new plant in South Carolina. This week, though, Boeing workers did ratify a new four-year contract that guarantees job security in Washington State.

On to Boston, where the Occupy movement lives another day. The encampment still in operation. The midnight deadline for protesters to clear out passed this morning but police did not enforce the eviction notice. They did arrest a few people though who moved their tents out into the middle of the street. Mayor Menino, Thomas Menino of Boston, generally supportive of the movement, but says upcoming cold weather could make safety an issue. He's asking the protesters to please leave on their own. Overseas now, tough talk from Pakistan about its western border with Afghanistan and that talk aimed directly at the United States. More fallout this is from the NATO airstrikes on a border post that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. Pakistan's military is thinking now about bolstering its air defense system on the border.

Here's what one official told CNN. Take notice of the language he used here -- quote -- "If somebody comes into your country and pounds you out of existence, we should be able to hit back." And he said, Pakistan never expected aggression, aggression in quotes there, on its western border.

Well, today the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff here in the United States, General Martin Dempsey, had this to say about relations with Pakistan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: What we're trying to do is have -- show some patience, asking them to show some patience, and then we will try to get back in touch with each other and see if we can work through it. But, yes, it's a mess.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A mess might be an understatement. General Dempsey though categorically dismissed a suggestion from Pakistan that the airstrikes were intentional.

An American reportedly being held hostage and the desperate plea by his family to gain his freedom. The gaunt man in this hostage video you see right here, 63-year-old Robert Levinson, he's a former FBI agent who went missing in Iran almost five years ago.

The video is less than a minute long, there's Middle Eastern style music playing in the background. But Levinson looks into the camera, you see him there and asks, please help me. Levinson's family received this video a year ago. But as you can see and as you can hear here, emotions are still fresh. This is his wife, Christine.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHRISTINE LEVINSON, WIFE OF AMERICAN HOSTAGE IN IRAN: When I saw it, I was very sad to see him looking the way he does. However, at the same time, I was happy to learn that he was alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, has spoken to family members. She's been covering this case.

Jill, why did the family wait a year to release this video?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: John, they said when they got the video, they tried, through various channels, to reach out to whoever sent it to them. They still don't know who's holding Mr. Levinson. They tried to reach out. They never got anything back. So in frustration now, a year later, they're releasing this videotape on their family Web site, and just basically hoping that whoever is holding him will hear this, listen to them, and tell the family what they want.

That's the main thing. The family feels that they don't know why he's being held or what this group or person, individuals, whoever it is, wants.

KING: Any indication, Jill, that the government knows? If the family doesn't know, does the administration -- this has been a priority -- they any idea where he is and what might gain his release?

DOUGHERTY: John, right from the beginning, this has been a very troubling and very kind of murky case. Nobody seems to know precisely where he is. Some people believe that he is in Iran in spite of the fact that the Iranian government says it has no idea and that they're not holding him.

Some others believe he might be in the third country. But at this point, I don't think you can say that anybody really, at least as they're saying, definitively knows where he is.

KING: Jill Dougherty for us live at the State Department -- Jill, thank you.

If you have been watching the markets in recent weeks, you have seen ups and downs, ups and downs, a lot of it because of volatility, Europe's debt crisis. Well, today, a big step designed, designed to bring a solution. But one country had big objections -- much more on that next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: It's been hailed as a new beginning. Most of Europe's leaders agreed on a plan to try to fix the continent's debt crisis, something that could help our own economic mess here in the United States. But there's a holdout, and a major holdout at that.

Richard Quest is at the meeting in Brussels.

Richard, let's start with the basics. What does this deal do? A lot of talk about getting the debt crisis under control. Will the talk be matched by the right actions?

RICHARD QUEST, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Two things took place. In the short term, they beefed up the bailout fund, they put more money into it, they got more people involved, and there's a much bigger bazooka to launch to try and protect the euro.

The markets will give their verdict on that in the days ahead. Perhaps more seriously in the longer term, they tried to reformat the euro. And this is what you're referring to. This is the moment when most of the European -- Eurozone countries, all the Eurozone, and a good collection of the other countries, decided to go their own way. They have got new rules. Budget deficit restrictions, automatic sanctions, basically all of the sort of things they needed to do to make the euro work properly, they went ahead with that. The United Kingdom said no.

