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Safe Haven?; Terror Plot Busted; Anger in Pakistan; Clues from the bin Laden Raid; Senator John McCain Interview

Aired May 12, 2011 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf and good evening everyone. Tonight vivid accounts from two members of Congress who visited CIA headquarters today to look at the photographs of Osama bin Laden's corpse.


REP. TOM ROONEY (R-FL), SELECT INTELLIGENCE CMTE.: You can see how when the shots were fired what he was probably doing at the time the shots were fired.


KING: Plus Senator John McCain takes issue with former top Bush administration officials who say waterboarding and other controversial interrogation tactics produced the clues that led the CIA to bin Laden.

But first tonight more new details of what U.S. officials are learning from the files seized at the bin Laden compound in Pakistan. Our sources say they have growing indications that bin Laden had a support network in Pakistan that made him feel safe staying in one place so long. The material show bin Laden was adamant about new attacks on the United States hoping for another 9/11 scale strike, but also urging supporters to recruit disgruntled Americans for smaller, lone wolf attacks.

Also are clues of discord within al Qaeda, some of bin Laden's disciples viewed him as overly obsessed with the United States. They preferred to target regional grievances. Let's begin with Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. She's live with us tonight and Barbara crack through the clues that have people curious about why bin Laden felt so safe in one place so long.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, John. Well the intelligence analysis is why didn't he have an escape plan and it must be, they believe that he felt he was safe that had he had a network of protection, there are now several factors they're looking at. First and foremost, no escape plan he's found on the third floor of a building. No way to get out.

He knows somebody is coming up the stairs shooting and it was, of course, those Navy SEALs. Why didn't he have a better plan? Why did he not attempt or his other people at the compound attempt to destroy the mountains of evidence, the intelligence documents, the computer gear, the clues about what al Qaeda was up to? Why didn't they try and destroy it?

And of course the third thing is he only had three other men at the compound, one of his sons, a courier, and the courier's brother. Yes, they were trying to keep a low profile in the neighborhood, not attract a lot of attention but only three other guys. That's not a lot of firepower on a good day when you don't have 24 Navy SEALs coming at you through 18-foot-tall walls, so the feeling is he must have had good reason to feel he was going to be safe. He got complacent. What they're looking for now, what was the support network that Osama bin Laden felt he had -- John.

KING: And Barbara, another important concern for the Pentagon, Secretary Gates raised this tonight. I want to read you something he told Marines at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina in a speech today and get your assessment here.

Secretary Gates speaking to those Marines -- he said this about the raid and about those SEALs. "There has been a consistent and effective effort to protect the identities of those who participated in the raid and I think that has to continue. We are very concerned about the security of our families, of your families and our troops and also these elite units that are engaged in things like that. And without getting into any details I would tell you that when I met with the team last Thursday, they expressed a concern about that and particularly with respect to their families."

Barbara, it is clear the defense secretary said they were beefing up security. They are worried that if the names of these elite SEALs get out, there could be retaliatory strikes against their families.

STARR: John, absolutely. This is extraordinary. This is the first indication America has of what this team is worried about, what these men are thinking about. There is always concern about the security of American forces, make no mistake, but these special operations troops, these covert operatives do the most dangerous work every day in Afghanistan and now on this mission.

There is concern about al Qaeda retaliation and Secretary Gates openly saying they are, indeed, trying to pump up security around these men and around their families. They are very worried about it -- John.

KING: An important statement from the defense secretary tonight. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon live for us, thank you Barbara.

More on bin Laden in a moment, but now to New York City where police today charged two men, a Moroccan and an Algerian, with allegedly plotting to pose as Jewish worshipers and to sneak a bomb into a Manhattan synagogue -- CNN's Susan Candiotti is tracking that terror case -- Susan.

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi John. The alleged plotters may have been short on details, but they had tall dreams. There was talk of blowing up both crowded and empty synagogues, a church and possibly even New York's iconic Empire State Building. The plot was busted before it became operational.

New York's counter terror squad says they had their eyes on the two men for seven months. They set up a sting and once they sold the men three semiautomatic pistols, 100 rounds of ammo, and a disabled grenade they popped them on a New York City street -- John.

KING: And Susan, what are they saying about the motive and do the investigators and the prosecutors think these guys really could have pulled this off?

CANDIOTTI: Well the two suspects are described as self-motivated jihadists, lone wolves, wannabes, not linked to any extremist groups but New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg calls them just as dangerous. Authorities say the plot's not linked to the death of Osama bin Laden and New York's Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said the men hated Jews, called them rats and said Muslims, quoting here, "are getting abused all over the world and we're not going to take it anymore." As to whether they could pull it off, well it's hard to say. The suspects talked about disguising themselves as Jews, attending services and then blowing up a synagogue.

KING: And, Susan, who are these guys? They -- you say they're not affiliated with anybody. But what do we know about them?

