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JOHN KING, USA
New Developments in Trayvon Martin Case; North Korea Nuclear Threats; Interview With U.S. Ambassador to United Nations Susan Rice
Aired April 9, 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. I am John King.
Tonight, a big decision by the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case. Why no grand jury. And does that make it more likely or less likely the shooter, George Zimmerman, will face charges?
North Korea prepares a rocket launch and perhaps a nuclear test. What are we learning about its young untested leader?
And as President Obama promotes the Buffett rule, meaning higher taxes on millionaires, tonight's "Truth" explores how team Obama also hopes to create a Romney rule.
Start with the big development in the Trayvon Martin case. One woman will now decide if the neighborhood watch man that admits to shooting and killing Trayvon Martin will be arrested and charged. Special prosecutor Angela Corey has chosen not to use a grand jury to investigate the Florida teenager's death. It is up to her now to figure out whether to file charges against George Zimmerman or drop the case altogether.
As you can see there, peaceful protests but unrelenting protests marching here to the Sanford Police Department demanding an immediate arrest.
CNN's David Mattingly is live there in Sanford, Florida, tonight.
David, a lot of people say this was an unexpected move but not the family attorney. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF TRAYVON MARTIN: Anticipating that there would be no grand jury because the family has always been hopeful that there would just simply be an arrest. We have believed from day one that they had enough evidence to arrest the killer of Trayvon Martin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Help us understand, David, why does the Martin family attorney and the Martins think this is good news?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, by going to a grand jury, it could have given off signals the prosecutor in this case wasn't 100 percent certain that she had what it takes to get George Zimmerman arrested and then tried for that offense.
What this is saying now, though, is by taking this off the table, Angela Corey is cautioning everyone not to read anything into this about which way her office might be leaning as they continue with their investigation. So at this point no one can really say for sure what Angela Corey will do.
But one thing is certain. She is sitting squarely in the hot seat and is taking on that role of the decision maker in this case. She will decide the future of George Zimmerman.
KING: She will be the focus in the days ahead as we wait and what about the Zimmermans' family lawyer? What do they say?
MATTINGLY: Well, he did release a brief comment today to CNN. Hal Uhrig did say he was not surprised by this move by the special prosecutor.
He doesn't know what her decision will be ultimately about how this case is pursued, but he did say it was a courageous move on her part getting back to the idea that she is taking full responsibility for this and not going to a grand jury to make that big decision about whether or not George Zimmerman should be arrested.
KING: And, David, finally, she said she would take it this way, she would make the decision. Did she give any hint of a timetable?
MATTINGLY: No hint of a timetable, and by taking the grand jury off of the table here, there is no schedule now. We knew that a grand jury would have to be called. We knew when it would have to be seated. But now that a grand jury isn't involved she is now not only in control of the decision in this case, she is also in control of the timetable.
She is going to make this decision when she is ready to.
KING: David Mattingly live for us on the scene in Sanford, Florida, David, thank you.
Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and legal contributor Sunny Hostin both in New York.
We just heard from lawyers from both sides.
Sunny, I want to go to you first. If you're George Zimmerman, the man who is facing the potential charges here, is this a good or a bad development?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I don't think you can read into it either way. That's the bottom line, and especially because Angela Corey said from the very beginning when she got involved in this case on March 22 that in her experience when it comes to the justifiable use of force, which sort of has been bandied around in this case from the very beginning, she had never convened a grand jury.
The grand jury date of April 10 was the grand jury date set by her predecessor, the former state attorney handling this case, and so I think if you are Trayvon Martin's family or if you're George Zimmerman and George Zimmerman's family, you really can't read that much into this decision because it's a decision from the very beginning she sort of gave us all notice of.
KING: And, Jeff, let's stay focused on the law that Sunny is talking about, the Florida stand-your-ground law that says you can use deadly force if a person is attacked anywhere and has the right to believe, the right he believes it's necessary to prevent death or serious injury.
If you take that to a grand jury and you're the prosecutor and you think the person has acted wrongly, if you thought Mr. Zimmerman should face charges, you're taking a risk when you bring it to essentially a jury, right?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You are taking a risk and you are also possibly passing the buck. Sometimes prosecutors use grand juries as a way of saying, well, I thought the case was worth presenting, but the grand jury decided not to bring it.
That is sometimes the way prosecutors use grand juries. Here I think the prosecutor does deserve credit for being courageous and saying this is my decision and that's true in the vast majority of cases in Florida. Most criminal cases in Florida are not presented to grand juries. They're decided on by the prosecutors, and I think that's probably the appropriate case here.
