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JOHN KING, USA

Joe Biden in Doghouse?; President Obama's Energy Promises; Will Dems' Convention Move out of Charlotte?; Romney Apologizes for High- School Incident; Will Same-Sex Marriage Position Hurt, Help Obama?

Aired May 10, 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'm John King.

Tonight: Vice President Biden in the doghouse for going off-script and forcing the president to speed up his announcement that he supports same-sex marriage.

Also, we grade the president's record on energy, what he promised back in 2008 and how it could shape campaign 2012.

Plus, complaints the leap to disclose the latest al Qaeda terror plot blocked the CIA from sending a double agent back inside for more valuable information about the terror group.

We begin this evening with two important political disputes, one of them a fascinating family feud. President Obama out on the West Coast fund-raising tonight, and his team believes those efforts, the fund- raiser efforts will be helped now by the news he supports same-sex marriage.

But behind the scenes at the Obama White House, a rift with the vice president for forcing the president to speed up that announcement.

CNN chief White House correspondent Jessica Yellin has just learned some new details.

The vice president, Jess, just trying to make up by going into the Oval Office and saying, I'm sorry?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John.

I have learned from a senior administration official the vice president went in and he apologized not for the position he took, but for putting the president in a tough position. And the president with a very understanding reply, as I'm told, saying essentially that he knows the vice president is speaking from the heart. You can imagine that conversation.

And, in addition, the vice president's office has put out an official statement which fits inside a Twitter response. "The president has been a leader on this issue from day one. And the vice president never intended to distract from that," fewer than 140 characters, John.

KING: Keep it short. When you are going to apologize, you get to keep it short.

But in the sense that so -- the president has been through this before where the vice president's -- I will say his tongue gets out ahead of the brain sometimes. Assess where we are now, the fallout. Did the president say apology accepted? And what about the political team?

YELLIN: This is one of those instances where I think sometimes a president is more forgiving than the president's aides sometimes. And I think the staff has been somewhat bent out of shape, shall we say, because there was a thinking of a plan and a timeline. And there was an intention to roll this out ahead of the Democratic Convention.

The vice president's remarks got them ahead of that. And, so, it didn't throw something out there that was never going to happen. It didn't force the president to do something he never intended to do. It just forced the timeline up. So, in the end, all's well, as the president said, that ends well.

They are -- this is not going to be a permanent rift. It is a temporary, if not deep, annoyance. It will end. The vice president is hitting the campaign trail next week to Ohio, a key state. So he is not really in the doghouse, John.

KING: But they will be watching him closely.

YELLIN: Very closely.

KING: I bet they will be. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, thanks.

Let's get a bit more perspective now. Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is with me.

And, Gloria, the president sort of hinted at this -- that he wasn't so happy. Let's put it that way.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure.

KING: But he did this ABC interview with Robin Roberts. They did a walk and talk in the colonnade area outside the Oval Office.

Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I had already made a decision that we were going to probably take this decision before the election and before the convention. He probably got out a little bit over his skis, but out of generosity of spirit.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I like that, a little bit out over his skis. That's a polite way to put it.

(CROSSTALK) BORGER: He doesn't say, you know Joe. He always does that.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Lasting damage? It is a big issue, but is it a big lasting deal?

BORGER: I think these two men really like each other. I think the president values Joe Biden's advice. He values his candor, which you don't often get when you are president of the United States.

I think Joe Biden has had a real adjustment. And that is, he was used to be the master of his own universe when he was in the United States Senate. He was a senior senator, staff around him. He spoke for one person. That was Joe Biden.

Now he had to learn -- and he is learning it the hard way -- is that when he speaks, people believe that he is also speaking for the president of the United States. And, normally, the president should go first and then Joe Biden should follow. And that's something that I think has been a really difficult adjustment.

KING: It has been more than three years. You would think maybe he would have had that a little bit more figured out by now. But...

BORGER: People learn slowly.

KING: Some people do. Some people do.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Stay with me for a second, because tonight's second dispute is between -- it's more the dispute you would expect, between the president and Republican rival Mitt Romney.

Speaking to ABC, the president ridiculed Romney's recent suggestion that he, Governor Romney, deserves some credit for the auto industry's rebound.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I think this is one of his Etch A Sketch moments.

I don't think anybody takes that seriously. People remember his position, which was, let's let Detroit go bankrupt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But, just a short time ago, Governor Romney stood his ground.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This was back when George Bush was president. And I said, don't write them a check. They need to go through a managed bankruptcy. They have to get rid of the excess cost of the UAW and other excess costs, and then the government can help support.

