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JOHN KING, USA

Rick Santorum Rising; Verizon's 'Convenience Fee'; Facebook's Power Play

Aired December 29, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley. John King is off tonight.

It is his first full day as a top-tier candidate, and Rick Santorum's rivals already are on the attack. Santorum joins us tonight to defend his record.

Also, if Facebook doesn't come to mind when you think of Washington's big money lobbyists and power elites, think again.

And if you pay your Verizon Wireless bill online, listen up. They're about to hit you with a convenience charge just for taking your money. We will tell you how to avoid it.

Good evening from Des Moines. We are coming to you from the historic former state Supreme Court chamber here in the Capitol Building.

Tonight, Rick Santorum's once little noticed presidential campaign is riding the wave of public and media attention. Thanks to his surge into third place in the latest CNN/"TIME" magazine/ORC poll here in Iowa, Santorum is basking in the political spotlight at just the right time, five days before Iowa's Republican caucuses.

Joe Johns spent the day trying to keep up with a candidate who is suddenly very much in demand -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Candy. I think you would call it steady. That's the word he uses. He's had steady events. He's had a steady flow of people coming out to see him.

And Rick Santorum has been here for a long time, 99 counties, pretty much the only one to make 99 counties until Michele Bachmann just said she's done it. So very busy for him here in this state. Good news on polls, also good news on fund-raising.

The candidate told me today off camera that they have had their best fund-raising day ever online. This has been a campaign that has never been sort of a factor when you compare it to a lot of the other larger campaigns in terms of fund-raising, but one source telling us today that their fund-raising had been exponentially higher since this new poll information came out.

But also going up in the polls, going up in fund-raising, you do become a target, and Santorum certainly did today. An ad went out from the Perry campaign charging among other things that Mr. Santorum had essentially asked for a billion dollars with a B in earmarks during the time he was in the United States Congress.

I asked Santorum about that. He defends it. He is unapologetic about it. He says a lot of members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, were taking earmarks back at that time. So, a lot for Santorum to think about. Of course, he has to worry about not just Iowa, but his path through New Hampshire and South Carolina and beyond, if he's going to be a factor in this race -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Long, long way to go, but a great couple of days for Rick Santorum. Thanks so much, Joe Johns.

And coming up in just about 10 minutes, my interview with Rick Santorum. Here's a little preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, that's because most of the media says that Mitt Romney is a guy that can beat President Obama. But what history does Mitt Romney have of beating anybody as a conservative?

CROWLEY: There's polling for it as well.

SANTORUM: Well, but -- yes, but you realize that polling -- you know, polls change. Convictions don't change. And what we need is a conviction politician who is authentic that the American people can trust. That's what we need in this election, someone who draws a clear contrast.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Iowa is a road less traveled for Mitt Romney. "The Des Moines Register" says he has spent just 14 days campaigning here this election season.

Today, outside a restaurant in Cedar Falls, the current front- runner's comment about the weather speaks volumes about a change he's sensing in the state's political climate. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's a warm Iowa day, you know it? It's a fair wind that blows in Iowa today. This is very nice.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN's Dana Bash covered Romney four years ago. She's been talking with people inside his campaign today about what's changed.

Dana, take us inside their thinking five days out from these caucuses. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, the way one senior Romney adviser described the overall mood to me today is guarded, given the flux of the campaign, but in a good place.

You talk to the Romney camp and you definitely get a sense of nervous excitement. They have very good reason to be excited, but also probably even more reason to be nervous, because Iowa is so in flux, but also a sore spot for veterans of Romney's 2008 campaign. He spent millions in the state where you are, far more than any other candidate.

He had a spectacular organization, but he got beaten big time by the come-out-of-nowhere candidate Mike Huckabee. But now because of all the other alternatives that have come up and then gone down to Mitt Romney, their internal polling, I'm told, does reflect what we are seeing in public polling, that he's doing quite well.

And Romney advisers, Candy, privately admit that there's no question he got a big assist from that super PAC that pummeled Newt Gingrich in the past couple of weeks with ads and paved the way for his rise. But they also know that it's possible the same kind of thing could attack him, even in the next five days.

CROWLEY: You know, Dana, there was a lot of hope for Romney this time four years ago.

BASH: Yes.

CROWLEY: But I sense that there is something different. How do they view the difference between how he's being received in Iowa now and how he was received four years ago, when he lost quite handily to Mike Huckabee?