KING: The United Kingdom said no.

Let's listen to Prime Minister David Cameron's explanation why he decided he couldn't sign up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: You look who is really driving the single market and opening it up for jobs and growth, it's Britain. You look in NATO about who is making the key decisions, getting things done like Libya, it's Britain. We are a strong leading power in Europe. We use that influence to the good.

But there are some things, like the Eurozone, like the (INAUDIBLE) borders area, that are not in our interest and we won't join them. And just being tough and standing up for your national interest I think is a very, very important part of my job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Richard Quest, it almost sounds like he's saying we're better than you so we're not signing on.

QUEST: He basically said you don't give us what we want in terms of no transaction financial tax and you don't get your European treaty. But did he shoot himself in the foot? Because the other countries are going to go ahead with reforming the euro anyway.

And it is 26 against one. And, John, I have to tell you, tonight, just walking around this room earlier, which was full of journalists from all the other European countries, who, frankly, have had enough of Britain's dog in the manger, always complaining, never going along with it attitude and policies.

So here there is a certain amount of, to use that phrase, schadenfreude, at the fact that Britain is on their own and seemingly out of favor.

KING: And so help the average American family sitting around the dinner table tonight watching this conversation say, well, that's across the pond, why do I care?

QUEST: They care very clearly. If they are in manufacturing around that dinner table, they will be sending goods and services to the European Union.

If they are in any form of banking, they will have been seeing investments in the European Union. If they have an IRA or they have a 401(k), they are invested or at least part of those funds are invested in companies that trade or do business or are in the European Union.

These days, the 3,000 miles of the Atlantic are just about a pinprick wide and anybody that doesn't see that European Union as one of the single biggest trading partners for the United States, that is the significance, John. It remains that case. And that is why Geithner was in Europe, that is why Secretary of State Clinton spoke about the deal, and it is why the White House has welcomed today the announcement of this bailout fund and the new deal for the euro.

KING: Richard Quest, as always, many thanks.

Let's look more closely at this deal now and what it means for us here in the United States.

In New York, Chrystia Freeland, global editor at large for Reuters.

Chrystia, let's pick up where Richard left off there. For an American watching this tonight at the dinner table, he says -- he talks about the interrelation of the economy. The markets like this today up nearly 200 points, the Dow was, the other markets, S&P and Nasdaq, up as well. Is that because they think it's a done deal or that is a one-day blip?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, GLOBAL EDITOR AT LARGE, REUTERS: I think it's actually neither, John.

I don't think that anyone, you know, even the most fervent European patriot, thinks that everything is now absolutely fine with Europe. But I do think that this is more than a one-day wonder. This is really important progress towards both Europe solving its economic problems and Europe solving its political problems.

And crucially what it does, the Germans are the key to all of this and they have been very reluctant, you know, to promise to sort of guarantee the debts of the weaker European economies unless they had some confidence that going forward there would be more budgetary discipline in the rest of Europe.

And that's really what this deal promises, is the rest of Europe effectively saying to the Germans, OK, please promise to pay our debts and we promise we will stop spending so much.

KING: And so does it put any pressure on the political system here in the United States? Do the president and the Republicans in Congress need to get more serious? Maybe we should pick them up and send them to Brussels for a meeting.

FREELAND: Or maybe ask Angela Merkel to come over here.

I think that this is a pretty big victory for her and probably a victory for the U.S. economy. We have started to see some green shoots here and the economy starting to recover. The one thing that I think a lot of people feel could knock the U.S. off course would be if you had real disaster in Europe.

The other people who, I think, are celebrating today are bankers, bankers both in London and in New York. Because one of the big reasons why Britain said, no, we're not going to do this, is their fear the Europeans would impose this so-called Robin Hood tax on financial transactions. And I think Britain's saying no could have a knock-on effect on the U.S., where that tax has been debated, too.

If London doesn't do it, it's going to be much harder for New York to do it.

KING: Does Washington have to follow suit here with a serious deficit reduction plan? A lot of people say our problems might not be as big as Europe's, but there's still a flashing warning sign.

FREELAND: Yes, absolutely. I think that example is going to be important.

On the other hand, John, I think we -- there is still a fear -- and I think that it's a real one -- that the kind of austerity that Germany's trying to impose on the rest of Europe, although it will help to avert financial disaster, could also mean that growth is pretty slow. So I think that the jury's still out on that one.

