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Interview With Senator John McCain; President Obama Meets With Israeli Prime Minister; Candidates Prepare for Super Tuesday

Aired March 5, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu side by side in the Oval Office, but still far apart on how best to stop Iran's nuclear program.

Plus, the biggest day of the 2012 campaign so far. Romney's rivals sharpen the attacks, fearing a big Super Tuesday could give him an insurmountable lead.

And a pay-for-pain scandal rocks the NFL. We talk to a defensive back who played for the coach now under the investigation and who sees nothing wrong with offering cash bounties for bone-jarring hits.

We begin with the growing crisis that is affecting what you pay at the gas pump and now casts a big shadow over President Obama's hopes for reelection. Just a day after dismissing what he called loose talk of war with Iran, President Obama sat down this morning with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. At the top of their agenda, talk that Israel may soon attack Iran's nuclear sites.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, working her sources all day.

Jess, take us inside three hours of talks and a working lunch later. What do we know?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, we're told the prime minister and the president within their three hours had 30 minutes when they were one-on-one.

And of course none of us will ever know really what they talked about when they were alone together. But the most pressing question, did they discuss red lines? And we are told by U.S. and Israeli officials that that was not what the two leaders sat down to talk about, that this was essentially a meeting to make clear to each leader where they stand on these fundamental issues of what it would take to press each other for an attack.

But they did not ask each other fundamentally for the go-ahead, which is what we're talking about when we talk about these red lines. So the topic of red lines was not the purpose of this discussion. But many of the very fundamental topics of the Iranian nuclear issue were all covered during these three hours of talks, John.

KING: And, Jess, it's a very important relationship. President Obama promising the United States would always have Israel's back but he is publicly saying give diplomacy and give sanctions more time. Prime Minister Netanyahu not even mentioning sanctions in his remarks in the Oval Office. How difficult is it resolving this issue when these two leaders clearly have some friction in their own relationship?

YELLIN: Well, there's clear differences between the two men, and all sides insist that the personality differences aren't the issue here.

What the fundamental challenge is, is that there is a difference in policy. For the U.S., the question is about timing, that, as you say, the president believes and administration officials believe there is space and time, that there is up to a year to know when Iran should start, if they should start developing a nuclear weapon, they will have a year's lead time know and be able to strike if that's the decision. And the president has now made it clear he is willing to use military options if it should come to that.

Israel believes they have less time because they are smaller and because they have less of a military ability to strike. And that is the fundamental difference. But all sides are minimizing that difference now and projecting unity to the world, because they want to look as if they are as close to on the same page as possible so the rest of the world can press ahead on sanctions and other actions against Iran, John, and press other options, so that the military option is the last one they might have to resort to -- John.

KING: Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. Jess, thanks.

On another major international story today, Senator John McCain today called for U.S. airstrikes on Syria. During an impassioned speech on the Senate floor this afternoon, McCain said military intervention now the only way to stop the bloodshed that's claimed at least 7,500 lives in the past year.

A senior Pentagon official tells CNN Defense Secretary Leon Panetta feels U.S. intervention at this time could make things worse in Syria.

I spoke to Senator McCain just a short time ago.


KING: Senator, if you talk to folks at the Pentagon, they say they share your goals, but that getting the United States involved that way is too much of an escalation, would put too many people, civilians in Syria at risk. How would you answer that?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well, my answer is that, right now, in case they missed it, there's thousands of people being massacred by tanks and artillery used by Bashar Assad.

I heard that same argument when we decided to go into Bosnia, and I heard the same argument when we went into Kosovo. So if they want to disregard the continuing massacre that in the view of many could go on for months or even a year or more, then that's their choice, but please don't tell us it's because they want to -- they're worried about casualties. They're going on as we speak.

KING: You remember how tough it was at the time to get international support for Bosnia and Kosovo, sir. Should the United States act alone if that support does not exist, in your view?

MCCAIN: I don't think so, because I think it would be extremely difficult to do that.

I think I would face that -- my answer is I think I would face that eventuality once I got there. But what the United States can do for a change is lead, is lead, and make sure that we work with the Arab League, with other countries. The Saudis have already said they want to send arms to the resistance in Syria, and so have other countries.

And we saw what could be done in Libya. So, it's one of these things that you can always find reasons not to, including -- quote -- "We don't know who they are." I heard that in Libya. I heard that in Tunisia, heard that in Egypt. But the fact is, massacres are going on. The United States is sitting by and not doing anything about it.

KING: If you are going to take tanks and artillery that are in residential neighborhoods, that would involve a lot of risks. And would it not be best, if you're going to try to do that, to put covert boots on the ground to find them and track them?

MCCAIN: Well, I think there are many things that you can do.

And other countries, as in Libya, might be willing to do that. We have precision-guided bombs. We have proven that on many occasions, including most recently in Libya, when our allies were using precision-guided weapons.

