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Interview With Presidential Candidate Jon Huntsman; North Korea's New Leader?; Republican Race Tightens Up; Has Newt Lost Iowa Lead?; Gingrich's "Actvist Judges" Controversy; North Korea's Nukes Compromised?; Ron Paul: Bring Home All U.S. Troops; GOP Battle For New Hampshire; Negative On Gingrich

Aired December 19, 2011 - 16:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: North Korea's Kim Jong-il is dead. Who now has the finger on the trigger of the country's nuclear weapons? I was in North Korea a year ago at this time. I will share what I saw, what it could tell us about what might happen next.

Also, a new week and a whole new lineup in the race for the Republican presidential nomination. So much has changed within a matter of only a few days. We will talk about it with one of the candidates this hour, Jon Huntsman.

Plus, judges arrested, hauled before Congress and impeached. Newt Gingrich outlines his solution to so-called activist courts and ignites a huge controversy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

It's a rogue isolated nuclear nation among the poorest and most isolated on Earth. And now all eyes are on North Korea, a Stalinist state is in transition right now with the death of their enigmatic leader Kim Jong-il. A tearful woman announced the news on state television, saying Kim Jong-il died had suddenly of heart attack at age 69. North Korea is built on a cult of personality surrounding the Kim dynasty and word of his death apparently sparked near hysteria on the streets, with people wailing and weeping openly.

Kim's death has huge implications, not only for the people of North and South Korea, but also for the United States and indeed for the entire world.

CNN's Anna Coren is following developments from Seoul, South Korea.

What is the latest reaction there, Anna?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you say, a great deal of uncertainty with the death of Kim Jong-il, but perhaps a bit of an insight into what he was thinking in the weeks and days leading up to his death.

We can confirm, Wolf, from the U.S. State Department that U.S. officials were meant to meet with North Korean counterparts Monday. Now, with this meeting, there was supposed to be an announcement from the U.S. that it was going to give a large food donation in exchange for North Korea suspending its uranium enrichment program.

Now, this was going to be a precursor to six-party talks. Of course, North Korea was then going to allow in international inspectors. Now, any other day of the week, Wolf, this would be huge news. But, of course, Kim Jong-il has died and this has left talks, I guess, in disarray.

The U.S. State Department says the plan perhaps is now in jeopardy. It is up to North Korea as to how it wants to proceed and that the ball is in their court. But, for now, the U.S. will respect this mourning period and see how things proceed -- Wolf.

BLITZER: South Korea's military, as you know, Anna, they have gone on a higher state of alert right now. What are they expecting from North Korea?

COREN: Well, President Lee Myung-Bak, he held a national security council security meeting straight after the news of Kim Jong- il's death. The military was placed on heightened alert.

Obviously, there is real attention being placed on the DMZ. That is the demilitarized zone. It's about an hour-and-a-half's drive from where we are here in Seoul. That is the border between North and South Korea. Some 28,000 U.S. troops are there with South Korean troops as well really securing their positions.

So, at the moment, all eyes are on that region to make sure that everything remains stable. That, of course, is what South Korea wants. They want the situation to remain stable -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Anna Coren in Seoul, South Korea, for us, thank you.

With some 30,000 American troops stationed in South Korea along the DMZ, American military commanders say they are vigilant in monitoring developments in North Korea right now. And in an exclusive interview with our Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, the joint chief's chairman says bluntly he is worried.

Barbara is joining us now from Ramstein in Germany, where she is traveling with the Joint Chiefs chairman, General Martin Dempsey.

So what did the general tell you, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we are part of a very small group of reporters traveling with Dempsey, CNN the only American television network with him.

On the way back from Afghanistan and Iraq, we stopped here at Ramstein, Germany, General Dempsey woken up overnight by these developments and then he met with us. He is talking about the concerns about remaining vigilant, making sure that North Korea makes no moves with its troops, its weapons, its equipment.

And the bottom line, of course, is will the son, Kim Jong-un, really be able to take over and exert control? Will he be the leader of the North Korean regime? I want you to listen for a minute to what General Dempsey had to say.


GEN. MARTIN DEMPSEY, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF CHAIRMAN: It is my expectation, as I sit here with you, that he will be the successor. We do have -- we have done a significant amount of work to try to understand him. And I would only say at this point that he is young to be placed in this position.

And we will have to see whether in fact it is him and how he reacts to the burden of governance that he hasn't had to -- you know, he hasn't had to deal with before. So I don't know, Barbara.

