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JOHN KING, USA

Politics of Terror; Fate of Chinese Dissident?

Aired April 30, 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: Mitt Romney says he absolutely would have ordered the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. But President Obama flashing a wry smile says past Romney statements suggest otherwise.

Plus, the president refuses to confirm that a high-level Chinese dissident is being protected now by the United States in Beijing. It's a foreign policy challenge as delicate as they come.

And tonight's "Truth" explores a friendship that had a rocky beginning, but is blossoming now in campaign 2012. Why Bill Clinton is so eager to lend a hand and his name to President Obama's reelection campaign.

Begin this evening with same bare-knuckled politics of just how the Obama campaign now framing the anniversary of the U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden. They're asking whether Mitt Romney would have issued the same order to secretly send U.S. forces into Pakistan and based on something Romney said back in 2007, team Obama claims the former Massachusetts governor's answer would be no.

In New Hampshire today, the former Massachusetts governor strongly took issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Would you have gone after bin Laden?

QUESTION: You would have given the order, Governor?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Told of that answer just a short bit later at the White House, President Obama paused, smiled, and you might say twisted the knife.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I said that I would go after bin Laden if we had a clear shot at him and I did.

If there are others who have said one thing and now suggest they'd do something else, then I would go ahead and let them explain it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us now, our White House correspondent Brianna Keilar and national political correspondent Jim Acosta.

Bri, let's start with you. At the White House, you saw the president smile there. You were there in the room. What's the White House and the broader campaign strategy for dealing and some would say using bin Laden for political gain?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, they really want to frame this obviously as one of the president's defining accomplishments.

And they're setting up this whole narrative that he made a tough call. It paid off. And it was something that generally speaking the country could rally behind and they want to make sure that Mitt Romney can't really minimize what is a big accomplishment here.

They also want a contrast between President Obama and Mitt Romney trying to show that he wouldn't have had really the wherewithal to make this exact same decision. And while Mitt Romney obviously can emphasize that he has executive experience, John, and you know how important this is in a campaign, he does not have the foreign policy experience that President Obama has.

This is just sort of the incumbent advantage, something that the Obama campaign and the White House wants to preserve. And you really see them pushing this not only in that video that came out today really framing his campaign ahead of the kickoff on Saturday, but also in this interview they're doing with NBC News where they gave NBC News a lot of access to the Situation Room ahead of the big anniversary tomorrow.

KING: He said he wouldn't spike the football, but a lot of people view that as perhaps as spiking the football, maybe once, maybe twice. But that's how it goes in politics.

Jim, let me read you something. This is what the Obama campaign is basing this on. Governor Romney said this back in 2007. Among other things, he said, when the president has said if he had a clear target in Pakistan, he would unilaterally go after Osama bin Laden, then Governor Romney said "I do not concur in the words of Barack Obama in a plan to enter an ally of ours. I don't think those kinds of comments help in this effort to draw more friends to our effort."

Ironically, there was a lot of criticism back then about George W. Bush's cowboy diplomacy, some called it. Do they regret those words in the Romney campaign? Do they wish they could have them back?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I think at this point what they're trying to do is turn this back on the president.

When the president talks about what other folks would do at his news conference, I think the new rule now is he is talking about Mitt Romney. But I asked the Romney campaign for a statement on what the president had to say today, and they did not directly talk about 2007.

They said, look, this is a cheap political ploy on the part of President Obama to distort Governor Romney's strong policies on the war on terror. I tweeted part of that statement out. And then Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for the Obama reelection campaign, within minutes tweeted back to me saying, what policy on counterterrorism did Governor Romney ever outline?

This is happening in real time going back and forth very quickly. The one thing that should be noted is that when Mitt Romney made those comments back in 2007 about moving heaven and earth to get one person, he was asked about that at that MSNBC debate that was a few days later after he made those comments and he did say -- quote, unquote -- "We will move everything to get him."

So I guess at that time Governor Romney did try to move away from those comments after Senator McCain called at that time called them naive, but safe to say that he's not going to be able to take those words back. They are going to dog him for a while in...

(CROSSTALK)

KING: And the intensity. You mentioned you tweet, then they tweet back minutes later. It is April 30 turning to May and the election campaign feels a lot like September and October.

Brianna Keilar, Jim Acosta, thanks so much. We will watch where this one goes in the days ahead.

Also, dramatic new details tonight about a Chinese dissident's escape from house arrest and his harrowing journey to Beijing, where he may now being protected at the United States Embassy.

