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JOHN KING, USA

George Clooney Goes to Jail for a Cause; Tensions With Afghanistan Escalate

Aired March 16, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. I'm John King.

Tonight, Afghanistan's leader accuses the United States military of not telling the truth about the massacre of Afghan civilians. And he warns the U.S.-Afghan relationship is in his words at the end of the rope.

Also, the implications of today's guilty verdicts in the case of a college student who used his Webcam to spy on his gay roommate.

And actor George Clooney goes to jail in order to bring attention to a crisis halfway around the world.

We begin tonight with the latest round of accusations in the tense relationship and now tenuous relationship between the United States and Afghanistan. Today the Afghan president Hamid Karzai met with the relatives of some of the 16 civilians who died in Sunday's massacre which U.S. officials blame on one U.S. Army staff sergeant.

Karzai spoke by phone with President Obama. The Afghan president made clear he doesn't believe the U.S. version of events. And he says he's running out of patience.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HAMID KARZAI, PRESIDENT OF AFGHANISTAN: It is by all means the end of the rope here, the end of the rope. Nobody can afford such luxuries anymore.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Sara Sidner is in Kabul for us tonight.

Sara, what do we know about this conversation between the two presidents? Did President Karzai convey that end of the rope atmospheric to President Obama?

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm not sure that he did. But he certainly said that Mr. Obama was upset with him.

He talked in Pashto talking to the people that were there that he was there to listen. And he told them that he was upset with him because Mr. Karzai had asked for this transition from having NATO forces in control of many parts of the country to having Afghan forces take control by 2013, as opposed to 2014. And so you can see that there was some frustration there on both sides if indeed Mr. Obama was upset with him over that statement that was made.

And it seems that maybe they weren't expecting it. The U.S. perhaps not expecting to hear that from Mr. Karzai when Mr. Panetta was here visiting and having talks with him at that time, John.

KING: Sara, we know U.S. officials hoping to tamp down the outrage over this massacre have shown Afghan surveillance video of the alleged gunman. The U.S. side saying this video should prove that this was the act of just one person. What was President Karzai's reaction to that?

SIDNER: Interesting. We asked him about that directly at the presidential palace today as he was about to leave after he had sat for more than an hour listening to villagers tell their stories of what happened on Sunday.

And he said -- quote -- "I'm not convinced." He said that his investigative team did see that surveillance video, but there's a lot of skepticism surrounding that video. And a lot of people saying that they're not quite sure if that was actually the night it happened, they're not quite sure if this is actually the soldier. They're not quite sure if there were other soldiers perhaps involved.

All of the villagers talked in sentences like we do not believe one soldier could do this, could pull off this massacre that was in several homes and in a couple of different villages. It sounds to me like Mr. Karzai's reiterating that by saying, well, based on what these villagers are telling me, that it was not one soldier.

So interesting comments coming there, certainly going to make some tension, at least the tensions will grow between the U.S. and Afghanistan if more statements like that are made by Mr. Karzai, John.

KING: Tensions, distrust and more. Sara Sidner for us live in Kabul, Sara, thanks so much.

The still unidentified U.S. Army staff sergeant accused in this massacre is being flown to the detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, today. That information comes to us from his attorney, rather than military officials. Those military officials are staying tight- lipped about this case.

But our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has been working his sources.

Chris, so because the suspect here, the staff sergeant is arriving at Fort Leavenworth, where does that take us in the process? Does that mean we're closer to charges or it just means he has a new place for detention?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the actual way we have been told him is that him coming to Fort Leavenworth is separate from actual charges being filed.

But we are told that it's likely that he will be in Fort Leavenworth probably within the next few hours or at least by later on tonight. But again, charges we may not see those until possibly tomorrow. However, there is a good chance we may know exactly who this man is by the time he actually lands and is taken into Fort Leavenworth.

KING: Interesting, because that's one of obviously the big questions we're trying answer, exactly who is the suspect. Chris, as we try to get this information, as we watch the transfer a lot of theories floating around out there what might have led to this tragedy. What are your sources telling you?

LAWRENCE: They're all telling me, John, don't look for that one size fits all explanation to say that's exactly why he did it, that they're looking at his medical history, how he was evaluated before he was sent back to deployment.

They're looking at what happened to him while he was in Afghanistan, he and his unit, members of his unit. They're looking at his personal life. I was told that when you look at something like this, it's easy to point to one cause, assign a motive and move on. He said -- the source that I talked to said when you really get down to it, I think what you're going to see is a set of factors so to speak, a number of things that may have contributed to what happened that night.

