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JOHN KING, USA
Interview With Rick Santorum; Eric Holder Under Fire; Jerry Sandusky Trial Continues; Interview With Governor Rick Scott
Aired June 12, 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, Republicans tell Attorney General Eric Holder he has mislead them about a gun trafficking program and they say he can't be trusted now to investigate major intelligence leaks. A defiant Holder defends his record and rejects demands that he resigns.
More dramatic testimony on day two of the Jerry Sandusky trial. And court documents suggest Penn State administrators kept secret files about the longtime assistant football coach.
Plus, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lashes out at Russia, accusing it of shipping attack helicopters to Syria just as the Assad regime ramps up a bloody crackdown on dissent.
We begin with today's dramatic and intensely partisan confrontations between Senate Republicans and the attorney general of the United States. During a feisty appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Attorney General Eric Holder refused Republicans' demands that he appoint a special counsel to investigate recent leaks of sensitive national security information.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: The two people who I have appointed to look into these matters are first-rate prosecutors
SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: ... special counsel, somebody new other than these two people that all of us could buy into?
HOLDER: But, Senator, I mean, I think you're missing something here. The -- the...
GRAHAM: I think you're missing something here. I think you're missing the fact that this is a very big deal. And you're handling it in a way that creates suspicions where they should not be.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Republicans also confronted the attorney general over a program called Fast and Furious. It was designed to trace weapon smuggling, but instead ended up helping Mexican drug cartels acquire guns from the United States, and one of those guns found at the scene of a murdered U.S. Border Patrol agent.
House Republicans say they might cite Holder for contempt as early as next week for what they see as a lack of cooperation with their investigation. Well, senators today made clear, they have noticed too.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: You still resist coming clean about what you knew and when you knew it with regard to Operation Fast and Furious. You won't cooperate with the legitimate congressional investigation, and you won't hold anyone, including yourself, accountable.
So, Mr. Attorney General, it's more with sorrow than -- than regret -- than anger that I would say that you leave me no alternative but to join those that call upon you to resign your office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Look at this image right here. There's the attorney general looking just like that during Senator Cornyn's nearly four- minute tirade. And here is his answer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HOLDER: With all due respect, Senator, there is so much that's factually wrong with the premises that you started your statement with, you know, it's almost breathtaking. I don't have any intention of resigning.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, was on hand for the fireworks today.
Dana, hard to separate, I'm guessing, but how much of this are legitimate policy disagreements and how much of this is partisan politics?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think Republicans do have a couple of legitimate policy differences.
First of all, let's just talk about the leaks. They have a legitimate argument to make that any administration simply cannot and should not investigate itself. These leaks, people here believe in a bipartisan way really hurt national security, so Republicans just like Democrats did in Republican administrations, are saying why not just have somebody completely independent?
Whether this was politically motivated or not, as John McCain says, let's let somebody independent decide. And then on Fast and Furious, you describe the program, Republicans again have a legitimate argument that they are pretty miffed that the Justice Department is simply not giving them documents to explain why they actually really misinformed Congress saying that they didn't even believe that this program existed the way it did. So they want to know why.
The issue though, John, is frankly the messengers. You just saw John Cornyn there. He is somebody who certainly has credentials. He was an attorney general in his home state of Texas, he's from that border state, but he is also somebody who is in charge politically of getting Republicans elected.
So that taints that right away. And on the other issue, the whole idea of wanting to appoint a special counsel, John McCain has been leading the charge on that. He of course has credentials on national security, nobody disputes that, but he was also the president's opponent four years ago.
KING: As we try to sort this one out, Dana, there's the possibility of the contempt citation as early as next week. If you talk to the attorney general's people, they are going out of the way today to heap praise on the Republican House leadership and specifically Speaker John Boehner, suggesting there could be some good-faith negotiations over resolving this. Possible?
BASH: It doesn't look that way.
When you talk to the leadership in the House, as I did just before coming on, they do believe that the reason why they rejected that offer right away, they believe that what Eric Holder was trying to do was drive a wedge between the speaker and Darrell Issa, who is the chairman of the committee that is going to hold this contempt vote next week.
They believe that Holder was trying to drive that wedge because they saw in the press something that according to my reporting and others happens to be true, that the speaker was really reluctant to take this very important, significant move and call this vote to hold the attorney general in contempt.
But what the speaker's office will say is that the attorney general, the Justice Department and the Obama administration, they don't understand that now that now that the speaker is on board, he is not going to let go, and he wants to go forward unless they get all the documents they have been asking for.
KING: A few days as the clock ticks on that one.
Our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, Dana, thanks.
Now shifting to the big trial in Pennsylvania. The 18-year-old man who triggered the child rape investigation against Jerry Sandusky wept on the witness stand today. The prosecution is identifying him as victim number one. He just graduated from high school last weekend.
