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JOHN KING, USA

Syrian Government Crackdown; Arab Spring; Twitter Account Hacked?

Aired May 31, 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: Good evening everyone. Tonight a new study raises significant questions about cell phone use and cancer risks especially among children and pregnant women.

And we'll talk to the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour. It will head to a museum after touchdown and some worry America is about to take a backseat in space.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARK KELLY, FLIGHT COMMANDER: I think what's always at risk is as we transition to a new program and new vehicle there is going to be a period of time when Americans aren't flying on U.S. space craft so that's a challenge. People leave, you know, engineers and operations people will move on and do other things. So it's the corporate memory that I think I'm most worried about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But up first tonight a number of important developments in the Middle East and North Africa, most of them troubling. The brutal Assad regime in Syria declared general amnesty today but human rights groups and the Obama administration are quick to label it a sham. Designed they say to distract attention from a bloody crackdown.

In Yemen, civil strife spread after a cease fire agreement between the government and opposition forces in the capital city of Sinai (ph) collapsed. The regime of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya defiantly today again vowed to hold power, rejecting the latest effort to broker a diplomatic solution to the civil war there.

And the United States' top human rights officer in Bahrain was recalled to Washington after coming under attacks in media accounts that U.S. officials believe were orchestrated by hard line government officials. Bahrain, remember, is supposed to be a top U.S. ally in the region.

A lot of ground to cover and let's focus first on Syria -- the amnesty offer was for all crimes committed against the government prior to today. Now, remember this. What we're about to show you is a crime in Syria. People marching in the streets simply to demand more rights, this rallying cry is worth noting.

At this protest today faithful brothers do not forget that your sons could become the Hamza al-Khateeb (ph). Now Hamza is a Syrian teenager whose body was returned to his family mutilated, covered with cigarette burns, 12 weeks into anti-government protests in Syria the death of this boy and his apparent torture at the hands of the regime is a new rallying cry.

These children in Daraa are marching in memory of Hamza and we also have photos of a funeral march in Daraa. Daraa has been a flash point of anti-government protests recently. Now we should be careful to note we do not have our own reporters on the ground in Syria because the government won't allow us in, but CNN's Arwa Damon is well sourced in that country and working her sources tonight from Beirut.

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, we first have to warn our viewers that the images in this report are quite disturbing. But it is also exactly why activists say that they believe, firmly believe that the Assad regime is incapable of reforming itself and that it must be removed from power.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON (voice-over): On April 29th, anti-government protesters tried to break the Syrian army siege on the city of Daraa. Eyewitnesses at the time described how security forces indiscriminately opened fire on them.

(SHOTS)

DAMON: Dozens were killed and wounded. Countless others detained.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: Among them say his family was 13-year-old Hamza (ph), separated from his father in the chaos. A month later, the family received their son's body, Hamza's face bloated, purple.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: This video posted to YouTube catalogs each of his wounds, much of it too graphic to broadcast. The narrator points out multiple gunshots before moving to his head.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: And even more shocking? His genitals were mutilated. CNN cannot independently verify what happened to Hamza (ph) or the authenticity of this video. After it was initially broadcast, Hamza's family was threatened. Now they are too petrified to talk, even to close friends.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

DAMON: (INAUDIBLE) a prominent Syrian activist who we reached via Skype says she has no doubt it's real and that the regime had a message in releasing the boy's body. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They wanted people to see this. They wanted people to get scared. They wanted people to know that there is no (INAUDIBLE) everything, no matter how awful it is could happen to their family members if they continue to participate in this revolution.

DAMON: But far from cowing people the video has only made them bolder.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (SHOUTING)

DAMON: Demonstrations to protest comes as death erupted.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (INAUDIBLE)

DAMON: Even children took to the streets risking a similar fate, vowing that his blood was not spilled in vain. Activists say they are not surprised that the regime could have committed such cruelty and claim it's not the first time a child has been targeted. This 11- year-old boy was allegedly shot in his home.

(SHOTS)

DAMON: This video shows the body of a child lying in the street amid intense gunfire as others try to recover his body and here children lie wounded in hospital after security forces allegedly fired at their school bus. Hamza's death has prompted international outrage; a Facebook page calling itself we are all the martyr the child Hamza (INAUDIBLE) had 60,000 followers by Tuesday. The face of this 13-year-old from a village in southern Syria, now the symbol of an uprising.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DAMON: CNN has made repeated attempts to reach the Syrian government without success but on Tuesday the ministry of interior did announce that there would be an investigation into Hamza's (ph) case and a medical examiner told Syrian television that there was no evidence that the boy had been tortured. He claimed the condition of the corpse was due to decomposition -- John.

