Return to Transcripts main page


Interview with Newt Gingrich Continued; One Week Until Iowa Caucuses; Gingrich Takes Aim at Romney; Presidential Ads Flood Iowa TV; Ron Paul's Record in Congress; Non-Profits Air Political Ads; YouTube's 2011 Top 10 Most Viewed Videos

Aired December 27, 2011 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST, CNN'S THE SITUATION ROOM: I'm Wolf Blitzer, we're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're reporting live from Dubuque, Iowa right now. It's ground zero in the presidential campaign. In only seven days, the Iowa caucuses will take place, the first voting for the Republican presidential nomination.

We're joined by the Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. Mr. Speaker, thanks very much once again for coming, and let's talk a little bit about Virginia, because a lot of folks are saying you couldn't even get on the ballot in Virginia.

Here's a question from Facebook from Matthew Burrier. "Does missing the Virginia deadline to get on the ballot and having similar issues related to lack of organization and fundraising ability mean that Newt is unelectable?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, in Virginia, the rules are very complicated. And Rick Perry didn't make it, Rick Santorum didn't make it, Michele Bachmann didn't make it. The fact is, you end up in -- and Jon Huntsman didn't make it.

So, you ended up with two people, Ron Paul and Mitt Romney, both of whom had run before, both of whom had spent years on this project. They're the only two people who made it.

And I wish we had made it. We came very, very close to getting on the ballot. I wish they would allow write-in votes. Every poll in Virginia says I'd win if we had -- if we were on the ballot.

BLITZER: Well, you've lived there, outside of Washington, DC in northern Virginia --


GINGRICH: We lived there. Right.

BLITZER: -- for a long time.

GINGRICH: And so --

BLITZER: But what does it say? You've been running since, what, May? When did you announce? GINGRICH: Well, look. This was a mistake, and we feel badly about it. I think it'll be the only state that we're not on the ballot. We're going to be on Ohio tomorrow, and I think we'll be on Illinois early next week.

BLITZER: Do you have the national organization? Do you have --

GINGRICH: We're getting it. If you remember, Wolf, when I first started, everybody in the news media said I was dead. So, we spent two months proving I wasn't dead. So, we're about ten weeks behind where I'd like to be right now.

But I think it's fair to say that we increasingly have organization in every state, and that we're rapidly catching up. We're raising money, we will raise almost as much money in the fourth quarter as John McCain did in 2007, which is an enormous increase from where we were in mid summer.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney made fun of you today. I don't know if you heard, did you hear about this?


BLITZER: About the Virginia snafu and all of that. I'll play the clip. Watch this.



MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, I think he compared that to -- was it Pearl Harbor? I think it's more like Lucille Ball at the chocolate factory.


ROMNEY: So, I mean, you've got to get it organized.


BLITZER: Now, he was referring to a statement that your campaign manager said, this was like Pearl Harbor, you've learned from it, and it's not going to happen again.


BLITZER: But he's comparing you to Lucille Ball, "I Love Lucy" --


BLITZER: -- when she was at that chocolate -- you remember that scene.

GINGRICH: I have a very simple message for Mitt Romney. I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa for 90 minutes, just the two of us, in a debate, with a timekeeper and no moderator. I'd love to have him say that to my face. I'd like him to have the courage to back up his negative ads. I'd like him to have -- back up the things his staff have been putting out. He wants to prove he can debate Barack Obama? He ought to have the courage to stand on the same stage with me.

He's buying millions of dollars in attack ads through a phony super PAC run by his former staff, paid for by his millionaire friends.

Now, I'd like to have him have the courage to be on the same stage and defend his ads and explain his record as a moderate in Massachusetts, explain his record of raising taxes, explain his record of paying for abortions through state money, explain his record of putting Planned Parenthood on.

And frankly, explain why he was a -- he wasn't a job-creating governor. His current plan is much weaker than mine. So, I'd like to debate the Gingrich supply-side conservative economic plan versus the Romney moderate plan, which is much weaker in job creation.

And I'm happy for him to have fun at a distance, but I'd like to invite him to spend 90 minutes debating face-to-face.

BLITZER: There have been about a dozen debates --


BLITZER: -- he's been on the stage with you --


BLITZER: -- so far. He was standing on some of those debates very close to you.