BASH: Well, Romney advisers and people who are close to him I talk to, they say that there are several factors.

First of all, four years ago, there was one candidate that evangelical voters flocked to, and that was Mike Huckabee. Now you have Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, and Rick Santorum splitting that vote. And secondly, Romney aides say that he learned from what they now admit was a big mistake that he made in Iowa four years ago. He tried to appeal to socially conservative voters, talking about abortion, talking about immigration, which of course he switched his positions on.

So he didn't come off as genuine. Now the former businessman is really mostly staying in his lane, talking about economic issues. And this time around, of course, that's the issue that most voters in Iowa and really across the country care about.

He still has the appeal of voters looking for a Republican who can beat Barack Obama, as you were just talking about with Rick Santorum. But one other thing I heard today that was interesting from a Romney source is that because he spent so much money in Iowa building voter lists four years ago, which are incredibly important to get people to the caucuses, they feel that they're going to do better than expected diving into Iowa so late in the game.

I'm told that 70 percent of the voters on their list still plan to support him, and that's a pretty good foundation.

CROWLEY: It is. It's a great place to start and probably finish in this year. Thank you so much, Dana. We will see you out here in a couple of days.

BASH: Thanks, Candy. See you soon.

CROWLEY: Now, doesn't this sound like a bad connection?

Verizon Wireless, the nation's largest cell phone company, is introducing what it's calling a $2 convenience to customers who pay with a credit card online or over the phone.

CNN Money's Poppy Harlow joins us from New York.

Poppy, whose convenience is this fee for?

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That has yet to be seen.

But it's a lead story on CNN Money for a good reason. We're already seeing a lot of outraged backlash against this in the Twittersphere, et cetera. Here's what going on.

Verizon late this afternoon saying starting January 15, they will issue a $2 fee. What it looks to be targeted at -- and we're trying to clarify this -- is people who make those one-time bill payments online, Candy, using their credit card or their debit card. There's a plethora of exceptions here.

You can use an electronic check, you can use auto-pay, you can mail in a traditional check and you will not have to pay a fee. But it looks like if you want to make a one-time payment with your credit card, you will have to pay the fee.

Here's what Verizon is saying to its 91 million customers. They said: "This fee will help allow us to continue to support these single bill payment options and is designed to address costs incurred by us for only those customers who choose to make single bill payments."

Well, Candy, what does this make you think about? It makes me think about Bank of America earlier this year and the $5 debit card fee. That resulted in a huge backlash, so much so that after the CEO said they would keep it, they ended up getting rid of it in November.

And I want to read you some of the comments that I'm getting on Twitter, on Facebook, on CNN Money. "This is ridiculous. Never have heard of having to pay to pay. I think this is going to be a B-of-A lesson for Verizon."

One person saying, "OK, I will mail my check in. A stamp is less than a fee."

Candy, we will keep an eye on it, see how this all plays out. CROWLEY: We will indeed. This isn't the last night we will be talking about this story, I'm pretty sure.

HARLOW: No, no.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Poppy Harlow.

Today, we saw an important announcement from the Obama White House. The U.S. just signed a nearly $30 billion deal to sell F-15 combat jets to Saudi Arabia. The announcement is about much more than U.S. jobs. It comes against a backdrop of dramatically increasing tensions with Iran.

The deal also is a very big, very high-stakes play on the international stage.

That's what Reza Aslan is here to explore. He's an academic scholar specializing in the Western world and Islam and author of the book "No god But God."

Thank you so much for joining us, Reza.

What is in this deal, first of all, for the U.S., both economically and strategically?

REZA ASLAN, AUTHOR, "HOW TO WIN A COSMIC WAR: GOD, GLOBALIZATION, AND THE END OF THE WAR ON TERROR": Well, obviously, a $30 billion deal to sell military hardware to Saudi Arabia is going to stimulate a lot of job growth in the United States.

But, as you rightly said, that's not the chief issue here. Although this deal was put in place about a year ago, really November 2010 I think is the first time that Congress first heard about this deal possibly going through, the announcement today is obviously an attempt to push back against the threats made by the Iranians, empty threats, by the way, to close the Strait of Hormuz in response to America trying to go after Iran's oil exports.

CROWLEY: So there's significance to the timing of this. This is a message from the U.S. and from Saudi Arabia to Iran; is that how you interpret it?

ASLAN: Well, the truth is this is a policy that goes all the way back to the Bush administration.