And reporters inside the courtroom say he stopped and stared at the former Penn State assistant football coach while testifying about an alleged sex act.
CNN contributor Sara Ganim is live in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania.
Sara, I want to read part of his testimony. A lot of it was graphic. Let's read this part, while he was recalling an alleged sex act. "I just kind of blacked out and didn't want it to happen. I froze."
You were in the courtroom today, Sara. What was it like when victim number one cried on the stand?
SARA GANIM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He was very emotional. I saw many of the jurors with their hands up to their faces, turned in their chairs, staring pretty intently at him, and were really captivated and engaged by his testimony.
He broke down more than once. He really had a hard time from the beginning. You could tell from the moment he walked through that courtroom door that he was tortured and overwhelmed, very soft-spoken in the beginning, although he got his confidence a little bit on cross-examination, and challenged the defense attorney a little bit.
But Jerry Sandusky was -- leaned up against the table, staring right back at him, including the time like you mentioned when he had sobbed. He had his head in his hands, and he looked up, and he looked directly at Jerry Sandusky, was staring directly at Jerry Sandusky, and seemed to get strength from that to continue his testimony.
KING: A man many consider the prosecution's star witness, at least a key witness, the also assistant coach Mike McQueary on the stand today as well, tell us about that testimony.
GANIM: You know, his testimony was very predictable, to be honest with you. He has told that story on the stand before. We all heard it back in December when he testified at a hearing for those two Penn State officials who are charged with perjury and failing to report this incident.
He has told this story to his father, to a family confidant, to Joe Paterno, to two Penn State officials, to a grand jury. He has written it in a police statement that has been made public. So, we heard this all before, and there wasn't a whole lot that was new.
It was interesting to see prosecutors put photos up on the screen for the your that showed that locker room where he says this all occurred. I think it really visualized it for all of us. Especially -- they put dummies into the shower to show what he would have seen when he peered into that shower and then took photographs the opposite way, what Jerry Sandusky and that young boy might have seen when they were looking back.
And this is all according to McQueary's account. But that was to sum up his testimony. Now, he did say something we haven't heard before, which is that he peered into that shower three times. In the past, he said two. We expect the defense will probably capitalize on that. KING: Sara Ganim for us outside the courtroom on day two today. Sara, thank you.
Let's get some perspective now from our legal analyst, Sunny Hostin.
Sunny, let's start with what Sara just said. McQueary's story, I'm sorry, three times. Previously, he said two times. Any change in his testimony, is that significant enough?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: No, it's not going to be significant enough, especially because he really remains steadfast in what he saw.
While I think the defense scored perhaps some points in terms of his recollection of the dates, they really didn't I think shake his testimony in terms of his recollection, John, of what he actually saw. He has maintained, as Sara has said, the same story once, twice, three times. He testified in front of the grand jury, he testified at the preliminary hearing, and he maintains that he saw Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulting a young boy.
KING: And you're a former prosecutor. You know what it is like inside a courtroom in a high-stakes case like this.
When you hear about victim number one and that testimony, Sunny, staring at Jerry Sandusky as he testifies, breaking down and crying at one point, talk about the impact on a jury in a case like this.
HOSTIN: It is significant.
And this is my expertise. I tried child sex crimes. And so I know how difficult it is for victims to get on the witness stand and tell their stories. And I especially know after speaking to many juries about this type of testimony that it is very, very difficult for the jury because people don't want to believe that this kind of thing occurs in our country every day, that children are assaulted.
And so certainly this may have been traumatic for this victim, but certainly also actually traumatic for the jury. My understanding is that, you know, Joe Amendola was cross-examining this victim and the victim cried even more and said to him -- Joe asked him whether or not he needed a break, and the victim said, no, I just need you to stop asking me the same question over and over again.
So I can't imagine that played well to this jury, the fact that on cross-examination, the victim cried even more, so not a great day I think for the defense today.
KING: Our legal analyst Sunny Hostin, Sunny, appreciate your insights. Thank you.
HOSTIN: Thanks, John.
KING: As move on, in a moment, we will be joined by the former presidential candidate Rick Santorum. We will ask him why he thinks his fellow conservatives can trust Mitt Romney now, even though just months ago Senator Santorum was telling them they can't.
And, later, Florida's governor is here to defend his state's controversial decision to remove thousands of names from its voter lists, provoking a federal lawsuit.
KING: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney told Florida voters today he hopes the Supreme Court acts soon to overturn President Obama's health care reform law. But Romney says the upcoming election is critical to determine the long-term path for health care policy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Supreme Court is about to make a decision with regards to Obamacare. And I have right here in my pocket what they're going to say.
ROMNEY: Actually, I don't know what they're going to do. But, you know, regardless of what they do, it is going to be up to the next president to either repeal and replace Obamacare or to replace Obamacare, and I intend to do both.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now a man who for months made the case Governor Romney was a flawed messenger in the health care debate, the former presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum.