According to one of his supporter, Chen Guangcheng, who is blind, climbed over eight walls and a dozen barriers by himself tripping and falling hundreds of times a supporter says in the course of 19 hours. The supporter also tells Reuters Chen's ultimate goal is not to seek refuge here in the United States, but to stay in China, where he has been jailed and persecuted for objecting to its policy of forced abortion and sterilizations.

Now, Chen's sheltering by the United States could jeopardize this week's talks between Chinese officials and top U.S. officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But when asked about Chen today at a White House news conference, President Obama was very careful, saying just this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Every time we meet with China, the issue of human rights comes up. China will be that much more prosperous and strong as you see improvements on human rights issues in that country.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Joining me with more perspective on this fascinating story is the former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns.

Nick, the president asked about this, the world is watching, the dissident community is watching, and he says, I am aware of the press reports. We know the president has been briefed on this. We know the president sent a high-ranking diplomat to Beijing to try to sort this out. Why?

NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I think the administration is doing the right thing in this respect.

If we talk about this with China privately, not under the glare of the international spotlight and press, we're more likely to arrive at the solution that we want and that is the continued freedom and security of Chen Guangcheng.

He's an extraordinary man to make his way from house arrest 300 miles across China into Beijing. The full glare of now the public attention is on this, and we are the champion of human rights. There's only one outcome here. The United States has to protect him.

But our ability to do so is probably through quiet negotiations, not through acknowledging this publicly and making it all public.

KING: Is there only one outcome and how do you weigh this as a diplomat? China is critical when it comes to Iran, critical when it comes to Syria, critical in the traditional relationship, critical when it comes to North Korea. At what point are there other competing pressures on the president, or does he, as you say, does he have a choice here?

BURNS: Well, this is the most important relationship that we have in the world, bar none. Think of it, the global economy, Iran, North Korea, Syria. Normally, you would have to balance human rights vs. those more concrete interests.

But in this instance, with all the world trained on this issue, on this man right now, and I think given the legacy of the United States, that for 200 years now we have been the champion of human rights, when it is at stake publicly, I think there is only one option, that we have to support him.

KING: Let's listen, because he posted this dramatic video directed straight to the Chinese leadership. He escaped, but he is worried about his family.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN GUANGCHENG, CHINESE DISSIDENT (through translator): They broke into my house and more than a dozen men assaulted my wife. They pinned her down and wrapped her in a blanket beating and kicking her for hours. They also violently assaulted me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If the Chinese come into these meetings and they say, well, he doesn't want to leave China. He's publicly said he doesn't want to leave China, release him to us, everything will be fine, can you trust that?

BURNS: No, absolutely not, not given the record of the Chinese government on human rights. They're one of the worst offenders in the world on human rights, religious rights, workers' rights.

If Chen wants to leave China and seek a new life in the United States or elsewhere, that is a relatively easier solution, I think, for all sides. If he decides...

KING: The Chinese would find a way to sort of look the other way and let that happen?

BURNS: The Chinese would find this embarrassing and humiliating, but it's probably the least of bad options for them.

KING: So if he does not want to leave China and the United States does not want to take the risk of being humiliated in releasing him and then having God knows what happen, does he stay in the embassy or stay in some U.S. compound for five years, 10 years, 20 years?

BURNS: Ultimately, that's one option, to keep him under U.S. custody if he is in U.S. custody. The government has not yet acknowledged that.

But think of the history. Fang Lizhi was a refuge under U.S. custody back in the 1990s. Cardinal Mindszenty, the Hungarian cardinal during the Cold War, lived in the United States Embassy for years. So I don't think the United States government will give up this man unless he agrees to leave and unless he and the embassy and our government both believe that his security can be protected.

KING: Rate the importance for the president here. He obviously has other bigger, grander foreign policy challenges, whether it is Iran, whether it's the Arab spring, whether it's the bigger relationship with China. How important is this one man and this one episode?

BURNS: I think extraordinarily important, John.

All the concrete interests are important. But our credibility, our narrative as a country rests in our being a champion of human rights and freedom. Here is a man who put his life on the line to approach the United States and say please, help me.

I think in these circumstances, those other interests subside in importance. This one is in the forefront. And I will bet the -- I am sure the administration will do the right thing here because the stakes are too high for our country.

KING: Ambassador Nick Burns, appreciate it.

BURNS: Thank you.

KING: Thank you. In just a bit, we will speak with the U.S.-based activist who has been in touch with Chen Guangcheng and says he is disappointed with President Obama's response today.

The Obama campaign is rolling out a new slogan. Next, will forward make us forget hope and change?