KING: Arwa Damon for us in Beirut. You know early on as the anti-government protests scored victories in Tunisia and Egypt we locked on to the term "Arab Spring" to describe the remarkable upheaval across the region known for its strong arm dictatorship, but does that label still fit given the bloody uncertainty in Syria, Yemen, and Libya?

Let's get some perspective from our national security contributor Fran Townsend and from Fouad Ajami who is the director of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Ajami, I want to begin with you on that point. When you watch -- when you watch those disturbing images in Arwa's package should we all take the term "Arab Spring" and set it aside because of the urgent brutality we're seeing in Syria and the major problems we see elsewhere? PROF. FOUAD AJAMI, DIR., MIDDLE EAST STUDIES, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIV.: Well John that is a very good question. I still remain hopeful -- I still remain hopeful in fact that this -- that the Arab world was living in a terrible nightmare and that we have seen the truth of this regime whether it's the truth of the regime in Egypt or Tunisia or Libya or Syria or Yemen. And the people have risen.

It hasn't been pretty. And it was much easier in both Tunisia and Egypt and we have now come to this terrible land where Libya and Syria are horrible monstrous regimes, the one in Yemen is somewhere in between, the one in Bahrain is complicated. So we're seeing the great agony if you will of the Arab world and the fight between hope and fear.

KING: And, Dr. Ajami, do you believe it was the fruit vendor in Tunisia --

AJAMI: Yes.

KING: -- who set himself on fire and became the symbol?

AJAMI: Absolutely.

KING: In Syria now I guess -- this is a horrible thing to say but I guess the adults are used to this. They are used to being oppressed. They're used to being denied rights. And if you're 40, 50 or 60 years old in Syria you have lived for decades in this. Now that we see children, children, do you think that that will be jarring enough to maybe get some adults in Syria who aren't sure what to do, aren't sure if they should risk defying the government will that spark them?

AJAMI: When I think the mask has fallen in Syria, we now see what Bashar Assad is all about because remember, John, Bashar Assad was the hope that he came to power 11 years ago. He lived in London. He liked the music of Phil Collins. And people went to Damascus and they told us that there is a Damascus spring, if you will, to use that term and that this young man, Bashar Assad is better than his father.

Eleven years later we now see the truth of Bashar Assad. So Hamza (INAUDIBLE), a 13-year-old boy being killed and tortured, and displayed to the world, in fact, this is the emblem of this new fight in Syria between the regime and the population of Syria.

KING: And Fran Townsend, I don't think there is anybody left who thinks that Bashar Assad is going to somehow be this reformer that everybody dreamed and hoped that he might be and that he has perhaps occasionally teased the world that he might be. But the question is what now -- some tough words tonight from Secretary of State Clinton. She said that Mr. Assad every day he makes his choices. And by default he is not condemning the violence against his people.

He is not stepping in to do more. But the secretary of state, the president of the United States have not gone further and said he has to go. They said Mubarak has to go. They've said Gadhafi must go. Explain why any U.S. administration would be reluctant, there's the Israel complication, there's the chess in the region, if you will, but when you see the pictures of these atrocities, why can't the United States of America say enough? The line has been crossed?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, John, I think they are now in a near impossible situation. Look they tried that -- this sort of minimalist approach. First sanctions, now you've seen Secretary Clinton come out and make the strongest statement yet, a very strong statement by the administration expressing concern over the torture of this young boy.

Look, they have been reluctant to go further. I think you mentioned the complication with Israel. But really the big worry here is Syria is a base for Hezbollah, the Shiite terrorist group. They are to the Shiites what al Qaeda is to Sunni extremism and they are the most militarily capable. They are the most well armed, the best deployed around the world.

Prior to 9/11 Hezbollah killed more Americans than any other terrorist group including being responsible for the Beirut barracks bombing in Lebanon in the '80s. And so what you're afraid of is Hezbollah is largely bankrolled while they're in Syria. They're bankrolled by Iran. And what the United States is not wanting to do is get dragged into a proxy war with Iran in Syria.

I think Assad has left them little choice. I mean they're going to have to now say this is unacceptable. And I expect what we'll see as much as we did with Libya they'll try to put together an Arab coalition that comes together so it's not just the United States saying he's got to go, but what they're looking for is an Arab statement from the Gulf Corporation Counsel to say he must go.

KING: But on that point, Professor Ajami, the United States can only do so much in this region.

AJAMI: Sure.

KING: But it could if it had the help from the Saudis, if it had help from others in the region and yet what we see happening is the Saudis working behind the scenes to try to block further regime change. The Bahraini government complicit, the State Department would say, in accounts in the news media smearing the top human rights official at the U.S. embassy in Bahrain.