Senator, it's good to see you. You just heard Governor Romney there. I just want you to relive a little bit of history. This is you a couple months ago saying when this man talks health care, don't believe him.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), FORMER U.S. SENATOR: He put forward the bill that was the model for Obamacare, and then advocated that at the federal level, and then denied that he did it. Not only was his policy bad, you can't trust him to tell the truth about what he advocated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do you trust him now, Senator?
SANTORUM: Well, I trust him more than I do Barack Obama. This election is about a choice. It is a choice of someone who has steadfastly supported government intervention in health care and frankly a whole host of other areas, which is one of the reasons our economy is struggling as much as it is, versus Governor Romney, who has said, as he said in his speech today in Florida, that he will repeal Obamacare and he will replace it with a free market system. And I have looked at Governor Romney's plan. And, you know, I support most of the tenets of that plan. And as you know, I am going to stay active and involved in politics. We've started an organization called patriotvoices.com. And we are going to make sure those politicians who go out and say they're going to do things are going to be held with their feet to the fire. And we'll do that not just with Governor Romney, but with all candidates across this country who are campaigning and asking for conservative votes.
KING: As you do that, looking ahead, it sounds though at the moment you still view this as sort of Governor Romney as the lesser of two evils. In a very close competitive election, which is what we have today, we don't know what it is going to be like in November, but it's what we have today, do you worry that if people who follow your cue, who listen to you, hear that you don't seem -- that's not a passionate, enthusiastic yea, let's vote for Governor Romney, well, he is better than the other guy, do you worry about that?
SANTORUM: Well, I am passionate and enthusiastic about a lot of things that Governor Romney supports, that, you know, we had -- we shared in common. I have made no bones about the fact that I have concerns about Governor Romney's health care plan in Massachusetts, but at the same time he has been very clear that he is going to replace Obamacare, that I am hopeful the Supreme Court will do it before he has a chance to do it.
And if you look at the plans that he has put forward, they're plans that focus on private sector reform, believing in free markets, believing in free people, not having the government control access to health care, and telling doctors, you know, to limit care to people, and ration care. Those are the kinds of things I'm concerned about and was concerned about during the primary.
And I'm hopeful that, you know, with Governor Romney, we have a very good shot of getting those things happen -- making those things happen. With Barack Obama, we have a zero percent chance. We won't repeal Obamacare. We won't see any private market reforms.
And in fact, the things that were in Obamacare that destroyed private markets, like health savings accounts, would go into effect and do just the opposite of what's necessary.
KING: You were the guy in the Republican field who came closest. You had the best shot of getting Governor Romney, and you fell just short, Senator. I am always fascinated after a tough campaign, what happens?
You have endorsed him now. You just made clear you plan to help him and support him and keep his feet to the fire at the same time. But what has it been like? Do you feel -- are you just tolerated by the Romney campaign or are you welcome? Are they reaching out to you? Are they asking your advice?
SANTORUM: Well, my feeling is that as a private citizen, I have an obligation to go out and work hard in this, what I have called, when I was running for office, the most important election in my lifetime, maybe in the history of this country.
And so we are going to be fully engaged. We're going to be helping the Romney campaign, wherever they believe we can be helpful in working with them. And we will be doing things to help not just the Romney campaign but all conservative candidates across this country in the organization that I have set up, you know, patriotvoices. com.
And we are going to make sure that those voices are heard, that we do elect people who understand the founding principles of our country, that we have bottom-up solutions to the problems of this country, not top-down, not government orchestrated. And that's going to be the emphasis between not just now and the election but going past that.
KING: If the phone rang, and it was Governor Romney, he said, I'm getting close to picking a running mate, who do you think it should be, Rick? What would you say?
SANTORUM: You know, one of the things that I said as soon as I got out of this race is, the last thing I am going to do is advising the person who vanquished me, if you will. He did a pretty good job in winning the race and making decisions. I am not going to be out there as former foe making recommendations to who he should pick.
I will leave that to him. And hopefully he'll make a strong choice, a good -- a principled conservative who could fill his shoes if something were happen to him. And that should be the criteria. And hopefully that's what he will do.
KING: You know how tough your state has been for Republican presidential candidates over the last 20 years. A new Quinnipiac poll out today shows the president with six-point lead, 46 to 40, in Pennsylvania.
But on the question, who would handle the economy, Governor Romney beats him, 49 percent to 41 percent. What's your honest assessment? Is Pennsylvania really in play or would you lean it blue?
SANTORUM: I would say Pennsylvania is in play. If you saw what happened in Wisconsin, you know, Pennsylvania is, you know, as much of a swing state, if you will, as Wisconsin is. And we saw the reaction of having a principled conservative leader stand up and boldly lead.
