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JOHN KING, USA
Congressman Lee Resigns; Egyptian Revolt; Missed Signals
Aired February 9, 2011 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. We begin with a major breaking political news story. A Republican congressman resigns his seat in disgrace tonight after a gossip Web site catches the married father of one posing shirtless and claiming to be single trying to line up a date on Craigslist. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash broke the news of Congressman Christopher Lee's abrupt resignation just this past hour and joins us now with new details -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, look this is something that happened with warp speed. Warp speed. It really -- you don't see anything quite like this in politics and here on Capitol Hill because the idea that this even was a possibility on the Gawker Web site was just out there this afternoon but then late -- this evening, the congressman, now former congressman did make it official releasing a statement saying that he has -- he deeply and sincerely apologizes to people. He made profound mistakes and he says he promised as hard as he can to work to seek forgiveness and he said the challenges though so hard in this country that he is going to resign effective immediately and shortly thereafter this was read on the floor of the House -- John.
KING: Oh, it was read. I'm sorry. I thought I was going to hear the sound of them reading that in the floor of the House. And so Dana, he's in his second term. He's from upstate Western New York near the Buffalo area, somebody who was just a rank and file back then (INAUDIBLE) an important member of the Republican majority.
BASH: To be honest with you, a rank and file back bencher. You said it right. He is really relatively new. He had just started -- it was in the first month effectively of his second term. But he is certainly a House Republican and for the House Republican majority this is something even the possibility of a scandal like this they did not want. Now we do know, John, that the now former Congressman Lee did inform the speaker's office that he was going to resign his seat.
The speaker's office and other leaders are not saying what kind of conversations, if any, happened in private but I did bump into one senior Republican congressman in the hallway after we reported this who said, look, this is the kind of thing that if it is true and if as in his statement he says mistakes, plural, mistakes plural were made by him with regard to his personal life, that this was a no-brainer. That this is something that he felt that he had to do.
But, look, this is something that in terms of the allegations that are on the Gawker Web site still he has not been specific in confirming any of it and none of his staff as far as I know and people who are close to him really do know if any of the specifics are actually accurate, but it is clear that something -- he did something that he felt that he had to resign for.
KING: And he certainly did. Dana Bash for us on Capitol Hill, we should note for our viewers that is his picture on Gawker. Dana is right -- his staff has not confirmed any details of this nor the now former congressman. But that is his picture on Gawker and a bit more from Congressman Chris Lee's statement tonight announcing his resignation.
"I regret the harm my actions have caused my family, my staff and my constituents. I deeply and sincerely apologize to them all. I have made profound mistakes and I promise to work as hard as I can to seek their forgiveness."
Again, there is the congressman on the left, the picture on Gawker on the right of the shirtless now former Congressman Chris Lee of upstate New York resigning abruptly tonight after this gossip Web site posted this link and some e-mails in which the married congressman posed to be single and was trying to line up a date. We'll keep on track of that story but there's other big news in Washington tonight including a chilling assessment of the terror threat in the United States and a high-profile Senate Democrat shakes up the 2012 campaign landscape and there's dramatic news in the Egyptian political uprising including this CNN exclusive.
The Google executive who is now the face of Egypt's young pro- democracy movement takes us inside the revolt and explains why negotiations with President Mubarak are now out of the question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WAEL GHONIM, EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: Definitely this is the Internet revolution and I'll call it revolution 2.0.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Massive crowds again today. Check out this scene outside the Egyptian parliament building as pro-democracy forces press their demands that President Mubarak leave power immediately. Significantly tonight The Muslim Brotherhood organization said it will quit the negotiations with the government if the protesters demand for Mubarak's resignation is not met.
And among those pressing that demand is Wael Ghonim. He's that Google marketing director now on leave who was jailed for 12 days when the protests began. And let's take a look at this. Since being released he has become not only the face of the revolution in Egypt, but all around the world. This is Egypt's state-run newspaper, makes note of some of the activities in the square here in Arabic.
If you move over here's "The Gulf News" -- this is in Kuwait -- and again Ghonim is quoted right here in the middle of this lead story, his face right here. The United Arab Emirates, another Gulf state in the area, this is Wael right here leading the demonstrations and he's on the front page as well in newspapers in Beirut. Last night we showed you the Facebook page he's been using to support the movement, the January 25th movement it's called.
In just the past 24 hours, take a look. Here's the Web site (INAUDIBLE) named after an activist who the pro-democracy demonstrators believe was killed by the Egyptian police. Just in the last 24 hours more than 6,000 likes of this page right here. Now, Wael Ghonim discussed this pro-democracy strategy heading forward in an exclusive interview with CNN's Ivan Watson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Did you plan a revolution?
GHONIM: Yes. We did.
WATSON: What was the plan?
GHONIM: The plan was to get everyone on the street, number one is that we're going to start from, you know, poor areas, our demands are going to be all about what touches people's daily life.