And, again, I want to repeat, John, you will find 1,000 reasons not to do the right thing. Every time we have been involved, I have heard the same excuses. And, in this particular case, if we want to stand by and watch Syrians being massacred in the most brutal and incredibly genocidal fashion, then that is a decision we can make. But please don't tell me we can't do it. We can if we have the will.

KING: A provocative proposal tonight from Senator John McCain.

Senator, thanks for your time.

MCCAIN: Thank you, John.


KING: Now to the red hot presidential race. Only hours away from the first poll openings of Super Tuesday, 10 states from coast to coast hold contests tomorrow, more than 400 delegates at stake. The biggest contested prize is Ohio, where a brand-new CNN/ORC poll tonight shows Romney and Santorum tied with 32 percent each. Our brand-new polling shows Newt Gingrich leading big in his home state of Georgia and Santorum holds a tiny edge over Romney in the latest Tennessee numbers.

Romney predicts he will win the Republican nomination if he can carry Ohio and several other states tomorrow. His election eve message focused on jobs.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What I know is the economy. I spent my life in the real economy. I understand why jobs come and why they go. Other people in this race have debated about the economy. They have read about the economy. They have talked about it in subcommittee meetings. But I have actually been in it.


KING: His once comfortable Ohio lead now gone, Rick Santorum barnstorming across the state fighting for every last vote.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Growing up having to fight for everything you got is exactly the kind of person that we need to have, not just in the White House with the big problems that are facing this country, but in this election, someone who doesn't think you can buy it, someone who knows you can't buy it. You got to earn it.


KING: CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is out on the trail tonight in Zanesville, Ohio.

Jim, let's start with Mitt Romney sounding like a very confident campaign heading into Super Tuesday. How do they define the stakes?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are feeling the big mo' in Ohio.

You heard Governor Romney earlier today at an event in Youngstown say if he could win Ohio, he feels he could win the GOP nomination. That is not something you send a candidate out to say on the day before Super Tuesday unless you're feeling pretty good. And why not? They have erased a double-digit lead from Rick Santorum in the last week.

You will appreciate this as somebody who crunches the numbers. They feel like they're going to win the lion's share of delegates on Super Tuesday. But one of the strategies that they have embarked on over the last week or so is that they have targeted some of these states by congressional district going into places like Atlanta, knowing they won't win the state of Georgia, but they feel like they can pick up delegates by doing well in some of the suburban Atlanta areas in that very crucial state on Super Tuesday.

And something else that the Romney campaign has been saying, an adviser earlier today telling reporters they're really telling members of Congress, Republican members of Congress up on Capitol Hill, asking the question, who do you want on this GOP ticket? Do you want Mitt Romney or do you want Rick Santorum?

Eric Fehrnstrom, a Romney adviser, said Rick Santorum would be like cement shoes for Republicans who are also on that ticket. It's all part of the Romney message that they're the only campaign that is ready for prime time in this campaign, John.

KING: Jim Acosta live for us on the trail, festive event there in Zanesville, Ohio. Jim, thanks so much.

Let's take a closer look now at the Super Tuesday battlegrounds and the stakes.

I want to walk this by our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, who is here.

Gloria, if you look at the map, the states that are filled in are the states that we have already had. You see a lot more Romney red than anything else, some Santorum purple in the middle.

But when you look at the states tomorrow, Romney expects to win Massachusetts and Vermont, he expects to win Virginia. He's only on the ballot there with Ron Paul. He thinks he will win out here in Idaho, question mark about this one, maybe Ron Paul, maybe Mitt Romney. And then here's the biggest battleground tomorrow, the state of Ohio.

If Romney wins, as he says today, if I win Ohio, I'm the nominee, do you buy that?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think if he wins Ohio, it's sort of the beginning of the end if you will.

You can make the case that he's won five going into this. If he wins Ohio, key battleground state, as you know, bellwether in a general election, no Republican presidential candidate has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. I think he needs to win Ohio.

What is interesting to me is in talking to people in the campaign, I think they're feeling better and better about Tennessee which is a Southern state. And, you know, Romney in 2008 did not win any Southern states when he was going for that nomination. It would be a very important lift to him to win the state of Tennessee tomorrow night.


KING: Especially because people will write of Virginia, saying Santorum, Gingrich not on the ballot.

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: He won't get any credit for that.


KING: Let's take a different look at the race. Let's bring this up instead. Let's bring up the delegate map instead. Here's where we are going in. Let me make that go away around Tennessee.