But don't write them a check. And I know the head of the UAW, he said, that's absolutely wrong. These companies can't go through bankruptcy. It would never work. But you know what? That's finally what happened. The president finally came around. And they went through a managed bankruptcy and now they are back on their feet.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Can he win this argument?

BORGER: No.

KING: And it's a critical argument. Ohio -- a new poll out today in Ohio, a dead heat.

BORGER: Right.

KING: A lot of autoworkers in Ohio as well. We always think Michigan, but there are a lot of states in the Midwest.

Can Romney win this argument or does he need to at least have a draw?

BORGER: He can't win the argument on the auto bailout in particular. If he wants to make the argument that the jobs haven't been created quickly enough, that the stimulus package didn't work, those are all arguments that he can potentially win.

The question of the auto bailout, however, I think is a very, very difficult case for him to make. And I think he ought to get off of it, because it is too easy for President Obama to say, wait a minute, you folks were all against the auto bailout. I was the one who put myself on the line for it.

And I think it strains credulity. And I don't think it works for Mitt Romney. So I think he needs to get on to talking about his economic message.

KING: A lot of Obama money will be spent on TV ads.

BORGER: Oh.

KING: I don't think Governor Romney is going to be able to get off this one. I think they're going to -- they're going to keep this one in Michigan and in Ohio and in other big industrial battleground states.

Gloria, thanks so much.

BORGER: Sure.

KING: New details tonight, new leaked details concerning the agent who foiled the latest al Qaeda plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner.

But the Senate Homeland Security Committee chairman says those leaks are hurting efforts to discover more about the terrorist intentions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TED BARRETT, CNN PRODUCER: So, you think -- just so I understand, you think that the (OFF-MIKE) now exposed this particular informant, the person who carried the bomb out...

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN (I), CONNECTICUT: I did.

BARRETT: ... that had the leak not happened, that person might have been able to (OFF-MIKE) again?

LIEBERMAN: Correct. That's right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's bring in CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. She is the on external advisory boards for both the Department of Homeland Security and the CIA.

Fran, you heard Senator Lieberman there. That's our Ted Barrett, our Capitol Hill producer, a fine reporter, questioning him, essentially saying, so you think if this word didn't leak, this guy could have gone back in?

How does the mole go back?

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, John, I think there is a sort of misconception here.

When you have a deep penetration or a double agent like this, it is not as though you send him in and you don't talk to him. This is somebody -- and I obviously can't go into the details of how -- but it is someone with whom you communicate pretty regularly. You want to get ongoing information from him, and you want to give him direction, things that you want him to do.

And so there would have been ongoing communication. You then have this big event. Right? He gets his hands on the potential bomb and he is going to get it out. So you want to know, can we send him back in? Well, you would have developed what's called a cover story.

So he would have said something along the lines -- I don't know what the cover plan was in this case, but he would have said something like, I want to cross the border to go into country X and they were doing physical searches, so I had to dump it, when what he really did was, he went into country X and handed it over to the CIA or some foreign intelligence service.

You then, if it hadn't been revealed, would have sent him back in. Now, that would have been very difficult and sensitive time. You would have been very alert to see if people were suspicious of him. But you would have sent him back in to try and find out whether or not there were other potential suicide bombers and whether or not there were other devices.

When this case became public, especially when it became public that the FBI had their hands on the device, there is no possibility of a cover story, you can't send him back in. And not only that. If he's got family inside Yemen, you have got to get everybody out and do it quickly -- it's called an exfiltration -- to get them out of harm's way, so that they -- retribution can't be had on them.

And so there is a substantial loss to the investigation. I think that's why you hear senators on Capitol Hill, congressmen very angry about it.

KING: And I guess this question probably can't be fully answered. What's the impact of losing this valuable source? Do you even know, because you don't know what he could have got you, right?

TOWNSEND: You don't know. And you don't know how long he could have been in there.

The likelihood, John, is, in all experience, that he wouldn't have been able to remain in country much longer. But the questions he may have been able to answer if he had gone back was, how did they -- how did they react to the loss of the bomb, were there other bombers, and how many and who, and how many other bombs.

And so that sort of thing, he might have been able to get that additional detail, which is critical to them right now.

KING: Fran Townsend, our national security contributor, thanks so much for your help.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, John.

KING: A new low today in Syria. It's the worst violence since the uprising began and a bloody reminder of a failure, a failure of the cease-fire agreement.

Two suicide car bombs erupted in Damascus, killing at least 55 people, nearly 400 more wounded. Those chunks of metal barely recognizable, those were cars. And this gigantic crater is a testament of the power of the 2,200 pounds of explosives said to be used.