There is no reason to bring in a grand jury. There are not a lot of witnesses here whose testimony is in dispute. The cops can interview people, and present their information to the prosecutor.
KING: And she was with us a little more than a week ago on this program and I asked her about the highly politicized nature of this case and so many politicians getting involved and public figures getting involved and demanding an immediate arrest and this was her take.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANGELA COREY, FLORIDA STATE'S ATTORNEY: The political outcry makes our job harder because any time there is a misunderstanding of the process based on what we are required to do under Florida law, it does make our job more difficult. We think what they will see in the long run is that this is a complicated law. It is an affirmative defense, justifiable use of deadly force, but we will leave no stone unturned in our quest to seek justice for Trayvon and for his parents.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Sunny, when you hear that, leave no stone unturned in our quest to seek justice, she also said she hoped to have at least a preliminary report within two weeks, which means sometime in the next several days. Anything surprise you there?
HOSTIN: Well, it does surprise me she uses the term seeking justice for Trayvon Martin and his family. That does surprise me. I think most prosecutors try to stay away from ultimate words like that, seeking justice, because that's what a prosecutor's job is, of course, seeking the truth and seeking justice.
But I think something that is also very interesting, John, in this case is had it gone to a grand jury, in Florida, a grand jury consists of no less than 15 grand jurors and no more than 21. But in order to get an indictment you have to have the vote of at least 12. And so with a complicated law like this, with the justifiable use of force defense, that's a very difficult concept for laypeople, and it is possible that you present a case like that in front of, you know, 21 people, and you may not get an indictment.
I think it was smart strategically actually for Angela Corey to decide to shoulder this burden on her own.
KING: Jeff, put yourself in the special prosecutor's shoes for a moment. What is she looking for now? Do you believe she has all the information she needs or is all the public scrutiny of this case in a way helping her?
TOOBIN: John, I think that is really the key question here. What is the evidence?
We have talked about this case a great deal. Obviously it is a horrendous tragedy when a 17-year-old boy goes out to buy Skittles and winds up getting killed, but the key moment in this case between when Zimmerman calls 911 and when the shots are fired, what happened then? We don't know.
Presumably, she has gone and found witnesses, she has gone and found any sort of evidence relating to those key moments and that's what matters most, not what we think, not what the protesters think. The evidence, that's what she's going to get and I hope the evidence leads her in a clear direction one way or the other.
KING: We will find out. We will find out. Some people say not soon enough. Jeff Toobin, Sunny Hostin, thanks for your help tonight. We will stay on top of this story.
Now turning to a major overseas development tonight. At least 143 people died in fighting across Syria today despite its government's promise to implement a peace plan this week and its promise to start pulling fighters out of population centers by tomorrow. Instead, the killings reported again today in a half a dozen cities. Violence also spread across the borders with Turkey and Lebanon. At least two people died and 19 wounded today when gunfire from Syria hit refugees trying to make their way to a camp across just the Turkish border.
In just a moment, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, tells us about whether there is any hope at all for a diplomatic solution to the crisis.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SUSAN RICE, UNITED STATES AMBASSADOR TO THE UNITED NATIONS: Should the Syrian government yet again refuse to implement its commitments, make promises and then break them and continue and escalate the killing, then I think it will be clear to all that there isn't yet a prospect for a diplomatic solution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Ambassador Rice also has tough new warnings for North Korea and she isn't alone. Next, the worldwide pressure to stop the launch of a rocket capable of carrying weapons into space.
KING: There are new worries tonight as North Korea prepares to launch a powerful rocket. In a report obtained by CNN South Korean intelligence officials predict the launch may then soon be followed by a new nuclear test.
The North Koreans insist the impending launch is for peaceful purposes and they just took the unusual step of inviting journalists including CNN's Stan Grant to visit the launchpad.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): If you look for yourselves, with your own eyes, then you can judge whether it's a ballistic missile or whether it's a launch vehicle to put a satellite into orbit. To show that that's why we've invited you to this launch sight.
STAN GRANT, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We certainly get the grand tour. Today shown all around the site. The control center. Even the actual satellite that will be launched into space on the rocket. One independent European analyst visiting the site says he sees nothing to be concerned about, but --
CHRISTIAN LARDIER, SPACE ANALYST: I don't know what they want to do in future, but today what we see is a space launcher.