KING: Growth vs. deficit reduction, that conversation will continue.

Chrystia, thanks for coming in tonight.

And up next, has NASA discovered signs of water on Mars? And if so, what does that mean for the potential life on the planet? Some answers right after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Some fascinating news about Mars tonight.

Check this out. Scientists now believe they have evidence -- you're seeing it right there -- that at some time there was water on the planet. The evidence has been collected by one of the two NASA rovers scouring Mars for signs of life.

Let's find out more about this potentially amazing discovery.

Charles Liu is an astrophysics professor at the City University of New York.

Now, Dr. Liu, we will put the pictures back up as we talk, because I want to people to see them.

CHARLES LIU, ASTROPHYSICS PROFESSOR, CITY UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK: OK.

KING: It's a vein. It's about the width of a thumb. It's about 18 inches long.

LIU: Right.

KING: Opportunity discovers this, says it's rich in calcium, in sulfur, and possibly gypsum, which would have had to have been deposited by flowing water, right? LIU: Almost certainly, yes.

Here on Earth, my planetary scientist colleagues tell me that if they were to find something like this, say, in Death Valley, California, or somewhere else dry, they'd say there used to be water here for sure. If they see this on Mars, that's the conclusion that they come to, absolutely.

KING: They come to it. They say bulletproof.

Here's what Steve Squyres -- he's the lead researcher for the Spirit and Opportunity rover program -- says, "This is the single most bulletproof observation that I can think of that we have made this entire mission."

Is it bulletproof? When you see this, do you say, yes, definitely water?

LIU: Well, there are possible exotic physical situations where you could deposit gypsum under these circumstances.

But, yes, it's pretty bulletproof. As I said, I think calling it a slam dunk observation is very good. I have seen some of the evidence a little bit, not the physical stuff, but I have read about it. And based on the scientific observations that I have seen, it's solid.

KING: So, explain to somebody watching at home, they're looking at these pictures and they're saying, OK, so this rover comes upon, it is in this crater, everything's dry, everything's dusty. You're telling me there's water. How do you get there?

LIU: Well, when you have calcium and sulfur in these concentrations that they found, it's basically this gypsum stuff.

Now, gypsum here on Earth is very common. It's this very soft, powdery thing. It's in Sheetrock. It's in tofu. It's in home-brewed beer. So, it just shows up when there is water and it slowly deposits over a long period of time and then the water dries, leaving the gypsum rock in place.

KING: I'm not sure I wanted to learn that the stuff that is in my walls is also in my beer.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: But thanks for that.

LIU: Sure. My pleasure.

KING: So, if there's water, is there necessarily, was there necessarily life?

LIU: What a great question.

Everywhere on earth where we have found water sitting around for long periods of time like this, we have also found life. But until we actually get solid evidence, it's really, really hard to say for sure.

There is actually a spacecraft moving on its way to Mars now. It's called Curiosity rover. And in about eight months, it will land with the most sophisticated scientific equipment that has been ever been on the surface of Mars. And, hopefully, we will get even more concrete evidence from that in just a very short time.

KING: And help me with the difference in the technology. Because I'd been amazed when I was reading about this story today that the Opportunity rover that found this has been in operation for eight years.

I mean, a lot of people criticize how much money do these things cost, what value do we get from them. It's pretty amazing that this thing has been up here looking for evidence for eight years. Obviously, if that has been there for eight years and we're sending something new, we've made such leaps and bounds technologically...

LIU: Yes.

KING: ... how much more advanced will the new research be?

LIU: Well, I can give a brief analogy. The Opportunity rover is maybe the size of a big coffee table. It's gone maybe 20 miles over 7 1/2 years. It was only supposed to be there for three months and working properly.

This new Curiosity rover is the size of an SUV. It has a dozen scientific instruments. It's so big that you actually have to lower it onto the surface of Mars from a crane, sort of operating from a hovering spacecraft, as it lands, as opposed to just landing on the surface, bouncing on balloons. So the opportunity to gain new information pretty much as significant an increase as what your cell phone was eight, nine, ten years ago compared to what it is today.

KING: And help with the riddle. You say everywhere on earth where there's been water, there's been life. So how do you go about the question and answer process to find out if that's also the case on Mars?