CANDIOTTI: Well one is 26 years old, an immigrant from Algeria and North Africa. A law enforcement source calls one a leader and one a follower. The second man is only 24 years old from Morocco, a naturalized U.S. citizen and he is a livery service dispatcher. The FBI was aware of the case but deferred to the New York City police to lead and to prosecute. Now if found guilty, these men could spend the rest of their life behind bars, both men appeared briefly in court today. Their attorneys are just saying that the men believe that they are innocent of these charges.

KING: Susan Candiotti for us live in New York, Susan thank you.

In Abbottabad the Pakistani city where bin Laden lived in a walled compound for as many five years there is still disbelief 11 days later and as CNN's Nick Paton Walsh found growing, growing anger at the United States.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're really here because they're furious at the United States as what they see is an invasion of their sovereignty by those Navy SEAL helicopters that attacked the bin Laden compound. (INAUDIBLE) really we're seeing protesters holding signs, some in English (INAUDIBLE) also organized flags from one of the main Pakistani opposition organizations trying to harness this (INAUDIBLE) anger at the United States.


KING: There are no apologies for that raid here in Washington where the Obama administration is now racing to search all those files seized in the bin Laden compound for clues to the al Qaeda attack plans and perhaps the whereabouts of other al Qaeda leaders. Let's take a closer look at what we are learning from our reporting and reporting elsewhere.

Number one, what have they collected from the raid? We know there was a home video library, about five computers, about 100 portable electronic storage devices, DVDs, CDs, (INAUDIBLE) portable thumb drives you might use on your laptop, so that's what they collected. What are they getting -- intelligence from those.

Afghanistan and Pakistan viewed as a lower priority. Bin Laden wanted to target the United States and the West, talked about African- American and Latino recruitment, disgruntled Americans here at home to launch attacks. There was a lot of talk about perhaps timing something to the September 11th anniversary. Some disagreements within al Qaeda on targets and a suggestion from bin Laden that if security is big around places like Washington and New York, maybe you want to look for smaller U.S. cities as your targets.

Also a lot of communications collected, cell phones, recording devices, a handwritten journal from bin Laden planning documents in multiple languages, some code in there, also a lot of printed materials they're going through. That's what is collected. The question is then what intelligence do you get from it?

They believe bin Laden -- remember many U.S. officials said he was out of the loop. He was on the run. They believe now he was in regular contact with al Qaeda franchises. Direction focused on big broader al Qaeda objectives, not so much on specific plans. No apparent contact with the al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader, the American-born Awlaki, but some indications and more on that in a minute, he was in touch with other AQ/AP leaders.

That is what they're learning from the intelligence. Let's dig deeper now. Greg Miller is the national intelligence correspondent for "The Washington Post" and our national security analyst Peter Bergen is here as well. Greg, your piece today is fascinating and the level of detail you've been able to get from your sources. In terms of bin Laden's activities and communications, what jumps out at you as most enlightening and most at odds with what we thought?

GREG MILLER, NAT'L INTELLIGENCE REPORTER, WASHINGTON POST: Well he's in frequent communication with a very tight circle of people who he trusts and knows. And U.S. officials say that circle has shrunk over time. More and more of those people are dead now and more -- and many of them are in Guantanamo Bay. So he's in regular communication with a very small group of people, but he's also sending broader outlined messages out to groups like AQ/AP in Yemen trying to steer them, trying to keep them focused on the United States.

KING: And one of the things I found fascinated in your article today is this friction in the ranks. Bin Laden wants to get the United States, go after cities in the United States. A lot of these guys have more regional grievances and that caused tensions.

MILLER: That caused tensions. I mean as one U.S. official described it man these guys, their reaction is a bit of, hey, that's easy for you to say. You're not out here with us. I mean they're in Yemen. They're trying to carve out a place that is safe for them and their thinking is if we -- if we mount attacks on the United States then we're just going to have more drones patrolling us and dropping strikes against us.

KING: And Peter, as someone who has spent so much time studying al Qaeda, what does that tell you? Let's start first on the friction. Bin Laden is the leader but some of the ground troops, if you will, are having doubts about his thinking.

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well those doubts began even before 9/11 where you know people within al Qaeda were saying to him, maybe the 9/11 plan or attacking the United States is against Islam killing civilians and maybe it actually is going to be counterproductive. We'll have this 800-qound gorilla coming after us which of course turned out to be true and documents picked up on the battlefield after the fall of the Taliban, senior members of al Qaeda writing to each other saying hey this thing was really a disaster. So this has been a debate that's been going on in al Qaeda for over a decade. Attacking the United States may not be a smart move. Let's just do the things locally that we're looking to do. Prefer (ph) the local dictator.

KING: So they don't agree necessarily with his grand plan. What does it tell you about this communication, not with the leader of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but apparently with a Yemeni he knew in the organization?