GRANT: To travel to the site at Tongchang-ri is to get an all too rare glimpse through the window of what's been dubbed the hermit kingdom.
(on camera): We'll be getting on this train here. We'll be traveling for about five hours until we actually get to the satellite launch site itself.
(voice-over): From the carriage of our train, a barren landscape. People scattered, working the harsh fields of a country where many people struggle even to eat. Not an issue North Korean officials were keen for me to pursue.
(on camera): Is it more important than food?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sorry, what was the question again? GRANT: Is space technology more important than feeding your people?
You don't want to answer that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll have a chance before the interview.
GRANT (voice-over): To a country obsessed with its self-defense and presenting a strong face to the world, this, they argue, is money well spent. And anyway, as we are constantly reminded, this is a satellite launch, not a missile test.
(on camera): Despite North Korea's assurances, the skepticism, of course, is going to remain, particularly from the United States, always wary about the intentions of an unpredictable country.
Stan Grant, CNN, Tongchang-ri, North Korea.
KING: Let's dig deeper with Victor Cha, a senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies and he is the author of "The Impossible State."
Victor, you see that footage there. You see the rocket and you hear the South Koreans saying their intelligence suggests a possible nuclear test just after, what are they doing?
VICTOR CHA, SENIOR ADVISER, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC AND INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: I think as your piece said very clearly, they're doing a satellite launch this time.
The concern that the United States and others in the international community have is they can launch a missile, a ballistic missile using the same technology and so that's what we're testing even as they put this satellite into orbit.
KING: If they were to follow it up with a nuclear test, two provocations, two violations, the United Nations would say, and the United States would certainly say, of U.N. resolutions, what does that tell you about the new untested leader? What is he trying to prove?
CHA: I think he is trying to do two things.
One is he is trying to establish himself and the country as a bona fide nuclear weapons state if they can demonstrate missiles and nuclear technology and the other is he is trying to consolidate his power. It is a young and untested leader and he has a lot to prove both people older than him, generals and others, as well as to the average North Korean.
This is a great display of strength to try to do that.
KING: Now, sometimes in the past and you know this from working inside the government, some people say North Korea does these provocations as like a screaming child, to get attention. Is that what this is about, to get back into negotiations or is this more about domestic politics, do you think?
CHA: I am concerned that it is more than just that this time.
It is in part because the provocations are coming so closely together. The Obama administration in four years may see two ballistic missile tests, attacks on South Korea and perhaps two nuclear already tests and it is an awfully compacted time frame.
So I think the country is moving in a completely different direction now and one in which they really want to assure everybody they have the ultimate security guarantee and they're now a nuclear weapons state.
KING: If you are sitting in the National Security Council meetings and the president wants a recommendation about what do to, what is it?
CHA: This is the land of lousy options.
The first thing is you have to go to U.N. Security Council and try to get them to stop this launch which probably won't be successful. But then you really have to work on China to try to get the Chinese to pinch the North Koreans harder to get them to stop doing these sorts of provocations.
KING: I read your recent essay. You say to some it should be obvious why wouldn't China want to be tougher? But...
CHA: Yes. But the problem is they don't want to pinch them too hard so the regime collapses and then you get a military ally of the United States directly on China's border. It is something they don't want to see.
KING: It's fascinating and a troubling conundrum.
Victor Cha, thanks so much for your help tonight.
Still ahead here: a warning to Russia and China from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Susan Rice says they have blood on their hands.
Also, the Navy takes quick action to compensate people that lost their homes there right in Friday's jet crash.
KING: Still ahead here: President Obama's upcoming push to raise taxes on minimum millionaires like Warren Buffett and Mitt Romney.
Plus, the political twist behind the latest release of videos showing government workers making fun of wasting your money.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: In the half-hour ahead: strong words from the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Susan Rice tells Russia and China they have blood on their hands.
Also, the "Truth" about why President Obama is making wealth an issue in his reelection campaign.
And more outrageous videos of government workers making fun of their job. This time, pay attention to who leaked them and why.
Tomorrow is the deadline for Syrian forces to begin pulling out of cities across the country, but over the weekend Syrian officials began imposing new conditions, including insisting they get a written commitment from opposition groups to lay down their weapons, all the while, no letup, not letup at all in the violence.
Let's check in with the U.N. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice.
Madam Ambassador, if the Syrians again fail to keep their word, what happens then?