LIU: That's a great question. When you have biological things around, evidence, say, none of these things are likely to be alive today because the surface of Mars is very old, and very dry, and very inhospitable.

But you'll find fossilized evidence, maybe things that might look like the bacteria that existed here on earth billions of years ago and are now currently fossilized. You might use something like a microscope to see what they look like. Or you might use a spectrometer, the kind of thing that was used also here on this little vein of gypsum by Opportunity, and maybe look at the chemical composition, see if we can find evidence of DNA, proteins, these kinds of things or their remnants. It's a complex thing. I'm not a specific expert on that particular method of observation.

But it is a very well understood way of studying and searching for life, and let's just hope that we can get it sooner rather than later.

KING: Fascinating. Fascinating. Sooner rather than later is right, because I'm very curious. One last question, if there's...

LIU: Sure.

KING: Is what's in my walls is in my beer, is what it's in my walls also in my wine?

LIU: Yes, it might be. But hopefully, it's food grade as opposed to construction grade.

KING: All right. You just ruined a lot of weekends out there. You explained what's going on on Mars, but you might have people on a Friday night at happy hour getting a little jittery there. Dr. Liu, appreciate your time.

LIU: Please. Thank you.

KING: Take care, sir.

And just ahead, we now know the identity of the gunman who killed a police officer yesterday at Virginia Tech.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

No end to the violence in Syria. Opposition groups reported at least 37 people were killed today. At least 18 of those deaths were in Alms (ph) where opponents of the Assad regime believe a massacre's being planned.

Police have identified yesterday's shooter at Virginia Tech as 22-year-old Ross Truett Ashley of Partlow, Virginia. He killed a campus police officer before taking his own life. Police still don't know his motive.

A devastating fire at a hospital in India killed at least 88 people, mostly patients. Six hospital managers have been arrested in the wake of that fire, accused of abandoning their patients after the fire started.

Next week we're going to be on the road all week long. We're going to be on the road in Iowa, which brings us to tonight's "Number." It is 99. If you go east to west, north to south, you see the lines. There are 99 counties in the state of Iowa. We're going to visit a bunch of them next week. Why? The caucuses will be three weeks from now.

This is what happened in 2008. Light pink, that's Mike Huckabee, he was the surprise winner in Iowa. The darker, that's Mitt Romney. John McCain, he was the Republican nominee, but he did not win one county in Iowa four years ago. Take a peek. So far in this campaign, Senator Santorum has spent the most days in Iowa with 63 [SIC]. Congresswoman Bachmann, 83 [SIC]. I'm sorry: 63 for Congresswoman Bachmann. And Gingrich, Paul, Perry, Romney, and Huntsman, just nine days.

Nine days before today for Mitt Romney. When we come back, suddenly he's going all-out in Iowa. Will it work?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin is here with a preview. And I understand you're following the sad saga of Bob Levinson.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, we absolutely are, John. You know, it was amazing. I visited the Iranian island of Kish just about a year ago and you know, there aren't any Americans there, to be honest. It's a tourist destination, a destination for illicit activity, as well, which is apparently why Bob Levinson was there, former FBI agent, private investigator when he was there tracking, well, apparently cigarette smuggling. He disappeared five years ago. As you know, the video came out today.

Senator Bill Nelson has been instrumental in trying to get his release and find out whether the Iranian government is hiding him. He comes "OUTFRONT" tonight.

Plus, we keep following the story about this RQ-170 drone. I mean, John, I think this story is absolutely amazing. It's a top- secret classified American drone. If the technology really is intact, one of the key things this drone has is the ability to be undetected by radar.

Now, sure, this helps Iran, but the country it really would help is China. They've got a jet, a big fighter that they want to have this radar technology. They were a generation behind America. We're going to find out whether they're going to get the hands on the drone and what the risks really could be to the United States.

Plus, John, one of the biggest retailers in America today coming out and pulling its advertising from the show "All-American Muslim," the reality show on The Learning Channel, which is designed to inform people about American Muslims, which is the fastest growing religion in this country. We're going to tell you why they pulled their advertising, coming up top of the hour.

KING: Fascinating. I was actually just watching an episode of that just the other day, so I'm interested in finding out why. We'll see you in just a few minutes.