BERGEN: Well I mean I think that's pretty unexpected. I think that we -- I think the idea that he wasn't in strategic control of al Qaeda. I think most actual experts thought that he was and when he joined al Qaeda even as an affiliate you pledge a personal oath of allegiance to bin Laden. He is the dictator, not only of al Qaeda, but all its affiliates. But the fact that he was actually doing operational things with these groups, that I think is pretty surprising.

KING: From your reporting it seems that he was having almost a debate with himself, bin Laden. That he would love to do something on the grand scale of 9/11 again, but also saying, go to the United States, find -- he used the word oppressed -- Latino-Americans, African-Americans who might be disgruntled.

MILLER: Yes, there's a note of almost desperation in some of this, right? He's looking for ways to replicate that big strike and it's just so -- one of the things that I think counterterrorism officials are really puzzled by is given his fixation on this, his inability to follow up on that over this past 10 years is very striking.

KING: And to that point, the inability to follow up, it has surprised U.S. officials, Peter that bin Laden was so active. They thought he was up in the caves, running around, not involved in day to day, what is the assessment now of he's active but effective, that's a question mark. BERGEN: Well, certainly not effective and I mean it's interesting that Greg is talking about these Latin Americans that he was hoping to kind of -- from the United States to recruit because there was a (INAUDIBLE) Bryant Neil Venus (ph) who was a guy from Long Island, a Hispanic American. He traveled to an al Qaeda training camp in 2008. He conducted a suicide attack in Afghanistan.

He was very much prized by al Qaeda. They talked about perhaps an attack on the Long Island Railroad, so the -- it wasn't just an inspirational thing. They'd actually recruit people who are Americans sort of disaffected, converse to Islam just as bin Laden suggested was the right approach.

KING: And we've been having a conversation about what bin Laden wanted, which is almost in some ways backwards looking because bin Laden is now dead. In terms of what they've gathered that gives them forward looking where are people like al-Zawahiri? Where -- what are the plans that might have been in place? What's your sense?

MILLER: Well my sense at this point is there -- it's interesting what is in this material but also what is not in this material and the sources I've talked to say that there are no rosters. There are no lists of people and their locations. When he sends these messages out to his number two and number three, they are carried there by couriers but bin Laden himself may not have even know where they were in hiding and this may be because of his isolation or the operational security employed by al Qaeda, but there are certain things that even the al Qaeda leader appears to be in the dark about.

KING: That's an interesting question. Again, as someone who studied him for so long, Peter, would that be on purpose? Bin Laden did not want to know?

BERGEN: Well, certainly it would help the operational security, but, you know, this was a guy who intentionally isolated himself from -- you know that was -- I mean I think there was the assessment before bin Laden's capture that he was going to be in one place for a very long time, that he wouldn't be in a cave. That he would be in this kind of compound, but that he would be keeping the number of people who knew where he was to the absolute minimum for obvious reasons.

KING: A surprise that bin Laden had such a hands-on role after so many years. Anything else that people have -- your sources tell you they're looking at the documents, say, we didn't know al Qaeda was interested in this or we didn't know al Qaeda was talking about that.

MILLER: Well I think the more broadly they think that it's not surprising that he's so focused and fixated on the United States. I think one of the things that is surprising to counterterrorism officials is something that you touched on at the outset of your program, which is the complacency or the apparent complacency here, this is an al Qaeda leader who in his last moments appears to have made few preparations to -- for his end or to take care of all of this material that is arrayed around him.

KING: But you know him as well as anyone, Peter. Does that tell you that he had lost his edge or does that tell you that he felt incredibly confident whether it was protection from the Pakistani security service, the Pakistani military, somebody around him that he felt so confident there that he didn't plan an exit strategy, for example.

BERGEN: I don't think we've had any evidence yet of official complicity by the Pakistanis in this. I mean I think incompetence is going to be the explanation that we finally find.

KING: Greg Miller of "The Washington Post", Peter Bergen, thanks for coming in tonight. We'll continue on this one. It's fascinating. Every day you learn something new and a lot of it is alarming, but we'll keep at it. Thank you both, gentlemen.

Ahead tonight an up-close look at the classified photos showing bin Laden just after he was gunned down -- we'll ask two lawmakers who viewed them today what they saw and whether they think bin Laden's son should get to see them.

And did waterboarding help the CIA find bin Laden? Some former Bush administration officials say yes, but Senator John McCain takes issue next.


KING: The death of Osama bin Laden has revived the debate over the use of waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques to glean information from terror detainees. An array of former Bush administration officials say some of the intelligence that led the United States to bin Laden came from such interrogations.

The current CIA Director Leon Panetta plays down the role of enhanced interrogations, though he says it's impossible to be completely sure they didn't contribute some to the intelligence gathering. In an essay published yesterday in "The Washington Post" Republican Senator John McCain said some of those tactics like waterboarding amount to torture and that the death of bin Laden should not be used to re-open a debate about using them.