WATSON: There's been a lot of speculation about Muslim Brotherhood being involved in this uprising. How would you describe yourself and your friends who helped mobilize for the first protests on January 25th?
GHONIM: Muslim Brotherhood was not involved at all in the organization of this. Muslim Brotherhood announced that they are not going to participate officially. And they said if the young guys want to join, if their young guys want to join they're not going to tell them no.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: More of that interview and a live report from Ivan a bit later in the program. Let's get an update now live though from CNN's Arwa Damon who is in Cairo. Arwa, where are we? Those massive crowds again today, are they continuing now into the early morning hours there?
ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the crowds are smaller in number as they do tend to get at night still down in Tahrir Square. We've been hearing the loud speaker blaring all along, earlier it was blasting music trying to keep people's spirits up, trying to keep this momentum up which is very critical at this point in time. What so many people have been saying is that people need to stand their ground.
The problem is that it seems that the president is just as determined as the protesters to stand his ground and remain in power. We have, of course, seen the demonstrators spilling outside of Tahrir Square as you mentioned there briefly, setting up camp in front of parliament itself, a few hundred of them, but they too getting ready for the long haul setting up tents, bringing in blankets. One thing to note, though is that since that has happened we did also hear the military say that it would take action if it felt that the country's national security was in jeopardy and so the standoff here does continue, John, with both sides equally determined to make their causes and their voices heard.
KING: And, Arwa, you did some critical reporting outside of Cairo today to try to test the mood of Egyptians not directly involved in this upheaval and not in the middle of the protests. Let's listen to what this mother of three, Abeer, told you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ABEER, VILLAGER (through translator): The situation is horrible. To be honest, I don't know. I don't know how to cope, she sobs. You can see for yourself. Everything is horrible. I can hardly feed my children. I am uneducated, illiterate, she continues. I don't know if the government should stay or go. All I know is that people like us need to be able to live.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Sounds like a profound sense of despair and uncertainty there, Arwa. Tell us a little bit more about that conversation.
DAMON: Yes, John, it most certainly is. One has to remember that 20 percent of the population here survives on less than $2 a day. She makes around $30 a month working at a hospital. Her husband relies on day wages. He has not been able to find work since these demonstrations began. The village she's in is in one of Egypt's oases, an agricultural area farmers heavily reliant on a moving economy and great concern in this area about their financial future bearing in mind, of course, it was the economy, the lack of jobs that really was one of the main cornerstones of these demonstrations taking on a life of their own -- John.
KING: Arwa Damon live for us in Cairo. Thanks Arwa.
And now let's get some perspective on the uprising and the very difficult diplomacy from former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and Robert Kagan of the Brookings institution who is part of an advisory group that warned the White House months ago it needed to push the Mubarak regime toward reform.
I want to start on that point. There's a lot of we told you so going around in Washington right now and today the administration is out again being more specific because it is frustrated with the Egyptian regime saying you have to move faster, be more specific and emergency law. To you, first, Nick Burns, the administration has gone back and forth.
A week ago it was now. Then it was, well, President Mubarak might stay a while and now it's we understand he's probably going to be here for a little bit, but we need to see more. Is there a cleaner way to handle this or is this the way it goes?
NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDER SECRETARY OF STATE: John, I think the administration is trying to keep pace with rapidly changing events, so I have a little bit of sympathy for them because you know you have to flow with the events, as well. I will say that the performance over the last couple of days has been a little bit ragged because you have some people saying one thing in the administration, others contradicting that. You saw that over the weekend.
You've seen it in recent days and they're trying to juggle these competing objectives. We have to -- the United States has to speak out in support of peaceful Democratic change and reform. On the other hand we have real important national security interests Egypt's peace with Israel, for instance, to protect and you're beginning to see the Arab governments that are friendly with the United States push back very hard, publicly and privately against the administration saying don't throw Mubarak under the bus and don't treat us like that. And so there's a lot riding on this for the United States of getting this balance right and it's difficult to do.
KING: But, Bob Kagan, your working group some time ago said you know what, we've been at this balancing act for a very long time and what's happening is you're causing a lot of resentment and unrest on the street. It was your position that back during the last round of elections, if not the round before that the administration needed to tell Mubarak stop because it was obvious fraud, obvious just no competitive parties.
ROBERT KAGAN, SENIOR FELLOW, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: Well, I don't want -- you know, what happened a year ago doesn't matter. What happened --
KING: It does matter, doesn't it? It does matter.
KAGAN: It matters --
KING: Let me ask this way. Do you believe if they had put more pressure on Mubarak then and said what you're doing is a fraud Mr. President. We want to be your friend, but you have to do more, it's not good enough. You cannot throw your opponent in jail. You cannot suppress other political parties, do something. Maybe not everything, but do something. Would we be in a better position now?