Here's where we are going in. Governor Romney with the lead. If you play this out, and you just go through this here, if Romney wins these states here, I gave Santorum Tennessee in this calculation. Oklahoma goes to Santorum. I'm not sure about North Dakota. But we gave it to Romney in this one. This one could go to Ron Paul. If you look at it here, if he does that, even if we give that state to Ron Paul, if you look at that, this is somewhere in the ballpark where Governor Romney could end up tomorrow night. A long way to 1,144, but a long way ahead of his rivals.

BORGER: But then he begins to become the prohibitive favorite. What we have seen already, you have seen some prominent conservatives, Eric Cantor, a leader in the House, Tom Coburn, senator from Oklahoma, Republican, very conservative, going into the Romney camp.

So what I think you would start to see is this question of inevitability or electability sort of coming to play. And Romney would have the momentum that he wants and you know, nothing succeeds like success, right? So you keep winning, you keep winning. That's what they want to be talking about tomorrow night.

They could easily win over half of the delegates tomorrow night. And we're going to be talking about popular vote as well, but if they win over half the delegates tomorrow night, I think they're going to say, you know what? We're the big winners here.

I KING: It does get hard. Even though that's a long way to 1,144, when you come to the ballpark, especially with three other people in the race, it gets hard to make up the gap as you go forward.

Gloria, thanks so much. Big night tomorrow. Big night, 10 states.


KING: Newt Gingrich needs a victory in Georgia, we know that, his home state, to keep his campaign alive. Our new poll there indicates he's likely to get it, and Gingrich leads in Georgia 47 percent to 24 percent with Santorum at 15 percent, Ron Paul at 9 percent.

Campaigning today in the neighboring state of Tennessee, where polls indicate he's running third, the former speaker took swipes at his favorite targets.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The elite media was fascinated with Rush Limbaugh and should he have apologized. I kept coming back and saying, let me tell you, the apology I worry about is Barack Obama apologizing to religious fanatics while they're killing young Americans.


GINGRICH: And so let's start. I want to give you my commitment. I will not apologize as commander in chief.


KING: Stand by for more on tonight's top story.

Despite hours of White House meetings, there's no sign the United States and Israel any closer now to finding common ground on stopping Iran's quest for nuclear weapons. We will get some insights from CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

And later, incredible pictures from the International Space Station show the beauty of nature and the work of human hands.


KING: More now on the critical talks today between the United States and Israel and the impasse between these two friends when it comes to Iran's nuclear program.

President Obama today promised the United States would always have Israel's back, but he also made clear it was not in his view time just yet to move toward military options.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even as we will continue on the diplomatic front, we will continue to tighten pressure when it comes to sanctions.


KING: Now, Prime Minister Netanyahu never mentioned sanctions in his remarks and he made it clear Israel would act alone if he believed it was necessary.


BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: Israel must reserve the right to defend itself. And after all, that's -- that's the very purpose of the Jewish state: to restore to the Jewish people control over our destiny.


KING: Let's get important perspective now from CNN's Fareed Zakaria.

Fareed, the prime minister of Israel did get the president of the United States to say all options including military options are on the table, but did we resolve anything else? President Obama still wants more time for sanctions. Prime Minister Netanyahu says if I decide to act, I will act.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: I don't think we have really resolved very much.

I think the situation remains very, very dangerous because you have a situation where you have an enormous amount of pressure being placed on Iran without a diplomat track. The president talked about how he thought diplomat sit would succeed, but, of course, we have no diplomatic track really with Iran.

The Israelis continue to say that they reserve the right to act. And all the while, oil prices continue to go up. So, right now, we're in a situation where we have all this pressure on Iran. They haven't moved. Prices of oil continue to go up, and Israel reserves the right to do a military strike. This doesn't strike me as a successful conclusion to the problem.

KING: And for better or worse, and I suspect worse is the answer, this is playing out in the middle of a presidential campaign in which the president's Republican critics have been quite vociferous in saying he's too soft here.

Our colleague Paul Begala calls foreign policy the potential wild card in the campaign and says in this standoff, as you just noted, "Oil prices could skyrocket and terrorism against Americans could spike overseas and even here at home. The political fallout is impossible to predict."

Helpful or harmful that this plays out in this atmosphere, and is one thing Prime Minister Netanyahu is counting on is that President Obama is facing so much criticism from the right?

ZAKARIA: He does not have any cover to go left, if you will, on Iran. He does not much cover to try and initiate some kind of diplomacy, secret, unofficial track two, whatever you may call it, but any of the kind of diplomacy that has tended to resolve these kinds of problems in the past, shuttle diplomacy of Henry Kissinger, the opening to China, things like that.

The minute that were to happen and if it were to leak, he would be pilloried on the right. So, he politically is fine where he is. He can go further right and he will be fine. You know, he can be even tougher on the Iranians. But he doesn't have any space to go or to try negotiations, to try diplomacy. And yet, it's difficult to see how you resolve the crisis without trying diplomacy.