RICE: Well, John, we have been watching this situation with great concern, as it obviously has been a window in which the Syrian government has escalated the violence, rather than diminishing it, as they're required to do in order to adhere to their commitments tomorrow.
From the U.S. point of view, John, we will view these developments as a blatant breach yet again of the Syrian government's commitments, and we think that that requires a significant response from the international community. The question, as always, will be whether Russia and China, which have been reluctant to hold Syria and the government accountable, will be ready to do so now.
KING: And that is the big question, but let me ask you, answer the critics who say the United Nations and Kofi Annan have been played, that the death toll has gone up by more than 1,000 since he was appointed special envoy, that Assad has simply used this diplomacy as cover to kill more people.
RICE: Well, I don't think it is a question of the United Nations or Annan being played.
I think both in the Security Council and in the secretariat and Annan himself have been very clear-eyed about the Syrian government, its motives and its behavior to date. The question is whether there is still the opportunity, however slim, for there to be a diplomatic resolution to this over-year-long conflict.
The U.N. estimates over 9,000 people have died over the course of the year, and indeed those deaths are a result of a brutal government intent on using all kinds of violence to inflict its will.
Now, the worst-case scenario which indeed may yet still be the most likely scenario is that this situation devolves into full-scale civil war. The reason why the international community has given Annan and his plan backing is because it remains the -- really practically speaking the last viable chance for there to be a negotiated settlement.
Should the Syrian government yet again refuse to implement its commitments, make promises and then break them and continue and escalate the killing, then I think it will be clear to all that there isn't yet a prospect for a diplomatic solution. We still hope that that's possible. We still want to give that a final chance, but I don't think we or anybody else are particularly optimistic.
KING: And a month ago, you were on the program. We were talking about this same issue. I want you to listen to your own words. At that point, you thought, you at least said publicly, that some progress was being made.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: The pressure is mounting. The economic pressure, very importantly, is also mounting. The United States, the European Union, countries neighboring Syria have put on tougher and tougher sanctions, and we see their currency crashing. We see businesses having real difficulty thriving, so the noose around his neck is tightening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
RICE: John, that remains the case, and in fact, the pressure on Assad has built. That was what I was talking about, whether Assad's isolation and the economic pressure he's facing is significant. It is significant, and indeed it's growing, but that doesn't mean that the killing has yet ended. What it does mean is, as I said back then, is that his time is finite.
And we've seen today the violence potentially spilling over into Turkey, and that will lead countries in the neighborhood that have already expressed exasperation with what is happening in Syria to want to step up their efforts to isolate and limit the influence of the Syrian regime. So that fact remains.
The question, though, as we were just discussing, is will the violence continue and can this worst-case scenario of a potential full-scale civil war still be possibly averted by a diplomatic approach.
KING: And if diplomacy fails and if China and Russia again say no to the tougher steps you would like, what happens then? What would your recommendation be to the president of the United States?
RICE: Well, John, obviously, I'm not going to share with you my recommendations to the president but the United States. But the U.S. view has been clear. Assad's days are limited. The international community, the states in the region, the United States, our European partners, the states in the gulf, are going to continue and intensify the economic and political pressure on Assad. We are actively increasing support to unify and strengthen the coherence of the opposition. We're providing non-lethal support to the opposition. We're putting in place mechanisms to ensure eventual legal accountability for those in the Assad regime who have committed crimes. We're ramping up our efforts to provide humanitarian assistance.
But this conflict is already overly militarized, and those who are looking to militarize it more should think twice about what the consequences of that will be.
So we will continue to maximize the political and the economic pressure on the regime. We'll continue to support, in ways political and economic and otherwise, the opposition until Assad is removed from power.
KING: When you see your colleagues from China and Russia, what do you tell them?
RICE: We tell them that they have blood on their hands. That there is upon them the responsibility to use the influence they have to -- to end the killing of the Assad regime.
KING: Let me shift your attention momentarily to the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has a rocket now on the launch pad, and South Korea says it sees evidence that it's about to also conduct another nuclear test.
What should the sanctions be? What should the consequences be if both of those developments happen?
RICE: Well, both -- either or both developments, John, would be a blatant violation of North Korea's international obligations under Security Council Resolution 1718 and 1874.
And sure, they move beyond such a provocative step as a missile launch to a nuclear test, obviously, their isolation will only increase. In the Security Council in New York, I anticipate that the council would convene to discuss this and to respond in a credible fashion, both to the missile launch and to any potential additional subsequent actions.
KING: The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice. Appreciate your time in a very busy and tense time in your work life.