KAGAN: We would and our argument at the time was that you need to explain to Mubarak that he would also be in a better position if he'd made the necessary reforms which were not very demanding back before the last parliamentary elections, for instance, he would have shown himself to be a guy who's interested in reform and perhaps this whole explosion might not have happened. He did the opposite. He clamped down.
He got tougher and frankly the administration didn't press him as hard as they could, but nevertheless we are where we are right now. I think the administration today is on a much better track. The vice president's discussion with Omar Suleiman and the statement that the White House put out about the need to lift the emergency law now, to get Mubarak at the very least to delegate his powers and step out, to make a real step toward, irreversible steps towards reform, that's the right place to be right now. KING: If it's the right place to be right now, what happens if I'm asking you both back in a week and posing the question it hasn't happened? What now? What next? If the Egyptian government does not satisfy and those people on the street, they don't want conversations, they want the president to go and then to have conversations, perhaps they would take the president going into a caretaker role. We can't quite answer that.
BURNS: I think you're going to see this unfold in stages and I think a week is too soon to see rapid change. The administration is going to push for President Mubarak either to leave or to at least step out of the way so that elements of his government probably led by Suleiman can run a transition but I think the frustration is the transition can't be just the same old people who have been ruling Egypt for the last 30 years.
Some of the new people that have emerged over the last two weeks, some of the reformers that have been in exile have got to be allowed into this process for it to be meaningful. I think that's the frustration that the administration feels about the pace of events in Cairo.
KAGAN: I don't know what -- whether we have a week because let's just -- Friday's demonstrations in Cairo are going to be massive. I believe the protesters feel they have the wind behind their backs. They're going to press this government. They may march on the presidential palace. The military will then be right up against the question again do we stop them? Do we shoot them? Do we -- or do we let this go on? I think there's going to be more pressure on the government to make concessions.
KING: And Nick, you've been involved in a lot of the private diplomacy and I know when you're in the middle of it you can't talk about it and so the administration sometimes looks a little ragged because it is saying things in private that it doesn't want to spill over in public, but is there a tipping point here?
As Bob notes, if there are more people on the street tomorrow, more pressure on the parliament and you have the woman you heard Arwa Damon, every day Egyptians are saying we can't get food or we can't go back to work because now you have strikes and other issues in the country. At what point does it reach a tipping point and does the administration have leverage there? It has the aid card. Is that the only leverage?
BURNS: I think the key -- the key prospect here is Mubarak's lost control of the streets. He's lot credibility internationally and with his own people so he -- his status has to be clarified and I think as soon as the administration can convince him either to retire from politics or to just kind of move to the side as other people emerge to take control of the transition, in a visible and public and meaningful way that's the key event that we're going to look at.
And I think Bob is exactly right. If these young people continue to mobilize in the streets in great numbers and if they maintain their intensity, it is going to put additional pressure on the Egyptian government. It seems to me, John, the president is standing right in the middle. He does not -- doesn't want to choose between these competing objectives. He's in the right place. I think --
KING: The middle is the right place?
BURNS: I do think it's the right place --
KING: Is the middle the right place?
BURNS: I think he's represented our interests --
KING: Bob Kagan, is the middle the right place?
KAGAN: I don't think Nick means the middle between the current regime and the protesters, but that would not be the right place and you asked about the aid card. The aid card can be played by Congress, whether the administration wants it or not and I think that if the regime does not show some real movement you're going to start seeing more and more calls in Congress to start at least sequestering that aid, holding it back and perhaps even cutting it.
KING: Nick and Bob Kagan are going to stay with us for just a minute. Yes, Virginia, you're a 2012 battleground state and tonight the state's incumbent Democratic senator bows out and sets off a scramble, but next, the Obama administration's top counterterrorism officials and their chilling message.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In some ways, the threat today may be at its most heightened state since the attacks nearly 10 years ago.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Leading members of President Obama's Counterterrorism and Homeland Security team delivered a sobering assessment to Congress today. Michael Leiter directs the National Counterterrorism Center. He told the House Committee about the terrorist group that worries the administration most.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHAEL LEITER, DIR., NAT'L COUNTERTERRORISM CENTER: I actually consider al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula with Awlaki as a leader within that organization probably the most significant risk to the U.S. homeland.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That organization is based in Yemen. Also at the hearing Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano, she said the fracturing of al Qaeda into splinter group sometimes makes tracking terror more difficult and she warned of troubling progress recruiting homegrown terrorists. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JANET NAPOLITANO, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Who do not have strong ties to terrorist groups that could possibly tip off the intelligence community? They are also encouraging individuals in the west to carry out their own small-scale attacks, which require less of the coordination and planning that could raise red flags and lead to an attack's disruption.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns and the Brookings Institution's Robert Kagan are back with us to assess the threat and the fight and also with us CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend, who was President George W. Bush's homeland security adviser.