GINGRICH: Herman Cain was willing to debate one-on-one, Jon Huntsman has debated one-on-one, Rick Santorum has debated one-on-one. Mitt Romney's the guy running the most ads attacking me, and he's doing it through this disingenuous, "Oh, gee, I don't control all of my former staff and all of my millionaire friends." It's baloney.

If he wants to defend his negativity, show up in Iowa, 90 minutes, face-to-face. Let the -- let the people decide whether or not, in fact, he'll back up what he's been saying, and let him back up his moderate record -- not conservative record -- as governor. And I don't think he'll do it.

BLITZER: You know, 24 hours from now, I'm going to be interviewing Mitt Romney --


GINGRICH: Well, ask him why --


GINGRICH: -- ask him why he won't debate me.

BLITZER: I will ask him that question. But is there anything you want to say to him --


BLITZER: Look into the camera right now and talk to -- because he might be watching, for all I know.


BLITZER: He's in Iowa, we're in Iowa.

GINGRICH: He'll certainly see the video. All I'd say, Mitt, is if you want to run a negative campaign and you want to attack people, at least be man enough to own it. That's your staff and that's your organization, those are your millionaire friends paying for it.

And let's be clear. I'm willing to fight for real job creation with a real Reagan-Kemp-style job creation program. You are a moderate Massachusetts Republican who, in fact, is very timid about job creation. Let's get it on together and let's compare our two plans.

BLITZER: I'll play that clip for him tomorrow --


BLITZER: -- here and we'll get his reaction --

GINGRICH: All right.

BLITZER: -- that's only fair. Let's go through some substantive --


BLITZER: -- issues right now, because you're causing a stir on a whole bunch of issues, but that's what you've done for a long time, and it comes with the territory.

On justices of the Supreme Court, lower courts, you've made some very controversial comments that if you disagree adamantly with some of their decisions, you wouldn't hesitate to subpoena these guys, these judges, bring them forward, and not -- and basically ignore their decisions.

I asked Jeffrey Toobin, our Senior Legal Analyst, he's an authority on the US Supreme Court, as you probably know. I asked him whether or not you have a basis from which to speak on this issue, and I'll play the clip --


BLITZER: -- of what he said.


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: The courts have the last word. You don't like it, you can change the constitution, you can have new justices on the Supreme Court, you can even impeach a federal judge.

But you cannot haul them in and beat them up in front of a Congressional committee. You cannot use the police to intimidate judges. That is something that is fundamentally against American constitutional history.


GINGRICH: Well, he's wrong --

BLITZER: All right. Jeffrey Toobin.

GINGRICH: Look, Jeffrey's wrong on two counts. First of all, the courts are not the last word. The courts are one of three last words. The constitution's designed around a balance of power between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. There is on superior branch. Hamilton --

BLITZER: But until new legislation is passed --


BLITZER: -- the rule of the -- the decision of the Supreme Court stands.

GINGRICH: Only in the case of the law. Not in -- only in the case. Lincoln says in his 1861 inaugural address the Dred Scott case extending slavery over the whole country is not the law of the land. And he says, furthermore, you would eliminate our freedom if nine people could decide it.

Jefferson, when asked if the Supreme Court was supreme over the president and the Congress said that is absurd. That would be an oligarchy.

Jeffrey ought to look at the 54-page paper at where, as a historian, we lay out the historic case. Alexander Hamilton says the courts would never pick a fight with the legislature and the executive because, in fact, they would lose the fight. Now, that implies something about relative strength.

Lastly, he has made my case. He said judges can be impeached. The first step towards impeachment is hearing testimony. The question I was asked was, could Congress compel testimony? By definition in an impeachment case, they can compel testimony.

BLITZER: I'm going to move on, but I'll just read to you what Mitt Romney told the "Wall Street Journal" on this. He said, "I think Speaker Gingrich said that if he disagreed with the Supreme Court on an issue like gay marriage, he might decide not to carry it out. Well, if that's the case for President Gingrich, might not that be the case for President Obama?"

GINGRICH: And the test is a three-part test. There are three branches. If the president and the Congress take on the court, the court loses. If the Congress and the court take on the president, the president loses.

And so, you have this constant balance of power written into our constitution. The specific case I cited is Boumediene. This is George Washington's commander-in-chief flagged. The commander-in-chief was written into the constitution at a convention Washington presided over. Washington had been commander for eight years.

The idea that a court in Boumediene would put American civil liberties into a battlefield to start setting a standard for dealing with enemy combatants would be abhorrent to all of the founding fathers, and there is a classic case where the president, as the commander-in- chief, could say "We are not going to enforce this decision."