Remember, what President Bush tried to do was create a kind of Sunni access against Shia Iran by arming our Sunni allies, our so- called moderate Sunni allies, by trying to create an allegiance between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Israel and Egypt against Iran.

I'm not exactly sure if that's the best idea going forward, because, as you know, this is not the Middle East that we were dealing with during the Bush administration. We no longer have just a handful of dictators that we can tell what to do. We now have slowly emerging democratic governments across the Middle East. And the will of the people, the interests of the people in the region are going to be paramount. So whether this is going to work or not insofar as putting pressure on Iran, I'm not so sure about that.

CROWLEY: We will have you come back at some point and reassess what is going on.

Thank you so much, Reza Aslan. We appreciate your time tonight.

Now we are about to joined by Iowa's man of the hour. We will ask Rick Santorum if he's ready for the scrutiny and the attacks that come with being a top-tier candidate.

Also ahead, a disturbing find on the 911 recording of a horrific crime. Authorities say it's the voice of a killer.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: And that is a picture of the gorgeous state capitol here in Des Moines, Iowa. We're inside one of the gorgeous rooms inside this capitol.

It used to be the Supreme Court chambers, now a place where they come and have meetings, but a gorgeous place inside a city that is teeming with politicians and a state that is teeming with politicians right now.

Ever-changing lineup here -- you know you have become a top-tier candidate when your opponents stop ignoring you and start attacking you. That's happening today to former Senator Rick Santorum. Our latest polls show him surging into third place here in Iowa.

Today, the voters and the media and, yes, a couple of his fellow Republicans noticed. He spoke with us a little bit ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Senator, thanks for joining us.

You know, there was a little "welcome to the top tier" message to you this morning in the form of a radio ad from Rick Perry. I want you to take a listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

NARRATOR: Santorum grabbed for a billion in earmarks, until voters kicked him out of office in a landslide.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

CROWLEY: This morning, Romney's communications director said on FOX, "Governor Romney spent his career in the private sector, while Senator Santorum spent his time in Washington."

Both guys on the mark here?

SANTORUM: Well, I would say, first, I have spent my time in the public and private sector.

I was fortunate enough the people of Pennsylvania in a heavily Democratic district in a heavily Democratic state elected me at a young age of 32 to the House, defeating a Democratic incumbent, and to the Senate, defeating another Democratic incumbent, taking on tough challenges, and being successful in the states that are necessary and the areas that are necessary for a Republican to win the presidency.

I don't apologize for that at all. And we were able to do a lot of strong conservative things, including cut spending, which takes on Rick Perry's idea. We -- you look at my record. I introduced more original bills one year to cut spending than anybody else.

I fought for the budget balanced amendment to the Constitution. I voted against increases in spending time and time and time again. I have a great record from the taxpayer groups and from the spending groups.

Yes, did I have some earmarks? Well, if you look at the Constitution of the United States, it says that Congress spends the money. And what happened was that earmarks were abused, not mine, but others who did abuse the earmark process. And when that became evident and that the public was upset about it and saw this as a real disqualifier that shouldn't be done anymore, I said, you know, look, if the public is saying that Congress should be doing this anymore, I will go along with it.

CROWLEY: Senator, tell me. Looking at you now, you have had a great uptick in the polls to third, look like you might get one of those three tickets out of Iowa, as they say.

But what makes you not the soup du jour, as so many of your predecessors have that have seen some sparks in their campaign, only to kind of go back on the road to Mitt Romney?

SANTORUM: You know, this isn't my first rodeo.

I have been through very, very tough campaigns, big national scrutiny types of campaigns in the state of Pennsylvania. The last few races -- actually, the three statewide races I ran in Pennsylvania had the national meeting covering, "The New York Times," "The Washington Post," et cetera, digging and scraping and finding everything they possibly could.

It's all out there. You know, there are issues. I have never said I'm a perfect candidate, but if you look at the things that I have accomplished and the things that I have fought for, I have been a strong, consistent conservative and a constitutional conservative, again, not perfect, but the issues with me are issues that -- I have made some mistakes.

CROWLEY: Senator, one of the other things in our poll was on that very important issue of electability.

You know, we talk a lot about how campaigns -- voters, they sort of have a candidate of the heart, and then their head tells them, I want someone who can beat the other guy. And when we asked likely Republican caucus-goers who's got the best chance of beating President Obama in November, Romney was at 41 percent, and you were at 4 percent.