KING: And if you're looking around the world trying for diplomatic help, trying to toughen the sanctions, for example, you would have to look to Russia.

President Putin, it will be President Putin again coming back into power after running a campaign in which the anti-Americanism was front and center. Can President Obama, can the United States count on help from Russia?

ZAKARIA: Putin is a very practical guy. He is not going to do this out of the love of his heart, but he will do it if he sees that there is a deal to be made, if there are advantages for him in doing it.

And Russia is looking for ways to assert itself on the international stage. If Russia can be kind of the crucial broker in a deal that involves inspections in Iran, I think they would go along with it. The real window that is closing is that the Israelis know that if they act between now and November, they will have the unqualified support of the American administration, because it will be politically impossible for the Obama administration to do anything but support an Israeli strike.

Come November, if President Obama is reelected, frankly, even if there were a President Romney, it all changes because at that point, the president is not under political pressure, is not running a presidential campaign, and can take a somewhat more less political view of the situation.

And I think the Israelis understand American politics very well and they understand that between now and November, were there to be an Israeli strike, they would be in much better shape with regard to the crucial thing they care about, which is America's unqualified support of that strike.

KING: A very important point there.

Fareed Zakaria, thank you.

ZAKARIA: Pleasure.

KING: Members of the U.S. military about to get a break at one U.S. airport. Just happens to be the one closest to the Pentagon. Stand by for details of a new program that could make it easier for men and women in uniform to get around.

And, later, we will talk with a player who sees nothing wrong with offering cash bounties for hits that injure other players.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: And still ahead here: Rush Limbaugh's apology to the college student he called a slut hasn't stopped an angry wave of fallout, especially from his sponsors.

Plus, the controversy over so-called bounties being paid for hurting opposing players in the NFL. Some say it's business as usual in a violent sport, but could these allegations be criminal?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Coming up this half hour, Rush Limbaugh feels the financial consequences of calling a law student a slut for her views on contraceptives. More advertisers, gone.

And a group of Girl Scouts try to chase down robbers who stole their cookie money. Maybe there are badges for crime fighting.

First, a last-minute push before Super Tuesday. Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum, live as we speak in Ohio, a critical state. They both are campaigning right now.

Tomorrow, Super Tuesday could be one of the most important days in the Republican presidential campaign. Ten states vote. Ohio is one of the biggest prizes, with 63 delegates at stake tomorrow. Right now, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in a dead heat there.

Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is live in Butler County. You're in a bar once owned by Speaker John Boehner. It's a heavily Republican district. Both Santorum and Romney want that district, want the state. What are you hearing on the ground?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They want it, and they need it big-time. This is Butler County.

And what I'm hearing on the ground, John, is a real mix. This should be Santorum country. This is heavily blue-collar working-class area. These are the kinds of voters that he is really going for, very conservative, socially and fiscally. Here, a lot of people going for him. But a lot -- still some people saying, "I like Santorum. I want Romney because of the electability factor."

And still a lot of undecided voters. People say, "We don't like any of the candidates."

But you mentioned that I am in the bar once owned by Speaker Boehner. We have a special guest, one of the sisters of the speaker, who is -- actually still works here, Lynda Boehner Meineke.

Now, I want to ask you. You are a voter here. You're going to be one of the people who has your voice out there in the primary tomorrow. How do you feel about the candidates?

LYNDA BOEHNER MEINEKE, SISTER OF JOHN BOEHNER: It's confusing. All the bashing against one another. It makes it hard for people to decide. They're worried about what the other ones are doing instead of what they're going to do for us.

BASH: Are you enthused about any of the candidates?

MEINEKE: No, not really.

BASH: And you've been -- you've been watching television. There's been ad after ad after ad. Is that part of what's confusing?

MEINEKE: It is, because they're talking about this one did that wrong and that one did that wrong, and not what they're going to do for us. Some people are very undecided.

BASH: And you told me earlier that you want to have a cap on campaign spending?

MEINEKE: Exactly.

BASH: I'm not sure your brother would like that.

John, I'm going to come back to you, but this is a perfect example of what we are hearing here. You know, confusion and actually a lot of dissatisfaction, even from the speaker of the House's sister.

KING: Dana Bash live. Get a drink. I wouldn't mind one right now. The bar formerly owned by the speaker of the House, John Boehner. We'll check in with Dana throughout the night.

And of course, with Super Tuesday tomorrow night, we've been talking about Rick Santorum is now statistically tied with Mitt Romney in both Ohio and Tennessee. Between those two states, 118 delegates up for grabs tomorrow. Too bad Santorum was ineligible for some of them; he couldn't make all the filing requirements.

Let's bring in Rick Santorum's top adviser, John Brabender. He's live in Washington tonight.

John, can you win -- we've got some audio difficulties with John Brabender, I believe. Can we fix this up?