KING: Chris Lawrence live for us tonight at the Pentagon. Chris, thanks so much.

Also tonight, a fascinating footnote to the death of Osama bin Laden. New details of what bin Laden was plotting before U.S. forces killed him. Among other things, bin Laden wanted to assassinate President Obama.

According to "The Washington Post," newly translated documents seized during the raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan quote the al Qaeda leader as saying, get this, "Obama is the head of infidelity. Killing him automatically will make Biden take over the presidency. Biden is totally," bin Laden wrote, "unprepared for that post, which will lead the U.S. into a crisis."

The documents also reveal that bin Laden was worried that al Qaeda had tarnished its image by killing so many Muslims in the midst of its jihad against the United States.

A former Rutgers University student was found guilty today of using a Webcam to spy on and to intimidate his gay roommate, Tyler Clementi. The defendant in this case, Dharun Ravi, did not flinch as the jury read off a string of guilty verdicts. You will remember Tyler Clementi killed himself in 2001 just days after his dorm room date with a man was secretly streamed online.

After the verdict, Clementi's father said the bullying has to stop.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE CLEMENTI, FATHER: To our college, high school and even middle school youngsters, I would say this. You're not necessarily going to -- you're going to meet a lot of people in your lifetime. Some of these people you may not like.

But just because you don't like them does not mean you have to work against them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's analyze this important case. Our CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with us in New York.

Jeffrey, the defendant in this case again, Dharun Ravi, guilty of privacy invasion, bias intimidation, witness tampering and hindering arrest. Up to 10 years in prison, possibly deportation. The verdict make sense to you?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it does.

But this is a very difficult case. It's very unusual to have a criminal case where the facts are not in dispute. The defense and the prosecution agreed what happened here. The only issue really in this case was what was Ravi's intent? What was going on in his head?

His defense was, look, this is just a knuckle-headed kid who was basically pulling a prank, whereas the prosecution said no, this was no prank, this was a targeted hate crime. And that's what the jury believed.

KING: And you say targeted hate crime. Part of the issue here is obviously Tyler Clementi killed himself. I want you to listen to the prosecutor trying to explain one of the things they wanted to say is that he was intimidated by this. Let's listen to the prosecutor.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRUCE KAPLAN, PROSECUTOR: The investigation of this case provided very, very unique challenges, such as we did not have Tyler to assist us in the investigation. We did not have Tyler to tell us in his own words and in person what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So how then to get to a state of mind question, did he feel intimidated, when obviously he was deceased?

TOOBIN: Well, this was a case where there were enormous numbers of e-mails, Twitter posts. I mean, there was just a tremendous amount of electronic record of what people thought.

And some of it was contradictory. There were times that Tyler Clementi was sort of laughing off what was going on, and there were times when he was obviously heartbroken. And the fact that he killed himself obviously speaks louder than anything. So, I mean, it really was a case reconstructed from the electronic records. And those -- you know, those didn't lie. Everybody -- you could tell what was happening in real time with all of the people involved in the case.

KING: It was obviously a highly publicized case. Received attention all the way up to the president of the United States. Set aside for a minute the high profile of the case. Anything unique or interesting about the law of this case?

TOOBIN: Oh, yes, absolutely.

I mean, whether this is actually a hate crime is something that I think an appeals court is going to take a very hard look at. I mean, hate crimes are -- the classic one is dragging a gay guy behind a truck because you hate him. I mean, those are what the law was designed to do.

Whether showing a real-time video is a hate crime is something that I think some courts may say is simply not a hate crime. I mean, this is a -- if this were just a Peeping Tom case, that would be a misdemeanor. This becomes a 10-year felony because of what the prosecutors said his state of mind was. That may be right. But I don't know if it's right. And I think it's just -- it's going to be an interesting, tough call for an appeals court.

KING: Well, when you say you don't know, and it's an interesting, tough call, take us through that process. What will the questions be when you get to the appeals court level?

TOOBIN: Well, the question will be, did the New Jersey state legislature have this kind of conduct in mind when it passed the hate crimes law?

Because given the -- this was not a traditional crime of violence. In fact, one of the peculiar aspects of this case is -- the background to the case was what everybody knows and what is so heartbreaking and awful about this case is that Tyler Clementi killed himself. But Ravi was not charged with participating or causing the suicide.

