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No Guilty Verdict for John Edwards; George W. Bush Returns to White House

Aired May 31, 2012 - 18:00   ET


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

Tonight: a bizarre twist in the John Edwards trial. After nine days of deliberations, the jury finds the former senator and presidential candidate not guilty on one count and deadlocks on the other five. It's a mistrial.

And an in-your-face day in presidential politics. President Obama's top strategist visits the Massachusetts Statehouse to label Mitt Romney a failure. Governor Romney in turns visits a bankrupt green energy company he calls proof the president and his stimulus package are disasters.

And George W. Bush returns to the White House for, as he put it, his hanging, a portrait unveiling that was both moving and very funny.

We begin with this afternoon's messy and emotional ending in the trial of the former presidential candidate, John Edwards. Boil it all down, and Edwards won. Prosecutors alleged he knowingly and willingly accepted $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter.

But the jury acquitted him on count three. That involved a contribution from an elderly supporter named Rachel "Bunny" Mellon. The jury deadlocked on the other five counts, including conspiracy, illegal contributions and making false statements. The judge declared a mistrial on those.

And outside the courthouse, a short time ago, Edwards, who had said virtually nothing except good morning during this trial, spoke publicly.


JOHN EDWARDS (D), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: And all I can say is, thank goodness, we live in a country that has the kind of system that we have. And I think those jurors were an exemplar for what juries are supposed to do in this country. They were very, very impressive. The second thing I want to say just a word about is responsibility. And this is about me.

I want to make sure that everyone hears from me and from my voice that while I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong. And there is no one else responsible for my sins. None of the people who came to court and testified are responsible. Nobody working for the government is responsible. I am responsible.

And if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sins, honestly, I don't have to go any further than the mirror. It's me. It is me and me alone. The next thing I want to say a word about is for the people that I love, because it's been an incredible experience for me to watch my parents, my dad just turned 80, my mom, who's 78, tromp up here from Robin to North Carolina every day to be with me and to support me.

And I love them so much, and they did such a wonderful job raising me and my brother, Blake, and my sister, Cathy, who I also love dearly. I also want to say a word about my own children. Cate, who most all of you have seen, has been here every single day. She has been here no matter what, no matter how awful and painful a lot of the evidence was for her.

Evidence about her dad, evidence about her mom, who she loves so, so dearly, but she never once flinched. She said, dad, I love you, I will be there for you, no matter what. And I'm so proud to have had her with me through all this process. And then, finally, Emma, who turned 14 recently, Emma Claire and Jack, who just turned 12, who I take care of every day.

And, I have not been able to see them quite as much, but I see them in the morning, I get their breakfast ready, get them off to school, and then, we get home at night and we all eat supper together, and I love them both so dearly. And they're such an important part of every day of my life. And then, finally, my precious Quinn, who I love more than any of you could ever imagine.

And I am so close to and so, so grateful for, so grateful for Quinn. I'm grateful for all my children, including my son, Wade, who we lost years ago. But you know, this is the last thing I'm going to say. I don't think God's through with me. I really believe he thinks there's still some good things I can do.

And whatever happens with this legal stuff going forward, what I'm hopeful about is all those kids that I have seen, you know, in the poorest parts of this country and in some of the poorest places in the world, that I can help them, in whatever way I'm still capable of helping them.

And I want to dedicate my life to being the best dad I can be and to helping those kids who I think deserve the help and who I hope I can help. Thank you all very much.


KING: On that very emotional statement there, our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, has covered the trial in Greensboro, North Carolina. With us from New York, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and Sunny Hostin, our legal contributor, truTV's "In Session."

Joe, I want to start with you.

You are there throughout the trial. You also know Edwards from his career in politics. He said little to anybody except pretty much small talk, good morning, how are you, during the trial. He decided not to testify. And then that very powerful and emotional statement there. Take us to that moment.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, the first thing I thought of was, here is the statement he would have said to the jury had he testified, but he would have been subject to cross-examination, John, which would have been a huge problem for him.

And he might have not gotten this result in this trial, which was actually very good for him. You certainly saw there a measure of contrition that we haven't seen before, sort of embracing his daughter Quinn, the daughter he had with his mistress, Rielle Hunter, while his wife then, Elizabeth Edwards, was dying of cancer.