The rebels blame the regime. The regime blames the rebels, calling it a terrorist attack. United Nations envoy Kofi Annan is condemning the bombings, more evidence of his crumbling peace plan.

But one U.N. source tells CNN that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has invited Annan back to Damascus, and Annan is reportedly thinking about it.

Well, why would you think about it? Either go or, well, just call the whole deal off.

Still ahead here: an unflattering portrait of Mitt Romney in high school. Today, Romney denied one particular incident was homophobic.

Next, the president's report card on energy -- among those grading him, former U.S. energy secretary.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL RICHARDSON (D), FORMER NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR: I think the president is on his way to a comprehensive energy policy. He -- we could use a little help from the Congress.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Your pain at the pump has eased a bit in recent days, but this spring spike in gas prices was a bold reminder of how energy plays in both our economy and our politics.

So let's focus on energy as we continue our focus on the major promises candidate Obama made in 2008 and his track record in keeping them.

This was a big one. The president promised to end our U.S. need for imported oil from unreliable or politically distasteful sources.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: As president, I will put the full resources of the federal government and the full energy of the private sector behind a single, overarching goal. In 10 years, we are going to eliminate the need for oil from the entire Middle East and Venezuela.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That's one big promise. Candidate Obama also promised this, to lower greenhouse gas emissions using an approach known as cap and trade, tough limits on those emissions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: As president, I will set a hard cap on all carbon emissions at a level that scientists say is necessary to curb global warming. To ensure this isn't just talk, I will also commit to interim targets towards this goal in 2020, 2030, and 2040.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: And candidate Obama also promised this, a green jobs revolution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I will invest $150 billion over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy, wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels, an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The question now, in the reelection campaign, is has he kept those promises? Since he said 10 years, we would have to say in the works, to be fair, when it comes to ending all oil imports from the Middle East and Venezuela. It is a work in progress.

But even with increases in domestic production, it's pretty hard to see that happening. But the president did say within 10 years. So we will say it's in the works.

We would have to say broken promise when it comes to the cap and trade system. The Democrats controlled Congress for the first two years of the Obama presidency. They did not enact cap and trade. It became a lost cause once Republicans took control of the House. And, again, since the president's timeline was 10 years, we would have to say in the works is the verdict when it comes to creating five million green jobs.

But stimulus grants and green jobs training programs have failed so far to produce as many jobs as supporters even in the White House had hoped. Now, the president's critics say his approach has failed. But the president insists when it comes to energy, he is on the right track.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: And as long as I am president, we will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. We are calling on "all of the above" energy strategy, all of the above, a strategy that relies on producing more oil and gas here in America, but also more biofuels, more fuel- efficient cars, more wind power, and, as you can see, a whole lot more solar power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Well, let's assess the president's record on energy as we head into the reelection campaign with the former energy secretary and the former governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson -- he's in New York today -- and from Saint Louis, former Missouri Senator Jim Talent, who serves as an energy adviser to the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney.

Governor Richardson, I want to start with you.

The president said, within 10 years, no more oil from the Middle East because it's too volatile, too unpredictable, no more oil from Venezuela because we don't like the Chavez government. Is that at all a realistic goal?

RICHARDSON: It is a realistic goal.

And there has been substantial progress, John. The president has lowered our dependence on oil imports, under 50 percent for the first time when I was energy secretary. We were close to 61.1 billion barrels per day less in oil imports. He has implemented fuel economy standards double that, which is going to reduce our addiction to imported oil. Green energy jobs, he has doubled solar, wind, biofuels since 2008, which is going to be another step forward. And he has created thousands of new green jobs. From the stimulus in my state, which is an energy state, an oil and gas state, renewable energy state, thousands of new jobs were created.

So I think the president is on his way to a comprehensive energy policy. He -- we could use a little help from the Congress. The Congress has not passed climate change legislation, the renewable portfolio standard mandating a certain percentage by every state to have clean energy. So we could use a little bipartisan help.

KING: But let's let Senator Talent join the conversation.

Governor Richardson says the president is right and anything he hasn't accomplished is the Congress' fault.

JIM TALENT (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: Well, listen, I know he thinks it is a shame that Congress hasn't given him everything he wanted. The problem is, the Congress did give him too much of what he wanted the first couple years. It's the reason that the economy is off.

Yes, the press wants cap and trade. Well, as he said in the campaign, his cap and trade plan would necessarily skyrocket electricity prices. I mean, look, the problem is, he talks about all of the above, but it is really none of the above, John, because the administration's energy policies have suppressed the production of energy.