Senator McCain with us now from Capitol Hill -- Senator, when you see former Vice President Cheney, former Attorney General Mukasey, other former top Bush administration officials say we would not have gotten bin Laden without the use of these tactics, are they lying?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Well I think those allegations here are not substantiated by the facts. As I pointed out in my piece, the first information concerning this courier, Abu Ahmed, was obtained through -- from another source, an individual who is as far as we know not subjected to these coercive techniques, in other words, torture.

The fact is even though Khalid Sheikh Mohammed mentioned the individual's name, he also gave false information. See, this is one of the problems of torturing people, John, is you get good information and you get bad information. Also I think it's pretty clear you could have gotten the same good information through using standard techniques which don't entail waterboarding and other forms of cruel and inhumane treatment.

KING: In an interview with "NBC News" in the days immediately after the killing of bin Laden, Director Panetta said you know you can't be completely sure that some, a crumb here or a piece of information there didn't come from enhanced interrogation techniques. You had an exchange with him, exchanges with him as you were preparing to write this essay. Was he more definitive with you?

MCCAIN: Well he pointed out again you know that the first mention of the name was from these non-coercive techniques. He also pointed out that the misleading information was provided by KSM and others. He also pointed out that there may have been information gotten from the use of torture, but we also got more reliable information from the standard interrogation techniques.

KING: Did you write this because you just wanted to put an exclamation point behind your position that what happened in the past should not happen in the future or do you sense and feel a genuine reviving of the debate, some people saying well maybe we got something here. We should do it again.

MCCAIN: Well that was the main reason, John, is because this flood (ph) including former attorney general's statement that they got a quote "flood of information", the first information from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, that was false and so I felt -- and I had some reluctance, frankly, to get into it that we had to -- had to speak out because I do feel strongly because it really is about the moral standing of the United States of America and the world.

KING: Increasingly when we talk to administration officials, they say they have almost no doubt left that somewhere in the Pakistani government or intelligence services, bin Laden had a support network. What should happen now?

MCCAIN: It's pretty clear there was some level of knowledge. We're not exactly sure what that is and I think we better set up some benchmarks for the Pakistani government and the military and ISI to meet as a contingency to our further cooperation or assistance. John, it's a complicated issue. They are a nuclear -- they have an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

They can provide a safe haven even more so to -- for Taliban and al Qaeda elements. A failed state in Pakistan is not in the United States' interests. There's a downside. There's a downside to a failure of the Pakistani's government -- Pakistani government so we're going to have to be very careful how we approach this and -- but yet the status quo is obviously not acceptable.

KING: Because of your role as the senior Republican on the Armed Services Committee you are among a select group of members of Congress who can, if you want to sir, go to the CIA headquarters and look at the pictures of bin Laden to prove to yourself if you need proof conclusively that he is dead. Will you take advantage of that?

MCCAIN: No, John. I've lived a long life and I've seen enough dead bodies and pictures of them. KING: You think it would serve no purpose for yourself personally or it's just that you have no doubts therefore why do it.

MCCAIN: Both, I have no doubts that this was Osama bin Laden and in my view there's no need and I've seen enough of it.

KING: You have been particularly critical of the case of Syria. Secretary of State Clinton said today that the crackdown in her view, the unacceptable crackdown is a sign of remarkable weakness, those her words, a sign of remarkable weakness of the Syrian government. What do you think this administration should do more to pressure the Assad regime?

MCCAIN: Well, I think long ago we should have done away with this idea that Bashar Assad was some kind of reformer. I mean, there was no basis for that whatsoever except wishful thinking. I think, second of all we should be identifying him, himself as a subject of sanctions, as you know, we have three others and some others, but he is the one that's responsible. We should be standing up for the people of Syria who are literally sacrificing their lives in the name of democracy and freedom.

Ronald Reagan proved to anyone's satisfaction during the Cold War, you stand up for people, you tell them you're with them. You don't -- we can't use military force there now. I don't know of any, frankly, viable option, but we could certainly tell these people that we are with them and that happened with Natan Sharansky back during the Cold War as you might recall and it's so important that we lend our voice especially that of the president of the United States in support of these people and that's what they're asking for.

KING: Senator John McCain earlier from Capitol Hill, the senator mentioned his concern about Syria. We want to show you tonight some vivid evidence of the extent of the crackdown. Here's the map of Syria and most of these cities highlighted there have been some demonstrations. We want to show you particularly right up here, this is a six-by-three-mile area of this northern city along the coast. OK, we'll close this map down and I want to show you just how this works.