And then, at the end, sort of footnoting the kind of "Twilight Zone" moment we have had here in Greensboro, you almost sort of saw this pivot of John Edwards very quickly toward at least a measure of rehabilitation by talking about helping poor kids around the country and the world.

This is sort of an echo from something that he has been saying for a long time, one of the reasons perhaps he actually wanted to go ahead and fight this fight, so that he could keep his law license, stay out of jail, because he said he wanted to start a poverty law practice, so perhaps the beginning of John Edwards' new life, presuming the Justice Department doesn't decide to retry these five charges that he got a mistrial on, John.

KING: And, so Jeff Toobin, let's come to that question.

I heard you earlier, very smart legal -- this is why you went to law school, calling this a mess. It was a mess. It is also a very complicated case. And there were questions about whether the Justice Department should have done this in the first place, should have tried to bring this to trial. Do you see any possibility they would say, let's do it again?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: I think it is an extremely remote possibility that this case will be retried.

Let's start with the fact that he has been acquitted of one count. So, double jeopardy clause, that's all she wrote on that case, on that count. So, there would be an argument that the government would be precluded from making some arguments that it made in the initial trial. Plus, this case was tried at great length, at great expense, where I think everyone who knows the federal sentencing guidelines knew that a minimal jail sentence would be the likely outcome, even if he was convicted on all counts.

We kept repeating that he was eligible for 30 years. He would never have gotten 30 years. He might have gotten one year. Now he is almost certainly not going to get any -- he is certainly not going to get any time if it ends here. And even in a retrial, he wouldn't have gotten it. The deterrent effect, which is something that is often talked about when the prosecution decides whether to bring back a case, how many cases are like this? This case is so bizarre. The facts are so strange. It is unlikely to recur. It's unlikely to deter other people from potentially violating the campaign laws in the way the Justice Department alleged.

I don't see any rationale for going forward with this case. John Edwards is humiliated, he is discredited, he is appropriately out of American politics. But I don't see any reason why this case should go forward. And I don't think the Justice Department will do it.

KING: And , Sunny, when the state or in this case the federal government losing a big case, people always ask, did they over-try, did they have too many charges, did they try too hard, did they make it more complicated than they needed to?

Is there a lesson in your view to be learned from how this case was prosecuted?


I think the lesson is, you just don't try these types of cases. By all accounts, this was an unprecedented use of campaign finance laws. It just has never happened in terms of the theory that the government was using, the way the government was trying to interpret the law and bring this case.

And so I agree with Jeff. I suspect we will not see John Edwards facing any other trial on the five remaining counts. And I suspect the government will not be bringing any cases like this.

This is a case if anything perhaps it would have been a civil case, perhaps a case that the FEC would have looked at, but not a criminal case in federal criminal court in North Carolina. And many people are now, I think rightfully so, asking why even bring the case. Was this politically motivated because it just such a strange use of the campaign finance laws?

KING: Joe, I saw the -- go ahead, Jeff.

TOOBIN: Jump in with just one point.

John Edwards thanked a lot of people. One person he didn't thank was Abbe Lowell and his defense team, who did a phenomenal job in this case, in not an easy case. And I think they deserve a lot of credit because they won and the Justice Department lost.

KING: Joe Johns, Jeff Toobin, Sunny Hostin, appreciate your insights on this case. We will return to it a bit later in the program, fascinating developments.

In a moment, though, we are going to turn our attention to what has been a feisty day in the 2012 presidential race. Both the Romney and the Obama campaigns deciding to get into each other's face big time. We will hear from one of those right in the middle of the free- for-all. That would be the president's top strategist, David Axelrod.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: The guy who is ducking his record is Governor Romney.



KING: Now to a day of crackling exchanges between the Obama and Romney campaign. At a feisty rally on the steps of the Massachusetts Statehouse, where Romney served one term as governor, Democrats led by top Obama strategist David Axelrod:


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR OBAMA CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: Governor Romney raised spending by 6.5 percent. His proposals were for 8 percent.

This group of people reined him in and exercised some responsibility. So we all know he actually -- he vetoed 800 bills along the way, almost all of them overridden, but most of them for the benefit of Republican primary voters in other states, not for purposes of governance.