And Fran, because of that I want to start with you. This administration has been in power about two years now. When you were leaving office in the Bush administration, Awlaki, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula was growing as a concern. When you hear Mr. Leiter there, are you convinced that essentially Awlaki is more of a threat than Osama bin Laden?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FORMER BUSH HOMELAND SEC. ADVISER: Well I think right now in terms of the operational capability, Mike Leiter of National Counterterrorism Center is right. Let's remember al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, this is the cell that has the bomb maker who is responsible for the underwear bomb, the cartridge in the computer bomb.
They're very adaptive. They're very capable. There was an assassination attempt against the head of Saudi intelligence. And so this is -- I think he's right. They're very determined. They seemed obsessed with aviation targets and how they can get a bomb in there and so I think Mike Leiter is correct that right now the greatest operational threat, direct operational threat is from al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
KING: And if that is the case, Nick Burns, how do you counter it? Yemen is an ally, but Yemen has a lot of this unrest and sort of political uncertainty, as does much of the region after you watch Tunisia and Egypt and beyond.
BURNS: Well first of all, these are significant statements, as Fran said. They were prepared statements. These are not off-the-cuff remarks. They obviously thought about what they wanted to say and they're significant in terms of where the terrorist threat is. Obviously the United States government needs to make crystal clear to the Yemeni government, this is issue one, two, three, four and five on the agenda and we'd expect of course a situation like this unqualified, unstinting support from that government.
KING: Do we think we get that unqualified unstinting support, Bob Kagan? I know from conversations over at the White House that they view this as the big one. They say a very weak government at the moment, a very poor population, so susceptible to messages and radicalization and a very, very active terrorist organization.
KAGAN: Well that's right and I think you know I'm sure they're not getting all the cooperation they wish they could get and I'm sure by the way, that we are -- the United States is engaged in its own activities in Yemen surreptitiously and we're going to probably have to focus on that more. I doubt very much that the president thinks we can just rely on the Yemenis to deal with the situation.
KING: It was interesting listening to Secretary Napolitano talk about the homegrown threat that people reaching out from overseas to people here in the United States and elsewhere in the west. I want you to listen -- I talked to retiring Congresswoman Jane Harman last night of California. She's talking here specifically about Egypt and she says the U.S. intelligence community in her view missed some signals on Egypt. But listen to how she puts it in context.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JANE HARMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: This was an intelligence wake- up call, you bet. I think we have underestimated the importance of social media and I think we have not used enough public sources in our intelligence products.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: She went on to talk, Fran Townsend, about English language Web sites based in Yemen from al Awlaki and al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula that are being accessed more and more and more she said by people here in the United States. What does the government do about that?
TOWNSEND: This is a real problem. Let's go back for a moment John. The Fort Hood shooter was recruited and had an Internet correspondence with al Awlaki in Yemen. Al Awlaki because he has lived here in the United States, he understands the culture, and he understands how to speak to Americans, how to inspire them, how to recruit them.
And so he has been an ongoing concern as you point out back to my time in the Bush administration. Now, it's really hard and Congressman -- Congresswoman Jane Harman is right. We've put a lot of emphasis on better mining of public sources of information, but of course there's always the privacy concerns that have to be balanced. I think this is going to be a continuing threat.
But the one thing I'd like to point out, John, is Secretary Napolitano made the point that what the threat is, is from these people are smaller-scale attacks. You're not talking about 10 years later another 9/11. You're talking about a serious threat but on a much smaller scale.
KING: And so that is the infrastructure, the planning, the strategic thinking of the government, has it adapted to that because after 9/11 we grew up this homeland security enterprise almost from scratch and then the intelligence agencies were redone because it turned out dots weren't connected about you know all the terrorists involved in 9/11. Have things been changed again and again and again to adapt to the fracturing different threat?
BURNS: Well, you got to keep ahead of events and you can't stop the reform of your own institutions to be effective. I think, John, this statement on Yemen points to the complications the Obama administration has right now that we have as Americans. Weakening Arab governments might be less capable and less willing perhaps, less able to help us counter these terrorism threats so instability in Yemen now comes back to be a big problem for the United States directly concerning our security.
KING: And so how do you deal with that challenge, Bob? If there are governments there, Egypt among them, Jordan among them that allow U.S. intelligence agencies freedom to roam, freedom to listen, which is important in that part of the world and now they have some instability. How do you deal with that delicate issue when I'm assuming there is a working paper, your group sent on Egypt saying, you know you better do some things here or else it could blow up. Is there a working paper on terrorism that says, you know, we can't sustain this policy?
KAGAN: Well, I think we shouldn't kid ourselves that these friendly dictators are necessarily helpful overall. Yes, their intelligence services do whatever they want including beat up and torture a lot of innocent people, but also we know, look, some of the perpetrators of 9/11 were Egyptians. These dictators repress legitimate forms of dissent and create radicalism and some of them go off and become terrorists, so I don't think we should think the dictators are our best friends and it doesn't do us any good to stand in the way of this ferment that's going on in the Arab world right now.