STARR: Are you worried about it?

DEMPSEY: I worry about -- well, look, I worry about transitions every place. I'm worried about a transition North Korea. I'm worried about a potential transition in Syria. I'm worried about the continuing transitions in Egypt, yes.


STARR: And this really underscores what Dempsey -- this underscores what Dempsey and other military officials are really worried about, instability in North Korea in particular, not at all sure that the son really will be the long-term leader of the North Korean regime right now, who the other plays are.

One key intelligence indicator of the lack of information that the U.S. has, officials confirming, U.S. military officials confirming that Kim Jong-il actually died on Saturday night and they did not know it until nearly 24 hours later, when North Korean television announced it, a real indicator of the lack of intelligence, the lack of information that the U.S. government and the U.S. intelligence community has about this very remote country, Wolf.

BLITZER: We know the South Korean military, Barbara, has gone on a higher state alert. What about the U.S. military, whether the ground forces in South Korea or the Navy at sea, the Air Force? What is the latest on that?

STARR: Right.

Well, when Dempsey was woken up overnight, he joined a classified interagency phone call and directly spoke with the top U.S. military officer in South Korea. Right now, no need to put U.S. forces there on any state of higher alert.

What they are looking at is whether they have all the intelligence assets they need, the satellites, the eavesdropping equipment, the electronic intelligence gathering gear, to keep an eye on the peninsula and make sure they know instantly if North Korea makes any moves with its forces or its weapons systems, if they go on the move. Right now, all signs are that they are not, that they are staying put, and that's what the U.S. wants to see continue to happen. Well, but now a massive intelligence gathering effort to keep eyes on the peninsula and make sure, Wolf, that there are no surprises.

BLITZER: Barbara Starr reporting for us from Ramstein from the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Barbara, thanks very much.

And let's not forget there are nearly a million South Korean troops facing nearly a million North Korean troops along the DMZ with nearly 30,000 American soldiers in between.

So, who is this young man who may, repeat, may, have his finger on North Korea's nuclear trigger?

CNN's Brian Todd is investigating Kim Jong-un for us, the heir, apparently.

We have to admit, Brian, we don't know a lot about this young guy.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is really very little known about the man who is now suddenly North Korean's leader. What is concerning to many analysts is that a 20-something with seemingly very little military or political experience now leads a country that may soon have a deliverable nuclear weapon.


TODD (voice-over): Kim Jong-il had tried to prepare his son and his country for this day. The elder Kim had elevated profile of his youngest son, Kim Jong-un last year and gave him a rather drastic promotion in the army.

(on camera): He spent no time in the military before his promotion last year?

VICTOR CHA, SENIOR ADVISER, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: As far as we know, he has not spent a day in the Korean People's Army. And yet in September of 2010, he was promoted to the rank of four-star general.

TODD (voice-over): But Victor Cha, who dealt with Kim Jong-il's regime while on President Bush's National Security Council, says what Kim didn't do was prepare everyone for his own sudden death. Now, Cha says, we are left with very little to go on with Kim Jong-un, and that's partly because he is in only his late 20s, but also because he's had such a short apprenticeship for this position, compared the 20 years his father spent preparing for the job.

There are widespread reports that Kim Jong-un went to boarding school in Switzerland and can speak English and German. He is said to have an affinity for James Bond and Michael Jordan, but that is not going to help him among North Korea's military elite, which may not want to accept orders from someone who is not even 30. There apparently weren't many options for the dynasty. I asked Cha why Kim Jong-il didn't tap his oldest son, Kim Jong- nam.

CHA: The reports are he came into great disfavor with the leadership because of his lifestyle. He tends to be a bit of a playboy and likes to gamble, keeps a condo in Macau.

TODD: According to analysts quoted on diplomatic cables posted on WikiLeaks, the second oldest son, Kim Jong-chol, was considered too effeminate to be a strong leader, so it fell to the youngest son.

Analysts say the plan was for the late leader's brother-in-law, Kim Jong-un's uncle, Chang Sung-taek, to be a key player behind the scenes while the younger Kim solidifies his leadership. Chang Sung- taek is married to Kim Jong-il's sister, Kim Kyong-hui, who is a general in the army. but analysts say there are rumblings that she is sick.

(on camera): Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the Kim dynasty?