And that was the problem. He was a drive-by governor here on his way for running for president of the United States.


KING: You might hear the heckling and the booing. That was Romney supporters who turned out to disrupt the event, but David Axelrod more than happy to engage them.


AXELROD: It is great to be in Massachusetts, Obama country.


AXELROD: I think some of my -- I get tweets from some of these folks, so I feel close to them. But you can shout down speakers, my friends, but it is hard to Etch A Sketch the truth away.


KING: Not to be undone, Governor Romney staged his own bit of political theater, taking his traveling press corps to the bankrupt green energy company Solyndra. The Obama White House, at times ignoring warnings from its own staff, gave the company more than a half billion dollars in stimulus funds. It is now belly up, taxpayers left on the hook, and Republicans, including Romney, suggest those warnings were ignored because some company officials were big Obama campaign donors.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This building, this half a billion dollar taxpayer investment represents a serious conflict of interests on the part of the president and his team.

It is also a symbol of how the president thinks about free enterprise. Free enterprise to the president means taking money from the taxpayers and giving it freely to his friends.


KING: Not taking questions at that event, the presumptive GOP nominee also responded to that Boston event attacking his record as governor.


ROMNEY: When I was governor of Massachusetts, we took the unemployment rate from 5.6 percent down to 4.7 percent. I think 4.7 percent is a pretty good number. My guess is the people of America would be very pleased if they could see a number like 4.7 percent. I would hope to be able to get there if I were president.


KING: Interesting day. Let's talk it over.

Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here and our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, with us as well.

Jess, to you first.

What was the overriding goal of essentially going into Governor Romney's backyard?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The Obama team is trying to attack Mitt Romney's central case for the presidency, which is his claim that he is an expert at creating jobs.

And they're going after his record as Massachusetts governor to make that case. They keep pointing to the statistic that it was 47th in the nation at job creation and that its growth in moving the unemployment numbers down was more sluggish than the rest of the nation. Even PolitiFact agrees with that simple fact.

So first they went after the Bain record, saying there he was focused on making profits, not creating jobs. Now they're saying that he applied that lesson to his record as governor and it showed that he wasn't that great at creating jobs. That's their argument.

And then they will go on to make a case that you see it also in the Olympics in a different way when he ran that. They are trying to make the case that just because he was so good at making money doesn't mean he is that great at making jobs. He obviously will hit back on that.

KING: He will hit back and he did some today. Stay with us.

Let's get out to Jim Acosta.

Jim, first and foremost, we knew the David Axelrod event was coming. They told us about that yesterday. Solyndra was kept a secret until the last minute. Why?


A little bit of cloak and dagger out here on the West Coast, John, that's right. I will tell you that a Romney adviser got on the press bus earlier this morning. And, by the way, at that time, we had still not been told exactly where we were headed, but that Romney adviser said, look, here's the deal. We are heading to Solyndra. We want you to keep this under an embargo until we arrive on the scene. And the reason why we are doing all of this and the reason why we are engaging in all of this secrecy is because we are concerned, this senior adviser said, that President Obama would try to block the Romney campaign from having this event out here.

After all, this is a firm that received half a billion dollars in stimulus money through loan guarantees. And they were concerned that the Obama campaign or at least President Obama himself would try to block them from having this campaign event here.

We asked Mitt Romney about that on site when we finally got here. He wouldn't go that far. He would only say that, well, there are people out there who don't want this story to get out. But, John, it was interesting. Riding that bus here, we weren't exactly sure where we were going to end up, although I have to tell you, a lot of us were already placing our bets, making some educated guesses.

And when we got here, there were some satellite trucks here, including ours, even a news chopper overhead. So we did guess right that we were coming to Solyndra. But having said all of that, it is possible -- it was within the realm of possibilities, being outside of San Francisco, that they could have taken us to Alcatraz. Instead, we ended up here.

KING: That could be next time you're on the West Coast.


ACOSTA: That's right.

KING: And, Jim, how much of is a reaction to them knowing that the Obama campaign is going piece by piece through the Romney resume? How much of that is a reaction to say, fine, we are going to go piece by piece through your presidency?

ACOSTA: That's right. That's what's happening right now. This is going back and forth.