AJAMI: Sure.

KING: So do you see any effort in the region to push Assad aside or in this one oddly are the Saudis and the Iranians allied in thinking we don't want meddling and we don't want more regimes changed?

AJAMI: Well John, actually on Syria, Bashar Assad and the Assad regime has successfully sold us the idea that it is either the Assad regime or Sunni fundamentalism, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria. This is really the major fear in the region. I mean this is the -- this is how the Assad regime worked its kind of side of the argument. So it's not really about what the Saudis think what the Syrians are doing. I don't think the Arab regimes as a whole are going to single out the Syrian regime for condemnation the way they broke with the Gadhafi regime. It tells you the difference between the (INAUDIBLE) of the Syrian regime, its skill, its ability to play the game of nations as opposed to the lunacy of Moammar Gadhafi.

I'm afraid the Syrian people are alone in the way that the Libyan people are not alone. That we have gone intervened in Libya but we did not do the same and we're not likely to do the same in Syria. And it's really, you know, for the Syrian people it's the bleak conclusion that they fight this regime alone.

KING: I want to ask you each in closing, Fran to you first then to the Dr. Ajami, most of these regimes are 70-year-old men --

AJAMI: Right.

KING: -- 75-year-old men, maybe in their 60's. Assad would be one of the younger leaders in the region right now. I want our control room to show the pictures of those young children marching again and I want you to tell me what you think, Fran, if you are one of these regimes that has been in power for decades, handing off from old man to old man denying people their rights when you see the pictures of these young children risking their lives in the streets. I believe that is more powerful than any words Secretary Clinton or President Obama could speak.

TOWNSEND: John, I absolutely agree with you. I think the picture of these children carrying placards and marching for freedom has got to be the most frightening picture that any of the regimes in the region can see. Remember, the vast majority of all the populations in the Arab world are under the age of 25.

The majority of people are young people. They're children. They've got to contend with this. They've tried. They've talked education reform. They've talked health care reform. They've talked democratic freedoms to vote for business councils and that sort of thing. That doesn't get to the heart of this issue and I think, John, the point has got to be you're going to have to deal with these children. They will not be what their parents were and that is go silently.

KING: Fran Townsend and Dr. Ajami, appreciate your insights tonight. We'll stay on top of this story and those pictures. They're moving but the reason those children are in the street is quite sad and disturbing. Appreciate both of you helping out tonight.

Still ahead for us here tonight we head to space and the final journey of the shuttle Endeavour and the congressman who says his Twitter account was hacked now uses the word "prank", says he can't dwell on who sent a lewd picture to a college student under his name, but why won't he call in the police? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) KING: Congressman Anthony Weiner is anything but shy. He loves combative television appearances, uses a sharp wit in writing style in his social media postings and makes no secret of the fact he would like to be New York City's next mayor. But the Democratic congressman is speaking with a different tone these days trying to move past what is either a crime or an egregious mistake.

Someone sent a lewd photograph from the congressman's official Twitter account to a college coed in Seattle. Now the congressman says his account was hacked. He also at times has used the word "prank" and he says he wants to move on. Listen to this exchange earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You say that you were hacked which is potentially a crime, so why haven't you asked the Capitol police or any law enforcement to investigate?

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Look, this was a prank that I've now been talking about for a couple of days. I'm not going to allow it to decide what I talk about for the next week or the next two weeks. And so I'm not going to be giving anything more about that today. I think I've been pretty responsive to in the past.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But with respect you're here, which we appreciate, but you're not answering the questions. Can you just say why you haven't asked law enforcement to investigate what you are alleging is a crime?

WEINER: You know Dana if I was giving a speech to 45,000 people and someone in the back of the room threw a pie or yelled out an insult, would I spend the next two hours responding to that? No. I would get back --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: I would get back --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: This is not that situation.

WEINER: I would get back --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I would get back --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: (INAUDIBLE) do you want to do the briefing?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

WEINER: Do you want to do the briefing, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: From your Twitter account --

WEINER: Sir -- UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- a lewd photograph was sent to a college student.

WEINER: Sir -- sir.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Answer the question. Was it from you or not?

WEINER: Sir.

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: Permit me -- do you guys want me to finish my answer?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Yes, this question -- this answer. Did you send it or not?

WEINER: If I were giving a speech to 45,000 people, and someone in the back threw a pie or yelled out an insult I would not spend the next two hours of my speech responding to that pie or that insult. I would return to the things that I want to talk about to the audience that I wanted to talk to.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: All you have to do is say no to the question.