BLITZER: All right, so you're not backing away from anything you've said on judicial decisions --

GINGRICH: No. No. And I urge people --


BLITZER: Judges, justices --

GINGRICH: But I urge people to read the paper at It's 54 pages long, and it's historically very sound.

BLITZER: When I covered you when you were speaker, you worked closely with President Clinton at the time --


BLITZER: -- and the two of you got a lot done together.


BLITZER: What happened, then, that isn't happening right now? Who's to blame for all of this?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think there's enough blame to go around for everybody. I've never seen a bigger mess than the Congress and the president passing a pathetic two-month tax extension at a time when we desperately need a job -- we need an economic growth and jobs plan.

Because if Europe really gets in trouble this spring, we don't -- and we're not growing, you're going to see the whole world economy drug deeper into this deep recession. It's totally irresponsible for the president and the Congress to leave town and not do more than a two- month extension.

Part of the difference was that both Clinton and I understood that we had a higher loyalty than partisanship, that we had a job -- I was Speaker of the House --

BLITZER: You liked him, Bill Clinton, didn't you?

GINGRICH: I like him as a person. I think he's -- BLITZER: You used to come out of the West Wing, I used to see you in the driveway over there, and you would be glowing in some -- something your Republican colleagues weren't very happy with what you've just said.

GINGRICH: Look. We were like two graduate students in that we liked ideas, we liked talking, we liked books. But the fact is, we also understood as president and as Speaker of the House, we were constitutional officers of the United States.

We weren't just Democrat and Republican. We weren't just liberal and conservative. We had -- my dad was a career soldier, so I grew up with honor, duty, country. We had a belief that we had -- we had a job to do, and that job involved helping America.

And the result was together, we balanced the budget four times, we cut taxes, we brought unemployment down to 4.2 percent, we reformed welfare. Two out of three people went back to work or to school, child poverty was the lowest it ever achieved after welfare reform because we were doing things that made sense for America.

The current spectacle of Obama's total inability to lead and, frankly, Harry Reid's partisanship as Senate leader and the lack of coordination between Speaker Boehner, who has a, I think, a very hard job, much harder than my job, and Mitch McConnell. That lack of coordination, I think, is a big deal.

BLITZER: All right, we're going to take one more break and we're going to --


BLITZER: -- wrap this up. We have some more questions to ask the Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. More from Dubuque, Iowa, right after this.


BLITZER: We're back with Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich. You saw the story that CNN reported yesterday on your first divorce, the discrepancy, what's in the documents that were released or given out yesterday as opposed to what was originally said, that you initiated -- you had actually filed for the divorce, but you said your first wife asked for the divorce. I want you to clarify.


BLITZER: If you can.

GINGRICH: Well, all I can tell you is, if anybody's interested, Jackie Cushman is my daughter. She's written on this, and people can read her --

BLITZER: Your daughter from your first marriage.

GINGRICH: From my first marriage. She's the one who did all the work. She talked to her mother, she talked to me, she sorted out -- I think her article captures it, and that's the most I'll say. Go look at Jackie Cushman's article.

BLITZER: And she -- her basic point is --

GINGRICH: Her basic point is when she talked to everybody and sorted it all out, she was comfortable that it had been fundamentally misreported and that we had worked things out in a way that she felt comfortable with, that her mother felt comfortable with.

And again, I mean, I have great respect for her mother, who did a very good job raising the two girls. I'm -- as you know, I'm very close to both of them. Callista and I have a very close relationship, both with Kathy and Jackie and with our grandchildren, Maggie and Robert. People just need to look at that and make their own decisions.

BLITZER: And these -- in these court documents, if you weren't providing --


GINGRICH: They should just --

BLITZER: -- child support --

GINGRICH: -- they just need to look at --

BLITZER: -- and you weren't providing money for the family --

GINGRICH: -- they just need to look at what Jackie's written. There are a lot of things that are said in divorces that turn out not to be true, and lawyers write lots of things in the middle of fights.

BLITZER: So, that's basically where you want to leave it?

GINGRICH: That's where I want to leave it.

BLITZER: All right, one final question, just because it's so important to the country and to me, because I've been covering this war in Iraq going back to the first Gulf War.