And I have to tell you, while they were being very secretive about what happened today, take a look at the message discipline that the Romney campaign had with this event. There were no protesters out here, there were no off-script moments out here. Contrast that with what happened in Boston which really was sort of a circus for the Obama campaign, maybe not a clear victory for them from a publics relation, optics standpoint.

Romney was able to have sort of a clean event here, but there is the issue of timing. As Mitt Romney stepped off his press bus, at the very same time, all the news networks were switching over to the White House to cover the president with that portrait hanging that was going on with former President George W. Bush. So, not exactly a win/win for either side today -- John.

KING: Yes, a little advance 101 failure right there.

And you say Olympics. They are going to keep going with this. The country has some pretty big fundamental issues. But both campaigns are going to play.

YELLIN: Yes. And this is -- the Obama team's attack on the Romney record is to try to chip away at this argument that he is an expert at creating jobs simply because he was so successful in the private sector.

To something that Jim said, first, I'm not sure how the president of the United States would stop any candidate from doing an event anywhere. That's sort of on its face insane.


YELLIN: This is the United States of America. You can do a public event on a public street.

But I would make -- I would explain that I have talked to a number of senior Republican strategists who explained that the Solyndra criticism of the president, this has been going on for a long time, is really an attempt to discredit him on not just his ethical, moral standing, that he is seen as this ethical president, but also to go with this argument that he is not ready for the job.

KING: Can't pick a winner.

YELLIN: Right. He can't pick a winner.

KING: Jessica, Jim, this is going to go on 159 more days. Thank you both. We will have a lot more in your face, I suspect.

And, in a bit, we are going to hear from Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod to -- his response to the Romney's accusations of cronyism.

But, next, why New York City officials want to ban supersize servings of sugary soft drinks.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: And when we do come back, there's much more ahead on the John Edwards trial. You will hear him after the jury gave its verdict. And we will ask our panel if the government should try again or let Edwards move on.

Also, the Obama campaign senior strategist David Axelrod answers Mitt Romney's claim that he knows better than the president when it comes to creating jobs.


AXELROD: He is misrepresenting himself when he calls himself a job creator. That is what -- not what he was in his business and that's certainly not what he was as governor.



KING: In this half hour of JOHN KING USA, the top strategist behind the Obama campaign's in-your-face attack on Mitt Romney's record as Massachusetts governor.

We'll also consider what could be next for John Edwards after today's acquittal and mistrial. Perhaps a focus on poverty and the law.

Plus, a sometimes tearful, sometimes funny and very memorable day as George and Laura Bush return to the White House.

The Obama campaign has a favorite political trivia question, and it's one I bet Al Gore doesn't appreciate. Who was the last person elected president of the United States despite losing his home state? The answer in a moment. But here's a hint. It wasn't Al Gore, of course. He would have been president if he would have won Tennessee, but he didn't.

Team Obama loves the question, because polls show President Obama -- look at that -- with a big lead over Mitt Romney in the Republican's home state of Massachusetts. Still, the Obama campaign heaped big attention on the base state today, not because it's worried about winning there but because it wants to convince you not to believe what Governor Romney promises now.


DAVID AXELROD, STRATEGIST, OBAMA REELECTION CAMPAIGN: A look at Mitt Romney's record here in Massachusetts, because -- and pull back the curtain. He's not what he seems.


KING: And leading that rally on the Massachusetts state house steps, the raid on Governor Romney's old territory, was the president's senior adviser, David Axelrod, who joins us now from Boston.

David, my word, not yours. But I listened to you as you led your presentation there. Your criticism of Governor Romney's record. And you're saying, essentially, that he's a fraud.

AXELROD: Well, I'm saying that he's misrepresenting himself when he calls himself a job creator. That's what -- now what he was in his business. And that's certainly not what he was as governor.

Massachusetts had a laggard record when he was governor. He ran saying the exact same things that he's saying now: "I know how business works. I know how to create jobs." But when he became governor, Massachusetts plummeted to 47th in the nation in job creation. Wages fell, rather than grew, even though the rest of the country, wages were growing. It really was a record of failure.

And so, much as with his business record, there are real issues about how he governed and the decisions that he made and whether it bears up his self-representation as kind of economic guru.