WEINER: And that is what I intend to do --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: All you have to do is say no to the question.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Let me try this question. The woman who allegedly got this tweet or it was directed to, the 21-year-old college student in Seattle she released a statement to "The New York Daily News" yesterday saying that you follow her on Twitter. Is that true? Did you follow her on Twitter? And if so, how did you find her? What was the reason?

WEINER: You know I have I think said this a couple of ways and I'll say it again. I am not going to permit myself to be distracted by this issue any longer.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: All you have to do is say no to that question.

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: You are very good at --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You're not following her on Twitter --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: Why don't you -- why don't you let me do the answers and you do the questions?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: As soon as you answer the question asked you, sir, we will.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm with you, buddy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: You follow an awful lot of young women on Twitter. Is there a reason that you have so many ladies that you're following on --

WEINER: By the way, in related news, I have (INAUDIBLE) the famous hash cake scrappy chasing crazy (ph). I passed Michele Bachmann today in the number of Twitter followers. I will give you that additional fact.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Is that a result of this --

WEINER: Unfortunately it probably is.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Congressman, Congressman, you understand what's going on here, the frustration. We appreciate you coming out and you're talking to us. You're smiling. You're cooperating and that gives you know good (INAUDIBLE) but you're not answering the question, so can you answer --

WEINER: This is now --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE)

WEINER: This is now day --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: This is now day --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: This is now day three. You have statements that my office has put out.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But they don't answer the questions that we have.

WEINER: There are statements that my office put out and there are going to be people who are going to -- look. This is the tactic. The guy in the back of the room who is throwing the pie or yelling out the insult wants that to be the conversation.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: But you are the one --

WEINER: Dana, let me --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- who said you were hacked. That you were hacked --

WEINER: Dana --

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: And that's a criminal, a potential --

WEINER: Dana, let me -- I'm going to have to ask that we follow some rules here. And one of those is (INAUDIBLE) answer (INAUDIBLE) reasonable.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: I'd love to get an answer.

WEINER: That would be reasonable --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: That'd be reasonable. You do the questions. I do the answers and this jackass interrupts me. How about that as the new rule of the game?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Congressman --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: Let me just --

(CROSSTALK)

WEINER: Let me just give the answer. The objective of the person who is doing the mischief is to try to distract me from what I'm doing, so for the last couple of days that has happened. I made a decision. I'm not going to let it happen today. I'm not going to let it happen tomorrow. You're doing your job. I understand it. Just go ahead and do it but you're going to have to do it without me.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: That's about two-thirds of the feisty seven-minute exchange there with reporters. One thing the congressman has not done and would not talk about there is ask the Capitol police or the FBI to investigate. Well should he? Would that clear all this up?

Our senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin is with us, as is a former federal prosecutor Mark Rasch who's an expert at cyber crimes and here with me on Capitol Hill CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash who you saw trying, trying to get some answers from the congressman. Let me start there.

He clearly wanted to come out and talk to reporters to show I'm not hiding and yet he would not answer the most basic, simple, not controversial questions about how do you know this woman? What did you, by any chance, send this photo? Why won't you call the police? What's he doing? DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the answer to that. You know you saw me and our congressional producer Ted Barret (ph) really pressing him. And it was really fascinating. This is the second time, John he came out today to talk to us. We were outside of his office waiting to talk to him. He came back. He went into his office. He said hold on let me get a tie on.

He came back, so he was -- he was -- he understands as I said in those questions and answers the optics of not wanting to run away and he comes and he says the same thing over and over again. But you saw -- to me I think one of the basic -- most basic questions is why if you say that you were hacked haven't you asked the police to investigate? That's what I asked over and over. You saw he didn't answer.

KING: Let's bring in the lawyers on this. Mark, I want to go to you first because I've worked with you on cases in the past where you deal with these kinds of issues. Why, why? If you're a politician especially a politician with huge ambitions and this is now a controversy that could get in your way, is there a way the congressman could call the Capitol police or the FBI?

You understand the technology. And have someone come in and say this was not sent from his BlackBerry. This was not sent from his official computer. We have looked at all the computers that he has access to. This is not from him.

MARK RASCH, DIR., CYBERSECURITY CONSULTING, CSC: Yes. I mean, you can mostly show that through computer forensics. What you do is you track it back from the recipient back to Twitter, using their Internet protocol address. From Twitter you figure out what the source was and it's either going to point back to one of Anthony Weiner's computers, his BlackBerry, his cell phone, or it's not going to point there.

And that's the kind of thing that you do when you conduct an investigation. Now even if it does point to his computer that doesn't necessarily or definitively show that he did it because hackers could have hacked his computer. But it's good evidence that at least the first step that you have to do, look for that stuff.