KING: Nick Burns, Bob Kagan, Fran Townsend, appreciate your coming in tonight. It is a sober issue, chilling to talk about it. Appreciate your insights -- still to come here, more of our fascinating exclusive with the new face of Egypt's pro-democracy movement.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely this is the Internet revolution. I'll call it revolution 2.0.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And just who is this Virginia Tea Party candidate talking about?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Frankly, both of them have been lap dogs for President Obama.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: It involves a huge change in the 2012 campaign map and that's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: The 2012 campaign map, well, it's even more interesting tonight. Virginia Democratic Senator James Webb announced today he will not seek a second term -- got a pretty good sense of his hesitation when we talked two weeks ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JIM WEBB (D), VIRGINIA: I don't want to be out asking people for money unless, you know, they can be certain that I'm going to use it for a campaign.
KING: Would you like a chance to run against George Allen again? He's not guaranteed the Republican nomination, of course, but would you like that?
WEBB: That's not even in the formula. It's whether or not we want to make the decision to be up here for another eight years and do what it takes to do that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: With Webb out Democrats are to say the least in a scramble. There's pressure mounting on the former Democratic Governor Tim Kaine, who just committed to stay on as Democratic National Committee chair through the president's re-election campaign. Let's put this race into the bigger context of 2012 and what some see as the shrinking center of American politics.
Joining us our contributors Erick Erickson and Roland Martin and our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on Capitol Hill. Roland to you first on this one -- it's a -- Virginia was a state Obama carried in 2008. I'm going to go to the map in a minute and lay this out a little bit. Already it's iffy when you go, if you come out of 2010 thinking Tea Party, Republican year, you're looking at Virginia saying not so sure. And now you've got a Senate race where you don't have the incumbent.
MARTIN: But although he carried, it was a still a state going back and forth. Remember Mark Warner, former governor, he won. Webb had a tough race when he won. Republicans, Bob McConnell wins the governor's mansion. They also win the attorney general's race.
So, that state is very much a state in flux, a purple state. And so, even if Jim Webb ran for re-election, he would still have a tough chance. And so, even the incumbent I think in this case really doesn't matter but it's an evenly split state.
KING: And, Erick Erickson, this is a huge state now target for Republicans because they want to get it anyway.
Here's the landscape for 2012, where it's a blue, that's Democratic-held state, orange is a Republican-held state, two independents in the Senate are up. Lieberman has already announced he's not going to run. Bernie Sanders is up in New York (ph). But Virginia down here now held by a Democrat, the Republicans came up just short, Erick, in this 2010 midterm election cycle. So, they're trying to get the Senate majority in a presidential year, 2012. Many would think and many Republicans in Virginia think let George Allen be our nominee. Yes, he did lost last time to Jim Webb, but he won for governor, he won statewide for Senate. He should be our nominee.
But listen here, this is Jamie Radtke. She is a Tea Party leader in Virginia. She says George Allen is the past.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMIE RADTKE (R), VIRGINIA SENATE CANDIDATE: I would say that I don't think that that's the direction Virginia wants to go. I mean, you're right. I mean, the choice is do you want a 30-year politician who's been a part of the Washington establishment or do you want part of this new generation of leadership up there that's really trying to tackle the problems and come up with good solution.
KING: So, is part of your message that the Tea Party, the new Tea Party lawmakers here in Washington need reinforcements?
RADTKE: Absolutely. You know, we made -- we made great strides in the House. We came close in the Senate. But we need to put more fighters in the U.S. Senate that are going to be able to repeal Obamacare, pass a balanced budget amendment. I mean, there's a lot of things we need to do to right the ship and turn this economy around.
KING: Play pundit with me. You've gotten a good sense of the state over the past campaign. You're working with the Tea Party on elections. Who would be the toughest Democrat?
RADTKE: Well, you know, that's interesting. The names that I've heard in your media circles have been Tim Kaine and Tom Perriello and, frankly, both have been lap dogs for President Obama. So, you know, if either one of those are on the table, I don't think that's going to be good for Democrats in Virginia.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Erick Erickson, you are a big force and a major conduit of information for the Tea Party movement this year. Are you with Jamie Radtke or George Allen?
ERICK ERICKSON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I like Jamie Radtke. I'd be happy to support her. I've said my preference would be her. I think George Allen has a lot to account for in the miserable 2006 campaign he ran. Yes, it was bad year for Democrats but not necessarily for George Allen in Virginia until he just made the macaca moment and went downhill from there through that campaign.