We'll take a quick break. We'll work out those difficulties. We'll be with you in just a second.


KING: I believe, I certainly hope, we've worked out our technical difficulties. John Brabender is the top advisor to Rick Santorum's Republican presidential campaign. He joins us this evening from Washington.

John, it's Super Tuesday tomorrow. If we went back and rewound the tape a week ago -- or so ago, you would see Santorum well ahead in Ohio, Rick Santorum well ahead in Tennessee, Rick Santorum well ahead in Oklahoma. But on the eve of that voting, Rick Santorum is ahead in Oklahoma but in a dead heat in Tennessee and Ohio. What happened?

JOHN BRABENDER, TOP ADVISOR, RICK SANTORUM CAMPAIGN: Well, first of all, some of the polls also show Rick Santorum ahead in Ohio. Some of them show him ahead in Tennessee.

I think what you've got to factor into this, the bigger question I have is Mitt Romney came out today, between his campaign and his super PAC has spent $12 million in Ohio alone. We've spent about $560,000 in Ohio. How does someone spend $12 million and right now in the polls, your poll, only be at 32 percent? Almost 70 percent of Ohioans say they're not ready to vote for Romney, despite him spending $12 million. So same thing happened in Michigan last week. We got outspent 6 to 1, but we left there with the same number of delegates as Mitt Romney in his home state. How does one spend that much money and get that few delegates if there isn't some type of enthusiasm gap?

So I find it interesting that he's struggling as much as he is, with all that spending going on.

KING: He is struggling. And he is spending much more. There's no doubt about that.

However, he's won five states in a row. Regardless of how he's done it, he's done it within the rules. You might not like that he spent like that. But there's no indication he's done anything outside of the rules.

What happens if he wins five out of ten, six out of ten tomorrow and gets more than half the delegates tomorrow night? Yes, he's still a long way from 1,194, 1,144 but he's well ahead of everybody else.

BRABENDER: Yes, look, this is a lot like the Super Bowl. I'm sure the New England Patriots would have liked to have called the game well before it was over and be declared as the winner. But we're very early on in this process.

Interesting enough, Rick Santorum has won more counties in all these states so far than Mitt Romney. And so there's a long ways to go to this. I think in fairness, you have a lot of big states, including Rick Santorum's home state of Pennsylvania, which has not -- has not voted yet. The problem you always have is Mitt Romney has so many houses that he has so many home states.

But you know, this is really very, very early on. Tomorrow, as you know, there's ten states, and we're going to see what happens. But all these states seem to be very, very close, which says there's no clear frontrunner.

KING: No clear frontrunner, perhaps, although Governor Romney is starting to put together a win streak, in part because you still have the conservative vote split between Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich. You said recently when you were asked if Gingrich should drop out, "We either need that," meaning he dropping out, "or we need Gingrich's supporters to shift in Santorum's direction." Here's Speaker Gingrich's response directly to you.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tell his top advisor I'm taking Rick Santorum's advice. He stayed in. He was running fourth in every single primary. Suddenly, he very cleverly went to three states nobody else went to, and he became the media darling and bounced back.


BRABENDER: Well, I'm glad. KING: If this stays a four-person race, Congressman Paul is running, as well, is Mitt Romney the nominee?

BRABENDER: Well, I think it makes it harder. I will say this. You take a state like Ohio tomorrow where, according to your poll, Gingrich's support is way below.

If you could get all those Ohio people that think they're voting for Gingrich and say, "Wait a minute. We want to vote for the other conservative, Rick Santorum, and stop Mitt Romney," I think that shows that we can win these type of states. And I think in states like Ohio tomorrow, that will be very important for people to come to that conclusion.

KING: It's a big night today, a bigger day tomorrow. John Brabender is the top advisor for Santorum.

John, appreciate your time tonight. We'll check in with the voters in the polls in those ten states tomorrow. Thank you.

BRABENDER: Thank you for having me on.

KING: You are welcome.

Twelve advertisers now gone from Rush Limbaugh's radio show. They're dropping one after another, after Limbaugh, as you know, called a Georgetown University law student a slut for her views on contraception. Limbaugh apologized but apparently, not enough to hold onto many sponsors. Here's CNN's Lisa Sylvester.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The reaction was swift and fierce. Advertisers are pulling spots from the Rush Limbaugh show, including Quicken Loans, ProFlowers, and the latest, AOL, which says, quote, "We have monitored the unfolding events and have determined that Mr. Limbaugh's comments are not in line with our values."

Part of the backlash Limbaugh now faces after he went after Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke with these fighting words on his February 29 program.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What does it say about the college coed Susan (ph) Fluke, who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? Makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.

SYLVESTER: Fluke had appeared at a Democratic congressional hearing arguing in favor of broad health-care coverage for birth control. Limbaugh issued a statement on Saturday, apologizing for his comments and followed up with another apology on his radio show.