RICE: Good to be with you.
KING: Take care.
KING: Moving back now to domestic politics, tomorrow President Obama heads to Florida to renew his push to raise taxes on millionaires and billionaires. He calls it the Buffett rule, in honor of investor Warren Buffett, who says he shouldn't be paying a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. Jeff, the president's making this argument for some time, but isn't it risky to run in a re-election campaign and say, "I want to raise taxes"?
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is unusual, isn't it, John? But in this case polls show that majority of Americans do support the Buffett rule. When the details of it are spelled out more than 60 percent say they support it. Even a plurality of Republicans also say they support it when you spell it out.
Now, in this particular case what Democrats have proposed and will be voting on in a procedural vote in the Senate next week is that folks making more than a million dollars a year should pay 30 percent on that income.
Of course, it's all in the war of words and how it's described, so the White House has to be careful about describing it in the right way in order to win on the campaign trail, John.
KING: And as they try to make that case and the president says he himself would pay higher taxes and thinks he should. And his friend, Warren Buffett, should pay higher taxes and thinks he should. They also have Mitt Romney in mind. Don't they?
YELLIN: Yes, on the campaign conference call today, the Obama campaign made no bones about that, John, and then even were asked and weren't shy about pointing out that Mitt Romney admitted that he himself paid less than 15 percent rate in taxes himself and that he supports a rate that benefits folks like him.
And they're, you know, using this in part to draw a distinction and point out that Mitt Romney is a rich guy, in essence, and underscore their commitment and the president's commitment to the middle class, which is a key component of the campaign he wants to wage, which is defining himself in their words as, you know, a sort of champion of the middle class against Mitt Romney who they would argue is not. So there you see that campaign taking shape; not taking shape, already off and running, John, with this message.
KING: Off and running and the volume escalating. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. Jess, thanks.
We'll continue the conversation about this issue in just a moment. Remember this? In 2004 Republicans got plenty of mileage out of photos of Democratic nominee John Kerry wind surfing. Coming up, the truth about cold hard cash, personal wealth and how it influences voters' views about candidates.
KING: Taxes and spending are always issues in presidential politics and this year no exception. But it's also clear and reinforced just today that wealth will also be an issue.
President Obama prefers to frame it as a fairness question and will spend time this week, starting tomorrow, promoting what he calls the Buffett rule, a requirement that families making more than a million dollars a year should pay at least as big a share of their income in taxes as the middle class, and team Obama believes focusing on the Buffett rule also helps them exploit what we might call the Romney rule. "So what's Romney hiding?" @BarackObama tweeted last week, asking people to tweet @MittRomney to demand he release his tax returns.
Now, Governor Romney has released some tax returns, but there's still a lot we don't know about his assets.
Team Obama says voters deserve full disclosure. The truth is the pressure is about much more than that, and it's borrowed from a playbook Republicans had used before.
Remember these guys? Democratic nominees Al Gore and John Kerry. They lost competitive elections, one of them very, very, very competitive, in part because Republicans spent a lot of time suggesting they just weren't like you: too elitist, they said; too distant; too different; maybe too affluent.
Romney on this question has helped the Democratic cause some.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor.
I like being able to fire people that provide services to me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, there are some who think Romney did it again Easter weekend by allowing these family photos to be made public, a reminder he has a pricey beach house in California.
I'm not so sure about the photos. Boogie-boarding, it's a lot more common and a lot more blue collar than wind surfing. Plus, like his politics or not, Governor Romney has a great family. And hey, some voters will be pleasantly surprised he actually knows how to have fun.
But there's no escaping he's wealthy. Very wealthy. Romney's 2010 income topped $21 million. President Obama made 1.7 million. Now, that's not poor by any means, but it's certainly not in Romney's league.
Democrats believe that well plays into their campaign strategy. Republicans call it fast warfare. President Obama and other Democrats push tax hikes on the rich.
But polling shows most voters, even a good share of Republicans, want the rich to pay more. And truth is, Romney has a steep hill as he argues the president's approach is wrong.
Look at these stunning CNN/ORC polling numbers. Twenty-six percent of voters say President Obama's policies favor the rich. A whopping 65 percent say that about Governor Romney. That's a problem, and when Democrats tweak him about his wealth, it's all part of their strategy to keep it a problem.
Let's talk truth tonight with "TIME" Washington deputy chief Michael Crowley; Democratic strategist Maria Cardona; and Santorum campaign spokeswoman Alice Stewart.