And I am very hopeful that that's the message that will be delivered by Governor Romney as we head down the stretch here. And I think the people of Pennsylvania will respond positively to that.
They're looking for -- like we all are in America, looking for a common-sense leader in America who is going to tell the truth. And I think that will play very, very well all throughout Pennsylvania.
The economy in Pennsylvania is doing better because of the energy economy in our state. Barack Obama is not energy friendly. And that's not going to play well in major parts our state. And I think that's one of the reasons it will stay in play. KING: Senator Santorum, appreciate your time tonight.
SANTORUM: My pleasure, John. Thank you.
KING: Take care, sir.
Still ahead here: the "Truth" about why President Obama might want to follow his own campaign ad's advice -- slogan's advice -- and look forward.
But next: a new arrest in the Trayvon Martin case: suspect George Zimmerman's wife.
KING: Welcome back.
KING: In a moment here, Florida's Republican governor joins us to defend his state's effort to root out illegal voting. It has provoked a federal lawsuit and allegations of unfairly targeting Democrats and independents.
Also, attacks from helicopters in what's now being called a full- scale civil war in Syria.
KING: In this half-hour of JOHN KING, USA: Hillary Clinton's warning about what would be a dramatic escalation in Syria, word the Russians are now sending attack helicopters to the Assad regime.
Also, the Florida governor, Rick Scott, joins us to defend his state's controversial program to weed out illegal voters and answer critics who say it targets Democrats, independents, and minorities.
And former President George Herbert Walker Bush celebrates his 88th birthday by talking fashion.
Florida is suing the federal government, and the federal government is suing Florida over who can cast a ballot in the critical battleground state. At issue, Florida's controversial attempt to purge illegal voters from the system. The state says it was denied access to a federal immigration database. So it used DMV records to put together a list of 2,600 voters who need to prove their citizenship. Eighty-seven non-citizens have been found so far. Five hundred people have been identified as legal.
But the attorney general, Eric Holder, says the purge is illegal. He says the department is done writing letters to the state of Florida, and it's time now for action.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have done all we can in trying to reason with people in Florida through the provision of these letters. We are now prepared to go to court.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Florida Governor Rick Scott live with us from Tampa. Governor, if you heard the attorney general there, he's saying essentially you're being unreasonable. How would you answer that?
GOV. RICK SCOTT (R), FLORIDA: John, here's -- my job is to make sure that noncitizens don't dilute the legitimate vote of a U.S. citizen. We know that there's -- we did that, as you said, that small sample.
We know there's approximately 100 individuals that are registered to vote that aren't citizens. Over 50 have voted in elections. The right database to use is the homeland security database. For whatever reason, they've elected not to give it to us. We have a right to it. It's supposed to be used for voter registration. It doesn't make any sense to me.
So we're trying to do the right thing. From my standpoint, I want to work with homeland security, justice to make sure that U.S. citizens' vote is not diluted. We're doing the right thing.
I can't imagine anybody not wanting to make sure that noncitizens don't dilute legitimate U.S. citizens' vote. Look, this isn't a partisan issue. This isn't a Democrat issue, Republican issue, independent issue. I've not talked to one person in our state that says they think that noncitizens should be able to illegally vote in our races.
KING: You say it's not a partisan issue. I want you to listen here to Senator Dick Durbin. He's a Democrat of Illinois. He's commented about other states doing this, as well, but he's talking specifically about Florida here. He says you're up to something that he would call nefarious. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Of the 2,700 names on this list, 87 percent were minorities. The overwhelming majority of people on the list were registered independents and Democrats. Perhaps more to the point, almost all the people on the state's list of suspected noncitizens were actually American citizens.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Answer the senator there, Governor.
SCOTT: You know, what it proves is why wouldn't homeland security give us the database that we're entitled to so we can do this the right way, make sure that no one ever questions whether it's, you know...
KING: Without that database, are you doing it the wrong way? Without that database, though, are you doing it the wrong way? SCOTT: You know, John, we're doing what -- we're doing what we started -- what we could do. We started it, we used a sample with 2,600 names because it's the only way we could do it.
I've got to make sure. I know people have registered. We have evidence people are registered to vote that are noncitizens. They're voting. I can't sit here and allow noncitizens to dilute the vote of legitimate U.S. citizens.
So is the right way to do it the database from homeland security? Absolutely. But we started with ours, and we need to get the homeland security database.
KING: Is there a risk, though, you mentioned the 50 people you have verified they're not citizens and they have voted in past elections, and that's illegal. Governor, you have every right to crack down on those people. But is there a risk if you use your way, which the government says is a flawed way -- they also say it's illegal and too late -- that as you identify people, you identify some people as questionable, and they don't take the steps necessary to get themselves cleared, do you worry that, if you find 50 who have no right to vote -- they're not citizens -- there might also be 50, 55, 60, or 70 who are citizens, and simply don't get re-verified, and they lose their right to vote?