I suspect Tim Kaine is going to be the Democratic nominee for the Senate there. Jamie Radtke will give George Allen a run for his money. He's not a shoo-in. KING: And, Dana, Jamie Radtke -- she's a Tea Party leader. She's obviously blunt-spoken, but she's taking a bit of a political risk if we're in 2008 by calling Tim Kaine and Tom Perriello, a congressman who just lost his re-election bid lap dogs for Obama. 2008 environment, that's a tough thing to say. She is convinced, though, Dana, that in 2010, that this state's not going to look the same.
Here's 2008, I'm showing the map here. You cover all these Democrat -- Democrats and a lot of these blue states are up for re- election in 2012. It's a very different political environment, isn't it?
DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A very different political environment. There are 23 of them as we said who are up for re-election. Look, Jamie Radtke, certainly, she's campaigning on the politics of the now and politics of the now do show her that as Erick said, there's no reason for her to think that anybody who is an incumbent or a former incumbent like her Republican opponent, George Allen, is somebody who people want to keep in office.
But it is a long way between now and then -- a long way between now and then. But I will just tell you she doesn't just have the support of people out there. She was actually here in the United States Senate and she was invited to speak at the Senate Tea Party Caucus meeting. So, she's probably going to have some help from her fellow Tea Partiers here in the Senate.
MARTIN: John, big difference. The House is not the Senate.
MARTIN: Tea Party folks in Nevada lost. O'Donnell lost. The House is a whole different deal. You're not running statewide. Plus, President Obama is on the ballot -- young voters, African-American, Hispanics.
And so, she might be thinking, oh, Tea Party folks work on the Senate side -- that's a different type of statewide campaign than you're talking about a congressional district where there's a lot more gerrymandering in terms of being a Republican or Democrat.
KING: That's an important point to make.
ERICKSON: It's going to be a lot harder for the Republicans than I think a lot of them think. After 2010, a lot of them were looking at the map saying, oh, boy, this is going to be great for us in 2012. And I think they forget, to Roland's point, that Barack Obama is going to be on the ballot in 2012. And those states -- the border states and the coastal states, as well, Republicans have a hard time fielding good candidates in those states traditionally.
KING: Excellent points by all. I just want to show you quickly at the map. These are only some. These are only some. These aren't all of them. The ones I've circled quickly during the conversation, these are seats now held by Democrats in states that President Obama carried in 2008 but where Republicans won either a Senate race or a governor's race, statewide races -- and in some states, both in 2010.
So, we have a very different, unpredictable political environment.
Roland, thanks. Erick, thanks. Dana, thanks as well.
Coming up next: today's biggest headlines, including dramatic news about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' health.
And more of our exclusive interview about Egypt's uprising with the Google executive who promises this movement is only beginning.
KING: Welcome back.
In just a moment, more from today's exclusive CNN interview with the freed Google executive who's become a focal point for Egypt's young revolutionaries.
First, though, dramatic news about Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' health. She's beginning to talk.
Her chief of staff tells CNN Giffords was eating yogurt and oatmeal Monday and she asked if she could have some toast. Giffords has spoken other word, as well -- although her chief of staff could not give us specifics.
First, Michelle Obama opened up about her family's private life at the White House during an interview on NBC's "Today" show this morning. Among the revelations: daughters Sasha and Malia are not allowed on Facebook.
There's breaking news on Capitol Hill tonight. Republican Congressman Christopher Lee of New York resigned his seat in disgrace just a couple of hours ago after a gossip Web site caught the married father of one posing shirtless claiming to be single, younger than he actually is, and trying to line up a date on Craigslist.
And in an exclusive interview with CNN today in Dubai, golfer Tiger Wood said even though his golf game isn't what it used to be, his personal life is improving.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIGER WOODS, GOLFER: I've moved on, moved forward, and I'm getting my life in a balance.
(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Another CNN exclusive, this one critical to the Egypt political uprising, an exclusive interview with Wael Ghonim. He's the Google executive freed Monday after 10 days in captivity in Egypt. Listen here. He sat down exclusively with CNN's Ivan Watson.
IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Your arrest, do you think it was just a coincidence, a sweep of the streets, or you think you were targeted?
WAEL GHONIM, EGYPTIAN ACTIVIST: No, I was targeted. Of course, they wanted me.
WATSON: What was going through your mind at that moment?
GHONIM: I was super scared.
WATSON: You were blindfolded?
GHONIM: Yes, blindfolded, of course.
WATSON: For the whole time?
GHONIM: Yes, of course. Today I was giving the complete part -- I'm turning to my wife all, everything I own, my bank accounts, everything because I am ready to die and there are tons of thousands of people there ready to die for our --
WATSON: You gave power of attorney to your wife because you think you may die.
GHONIM: Yes, of course. They gave us a lot of promises about, you know, gradual change and so on. But then going back to the interview that Omar Suleiman did a couple of days ago, he said that Egyptians are not ready for democracy now.
WATSON: What do you think of that?