He was just charged with the hate crime. And so whether that activity of showing the naked or semi-naked pictures that were taken from the Webcam in his room amounts to a hate crime is something I think an appeals court may have trouble saying it is.

KING: Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, fascinating case. We will watch as it goes forward. Jeff, thanks so much for your help and your insights tonight.

TOOBIN: OK, John.

KING: Want to bring you up to speed now on some breaking news. We told you at the top of the program we were still waiting to identify the Army staff sergeant who is suspected of committing that massacre last week in Afghanistan.

Well, a military source now confirms to Barbara Starr the suspect is Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. His name has not been officially released by the military. But sources are telling Barbara Starr again his name is -- staff sergeant.

Let's go live now to Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon to try to get although more on this.

Chris, now we have the name of the staff sergeant. Obviously it's easier now to look at his record and all of that. What is next?

LAWRENCE: Well, basically, John, yes, we just confirmed with a second source here at the Pentagon that it is Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.

He was a 1st Platoon sergeant there in Afghanistan, did a lot of work with the tribal elders there. Actually I have been online just in the last minute or two. Saw some photos of him working with some of the Afghans with some of the work that he was doing there in the short time of over past few months that he was there.

The next step is for him to arrive at Fort Leavenworth. We're told that will likely happen some time tonight, probably maybe within the next few hours or so. Once he gets to Fort Leavenworth, the usual procedure is he will be given a lengthy physical and psychological exam to see where best he should be placed at Fort Leavenworth.

And then you start to get into the legal process. First up obviously down the road would be Article 32 hearing which is sort of a -- think of probable cause hearing in a civilian court. From there, the ball just keeps rolling.

The one caveat to this case, and this is really getting way ahead of ourselves, but if this is referred as a death penalty case, the one caveat is going to be in that sort of case the prosecution cannot use sworn statements or depositions. They have to actually produce the witness. And the defense has the right to look at his accusers and to cross-examine those witnesses.

How that would play with these Afghan villagers in a very remote part of Afghanistan possibly being brought here to the United States, that's something to keep an eye on down the road, John.

KING: Fascinating question. Chris Lawrence, thank you for your reporting live at the Pentagon.

Again just to recap, sources telling Chris Lawrence and Barbara Starr identifying for the first time the suspect, the Army staff sergeant, the suspect in that massacre that killed 16 Afghan civilians. He is Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. And as Chris has reported, he's on his way to the detention center in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, tonight. More on this breaking news as our reporting comes in.

And coming up here, CNN's Fareed Zakaria explains what this week's massacre in Afghanistan means for the future of U.S. troops on the ground there.

Plus, if Mitt Romney can't seal the deal, are Republicans ready for a brokered convention? I will ask the chairman of the Republican National Committee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We will be prepared for anything. We have got four great candidates that are running for president. One of these four candidates will be our nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Afghan President Hamid Karzai isn't convinced the U.S. military is telling the truth about last weeks' shooting spree that killed 16 Afghans. After meeting with families of the victims today, President Karzai criticized the U.S. for what he calls a lack of support during this investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARZAI: The Afghan investigative team did not receive the cooperation that they expected from the United States. Therefore, these are all questions that we will be raising and raising very loudly. It is by all means the end of the rope here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining me now to discuss this, Fareed Zakaria, the host of course of CNN's "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS."

Fareed, President Karzai says he's at the end of his rope. I'm sure there are a lot of people in this country who would say for years they have been at the end of their rope. If you look at -- this is a horrible tragedy but would we be in this position if there weren't so much corruption in the Karzai government, if there weren't so much inertia in the Afghan government, if it wasn't taking 10 years and we still can't answer the question, are the Afghan security troops ready to take on the security challenge?

Is this relationship done?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: This relationship has always been very tough.

And I share the frustration that a lot of people have. I have always felt that we needed a much smaller mission in Afghanistan that was focused on killing bad guys, rather than trying to nation-build in Afghanistan. But in this particular case, let's be clear.

We are at fault in the sense that this was a terrible tragedy done by an individual soldier. But let's hope that President Karzai is just kind of exaggerating to get attention. But we should be cooperating. And we should be trying to provide whatever assistance we can.

KING: And so as part of the fallout here, President Karzai says he wants to get the troops out of the villages and bring them back to their bases. As you know, a key element of counterinsurgency is to get into those villages, to try to build the trust so when the troops eventually do leave, those people then have enough trust in themselves and in their local security forces and the Taliban does not come back.

Is President Karzai right? Is it time for United States troops to pull back?