So while you clearly have grabbed the hearts of some of these folks here in Washington enough to boost you into the top tier, only 4 percent of likely caucus-goers believe that you actually could beat President Obama.

SANTORUM: Well, that's because most of the media says that Mitt Romney is a guy that can beat President Obama. But what history does Mitt Romney have of beating anybody as a conservative?

CROWLEY: There's polling for it as well.

SANTORUM: Well, but -- yes, but you realize that polling -- you know, polls change. Convictions don't change. And what we need is a conviction politician who is authentic that the American people can trust. That's what we need in this election, someone who draws a clear contrast, someone who has a bold plan to balance the budget in five years, someone who has experience on national security and has a track record of confronting radical Islam and being right on the issues when it comes to the security of our country and the state of Israel.

We need someone who understands the intrinsic value of the role of the family, who went out and fought those issues when it wasn't popular. I'm the candidate that actually was able to win in states as a conservative, in getting Democrats and independents to vote for us when, -- you know, when I was out there fighting all these battles.

Mitt Romney has no track history of doing that. In fact, he's only run as a moderate or a liberal. And when he ran as a conservative in the primary last time, he lost.

CROWLEY: So, just to sum up, you don't think that Mitt Romney could beat President Obama?

SANTORUM: I think I'm the best candidate not just to beat President Obama, but to do what is necessary to get this country going, a conviction conservative who can rally the American public around a common set of values.

And this is very much the 1980 election all over again. And this is, you know, do we go with someone who the pundits say can win, or do we go with someone who we know is the best person to govern this country? And I hope, like we did in 1980, we chose the latter, and it made all the difference.

CROWLEY: But do you think he could win?

SANTORUM: Look, I think any of the Republicans have a decent chance of beating Barack Obama. That's not the question.

The question is who's the best person to govern the country if we do one. We don't want a Pyrrhic victory. We want a victory that actually does the things that are necessary to make our country free, safe, and prosperous.

CROWLEY: Senator Rick Santorum, you certainly have timing on your side. If you're going to peak, this is a good time to do it.

Thanks so much for your time this morning. Good luck in the days ahead.

SANTORUM: Thank you so much, Candy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Next up: Are you and your Facebook fans updating your status? Well, tonight, we're updating you on Facebook's status. It's become a major lobbyist and power player back in Washington.

And, later, we will be joined by Rick Perry's supporter Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who got himself in a little bit of trouble when he was in Iowa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

CROWLEY: Next up: Facebook's power play. The people who bring you social networking are spending big bucks to get their way in Washington.

Also, Rick Perry's no-nonsense supporter Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who got himself in some trouble in Iowa.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: In this half hour of JOHN KING USA, Mitt Romney is telling Iowa voters, if he's elected president, there needs to be a big change on "Sesame Street."

The man called America's toughest sheriff will join us to explain how he got into trouble while campaigning for Rick Perry in Iowa.

And what do Michele Bachmann and Margaret Thatcher have in common? It's today's moment you missed.

We begin with Mitt Romney's beef with Big Bird. In campaign stops here in Iowa today, Romney is telling voters the public can't pay for public broadcasting anymore, and "Sesame Street" will have to pay its own way by running commercials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My test is, is a program so critical that it's worth borrowing from China to pay for it? And the answer -- on that, I can say -- so some things that you might like, you might say, I like the National Endowment for the Arts. I do. I like PBS. We subsidize PBS. Look, I'm not -- I'm going to stop that. I'm going to say PBS is going to have to have advertisement. We're not going to kill Big Bird, but Big Bird's going have to have advertisements, all right?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN's Jim Acosta is keeping up with both Romney and Big Bird for us tonight. It's not much of a bumper sticker, Jim, is it? You know, "I will not kill Big Bird"?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. That's right, Candy. As "Entertainment Weekly" put it, Elmo is not tickled by what Mitt Romney has to say about killing Big Bird and eliminating federal funding for PBS.

But, you know, this is something that conservatives have had their budget knives out for, for many years. As a matter of fact, earlier this year House Republicans in their own budget talked about eliminating federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. And so it should come as no surprise to viewers of PBS that Mitt Romney would want to do it.

But, you know, some reality checks on this. Keep in mind that "Sesame Street" and other PBS shows already have a form of advertising. They're called sponsorships. For example, "Sesame Street" is already brought to you by, if I can use that parlance, McDonald's and the Beaches resorts chain. So "Sesame Street" and PBS already has ads.