And later, the major airlines' unusual and some say risky move to control its fuel costs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The Obama reelection campaign today rolled out a brand new seven-minute Web video and a full minute of it is nothing but scrolling text of what the Obama campaign want you to remember from the last three-plus years of his presidency. They even make news at the end unveiling their new campaign slogan for 2012. See if you catch it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And I believe America is on the way up.

Thank you. God bless you. God bless the United States of America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Change we can believe in now replaced by forward.

Well, will it have the same ring as hope and change and yes, we can?

Here to give us a lesson on campaign branding, in Phoenix, Fred Davis, Republican media consultant, the CEO of Strategic Perception, Inc., and in Seattle, Frank Greer, Democratic media consultant and partner at GMMB Communications and Advertising.

Let me go to Republican first.

Fred Davis, you're on the opposing side. Has forward put fear in your heart?

FRED DAVIS, REPUBLICAN MEDIA CONSULTANT: Oh, it didn't really put fear in my heart, John.

I think is it a pretty hip thing. I like short slogans. It sounds great. But to me, on my side of the aisle, it is the kind of thing that you talk about when you can't talk about what came in the past, what you have done in the last three years.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Address that, Frank.

FRANK GREER, DEMOCRATIC MEDIA CONSUMER: Well, I have got to say that, as you pointed out, we have a seven-minute video that does a very good job of explaining an amazing record of accomplishments for this president in the face of a no-Congress, in the face of incredible partisan opposition.

And now we're in a choice, you know, period, where you have to choose, do you want to go forward? Do you want to continue the forward momentum, or do you want to go back? And I think that is a pretty powerful choice and a pretty powerful slogan.

KING: See, that's where the rub is, Fred, in the sense that on the one hand, as a Republican, you can say President Obama wants you to look forward because he doesn't want to you look back at his record or at least the economy the last three years, but as Frank just notes, his central theme, the president's theme will be electing Mitt Romney is essentially going back to George W. Bush.

So, in that sense, does it work?

DAVIS: Well, we did the exact same campaign for Arnold Schwarzenegger a few years ago. We ran all our footage backwards, because you didn't want to go back to the days of Gray Davis. It was very successful then. I am not sure it will be as successful now.

He left out two things. And I love the film. I think it is beautifully made. Frank and Jim do wonderful work. A friend of mine this morning said, why didn't they run a debt ticker across the top of it? There is the missing piece. Yes, he's had some accomplishments. But has he bankrupted the company? Has he forced us into class warfare while he was doing it?

KING: I want you to listen, Frank. I want to go back in time. This is an Obama ad from 2008 and then the president himself sort of acknowledges the different circumstances. First, let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We are one people. We are one nation. And together, we will begin the next great chapter in the American story with words that will ring from coast-to-coast, from sea to shining sea. Yes, we can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: You see the power there, Frank and Fred, of the aspirational, very inspirational candidacy of then Senator Obama. But listen to him at a recent fund-raiser. He gets that this is different.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: It is not as trendy to be involved in the Obama campaign as it was back then.

(LAUGHTER)

OBAMA: Some of you have, you know, rolled up those hope posters and they're in a closet somewhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Is it harder, Frank Greer, as you're messaging for this particular Democratic candidate because of the historic nature, because of the aspirational nature? How much harder is it to say give me four more?

GREER: Well, I think first of all you need to portray the accomplishments, and I think this video that was released today begins to do that.

And I think you need to remind people of what a difficult situation was that he inherited and I think you have to remind people of what it was like before Obama. So it is a slogan that says forward, but it can be a forward motion with hope for the future. It is certainly is not a time that America wants to go back or turn back the clock.

KING: And, Fred Davis, Ronald Reagan had morning in America.

He had a much more robust economy at the beginning of his reelection year, even he had been through very, very tough times earlier in his presidency. In terms of the uncertainty about the economy, you say you appreciate the slogan.

How much difficult will it be -- how dependent I guess is this president on the economic numbers starting to get better?

DAVIS: Well, I think the economic numbers right on the surface, the ones that the average guy that doesn't spend a lot of time studying the economy sees are beginning to get better.

There is a small decrease in gas prices right now. The stock market is doing really pretty well. Numbers can always be manipulated, but unemployment right at the top levels is beginning to decline. As long as he can get the emphasis on the cursory numbers, I think he has an easier path to hoe than looking back over.

One thing I enjoyed was in that seven-minute movie, there is, what, one sentence, maybe two, on Obamacare. That's going to be a little more influential. It will have more attention from our side, I think, than one or two sentences.

KING: I suspect, as I close this conversation now, that will get more attention going forward, as we say, 190 days...