KING: And so, Jeff Toobin, let me just ask you this as a courtroom veteran. I guess it's both a legal analysis, a courtroom analysis and a bit of a political analysis watching the witness there, the witness being Congressman Weiner. What did you make of that? He clearly, clearly, and we need to be careful here, the congressman says he was hacked or he was -- a bad prank or something happened to him and he says he didn't want to do it and he says he wants to move on. On the one hand that's understandable. When you watch him there going back and forth, standing there, taking the questions but not answering them, grade the witness.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You said earlier that that was two-thirds of Dana's interview with him. Can I see the other third? Because I thought it was so entertaining and so amusing that I just wanted it to go on and on because, you know, Dana was doing her job and he was not responding. Look, I think you need to put this in a little -- that as a strictly legal matter it is theoretically possible that some crime could have taken place here, some sort of wire fraud, some sort of criminal impersonation. But we're talking about one tweet.

And as far as I'm aware there has never been a criminal prosecution based on a single tweet that was or was not hacked. And certainly there was no obscenity here. This was a lewd photo. It was not obscene under any conceivable definition. I think Weiner just wants to get this thing over with to sort of basically ignore questions today as he clearly was ignoring Dana's questions and wait it out and hoping that this thing would just go away which it probably will.

KING: But you say it probably will. You live in New York City. He wants to be the mayor of New York City. It is the most feisty, combative media market in the United States of America. Now you've also both been around high profile cases and high profile clients. Mark, to you first. What -- if you were his lawyer, he has hired an attorney, if you were his lawyer now what would you be telling him to do?

RASCH: Well, you're in a difficult situation because you don't want to make this seem like it's the crime of the century. It's a minor, as Jeff pointed out it's a minor type of thing. If he was anybody but a member of Congress, and he tried to get the police to investigate it, he could scream all he wanted.

No police agency would ever investigate this type of crime. On the other hand, he's got a political dimension. He's got to demonstrate to the electorate that he didn't send this. And the only way to do that is through computer forensics and investigation.

(CROSSTALK)

TOOBIN: Well, John, I just think there's another point that needs to be raised here, it hasn't come up yet and look, clearly Weiner looked like a jerk in that interview and you know anybody who was watching could see that. But it's also important to remember that the person who has been pushing this story the most is Andrew Breitbart, who has been consistently inaccurate in portraying Democrats, members of the Obama administration is doing things on video that they have not done. Most notoriously in the Shirley Sherrod case, so you can understand why Weiner does not want to get into a long-term fight with Andrew Breitbart because all that is going to do is give him more publicity and probably not settle this issue once and for all.

BASH: And he's right that this is -- John, this is probably a lot more political than it is legal. And on the question of if this was just an average citizen they wouldn't have the ability to have this investigated. He is not an average citizen. He is a member of Congress. And I was talking to a law enforcement official very familiar with the protocol here on Capitol Hill and as a member of Congress if he just picked up the phone and called the Capitol police and said, hey, somebody hacked my Twitter account there would be an investigation and he would be able to get to the bottom of this and prove in fact as he said that he was hacked and that's really the thing that's most baffling, why he just --

KING: And so if that's baffling first to Mark and then to Jeff, would you advise him politically, you're a lawyer (INAUDIBLE) legal advice, but if he said this is important to me. I need this to go away. I need this to go away politically. I need to prove this was not me. What would you tell him to do?

RASCH: Well, first thing to do if he wants to do it politically is just get up and say it wasn't me. Just flat out say I didn't send that. And then explain what the nature of his relationship is with this Twitter follower and then it's done.

The second thing is to do the forensics and prove that it didn't happen. But in a sense all of that elevates the importance of this relatively minor thing as being a crime. And by the way, the police, the Capitol police and the FBI don't have to wait for him to ask. That whatever evidence there is of a crime is evidence of a crime and they can investigate it right now.

TOOBIN: I think Weiner has made his decision. Obviously he could have answered the question today. He could have said simply I did not send this Tweet. He didn't say that. Obviously all of us can draw suspicious conclusions from that. It looks like what he's doing is simply brazening it out in hope that the circus moves on and people pay attention to something else tomorrow.

KING: We'll end the conversation on that point, but if the circus does not move on, to use Jeff Toobin's words, I think we can all remember past political issues, call them what you will, where that answer changes or the decision changes if the circus does not move (INAUDIBLE). Jeff Toobin, Mark Rasch, and Dana Bash, thanks for your help tonight.

Ahead tonight, reality TV meets Republican presidential politics. Sarah Palin is having dinner with Donald Trump complete with a limousine ride. No kidding. But next, the shuttle "Endeavour" is on its way home, which means Commander Mark Kelly can check up on the surgery his congresswoman wife had while he was up circling in space.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you're a space junkie, set your alarm. In about seven hours, the space shuttle Endeavour makes a night time landing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, closing out the next to last flight of the shuttle program.