Leasing on federal lands is down 50 percent. Permitting is down a third. Production of oil on federal lands is down. The only reason we are importing less is the economy is off. That's like saying, you know, a sick person can save on their food budget because they don't eat so much. Well, that is not the way you ought to do it.

What we need to do and what Governor Romney wants to do is to produce the energy that this nation needs to grow and create jobs. And without prosperity, we can't do anything. Without energy, we can't have prosperity. So we need to streamline permitting and leasing, not stonewalling it. We need to build the Keystone pipeline, which the president has stopped.

We need to streamline permitting of nuclear power plants, open up offshore lands for exploration. It would be nice if we had a survey, so we knew how much oil and natural gas we have in domestic lands. So the president's been -- his policies have been suppressing the production of energy, not creating it.

RICHARDSON: What Governor Romney wants to do is keep the subsidies for big oil, $4 billion a year.

The president is all of the above, renewable energy, natural gas, biofuels, biodiesel, nuclear. You are right. The president is ready to proceed with nuclear power plants so long as they are safe. Natural gas, he has just put forth a very sensible fracking policy that says we are going to do natural gas, we are going to do fracking, but we are going to be careful about protecting the environment, making sure that chemicals are disclosed, that we protect groundwater, that we find ways to make sure that there is no leakage.

(CROSSTALK)

RICHARDSON: This is a president who has committed an awful lot on a comprehensive energy policy, and he wants a little help from the Congress and he wants to have a debate on this issue with Governor Romney, who just says no, no, no on every alternative fuel.

KING: You hear the -- you hear the governor, Senator Talent?

TALENT: Yes, I know.

Well, look, John, the production of oil in this country is up because the production on private lands is up. The production on federally controlled lands is down. Leasing is down. Permitting is down. Those are, by the way, the administration's numbers. Those are not Governor Romney's numbers. Look, in the stimulus package, they had $60 billion in grants.

He wants to talk about big companies, grants to companies like Solyndra, Ener1, Evergreen Solar that have gone bankrupt; $400 million for basic research that will produce the technological breakthroughs that we need, that's what Governor Romney wants to do.

So, look, we need a policy -- and we can get it on a bipartisan basis -- where we are producing the energy that we have, and not suppressing the production of the energy that we have. Then, we will have job growth. We can create millions of jobs in the energy industry alone.

One other thing, John. Bill mentioned green jobs. Well, when the administration counts the number of green jobs it has created, it includes, for example, people working in the mass transit sector. It includes bus drivers. It includes people working in wastewater treatment. Those aren't green energy jobs. Those are -- those are -- they say, since it is mass transit, it has got to be green. Well, it is not a green energy job. So those are the figures that are incorrect.

KING: Senator Talent, Governor Richardson, appreciate you coming in.

We're going to continue this conversation, including -- this is President Obama's report card. We will get to Governor Romney's as well. Gentlemen, thanks for your time today.

RICHARDSON: Thank you.

TALENT: Thank you.

KING: Ahead here, remember those calls to boycott Arizona after it passed a tough immigration law? Well, now some Democrats say the party should move its convention out of North Carolina, because that state just adopted a very tough ban, not only on same-sex marriages, but also civil unions. We will talk to the mayor who will serve as the convention chairman.

But, next: the renewal of an ancient tradition in this summer's Games. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: Up next: Mitt Romney apologizes for a high school incident he says he can't even remember. We will talk to the reporter who tracked down the witnesses.

And, later, a new push to move the Democratic National Convention out of North Carolina. I will ask the man in charge of the convention about that and whether President Obama is pushing hard enough on the issue of same-sex marriage.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This half hour, President Obama says he personally believes in same-sex marriage. But how hard can he push for it politically? I'll ask the chairman of the Democratic National Convention.

And the dark side of Mitt Romney's high-school years. Details on an incident that has the governor apologizing some 50 years after the fact.

Plus, Vladimir Putin says he's too busy to meet with President Obama next week. But he does have time to strap on some skates and hit the ice. And this is just the newest hobby for the Russian president.

North Carolina's vote to ban same-sex marriages and gay civil unions has some Democrats rethinking their summer travel plans. There's an online petition now with over 28,000 signatures, asking the Democratic National Committee to move its nominating convention out of Charlotte. Did the convention move, and will the party platform now follow President Obama and endorse same-sex marriage?

Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is the convention chairman.

Mr. Mayor, it is good to see you. Let's start with the question. Should the convention move? After Arizona passed SB-1070, a lot of Democrats said boycott. North Carolina just passed a very tough, not only saying no to same-sex marriages but no civil unions. Should the party pick up and move the convention?