(CROSSTALK)

DAVIS: Exactly.

KING: ... to the election.

Frank Greer, Fred Davis...

GREER: See how well it works, John? (CROSSTALK)

KING: It works just fine.

(CROSSTALK)

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Appreciate your help tonight. We will revisit this one in the days and weeks ahead. Gentlemen, thanks so much.

When we come back, the jury at the John Edwards trial had to be sent out of the courtroom today. One of the witnesses couldn't stop crying. We will have an update from the courthouse in just a little bit.

But, next, a history-making day for the New York City skyline.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Have you tried to book a flight lately? Well, you're not the only one suffering from sticker shot.

Next, one airline's bold move to hold down fuel costs.

Plus, an activist who says he is disappointed with President Obama's reaction to the escape of a blind Chinese dissident.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In this half-hour of JOHN KING, USA: A major airline prepares a drastic step to hold down fuel prices. We will ask chief business correspondent Ali Velshi if your ticket prices will go down if Delta Air Lines buys its own oil refinery.

Plus, a tearful witness testifies about learning her husband was allegedly being asked to lie about fathering another woman's baby, all to cover up for John Edwards.

Plus, the "Truth" about why Bill Clinton is so eager to lend a hand and his name to President Obama's reelection campaign.

We begin this half-hour with a dramatic announcement: Delta Air Lines' surprising announcement it plans to spend millions of dollars to buy an oil refinery in Pennsylvania. Delta's CEO calls it a -- quote -- "modest investment" and an innovative approach to managing the airline's biggest expense, fuel prices.

CNN chief business correspondent Ali Velshi is here.

Ali, will this bring airfares down? Is that the goal?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Well, it is going to make things cheaper in the long run for Delta. Whether they choose to make that more competitive by bringing airfares lower or keeping airfares where they would otherwise be and make more profit remains to be seen.

But this is an interesting story. For those of you who have flown into Philly, there's a refinery just right around the airport. This is one of those refineries. It was idle, and some people wanted to turn it into a terminal, a trainer refinery. That would have taken out refining capacity and made jet fuel even that much cheaper.

Now, this refinery was on sale at one point for about a billion dollars. Delta bought it for 150 million dollars. They're going to run it with a refinery company so they don't have to worry about it. And they're going to make mostly jet A fuel, which is one of the highest-margin products that you can make at a refinery.

When you refine oil, John, you make all sorts of things. You make -- you make oil for heating your home. You make gasoline. You make diesel and you make jet fuel. So they're going to mostly make jet fuel. They're going to sell the excess that they don't make to other people. They're going to sell the products that they make. And they think it's going to save them 300 million a year.

So the magic question, John, is where does that $300 million go? To Delta's bottom line, to Delta's shareholders, or to the price of gas -- the price of a ticket? Unclear, but it does give Delta an advantage over its other airways.

KING: And all of the airlines complain about this, the wild fluctuations.

VELSHI: Sure.

KING: They say this is hurting their profits. They just got the Marines' report last week. That's what they blame this on, when their earnings go down. So the question is, will other airlines follow suit?

VELSHI: Well, it's interesting. You've got to have the heft of Delta to do this. Delta is a big airline with a lot of cash. As you know, United and Continental have just gone through a merger. U.S. Air and American -- American is in bankruptcy. U.S. Air has constantly got some turmoil going on. So Delta amongst the American carriers is in the best position to deal with this. Southwest deals with oil and hedging in a different way.

But it's innovative, John. It's different. Oil is a third of Delta's expenses. It usually fluctuates with staffing as their biggest expense, but right now oil is the biggest expense. It's an innovative way of looking at things. Yet to be seen whether it works out entirely. But it does look like they thought this through, and they've been working on it for a while.

Again, we'll have to wait as to see whether it lowers ticket prices, but it definitely gives Delta an edge.

KING: We'll keep an eye on it and my guess is most consumers watching right now are a bit skeptical. They're going to benefit, but we'll watch this one. It's innovative. Very interesting. Ali Velshi, appreciate your time tonight.

VELSHI: My pleasure.

KING: Moving on now, more explosive testimony in the case against John Edwards and the question of whether the former presidential candidate knowingly used campaign money to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter.

Today, Cheri Young took the stand. She's the wife of the prosecution's star witness, Andrew Young. He initially claimed he was the father of Hunter's baby.

Diane Dimond, a special correspondent for "Newsweek," following every step, and she joins me now.

Diane, I want to get to Cheri -- Cheri Young said something very interesting today. She said her husband was trying to get her to deposit the checks in her bank account, part of this cover-up money. And she got concerned that it was illegal somehow, and she said she insisted that John Edwards, she had to speak to John Edwards.