Commander Mark Kelly and his crew have been in space for two weeks and a day. They successfully completed the mission's main objective: delivering and installing a special particle detector for the International Space Station. Its 600 computer processors will help scientists from 16 countries try to understand the origin of the universe by searching for wild sounding things like anti-matter, dark matter, and cosmic rays.

This is shuttle Endeavour's final mission, of course. It will go to a museum when it lands.

And I spoke to the crew about what for most of them will be their last time in space.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: As you begin to prepare to come home and you look down, I guess I'm tempted to ask knowing that this is your last shuttle mission. It's like a vacation to the Grand Canyon, are you tempted to call down and say can we extend the rental a little bit?

MARK KELLY, FLIGHT COMMANDER: John, these missions are really complex. There is a lot of risk. And we develop, you know, a plan way ahead of time. Yes, it would be nice to have an additional day in space to look down at our beautiful planet and enjoy zero gravity.

But tomorrow is the right time for us to come home and if the weather holds up, we got a little bit of a cross wind issue we're looking at. But we'll hopefully be on the runway at about 2:00 in the morning tomorrow.

KING: Mike, if I got the stats right here, you've had 26 hours on six space walks during your career. I'm just wondering -- I know it's work up there and your time is limited and you have a lot to get done. But knowing that you won't be flying off the side of a shuttle again, did you take any extra time on this trip just to reflect, just to have a nostalgic moment?

MIKE FINCKE, MISSION SPECIALIST: Yes, I absolutely did. Each time you get to do a spacewalk, it's a lot of work, but it's also very much a blessing. And since those six spacewalks on the Russian side, I had three spacewalks out of four here on our mission. So, it's a total of nine now. I can't believe it -- I didn't even think I'd ever get to do one.

But it's always good to -- especially near the end of the spacewalk when you know you have most of your tasks done, to just be able to hold on tight and look out over the edge and look at Planet Earth go by, or look up and see the moon and the stars and the planets and look forward to where we're going to be going next.

KING: Greg Johnson, 4,000 hours, 40 different aircrafts. On your second space flight, we're obviously in a transition, a lot of questions about the future of the American manned space program. What goes through your mind when you're zipping around, you disconnect from the space station, and now, you're preparing to come home?

GREG JOHNSON, FLIGHT PILOT: Well, what occurs to me is how special it is. Yesterday, we did undock and fly around and the space station was absolutely spectacular. This mission, we put the final touches as far as the assembly of the space station, so we can declare the space station complete. And in doing so, the space station is so huge that even when we back off to 600 feet, we can barely catch the entire space station in our field of view.

As we traveled all the way around the space station, we're taking wonderful photographs and so, being a part of this mission and being a part of the completion of the space station and the retirement of the space shuttle, I can't think of a better thing than an aviator would like to be a part of in his career.

KING: And, Drew, in 10 years, five years, maybe 15 years, what will some kid be learning in science class that they will trace back to the last flight of the shuttle Endeavour?

ANDREW FEUSTEL, MISSION SPECIALIST: Well, I hope that AMS will have a long legacy and help unravel more secrets of the universe complementing those that Hubbell is helping build as well, and I think that's been important for me personally is to know that we've contributed to science and will contribute to science and the understanding of the universe for decades, generations to come. I think that's pretty special and we look forward to those new discoveries.

KING: Do you have -- Commander Kelly, to you -- any apprehension as we go through this transition? You're the second last shuttle flight. The final mission will take place just a few weeks down the road. Any apprehension that in this period of transition something will be lost, whether it's scientific discovery or just the great sense of adventure that is manned space flight?

KELLY: I don't think the adventure will be lost. I think what's always at risk is as we transition to a new program and a new vehicle, there is going to be a period of time when Americans aren't flying on U.S. spacecraft. So, that's a challenge. You know, people leave, engineers and operations people will move on and do other things. So, it's the corporate memory that I think I'm most worried about as people go.

But, you know, over time we'll get the right mix of people and NASA has an incredible workforce. It's very talented. And, you know, from the late 1950s to today, we take on great challenges and we've never failed.

So, you know, I think the future is bright. There's going to be a period of time where we're going to develop our next generation of launch vehicles and it will be, you know, a challenging transition. But I expect, you know, great things.

KING: You made a tough personal decision, a tough family decision to take this mission with your wife still in a very delicate stage of her recovery. While you've been up in space, she has had surgery. It was obviously a tough call.

Any moments during the mission from when you took off, now as you prepare to come home, where you question that call and said, oh, boy, should I be here?