CHA: I think we are. You know, I think that this regime is really on its last legs. I could not imagine a more difficult scenario to affect a leadership transition than what we are seeing today.


TODD: What Cha is really worried about right now are what we casually sometimes refer to as loose nukes. Nothing casual about it, though. With so much uncertainty at the top, he says elements, some rogue elements in the country, military or otherwise, might take control of the country's nuclear program, Wolf.

That's what everyone is really worried about right now.

BLITZER: And all the experts tell me, inside of government, outside the government, that nuclear program in North Korea is at a critical stage right now.

TODD: That's right. They are far ahead of Iran right now. Experts say they have conducted two underground tests of nuclear explosive devices. They have enough plutonium, they say, to make between six and 12 nuclear bombs.

They have -- they have figured out a way, we're told, to miniaturize those bombs and put them on warheads. We don't know if they actually have done that yet. But if you look at that development in and of itself, and now they are at the mercy of -- there's a 20- something young man leading a military with that in its arsenal, that's pretty frightening.

BLITZER: We don't know if he is 27, 28, or 29.


TODD: We think he in his late 20s.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what we think. All right, Brian, thanks very much.

We will have more on North Korea coming up.

I was in North Korea, by the way, one year ago exactly, last December. We will take a look back, what I saw, plus my impressions of the heir apparent, Kim Jong-un.

Also, can judges be forced to justify their rulings to Congress, even arrested and impeached? Our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is standing by to talk about Newt Gingrich's controversial solution to so-called activist judges.

Plus, my interview with Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman. He's a former U.S. ambassador to China. He has some unique insight into North Korea. We will talk about that and a whole lot more.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Politics, Wolf. While the Democrats wait to see whether President Obama faces off against Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich or someone else come November, a lot of them think that Gingrich would be easier for Obama it beat. They might be very wrong. The latest CNN/Opinion Research Corporation national poll has Romney and Gingrich tied at 28 percent.

But as one Democratic adviser tells "Politico," quote, "Romney is playing not to lose and Newt thinks he has nothing to lose," unquote.

Yes, Gingrich has no weaknesses, dirty laundry, lack of discipline, no campaign infrastructure, is infidelities, three marriages, plus that $1.6 million he took from Freddie Mac. But when you get past all of that, and a lot of people already have, what you have is a more dangerous, talented and unpredictable rival than Romney.

"Politico" points to several reasons why Obama should not take Gingrich for granted. For starters, Gingrich is very smart. While Romney is no dummy, Gingrich knows his stuff and he has risen to the top of the Republican pack mostly based on his dominant debate performances. He even offered to debate President Obama, saying the president could use a teleprompter.

Next, Newt Gingrich fires up the Republican base. He leads Romney when it comes to support from self-described conservatives. And Gingrich has the ability to reach out to the GOP's wealthy donors while still taking swipes at Washington.

Then there's Newt's mouth. Republicans love the way he attacks President Obama. That's true. There's always the chance, though, that he could go off the rails, go too far, come of his arrogant or even self-destruct. Finally, Gingrich would be harder on target on Medicare or immigration since his policies are more moderate than Romney's.

So, here's the question this hour, should President Obama be more afraid of Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney?

Go to, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

Well, maybe Ron Paul is taking a big jump up, Wolf, on those Iowa caucuses.

BLITZER: Yes. He could surprise a lot of folks and win the Iowa caucuses. That would shake things up. No doubt about that.


BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

Republican presidential candidate Gingrich is sparking an uproar as he targets what's he's calling the activists judges who are serving out there. He says they should be forced to justify controversial rulings to Congress. He advocates some extreme measures to make them do so.

Listen to this exchange with Bob Schieffer yesterday on "Face the Nation."


BOB SCHIEFFER, CBS NEWS: One of the things you say is that if you don't like what a court has done, that Congress should subpoena the judge and bring him before Congress and hold a congressional hearing. Some people say that's unconstitutional. But I will let that go for a minute.

I just want to ask from a practical standpoint, how would you enforce that? Would you send the Capitol police down to arrest them if you had to?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Or you instruct the Justice Department to send the U.S. Marshal.


BLITZER: All right. That's causing a big uproar out there.

Let's discuss with our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who is an authority on the Supreme Court, wrote a best selling book "The Nine," on the U.S. Supreme Court.