MAYOR ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE CONVENTION CHAIRMAN: I don't think so. Look, we're already far down the way in terms of planning for this convention. It's going to be the most open and accessible.

North Carolina is an important state. We're going to work to win the hearts and minds and votes of the voters there. We're going to go ahead with the convention in September.

KING: You a long time ago went on the record saying it was time to change the Democratic platform, the party's platform, to have an endorsement of same-sex marriage. Now that the president is out, will that happen?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, even back then. And I've been supporting marriage equality since 1994. But even back then, I said that we have to go through a process. The platform committee will be soliciting opinions and viewpoints from all over the country. We want this to be an open and accessible convention, the most open and accessible -- accessible ever. We'll then have to vote on the platform.

But now that the president is supportive, I expect that there will be something to that effect in the platform.

KING: As you know, there was resistance from the Obama political team when this idea was first floated, when it was discussed by yourself and others. When -- did you get any heads up that the president was about to have this dramatic change of heart?

VILLARAIGOSA: First of all, I got no resistance from the campaign. They knew where I was. They were supportive of me, you know, saying where I've been for a very long time on this issue. There was no resistance from that campaign with respect to me. I can't speak for others.

But as the chairman of the Democratic Party convention, I would think that they would have said something to that effect. And yes, I did know a couple of weeks ago that something would be said soon on this issue.

KING: What did they tell you?

VILLARAIGOSA: Just that -- that the president would be making a statement soon on the issue.

KING: Were you told it was going to be a change, that he was fully evolving, to use his language?

VILLARAIGOSA: Look, I think the president has been very clear on this issue. And because this issue isn't an issue that stands alone.

When you look at discrimination against gays and lesbians and the LGBT community; when you look at don't -- hate crimes legislation, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," denying the legal defense of DOMA, this is a president that's done more for this community, and for civil rights for this community, than any president in our history.

And now, because his position on marriage equality has evolved, he's taken a position of conscience. I think it was a courageous decision on his part and one that I support 100 percent. I'm very proud of our president.

KING: As you know, some members of the gay and lesbian community had questioned the White House, had asked this of the White House for some time. I'm wondering, now that the president has done this, what about in your community? Have you had any Latino folks come to you and say, "Well, the president promised to introduce comprehensive legislation, immigration legislation. He hasn't done that." The president, in the view of many in your community, has too many deportations going on. Has anyone in your community come forward and said, "It's our turn, Mr. Mayor"?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, look. There's no question that there's a great deal of support, not just in the Latino community but across the state and city in support of comprehensive immigration reform, securing our borders but providing a pathway for citizenship for the undocumented, and for the DREAM Act, as well.

But I think people know that the president doesn't have a vote in the Congress and that there hasn't been any cooperation on the other side of the aisle in support of that. When there is, and I believe when the president is reelected, he will make this an absolute priority. And I think people will take him at his word.

KING: Let me return to the same-sex marriage debate for a second. A lot of people who say there could be -- could be a negative political fallout in some key states. They say, for example, a lot of African- American ministers, you know, in conservative churches say homosexuality is evil. That's what they say the Bible teaches them.

A lot of people say -- a lot of Latinos are Catholics. They go into the Catholic Church, and they hear their priest say every Sunday homosexuality is evil and that marriage should be between a man and a woman. Do you think in a very close election -- I don't mean sweeping loss for the president but a very close election, where you're dealing with on the margins -- could this hurt the president?

VILLARAIGOSA: Well, I'm not a pundit, but I will say this. When I say it was a courageous decision and it was. And it was because there are people that are against it.

I'm hoping that those people will go with the president based on his economic policies, based on the many things he's done. Most people aren't single-issue voters. They vote on a broad range of issues. They vote for the character of the candidate. In this case, I think the character of the candidate is very clear. This is a man with the courage of his convictions.

KING: Mayor, it is good to see you tonight. We'll see you down the road. You have a busy summer ahead.

VILLARAIGOSA: Thank you. You look forward to it.

KING: Romney's prep-school classmates say the man who wants to be the next president of the United States was known as a prankster during their years at the ultra-exclusive Cranbrook School. And sometimes those pranks took a dark turn.

"The Washington Post" talked to four sources about one particular incident when Romney and his friends tackled a long-haired bleached- blonde boy and cut off some of his hair. That classmate, it turned out, was gay.

A few hours after the story was published this morning, Governor Romney was asked about the incident during a radio interview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (via phone): I don't remember that incident. And I'll tell you, I certainly don't believe that I -- I can't speak for other people, of course, but thought the fellow was homosexual. That was the furthest thing from my mind back in 1960s.