SCOTT: Well, they don't lose their right to vote, John. What happens is they've got 30 days to respond to a letter. If they don't, there's a public notice in the paper. And if they went to the -- to vote, they would just vote on a provisional ballot, and we would make sure that, if they were a U.S. citizen, they would have the right to vote.
No one has lost the right to vote. No U.S. citizen is being kicked off any voter rolls. There's no purge going on. We're simply trying to make sure that the legitimate right -- I mean, think about it, this is a basic right of an American -- their right is not diluted by somebody that doesn't have the right to vote because they're a noncitizen. That's a crime.
KING: How could it be, either the senator's statistics are wrong or, in doing it the way you're doing it, you come up with 87 percent minorities, the overwhelming majority, he said, registered independents and Democrats. You live in a big state. I've visited during many campaigns, including yours for governor. How is it that, if you're going through this in a fair way, that's happening?
SCOTT: Well, the right way of doing it is the way we've been trying to do it. We've been asking for the database from homeland security for nine months.
KING: I understand that. But is the senator right, though, in the way you're doing it? I understand the point about if you had the database it would be easier. The way you're doing it, you're getting 87 percent minorities?
SCOTT: We did -- we did it -- we did it based on the database we had from the motor vehicle. We took 2,600 names. We did the process. First off, we know based on that that we have people that have registered to vote that aren't entitled to. They're noncitizens. They voted. That impacts races. We can't allow that to happen.
I'm supposed to enforce the laws of the land. The law of Florida is that if you're a noncitizen, you don't vote in these races.
KING: I understand all those points you're making, Governor. My question is if you did it your way, how did you come up with a list that had 87 percent minorities and a majority of Democrats and independents? It doesn't sound like it's done fairly, shall we say, or randomly.
SCOTT: We -- we I don't know how he came up with his numbers. But I can tell you, we did it based on the only data we could use, because homeland security elected for whatever reason not to give us that database that we're entitled to, that is supposed to be used for voter registration. We tried to do things the right way.
But we've got to make sure that noncitizens don't dilute the vote of legitimate citizens. It's not -- it's illegal. It's a crime. Plus, your vote is important.
KING: Governor Rick Scott, appreciate your time tonight. It's a contentious issue. Watch this one as it plays out in the courts. You're suing them; they're suing you.
SCOTT: I'll see you down here for the -- for the convention. It will be fun.
KING: Looking forward to the convention; looking forward to many other trips to Florida. A hundred and forty-seven days we've got to go, Governor. Your state could decide it all. We'll see you a lot between now and then. Thanks for your time tonight.
SCOTT: Good bye.
KING: Now, shifting overseas to today's ominous developments in Syria. Today for the first time, the head of the United Nations peacekeeping force is describing the conflict as a full-scale civil war.
We've also received amateur video -- you see it there -- apparently showing government helicopters firing what appear to be missiles.
Secretary of State Clinton tonight warning more helicopters may be on the way.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: We are concerned about the latest information we have that there are attack helicopters on the way from Russia to Syria, which will escalate the conflict quite dramatically.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us. Barbara, this is a troubling development. Now, these helicopter gunships, the Russian version is particularly vicious. What military advantage would that give the Syrian regime?
BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, what the secretary of state is talking about, John, is an escalation from that military advantage. These helicopters move in very quickly. They can fire missiles, rockets. They can linger over a target for some period of time. You see it in the video right there, staying over target, firing again and again and again. And firing with precision, yet indiscriminately. Killing civilians, killing children, killing the opposition forces.
This gives the Syrian regime forces a very critical advantage. Their land war is becoming very expensive, both in terms of money and the forces involved. This lets them move in very quickly, attack, and leave -- John.
KING: And Barbara, as we watch the arms shipments and what State Department complaints with the Russians, there are also allegations from opposition and human rights forces that the government, the Syrian government is using children as human shields. What do we know about that?
STARR: John, this emerging also today from the United Nations in a report saying that children are now being terribly victimized by the regime forces. They're talking about children being beaten, blindfolded, tortured, whipped, attacked with electrical cords, burned with cigarettes. And some of the videos that have emerged from Syria in recent days show children terribly injured on the ground. It's hard to imagine how this is happening. It is causing a good deal of concern around the world.
Here in Washington, the Obama administration still sticking to their plan. They hope diplomacy will work, but even at the United Nations now, which is bringing some of this information to light, doubts are seriously growing whether diplomacy can really win out in the end, John.
KING: I think without a doubt. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon. Barbara, thank you.
Coming up here, a dire warning for Democrats. Two men who helped elect Bill Clinton tell President Obama to change his campaign strategy or face failure come November.