ZAKARIA: What are we hearing? The villagers don't want us. The president of the country doesn't want us. The local chiefs don't want us. What are we doing there? Building trust, but obviously that trust is not being built if they don't want us there.

And the simplest way to put it is, we have been in Afghanistan for 10 years. They're tired of having these foreign troops in their country. It's understandable and we should be moving to a much lower- profile mission that is really devoted to trying to attack and destroy al Qaeda and associated terrorist groups.

This whole task of trying this unending nation-building project in Afghanistan is just not going to work. You know, we may stabilize Kandahar or Helmand or places like that, but, trust me, five years from now after we have left, those places will look a lot like they have looked. They will revert to their historical destiny.

KING: That's a very sober assessment.

Let me change the subject. You have a big special coming up this weekend, the "GPS" road map for saving health care. In the current presidential campaign, the Obama health care initiative is a subject of huge debate. It's not even fully implemented yet. The Republicans say it's a disaster, it will raise health care costs, there's too much bureaucracy, takes away personal choice.

The administration of course says it expands access and in the end, once fully implemented, will be a great thing.

Can we answer the question or are we just going to have a campaign debate about it?

ZAKARIA: What the Swiss found was they had a system much like ours. Private doctors, private insurers, private hospitals. But everyone was having the same problems, which was the healthy wouldn't buy insurance. The insurance companies were trying to throw anyone who was sick off their rolls. And you were getting into this downward spiral.

So they passed an individual mandate. They basically passed Obamacare 20 years ago. The results have been very positive, lower costs, better quality. So you end up -- once you look at it from the point of view of facts rather than ideology, you end up recognizing that to make health care work, it's very difficult to do it if everyone is not insured, if everyone isn't in the system, because otherwise the healthy people don't want to buy insurance and the insurance companies want to take the sick people off their rolls. So I don't know whether Obamacare is constitutional. That's above my pay grade. At some level, I would say it's inevitable, looking at health care around the world.

KING: Looking forward to learning about that and more. Fareed Zakaria, thank you.

ZAKARIA: A pleasure.

KING: And Fareed's special, "Global Lessons: The GPS Road Map for Saving Health Care," airs Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern.

Mitt Romney is in Puerto Rico tonight and Rick Santorum's campaign is accusing him of flip-flopping and pandering. More on that in just a little bit.

But, next, a public safety group says it's time to fine pedestrians for crossing the street while texting or listening to music. Does that mean you?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Coming up: If none of the Republican presidential hopefuls can garner enough delegates, there could be -- drum roll, please -- a brokered convention.

That puts my next guest, the Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus, in one tough position.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Ahead this half hour, bilingual bickering on the campaign trail. Puerto Rico votes Sunday, and the Republican frontrunners are fighting over the island's official language.

President Obama's team rolls out an ad worthy of Hollywood. The truth about whether it will win over voters or remind them, or at least some, they're still waiting on that promise of hope.

And we're going inside the Senate's zone of civility. Women who cross party lines to support one another.

We'll talk politics in a moment. But first we're going to get back to some breaking news.

We now know the name of the U.S. soldier accused of last Sunday's massacre in Afghanistan. And you're going to see first photos of him right here. Military sources tell CNN that Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is the one accused of killing Afghan civilians, including nine children. We'll bring you more on this story as soon as we get it. More news coming in by the second here. Tonight, though, shifting back to politics, Mitt Romney is in Puerto Rico this evening, campaigning in advance of Sunday's presidential primary there. No surprise: as soon as he stepped off the plane this afternoon Romney was asked whether he agrees with rival Rick Santorum that English should be Puerto Rico's principal language before it can gain statehood.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: English has been an official language of Puerto Rico for 100 years. And I think, selecting the words of your governor, Spanish is the language of Puerto Rico's heritage. English is the language of opportunity. I would hope that young people would learn both languages, but particularly English.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Santorum camp now accuses Governor Romney of flip-flopping on the language issue. CNN national political correspondent Jim Acosta is in San Juan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, as you can hear they're striking up the band behind me for this Mitt Romney event that's going to get started in just a few moments from now.

But the former Massachusetts governor had no choice but to wade into the politics of language here in Puerto Rico earlier this afternoon. When he arrived here on the island he held a brief press conference, where he was previously pressed on the issue whether or not Puerto Rico should adopt English as its official language as a condition for statehood.