And she said this: "I heard Mr. John Edwards tell me on the phone that he checked with the campaign lawyers, and this is legal. Get the money in. He was very short and very angry."

Not only is that powerful testimony, Diane, if she's selling the truth, John Edwards not only knew about all this but was deeply involved in it.

DIANE DIMOND, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, "NEWSWEEK" AND "THE DAILY BEAST": If she's telling the truth, he was smack in the middle of it. In the opening statement from his attorneys, we heard that, well, you know, he had this problem and Andrew Young was helping him out. But he didn't really know what the money was or where it was going. This is in direct contradiction to that.

And Cheri Young was so compelling on the stand today, I'll tell you, John, I think it was the most compelling testimony we've heard so far.

KING: And take us inside. Because among the questions she had to answer is what was it like to essentially go along when your husband, Andrew Young, he's the one originally came forward and said, "No, no, it's my baby"?

DIMOND: Yes. You know, there was a lot of matter-of-fact storytelling in there today. We heard a lot about Rielle Hunter's quirks and all that.

But when it got to the prosecutors saying, "What was your response when your husband asked or told you the senator wanted him to claim paternity?"

And she said, "I was mad. I said, 'This is crazy.' I started to scream and curse at him." And then, of course, that's exactly what Andrew Young decided to do.

And at that point she started to cry, and she had teared up a little bit in certain parts of her testimony. It's a pretty stressful time up there in the witness box. But now she put her hands on her face. Her shoulders started to go. Her face turned bright red. And actually, the judge excused the jury so that that would give her time to compose herself. It was probably the most emotional we'll see her.

KING: And at one point she had to discuss Rielle Hunter coming to their home, the Youngs' home. Tell us about that, and how significant is that point?

DIMOND: Yes. You know, she told a story of -- "I knew this was an affair before my husband did, and I'd just seen Rielle up on the stage."

But there came a night when she came to their home, a gated community home in North Carolina, to hide. The media had found her. This was the perfect place.

And she said, "I worked all day to get the house ready. She comes in late at night. She gets into our entryway, and she takes a spin around and she says, 'I'm here'." And that's just the way she delivered the testimony.

I have to tell you, because of the way she speaks, the jury listened to her very, very closely all day. She said, "She arrives at my house. She doesn't say hello. She just says, 'I'm here.'" And she said, "I was so intimidated I did anything and everything that woman asked me to."

KING: Fascinating day of testimony at what it has been so far a very fascinating trial. Diane Dimond, appreciate your help. We'll stay in touch. Thank you.

DIMOND: You bet.

KING: More now on one of tonight's top stories: a Chinese dissident manages to escape from house arrest and is now said -- get this -- to be hiding inside the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is scheduled to leave for China tonight. When she was asked earlier today about Chen Guangcheng, she said only that she looks forward to discussing human rights issues with Chinese officials. The stage now set for an extraordinary tug of war between the two countries.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Joining me now is Bob Fu, the president of the China Aid Association human rights group, which has been campaigning for Chen's freedom.

Bob, I want to ask. You call this man your hero and your friend. The president of the United States was asked about him today, and this is what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm aware of the press reports on the situation in China. But I'm not going to make a statement on the issue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does that disappoint you? The president of the United States had a chance to speak out for your friend here, and he decided to say, "I'm not going to say anything"?

BOB FU, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: It's a little disappointing. And I understand President Obama has a delicate situation and may cause problems. But I always wish the U.S. politicians would support, I mean, unequivocally for all those who are persecuted instead of trying to spare the feeling of the persecutors.

KING: Do you believe if the United States tells him, "Your only choice, sir, is to come to the United States. And we will try to work that out," will he accept that? Or is he so determined to fight the fight that he might say no?

FU: I believe he will accept that. I think, after all, he does care about the safety and freedom for him and his family. And he has -- he has suffered so much already for the past seven years with brutal treatment and imprisonment and house arrest with his family members.

KING: As we watch this delicate situation play out, what do you think the message is to other dissidents, other Chen Guangchengs in China and elsewhere, that the president of the United States refused to say his name and refused to stand up for him publicly?

FU: That is a little discouraging message that it seems, you know, when the president get opportunities, he should express his unwavering solidarity with the persecuted and with the freedom fighters, as he expressed in his inauguration address and Secretary Clinton has expressed her concern, her appeal for Chen's freedom.

And -- but I understand there is a sensitivity with the diplomatic negotiations going on. And I don't think at the end of the day, there should be a solution reached to be reached by both countries. That's the best interest for all parties.