KING: "Forward" is the president's campaign slogan, although most of his campaign TV ad money is being spent at the moment looking back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When Mitt Romney was governor, Massachusetts was No. 1: No. 1 in state debt. Eighteen billion dollars in debt. More debt per person than any other state in the country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now some leading Democratic strategists are, to put it mildly, not impressed. Both Stan Greenberg and strategist James Carville, who of course, is a contributor here at CNN, they helped elect Bill Clinton back in 1992, and they take issue with Team Obama's strategy now.
They write this. Quote, "We will face an impossible headwind in November if we do not move to a new narrative, one that contextualizes the recovery, but more importantly, focuses on what we will do to make a better future for the middle class."
Greenberg and a colleague, writing for the liberal group Democracy Corp, say their recent focus group showed Republican Mitt Romney is plenty vulnerable, but they argue President Obama needs to take a longer term view about the economy to earn four more years.
"It is elites who are creating a conventional wisdom," they write, "that an incumbent president must run on his economic performance, and therefore, must convince voters that things are moving in the right direction. They are wrong, and that will fail."
Are Carville and Greenberg smarter than the president's team? Well, we'll debate that in just a moment.
But there's a simple "Truth" at play here. There is more grumbling, publicly and privately, about the White House political operation of late. Why? Well, some Democrats take issue with some specific strategy decisions or get frustrated when the president slips and says things like "The private sector is doing fine."
Others are just taking notice of the polls. A dead heat race with just 21 weeks left and no indication the economic news is about to get any better. Some of the critics, like our friend Mr. Carville, have ideas. Other Democrats simply have the jitters.
Here tonight to talk truth, "TIME" magazine Washington deputy bureau chief, Michael Crowley; Obama campaign pollster Cornell Belcher; and Republican campaign strategist Terry Holt.
Mr. Belcher, to you first, my friend. The president seems to disagree with them. They say he's not giving a forward-looking vision about what the economy will look like for the middle class. He's too busy saying, "Things are getting better. I inherited a mess. Things are somewhat better."
The president seems to disagree with them. He just said this at an event up in Baltimore, a fundraiser. "The good news is the American people generally agree with our vision. The challenge is, because folks are still hurting right now, the other side feels that it's enough for them just to sit back and say things aren't as good as it should be, and it's Obama's fault. That you can pretty much put their campaign on a tweet, and have some characters to spare."
A little dig there at Team Romney. But you know James and Stan. They say the president is playing small ball, needs to give much more vision for the middle class and the future. Are they right?
CORNELL BELCHER, OBAMA POLLSTER: Well, I think he is giving a big vision of the future when you look at sort of his economic policies moving forward, building -- building an economy that's built to last, talking about sort of worker training, talking about green technology. He is putting a forward vision.
Look, you know, all due respect to James and Stan, who are really bright, bright guys, I think it's sort of hard to argue with the path that the president has laid out economically. Look, 27 straight months of job growth. Our country is sort of beginning to sort of dig its way out of a -- out of recession. We are doing leaps and bounds better than what Europe is doing right now under the same sort of programs that you see Republicans trying to talk about right now.
So when you talk about the future and talk about sort of big ball, the president is doing that. And by the way, our campaign has just begun.
KING: You're shaking your head.
TERRY HOLT, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: If you look at the announcement that the president is going to give a speech on Thursday about his economic policies, it's a retread of some of the ideas that they proposed last year in terms of infrastructure spending.
It's all this temporary stuff when the economy is sputtering along because of some real endemic problems. We see the middle class struggling. I think that we could say as Republicans that the president betrayed the middle class because his policies haven't helped them. They've gone backward.
The president's greatest enemy is not Stan Greenberg and James Carville. It's this economy and its failure to get it back on its feet.
BELCHER: I've got to answer that. The president's greatest problem right now, you've got Congress, 527 days. They have not acted on any major economic legislation whatsoever. Five hundred and twenty-seven days, not one major piece.
KING: Well, you've had the Democrats put their plans forward, the Republicans put their plans forward, and nobody will get along.
CORNELL: And you know, Republican has pushed forward a highway construction bill. They moved out of Senate with bipartisan -- it is stuck in the House. House Republicans will not act.
KING: You're being very polite on the end there, Mr. Crowley. To the criticism of the president, how much of it is the people saying, you know, "These guys lost their way"? And you do hear that. The president has a fine accomplished team around him, including Mr. Belcher right here with us. Some people say they've lost their way. Some people just say -- you know, forgive me -- Washington has this disease called bedwetting where, when the polls get close, people go, "Aaa!" They panic.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, "TIME" MAGAZINE: Yes, I go think that criticism of the president's campaign is somewhat overstated. I think the Romney campaign has gleefully been fanning this narrative that the Obama gang turns out to be overrated, can't shoot straight.