KING: His team would say that perhaps they were 47th out of 50, but they say and they say on this day that, in his tenure as governor, more jobs were created in Massachusetts, and jobs have been lost during the Obama presidency. They say, even as you say, it's a failure, it's better than your guy.

AXELROD: Let me say that 40 months into the Romney administration, they had created 4,500 jobs in the state of Massachusetts. Forty months into our administration, there is more than 20,000 new jobs in the state of Massachusetts. So if you compare our record to their record, apples to apples, 40 months in, we're doing a lot better than they did.

KING: He says -- Governor Romney would say, you know, he took office in tough economic times. So he had to deal with a legislature of the other party. That sounds pretty familiar to what the president says sometimes. Is it a good comparison.

AXELROD: The thing about Governor Romney is that he -- he's fond of having two sets of rules, whether it's in business where, you know, companies go bankrupt. He walks away with millions, and the workers get caught holding the bag. Or on something like this.

When we took office in the teeth of the greatest recession since the Great Depression, 4 million jobs lost before we walked in the door, and he finds that unpersuasive. So it's a little hard now to turn the tables and say, in a much milder recession, that he had such a tough time of it.

The fact of the matter is, every state was living through the same recession, but Massachusetts underperformed.

KING: You called him a drive-by governor, saying that he took the job, essentially, as a springboard to running for president. Didn't really care all that much about the people of Massachusetts. Again, forgive me. Some people say that about Senator Obama. They say he came to Washington; he missed a lot of votes and was quickly running for president. Is it fair to -- if he's a drive-by governor, did you have a drive-by senator?

AXELROD: I would only judge from the polls, John. The last poll I saw in Massachusetts, Mitt Romney was behind in his home state by 25 percent.

Governor -- President Obama is well ahead in Illinois, where he's held in high esteem for the service that he performed. Nobody ever doubted his commitment to the state or to the middle class in the state or to building the kind of economy that would work for all people. And, you know, that's not the impression that people in this state had.

KING: I'm calling this "In Your Face Day" in presidential politics in the sense that you're leading a rally on the steps of the Massachusetts state house. Governor Romney is about to make an event appearance at Solyndra. What would you say in the Solyndra attack from the Romney campaign?

AXELROD: I would say one thing the president never did was buy a company, load it up with debt, bankrupt that company and walk away with millions of dollars while the creditors and the workers were left holding an empty bag. The president has never done that.

KING: Governor -- Governor Romney would say -- Governor Romney, he would say the taxpayers are being left with the bag in the Solyndra decision.

AXELROD: The fact is that we will, over the course of this first term, have doubled the use of renewable energy in this country. There are jobs being created all over this country as a result of those investments. And we've planted the seeds of a whole new industry that will allow us to compete with the Chinese, with India rather than withdraw from the competition for these clean-energy jobs of the future.

So I'm proud of that record. The country is going to benefit from that record. And the fact that Governor Romney is looking for a diversion to take some attention away from his own private dealings notwithstanding, this is an important and meaningful initiative by the president.

KING: Answer the critic that says you're up there trashing Governor Romney's record because you can't defend your own.

AXELROD: Look, we've got $25 million on the air in those battleground states right now with spots on our record that we're proud of and our vision about how you build an economy that works for the middle class. How you build an economy that is fair, where everybody plays by the same rules and everybody that works hard has a chance to get ahead. And we're talking about that all over the country.

The guy who's ducking his record is Governor Romney.

KING: Appreciate your time today, David Axelrod. I know you love...

AXELROD: The answer to that question was -- the answer to that he question was Woodrow Wilson in 1912. A hundred years ago, someone got elected without carrying their home state. Just a little fact I've tucked away.

KING: A student of history, a student of politics. Appreciate your time today, David. I know you love your native Chicago, but enjoy what I believe is America's greatest city while you're there.

AXELROD: It's a great town. I love Boston. Thank you.

KING: Coming up, what Mr. Axelrod has to say about the president's path to 270.


KING: A hundred fifty-nine days out. Yes, I'm still counting. And more proof today that this moment the presidential election is a nail biter. There's new NBC news, Maris polls in three key battleground states. Take a look: Iowa, dead heat. Colorado, dead heat. Nevada, yes. Dead heat.