Back in high school, you know, I did some dumb things. And if anybody was hurt by that or offended, obviously, I apologize.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: With us now, the author of that "Washington Post" article, Jason Horowitz.

You heard the governor responding there: a bit of a chuckle. We all do silly things in high school. But some say this goes beyond silly. In your conversations with your sources...

JASON HOROWITZ, "WASHINGTON POST": Yes.

KING: ... was it a prank or was it bullying?

HOROWITZ: The way that they saw it, it was something that went beyond a prank. They saw something that bothered them and stuck with them for decades now. It's something that some of them witnessed first- hand, they all witnessed first-hand. But some of them even participated in it and felt a good deal of regret about that.

KING: Let me interrupt you then, because I want to...

HOROWITZ: Yes.

KING: From your article, and this is -- it was a hack job. It was vicious, Philip Maxwell, said one of the students.

"'To this day, it troubles me,' Thomas Buford said. 'He was just easy pickings,' said Matthew Freedman (ph)," another student involved. You hear them. Clearly, they have vivid memories. Something to carry this with them.

When Governor Romney says at the beginning, "I don't remember that," is it possible? He was allegedly the guy with the scissors.

HOROWITZ: Well, we can only take Governor Romney at his word, right? But what we do know is that the people who are participating in it and who were there remember it vividly, and they remember him there vividly.

KING: And so how did they describe the governor, again, as a high school student? It is a long time ago. A long time ago. People do change.

In your article, you say people say when he met his now wife, Ann, he changed considerably.

HOROWITZ: Right. Yes. KING: But at this point, when they described him, they described him -- I'm just going to use some words we used in high school. As a jerk, as a bully, as a prankster, as a clown?

HOROWITZ: Well, I think that kind of clown, actually, was probably the word that most people think of now, that he was the class clown. He was always quick with the joke. He -- he stayed up late and would ride mops up and down the hallway with his buddy.

And that was fun. A lot of people kind of liked that about him. And in fact, a good deal of the people I've found really found him to be charming and funny. It was just that sometimes those pranks seemed to cross a line. And when they crossed the line, that's -- that's what bothered people.

KING: Jason Horowitz, appreciate it. It's a great article. Thank you.

Coming up, the "Truth" about same-sex marriage and how it will play in this year's campaign.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you thought Republicans would welcome the return of the culture wars and look to play up President Obama's newfound support of same-sex marriage, well, think again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The president and the Democrats can talk about all this all they want. But the fact is the American people are focused on our economy and are asking a question: where are the jobs?

(END VIDEO CIP)

KING: The one opening some Republicans do see is a chance to turn the tables and use the flip-flop label the Democrats so often pin on Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: The president was for same-sex marriage before he was against it, and now he's for it again. People forget that back in 1997, '98 when he ran for the state senate in Illinois, he was in favor of same-sex marriage.

Then, when decided to run for the presidency, he became against same- sex marriage.

Now, he's for it.

So I think it will help with his base. I think it will hurt a little in showing these shifting positions that he'll take on a moral issue like this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Help some, hurt some. You just heard the former New York City mayor say there. There's "Truth" to that. They won't like this comparison at Obama headquarters. Bui his re-election strategy more and more mirrors that of George W. Bush and Karl Rove in 2004. Motivate your base and then do a better job on election day of turning it out to vote. That last part is critical, because any steps President Obama takes to energize his base can also give energy to the Republican base.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY PERKINS, PRESIDENT, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: The president, I think, has handed to Mitt Romney the one missing piece in his campaign, and that is the intensity and motivation that Mitt Romney needs among social conservatives to win this election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now smart strategists in both parties say the president's embrace of same-sex marriage makes it harder to keep 2008 states like North Carolina, Virginia, and Iowa. Maybe Ohio, too. Older voters are more reluctant to back same-sex marriage. So Florida, is another place we'll look to see if it might hurt.

What is fascinating, though, is how most smart Republicans are urging caution, almost silence. That's a lesson learned more recently when President Obama handed the GOP a gift. A fight with Catholic institutions over covering contraception in their health insurance plans.

What was a political headache for the president, though, soon became a much bigger problem for Republicans, as they veered into a debate over contraception and worse.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, not long after the president's announcement Wednesday, that same booming voice of the right had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LIMBAUGH: It's official. Obama has announced he supports gay marriage after talks with his wife and daughters, gay service members and others. Pink smoke coming from the White House chimney.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Now, smart Republicans hope comments like that are the exception, not the rule. As one veteran Republican strategy told me today, quote, "On the social fights, my party seems incapable of taking a win and shutting up. We go way too far."

He ended the exchange this way. We'll see what happens here.