We'll bring up these -- right here -- close the map here -- bring up -- watch these images. Watch these images. Look at the streets -- right, streets are pretty clear. You see a little bit of normal traffic. This is a before. Now, watch this. As we come across military trucks here, armored personnel carriers here, armored personnel carriers here -- tanks up on the road right there. One snapshot right there of the crackdown.

Here's another one right here. You see this street right here. Let me bring this over here -- you can see the before image -- that doesn't want to come up, there we go. If you come across, the street is clean. You come across here, look at that, two, four, six, seven tanks, military vehicles along the side of the road here, evidence that's just one city alone of the Syrian government bringing in the military and heavy vehicles as part of its crackdown on its own citizens. We'll keep on top of that story. And still to come here tonight, Mitt Romney versus Mitt Romney on health care. The former Massachusetts governor first obstacle in campaign 2012 is a health care plan most conservatives can't stand.

And next two lawmakers who viewed the photos of Osama bin Laden today join us to describe what they saw and how it felt to know for sure the al Qaeda leader is dead.


KING: The Obama administration still says it sees no reason to release photographs of Osama bin Laden's body taken during and after the raid on his compound in Pakistan. But it is allowing select members of Congress to see them. Joining us now, two who saw the pictures just this morning, Maryland Democratic Congressman and ranking member on the Select Committee on Intelligence Dutch Ruppersberger and Republican member of that committee Florida's Tom Rooney.

Congressman Ruppersberger to you first -- just take me through the sequence. How many photos and what do they show?

REP. C.A. "DUTCH" RUPPERSBERGER (D), MARYLAND: Well we went to the CIA. There are probably about six -- total. What we had were photos, facial shots of bin Laden alive and then bin Laden dead and then there were arrows that showed the facial features that were relevant to make sure that this was the right person, arrows to the nose, to certain areas -- body marks, that type thing, but clearly when you look at these photos, my first thought is -- without any doubt at all this was Osama bin Laden.

KING: And Congressman Rooney, Congressman Ruppersberger just said photos of Osama bin Laden alive. Are those photos taken during this raid or are they previous photos?

ROONEY: No, they're older photos that are just juxtaposed next to bin Laden after he had been killed.

KING: OK and I'll stick with Congressman Rooney. Do you share your colleague's view that absolutely no doubt this is Osama bin Laden?

ROONEY: Absolutely no doubt.

KING: And one of the controversies now, one of the questions now is are they too graphic? Congressman Ruppersberger to you first -- are they too graphic? You understand the pressure on the administration. There are still some doubters in the Arab world, even one of bin Laden's sons said I don't believe you. Should they be released?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, anytime that you see someone who's been killed and shot, it could be considered graphic. The bottom line is, though, is that we do not want to inflame people who support bin Laden or because we don't want to put Americans at risk throughout the world. We have Americans in all countries all over the world including our military, and we're concerned that this could inflame individuals who support bin Laden. So, I think the president, at this time, has made the right decision not to release these photos.

KING: Congressman Rooney, do you agree with that?

ROONEY: I do. I agree with the ranking member for now. I think that, eventually, though, we should consider -- reconsidering and to see if, you know, after there's been a cool-down period, if it would be appropriate for the American public to see them. But they are extremely graphic.

KING: What do the photos, Congressman Rooney, to you first, what do the photos do? How do they help you, if they do, understand what happened? As you know, there's been some mixed signals. Early on, the administration said there was a firefight and bin Laden himself may have fired shot. And after, they said, no, actually, he was not armed -- although we have been told there were some weapons in the room and perhaps some motion toward them.

Do seeing the photos and narrative you get with them -- Congressman Rooney, to you first -- did it help you at all understand exactly what happened?

ROONEY: It did, and I know that Dutch was a former prosecutor as well. I mean, you sort of, when you see evidence like this and you kind of try to replay what would have happened or what might have happened in the room that night, you can see how when the shots were fired, what he was probably doing at the time the shots were fired and how he got shot in certain angles and how he fell and that kind of thing.

So, yes, it's pretty consistent with the way they reported it, you know, from the White House. But part and parcel to our job is being on the intelligence committee is actually to serve -- as Dutch and I were talking about earlier -- as a check to the administration, to make sure that everything that they're telling you we can see and would agree with or question if we don't agree with. So, this is really a checks and balances exercise that Dutch and I participated in today and I think that we're both satisfied that, you know, right now might not be the best time to release these photos, but maybe eventually we could reconsider.

KING: Well, Congressman Ruppersberger, keep going on the point your colleague was just making. What was he doing? What do the angles tell you? In your prosecutorial experience, what was bin Laden doing when they shot him?

RUPPERSBERGER: What I saw was trauma to the face. So, there was a wound that clearly killed him right around the eye. But getting back to what Tom was saying also, I think our role on the intelligence committee in Congress is the oversight of the intelligence committee -- intelligence community.

When I first came to Congress, I saw that there wasn't a lot of cooperation, that CIA, NSA, FBI, they weren't cooperating. They weren't working together.