Knowing what you know right now, knowing what all of us know, including this tension that's developing in the aftermath of the US withdrawal, was it -- was it smart for the US to go in there in March of 2003 and launch this invasion and get rid of Saddam Hussein based on faulty intelligence?

Was it a blunder? If you knew then, in other words, what you know now, would you have done it?

GINGRICH: First of all, you can look back and say based on faulty intelligence. Based on the intelligence that was agreed to by the Russians, the British, the Italians --


BLITZER: Which was faulty.

GINGRICH: -- the French --

BLITZER: Which was faulty.

GINGRICH: But nonetheless, every major power agreed --

BLITZER: But it was faulty. We all know -- we're all smarter now than we were then.

GINGRICH: Yes, but you have the great advantage of looking back in hindsight and say, gee --

BLITZER: Well, that's the question.

GINGRICH: -- you wish the world were different.

BLITZER: With hindsight, with 20/20 hindsight, was this war smart or stupid?

GINGRICH: I think replacing Saddam Hussein was good for the world. This was a murderous, evil person who had done a lot of terrible things and had -- had been involved in killing well over a million people.

BLITZER: A million people?

GINGRICH: And -- well, look at the cost of the Iran-Iraq War. And so, I would say to you, if you look at his use of chemical weapons he used on his own people, you look at the degree to which he was trying to get nuclear weapons --

And remember, when you talk to people form the debriefing teams, most of his generals thought Saddam had a nuclear weapons program. They just didn't think they knew what it was. So, I think it's very hard to go back.

BLITZER: He didn't have one, by the way.

GINGRICH: The big mistake was, I think, not hiring the Iraqi regular army. I'd written a paper in the summer of '02 for the Pentagon that said go in with what I called "Operation Switch." Get the Iraqi regular army, get rid of the Republican Guard, have them police the cities, pull back as fast as you can, and recognize the limits of power.

Bremer made a different decision. This is not hindsight. In December of 2003, I said both on "Meet the Press" and in "Newsweek," we have gone off the cliff. Bremer saw it to fundamentally change Iraqi society without the forces, the toughness, or the understanding that would require.

And I think we are now in a very dangerous environment where the Iranians are gaining control in a way that could become very dangerous for all of us. BLITZER: Yes, I'm very worried about the situation --

GINGRICH: I am, too.

BLITZER: I'm sure you are. Mr. Speaker --

GINGRICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: -- you spent a lot of time with me, thanks very much.

GINGRICH: Good to see you.

BLITZER: Good luck out there on the campaign trail.

GINGRICH: Thank you.

BLITZER: Appreciate it very much. We have a lot more news coming up. We'll dissect and digest what we just heard from the Republican presidential candidate, Newt Gingrich.

By the way, tomorrow, exactly at this time, I'll be speaking with Mitt Romney here in Iowa as well. Our coverage of all of this stuff continues in a moment.


BLITZER: Welcome back. I'm here in Dubuque, Iowa one week before the leadoff presidential contest. Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney, they are clearly the frontrunners right now, but the results next Tuesday, one week from today, could change a lot of that, possibly persuade some second tier candidates to call it quits.

I just finished speaking with Newt Gingrich, the Republican candidate. He let loose with some very, very tough criticism of Ron Paul despite his earlier vow he was going to stay positive. Listen to this.


GINGRICH: First of all, as people get to know more about Ron Paul who disowns ten years of his own newsletter, says he didn't really realize what was in it, had no idea what he's making money on, had no idea that it was racist, anti-semitic, called for the destruction of Israel, talked about race war, all of this was a sudden shock to Ron Paul?

There will come a morning people won't take him as a serious person, as a potential president, a person who thinks the United States was responsible for 9/11, a person who wrote in his newsletter that the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 might have been a CIA plot, a person who believes it doesn't matter if the Iranians have a nuclear weapon.

I'd rather just say, you look at Ron Paul's total record of systemic avoidance of reality and you look at his newsletters, and then, you look at his ads. His ads are about as accurate as his newsletters.

BLITZER: Now, if he were to get the Republican nomination --

GINGRICH: He won't.

BLITZER: Let's say he were, could you vote for him?



BLITZER: There you heard it. Newt Gingrich saying he could not vote for Ron Paul if he got the Republican presidential nomination. Let's assess what we just heard. Joining us now, the Democratic strategist, Jonathan Prince. He worked in the Clinton White House. He also worked for President Obama.