I think in reality, when you have tough -- a tough economy, you get some bad breaks, everyone looks like a dunce. And when -- you know, if you had good job numbers, they're going to look brilliant.
It may be true that the Congress won't act to pass the kind of stimulus the president wants, but the reality is he has the economy he has. And the question is how does he talk about it?
And I think that there is, true to that memo, you don't think of Obama as the great empathizer. You know, Bill Clinton, it's a cliche, but he felt your pain. He bit the lip. And I think that what Carville and Greenberg, who, of course, were kind of schooled in the Clinton era, are looking for is a little bit more of that, a little more connection. I know Obama's instinct is to say, "I've turned things around, and they're getting better." But I can see the argument for showing a little more empathy for what people are going through.
KING: Well, to make -- he gave a round of local interviews yesterday in battleground states. A smart strategy. He talked to local anchors in the big states. But he was answering a question for a Green Bay affiliate in Wisconsin. He was asked essentially, "Why didn't you come out in our big recall election. Scott Walker, the governor, is in recall. You supported the Democratic candidate, the mayor of Milwaukee, Mr. Barrett. Why didn't you come, Mr. President?"
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the truth of the matter is, is that, as president of the United States, I've got a lot of responsibilities. I was supportive of Tom and had been supportive of Tom. Obviously, you know, I would have loved to have seen a different result.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: "I was too busy?" It's a huge state. It's a defining race. The labor movement wants the president. He was out...
HOLT: A "must-win."
KING: He traveled around the country a lot raising money. I've covered the White House for eight and a half years, and the presidency is a hell of a job. It's a busy job. But he was too busy?
BELCHER: When you think of actually -- what he actually has on his plate and when you think about some just from a straight political standpoint, look, we won Wisconsin last time around by 13, 14 points. From the exit polls in Wisconsin, we were still leading Mitt Romney in those exit polls. Should the president sort of get involved in every local issue on the map? No, he shouldn't get involved...
KING: It's a governor's race -- a governor's race about a defining issue in the country right now, collective bargaining and the rights of his friends in the Labor Movement.
BELCHER: Which was a local Wisconsin issue. It has -- it's not a national issue. The president didn't have any right going there. They should have let locals take care of it, and that's what they did.
HOLT: There was a well-known fact about the Wisconsin situation, is the Democrats were deeply divided over whether or not they should fully engage there, whether they could win there. I think the president didn't want to engage there, and that's what he said. He was honest in that situation.
CROWLEY: What he's saying -- I mean, at least he didn't say he was folding laundry. I mean, you come up with some polite-sounding excuse. But everyone knows what you're really saying. I think Terry's got it right. And that's -- there's not much you can do about it.
KING: I'm fascinated to see if there's an impact down the road, if people, gee, if you join your friends in a fight, they help you next time. You don't join them in the fight, maybe they don't...
HOLT: That's right. And this presidency has been -- has been a contradiction in terms for people that elected him on some basic stuff. He hasn't really delivered on any of that. And the fundamental piece of his agenda, the health-care law, is set to be completely repudiated by the Supreme Court.
KING: He's tough. He's getting energized. I'm going to ask him to hold on. Got to get a break in here. He's ready with his counter play, and I'm going to give him a chance to make it. We've got to take a quick break.
Still ahead here, in addition to more from these interesting guys, rescuers thought they were racing to find victims of a yacht explosion. Remember? We told you about this last night. Looks like it was a dangerous and expensive hoax.
Plus, former president George H.W. Bush's 88th birthday today. Hear what he thinks about getting older and -- you don't want to miss this -- his fashion choices.
KING: You know, the economy is the No. 1 issue in the election. Now driving a lot of the conversation, a new Federal Reserve report that looks back at how hard American families were hit by the slowdown, the economic crash in 2007.
Look at these numbers. From 2007 to 2010, the net worth of an American family dropped almost 40 percent, from $126,400 to $77,300. Eighteen years, essentially, of savings and investments out the window during that tough period. That will be a factor in the presidential conversation.
We're back with Michael Crowley, Cornell Belcher and Terry Holt.
I want you to listen here to Governor Romney's take on this. He says he meets families who have these concerns when he travels. He's using a Wisconsin example here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I was with a couple in Wisconsin. They had a couple of duplexes they were relying upon to sell for their retirement. But the values have collapsed.
Look, people are having hard times in this country, and the president needs to go out and talk to people, not just do fundraisers. Go out and talk to people in the country and find out what's happening.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I will weigh in. Governor Romney is doing a lot of fundraisers, too. That's a bit of a cheap -- bit of a cheap shot to the president there. He's doing his own.
But to that point, Cornell, you know, you have an incumbent president. Life and politics are not fair. And he's the incumbent right now. Whether you had a Democrat or Republican, they'd be in tough straits right now.