Right now, though, I think we're as good as we've been based on our research, technology. They're working as a team, with the military. And I think the message can clearly be sent out right now to the world: if you're going to kill Americans, if you're going to attack us, that we're going to find you and bring you to justice.

KING: Well, let me -- let me jump in on that point. What message would you send to bin Laden's son, Omar, who has said that the United States violated international law by gunning down an unarmed man?

RUPPERSBERGER: I would say that when you come and kill Americans, we're going to find you and we're going to bring you to justice wherever you are.

KING: Congressman Rooney, should you the administration arrange some sort of a private viewing if bin Laden's son wants to see these photographs, if he wants proof? Does the family deserve that?

ROONEY: No, I would not accommodate. You know, if he doesn't believe that he was shot and killed -- you know, that's too bad. And, you know, I hate to sound heartless, but this is Osama bin Laden we're talking about. This isn't just some run-of-the-mill guy on the streets of America that deserves constitutional rights. He doesn't.

As Dutch said, he killed over 3,000 of our people. He's been wanted. We've been living in somewhat fear of the guy over the last 10 years of what's going to happen next. We have the right of self- defense and we took that away -- took any future engagement away from Osama bin Laden, hurting us here in the future.

So, if his son has a problem with that, you know, my response would be: too bad.

KING: Let me ask you each. Congressman Rooney, to you first -- just what's your personal reaction when you saw this? This is America's and perhaps the world's most wanted man. Did it give you -- forgive me, it's a bid morbid -- a sense of satisfaction to see him dead?

ROONEY: It was sort of like when you're looking at him, kind of vulnerable and helpless and kind of, honestly, pathetic he looked laying there. It was like, you know, this is the big bad wolf over the last 10 years and he almost took on, you know, this mythical embodiment because we could never find him and we thought he was in some mountain region.

And we found him in Pakistan, in Abbottabad. We went in there. We took him out. We had no casualties -- you know, lying there dead, you know, with his head half blown off. You know, you just sort of wonder why it took so long.

But, you know, there was satisfaction in the sense that we don't have to worry about the next videotape or, you know, what he might is planned because he was still very, very much engaged as the intelligence is showing.

KING: How about you, Congressman Ruppersberger?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, first, my elation came when the director said, Leon Panetta called me. Remember, Chairman Rogers and I were briefed starting sometime in last February about this mission. But -- I've been on the intelligence committee now for over eight years and we had a lot of leads like this before.

But as it developed, went forward and when Leon Panetta called me, I had elation. I felt like this is so tremendous that we've come this far.

KING: And when you saw those photos?

RUPPERSBERGER: When I saw the photos, I looked at it more in my role as a professional, that everyone has a role in this mission and our role is oversight. So, my role as not a part of the administration, but a part of Congress representing my constituents was to make sure that we confirm and did our oversight.

Again, maybe because I was a former prosecutor and had been involved in homicide cases and seen pictures like this, but I felt the job is done. Clearly, from my point of view, this is Osama bin Laden.

KING: Let's move past the photographs. You mentioned your oversight role. You are getting briefings on some of the material, this treasure trove that was seized from the bin Laden compound. We hear about his handwritten personal journal. We hear about the thumb drives with instructions and advice to people out in the field.

Congressman Ruppersberger, to you first, as the ranking member, what is the most important significant thing you have learned that you now know that whether it's the CIA, the FBI or some other government agency is scrambling in a race against time to stop?

RUPPERSBERGER: Well, it's accumulation. The first issue is that we want to get as much information as we can to go over other leadership in al Qaeda. And we want to do that right away. So, that has to be the first priority.

The second priority is to find out who the leadership is. Was our intelligence correct? Are the people that we didn't know that were involved? That's the second phase.

The third phase is we have to make sure that we keep moving ahead. We know like in Yemen, I just came back from Yemen a couple of weeks ago.

And we know there's an individual, American-born, he knows our culture. His name is Awlaki. He's very dangerous. His focus is to attack the United States. He's recruiting homegrown terrorist, what we call a lone wolf.

And we have to make sure we are diligent for continuing our battle and what we have done. But I can say this: We are the best in the world at what we do right now. We came together and took us 10 years and the Americans can feel very good about our ability to protect our country and to go after al Qaeda and other terrorists who want to attack or kill Americans.

KING: Congressman Tom Rooney, Republican of Florida; Dutch Ruppersberger, Democrat of Maryland, from the Intelligence Committee -- gentlemen, thanks for your time.

ROONEY: Thanks, John.


KING: Ahead: disaster heads downstream in the Mississippi delta. Why authorities are considering opening floodgates and the catastrophic impact that decision might have on those who live nearby. That's next.


KING: Welcome back.