LIMBAUGH: The apology was heartfelt. The apology was sincere. SYLVESTER: But he also took full aim at liberal groups, accusing them of orchestrating a campaign to silence him. He says there are plenty of commentators on the left who have said inflammatory statements against Sarah Palin and other conservatives without being condemned. And to the advertisers this message.

LIMBAUGH: Those advertisers who no longer want your business, fine. We'll replace them. It's simple, really. Advertising is a business decision. It's not a social one. Only the leftists try to use extortion, pressure, threats to silence opposing voices. We don't do that.

SYLVESTER: Fluke appeared on the show "The View," not swayed by Limbaugh's apologies.

SANDRA FLUKE, GEORGETOWN LAW STUDENT: I don't think that a statement like this, issued saying that his choice of words was not the best, changes anything. And especially when that statement is issued when he's under significant pressure from his sponsors, who have begun to pull their support.


SYLVESTER: And Limbaugh has now lost his first radio station over the Sandra Fluke comments. A radio station in Hilo, Hawaii, is dropping his show.

Right now, though, Limbaugh still has the backing of Clear Channel, and there is reportedly a backlog of advertisers wanting to advertise on his show, John.

KING: And Lisa, as you know, even though people on the right aren't defending what Limbaugh said, a lot of them say there's a double standard. They say look at what Bill Maher has said about Sarah Palin. Look at what other liberals said about Sarah Palin and other female conservatives. Is there a double standard?

SYLVESTER: You know, that's -- if you read the conservatives, if you read what they're blogging about, what they're tweeting about, they would certainly say yes.

This is one of the concerns that you mentioned. is that Bill Maher has said some things that, quite frankly, we just can't repeat on this family television show. And they're saying, you know, Bill Maher also had just recently announced he's going to be giving a million-dollar donation to the super PAC supporting president Obama.

So maybe the campaign, maybe the Obama team should consider rejecting that $1 million donation if they're taking the high ground here. Of course, they're calling it a double standard, because we didn't quite see the backlash that Bill Maher certainly didn't see the backlash that Rush Limbaugh is seeing, John.

KING: Certain things are out of line and should be out of line for everybody. Lisa Sylvester, great reporting. Thanks so much. We all know football is and can be a violent sport, but a coach is now accused of paying his players to go beyond the usual mayhem. The controversy over these so-called bounties could cost him and his former employers.

Fred Smoot is a former NFL player, former all-pro who was coached by Gregg Williams.

Fred, it's good to see you. Now you were in Washington when Gregg Williams was a defensive coordinator. This controversy -- some call it a scandal -- is about a bounty program where the coach says before the game, "You take out" -- I'm going to say Brett Favre. "You take out Kurt Warner, you get a bounty." Do you make money doing that?

FRED SMOOT, FORMER NFL PLAYER: No, you make money playing football. The truth of the matter is, when you put the word "bounty" in it, I think it -- it clouds everybody's version of what really goes on, because to me, myself, I was drafted to go out and hit people. You know, when we...

KING: To hurt them?

SMOOT: Yes, to hurt, not to legally (ph) hurt them, but if you want to be the best, if you want to be Dick Butkus, if you want to be Ray Lewis, they play with a certain chip on their shoulder. You have to play at a certain level, and if it includes hurting people, football is a very violent sport. And I know they're trying to change the image of it, but it's a violent sport. You can't run from it.

KING: You get -- you have a contract that pays you quite handsomely when you're playing.


KING: Explain how this works, though. There's a system that players, not the coaches, pay into the pot, right? And you get what, $1,500 if you knock the quarterback out of the game?

SMOOT: Let's say we're making a run for the playoffs. We know we all need plays to be made. We, as a defensive backfield, (UNINTELLIGIBLE), we will get together and say, all right, whoever gets the play -- whoever makes the play to change the game, we all put $1,000 in the pot, and he gets the pot.

So it's more of an incentive-based thing that we do for ourselves. You know, I look at it as the same thing. We're paid to be football players, and I think all we did was reinforce it.

KING: If there's a pot of money out there, the argument against this -- I'll call bounty system -- you don't like the word -- is that maybe you'll go helmet to helmet, maybe you'll go for the head, as opposed to taking him in the chest. Because you don't want to knock him down in the play; you want to knock him out of the game. Fair?

SMOOT: Not fair to say. Because when I played the game of football, that was a -- that was a legal hit. Now it's illegal. You know, they're changing -- like I said, they're changing the image of football. And when you change the image of football, a lot of the things that used to fly, not going to fly anymore. And one of the things that's not going to fly anymore is, I guess, what you call in- house gambling.