And honestly, on the other side, the Democratic side, we should point out President Obama's own deficit commission has also -- had also talked about eliminating federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, saying it would save $500 million in the year 2015.

So both sides have talked about this, Candy.

CROWLEY: So in some ways, Jim, this is merely a small picture inside the larger picture of what this entire election is about, is what should government, federal government spend its money on?

ACOSTA: It really is. And you know, thing there's also a political element in all of this, and that is Mitt Romney trying to appeal to Tea Party conservatives. This is a bloc of the Republican Party he's had some trouble with over the years. And there are some Tea Party conservatives who are very concerned about the possibility that Romney will be their standard bearer, that he will be the Republican Party standard bearer in the upcoming general election.

And so this is one of those issues that goes right to their hearts and minds, if you will, on this issue of funding public broadcasting. So it's not too surprising that Mitt Romney would come out and put it like this.

But in the grand scheme of things, and Mitt Romney has said this, this is not going to cut the federal deficit down to zero. This is just a start in that direction. And he says he's going go through the entire federal budget, top to bottom.

This is one of the things he says, you know, makes him a good candidate for president. He would bring a businessman's approach to running the country's finances. And he says he would go through the budget line by line and figure out, hey, these are -- these are areas that we can easily cut out of the federal budget and have somebody else do them, perhaps privatize things or have advertising for PBS.

CROWLEY: Out of Mason City tonight, Jim Acosta. Thank you.

There has been a big shake-up in Michele Bachmann's Iowa campaign in the last 24 hours. Her state campaign chairman deserted, jumping to Ron Paul. Bachmann says he did it for money.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I had a conversation with Ken Sorenson, and in the direct conversation that I had with him, he told me that he was offered money. He was offered a lot of money by the Ron Paul campaign to go and associate with the Ron Paul campaign. No one else knows about that conversation other than Ken Sorenson and myself, and I know what he said to me about that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN's Shannon Travis is keeping up with the troubles in Bachmann's campaign. Shannon, just as it's great time to peak, it is not a great time for this sort of thing to be happening to Michele Bachmann.

SHANNON TRAVIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not, just days before the Iowa caucuses, Candy. As you just mentioned, I mean, just a day after that bombshell from Ken Sorenson that he was defecting, leaving Michele Bachmann's side in her campaign.

Now we have this other bombshell development that we just learned. Let me explain this. There's a man named Wes Enos. He was, up until a little while ago, Michele Bachmann's Iowa political director, OK. So Ken Sorenson said that he was going to defect over to Ron Paul campaign. Michele Bachmann said that he was offered money to do that.

Today -- earlier today Wes Enos came out and said, "You know what? I'm going to remain Michele Bachman's Iowa political director, but I'm also going to defend Ken Sorenson. He was not offered money to go over to Ron Paul."

Well, guess what, Candy? Just a short while, as I mentioned, we found out that Wes Enos is no longer with the Bachmann campaign. Now, the Bachmann campaign tells us that he quit. The Ron Paul campaign sent out a press release saying that he was fired. I talked with the press secretary for Bachmann's person. She says he's just no longer with it. So we're trying to chase down, was he fired, did he quit? What is the case? Well, this is major drama just a few days before the Iowa caucuses, Candy. CROWLEY: Sure is, Shannon, and it's not the sort of thing, if you're a candidate struggling to stay alive, that you want people to be talking about this late in the campaign.

Thanks so much to our Shannon Travis. We appreciate it.

It is no surprise that corporations try to lobby and curry favors with legislators on Capitol Hill, but now high-profile Internet companies are mobilizing their own political efforts, aimed at influencing Washington's lawmakers. CNN's Athena Jones joins us now with more -- Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Candy, Silicon Valley powerhouses like Google and Facebook have been getting more and more involved in politics in recent years. Now Facebook's PAC appears to be gearing up for 2012.

This week the company updated its PAC filing with the Federal Election Commission to show its headquarters had moved to nearby Menlo Park, California. And so we thought we'd take a look back at their political activities this year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My name is Barack Obama, and I'm the guy who got Mark to wear a jacket and tie.

JONES (voice-over): As a company, Facebook is no stranger to the political scene. In April, founder Mark Zuckerberg hosted a town hall with the president at the company's headquarters.