If you're just joining us, here's the latest news you need to know right now:

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer ordered state flags at half-staff. That's to honor two border patrol agents killed by a train today near Gila Bend as they were chasing suspected illegal immigrants who may have been smuggling drugs.

Former U.S. Senator John Ensign of Nevada who resigned last week may now face criminal charges. A Senate Ethics Committee report citing substantial credible evidence against him has been sent to the Justice Department.

Officials say at 3 million acres of productive farmland across the South and the lower Midwest are now underwater. The Mississippi River already at flood stage in New Orleans is expected to keep rising for another 11 days. The Army Corps of Engineers preparing to open a spillway to divert some of that away from Baton Rouge.

CNN's Ed Lavandera gives us a quick look.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is one of the floodgates of the Morganza flood structure. On the other side, the pressure from the floodwaters is already starting to rise. This structure is almost 5,000 feet long and it has 125 gates. In the coming days, some of those gates will be opened up, and when that does, a massive water of wall will continue to flow out this way, drowning out this area and flowing toward the Gulf of Mexico.


KING: We'll keep our eye on that.

Tonight, on the CMT Channel, country music stars perform at a disaster relief conference. One of the co-hosts, Robin Meade, of our sister network HLN.


ROBIN MEADE, HLN: Hey, John, right here, this is the set where the telethon is going to happen tonight from the CMT. I know it looks beautiful and it looks a long way from the horrible devastation that the victims of all these tornadoes and flooding are experiencing right now.

But it's certainly close at heart. Alabama just got done rehearsing and sounded really good. So, tonight, the idea is to not only use music to move people to donate, but also to keep the story in people's minds because some of these flooding victims, they haven't even become the victims yet. I mean, they're waiting for the flood and the waters from the Mississippi to arrive.

So, we know the need is great for not only the tornado victims but the upcoming flood victims. And so, if people are wanting to donate, this is going to be through the American Red Cross.

So, the show is on CMT tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern.

And, then, by the way, CNN's sister network HLN is going to re- air it on Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. as well. And I'm going to be co- hosting here tonight.

So, I better go back to work and we'll go back to you, John.


KING: Robin Meade there. Watch that program tonight or Sunday night on HLN.

Today, Mitt Romney tried to get some relief for what you might say his biggest political headache, his own record on health care reform. Up next: what the governor is saying now.


KING: A busy day in what is a very, very busy political week. On Capitol Hill this morning, executives of big oil companies testified it would be discriminatory and counterproductive, their words, not mine, to take away their big tax breaks.

Democrats like Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, well, disagreed.


SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: One of my colleagues suggested that this hearing is nothing more than a dog and pony show. Well, you'd have an easier time convincing the American people that a unicorn just flew into this hearing room than that these big oil companies need taxpayer subsidies. That's the real fairy tale.


KING: We expect Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul -- we're told he'll enter the 2012 presidential race. Source tells CNN the big announcement will come at a morning big rally in New Hampshire.

And in Michigan this afternoon, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama's health care reform plan, but the governor, the former governor of Massachusetts, did not back away from the plan he enacted.


MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: A lot of pundits around the nation are saying that I should just stand up and say this whole thing was a mistake, that it was just a bone-headed idea and I should just admit it, it was a mistake and walk away from it. And I presume that a lot of folks would conclude that if I did that, that would be good for me politically.

But there's only one problem with that. It wouldn't be honest.


KING: National political correspondent Jessica Yellin was right there in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Romney spoke this afternoon. She's with us live.

Jess, let's do the policy and then the politics. What is most similar between Romney and Obama? And what's different?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Most -- everything is similar, John. It's harder to find the differences. They both have individual mandates. Both plans, they both have these exchanges set up to buy insurance. There are a lot of other elements -- you know, pre-existing condition protections, those sorts of things, that are enormously similar.

The differences are in the margins and also that the Obama or I should say the health care plan that passed last year nationally includes some ways to control costs and price of insurance that Romney's plan did not.

But, you know, Democrats and Republicans will both agree that they -- that one does look a bit like a template for the other.

KING: And Governor Romney was very proud when he signed this bill. Senator Edward Kennedy, the late Senator Kennedy over his shoulders and other members from Massachusetts. He was very proud of it then, but, wow, Jess, I was watching the blogs and social media today when he was giving the speech, trying to reposition himself to the 2012 Republican primaries and the conservative criticism is scathing.

YELLIN: It's withering. And it doesn't help that he addressed all this with a PowerPoint presentation, which is not usually the most impassioned way a candidate can make his case.

But, look, John, what they know is this issue is not going away. I'm speaking to Romney's aides. They know this issue isn't going away. This is not the kind of thing that you give one speech, you say, asked and answered and you're done.

They're laying out some ground work. His major theme is that, look, it worked and it's fine for a state, but it's not appropriate for the federal government to take on this issue and it has to be returned to the states. That is the message you'll hear him repeating day in and day out in this race.