He said during that news conference that no, there should be no preconditions. The Santorum campaign immediately jumped on that and accused Romney of a flip-flop on the issue, noting that earlier this year at a CNN debate, Romney said that English should be the official language of the United States and that, according to the Santorum campaign, that should extend to Puerto Rico.

The Romney campaign responded very quickly to that and said, no, this is not a reversal. Whether or not English is the official language of the United States should have no bearing on Puerto Rican statehood. So that's the response from the Romney campaign.

But all of this goes to show you that all politics is local, even in Puerto Rico. And nobody knows that more at this point than Rick Santorum. He invested two days of his time campaigning down here before this primary on Sunday. And he stumbled on this issue, telling reporters earlier this week that he does believe it should be a condition for statehood for Puerto Rico to adopt English as one of its official languages. That did not go over well here in Puerto Rico, and it could cost him in the primary on Sunday, John. KING: The candidates are literally all over the map today. You just saw Mitt Romney in Puerto Rico. Rick Santorum is campaigning in Missouri and Illinois. Newt Gingrich is in Louisiana. They're talk gas prices, foreign policy. But one topic that keeps coming up: the possibility of a brokered convention. The frontrunner, Governor Romney, plays that down.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Look. We're not going to go to a brokered convention.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not?

ROMNEY: No. One or the other of us among the three or four that are running is going to get the delegates necessary to become the nominee.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But if it did come to that, a brokered convention, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, boy, would he have an interesting job. And that chairman, Reince Priebus, is with us now.

Mr. Chairman, on a scale of 1 to 10, one being no way, 10 being yes, how likely?

REINCE PRIEBUS, CHAIRMAN, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE: Honestly, John, I don't think it matters. I think that, in the end, it's not going to be about a brokered convention or what we do there. I think what it's going to be about is whether or not people believe that this president deserves to be re-elected. It's going to be a referendum on Barack Obama, no matter which of our candidates becomes the nominee.

KING: So in the modern times the conventions haven't mattered. It's essentially a big campaign ad for the nominee of either party. They show up; they already have the delegates locked up.

Have you as the chairman, have you asked -- are you yourself looking at the rules? Ask the attorneys to look at the rules just in case? Because you would be the man in the middle.

PRIEBUS: Well, I know the rules pretty well as general counsel of the RNC, John. And we live the rules every day. And we'll be prepared for anything.

We've got four great candidates that are running for president. One of these four candidates will be our nominee. And in the end, this will be a referendum on Barack Obama and whether the words coming out of his mouth came to fruition and whether he fulfilled the promises to the American people.

And the good news for the Republicans are -- is that if you look at the RealClearPolitics average, no matter what you look at, we're in the margin right now, and we're breaking records for money coming in the door at the RNC. So all of this -- all of this discussion hasn't amounted to us losing ground against the president either in polling or in money. So I like our chances.

KING: You said one of these four candidates is going to be our nominee. As you know, and you travel the country quite a bit, Mr. Chairman, there are people out there in your party who say, "If we get to a brokered convention -- aha! -- That's how we get Chris Christie. That's how we get Jeb Bush. That's how we get Mitch Daniels." You say impossible?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, impossible is a pretty big word. But one of these four candidates will be our nominee. These are the four candidates that are standing. These are the four -- one of the four people who put their name out there to go through the process, to make their case to the American people. I like what it's doing for our party.

KING: I want to ask you a broader question, an issue that has come up both in the presidential context and the congressional context is part of the health-care debate. Coverage of contraception. Whether the government should be involved. Whether the government should be funding Planned Parenthood. A number of different questions that have come up.

But some people look at the polling data, and they certainly look at what the Democrats are doing, and they think perhaps there's an opening here. Perhaps the Republicans are being hurt a little bit.

Mr. Chairman, it's not just Democrats saying this. I want you to listen to here Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: I think that that was an unfortunate place for us to be. I think that my party is in an unfortunate place right now, as viewed by many, many women in this country who are feeling very anxious about what they believe to be attacks on women's health.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Senator Murkowski have a point?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, sure, I mean, if you restate a lie enough times on television, then obviously, you have to undo a lie that's out there. And the fact that the Democratic Party says that we have a war on women doesn't make it so.

I mean, the reality is, is that what this is and what this started as is whether or not the Obama world of big government could tell the Vatican and the Catholic Church what types of religious practices they could engage in or not. And it's an affront to the First Amendment, and James Madison, and the Bill of Rights. And that's what we engage in. In fact, I mean, Vice President Biden said, "Hey, we screwed up." Those are his words, not mine.