Here tonight to talk truth, "TIME" Washington deputy bureau chief Michael Crowley; Democratic strategist, CNN political contributor Paul Begala; and Republican strategist, Nancy Pfotenhauer.

Is that advice I get there from Republican strategists, is that about right, that your party too often on these social issues, takes a gift and turns it into a disaster?

NANCY PFOTENHAUER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I do think that both parties have had their moments where they just can't take yes for an answer. Let's put it that way.

On the political calculus, I believe that the Obama campaign netted this, probably correctly, since they know their own base better. And they will, you know -- they obviously need to energize the cool youth vote that unfortunately doesn't always turn out. And now net that against the senior citizens who reliably turn out who may not be that happy.

KING: I talked, Paul, about how some Republicans think you can turn the table. Those Democrats say Mitt Romney flips and flops. He flips, he flops. The president, he calls it an evolution. He changed his position. You call it a flip or whatever you want to call it.

Listen here, not only did Mayor Giuliani make that case, Governor Romney says the president is treating this too politically.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: You don't change your positions to try and win states or -- or certain sub-groups of Americans. You have the positions you have. And as you know, for a long time, I think from the beginning of my political career, made it very clear that I believe marriage should be a relationship between a man and a woman.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: What you couldn't see there was below that shot, the Secret Service was putting his pants out because they were on fire.

It's nuts for Mitt Romney to get into a flip-flop argument.

This is clearly a flip-flop by President Obama. I like it; he came to my position. So when they flip-flop to where you are, then it's evolution and it's growth. OK? When they flip-flop away from you, the way Romney has, well, that's terrible.

But I -- you can't, if you're Mitt Romney, you can't engage the flip- flop issue. John Boehner, of all of them -- I have great regard for Rudy Giuliani. Terribly smart politician. But I think he's wrong here, and you know Mitt Romney's wrong. I think John Boehner in that clip is right, which is state your position and get back to jobs. But they just want to wallow in this.

For -- it is -- for Mitt Romney to be talking about flip-flops, it's like taking on Blake Griffin in a slam-dunk contest. Like, you just don't want to go there.

KING: Do we know -- do we know the political impact, Michael? In 2004, Republicans thought this was an winning issue. They used it to energize the base. President Bush ended almost every speech with a minute or two on defense of marriage.

But if you look, the polling has changed dramatically. You've got a very split country now. And the NBC/"Wall Street Journal" polls asks people, "Are you more or less likely to vote for an opponent?" "Are you more likely to vote for a supporter of same-sex marriage?" Twenty-five percent of American voters said that. "Are you more likely to vote for an opponent of same-sex marriage?" Twenty percent said that. "Makes no difference," 54 percent.

MICHAEL CROWLEY, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes. And that rings true with me. I think it's probably close to a wash. I think Nancy made an important point, which is that older voters are less supportive of gay marriage. Traditionally, you're going to have more turnout from older voters.

One of the uncertainties here, though, is whether the excitement around this kind of, you know, civil rights breakthrough, you might call it, will bring younger voters who are very supportive into the process, raise turnout with the base.

On the political question, the one thing I would say is that I think Giuliani probably has the facts about right. I think that's probably the right analysis. But remember, this is not -- some people would say this is a black-and-white moral issue, but at the same time, I'm saying the country has evolved. The opinions have evolved.

So it seems less strange to me to say society is changing and the way -- our understanding of same-sex relationships is changing. And I've come to realize that same-sex marriage is a moral and just thing, as opposed to sort of changing your mind about abortion, which is -- there's nothing to learn. There's nothing to evolve. There's no social norm. You know, it's very binary.

So I think he's not going to suffer the damage on this issue that Mitt Romney might suffer on something like abortion.

KING: Let me ask an observation from each of you here. The "Washington Post" story today about Mitt Romney's high-school days. We all do say stupid things in high school. The question here: was he a prankster, was he a bully? And then the next question is does it matter what happened in the 1960s now? He's running for president now. Does it?

PFOTENHAUER: Well, you know, I think it depends on what he says. And what he said and did today was exactly what he should have done, which is step forward and said, "I did a stupid thing," and apologize.

I mean, obviously, you can look back at President Obama's description in his book, where he basically said, "I -- booze helped, pot helped, you know, scored some blow when I could but never smack." And you know...

KING: Did you just read that? "Pot gad helped and booze. Maybe a little blow when you could afford it. Not smack, though." That's what he wrote. That's a memory.

PFOTENHAUER: I have teenagers. And I remember when that came out saying, "Oh, my heavens." You know? Even if it's true, please don't hold this up as the standard of someone who wants to be -- hold the highest office in the land. So...