In February, he joined the CEOs of Yahoo! and Google, among others, for an intimate dinner with the president. They have also sponsored events with Republicans, including New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and three top House Republicans.

The Center for Responsive Politics says Facebook spent $910,000 on lobbying this year, more than twice as much as in 2010.

RON BONJEAN, GOP POLITICAL STRATEGIST: They're getting ahead of the curve. They have a strong Washington lobbying presence, and now they're putting together a PAC. So they can influence policies that affect them on Capitol Hill.

JONES: The social networking site formed a political action committee in September, explaining that it "would allow employees to contribute to candidates who share our goals promoting the value of innovation to our economy, while giving people the power to share and make the world more open and connected."

Among the issues of concern to Facebook: privacy, cyber security, and intellectual property.

So what does this new PAC mean for 2012?

BONJEAN: Sounds like they're going to be very bipartisan in what they do, and they're going to support policies that support Facebook. Not necessarily Republicans, not necessarily Democrats, but it looks like it's going to be a big bipartisan effort, which is really smart in this town.

JONES: Still, GOP hopeful Michele Bachmann had this to say today in an interview in an Iowa radio station.

BACHMANN: I think that we've seen, without a shadow of a doubt, whether it is the head of Facebook or the head of Google, it's been very clear that there's been an alliance with the Obama administration.

JONES: The company denies any special alliance. When it comes to presidential politics, it's worth noting that the Obama campaign does not accept PAC money.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES: Now, Candy, Facebook has been slowly building up its roster of politically-connected employees, adding former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart to its communications team, along with former Obama staffer Sarah Feinberg and Tucker Bounds, a former press agent of John McCain's 2008 campaign. Another big name, former Clinton aid Erskine Bowles, who joined the company's board of directors this year -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Lots of high power in that company right now, that's for sure. Thanks, Athena.

Joe Arpaio, the sheriff in Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, is not a stranger to controversy, particularly when it comes to his policies regarding the detention of undocumented workers.

Sheriff Arpaio found himself in hot water this week while he was campaigning in Iowa for Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE ARPAIO, SHERIFF, MARICOPA COUNTY, ARIZONA: Well, I'm getting to know Iowa, the great state of Iowa. Was it the Buckeyes or -- what do they -- what do they call it -- Hawkeyes. Buckeyes, Hawkeyes, what's the damn difference?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Sheriff, Sheriff, Sheriff. As the mother of a Hawkeye, I have to tell you that is a big mistake here in Iowa. The Hawkeyes, of course, University of Iowa football team, and then there's the Buckeyes from Ohio. Are you going to live that down, do you think?

ARPAIO: I don't know. We had a great reception, Governor Perry and I touring the area on a bus, but that was an early morning meeting. I believe that was the first one where I introduced the governor. You do know there's a town called Buckeye in my county. I must have been on Phoenix time when I mentioned Buckeye. But it stimulated the crowd. Became very positive in excitement. So if that's what it takes to get excitement, I guess it's OK.

CROWLEY: You know, Sheriff, I find it so interesting because -- and I want to ask you about some of the controversies that are following you at this point, but I find it interesting that everywhere I read today in preparation for this interview, it talked about how many of the Republican and presidential candidates supported you.

And yet you get in so much hot water, particularly when it comes to your treatment, allegations about your treatment of undocumented workers in the prisons or in your system there. How many people actually supported you, and why do you thing they like to have you campaign for you when campaigns are normally kind of adverse to controversy?

ARPAIO: Because they know us all. It's not true. It's allegations. Three years the Justice Department has been investigating me. Three years. They really haven't come up with anything.

But, you know, they're all good people running for president, but I like the governor of Texas. I spent two days with him. I like him better, having spent those two days and meeting the people of Iowa. And he was tough on immigration, the border. I can go on and on.

But I can tell you one thing. He's a man of integrity, honesty. He's a good guy, and he's a tough guy, having been governor of Texas for three years -- three times, not three years. Eleven years. You have to be tough. But he's my guy. I stick by him, even though I made a little mistake on Buckeye versus Hawkeye.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you, since you brought up the Justice Department. It did, in fact, find what they called a blatant pattern of discrimination coming out of your office that went against Latinos -- against the Latino community. I think you have until January 4 to come to some sort of arrangement where you can have meetings with the Justice Department to come to some sort of appropriate end to this. Where are we in that process?