A lot of folks say, Jeff, it's shocking what Gingrich is saying about judges. But does he have a point?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, he doesn't have a point, at all. And it is shocking. Across the political spectrum, Michael Mukasey, George Bush's attorney general, every Democrat in the United States, this goes against American constitutional law since 1803. In 1803, in Marbury versus Madison, Chief Justice John Marshall said, it is the duty of the courts to decide what the law is.

The courts have the last word. You don't like it, you can change the Constitution. You can have new justices on the Supreme Court. You can even impeach a federal judge.

But you cannot haul them in and beat them up in front of a congressional committee. You cannot use the police to intimidate judges. That is something that is fundamentally against American constitutional history.

BLITZER: Yes. But he says, what if there's an outrageous decision that, the Dred Scott case, for example. How do you deal with that, from his perspective?

TOOBIN: That's why you have appeals courts. If a decision is really outrageous, I think we all have enough confidence in our circuit courts of appeals or United States Supreme Court to overturn it, and if that decision is upheld on appeal, too bad. That's how our system works. The courts get the last word.

And I think the idea that a political candidate -- you know, there's a wide range of views about American constitutional law. You know, is the healthcare law constitutional or not? There are arguments on both sides. But the idea that the Supreme Court doesn't have the last word, that is well outside the range of reasonable opinion.

BLITZER: Now, we don't know how an Antonin Scalia or Chief Justice Roberts would react to what Newt Gingrich is proposing, what he's saying out there. But you know these guys, the conservative justices on the Supreme Court. When they heart Newt Gingrich say what he said yesterday on "Face the Nation," the conservative, forget about the liberal ones --


BLITZER: The conservative justices, what do you think their reaction is?

TOOBIN: Well, you know, I don't presume to speak for the chief justice or for Justice Scalia. But you know, the idea of conservative is not just left right. There is the notion of the conservative as someone who believes in stability, in tradition. And that is certainly true of the chief justice and Justice Scalia. And we have had the same constitutional system in place since the 18th century, where -- since 1803, almost the 18th century. The judges have had the last word.

And, you know, I think of all aspects of our system, that one's worked pretty well. It there have been terrible decisions. There has been Dred Scott, there's been Korematsu, the Japanese internment during World War II.

But by and large, the courts get it right. And the idea that a political candidate can start threatening the freedom of judges is really I think would be outside the realm of the reasonable and possible by any justice on the Supreme Court.

BLITZER: Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.

So, what's the right move from the White House regarding the delicate, very dangerous situation out in North Korea right now? We'll ask the former ambassador to China, the current Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman.

And an arrest warrant on terror allegations against Iraq's vice president. Does this signal a deepening political crisis in Baghdad?


BLITZER: There are new very disturbing signs today that a political crisis is deepening in Iraq in the wake of the fallout of U.S. troops.

Mary Snow is monitoring that and some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Mary, what's going on?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, an arrest warrant has been issued for Iraq's Sunni vice president who's been accused of orchestrating bomb attacks. In a news conference today, interior ministry officials show so-called "confession videos" of alleged terrorists who say they were following orders from Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi.

Earlier, al-Hashemi's office warned of possible false confessions.

Now, this comes as a powerful political bloc made up primarily of Sunni lawmakers says it will boycott parliament, threatening the coalition government, a Shiite prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki.

A billionaire Saudi Arabian prince is buying a $300 million stake in Twitter. A statement from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal's investment company says the firm believes, quote, "social media will fundamentally change the media industry landscape. The firm owns pieces of several traditional media companies, including CNN parent company Time Warner. Prince Alwaleed is said to be worth more than $21 billion.

And Swedish automaker Saab is filing for bankruptcy. The company has been struggling to stay afloat since being sold by General Motors to a Dutch automaker last year. In June, a tentative agreement was reached to sell Saab to Chinese investors. That deal fell through, leading to a major cash flow crisis at the company. Saab still maintains a network of U.S. dealerships but sales sagged severely in recent years -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Mary, thanks very much.

China is the only country in the world with any influence over North Korea. And Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman is former U.S. ambassador to China. He has unique insight into the situation there right. We'll talk about that, the Republican presidential campaign and a whole lot more. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: He probably has the keenest insight into China. We are talking about Jon Huntsman.

The former Utah governor is joining us now from Manchester, New Hampshire. He is former U.S. ambassador to China, which closely monitors what's going on in North Korea.

Governor, we'll talk about the primary in New Hampshire coming up. But if you were president of the United States right now, and you'd like to be president of the United States, Kim Jong Il dies, would you formally express condolences to the people of North Korea?