KING: Has anyone in your party, in your view -- has anyone in your party, in your view, overplayed their hand in response? Senator Murkowski, I believe, there is referring to the Blunt Amendment, which would be a blanket. Essentially, opening for businesses to deny that they had any moral objection to contraception.

The Democrats are trying to take advantage of that politically. Did it go too far? Was the timing maybe bad?

PRIEBUS: I mean, I'm not going to unleash on Lisa Murkowski's comments. You know, it's up to her. She can say whatever she wants. My point is, is that the Democrats, if they claim that, you know, we have a war on one group or the next doesn't make it so. That's my point.

My point is, is that this is about Obama care, which Republicans and Democrats have rejected. And it will be on the ballot in November.

And the war on women is a war that this president has perpetrated in regard to the economy, jobs, getting people back to work, getting gas prices to a place that we can afford them. That's a war on women.

I mean, maybe we should, you know, ask Anita Dunn whether or not there's a war on women in the White House.

I mean, this is just silliness. It's a distraction. It's small ball. This is about liberty, freedom, and getting the American economy back on track. And this president's failed at every level. And that's what this election is going to be about, not based on lies coming from the Democratic Party.

KING: This debate will continue, as will many others. Mr. Chairman, appreciate your time tonight.

PRIEBUS: Thank you.

KING: The Obama campaign has a new ad out and it's a long one. With 140,000 views already on YouTube, you could call it a viral hit. But might it also stir up memories that the campaign would rather voters forget? Tonight's "Truth" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Team Obama calls the new 17-minute-long "The Road We've Traveled" a documentary. The president's critics call it propaganda. There is no argument that it is an extended campaign ad. And as such, it is not meant to be objective.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not since the days of Franklin Roosevelt had so much fallen on the shoulders of one president. And when he faced his country, who looked to him for answers, he would not dwell in blame or dreamy idealism.

(END VIDEO CIP)

KING: It's already a hit on YouTube. And the idea is to use it at Obama house parties this campaign year to inspire local Democrats. That's good politics and perfectly appropriate. And you have to tip your cap to team Obama for a well-hyped rollout that is getting "The Road We've Traveled" a ton of media attention.

But here's tonight's "Truth." There's a risk here. This well- produced film that no doubt inspires Democrats could, if they see it, also raise questions in people less sure about supporting the president when he asks for re-election in November.

This opening scene, Chicago's Grant Park on election night, is both an uplifting flashback. But might it also not be a reminder that three plus years later, some are still waiting for the promised hope and change?

Now, one shouldn't expect the president's team to be anything but positive and complimentary. But this from the filmmaker, Davis Guggenheim, borders on arrogant.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PIERS MORGAN, CNN ANCHOR: What are the negatives in your movie about Barack Obama?

DAVIS GUGGENHEIM, FILMMAKER: Well, I mean, the negative for me was there were too many accomplishments. I had 17 minutes to put them all in there.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Might not surprise you the Republican frontrunner, Mitt Romney, takes issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Mr. Guggenheim said that he could find nothing wrong with the president. Nothing negative to say in this documentary. It's obviously an infomercial. And I thought, well, I'll give you some help, Mr. Guggenheim.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now truth is, it's a tricky balance: promoting an incumbent president in the middle of uneven and uncertain economic times. Of course the president is proud of his accomplishments. And the film makes a strong case about the economic ditch the president inherited. Tom Hanks is the narrator.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TOM HANKS, NARRATOR: Time and time again, we would see rewards from tough decisions he had made. Not for quick political gain, but for long-term and enduring change.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now again an auto worker who credits the bailout for his or her job might nod or even cheer there or a 24-year-old, now covered a bit longer on a parent's healthcare policy.

But the overall unemployment rate is higher now than when the president took office. The number of Americans living in poverty is also up. Not everyone sees or feels the rewards the movie promotes.

Now, President Obama isn't the first incumbent to face the challenge of selling himself in tough times. He is, though, the first to turn to Hollywood for such high-profile help. The early reviews of "The Road We've Traveled," well, they tend to break, not surprisingly, along partisan lines. Truth is, the review that matters most 235 days away.

Let's talk truth now. Joining me, CNN contributor and former Bush speech writer David Frum; Nancy Pfotenhauer, the president's media speech strategist; and opinion writer for "U.S. News & World Report," a CNN contributor, Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.

To the Democrat in the conversation first. It's a campaign year. They're supposed to be promoting the president. But there's a little bit of a line there, no?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, sure there is, John. But like you said in your intro, this is focused on making sure to get the base riled up, fired up and ready to go, as the president likes to say.