KING: What do you think is going on inside the leadership? Can they let him leave?

FU: They are trying to find a fast or speedy decision or response maybe in the next few days. And after all, I don't think in their eyes, they want a so-called troublemaker to be staying in China, to continue occupying the headline. And I think the U.S. is willing to help Chen and his family.

KING: Bob Fu, appreciate your time and your insights tonight. Thank you very much. FU: Thank you, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Next the truth about why Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are getting along a lot better this year than back in 2008.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Bill Clinton suddenly seems everywhere again. Here this past weekend, helping President Obama raise a boatload of money for his reelection campaign. And here an Obama campaign Web video suggesting maybe Mitt Romney wouldn't have had the guts to order the raid that ended up killing Osama bin Laden.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He had to decide, and that's what you hire a president to do. You hire the president to make the calls when no one else can do it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Tonight's "Truth" is proof that politics does indeed make strange bedfellows and a reminder these guys haven't always seen eye- to-eye.

President Clinton, you might recall, had a few public debates with the Obama campaign back in 2008, including this response to complaints the Clintons were playing the race card in South Carolina.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: When he put out a hit job on me, the same time he called over the senator from Punjab, I never said a word. And I don't care about it today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Days earlier in the New Hampshire primary fight, the former president said Senator Obama was grossly exaggerating his opposition to the Iraq war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Give me a break. This whole thing is the biggest fairy tale I've ever seen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Then-Senator Obama, well, was quick to respond.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: This has become a habit. And one of the things that I think we're going to have to do is to directly confront Bill Clinton when he is not making statements that are factually accurate.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, there's more, but you get the point. This relationship had a rocky start, but it's a lot more healthy now. The benefits for President Obama are many. President Clinton has a very deep fundraising effort, and many voters recall fondly the economy was a lot stronger back in the Clinton days.

And for President Clinton, being a leading Obama surrogate gets him back in the game he loves so much.

Now, there is a potential downside. An Obama win, some Democrats say, would make a Hillary Clinton presidency less likely. If he loses and she's interested, she could start moving around the country next year and would be a faraway frontrunner for 2016.

But it should be noted President Clinton still tells friends don't count Hillary out. But he also ascribes to the one election at a time approach, and it's clear he wants as big a role as possible in this one.

So what are the implications of President Clinton's face time in this election cycle? Does it have an impact down the road?

With me tonight, Michael Crowley, deputy Washington bureau chief for "TIME" magazine; Maria Cardona, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, who knows the Clintons quite well; and Torie Clarke, former Pentagon during the Bush administration, now senior advisor for the Comcast Corporation.

I want to go to you first. They didn't get along back in 2008. There was a very tough campaign. But to the conspiracy theory among Democrats that, if Obama loses, Hillary could start moving around the country right away. If he wins, it's sort of unseemly. You know, 2016 is still going to be an open race in that scenario. But it's sort of unseemly to start going to Iowa and New Hampshire right away. Does it make a difference?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I don't think it makes a difference at all. Look, I think what Democrats are interested in is making sure right now that President Obama is reelected.

And everybody knows how popular and how beloved President Clinton is. And look, you're right: four years ago, you know, there was some bad blood among them. But look -- look what happens when you make Hillary secretary of state. So, you know, a lot changes in four years. But that is big bridge building right then and there.

And look, President Clinton not only reminds people of the last great economic expansion that we had, when a Democratic president was empowered. But clearly, President Obama is following in those footsteps, policy wise as well as tactics wise. And I think that that is a good thing for the Democrats in general.

KING: He's a former president. Yet, he loves, loves -- I'm covered him for a long time. He loves the game of politics, so he seems to be having fun. Is that what this is?

TORIE CLARKE, FORMER PENTAGON SPOKESPERSON: I think part of it is he loves doing it. You watch him and you listen and go he is a born natural.

But I was watching these clips beforehand, and I was thinking John McCain has this great line which I've stolen. May the words I utter today be sweet, for tomorrow, I may have to eat them. And nobody does it better than politicians. We'll kick, we'll fight, and the next day, "I need you, let's go." I think that's part of it.

But also, being cynical, Hillary appropriately is keeping her options open. And what would be better in 2016 than to have former new President Obama on the campaign trail for you, raising money for you. So I think there is some chits being exchanged here, whether they're saying so or not.

KING: Joe and Jill Biden will be calling you momentarily to see how that one goes down.