ARPAIO: Well, we've been dealing with the Justice Department for three years. What's the rush? Why all at once? Politics? Two days before they came down and did their press conference without us knowing about it, two days before the state law, 1070, went to the Supreme Court, two days before you had Democrat legislators, Hispanic, wanted me to resign.

The same day -- that's the anniversary of our Border Patrol agent that was killed. The same day. You know, I can go on and on about the politics. It's all politics. I'm going through a course on state laws.

CROWLEY: I understand you think it's political. Right. I understand you think it's political and accept how you view it, but the Justice Department has also said, look, you've got till the 4 to reach agreement on the negotiations. Are you going to make that deadline?

ARPAIO: Well, I don't know. We'll talk to the lawyers. They threatened to take me to court. What else is new? They suited Arizona all the time. They love to go to court and sue. But I'll try to resolve it.

CROWLEY: OK.

ARPAIO: I've spent 50 years in law enforcement. But we'll see what happens.

CROWLEY: Sheriff Joe Arpaio, thank you so much for your time tonight. We appreciate it.

Coming up, what's up with the man who's No. 2 in the Iowa polls and could be next week's winner?

Plus "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson is backing off comments she made today about one of the presidential candidates. That's up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour. Brooke Baldwin is sitting in for Erin, and she is here with a preview -- Brooke.

BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Candy, nice to see you.

Two stories I want to tell you about. First, if you have not heard the name Ben Breedlove, you need to. His story is incredibly compelling. It's one of those pieces of video you just stop and it's that moving.

He passed away Christmas day, and we're speaking to his parents because what you're seeing is this video that has gotten one and a half million hits on YouTube. He left this behind, where he talks about cheating death, and it's the story he tells with using a single word, a spoken word. You have to see. We'll be speaking with his parents tonight.

Also, someone, Candy, I'm sure you've covered in Washington. Let me throw this at you, three words. Arlen Specter, comedian. He's joining us live. We'll see if he'll throw some jokes down. he apparently popped up at an open Mike night this past week in Pennsylvania, Candy.

All of that coming up "OUTFRONT."

CROWLEY: You know, Brooke, I've seen the video. And I have to say, he is poking fun at Congress, which means that he has decades ahead of it as a stand-up comic, because the material is there, for sure. I can't wait to see that interview.

BALDWIN: We'll see if he's headed anywhere next, if we can catch him. CROWLEY: OK. Thanks, Brooke.

The numbers one and three in the Iowa polls, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, are getting plenty of attention today. But Ron Paul is running a close second to Romney and could finish first in next week's caucuses.

Here to talk about that prospect and more, our "New York Times" caucus blogger, Michael Shear, and "Washington Post" national political correspondent, Karen Tumulty. Thanks, both.

It's getting exciting here. OK. here are a couple of things that caught my attention. Rick Santorum, surging into third. Bought ads in New Hampshire. I assumed he would go Iowa, skip New Hampshire, straight to South Carolina.

KAREN TUMULTY, NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes. He is much more of a South Carolina kind of guy. The only thing -- the only rationale I can see here, and it is a sort of thin one, is that, you know, potentially, if Jon Huntsman is crowding Mitt Romney from the left in a primary where independents can vote, there may be a bit of an opening for whoever is the ascendant conservative voice to at least make a better than expected showing.

MICHAEL SHEAR, "NEW YORK TIMES" CAUCUS BLOGGER: And, look, the fact is that the idea of gaming the system by skipping the places that you're not going do well, and going to the places where -- it generally doesn't work very well, you know.

And the attention -- all of the attention all of the week after this caucus is going to be in New Hampshire. If he wants to capitalize on whatever he's done here, he's going to have to be there.

TUMULTY: And I was actually in New Hampshire with Rick Santorum a year ago, and at that point it was his seventh visit to New Hampshire. So it isn't like he hasn't gone there at all.

CROWLEY: We look back four years from this week just to sort of see where everybody was, and that was when the polls were showing for the first time, huge lead for Mike Huckabee, who went on to win the caucuses. Even at that time, he was pulling 25 to 20, Romney.

Romney's now at 25. And we have Santorum at 16, I think, around in there. Does he have enough -- does Santorum have enough time to overtake either Romney or Ron Paul at this point?

TUMULTY: I think it's entirely possible, if only because at this point it looks like Ron Paul and Mitt Romney both have a ceiling. And we really don't know what Rick Santorum's ceiling is, especially if the other social conservative candidates are collapsing.