KING: You hear now Coach Williams, maybe his head coach in New Orleans, Sean Payton, could be suspended for long periods of time, a lot of fines. Appropriate or inappropriate, in your view?

SMOOT: In my view, it's inappropriate. Because then you have to go back and also suspend the players that played for these guys that are retired from the NFL. How do you go penalize the New Orleans Saints when Gregg Williams is at St. Louis right now? I think it's a thing that something was brought to the light. I think they should, you know, tell people it shouldn't be done.

KING: Every team do this?

SMOOT: Put it like this. It's a culture in football. To do this, you've got to change the whole culture of football. To my rookie year to my last year, we did this. We did this, and we didn't take it as bounty. We never said, "Go take out Brett Favre" or "Go take out Emmitt Smith." We said take out the guy in the other helmet.

And not "take him out." We're not trying to end careers. But let's be serious right now. We're modern-day gladiators. And you can't tell guys not to go out there and fight.

KING: Fred Smoot, appreciate your time. We'll watch this one play out. Appreciate you coming in. Thank you.

Just hours away now from the biggest day of the 2012 campaign. But tonight's "Truth" is this. Super Tuesday isn't just about the numbers. It's also about momentum and psychology.

Plus, death claims comedian Steve Bridges, who made a name for himself impersonating President George W. Bush.


KING: Newt Gingrich sees Mitt Romney as weak and worse.


GINGRICH: He can't close the deal. And he can't close the deal in part because people inherently don't trust what he's saying and think that he isn't always very candid with them and sometimes, frankly, isn't straight.


KING: Rick Santorum sees Mitt Romney as all money, no core.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Look into the eyes of the candidate. Look into what the candidates overcome and what they offer to this country. Not just what money they have. But where's their soul? Where's their conviction?


KING: But Mitt Romney sees Mitt Romney as turning a very important corner.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: More jobs, less debt and smaller government. That's what my campaign is about. That's why I believe I'm doing well at this stage. Gosh, we just won our fifth state in a row, which is Washington state, which is good news.


KING: Tonight's "Truth" is a mix of math and psychology. A strong Super Tuesday for Romney will significantly undermine the case and yes, the complaints being made by Gingrich and Santorum.

Here's the math. Romney has now won 52 percent of all the delegates awarded and projected so far, and in his recent winning streak, he's upped the ante, winning 61 percent of the delegates from those five states. And odds are, he is far and away the biggest delegate winner tomorrow, the ten-state Super Tuesday.

Romney is favored in Massachusetts, Vermont, Virginia and Idaho. Now has late momentum for the tight race in Ohio, has an outside shot at Tennessee, Alaska and North Dakota, and even if he doesn't win, it will add to their delegate haul in those states and in Georgia tomorrow.

Yes, Gingrich is right. Governor Romney is having a hard time closing the deal. And yes, Santorum is right that the lopsided Romney money advantage is a big reason for his success.

But by the end of tomorrow night, just shy of half the states will have weighed in, and barring a dramatic Super Tuesday collapse, Romney will end tomorrow night with way more state victories and way more delegates than any of his rivals, and that's where psychology kicks in. Winning matters in politics. It changes how voters see you. Both Santorum and Gingrich know this from their own surges earlier in the race.

"Truth" is, the reason their complaints about Romney are getting even sharper now is they're well aware of the Super Tuesday stakes and the math.

Here to talk truth tonight, two Romney skeptics who are also well aware of the moment: Amy Kremer of the Tea Party Express and CNN contributor Erick Erickson of

Amy Kremer, if Romney wins six, maybe seven out of ten tomorrow, picks up well in excess of half the delegates after winning the last five states in a row, is he your nominee, like it or not?

AMY KREMER, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Well, look, I mean through the end of March, the delegates are proportional. It doesn't become until April when it's winner take all. So nothing is going to be decided until April.

KING: Nothing is going to be decided until April, and yet some people think just about everything could be decided, Erick, tomorrow night.

ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: If Mitt Romney wins Ohio, then I think he's the nominee. And I think he is going to win Ohio, so I think he will be the nominee...

KING: You say...


ERICKSON: ... whether I like it or not. Whether I like it or not, that's the reality.

Look, Santorum had a brilliant moment, and he lost it in Michigan. He focused on cultural issues in a way that couldn't relate to voters. He did, in the CNN debate in Mesa, Arizona, talk about cultural issues relating to families and how it was impacting families. He didn't do that otherwise. He lost the opportunity to connect families to jobs. didn't resonate with that message moving into Ohio.

And now in Georgia, where he had a solid second place, according to CNN's old polling, he's fallen below 20 percent, meaning he won't get any delegates in Georgia, where there's a huge evangelical push for him. The lights are turning out for the Santorum campaign.

KING: He says the lights are turning out. If you look at our new Ohio poll, Senator Santorum leads among those who say they're Tea Party supporters...