Alice, I know you're with the Santorum campaign, and we're not in the general election mode yet. But on this -- on this question when the Democrats say it's fairness to raise taxes on the wealthy, the president will be out there, he's clearly going after Romney, but he's going after all Republicans, saying you have to raise taxes. The rich have to pay their fair share. Why shouldn't they?
ALICE STEWART, SANTORUM CAMPAIGN SPOKESWOMAN: Well, it's not about raising taxes. It's not about imposing -- imposing more taxes on the wealthy, who are the job creators in this country. It's about cutting spending. And we don't need to impose more taxes on people who are creating jobs. We need to look at something similar to the Ryan plan, which cuts spending. That will go a long way to reducing the debt.
The Buffett rule will only make an impact on the debt by about .2 percent, whereas the Ryan plan will have a 15-percent reduction on the debt. That's the kind of thing we need to look at. We don't need to tax the people who are creating jobs. We need to reduce spending, which is the last thing the Obama administration is looking at.
KING: Now, Bill Clinton was successful in 1992, Maria, saying, "If I'm elected, I will raise taxes on the rich." Some Republicans will say it was because of Ross Perot, but he made the case. He was persuasive as a candidate, saying, "I will cut taxes on the middle class, raise them on the wealthy." It's risky.
Can President Obama, can he sell it?
MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think he can sell it, and President Clinton is one of the reasons he can sell it. Not only did he get elected by making partly that argument, but he also implemented it when he became president. And we enjoyed the greatest economic expansion that we had in a generation.
I think Americans understand this issue of fairness. That's why I think when you say cut spending, cut spending, cut spending, they also understand we can't cut our way to a balanced -- to lower deficits and to a balanced debt.
And so you when you put something like the Obama plan forward, they understand that better than, I think, a lot of the campaign slogans. It is about fairness. When you have millionaires and billionaires paying more than middle-class teachers and when you have teachers losing their jobs, because there isn't enough, you know, spending to go around for what you need spending for, then I think this is something that they really understand.
KING: If you look at the polling -- I list a Reuters poll, but other polls have been consistent with this -- favor or oppose this Buffett rule, making millionaires pay at least 30 percent, nearly two- thirds of Americans say they favor it. So it's a tough argument for Republicans anyway. Is it a tougher argument when you are a very wealthy guy like Mitt Romney who can seem distant?
MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: I think so. And I think that's why you see such enthusiasm on the part of the Obama campaign. Because they've got a double whammy here. They have a winning issue that segues right into a -- maybe you can call it a character issue with their opponent.
So they're not only spotlighting what they think this is a policy advantage on taxes, but they're also reminding people that Mitt Romney had -- is a mega-millionaire who is paying pretty low tax rates on his investment. So I think they think it's a double win.
The Republican comeback will be spending and the size of government. And I think that that is a strong argument for Republicans right now. What you're seeing already is the Obama campaign hitting that argument back over the net by saying, "Let's get specific about what spending we're going to cut." And that's where that side will be won or lost. The idea of spending in the abstract and the deficit, I think, makes the public very unhappy.
When you start saying this program, that program, Medicare, Social Security, that's when Democrats can regain the advantage. So we'll see who wins on that front.
KING: If you were advising Governor Romney to be more like normal people, to give, to show more, I mean, some people this morning were saying those pictures from California were a bad thing. I was arguing no, maybe not. People see him with his family. They see him having fun. They see him looser, doing -- boogie-boarding is not wind surfing. No offense, Senator Kerry. But boogie-boarding is not wind surfing. What would you tell him to do?
STEWART: Well, you also forgot to mention the part in this house where he's seeking a special permit to build an elevator for his car.
KING: The Obama campaign mentioned that today, yes.
You don't have a car elevator at home.
STEWART: Sorry, one car, so there's not much -- not much space I need.
KING: Nothing to elevate.
STEWART: The point is, I mean, clearly Romney is basically out of touch with many Americans. There's no doubt about that.
But what we need to look at with this Buffett rule, as we said, is it's not about taxing the job creators. They like to throw around the world "wealthy" and "upper class" and "the millionaires." Those are the job creators. And the more you tax them, and the more you put them in a higher tax bracket, the less they're able to create jobs, the less they're able to give raises to their employees.
And it's not about taxing wealthy. It's about cutting spending. Look at the GSA. There's a good place to cut some money, as we're seeing with these crazy videos. But we need to cut spending. And that's where we're going to go a long way to reducing the debt and getting that economy back on track.