And they just need today as laying their marker and they'll continue referring back to this PowerPoint presentation on where Romney stands on health care, insisting that he's being clear on this and not a flip flopper, John.

KING: PowerPoint, I can't wait for that. Stay with me, Jess.

I want you to listen, because essentially, what you have here is Governor Romney's having problems with the conservative base of the Republican Party. Well, John McCain, who is the nominee last time around, also had some early problems with the conservative base of the Republican Party.

So, I was having a conversation with Senator McCain earlier today. And I asked him if he thought Romney's position on health care, the Massachusetts law, was disqualifying.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: No, I don't think so, John. It's obviously a vulnerability that Mitt Romney recognizes. And, by the way, no one helped me more after the primaries than Mitt Romney.

But it is certainly something that he is addressing and he's going to have to address. But I think the Republican voters will be looking at the whole candidate. And we've just begun this fun.

KING: You have a horse in this fight? Your friend, Governor Huntsman might get in.


KING: Many of these other guys are your friends.

MCCAIN: You know, literally every one of them just about are friends of mine that I have a long relationship with. And I think it's appropriate for me, as Bob Dole did and other losers, to stay out of this race and not pick someone and let the voters decide.


KING: A little background noise while the senator was trying to speech. I love several parts of that. One, obviously, it's a vulnerability. You know, Senator McCain had immigration and some other issues. It's lower case vulnerability for Governor Romney, or is this a big deal?

YELLIN: I think it's a big deal. But the issue -- the issue alluding to flip-flopping, John. He's sort of in a darned if you do, darned if you don't position. He -- if he repudiates the health care policy that he passed, then he'll be accused of being a flip flopper, a narrative he's been trying to escape. If he embraces, as he tried to do today with some changes, then he's attached to this plan that made "The Wall Street Journal" today call him basically a facsimile of President Obama. He should be on the Obama ticket.

So, he's going to have to continue to address this issue. But they're hoping that -- their point to me is that they think you and I care, the pundits and the reporters care a lot more about this than the voters because voters will be glad that he helped more people get health care.


KING: Here's my favorite part, Jess, and you're the ultimate test here, you're my test here. Senator McCain saying voters will be looking at the whole candidate and we've just begun this fun. Are you having fun?

YELLIN: It's a little windy. What really worries me is that Sarah Palin said last tonight it's too early to make a decision. What kind of world are when this time of year like people get going, we're ready to cover a campaign.

KING: National political correspondent and chief PowerPoint correspondent, Jessica Yellin, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, tonight -- Jess, thanks. We'll see you soon.

When we come back, which politician's daughter elicited this reaction from Glenn Beck?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you OK? OK. Hold on, he's sick.



KING: Before we go tonight, a taste test of sorts. Here's a snippet from a provocative public service announcement. It's designed to get people to wear sunscreen, to protect themselves against skin cancer.


NARRATOR: If you leave the house without sunscreen, you might as well be naked. To learn how to protect yourself from this deadly disease, go to

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm done with being naked.


KING: Near the end there was Meghan McCain. Her father, Senator John McCain, is a skin cancer survivor. So is her mother Cindy.

Glenn Beck apparently doesn't like Meghan McCain, or her bare shoulders anyway. For several minutes on his radio show the other day, this is how Beck reacted every time his sidekick mentioned Meghan McCain.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you still looking at the Meghan McCain?

GLENN BECK, RADIO HOST: Oh, man, that sounds --


KING: Understandably, Cindy McCain took sharp aim. She took issue. And on Twitter, she said, quote, "I'm so glad Glenn Beck is leaving FOX. Enough vitriol and hate. Glenn, you are no rodeo clown. They are decent and nice. You aren't."

Earlier today, I asked Senator McCain for his take.


MCCAIN: Well, I understand very well why my family might be offended by any personal comments from anyone. I now think I can relate more closely to Harry Truman who took some umbrage at a critic that criticized his daughter's singing.

KING: That's it?

MCCAIN: Well, you know, you don't -- I feel proud of my family. I'm proud of my daughter. I'm proud of my daughters. I'm proud of my sons. I'm proud of all of them. And I think that the American people will judge them for the fine and decent people they are.

KING: And what do you make of somebody who would do that, pick up a trash barrel and false vomit for an extended period of time?

MCCAIN: I don't think I should dignify that kind of behavior with a comment.


KING: Now, that's fairly subdued. Unless you're a student of history and you got the Truman reference. In 1950, a "Washington Post" critic panned the singing of Truman's daughter Margaret. What Senator McCain said he was relating more closely to was this -- Truman wrote that critic a letter and I quote, "Some day, I hope to meet you. When that happens, you will need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes and perhaps a supporter below."

Ouch! Who says politics is not or can't be a contact sport?

That's all for us tonight. We hope to see you right back here tomorrow night.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.