But I think it is also, to your point -- when independents see it, yes, they see the beginning of it as wow, we remember this. What happened. But if they -- if they see the whole thing, I think it's also intended to explain exactly the difficulties that he inherited and the tough decisions that he had to make. And frankly, you know, the media's talked about this, a lot of times his decisions weren't meant to be politically expedient, but they were meant to -- he has done what he thought was right, regardless of that political expediency. And I think in the minds of independents that's going to help.

KING: And now your Republicans and conservatives to Maria's right, appropriately, I guess. But to the idea of just the narrative. It looks back. We're in March. If the Obama team is looking back and explaining what was the situation once they took office -- and they have a pretty powerful case here about the economy was a mess.

But as Bill Clinton, your former boss used to always say. I was on a radio show with Jackie Kuhns (ph), the "New York Times" earlier. She reminds us, Bill Clinton used to always say, "No, don't ever look back. Elections are about the future."

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, and they wallow in it. I mean, this is a 17-minute-long pity party. And like you're saying, I love...

CARDONA: Tom Hanks?

PFOTENHAUER: I could not get through all 17 minutes. And I think it's a Pavlovian response left over from 2008 in my part. I will acknowledge that up front. But I liked Tom Hanks better in "The Polar Express."

This is -- and the line, "We don't dwell in blame" when they spend, you know, how many minutes of that documentary, you know, talking about how it's everybody else's fault. So I think that's a real problem.

And a lot of the critics are starting to say, "What did you do about the debt? What did you do about the deficit? You mentioned unemployment." We could go on and on.

So I'm not sure it makes the case. And I don't think it works with independents.

KING: David, this is your business. You're a words guy and a message guy. This is the beginning of their re-election narrative.

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Yes, but what is fascinating, words tell us about ourselves. They reveal who we are. You talk about appealing to the base, who are the Democratic base?

If you're a donor, if you're one of the wealthier top 5 percent or 1 percent of Democrats, this message is going to be very compelling. Your portfolio is up. Your recession is over. You're getting the Fairchild (ph) catalog alive in some ZIP codes today offering the $70,000 private jet tour of Africa. That's fantastic. Things have really begun to turn around.

But the old Democratic base, the people who, you know, work for a living, their recession isn't over. To many, it's been unrelenting, grinding misery. And what is -- of course, you put your best foot forward. But it seems so disconnected, this video, from the people who used to be the Democratic party.

CARDONA: You mean like the 1 million auto workers whose jobs were saved by what the president did?

KING: Well, I think the different parts of the country. The president seems to get this better than -- I want to be fair, it's Davis Guggenheim in an interview with Piers Morgan when he said they were having a hard time; you know, there were so many accomplishments.

PFOTENHAUER: Many.

KING: The president does seem to get this. Let's listen to the president himself. This is today at a fundraiser.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It's not as trendy to be involved in the Obama campaign as it was back then. So of you, you know, rolled up those "Hope" posters, and they're in a closet somewhere. But -- but I am more determined and more confident that what drove us in 2008 is the right thing for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now, again, that's preaching to the choir. He's at a fundraiser. People paid money to hear that speech. But that's more calibrated, is it not? That "I understand not all of you have those -- you're not all celebrating hope anymore, but..."

FRUM: Well, look again who he's talking to and who he's talking for. One of the things that is really terrible that has happened the past three years is the way that the political class of both parties has detached itself from the country, that political class efforts. I think a lot of people in 2008 looked at Barack Obama and thought this is going to be a way to break through that disconnect. And it is thicker than ever.

PFOTENHAUER: I think he's -- he's fundamentally a cerebral guy and he is a bit distant because of that, and he doesn't have a natural warmth. He has more of a natural cerebral aspect. And unfortunately, I didn't see -- to put on -- to be as objective as possible, I didn't see that connect happen in this 17-minute ad. And the question is, can he make it happen on the campaign trial?

CARDONA: And here's the other thing I think this ad is intended to do, and actually, George Bush did this very long in 2004. Which is things are going in the right direction. For George Bush, it was about national security. So why change the coach in mid game?

And that's why they showed the graphs that they showed about the unemployment. And even though somebody's not feeling it, they do see those numbers and they say, OK, my job is going to be next. Let's not change the coach. I think that part of the psychology...

KING: That psychology is the question of the campaign. Ask President George H.W. Bush. Sometimes even the statistics, they are changing, people don't feel it.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: Bounce back from a recession and people are not in joy.