You know, you were -- when those clips were playing, Michael, you were mouthing the clips even before they rolled, because you remember. This was the Clinton-Obama, and the Bill Clinton role in that race was so important back in 2008. Yet, they're best buds now.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: They are. But the lines were so indelible, and you know, the fairytale thing. The real anger and frustration and resentment Bill Clinton felt at that time.

It's remarkable to see how far we've come at this point. Because he really went hard against Obama, and it was not clear that it was going to be this sort of (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

But look, I think No. 1 he cares. He really wants Democrats to win, so he's doing his part. No. 2, I think he -- he's rehabilitating his reputation. There were a lot of Democrats who were disillusioned with him. And he's winning them back over. He probably is thinking about 2016, as well.

But I think he's a great -- he's a very effective advocate for Obama. But he's also doing himself a favor at the same time.

KING: Go ahead.

CARDONA: In addition to strategy and fundraising and tactics, stand in for the rope line, John, is what they need President Clinton for. There's no one better at that.

KING: You know, and running for very long days. I remember...

CARDONA: That's what I mean.

KING: Although he looks great now, in the 1992 campaign he gained maybe 40. I probably gained 35. But a lot of Dunkin Donuts and a lot of pizza. But you know, some people say that former presidents, they're a unique club. They need to be careful.

CLARKE: Right.

KING: Does he cross lines to be so involved in politics or is it so what?

CLARKE: No, I don't think so at all. I think that comes back to how much he loves it, and he wants to be a part of the game. It just shows. And think about middle-class voters in Ohio and Florida and places like that. Who do they want to see come visit them and campaign? Bill Clinton or Barack Obama?

CROWLEY: Another quick point I forgot to mention. I'm sure he loves the fact that Obama kind of needs him now. So in '08 he was resentful in that clip we mentioned. He didn't like Obama kind of stealing the Clinton thunder. I think there's a little bit of "here I am. Now you need me."

KING: To your point, Bill Clinton has appeal to some of the voters with whom Barack Obama has long had a problem. So everybody stand by. We'll continue the conversation in a moment.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour, and Erin, you're going to tell us why this man may soon be a household man. Who are we talking about?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We're talking about this man here. His name is Aubrey McClendon. He's from Oklahoma, one of the wealthiest people in this country. And right now, John, at the center of what some analysts say could be, well, the next Enron. We'll talk about exactly what is going on, what's happening and frankly how this could happen.

Here's a little hint, John, of something we're going to talk about. At his company, which is the second largest natural gas company in the United States, Reuters reports that among the perks are free Botox injections at work. Sound too good to be true? It just might be. So we're going to tell you the story of Aubrey McClendon at the top of the hour.

KING: I can't wait. I want to connect those dots. And I'm going to be watching just to watch you connect those dots. Erin, we'll see you in a couple minutes.

Coming up here, another pair of rivals who decided to work together, and it could have a huge impact on the e-book market.

Plus, tonight's "Moment You Missed" features the first lady and may remind you of the title of a hit movie. But these are real heroes.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Michael Crowley and Maria Cardona and Torie Clark. One of the biggest stories in politics today is the politics of bin Laden. And Governor Romney is insisting -- the Obama people have their Web video up with the former president, Bill Clinton, saying maybe Mitt Romney wouldn't have had the courage to do the big raid. Governor Romney was asked today, "If you got that briefing, would you have said yes?"

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Governor, you would have gone after bin Laden?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Of course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You would have given the order, Governor?

ROMNEY: Of course. Even Jimmy Carter would have given that order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Even Jimmy Carter there, Governor Romney says. Well, President Obama was asked about that in his White House news conference today. And he suggests Governor Romney is now being, shall we say, full disclosure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I just recommend that everybody take a look at people's previous statements in terms of whether they thought it was appropriate to go in Pakistan and take out bin Laden.

I assume that people meant what they said when they said it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, if you go back, Torie Clark, to the 2008 campaign, Governor Romney did say he thought when then-Senator Obama said he would order strikes into Pakistan without their knowledge, he said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, they're our friends. You've got to be careful about that." He did say you don't want to move heaven and earth for just one man.

Then he also said in other debates, if he had good intelligence, you know. But he did say some things. Fair game?

CLARKE: You know what? I've been watching this all day long. And I'm so offended that the president of the United States and the person who wants to be the president of the United States are bickering over something like this. It has shades of a "Saturday Night Live" skit: who's more macho? It's just -- it's awful. It's completely disrespectful for the issues at hand.

What they ought to be is watching a report that Nic Robertson did earlier today on this network, in which we talked about current and comprehensive and detailed plans by al Qaeda, currently in operation, to kill thousands and thousands of people.