GHONIM: So I think this is actually our real problem with the regime. Just the fact that, you know, you get some -- few people to decide that they are of a better, you know -- of a better position to decide for a nation and then use, you know, media to brainwash people, use the baseball bat to hit those who are, you know, who decide that they want to say no.
WATSON: Do you feel any responsibility?
GHONIM: No, no. I'm sorry but I don't -- you know, I'm sorry for their loss. You know, I can't forgive these people (inaudible) I remember them. This could have been -- have been me or my brother and they were killed.
They were killed as if they -- you know, if these people died in a war, that's fair and square. You know, you hold the weapon and, you know, someone is shooting, you know and you died. But, no, none of them.
And those people who were killed were not, you know, were not like they did not look like they are -- they did not really look like, you know, they're going to attack anyone. They were just shooting them. They were shooting them -- a lot of -- you know, a lot of the times the people were, you know, standing -- you know, the police pane would stand on the bridge and shoot people down.
This is a crime. This president needs to step down because this is a crime.
And I'm telling you, I am ready to die. I have a lot to lose in this life. I -- you know, I work or I, you know, as -- I'm on a leave of absence. I work in the best company to work for in the world. I had the best wife and I have -- I have -- I love my kids.
But I'm willing to lose all of that for my dream to happen -- and no one is going go against our desire.
No one -- and I'm telling this to Omar Suleiman. He is going to watch this.
You are not going to stop us. Kidnap me, kidnap all my colleagues, put us in jail, kill us, do whatever you want to do -- we are getting back our country. You guys have been ruining this country for 30 years. Enough. Enough. Enough.
KING: Ivan Watson joins us live from Cairo.
Wow! I mean, that is a remarkable, powerful interview. Fantastic work on your part -- and fantastic passion, passion from Mr. Ghonim there.
How does he see this playing out? And does he see himself now, like it or not, as a political figure in Egypt and perhaps as a future candidate in Egypt?
WATSON: That I asked him several times. It's really interesting. He says that when they started putting together this movement -- when they started organizing for the first January 25th protest which sparked what we can really now call a revolution, it was a group of young Egyptians, activists working on the Internet and they were deliberately, he said, nameless, faceless, anonymous.
And now the big question is: how do they then lead what is coming next? And he couldn't give me a concrete answer for who could, for example, negotiate with the government from here on in. He did say, though, that he thought Mohamed ElBaradei, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Egyptian Nobel Prize laureate, that he could be a good leader for some transitional government. He also said that there are many other judges who could be play that role.
But he said the time for negotiation with the Egyptian government, that was over -- this government he said simply has too much blood on its hands, according to -- on its hands. According to the organization Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have been killed over the past two weeks -- John.
KING: And, Ivan, you know this full well, so I'm fascinated to find out the details of his security or the people around him. If he said those things in Egypt a month ago or two weeks ago, that the government has blood on its hand, "kidnap me," all those defiant things about the government in Egypt -- guess what, we know what would be happened. He would be round up, he would be beaten and he would be detained for Lord knows how long.
How worried is he about that? When you went to see him, how much security does he have?
WATSON: None, he walked through the streets carrying -- this is an unlikely revolutionary. This is a wealthy, young Egyptian -- as he mentioned -- with a great job. His family owns property in a posh neighborhood. He was walking through the streets in jeans and sneakers carrying a Macintosh laptop.
He does not look like a revolutionary, but people were running up to him in the streets, stopping their cars, jumping out, kissing him on the cheeks, yelling his name across the street, because he gave a very emotional interview the night after he got out of prison on Monday night during which he said all of these stories that have been told on Egyptian state television that we are drug dealers, that we are foreign spies, that are currently demonstrating in Cairo's Tahrir Square, this is all wrong. We are patriots. We love our country and we have a right to argue that we should have a say in improving this country.
And it does seem like a lot of Egyptians very much respected that, and it may have pushed a lot of people off the fence when it comes to this demonstration that we've seen in Cairo and in other cities around this country.
KING: It's a fascinating interview. Ivan Watson, an exclusive for Ivan today -- Ivan, part of our fantastic team on the ground in Egypt -- Ivan, thanks so much. We'll keep in touch.
When we come back here -- a controversy about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Does his wife's political activity mean the justice should step aside in a very, very, very important case?
KING: Explosive new showdown tonight over the Obama health care law. We know the question of whether the law is constitutional will be settled ultimately by the Supreme Court. And there are new requests today from Republican governors and Virginia's attorney general for the court to expedite that review.
Most court watchers see Justice Anthony Kennedy as the likely tie breaker if the high court's traditional divide, right and left, plays out. But what if conservative Clarence Thomas recused himself? Seventy-six House Democrats sent the Justice Department a letter today demanding he do just that. They cite the lobbying and other political work done by Virginia Thomas for the prominent opponents of the health care law and write that it poses his wife's work as, quote, "a strong conflict."