JON HUNTSMAN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think I would, to the people of North Korea, because the people of North Korea are not responsible for the suffering by their dictator leaders. It's been an awful regime.

Now two generations worth and they are getting ready to move into the third. You've got 25 million people over there, Wolf. You have seen it firsthand. Eight million of them suffer and starve during the very cold winter months.

They are punished unnecessarily. It is a brutal dictatorship and it ought to change. There may be an opening here. It's hard to know, but my hunch is that Kim Jong-un being as inexperienced and young as he is, is going to try do everything he can do win over the party (inaudible) and to win over members of the Central Military Commission, which he will have to do now to solidify power.

That means he is going to shoot a short range ballistic missile into the Yellow Sea. It means he will engage into saber rattling and do all of the crazy antics that North Korea has become famous for.

And it's going to create a very uncertain environment through not only the entire peninsula, but throughout Northeast Asia, which by the way, is one of our largest trading regions. There is instability in North Korea.

It sometimes impedes free flow of commerce and trade and investment, which means it may hinder some of our exports from the United States going into region whether it's Japan, Korea, China, Russia or Taiwan.

So the implications are quite profound and we should be doing everything we can to promote stability. BLITZER: What about this fear and some analysts have expressed it to me over the past 24 hours that the whole place could unravel in coming weeks, months.

And that nuclear arsenal, all those are artillery weapons along the DMZ and who knows what could happen on the Korean Peninsula. How worried should we be about that scenario?

HUNTSMAN: This is an uncertain period. You got to remember that Kim Jong-un has been part of a transition now for over a year. So he has been winning over the party (inaudible) for a long time. He's increasingly received the titles of power.

They named him chairman of the Funeral Committee, which would suggest to everybody that he is a top dog in the country. But now he is standing alone. And now the generals are going to look at him differently and the party leaders are going to look at him differently.

He is going to have to win them over all again. And that means there should be no blue sky between the United States and South Korea. There should be no blue sky between the United States and Japan.

And we should be in consultations with China, and we should be in consultations with the Russians as well. In collecting as much information as we can about how things are playing out internally in this very murky environment.

The Chinese have an interest and it is the same as ours. We want stability in the region because we are trading and we are trying to prosper from economic opportunities there. The Chinese are in a very precarious position.

Because any disruption in North Korea will immediately cause a spill-over, perhaps millions of refugees, across the Yellow River and beyond, into the region which is, you know, a very prosperous economic region for the Chinese and that would be a disastrous outcome. So the Chinese are very concerned about this now.

BLITZER: They have a huge interest obviously as well. Ron Paul, your Republican presidential rival, he says get all U.S. troops out of Korea, all 28,000 or so. He has said this forever. Get them out of Korea, Japan, Germany, not only Iraq and Afghanistan. Would it be wise to remove the 28,000 forces from South Korea?

HUNTSMAN: No, they should stay there because we have an immediate danger and threat coming out of North Korea. It is a nuclear country. We don't understand them. People don't know where the nukes are.

People don't really understand the command and control governance system of those weapons. Until there is stability, which is to say, until we reach the time where there is a nuclear free Korean Peninsula, which should be our goal.

I think they play a very important role because we have a couple of very important allies right there in the neighborhood in South Korea and Japan.

Not to mention the fact, Wolf, that northeast Asia is soon to be home to about 20 percent of world's GDP. That means a huge amount of economic opportunity for the United States.

Our exports go there. Those exports create jobs right here on home front. So we have some significant interest in that neighborhood.

BLITZER: Let me go to a different part of the world, the Middle East right now, Egypt. I don't know if you saw this video, but it is so troubling to me and so many of our viewers around the world. A young woman beaten, look at this picture.

They ripped off her clothes. These Egyptian police and they literally started stomping on her stomach and dragged her away. This picture has become an iconic picture. If you were president right few, what would do you about what is happening on streets of Cairo because God knows it is pretty ugly.

HUNTSMAN: We have values in this country and we should be standing tall for the values that we project to the rest of the world among them, liberty, democracy and human rights and fair treatment of people.

And we should be talking about that. The president should be using the bully pulpit with respect to that, but the winds of change are going to continue to blow in the Middle East and we should be careful about who we line up with at this point.

Because it could take years before we know what the power structure of these countries and flux will actually be whether that's Tunisia, whether it's Libya or whether it's Egypt. In the meantime, we've got Israel.