Also joining us, our CNN contributor, David Frum. He was a special assistant to President George W. Bush. David, first to you. I think, I could be wrong, but I think he's the first Republican candidate to flatly say that if Ron Paul were to get the Republican nomination, he would not be able to vote for him.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right, but the key part of that answer was what he said immediately before, which was no, Ron Paul is not going to get the Republican nomination. The Republican Party is a party of strong national defense. It is an antiracist party. It's a party of inclusion. It's a party that does stand for decent social safety net, and it's a party that has made contact with the changes in economic thinking over the past 150 years.

So, somebody who wants to take us back to the banking system that obtained before the civil war, no, that person is not going to get the Republican nomination for president. I don't think we have to worry about it too much. Although, it may make for a fun night in Iowa.

BLITZER: But it certainly, Jonathan, I don't know if you're familiar with the Ron Paul supporters out there, they are very, very devoted. They're very articulate. They work really, really hard. This is going to antagonize a lot of them. It took guts, I think you'll agree, for Newt Gingrich to come out as strongly and as adamantly against Ron Paul as he just did.

JONATHAN PRINCE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, sure, look, anytime you're in a competitive contest on one side of the aisle or the other and you're willing to go out and say, I'm not going to support somebody, it takes gut to some extent, particularly, that individual's gut some measure support. But look, I'm in violent agreement here with, frankly, Speaker Gingrich and David.

Ron Paul's not going to win the nomination, ought not to win the nomination, and is not going to be president of the United States. This is a guy, as David point out in op-ed, who is not only, you know, -- that comes from the kind of well of ignorance and fear, which is bad enough. This is a guy who was racist by design, with, you know, malice and knowledge aforethought. This is not good stuff. And in fact, a lot of his supporters, because, you know, he's flown under the radar for so long because he doesn't have a chance to win the nomination, a lot of his supporters are not really aware of all that stuff. They're for legalizing drugs and he picked up some young supporter. They don't know the kind of things that he's dealt with in the past.

BLITZER: All right. Jonathan, David, guys, stand by for a moment. There's a lot more to assess, a lot more news this hour here in the SITUATION ROOM. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.



GINGRICH: All I say, Mitt is, if you want to run a negative campaign, if you want to attack people, at least be man enough to own it. That's your staff and that's your organization. Those are your millionaire friends paying for it and let's be clear. I'm willing to fight for real job creation with a real Reagan-Kemp-style job creation program.

You are a moderate Massachusetts Republican who, in fact, is very timid about job creation. Let's get it on together and let's compare our two plans.


BLITZER: Newt Gingrich challenging Mitt Romney to a debate. He looked into the camera and he uttered those words. He also got irritated with Mitt Romney when I pointed out that Mitt Romney was making fun of him today for failing to get his name on the Virginia Republican primary ballot.

Let's bring back David Frum and Jonathan Prince. He really is trying to stay above it with Mitt Romney. He really blasted Ron Paul, David, but you saw that irritation, and he began to let loose to a certain degree, although, he certainly didn't go as far as he did with Ron Paul when it came to Mitt Romney.

FRUM: Well, this Virginia matter does coalesce and being questioned over Newt Gingrich. And you can see why it makes him uncomfortable. The question about Newt Gingrich is, is he good at running things? We all know that Mitt Romney is very good at running things. As speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich was not a very effective executive. And in fact, he was eased out of the powers of the speakership well before he lost the formal job.

There are a lot of concerns among Republicans in Washington that Newt Gingrich's managerial ability. When Newt Gingrich says, well, I'll respond to that Lucy Ricardo (ph) joke by offering to debate, he doesn't solve his problem, because we all know, Newt Gingrich is very good at words and showing us more that he's good at words.

It doesn't answer the question that Mitt Romney here so definitely (ph) inserted into the debate, can Newt Gingrich run things. The presidency is an executive job.

BLITZER: And you know, he also says repeatedly, Jonathan, that if he does get the Republican nomination, he's going to follow President Obama out there on the campaign trail and four hours after the president appears some place, he'll be there challenging him to a one-on-one debate with no moderator and all of this even though there are regularly scheduled debates by the Presidential Debate Commission.

Is that going to work if he were to get the Republican nomination?

PRINCE: Well, it's a funny little thing for him to suggest. Ultimately, I think, you know, and also, I think David raised a good point. That one of Speaker Gingrich's problems is his lack of management skills.