The lead author of the letter, New York's Anthony Weiner joins us now. Also, rejoining us from Atlanta, CNN contributor Erick Erickson.
Congressman, to you first -- very rare for judges to recuse themselves. You decided to send this letter. There are those on your side who will say it's a valid legal argument and, as you know, there will be conservatives who will say it's a political stunt.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Well, you know, your viewers can take a look yourself. This is a pretty simple call, if you look at the law and we've started a Web site: conflictedclarencethomas.com where we're going to post the actual U.S. Code that says when a judge must recuse himself.
And I'm going to read you the exact language. "He knows that he individually or his spouse or minor child has a financial interest in the subject matter in controversy."
There is now no dispute that Mrs. Thomas did to a magnitude of about $685,000. The only question here is whether or not Justice Thomas goes ahead and takes that step.
I just want to correct your intro. We wrote to Justice Thomas and saying, listen, given the facts of the case that are now clear, although they weren't originally disclosed as they were supposed to be by law, now we know them. It's a pretty simple question in the eyes of the law that this guy does indeed have a financial interest in the outcome of this case, and for that reason, he should recuse himself.
KING: Erick, what the congressman is talking about is the justice did, as you know, recently resubmitted his financial disclosure forms because he had left off his wife's income. That money the congressman is talking about came from the Heritage Foundation, which opposes the Obama health care law, the justice said it was an oversight, he didn't understand the directions on the form.
But I want you to weigh in, Erick. But, first, I want you to listen to Ginni Thomas because this is a fascinating question. She is very active politically. She worked at the Heritage Foundation. She also has been involved in Tea Party-associated groups.
Listen to her speaking at the Steamboat Institute back in August.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINNI THOMAS, LIBERTYCENTRAL.ORG: I think we need to repeal Obamacare. We need to repeal the Dodd-Frank bill before it gets hold. I think we need to sunset programs all over the place. I think we need to freeze government employment and cap their salary at some comparable level to the private sector. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A somewhat predictable, if you will -- I don't mean that in a bad way -- list of conservative goals, Erick. But I think we need to repeal Obamacare. Her husband gets a key vote.
ERICKSON: Yes. Fascinating. This may be the first time the Democrats have ever asserted that a woman can't have a job separate from her husband and live her own life separately. Fascinating.
You know, I suspect none of the members of Congress who signed this letter will also sign a letter to Elena Kagan urging her to step down since she was solicitor general up until she got on the Supreme Court and after this litigation started working its way through the process.
And, you know, looking at some of these members of Congress who signed the letters, I mean, Congressman Weiner, yourself, your wife works for the State Department. You've never recused yourself from the State Department budget when that money ultimately winds its way into your wife's paycheck. This is all political.
KING: Congressman, address that.
WEINER: Well, let me just say this. There is a reason the law refers to the spouse of a judge. The judges have a different level of authority than I do in this case. Whatever the Supreme Court rules -- you know, under lower courts, if a lower court gets something wrong, or someone has undue influence, that's the grounds for an appeal to a higher court.
Where do we go in the case of the Supreme Court? This is the law of the land that he has to recuse himself in this case.
Now, I have to say, frankly, this is not just the Heritage Foundation. She was the CEO of a lobbying firm who claimed on their Web site to have great influence over the outcome of the health care law. If this is not a case of the appearance of conflict, I don't know what is.
And, by the way, let me say this, $685,000 -- if it came into my household, would I check -- would I check "no" on the form, a legal form saying there's no income from my wife? I doubt it. He should recuse himself and I think people who go to conflictedclarencethomas.com can see all these documents plain and clear.
KING: That's an interesting debate. We will stay on top of it. And we'll explore the Kagan connection, too. It's interesting as this case makes its way through the court.
Congressman Weiner, thank for your time. Erick Erickson, as well.
When we come back, more of our exclusive interview with the Google executive who is now the face of the young revolutionaries in Egypt.
KING: This is Wael Ghonim's Facebook page. He's noting protests in Sydney, Australia; protest in Egypt tomorrow and into the weekend here.
In our exclusive interview today, he told Ivan Watson at the beginning, the protesters might have negotiated with the government. Not now.
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GHONIM: This is no longer the time to negotiate, unfortunately. We went on the street on 25th, and we wanted to negotiate. We wanted to talk to our government. We were, you know, knocking the door.
They decided to negotiate with us at night with rubber bullets, with police sticks, with, you know, water hoses, and with tear gas -- thanks -- and with arresting about 500 people of us. Thanks, you know, we got the message. Now when we escalated this and it became really big, they started listening to us.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: The Facebook site started before the protest. Now that Wael Ghonim has been released from prison, here he is in Tahrir Square yesterday. He's become a face of this movement. More of this interview on CNN, including our "PARKER SPITZER," which starts right now.