And it's been a long time since we reminded the world what it means to be a real friend and ally with the United States. What the U.S. is real relationship is all about. That to me is concern number one.

Because the region needs know that we are tight with Israel, that we have security and economic, values driven relationship with Israel because I believe when that is strong, it has the ability to impact the broader region as well.

BLITZER: Do you have confidence that President Obama is doing the right thing? Knows what he is doing as far as the Korean Peninsula is concerned? The Middle East is concerned? What is your state of confidence in the president's national security right now?

HUNTSMAN: Well, he is surrounded by people who presumably know the issues well. There is no reason the president would know it well. He hasn't spent any time there. I have lived in Asia four times. I know the region exceptionally well.

It's always better, Wolf, when have you a president who has a very well defined and engrained world view based upon real experience, based upon time on the ground, based upon being a practitioner in the area of foreign policy.

That is something I bring to this race that is very unique. No other Republican in the race has any kind of foreign policy experience at all. Maybe legislating a few things in Washington, but that doesn't count. Being a practitioner of foreign policy out in the field is increasingly important for the United States.

BLITZER: Your numbers are going up in New Hampshire. You are spending almost all of your time in New Hampshire. Moderate Republicans and independents who can vote in New Hampshire, why should they vote for you as opposed to Mitt Romney?

HUNTSMAN: I'm a consistent conservative, Wolf. I'm a consistent conservative who has not waivered, not flip-flopped, not waffled. They might not agree with everything that I have done, but I have a solid core.

And I'm the only one on the race who is going to be able to tackle our two deficits that we suffer from now as a people. One is an economic deficit. We all know that we can launch an industrial revolution in this country based upon China going down and allowing us to pick up that investment.

But the second deficit is just as corrosive, it isn't an economic deficit. It's called a trust deficit. We need a president who's going to be able to say, Congress, you need term limits, who's going to be able to Congress, we're going to close the revolving door that allows members of Congress to float right on out to become lobbyists.

And trade in on their relationships for millions of dollars leading to greater cynicism among the American people. We need a president willing to go to Wall Street and say we have banks that are too big to fail.

We have to do something about that. It isn't fair that we are setting ourselves up as a country and as a people for more bailouts in the future. We've done that. We have been there. We're not doing it any more.

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, thanks very much for coming in. Good luck.

HUNTSMAN: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate it.

BLITZER: New troubles for Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich. A new poll shows many Republicans with strong negative feelings about him.

I will ask Paul Begala and Mary Matalin what it means in today's "Strategy Session." That's coming up.

And a glimpse behind the curtain into North Korea. I'll give you an inside look at my trip there last year including some impressions just how isolated the next generation of leaders are from the rest of the world.


BLITZER: Let's go to our "Strategy Session." Joining us right now is our Republican strategist and CNN political contributor, Mary Matalin and the Democratic strategist, our CNN political contributor, Paul Begala.

Mary, these new numbers in our CNN/ORC poll, you had a chance to take a look at them. Overall, Romney and Gingrich nationally among Republicans and independent, who lean Republican, are in both 28 percent. That's very close obviously.

But look at this, we ask the question, which of the candidates would you not be able to support under any circumstances. Repeat the phrase, any circumstances. Ron Paul, 43 percent of the Republicans say they could not support Ron Paul under any circumstances.

Bachmann, 42 percent, Perry, 33, Newt Gingrich, 24, Mitt Romney only 16 percent said they couldn't support him under any circumstances. That's pretty good number for Mitt Romney, don't you think, Mary?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. Ironically, Romney is coming out of the Mitt-ness protection program has really helped him. What conservatives are looking for was not just fidelity to conservativism, but somebody who can fight, somebody who can be an advocate.

Since he has been making all these appearances outside the debate form and he showed such aggressive fight capacity against Newt Gingrich and he -- even though he didn't win the Tea Party straw poll over the weekend, he is speaking language that conservatives want to hear and he is putting up a good fight.

So I think it is -- I don't want to say any big momentum or anything like that, but it is going in Romney's direction right now, and that's another indication that's what you just read, he could go the distance now.

BLITZER: You know, and the other problem that Newt Gingrich, Paul, you are a tough hard nose political strategist you so you will appreciate this. This is just my interpretation maybe some others maybe you have it as well.