FRUM: And average pay is less than it was 12 months ago.

KING: David, Nancy, Maria, thanks for coming in on a Friday night.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin, the U.S. Army staff sergeant, we now know his name, Robert Bales, accused in the Afghan massacre. Being flown to Leavenworth, Kansas. How are you dealing with that story tonight?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to have the very latest. We've been trying to get more information on exactly who this man is. We can tell you a little bit about him. About where he was born and actually been looking at some stories in recent -- from the past couple of years that cite him as a part of battles that he was a part of in Iraq.

So, we have the very latest on him and exactly, potentially, what might happen to him. We're going to talk about whether it will be a military tribunal, where he may be tried with a punishment and may be tried, John, and what the punishment might be. That's at the top of the hour.

Plus, Osama bin Laden. We have some information, things off that computer, remember, that was found in the safe house in Abbottabad where he died. Well, we've got that information. And we're going to tell you exactly what he was planning against the president of the United States.

All that top of the hour, back to you.

KING: Important stories. We'll see you in just a few minutes, Erin. Thank you.

Coming up here, we reflect on a moment that changed presidential politics. I was talking to Arsenio Hall today, and guess what? He's Piers Morgan tonight. And asked him about Bill Clinton and his saxophone.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Here's Lisa Sylvester with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello again.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.

Kofi Annan has a warning to the U.N. and the world. The situation in Syria could escalate if it is not handled carefully. The U.N. says 8,000 people have died in the yearlong crisis. Annan says he's doing his best to find a peaceful solution after meeting with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad last weekend. He's sending a team to the country this weekend to keep those talks going.

President Obama has been a very busy man today with five -- count them -- five campaign fund-raisers. He started the day with a pair of events in Chicago. Then it was on to Atlanta for three more stops, all with big price tags. And he is expected to raise more than $5 million by the time he gets back to Washington tonight, and that is a pretty good haul for one day.

The third generation iPad hit the market today, attracting a flood of customers at Apple stores across the country. The new version of Apple's widely popular tablet will be the first to connect to the 4G network. You will also get a 5 megapixel camera and a higher resolution screen. The cheapest version will set you back about $500.

And Yankees fans, listen up. Andy Pettitte is planning a comeback after a one-year retirement. The Yankees signed the veteran left-handed pitcher to a contract that could be worth $2.5 million, but he'll start in the minor leagues. Pettitte has racked up 240 wins over his career.

So how about that? What do you make of that?

KING: Yankees, what was that, the minor league. People are going minor league baseball team, what are those guys? You know what? I'm a Red Sox fan, but I've always been a big fan of Andy Pettitte. We'll see if he makes it back to the majors. And then we'll beat him.

All right. Listen, don't go anywhere. Finally tonight's "Moment You Don't Want to Miss." Arsenio Hall is the guest host on CNN "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT." And you might remember Arsenio had his own late-late show back in 1992. I was covering this campaign. This guy named Bill Clinton, he was the governor of Arkansas, running for president.

And he went on and played the saxophone in front of a live audience. It was -- I remember it well. It was a big debate about whether this was smart or not for Governor Clinton. I asked Arsenio how he pulled it off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARSENIO HALL, FORMER LATE NIGHT HOST: At this time, because he was a governor, I didn't really see the magnitude of what could happen. I tried to book a governor. When he said yes, I asked him to wear my tie. When he said yes, I asked him to wear my sunglasses. When he said yes, I said, "Will you play saxophone." I even asked him for a reach around with Hillary, but he said no to that.

I just kept asking for things. And I've learned to never assume there will be a no because it might be a yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You remember that?

SYLVESTER: A whole lot of folks remember that. One of the things, I look at that, and I'm noticing the hair style. You obviously have a much younger Bill Clinton, President Clinton there. You also seen Arsenio Hall with that style from back in the early '90s.

KING: I remember that campaign. The governor was a little heavier there when he began the campaign. And I was too, at that point. Bill Clinton did a lot of donut stops in that campaign. That was also the boxers or briefs campaign.

SYLVESTER: Yes, I remember that very well.

KING: Ground-breaking. Ground-breaking campaign.

SYLVESTER: Yes. It's nice to see what Arsenio's doing, too.

KING: He looks great. I was mad at him. He looks -- he looks like he hasn't aged. I have.

Lisa, have a great weekend.

You have a great weekend, too. We'll see you Monday. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.