Erin, thank you.

The GOP front-runner Newt Gingrich was off the campaign trail today but hardly forgotten. In Iowa, Mitt Romney reminded voters Gingrich attacked the House Republican Medicare plan.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He called this right- wing social engineering. I believe it's a very important step to protect Medicare and to protect Social Security. We're going to have to make changes like the ones Paul Ryan proposed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Speaker Gingrich also was on Governor Romney's mind during a "Des Moines Register" editorial board.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I disagree with the speaker, thinking that we should eliminate some parts of child labor laws so that kids could clean schools. I don't think that's a great idea.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was just one of several attacks during that conversation. Is being more aggressive the right Romney strategy?

Our CNN contributor, Erick Erickson of RedState.com, is with us tonight. And here with me in Washington, Republican strategist and Perry adviser, Liz Mayer and conservative blogger Tara Wall.

Erick, I'm going to go to you first, and I'm going to be clear up front. You're no Romney fan. He's drawing sharper contrast now. Is that the right strategy in Iowa?

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think he has to. He's had the luxury of sitting back and letting the other candidates fight it out, let them implode on their own. Well, there are four weeks left -- less than four weeks before the Iowa caucuses. We've got Christmas and new year's, so there aren't a lot of people paying attention. He's got to step up the attacks.

Plus, Gingrich is the only guy right now in sharp enough leads in Iowa, South Carolina, Florida, now Michigan, which should be Romney home turf, and he's closing in in New Hampshire. No one else has ever done that. He's got to start throwing some punches.

KING: And it's not just Romney himself, ladies. Restore America, a super PAC that supports him. Now allegedly, there's no coordination between these things, because that would be wrong. But they seem to always mirror exactly what the campaign wants the message to be. The super PAC has this ad up hitting Newt pretty hard.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why? Newt has a ton of baggage, like the fact that Gingrich was fined $300,000 for ethics violations or that he took at least $1.6 million from Freddie Mac just before it helped cause the economic meltdown.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Liz, is this going to work? Normally in a campaign you would say that's pretty hard. Speaker Gingrich is one of those people that's been around. He's not news. Have people already digested and processed this?

LIZ MAYER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. I think that when we're asking the question, is it going to work, there are really two questions in there. Is it going to work in terms of putting Romney in a position where he's able to prevail? Obviously, and attract more support? No, I don't think it is.

Quite clearly, if you look at the polling, Mitt Romney has failed consistently to attract more than about 20, 25 percent of the Republican electorate. People just are not comfortable with him. There's the flip-flopper charge. There are charges just generally to do with his consistency and his record. And I think that that is a real problem, particularly when you look at things like the individual mandate for Republican primary voters.

When you look at Gingrich, it's entirely possible that what Romney is doing is going to bring down his numbers. I think probably it is going to contribute to that.

And as to your question, do people know Newt Gingrich? Yes, he's been around for a long time. But in that time he's also amassed a very problematic record.

And you can see that with things like the ad that the Perry campaign has out that hits Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich on their support for the individual mandate. That's something that Republican primary voters are not going to be comfortable with, and I think it's going to be a problem for both of them.

KING: It's interesting you make that point. One more quick thing, Tara, before I bring you into the conversation. Because the individual mandate, the Tea Party was the rising force. We were all saying, wow, the Tea Party.

The two leading conditions right now, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, not exactly guys you would view as grassroots Tea Party guys.

Listen to Rand Paul. Sure, he's conflicted. His father's Ron Paul. His father's running for president. But Rand Paul is a big Tea Party favorite. A lot of people at the grassroots. Listen to Rand Paul. Listen to what he thinks.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. RAND PAUL (R), KENTUCKY: Newt Gingrich was a big champion of the bank bailouts, so I don't know how he can be considered a conservative or appeal to Tea Party voters. I don't just know how, once people get to know who he is and what he supported, I don't know how the Tea Party could support him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Might that actually be more effective? Again, I know his dad's running for president, but could that be more effective at the grassroots level to the Tea Party voters than anything Governor Romney, anything Governor Perry could say?

TARA WALL, BLOGGER: Yes, I mean, of course -- of course, I work for campaigns. I work for candidates. I think it's great, actually, to see all of these candidates diving, getting aggressive and starting to talk about the issues.