SHEAR: I think it also depends on whether people conclude that Rick Santorum has a future beyond Iowa. If voters think, you know, this is a guy who we do sort of give him some lift, and he can go on to these other places and win, then maybe that will happen. I think there's still a lot of doubt in a lot of people's minds, although I can tell you I remember four years ago we were all freezing. That's the difference from four years ago.

CROWLEY: But four years ago, we also -- I mean, a lot of people dismissed the results because it was Mike Huckabee. And we went, there's no way he is going to get nominated and is the same fate sort of awaiting Rick Santorum, who we find that only 4 percent of likely Republican Iowa caucus goers think that he can beat President Obama.

SHEAR: I think that's exactly the point. You know, what do -- what do voters in Iowa and then going on through the rest of the caucuses, do they conclude this is a person that has a real chance of beating President Obama and occupying the White House or not? And that plays into sort of their final decision-making when they go into that, you know, final day.

CROWLEY: Quickly, I want to get to Romney, just because I thought it was so interesting. Somebody asked him today if Ron Paul wins this and you come in second, is that still a win for you? And he went, no, which was a little bit of truth telling. Thinking, "Oh, yes, we could..."

TUMULTY: Who's going to be standing there asking Iowa voters for their votes and saying at the same time that it's not -- "it doesn't matter if I don't win"?

CROWLEY: Right? Because they can spin it afterwards.

SHEAR: They can try, though I still think it's going to still be tough for them if, you know, now that expectations have been raised so dramatically over the last few days and over the coming days. You know, he's definitely raising expectations, Mr. Romney is, for a clean win.

CROWLEY: We've got about one minute left because I know you both were at Michele Bachmann's news conference today, just as quickly as we can say what's happened in the last 24 hours. Her campaign chairman quit and went to Ron Paul's campaign. Now her political director has either been fired or quit. He actually defended the state chairman. But it's -- this is not what you want to be doing five days before the caucuses.

TUMULTY: This is -- this is a campaign, I think, that collapsed a while ago, and this is just a particularly bitter, almost poisonous end to it.

SHEAR: Right. And charges of, you know, money, trading hands that Mrs. Bachmann made -- the other side denies that. All of wrong messaging at the end, you know, when you want to be communicating to voters and asking them to come support you.

CROWLEY: So is she off the -- is she off the cliff now at this point, do you think?

TUMULTY: This year, I don't want to say that about anybody, but it is -- I did attend several of her events yesterday, and there were maybe, you know, a dozen people here, 20 people there. It's hard to see this momentum that she keeps telling us about is out there for her.

CROWLEY: There you go (ph). Michael Shear and Karen Tumulty, thanks for stopping by.

SHEAR: Sure.

CROWLEY: See you later.

Still ahead, one year ago today here in Des Moines, someone bought a lottery ticket worth $16.5 million. We'll tell you why that person will now hear bad news when they come forward.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Welcome back to all of you and to Lisa Sylvester, who is there in Washington with the latest news you need to know right now.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK, Candy. I love this story. Talk about waiting until the last second. A year ago today someone in Des Moines purchased the winning ticket for a $16.5 million lottery jackpot. Well, nobody claimed the prize, but we have just -- just -- learned that someone stepped forward this afternoon to claim the jackpot just before it expired. Now we don't know who it is yet, but they'll have a lot of questions to answer on that one.

And Ron Paul captured the vote of an "American Idol" Thursday when Kelly Clarkson tweeted her support for the Texas congressman, but when Clarkson expressed doubts about his electability, she faced backlash from his supporters. Clarkson tried to clear it up with an apology, saying she was sorry for offending his supporters and adding, quote, "Out of all of the Republican nominees, he is my favorite" -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Politics are touchy times. Thank you, Lisa.

And now for a moment you may have missed. Michele Bachmann, who's struggling both in the polls and in maintaining her staff, is looking for strength from former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, known as the Iron Lady.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BACHMANN: We are in need of an American iron lady like never before, like Britain had in Margaret Thatcher, to restore our United States leadership. I will be that strong leader, and I will be that president of the united states.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: And you will want to join us at this time tomorrow night when Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin join us for a preview of their 2012 New Year's Eve special. It is going to be bigger and better than ever, and they will be giving us all the details. Life on the D-list has never been so cool. That's tomorrow on JOHN KING USA.

And that's all from us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.