And people like us ought to be saying to the president, what are you going to do about that? Don't take me back a year and bicker over the semantics of this. Tell me how we're going to deal with the challenges we're facing today.

I just found the bickering back and forth really distasteful.

KING: A lot of people would take that argument, and this president, he was president when bin Laden was killed. He gets the credit for that.

He did say back in the last campaign when Hillary Clinton raised it up, it has no role in our politics. He did say after the raid, no spiking the football.

CARDONA: Except for, he said no spiking the football, but when the other team accuses you of not having won the football game, then I think you can take that football and just remind the other side that they would not have even used the playbook that was used to win that football game. Which is exactly what's happening.

Romney's words basically indicate that he probably would not have done it, given the circumstances. If he wants to take back those words today, John, then that's fine. That's his prerogative. And it probably would be par for the course for him. But he said those words.

So I think that comparing those words with the current situation and what he would have done is completely fair game. Especially when the other side is also accusing him of being a weak leader.

KING: It was not only just what the president said today, Michael. It was sort of how he said it. He was slow. He was deliberate. He cracked a little smile at one point. You know, go back and look at what Governor Romney said. He's enjoying this.

CROWLEY: He's really enjoying it. He knows he has the upper hand. You know, I thought the Jimmy Carter shot was kind of pat. It was sort of a cliche, you know, calling a Democrat Jimmy Carter. I didn't really understand what the point was.

Jimmy Carter ordered a mission somewhat similar to this in Iran, and that failed. This one succeeded. I don't think it was a great attack.

But John, I think you know, this is not really the key question any more. You know, we've been through this debate for a long time. We know all about the decision. You know, the issue now is the ongoing drone war against al Qaeda.

You know, Obama's expanding the drone war. We have more liberal rules of engagement, so to speak. The bar for blasting the terrorists from the air is lower. We're doing it in Yemen. We're doing it in Somalia. It would be much more interesting to hear a conversation between the candidates about that and about whether you can kill an American civilian with a drone without judicial process.

So I think it's time to move past the bin Laden debate. There's not that much more to say about it. And let's talk about the larger drone war that is the new phase against al Qaeda.

KING: Well, I hope as we get past the anniversary, maybe we can do that. Substance in the campaign. We'll see if that happens.

Torie, Maria, Michael, thanks for coming in.

Here's Kate Bolduan back with the latest news you need to know right now -- Kate.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, John. Good evening.

Good evening again, everyone.

Athletes and tourists aren't the only visitors coming to London for the 2012 summer Olympics. A leaflet being handed out in some neighborhoods tells residents that anti-aircraft missiles are being placed on nearby rooftops as part of stepped-up security measures. Needless to say, some locals are not too happy about their new neighbors.

And Microsoft is investing $300 million into Barnes & Noble's eBook market. The bookseller is looking to merge its digital and college book business into a new unit, and Microsoft will have a more than a 17 percent stake. The book chain's shares nearly doubled with the news of this spin-off.

And have you ever wished you could travel on a replica of the "Titanic"? Well, an Australian billionaire could finally give you that chance, if you so desire. Mining tycoon Clive Palmer has commissioned a Chinese shipyard to build a luxury liner matching -- build a luxury liner matching the ill-fated "Titanic" in every detail, except including some modern technology, which could have helped them last time around -- John.

KING: Uh, yes. There's nothing I can say there. You can't be funny. You think you're going to be funny, but...

BOLDUAN: I don't think you're going to be buying a ticket on that one.

KING: No. Good luck, that's what I'll say. I wish them the best on this project.

All right, Kate, stand by. Here's a "Moment You May Have Missed." And forget "Hunger Games," the 2012 "Warrior Games" have begun. Michelle Obama jumpstarted the competition in Colorado Springs today, pumping up more than 200 wounded servicemen and women.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: I get to see your strength and your determination. I get to see that up close, firsthand, as you tell me that you're not just going to walk again, but you're going to run, and you're going to run marathons.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The men and women are participating in Olympic-style events, this year's third annual games.

Other wounded warriors, they got together to warm-up with the former president, George W. Bush, last week. Their former commander in chief led them on -- get this -- a 62-mile bike ride through a rugged canyon trail in Texas.

If you've ever met any of these wounded warriors, Kate, I'll tell you, it just stops you in your tracks, their courage, their bravery. Wow.

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, talk about not having anything to say. I mean, it's just amazing. And what they do, if anything, we should be honoring them more.

KING: Former president and the first lady both get credit for helping them out there.

That's all for us tonight. We'll see you right back here tomorrow night. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.