It's always been a (INAUDIBLE). But the other thing is while it's true and he gets some credit for this wide-ranging intellectual appetite, that appetite has also led him in so many different positions from a policy perspective.

And I think ultimately when he is debating President Obama, whether it's because he's following him around the country or because if he becomes the nominee and have actual debates, I think the consistency of President Obama's positions compared to where the speaker has been all over the place is going to come through.

You know Governor Romney was for Romneycare before he became Obamacare, and Speaker Gingrich was for Romneycare before he was against it, too. These guys like, you know, to bring to life some John Kerry's famous lines in a particularly entertaining way for us Democrats.

BLITZER: Well, what did you make, David, of his explanation why at one point like the Heritage Foundation, he supported health care mandates, but eventually came around to see that they were not useful and he now opposes that? What did you make of his explanation?

FRUM: Well, you know, Newt Gingrich does not just stand for health care mandates. And he had, back in the middle 2000s, a very sophisticated, worked out set of health care ideas that were in many ways similar to Mitt Romney's. The Heritage Foundation explanation of how they changed their mind is -- is almost laughably unconvincing. If you go back to the op-eds in 2009 where they say they've discovered new facts and they never stipulate what the new facts are other than the election of a Democratic president.

Well, they had it right the first time. This was a good, sound, Republican alternative to single payer or government controlled. This is how we were going to build a private system of universal coverage and Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich got it right the first time.

And one of the things that is really, I think, interesting about Gingrich and you see that in the way he answers you, is in a way he frightens people unduly. In his content, in his substance, Gingrich has been very much in the mainstream kind of conservative. He has been somebody who has advocated a lot of the kind of inclusive ideas that Mitt Romney has also advocated. He speaks in a more vehement way that makes him sound more radical than he really is when you look at this core -- at his core policy positions.

BLITZER: But Jonathan, you remember -- because I covered you during the Clinton White House and you heard what Newt Gingrich said about his relationship with Bill Clinton. Even though they had differences, they worked together and they got some stuff done for the country, so he's fully capable of working with the other party.

PRINCE: But that's the thing about Newt Gingrich, Wolf. And you know this as well. He works together well with you until he feels like he can't with you for some other political piece of gain or because his, you know, ego gets wounded. Because he goes off the wrong end of Air Force One, and suddenly he's fierce and the government is going to get shut down. And he's also the guy who has the, you know, remarkable hubris to be carrying on an affair with his wife while he's trying to lead the country to an extra constitutional coup to impeach the president.

So he's a guy who, as others have said, has these kind of wide-ranging appetites of politics and policy, but that also lead him off into lots of different directions that aren't always consistent and can be very dangerous in their unpredictability and their kind of randomness.

BLITZER: Jonathan Prince and David Frum, guys, thanks very much for helping us assess what's going on here in Iowa.

The Republican battle, by the way, here in Iowa certainly playing out on TV screens across the state right now. We're taking a closer look at the ad wars. And they are amazing. They're intense. Whether all the money being spent is paying off, though.

And Ron Paul's actual record in Congress as a maverick and as a loner. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Here in Iowa right now, the airwaves are flooded with presidential campaign commercials. I've had a chance to watch some of them earlier in the day. Local television, a tsunami for a political spots. We want to zero in on some of those ads. The costs, their messages.

Let's bring in CNN's Joe Johns. He's in the Iowa state capital of Des Moines.

You can't turn on a TV here in Iowa, Joe, as you well know, without seeing a lot of campaign commercials. Some positive but a whole lot of them very negative.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: That's true, Wolf. This has been an unusual year for campaign ads here in Iowa. It got off to a slow start. Now the voters are being subjected to the usual barrage that is being helped along really by an infusion of cash from the so- called super political action committees. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHNS (voice-over): Campaign ads have flooded the airwaves in Iowa this month. Almost $8 million worth so far by CNN's estimate.

KEN GOLDSTEIN, KANTAR/CMAG: It was late starting, but all the campaigns and these outside groups are heavily engaged and heavily engaged at the highest levels now.

JOHNS: The Rick Perry campaign has spent a fortune on ads. Almost $2 million. Perry has tried to tell his own story while also reaching out to social conservatives and evangelical voters. And he's attacked Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum in the same ad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They've spent 63 years in Congress leaving us with debt, earmarks and bailouts.

JOHNS: Meanwhile, a super political action committee called Make Us Great Again, which is not connected to Perry but buy his ads for his benefit, has kicked in another $1.4 million in ad buys.