Newt Gingrich is getting hammered every single day in Iowa, for example, the negative attacks coming in from the Super Pac, the Romney Super Pacs or from Ron Paul, Michele Bachmann, Santorum or whoever. He is trying to take the high road.

He doesn't really have any advertising on television. He is not responding. He's trying to be Mr., you know, diplomacy if you will, he is not fighting back. That seems to be hurting him. What do you think?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, of all of Newt Gingrich's problems in his long public career as a politician, being too filled with what Shakespeare called the milk of human kindness has never been one of them.

This is a supremely mean person. Yet now, he is wimping out. He had that one moment where he went right back at Mitt Romney pointing out that Mitt Romney made millions of dollars laying off middle class people, which he did and then he walked away from it right away.

I guess under pressure from the country club wing of his party, but the truth is, I think Newt was on to something. I think Mitt Romney -- there is a big news story in the Associated Press today about scores and scores of people in South Caroline and New Hampshire, two early primary states.

That Romney laid off while he took millions of dollars in payments from those companies. I think that would have been a fruitful line of attack for Newt, but he backed off. You know, I guess he is sort of a classic bully. He doesn't want to take on anyone bigger or richer than him, but he is hell on poor people, isn't he?

BLITZER: Was that a mistake, Mary, for him to stay positive as you will?

MATALIN: He -- it was a necessity, he didn't have the money. He's being outspent. He couldn't do it on paid media. But the reason he ascend as precipitously as he did, goes to my previous point, which is we just want to take it to Obama.

He was doing the best job advocating conservative principles and policies in contrast with the failed Obama policy. He is not mean. He is very aggressive. He knows how to turn a phrase. He is every bit as good as my friend, Paul Begala, and getting right there on the razor's edge of being able to speak about it.

But I think Romney, and this is the Obama attack on Romney, he has been doing a stellar job walking through what he did in the free enterprise system and as he did in the debate, comparing it to what Obama did and GM for instance.

Bring that one on. We are looking all these debates and all these attacks on all of the candidates keep the sharp relief and contrast that this bigger election cycle will be fought over. We like it.

BLITZER: One quick thought from each of you and make it quick on the stalemate in Congress right now and payroll tax plan, if there is no deal and taxes go up for 160 million Americans starting January 1st and that is very possible right now. Paul, who wins that debate, Democrats or Republicans?

BEGALA: Well, middle class Americans lose to begin with, but they will know that the Republicans have done this. The House Republicans in particular. Senate Republicans have voted to continue this tax cut for a couple of months. Then work out details to continue it for another year. House Republicans apparently tonight are going to kill that tax cut for the middle class. Republicans are going it raise taxes on middle class and every American needs to know that.

That they're going to wake up with a hangover on New Year's Day and it's not just going to be from all of the shiny black beers I'm going to drink. It's the middle class who's going to get a tax increase thanks to Republicans.


MATALIN: I think Paul already has a hangover. The House hasn't passed the extension for a year. They added the Keystone pipeline. They completely bested Obama. There a dysfunctional Senate that passed it for two months, which cannot even be implemented. So the House -- and John Boehner, particular, the big victor in this latest skirmish.

BLITZER: Mary and Paul, guys, thanks very, very much. We're going to talk more about the payroll tax cut battle with the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. He will be joining us live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM in our next hour.

But up next, my trip inside North Korea. I was there exactly one year ago. A look at what I saw, what I could tell about what happens now that Kim Jong-il is dead.


BLITZER: It was the assignment very few journalists get the chance to experience. One year ago exactly at this time, I was in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. I was accompanying the New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson.

He's the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. He was on a mission seeking to ease tensions between North Korea and South Korea and the United States in the process as well. Here is some of what I saw in the one of the world's most mysterious countries.


BLITZER (voice-over): Huge pictures of the late great leader, Kim Il- Sung and his son, the dear leader, Kim Jong-il were all over the place. I didn't see pictures of the next generation's expected leader, Kim Jong-un.

We went to this high school where the students were in cold classrooms with overcoats. So cold, you can see their breath. We also went to the national library where they have a lot of less than state of the art computers.

They also have a music room with old school boom boxes and head sets. Folks could listen to their favorites. I was surprised by some of them. (on camera): We are here in the library in North Korea, Pyongyang. Listening on this big box over here to Kenny Rogers. How are you?

(voice-over): I had some fun when I saw the North Korean girls national ice hockey team jogging outside the national ice rink.