KING: Does it matter?

BEGALA: Yes, as a general rule we should have a statute of limitations for any stupid thing in college, certainly in high school. My goodness. Right?

And the reason it didn't hurt President Obama is first, he didn't lie about it. And second, it didn't go to the master narrative of what people were worried about with Obama. They were worried maybe he was inexperienced. They weren't worried he was a pothead. He's a very sober guy.

With Romney, I thought it (ph) was going to be very worried about this linking up to a larger master narrative that he's a cold-blooded CEO who laid people off to make money for himself.

OK. If he's the kind of guy who would walk a blind man into a closed door, he's the kind of guy who would pin down a kid with five other people and hack off his hair, that's a very long time ago. Kids do mean things. But if you can link it up to today and then you say, oh, by the way, tomorrow if he becomes president, he's going to cut taxes for himself and Medicare as we know it, boom, then you've got something.

KING: So how do you handle these things when they happen? And they happen in every campaign. We think these guys have run for office, they've been around for 20 years. We're not going to learn anything new. And guess what? We always learn something new.

CROWLEY: I think he handled it right. You know, it was a pretty forthright response. He's not going to get into the details of it within the limits of political reality. I think that's the most he would say. He basically seemed to apologize.

I think his response seemed credible. And I think people are willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

BEGALA: Well, he said he didn't remember it. The other guys all remember it.

(CROSSTALK) CROWLEY: But I think he's apologized.

KING: That was the hard part for me. Paul knows this. I went through a campaign. We had a very smart candidate, a guy named Bill Clinton who would walk into a Taco Bell and remember: "I saw you, Judy, seven years ago on a Tuesday. It was raining. You had the taco with chicken." And then he couldn't -- then he couldn't...

PFOTENHAUER: That's because it was Judy.

KING: Then he couldn't remember other things.

CROWLEY: You have to keep -- if you read between the lines, I think he's saying...

PFOTENHAUER: I don't think "mean Mitt" has any traction. I think he's a nice guy. They may disagree with him on policy. He's got a lovely family. He's apparently a wonderful man.

KING: Nancy, Paul, Michael.

BEGALA: I run (ph) the pro-Obama super PAC.

KING: You are -- you are -- coming soon to an ad near you. All right. We've got to get going here.

The new World Trade Center was designed to be America's tallest building, but it may not make the cut. What? What's behind the possible design shift?

And Vladimir Putin celebrates his inauguration by hitting the ice. Hear how many goals he racked up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

Hello again.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again.

Hello again, everyone.

A Mississippi fugitive who allegedly abducted two Tennessee girls may believe they are his own daughters. According to his mother-in-law, Adam Mayes is accused of killing the mother and sister of Alexandria and Kyliyah -- sorry -- Kyliyah Bain before kidnapping the girls -- kidnapping the girls, who are 12 and 8 years old. The wife of Adam Mayes believes they may still be alive. He has been added to the FBI's most wanted list.

The man known as America's toughest sheriff is being sued for civil rights violations. The Justice Department accuses Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio of racial profiling and sloppy police work. The Arizona sheriff made a name for himself for his tough stance on illegal immigration, but the lawsuit says he goes too far. Back in March, Arpaio said he was overhauling his office, but it was apparently too little too late to stop the legal action.

And one World Trade Center may be a bit shorter than originally planned. We talked a lot about this, folks. The developers of the 104-story building are fighting with the architects over what should cover the antenna at the top of the tower. The architects' design covers it with a $20 million spire. The developers think it's too expensive.

If the antenna stays uncovered -- keep following me here, people -- the tower will only be the third tallest building in the U.S., not the tallest in New York City, as was hoped. We will stay on top of that.

KING: Of the spire.

BOLDUAN: Of the Spire-gate.

KING: Spire-gate. Spire-gate, yes. All right.

Ready? Are you ready for this? Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." The Russian president, Vladimir Putin -- yes, he's the president again -- says he's so busy setting up his new government he can't make it to the United States next week. That's right. Skipping out. Had a chance to meet with President Obama. Nope, he's not going to do that.

Well, maybe he is swamped, but somehow President Putin managed to find the time -- there he is here -- to squeeze in a game of ice hockey after his inauguration. He scored a goal, had an assist and hit the net in a shootout.

Putin's newest hobby seems right up with his other tough-guy pastimes. We've seen him judo, hunting, motorcycle riding, even driving a race car. If you're the goalie, do you stop that puck?

BOLDUAN: I think you just lay down, get out of the way and say come on through.

KING: You've got to -- we'll see you tomorrow. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.