Now, those three are among the states here we call them toss-ups as we look at the electoral map. If you see right now, I say the president has 247 votes leaning or solid Obama; Governor Romney, 206, leaning or solid Romney. Those three states, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, toss-up states right there. We have a very interesting map right now. Trust me. A slight early edge. Team Obama grateful.


AXELROD: They're called battleground states for a reason. They're battlegrounds. They're evenly divided. They're going to be close throughout. I think there are many more of them that are open to us than him. And that we've got -- as you say, we start with a bit of a head start. So I like our math in terms of getting to that -- getting to that 270. But we're going to have to fight hard.


KING: Now, the "Truth" is the president does have an early and important advantage. And more room for error on his path to 270 electoral votes.

But any historical model and the current economic climate tell you Governor Romney has a very, very good chance to be the next president of the United States.

To get there, though, he and his team would benefit from remembering a little Campaign 101. Someone, for example, should have prevented this picture from happening on a day the Donald was hyperventilating about the birther conspiracy. And today's event at stimulus poster child Solyndra was made for live cable coverage, except the Romney staff let it happen at the very moment George W. Bush was returning for the White House for his official portrait unveiling, at an event that had been on the public schedule.

Little things, sure. But in a very, very close race, never miss- underestimate -- excuse me -- the impact of good or bad advanced work.

And for those of you who think I'm just trying to pick on the Romney campaign, this lesson applies just as much to team Obama. Back in May 2010, for example, there were many in the administration already warning that Solyndra was a disaster waiting to happen. But the president still took this tour and still said this.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The true engine of economic growth will always be companies like Solyndra.


KING: Little things sometimes matter.

Here to talk truth, "The New Yorker's" Washington correspondent Ryan Lizza; Republican consultant and CNN political contributor Alex Castellanos; and Democratic strategist and CNN political contributor Maria Cardona.

What do we make of today at the end of May, where they're at the steps of the Massachusetts state house? Governor Romney goes to Solyndra?

Let me start on the "little thing" thing. You've been in a lot of campaigns. Whose job is it? They could have called -- forgive me -- their friends, say, at "FOX and Friends" and said, "What's on the president's schedule today" and maybe timed their events so that that didn't happen? No. Pretty easy.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's -- you should. You always want to dot your "T's" and cross your "I's." Right?


CASTELLANOS: The problem with something like that is you're trying to put something together that nobody knows about. You're going to go to Solyndra.

And you do worry that you're going to have a bad event. You worry that somebody is going to find out about it. The president will send protesters, like happened in Massachusetts to Axelrod. You worry that you're near San Francisco, and city government is going to come up and ask you for a permanent. There's a lot going on. This is the chaos of politics. It doesn't always work as efficiently as you like.

KING: I think they could have planned that one a little tiny bit better. But to same point, it's a bigger issue. It's a half million dollars in taxpayer money that went to Solyndra. And a lot of people were warning then, and some people asked, why didn't the political team listen to them?

CARDONA: And that's certainly something that will probably continue to be discussed. I would like to point to something that clearly the Romney campaign is focusing on Solyndra.

CASTELLANOS: This is the pivot.

CARDONA: The Romney campaign is focusing on Solyndra. Well, guess what Governor Romney did when he was governor? He also, quote, unquote, "picked winners and losers," gave two biotech companies almost $5 million in taxpayer funds. And guess what they did several years later? They went bankrupt, and they laid off all those employees.

So you know, if you -- if you're going to point something like that out, then you're going to have to be open to hypocritical issues, because that's exactly what he did as governor.

KING: Is this almost the down side of having a race that is so fascinatingly close, and it is, that they have to argue over what I'll call small ball? Now, people out there who think Solyndra is a waste of taxpayer money. I not saying that's not a lot of money. But I mean, it's one particular incident.

And in Governor Romney's case, he did have some long programs that went to companies. So they went up and criticized the record today. The country has some pretty fundamental problems. There are some fundamental questions about what do you do for job creation, what about tax reform, what about Medicare, what about Social Security? And we're playing down here, small ball.

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, I think it's -- that's what happens in this stage of the campaign when the candidates control everything. They're not doing that many interviews; they're doing press events.