(on camera): We're running. We're running. Everybody is looking good.

(voice-over): I couldn't help, but join them with my hand-held camera shooting away.


BLITZER: Let's talk a little bit about that. Brian, you have been doing a lot of work on North Korea. Your piece on Kim Jong-un earlier this hour is very strong.

I got to tell you. I was impressed though by that tiny leadership, the elite in Pyongyang. What I saw they were not isolated. They know what was going on in the United States and in Europe.

It was pretty impressive and they spoke English. Some of them had served at the North Korean Mission to the United Nations in New York. Some had served at embassies in Europe. These guys were not isolated. They were pretty sophisticated.

TODD: It's important that you say too because right that's what everybody is talking about. Who are the people who will be around Kim Jong-un? Who are the elites surrounding him? How are they going to influence him?

But your impression was, they were not isolated. I think you mentioned at that time, they had done their homework. They knew a lot about what was going on in western politics, right? They had talked to you about that.

And so, you know, that's what we're all focusing on. Who were these people who were going to influence them, but they're not, you know, again, as you say, isolation, they are not all together militaristic, although they are a militaristic society.

BLITZER: But let's remember, we are talking about a tiny, tiny percentage of the 25 million or so people who live there. The 99.9 percent, the only thing they know if they have a television, and most don't, or radio, for that matter is official North Korean state propaganda.

That's all they get. You know, these great tributes to their dear leader who now passed away obviously, but that's all they see. They really have no clue. There is no social media. No free access, unrestricted access to the internet. No Twitter, no Facebook, nothing like that. TODD: What was the reaction of people there when you came with cameras, even just, you know, running along with North Korean women's hockey team, which was a great moment. But when you can with cameras and just filming everyday life, did they get uptight or did they kind of sense that I better be on my best behavior here or I'm going to be in serious trouble? Did you sense something in the body language of the everyday person you were filming on street?

BLITZER: Well, they wouldn't talk to you unless they were authorized to talk to you. Remember, I was restricted every place I went. I had what we called minders, North Korean officials. They would determine who could speak with us, who couldn't speak with us, where we could go, where we couldn't go.

They watched us very, very carefully. It is not a free society by any means. They had certain individuals that they would let you talk to. There would be translators and stuff like that, but it is a very different assignment than most places in the world.

TODD: I was jealous.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, it was a good trip. I would like to go back at some point and see what happens. Brian, thanks very, very much. There is much more coming up on this part of the story.

In the next hour, I will be joined live by Bill Richardson, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. He was my travel partner in North Korea last year.

I will ask him just how dangerous the current situation, that's coming up in the next hour.

But first, Jack Cafferty wants to know, should President Obama be more afraid of Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney? That's his question. Your answers, that's ahead.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: The question this hour, should President Obama be more afraid of Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney?

Randy writes, "Neither. Wall Street is betting on Obama, which means he is a shoe-in. The only one he might be afraid of is Romney because he is cut directly from the Wall Street inheritance class cloth."

Dave in New Hampshire writes, "Why is everybody making it sound like it's foregone conclusion that either one of those over hype gas bags is going to be the nominee. There are four other candidates still in the race, at least one of whom stands it make a huge showing in the Iowa caucuses. I won't mention his name because that alone could keep this letter from being read on the air. His name is Ron Paul." Jim writes from Colorado, "Neither one of them. President Obama needs to worry more about the general electorate and convincing us that he is still the right guy for the job."

Jaime says, "You have been quite the sell out lately, Jack. Your love for Gingrich seems to be fake and obviously, your bosses are forcing you to stop talking about Ron Paul. To answer the question, Obama shouldn't be afraid of either of those flip-flopping establishment scoundrels.

Both are bought and paid for and are no different than Obama. They just have more baggage. For the record, my bosses don't force me to talk about anything here. That's one of the reasons I like working at this place."

Tim at Facebook writes, "Newt who? Mitt what? Are you kidding? Bought and paid for Mitt and I'm a bigger sleaze bag than Cain. Ron Paul is the only trust worthy candidate available. Obama needs to be afraid of Dr. Paul."

And Jim in New Jersey writes, "If I were President Obama, I would sleep like a baby. Mitt Romney is a former Massachusetts governor who makes Michael Dakakus look absolutely presidential. And Newt Gingrich despite all his intellect can't find anyone other than Rod Blagojevich's barber to cut his hair."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jack. Thank you.