KELLY: No. I don't have -- I don't have any regrets. We trained as a crew, the six of us, for over a year and a half to get ready for this flight. So, when January 8th happened, when that day came, didn't look likely that I would be on this flight. But her recovery went well enough and things lined up with her being able to go to rehab in Houston that I was able to rejoin my crew and complete this mission.

Certainly, no regrets. There are periods of time over the last 16 days that, you know, you miss your wife and your kids -- and I think that's true for all of us.

But in hindsight, it was absolutely the right decision. We got all of our mission objectives done. We did four very challenging spacewalks. We got the AMS installed and another payload on the outside of the station.

So, for me, it was certainly the right decision.

KING: Gentlemen, thanks for your time. Have a wonderful final moments to your journey. We'll see you back on earth.

KELLY: You're welcome, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: I have to say that was pretty cool. I'm on the CNN Express, our bus. That's late last night in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, talking to the crew up in space. Nice how technology works in our favor sometimes.

When we come back though -- questions about technology. A new study says you should be worried that your cell phone could cause brain cancer. We'll explore that, just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

The House just now overwhelmingly defeated a measure that would raise the government's debt ceiling. The 318-97 vote is not a surprise. Republican leaders wanted to show there's no support for a higher debt limit without significant spending cuts.

The Pentagon is working on a new strategy on how to respond to cyber attacks. A spokesman tells CNN all options would be on the table, including the possibility of military force not just a cyber response.

The World Health Organization today announced it's going to list cell phones as a carcinogenic hazard, suggesting the low levels of microwave radiation from the phones can potentially cause cancer. It's now in the same cancer category as lead, engine exhaust, and chloroform.

Earlier today, I talked with Dr. Keith Black. He's the chairman of the neurosurgery department at Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DR. KEITH BLACK, NEUROSURGERY DEPT. CHMN., CEDARS-SINAI: You assume that the government would not allow anything with the possible risk of brain cancer being sold, but what the government cannot tell you currently is that the cell phones are safe. And what the World Health Organization has done with their class 2B classification is looked at the best scientific evidence that we had and said that based on their analysis, the 31 scientists from 14 different countries analyzed the data, is that, yes, the data currently shows that there is a possible link between cell phones and brain cancer. That there has not been, you know, the perfect study, that all of the studies are flawed and can lead to the wrong conclusions because of design or not being powered enough in terms of their statistics but to the best evidence that we have now, there may be a possible link, so you should use the cell phone cautiously.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Up next tonight, day three of Sarah Palin's bus tour. She went to Mount Vernon, Virginia. She was in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Tonight, New York City -- a limo ride, dinner with Donald Trump. Go figure.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Sarah Palin's One Nation bus tour of the nation's historic sites is in New York City tonight for a stop at Trump Tower. The Trump adviser tells CNN Palin and her husband Todd are having dinner with Donald Trump and his wife tonight.

CNN national political correspondent Jessica Yellin joins us, along with CNN's Peter Hamby, who is following the Palin bus.

And you are watching the pictures there of the Donald.

And, Jess, to you first. This is the star of "Sarah Palin's Alaska" meeting the star of "Celebrity Apprentice." Should we just leave it at that, this is reality TV? Or is there some deeper political meaning here?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I just really would love to hear what Melania and Sarah Palin are saying to each other tonight.

I think that from a political point of view, this is a low point for the media the way this is getting covered. This is a woman who is not running for president, as far as anyone knows. She has made no indication she plans to run.

And there's a breathless news about the coverage that no other person who is actually running for president is getting. They're all desperate to get coverage and we can't give them the time of day in some instances.

But there is a fascination around Sarah Palin, and some political operatives on the Republican side are even glad that she's getting this kind of coverage because it's making Tea Party activists happy. KING: All right. Peter Hamby, come into the conversation and help me out there because Ms. Yellin is suggesting that we're overplaying this here. And to some degree, there's no question we are.

But you've been on this bus tour. She is not a candidate of president. We should make clear of that.

But she also said she is contemplating it, Peter. And essentially, if you listen to what Todd Palin has been saying and, to a degree, what Governor Palin has been saying, part of it to see how much the family likes the road, because running for president is a lot longer, more grueling process than three or four months running for vice president.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, that's right. And actually, you know, Sarah Palin has been asked ad nauseam, what does this tour means. And she generally gives the same answer.

I talked to Todd Palin today with the handful of other reporters and asked him about this, what her thinking is. He said it's going to be her decision ultimately. But he sounded very positive about the potential for a run. He said that his family has been tested. They've been through the gauntlet of politics.

So, you know, Todd seems to be encouraging it. And I tend to disagree a little bit with Jessica. I think a lot of people believe it because she's not really building out steering committees and states and talking to key operatives that she might not be running.