Mitt Romney has a similar story. His campaign has spent three quarters of a million dollars on ads like the one featuring the candidate's wife Anne.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've been married to the same woman for -- excuse me, I'd get in trouble, for 42 year.

JOHNS: But the pro-Romney super PAC called Restore Our Future has kicked in over a million bucks to run spots hammering Gingrich. Their latest ad suggests President Obama would like to run against the former speaker in the general election because Gingrich has baggage.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is this man smiling? Because his plan is working. Brutally attack Mitt Romney and hope Newt Gingrich is his opponent.

JOHNS: And third place is the campaign of Ron Paul, who polls show is tied for the lead in the caucuses. He's run five ads in Iowa since the end of November.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Want to drain the swamp? Ron Paul. Do it.

JOHNS: The Paul campaign was the first to run an attack ad this cycle, sinking Gingrich for his position switches.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And the real question, the serious question, seriousness.

JOHNS: One of the candidates who has not been able to compete is Gingrich, who says his fate in the polls is because he's getting hammered on TV. He has tried to claim the high ground, but the fact is he hasn't had the money to play dirty in the TV ad wars.

GOLDSTEIN: Newt Gingrich wasn't able to raise money and combine his rise in the polls with a rise in fundraising to be able to pay for political advertising and a ground game in Iowa. It's not very complicated. Usually the main reason why someone is not airing political advertising is they don't have enough money to air political advertising.


JOHNS: And today, we heard that the Newt Gingrich super PAC is going up with an ad of its own starting tomorrow running through January 2nd. It's a clever pushback on Romney, warning conservatives not to let the liberal establishment pick the candidate -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And Joe, I just want to get your reaction to what we just heard from Newt Gingrich. He said -- he said flatly that if Ron Paul were to get the Republican presidential nomination, he would not be able to vote for Ron Paul. How's that going to play here in this state?

JOHNS: It's going to be very interesting to see how it plays because you know there is a certain element here that buys into the libertarian views of Ron Paul, but there are also a lot of Republicans, as you know, who are very concerned about picking an electable candidate to stand up against Barack Obama in November.

So that's something that the voters in the caucuses are certainly going to have to weigh and there are a lot of people who don't like the idea of Republicans getting into vicious battles with very rough words -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Joe Johns is in Des Moines. He's going to be here in Iowa for the remainder, this week, one week from today, the Iowa caucuses.

Joe -- thanks very much.

Let's continue our coverage of Ron Paul right now. He's certainly one of the frontrunners in Iowa. And he is breaking from the pack, he's a taking a day off from the campaign trail to a certain degree. The Texas congressman is known for being unconventional both politically and personally.

Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash has been talking to some of Ron Paul's colleagues on Capitol Hill.

Tell our viewers, Dana, what you're learning about him.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know what Ron Paul's House colleagues tell me, Wolf, fits in with my own observation of Paul covering Congress for years and that is that he's pretty much a loner. In fact when House Republicans get together for their regular caucus meetings, Paul doesn't show up. I was asking one GOP lawmaker today if they had ever even heard Paul speak at a Republican caucus, and this lawmaker said, speak, he's never even there when the committee he sits on holds a hearing.

I'm told he tends to show up, ask questions of the witnesses, and then leave. No chitchat, no backslapping or even hanging out in the Republican cloakroom where, of course you know, Wolf, lawmakers tend to get to know each other, cut deals and even share gossip.

Now, I can tell you as reporter, when I'm trying to get the mood of the GOP caucus or figure out which way a piece of legislature may go on the House floor, the last person I or any of our team would ask is Ron Paul for that reason. He just -- he's not involved, he's connected this way to House Republicans.

But the sources I talk to -- this is important to underline. They said don't mistake the fact that Paul doesn't have very many friends or the idea that he isn't liked. He is affable and friendly, even self-effacing. That's the way one Republican congressman I talked to today described him. He keeps to himself. And he only has a few other sort of close friends, like minded, antiwar Republicans -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about his legislative record? He's been in the House of Representatives for a long time. Three stints in Congress, on and off, since the '70s. I should point out. What -- you've looked at that.

BASH: Right. Generally, no surprises, we have been talking about with Newt Gingrich, his views are out of the mainstream when it comes to the Republican Party even in Congress. So most of the legislation that he proposes like repealing the income tax doesn't get much traction.