KING: Does the president carry this right up until election day, Maria? Or if next month's job report is like last month's jobs report, and it shows an anemic economy and maybe the Republicans feel a little bit confident to say "don't do this," to Alice's point, "these are the people who create jobs. You can't do this right now."
The president blinked in the past and the Democrats have not liked it when he's allowed the Bush tax cuts to be extended and extended again. Is there a fear, especially in the base of the party, that he blink again?
CARDONA: I think there is some fear about that. But I also think you have confidence that this is a president who knows what the winning argument is to your point.
And I do think he takes it up until election day, even if the next jobs report isn't as high as expectations. I wouldn't call it a bad jobs report. It is the good jobs reports when you have over 100,000 jobs being created.
And to your point, it is not -- these millionaires and billionaires are not the biggest job creators in this country. The biggest job creators in this country are small and medium-sized businesses. What this president has done is cut taxes 16 times for America's small- and medium-sized businesses. And we were happy to see that Republicans joined him in the jobs act this week to do even more so that those real job creators can continue to create jobs for the country.
KING: If we -- if I were to go to the map -- and we did the Senate race this is year, are the Democrats in trouble? Are they going to proudly stand with the president when it comes to raising taxes on the wealthy? The polling says you can do it now. But will they get queasy?
CROWLEY: Well, I think it depends on where you're talking about. For instance, a state like Massachusetts might be different than a southern or a western state. And we'll have to see how Obama's standing survives the economy over the next few months.
But I just do think ultimately the taxation issue, high income taxation is a winning issue for the Democrats. And I really think it's going to come back to this issue of spending and what programs you're going to cut.
By the way, very interesting is Mitt Romney's retort to all this. He's now saying Obama is the one who's out of touch. He's in a bubble. He flies around on Air Force One and he's surrounded by yes man. That has damaged some incumbent presidents before. Remember George H.W. Bush was accused of not knowing how a supermarket scanner works. Obama hasn't yet had a moment like that, but he needs to be careful that there's not some gaffe that becomes a defining moment, and the kind of thing that could be really playing into the Republicans hands.
KING: Let me ask you quickly in closing, your candidate, Senator Santorum, has been off the trail for a couple days because his daughter is been hospitalized again. Back on the trail tomorrow? She's -- Bella doing better?
STEWART: Their prayers have been answered. The latest we heard this afternoon is she's doing better. She's expected to get out later this evening, and Rick should be back on the campaign trail first thing tomorrow morning. Going to have a lot of new events added to the schedule. He'll be in Pennsylvania and Delaware this week.
But thank goodness their prayers have been answered, and Bella is doing much better. So thank you.
KING: That's great news. Thank you. Senator Santorum, our thoughts and prayers to the family, as well.
Maria, and Michael, Alice, thanks for coming in.
Next, a rare look at the wives and children, of Osama bin Laden left behind.
Plus more of the videos you just heard Alice talking about. The stock pile of U.S. government workers making fun of their jobs and making fun of wasting your money.
KING: Another government official was placed on administrative leave today in the scandal over wasteful spending by an important government agency called the General Services Administration. That makes eight people now either placed on leave or forced out.
The scandal centers on a 2010 GSA conference in Las Vegas that ran up a tab of nearly a million taxpayer dollars and produced a string of embarrassing videos. Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, has seen the latest batch.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hoping to limit the political damage, the Obama administration headed out to selective media outlets an hour's worth of new embarrassing GSA video over the holiday weekend.
Among the see-it-to-believe-it clips, government workers appearing to mock the president for his green jobs initiative. It's yet another submission for a video awards ceremony which CNN first reported on last week, a talent show at a lavish 2010 GSA convention in Las Vegas which cost taxpayers over $800,000.
But House Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa says the administration conspicuously omitted a key part of this video, evidence, he says, GSA employees were making these videos during a taxpayer-funded work day.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was amazing. Was there anybody in Region 7 that wasn't in that thing?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they worked -- if they didn't work on Friday, chances are they weren't in the video.
BASH: Still, what the administration did release is damaging.
In this video, a man dressed as an angry clown makes fun of government meetings.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think meetings are good to have in between breaks.
BASH: And in this one, government employees mimicking the movie "Office Space," appear to destroy government property.
And at the Las Vegas conference where the videos were played, listen to this brazen boasting.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For an over-the-top, unforgettable team- building experience, how'd we do on that one?