But she has the ability to keep her options open longer than anybody else. And I'll tell you what, when she drove into Philadelphia today, she was being, her bus was being circled by local news choppers, she had one of the largest media scrums I've seen here in Philadelphia.

(CROSSTALK)

HAMBY: No one else has been able to command that kind of attention. And I think it affords her the ability to wait a little bit longer than other people. And she's unconventional and she says that. I tend to agree.

YELLIN: Right.

KING: She's unconventional, Jess.

YELLIN: Yes, she gets a lot of media attention. I mean, the question is, do we have a responsibility to give this kind of coverage to a lot of the other candidates who are also actually running and who the voters out there should be hearing from with at least equal attention?

But I've made my point.

I'll tell you one thing that I found sort of interesting when I was talking to some -- one Republican, top Republican operative saying we're actually very glad that Sarah Palin's getting this much coverage because were she not getting this much attention, a lot of Tea Party activists no doubt would be complaining that none of the candidates in the field really speaks for the Tea Party and then might be clambering for a candidate who speaks to their issues. And so because she is satisfying that, there's not a lot of attention to those folks inside the field right now. And it's sort of placating this constituency within the Republican Party for the moment.

KING: I'm going to make a little defense of the program here. We've had Senator Santorum. We've had Speaker Gingrich on. We've had Governor Huntsman on last week.

We have had -- we've had other candidates on. We've invited -- Michele Bachmann was on just the other day. And we've invited the others on.

But let's deal with something. If she -- a lot of people say she's taking this tour, number one, to see how her family feels about it. Does her young family -- and this is a very important question -- does her young family want to go through a year-plus presidential campaign?

Others say she's also trying to, you know, just test the brand. See if she can help the image a little bit.

I just want to put some numbers up

Jess, to you first. Her overall favorability rating, nationally, 35 percent -- 59 percent, nearly six in 10 Americans view her unfavorably. Now, in the Republican Party, her standing is higher. But if you look at these numbers, urban America, she has a high unfavorable; suburban, high unfavorable; rural America is where she is the strongest. So, when you are in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania -- yesterday, you see a lot of people who want her to run.

My question is: is part of this to see if she can change that suburban number? Because close American presidential elections, general elections, are won in the suburbs. And that is where she had a problem last time with independents and moderate Republicans.

YELLIN: Definitely. And that is a big challenge for her. And, you know, her appeal exists right now in an -- in the way the voting structure exists. In Iowa, the structure of our system plays to her strength. So, she can slowly ease into sort of becoming a candidate who could appeal to the suburban voters if that's what she chooses to do.

And, so, she -- you know, you could see a path for her potentially if she chooses to run. So, yes, John, and I don't mean this as a criticism -- I mean it as the media broadly, if I can just make that point.

The attention she gets by the media broadly outweighs the attention many other folks get. Not you.

KING: All right. You can throw harpoons my way. We're friends here.

Mr. Hamby, we don't get a schedule. Do you have any idea where you're going next?

HAMBY: We will be at Ellis Island tomorrow. I'm not sure. We reporters will be there because she has been pretty illusive. And then we're going to go up through New England, through your hometown of Boston. The thinking is we're going to end up in New Hampshire later in the week.

And I talked to Palin yesterday, and she confirmed a report that eventually she's going to end up in Iowa at some point, probably a different leg of this whole bus tour. But right now, we're just waiting at Palin's hotel to see where she's going to be next.

KING: Enjoy Boston, my friend. I'll send you a restaurant recommendation. Enjoy New Hampshire, as well.

Jess, Peter, thanks for coming in tonight.

When we come back, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tonight -- tough new words about Syria. You'll hear them in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This just in to CNN. Strong words about Syria late this afternoon from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad declared general amnesty today. But human rights groups call it a sham designed to distract attention from a 12-week bloody crackdown against demonstrators.

Here, Secretary Clinton a bit earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: President Assad has a choice. And every day that goes by, the choice is made by default. He has not called an end to the violence against his own people. And he has not engaged seriously in any kind of reform efforts.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Secretary Clinton also said she is very concerned over reports a 13-year-old boy was tortured and killed while in Syrian government custody. There have been more protests in the streets today. That boy, Hamza al-Khateeb.

The question is, will the death -- the killing of Hamza al- Khateeb be the tipping point in Syria? Among the demonstrations today, you could see so many young children out there -- a funeral march for young Hamza. Other protests, as well, a defining challenge for the Syrian government.

You should note there, her words were tougher, but Secretary Clinton did not call for regime change in Syria.

We'll stay on top of that story. But that's all from us tonight. Hope to see you right back here tomorrow night at this time.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.