How much of it is the data that's driving the anxiety? How much of it is that American dream question when you look around and you think the value of my home, you know? What about my kids?
BELCHER: You know, it really is the American dream, whether you're a Democrat or Republican. And look, Republicans have to be like the kings of amnesia now, because you know, this is all Obama's fault.
The problem is, it is about the American dream. Right now, you know, when you look at middle-class families, the stress about them losing their job is less right now. And the stress about them not being able to keep up with the growth -- the costs of living is problematic right now.
And so the whole idea of being able to send my kid to college and not be in great deal of debt. I mean, that sort of basic American dream right now is what's really...
KING: And is this campaign -- is this campaign big enough to answer those questions, the gnawing sense that people have? HOLT: I sure hope so. There hasn't been a more...
KING: I haven't seen it yet.
HOLT: ... consequential campaign in a long time. That number to me says one thing. People lost value in their homes. Most American middle-class families have their homes as their savings account. And when home values fell out the bottom, that's what happened. They lost their savings.
And the president has to keep talking about the middle class. He's failed to do so. It was the centerpiece of his campaign. It's how he got independent votes in the last election. And he's disconnected with them right now. And it's a tough spot to get back.
KING: You look at those numbers. I want to be clear; that's 2007 to 2010. There's been a little bit of tick back up since. But boy, they're numbing.
I need to end it here for time purposes. Sorry, gentlemen. Michael, Cornell, Terry, thanks.
Lisa Sylvester is back now with the latest news you need to know right now.
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John.
New audio recordings released of the distress call that prompted a massive rescue effort to what the Coast Guard calls the scene of a fake yacht explosion. In the call, a man pretends to be a captain, asking for help in an on-board explosion off the New Jersey coast yesterday that killed three people.
And the girlfriend of James "Whitey" Bulger was sentenced to eight years in federal prison for helping the Boston gangster evade arrest for 16 years. Catherine Greig, who also committed identity fraud, will now have to pay a $150,000 fine.
Police found the longtime couple in a California apartment filled with weapons last year. Sixty-one-year-old Greig pleaded guilty to harboring a fugitive in March.
And it is official. Watch your language if you're ever in Middleborough, Massachusetts. At a town meeting last night, residents voted 183-50 to impose a $20 fine for people caught using profanity in public. So you've got to watch your mouth, at least when you're in that one town, John.
KING: Like the quiet car on the Amtrak. Now you have the quiet -- it's the quiet town. The quiet town in Middleborough, Massachusetts.
SYLVESTER: I like that.
KING: That's good.
All right, Lisa. Stay right here. Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." If you don't have it marked on your calendar, today is former president George H.W. Bush's 88th birthday. That's a lot of candles. Here's what he told his granddaughter, Jenna Bush-Hager, about the milestone on "The Today Show."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's pretty darn old, I'll tell you. I never thought I'd get this far in chronology.
JENNA BUSH-HAGER, GRANDDAUGHTER: And what's aging like?
G. BUSH: Aging is all right. It's better than the alternative.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Still a funny guy.
Last month, Bush 41 visited the White House for the unveiling of his son's presidential portrait. Then it was time to eat. Just got our hands on this photo, where you see the entire Bush family breaking bread with the Obamas in the Red Room. Three presidents at one table. That's pretty eye-catching.
But not as much as the socks at that same event. Here is 41 talking about his choices, Lisa. Pop star with similar tastes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
G. BUSH: I like a colorful sock. I'm a sock man. This is a modest pair here today. Subdued, you might say.
J. BUSH: And they've been comparing your socks to that of Justin Bieber.
G. BUSH: Bieb? Is he a sock man?
J. BUSH: He evidently is a sock man, just like you.
G. BUSH: I don't know much about the Bieber. Never see him. I don't know what he does.
J. BUSH: Have you ever heard his song?
G. BUSH: No, how does it go?
J. BUSH (singing): Baby, baby, baby oh.
G. BUSH: That his song?
J. BUSH: You know it.
G. BUSH: I don't think I'd like it. J. BUSH: No, you like it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: I love that. I love that. You know, I didn't know about that with the socks. But I do know, you know what he wants to do for his 90th birthday? It's something that he did for his 85th birthday, John. Skydiving.
KING: Not again.
KING: Yes. I hope -- I hope the sons talk him out of that one if he tries to do that one again. But you know what? He always had a great sense of humor, always a gentleman. It's good to see him there in such good spirits. I hope he enjoyed the cake and those socks. The Bieb.
SYLVESTER: Yes. Now we know what to get him for his next birthday.
KING: If he wants to skydive at 90. How about for 89, we take him to a Justin Bieber concert?
SYLVESTER: Even better. The best gift ever!
KING: My daughter will come along for the ride.
Lisa, we'll see you tomorrow.
We'll see you back here tomorrow night, too. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.