Looking longer, December 31st this year, we have this taxmageddon thing coming. That at some point should be the big issue of the campaign, right? These two visions of what the government should look like after December 31.

The other thing is, the Obama campaign wants to make sure that, at some point in this election, if the American people decide they don't want to give Obama four more years and they look to Romney as a potential alternative, that they say, you know what? No, he's not the guy. They want to disqualify him.

KING: The screen ad (ph). Exactly.

CASTELLANOS: One thing that -- one thing that struck me today is that Politics 101, these are -- it's hard for me to criticize David Axelrod. One is they ran a brilliant campaign last time. And two, he's got a great mustache, which is important. But just as, I think adroit as they were last time, do you really want to start your attack on Romney's record in Massachusetts. When your company has an 8 percent unemployment rate, you want to attack the guy who has a 4.7? It's not the way you get going in a campaign.

And one of the things I think is beginning, their campaign looks forced. They always look like they're trying to put the square peg in the round hole. You're thinking about the...


CASTELLANOS: But it does leave you thinking, this guy won't defend his own record and he's twisting the other guy's.

CARDONA: See, that's where you're absolutely wrong, and a lot of Republicans love to say this. David Axelrod addressed this. They are absolutely embracing their record. They're doing several tracks. They are pointing out a lot of it, though.

KING: They talk about Romney running away from Massachusetts. I haven't seen an Obama health care ad on the air yet.

CARDONA: It was -- it was front and center in that 17-minute documentary that first came out.

KING: That went to supporters. That went to supporters.

CARDONA: But everybody saw it, John. You can't say today it's not out there. It's out there.

CASTELLANOS: It's the reverse of the "have you stopped beating your wife" question? They're now attacking Mitt Romney. He's not as successful as you think he is. Well, how successful is he? It's a lose-lose for the Obama campaign.

CARDONA: He's embracing his record.

KING: OK. Time out. Quick time out. Erin Burnett has been waiting patiently. She's coming up at the top of the hour.

Erin, you're right there in the city. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pushed for a healthier city. Now has -- forgive the pun -- stirring up another controversy everyone's talking about. Do you drink -- when you go to the movies, do you get that big one with sugar?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: I -- you know, I'm sort of in a sense grateful for this. You know, help me from myself in a sense, John. But yes, we're going to talk about this. Because you know, a lot of people are saying, this is an assault on American freedom. It can't spread around the country.

But what if Mayor Bloomberg is actually really a superman, and he's actually standing up to some of the most powerful and deep- pocketed companies in the country? And I'm talking about big food. John, it's amazing. I've looked into it. We've done the numbers. How much they spend on lobbying, what returns they get.

The cost of some of the ingredients in that food, in terms of the health-care costs in this country are insane. When we find out -- maybe the major is really a valiant hero standing up to the forces of corporate America.

KING: You know, it's a fascinating debate. I love this debate. I'm not sure if he's right, but I think it's a debate worth having, Erin. We'll see you in just a few minutes.

BURNETT: All right.

KING: Looking forward to it.

Coming up here, George and Laura back at the White House to unveil new portraits of themselves and offer a little light-hearted advice.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, "What would George do?"



KING: Still no reaction this evening from federal prosecutors or their bosses at the U.S. Justice Department after today's mistrial in the John Edwards case.

A North Carolina jury acquitted the former presidential candidate on one count in the illegal -- taking an illegal campaign contribution. They deadlocked on the other five. The judge called a mistrial. Here's part of what Edwards had to say.


JOHN EDWARDS, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: While I do not believe I did anything illegal or ever thought I was doing anything illegal, I did an awful, awful lot that was wrong.

And there is no one else responsible for my sins. None of the people who came to court and testified are responsible. Nobody working for the government is responsible. I am responsible. And if I want to find the person who should be held accountable for my sins, honestly I don't have to go any further than the mirror. It's me. It is me and me alone.


KING: We're back with Ryan Lizza, Alex Castellanos and Maria Cardona.

Ryan, what was striking in that statement was very personal, very poignant. I think he took responsibility, and he also said God is not done with me. What do we make of that?