The fear, of course, is you're taking the attention off of the real candidate, who the event candidate will be on the Democratic side.

But I think, look, there are valid points to be made. And I think, for Newt Gingrich, he is -- for some conservatives, he is the kind of Tea Party candidate, the outsider, the non-establishment type versus a Mitt Romney, who many conservatives kind of still see as that establishment type. As you mentioned, his numbers are down considerably still among Republicans.

So I think that having kind of the outsider's view is a good thing for -- for Newt Gingrich, not necessarily for Mitt Romney. I think the -- you know, we may get to this, but Perry is the one kind of the outsider that people are starting to look at. And that's why, I think, his numbers are starting to go up a little bit.

People are forgetting about the fact that, when you want to talk about conservatism or conservative values, if you will, many bloggers, at least on the blogger side, kind of validate what I have been thinking and in NRO, "National Review" poll of conservative right bloggers actually tend to favor Perry and Newt, as opposed to Paul and Romney.

KING: And then Perry was, by far, the conservative favorite right when he got into the race. And he jumped up to the top of the polls. Then he had some bad debate performances. Then he said some other things. He's trying to rebuild, starting in Iowa. And one of his appeals is -- it's more of a niche than you would expect, a broad based candidate but he has to start to rebuild.

And he's made a very sharp evangelical appeal in his advertising. And this came up in his "Des Moines Register" editorial board today. The questions back and forth about whether -- why was he putting so much emphasis on the role of faith in his public life.

Let's listen to some of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RICK PERRY (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If Americans want to elect a president who basically says, "Look, I'm not going to -- I'm not going to let my faith intervene in anything that I do" and -- would be a bit, from my perspective, would be a bit scary. I want a president who is faithful and that believes that there is a greater being who has an impact every day in this world. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now there are a lot of liberals who say, "Oh, my God" -- I shouldn't say God, I guess, but "Oh, my, he's talking about, you know, God." Out in the country, I don't think -- most Americans actually would be perfectly comfortable with what he just said. It's then when you move on to the issues. You know, what does he want to do?

His stumbles have to do with policy questions and bad debate performances. In terms of the can he become -- everyone's trying to do what Huckabee did last time, come from nowhere. By now, Mike Huckabee was moving. Rick Perry's numbers are going up but not at the speed of Huckabee's four years ago.

MAYER: I think there are a few things that are really important to bear in mind here.

One, as you alluded to, Rick Perry is the only candidate in this race who really can unite Tea Party conservatives, social conservatives, fiscal conservatives. That's point No. 1.

Point No. 2 is I would say it's very important to bear in mind what's going on on the ground in Iowa right now. We have a very strong Iowa organization. We've got a lot of paid staff in the state. We've got a lot of people who are active on the ground working with grassroots. We will have a bunch of volunteers going into the state.

I really question whether other candidates have that level of organization. That's going to matter.

And the final thing is money. At the end of the day, Rick Perry is an extremely good fund-raiser, and we do have money to spend on it.

WALL: I think for a lot of folks he is, if you will, a three- fer. He does touch on a lot of those points.

I do want to go back a little bit, though, to Romney. I think one thing about Romney, whether you like him or not, he has to be careful when he does go after Newt with that area of hypocrisy, if you will. I mean, when you're talking about, you know, flip-flopping, I think he's got to be careful with that pot calling the kettle situation.

A lot of folks like him because of his business acumen and all that. I mean, people like those two for different reasons.

For Perry, again, it is kind of a three-fer that people get. And I think in Iowa he will probably do better than most people think that he will for that very reason.

KING: On that point, Erick, how well does he have to do for people to say, "OK, he's viable to keep going?" A lot of -- because he was so high, if he comes in pretty low, a lot of people are going to write him off.

ERICKSON: I think they will. I think he really probably needs to be in the top three. I hear some people say he needs to be in the top five. I think he probably needs to be one of the top three people in Iowa. He needs to be competitive. If he's in the top four, be very close to Mitt Romney. Ross Truett

Again, you know, Iowa is kind of this wild anomaly that we start the race with. I can't understand why the Democrats and Republicans keep starting their primary season and caucus season with Iowa, but they're all going to bounce into South Carolina and Florida.