KREMER: Right.

KING: ... in the ballpark of a 10-point lead. Among everyone else, Governor Romney leads. If Romney is your nominee, whither the Tea Party? Will they take a deep breath, maybe wallow for a couple of months and be there in November? Or will he have a problem?

KREMER: Look, John, whoever our nominee is, I believe that we're going to get behind them and support them, because we want to defeat Barack Obama. But I mean, because we don't have a front-runner right now, it's clearly -- it's a clear indication that none of these candidates are strong with the people across the country. They're not happy.

And that's exactly why Tea Party Express, why we've been focused on the Senate, because we want to let this play out. I mean, you called me a Romney skeptic. I'm just not happy with any of these candidates right now. Unfortunately, we don't have a Ronald Reagan running, and I think that's what a lot of people across this country have wanted.

KING: And after tomorrow, let's assume Gingrich wins Georgia and only Georgia. He's not going to go anywhere, right? Because he sees Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana coming up. So is this field we have, and if this is the field we have, I just asked John Brabender of the Santorum campaign, with four candidates staying in the race beyond March into April, how is Romney now?

ERICKSON: The problem is the math works against Mitt Romney, believe it or not, because you have delegates who are committed to candidates for the election. You have delegates who are uncommitted to the candidates, who may become committed but aren't locked in.

When you look at the states, including only eight winner-take-all states coming up, there's a problem for Mitt Romney with the math. They could drag this out until August, but you know and I know the pressure behind the scenes getting building. The Sheldon Adelsons stop giving their money to the Newt Gingrich super PAC. The Santorum super PAC runs out of money.

Then suddenly, they're left with options. We have no money. Do we continue and potentially hurt the nominee and be blamed in the history books for it? Or do we go along and line up behind him?

KING: When you look at that calculation, some people say, "Well, look, the longer this goes on, the more it helps President Obama." Does that matter to you?

KREMER: Well, it's been a concern all along that all of these candidates are beating each other up and using all of their money to beat each other up. I mean, when President Obama's out there raising money, you know, left and right, in the general election, it's definitely a concern.

We need a strong constitutional conservative. and right now, we just don't feel like we have that.

KING: He's mostly raising money left.

KREMER: Well, you know what I mean. But yes, he is raising money left.


KING: Amy Kremer, Erick Erickson, thanks for coming in. A big day tomorrow.

Join us tomorrow. Remember, Super Tuesday, noon eastern for a live virtual round table. An election panel will answer questions from CNN iReporters about the presidential election and explore the issues you care about. Go to at noon Eastern tomorrow.

Kate Bolduan is back now with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello, again.

BOLDUAN: Hello again.

And hello again, everyone.

Attorney General Eric Holder, he says that the U.S. can legally target and kill American citizens overseas if they are tied to terrorism and pose an immediate threat. He made the argument today in Illinois months after the death of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American al- Qaeda figure in Yemen.

Critics, though, say the decision denies American citizens their right to a trial.

And a group of Girl Scouts was robbed of their cookie money outside a Texas Wal-Mart over the weekend. But get this: they fought back. The girls saw a man snatch the cash box from the cookie table Saturday before sliding into a getaway car. Instead of shouting for help, one girl punched the passenger. Another ran alongside the vehicle, if you can believe it. Unfortunately, the suspect still got away with about $200 in cash.

And disgraced former New York Mets star Lenny Dykstra was sentenced to three years in prison in a Los Angeles courtroom today. In October, he pleaded no contest to three counts of grand theft auto and filing a false financial statement.




BOLDUAN: Wow. What you're watching is not a movie stunt. That's a real chopper crashing in the Arizona desert last week while filming a stunt for a Korean version of the car show "Top Gear." It looks pretty scary, but local police say fortunately no one was seriously injured, which is really amazing when you see that video. No word yet on what caused the COBRA helicopter to go down.

And sad news. The comedian who made us all do a double take with his impressions of George W. Bush, he has died. Steve Bridges was found dead at his L.A. home Saturday, according to his manager. He was 48 years old. We're watching -- we're going to show you a video of his 2006 performance at the White House Correspondents Dinner alongside the president. We will never forget it, because it was tough to tell who's who.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As you know, I always look forward to these dinners.

STEVE BRIDGES, COMEDIAN: It's just a bunch of media types.

BUSH: Hollywood liberals, Democrats like Joe Biden. BRIDGES: How come I can't have dinner with the 36 percent of the people who like me?


BOLDUAN: He was very, very talented, John.

KING: That was a great dinner. A lot of fun. Sad to see him go. The comedy and fun in politics.

Kate, we'll see you tomorrow.

We'll see all of you tomorrow, too. It's Super Tuesday. Don't miss it. Our special coverage starts right here, 6 p.m. tomorrow night.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.