LIZZA: Yes, I don't know. I'm not -- you know, I feel like every once in a while we need someone like John Edwards, some horrible person in public life, to just beat the you-know-what out of to make ourselves all feel better.

So leaving, you know, his personal life aside and the sins that he's committed, to me the big takeaway of this trial is the relationship between donors and politicians. And we never know enough about these things when we're covering these guys.

We didn't know about Bunny Mellon. We didn't know that, you know, when you get into trouble, this is what you do as a politician, you go to your big donor. And to me that's the big takeaway, is there's got to be a way to fix that system and fix that relationship.

CASTELLANOS: God may not be through with him, but I think the American people are. Despite his rant there, I mean, he spent a great chunk of time telling us what a great son he is, what a great father he is, and how he's going to continue to serve mankind.

One of the problems in Washington is that Americans rightly think there are a group of people here who are corrupted by it. With this great power it basically is fertilizer for their egos. And we've just seen it today.

CARDONA: The wrath of God might not be done with him yet, but I just -- I want all of this to be over, not because I think that he has suffered enough, because what he's done clearly, obviously everybody thinks that it's just unshakable what he has done, but his children. His family. Every one of them.

And I think it was very poignant when he actually mentioned Quinn, and he got choked up, so I give him credit for that. But it needs to be done because of his family. His children have gone through this. As a mother, that is the part that I just cannot take anymore.

KING: Well, maybe, and I assume they won't retry this case. Maybe it's the beginning of the rebuilding for the children and Senator Edwards can do what Senator Edwards does.

Maria, Alex, Ryan, thanks so much.

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

BOLDUAN: Hey there, John.

Hey there, everyone.

Today the Syrian government cleared itself of all blame for last week's massacre of 108 people, including 49 children in the town of Houla. A government-run investigation even called the victims martyrs and blamed the massacre on, quote unquote, "armed terrorist groups." Witnesses say government-organized gangs rounded up people and shot them at point-blank range.

And back in the U.S., grim news about the economy. Reports out today show hiring is weaker than expected, with only 133,000 new private sector jobs in May. Another report counts 62,000 layoffs in May, an eight-month high.

Also today the government lowered its estimate on how much the U.S. economy grew in the first quarter: 1.9 percent instead of what was expected to be 2.2 percent.

And finally, the SpaceX Dragon space capsule successfully dove into -- you're seeing video of it there -- dove into the Pacific Ocean today, completing the first ever commercial flight to the International Space Station. The station's robotic arm released the shuttle earlier this morning nine days after the historic mission began. With it, about 1,300 pounds of trash, scientific research and experimental samples.

Pretty amazing that they pulled it off.

KING: I'm wondering in the history of all this, these capsules dropping, if there's ever been a poor guy in a fishing boat out there.

BOLDUAN: I sure hope not.

KING: Tonight's "Moment You Missed" happened this afternoon at the White House. And if you didn't miss it, it's worth seeing again. The Obamas hosted the Bushes. Both former presidents and first ladies attended the unveiling of the official portraits of George W. and Laura Bush. And some of the one-liners during the speeches, well, priceless. Listen.


LAURA BUSH, FORMER FIRST LADY: It was really gracious of you to invite us back to the White House to hang a few family pictures. And I'm sure you know nothing makes the house a home like having portraits of its former occupants staring down at you from the walls.

G. BUSH: And when you are wandering these halls as you wrestle with tough decisions, you will now be able to gaze at this portrait and ask, "What would George do?"

I am pleased that my portrait brings an interesting symmetry to the White House collection. It now starts and ends with a George W.

In 1814, Dolly Madison famously saved this portrait of the first George W. Now, Michelle, if anything happens, there's your man.

MICHELE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: The warmth is truly reflected in these portraits, and I promise you -- I promise I'm going straight for it.


KING: OK. And you have to appreciate there's a small club of presidents and former presidents. And boy, President Obama has gone at President Bush's record.


KING: I'm sure President Bush not terribly fond, but that was all in good spirit.

BOLDUAN: It was all in good spirit. I've got to tell you, you know, you don't hear much from George W. anymore, and he does have a great shtick.

KING: Is a funny man. Always has been. It was good to see him back at the White House.


KING: We'll see you right back here tomorrow night.

BOLDUAN: All right.

KING: "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.