The problem with Perry's campaign and the reason he needs to do well in Iowa is because he sunk so low in Florida. The lone wild card there: he's still doing well in South Carolina. He's still third place in South Carolina according to most of the polls.

KING: All right. So Eric just mentioned the influence of Iowa. I want to show you guys something before we take a quick break because this always comes up when you come to Iowa. A little poker match here. I want to go back.

This is the New Hampshire Democratic race in 2004. Before Iowa, leading in the New Hampshire polls, Howard Dean, then Wes Clark. John Kerry was struggling in third place. That was before Iowa.

Then Kerry surprises. Kerry surprises and wins Iowa. Reshuffles the deck in New Hampshire. So remember, the polls now don't matter so much.

Now let's look at the Republican race last time. This is, again, in New Hampshire. Leading in New Hampshire just before Iowa voted, Romney was way ahead, McCain 12 points back, and then Mike Huckabee surprises everybody and wins Ohio.

What happens in New Hampshire? John McCain suddenly comes back. Mitt Romney starts to fade, and the rest is history.

So watch Iowa. You can look at the New Hampshire polls now. You can look at the South Carolina polls now. You can look at Florida and beyond, if you will. This deck will be reshuffled after Iowa votes just a little more than three weeks away. We're going to be there all next week.

Everybody stand by. Up next tonight's "Truth" ponders whether you vote at the bookstore, sort of.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Being president pays $400,000 a year. Running for president pays nothing, unless you just happen to be trying to sell a book and yourself at the same time. Like Newt Gingrich.

His one public event today was supposed to be a book signing right here in Washington, D.C. The bookstore says it was canceled because of security concerns.

But look here. You see Newt Gingrich signing books last month in Naples, Florida. About 700 books sold that day, according to reports at the time.

And the former speaker is hardly the only author candidate. Before he suspended his campaign, Herman Cain raised a lot of eyebrows by scheduling book signings in places like Texas -- this is Houston in October -- and avoiding places that actually vote early in the process, like, say, Iowa, New Hampshire.

Michele Bachmann, too, is quick to mention her new book in almost every media interview and book signings, like this one here in South Carolina, very common on her daily schedule.

So here's tonight's "Truth." There's nothing illegal or unethical about any of this, as long as campaign finance rules are followed. But to me, it seems, well, unpresidential.

I have nothing against books or making a buck. One way we learn about public figures is when they take time to write about their lives and their positions. And if those books sell, the author deserves the profits. But asking for votes and a few bucks within a few hours, sometimes within a few minutes of each other, to me it just doesn't feel right.

But truth is, while I may not like it, it is a growing trend and a bipartisan one. President Obama, after all, is a millionaire because his books were such a big hit, and like Gingrich, Cain and Bachmann this cycle, then-Senator Obama made a name for himself early in the last presidential cycle by using book signings to promote his political activities and vice versa.

Senator Obama's first trip to New Hampshire -- there it is right there. December 2006 in Portsmouth. There was a long and enthusiastic line at the book event.

And in case you think the visit was just about book sales, well, nope, it was paired with this trademark stop at a local coffee shop. An early stop in the process of selling himself.

Call it the audacity of political capitalism. I guess we better get used to it.

Erick Erickson, I'll go to you first in our group tonight. This is unavoidable, I guess. Is it a good thing or a bad thing?

ERICKSON: You know, I'm rather indifferent to it. Full disclosure: my parent company published a lot of these books. I think honestly -- most of the time, the books are garbage. About the only that I've ever read that I thought was substantive was Rick Perry's, and it was only substantive because he wrote it when he wasn't planning on running for president.

They fly all over country and they can off-load some costs to publishers, so that their campaign is not footing all the bill to sell these books. And I don't read them. They're a waste of time.

KING: Either of you writing a book or planning to run for president? WALL: No comment.

MAYER: I do have "Fed Up" currently sitting on my coffee table, so just a quick plug for that one.

KING: And any visitor gets the Rick Perry book there.

WALL: When I worked -- when I worked for the first Bush campaign in 2000, I mean, he had written a book then at that time, too. So like you mentioned President Obama.

It does -- at first it does kind of give you a sour taste in your mouth. It does for me, as well. It gives me a sour taste sometimes to think that you can actually run for president while being president, as well.

KING: It is -- it is what it is. Everybody have a great weekend. See you Monday in Iowa.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.