BASH: That's Jeff Neely (ph), an acting GSA administrator for the Pacific region. Here he is on the event's red carpet. Yes, a make-believe red carpet at a government conference.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am wearing all Armani. I think what I'd like people to take home is to dispense with the notion that what's done in Vegas stays in Vegas and to really leave with what's done in Vegas needs to be shared with everybody.
BASH: And what is this government employee's talent?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a talent for drinking margaritas?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now how is it that the GSA gave you that talent?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my commitment to our go green initiative.
BASH: Now, in response to all that, the GSA released almost the exact same statement that they released last week, John, where they said these videos reinforce a complete lack of judgment at that 2010 conference. And that the agency, quote, "continues to be appalled by this indefensible behavior."
KING: It is indefensible, Dana, when you see them like that, but is it new behavior? What about the Bush years?
BASH: Well, in terms of behavior, we don't know. But in terms of the spending, which is really what the committees on the Hill started to go after, it's not new.
In fact the administration, the current administration, the Obama folks have sent us some raw numbers that they say prove that the spending went up big-time during the Bush years: 600 percent in the second term alone. That's a lot in terms of spending. What did they spend that on? We don't know.
The Democrats, you can expect them to be pressing Obama officials and other officials big time, because there are going to be a slew of hearings on all of this when Congress returns from spring break next week.
KING: What we know so far is outrageous. And we'll try to find more. Dana Bash, CNN congressional correspondent. Dana, thanks.
Lisa Sylvester is back now with the latest news you need to know right now.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.
Well, after spending about a year under house arrest, Osama bin Laden's widows and children will be flown from Pakistan to their home countries of Yemen and Saudi Arabia next week.
CNN obtained this recent video showing the women dressed in black burkas and praying while the children play with toy bats, balls and a teddy bear.
And the U.S. is giving Afghanistan control over night raids and other controversial special operations missions. The two countries signed a landmark deal that says NATO forces need explicit permission from Afghan officials for those operations. U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker says it's a major step toward a stable Afghanistan before the 2014 troop withdrawal deadline.
And here's more fuel for the global warming debate. This past March was the warmest since the U.S. started keeping records way back in 1896. Government meteorologists recorded some 770 record highs last month. They also say the three-month period of January, February and March was the warmest first quarter ever recorded in the lower 48 states.
And some people may call this tempting fate. Right now about 1300 people are cruising the North Atlantic following the same route the Titanic took 100 years ago. The cruise offers history lectures and a stop in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where many of the Titanic victims are buried. Early Saturday morning it's scheduled to be in the exact spot the ill-fated ship struck an iceberg. So they are repeating that journey 100 years later.
KING: Would you do it? Superstitious?
SYLVESTER: I'm a little suspicious. I would just take another trip. You know? No need to do that. But I bet history buffs will.
KING: A history buff, if you want to learn the history, what better place than...
SYLVESTER: And I'm sure that's very exciting on the trip for those folks. But me personally, no.
KING: We look forward to hearing some of the stories when they make it to shore.
And don't go anywhere, Lisa. Finally, the "Moment You've Probably Missed." Today's White House Easter egg roll. President Obama couldn't resist showing off his basketball chops. First from the foul line and then back from three-point range. Either way, well, this one didn't go too well.
He finally sank that one right there, but it was too late. Video of all the bricks made it on the Internet, provoking a string of, of course, snarky tweets and comments. Even flagged by someone at the Republican National Committee.
Now, in the president's defense, he's a pretty good basketball player. We all have our...
SYLVESTER: Yes, well, and he was also trying it from the three- point line, so let's give it a little bit of context. So you know...
KING: But if you want to go on television during the NCAA basketball tournament and talk about your game and invite Clark Kellogg out there to the court, when the camera's rolling, you've got to make them.
SYLVESTER: I'm cringing a little bit just watching them, because you want to -- you know, you want to show us your game. We've heard so much about it. Show us the game.
KING: Hitting the rim from three-point range would be an achievement for me, but the president is a little better than that.
SYLVESTER: That's right.
KING: I bet -- you know where he is right now? I bet once the kids are clear, he's out there working on his shot.
SYLVESTER: Yes. Let the kids -- get the kids in bed and now he's back there saying, "What happened?"
KING: The competitive -- the competitive president is outside. They're telling him to work on his speech tomorrow. He's out shooting some shots.
Lisa, thanks so much. That's all for us tonight. We'll see you right back here tomorrow night. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.