Now, "The Washington Post" actually delved into Paul's legislative record today and here's what they came up with. That he sponsored 620 measures throughout his history. Of all of those only four got votes on the House floor and only one, only became law. Now this year alone, Paul sponsored 47 bills. Most had no cosponsors, most no colleagues jumped on with him, and the bill that got the most cosponsors, nearly 200, was one about the Federal Reserve, asking for an audit of the Federal Reserve.

Now again, in talking to several GOP sources today about Paul, it seems that there are a couple of reasons for this. One, because his views and positions are out of line with many Republicans, but also because of his personality.

Wolf, you know this. It's hard to be a good legislator if you're a loner. The art of legislating is reaching out and finding enough allies to pass a bill and it's also about compromising. Ron Paul doesn't tend to do either.

BLITZER: Yes, that's certainly true, but he's doing really, really well here in Iowa and some of the other states as well.

BASH: He sure is.

BLITZER: So we'll continue to watch him every step of the way, but did hear the news here, Newt Gingrich saying he could not vote for Ron Paul if Ron Paul were to get the Republican presidential nomination. We'll see what the other Republican candidates have to say about that. I'll be interviewing Mitt Romney here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow. I'll ask him that same question. Meanwhile, a new move by President Obama isn't likely to sit well with Ron Paul because it involves one of the congressman's most hated institutions. We're talking about the Federal Reserve. Tomorrow, the president will name his choices to fill two vacancies on the seven- member Federal Reserve Board. We're told he'll nominate Jeremy Stein, an economist who previously worked in the Obama administration, and he'll also nominate Jerome Powell, a Treasury Department official in the early 1990s under the first President Bush.

We're watching what's going on, we're here in Iowa. The Republican presidential candidates' ties to non-profit groups also coming under fire. Just ahead, why some say it could be a dangerous and slippery slope in the battle for the White House.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the presidential race. It's crunch time here in Iowa. Some of the candidates have found a way to spread their messages to voters without the scrutiny of the Federal Election Commission.

Let's bring back Lisa Sylvester. She's taking a look at the role of non-profit organizations in this presidential campaign.

What's going on here, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the U.S. Supreme Court case Citizens United allowed for political spending by corporations in federal elections. Well, that also applied to non-profits. So now we're seeing a number of 501c4s. These are political nonprofits and they can't directly back a specific candidate, but the non-profit can promote that candidate's ideas and it can run political issue ads targeting opponents. They sound a little bit like a super PAC but with one major advantage.


SYLVESTER (voice-over): The Campaign for Liberty advocates a cut in government spending, shutting down the IRS, and the non- interventionist foreign policy. Sound familiar ? It mirrors the platform of Ron Paul, who is now the GOP frontrunner in Iowa.

Paul founded the Campaign for Liberty in 2008. Since then, the nonprofit has been hard at work drumming up ground support for Paul's ideas in the Hawkeye State. It's also what the IRS calls a 501c4 support group, which is tax exempt and able to raise unlimited amount of donations. They are supposed to be involved in, quote, "social welfare."

KENNETH GROSS, CAMPAIGN FINANCE ATTORNEY: That term has been stretched in the political world. I mean basically we're talking about political entities. Now they can't be primarily partisan but the part that's partisan is very partisan.

SYLVESTER: Political nonprofits have been around for a while, advocating issues, examples, the NRA and the Sierra Club. But a new crop of 501c4s promotes the ideas of candidates. Priorities USA touts the policies of President Obama, Crossroads GPS was started by former President Bush advisor Karl Rove. Its goal, whipping Democrats with ads like this one, targeting Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That critical 60th vote, Ben Nelson.

SYLVESTER: Here's the key, nonprofits, unlike political action committees, don't have to disclose their donor lists. Democracy 21, a nonpartisan open government watchdog group, has written letters to the IRS arguing for nonprofits, Crossroads GPS, the American Action Network, Americans Elect and Priorities USA, should have their status revoked.

FRED WERTHEIMER, DEMOCRACY 21: A number of these organizations are claiming tax exempt status and they are ripping off the tax code for the purpose of raising secret money and spending it in our elections.

SYLVESTER: We contacted the groups. They all say they follow the law. Priorities USA saying, quote, "Our organization operates in compliance with all federal rules and regulations enforced by the IRS." A spokesman for Crossroads GPS dismissing Democracy 21's complaint saying, "It wants the IRS to overturn 200 years of worth of campaign finance laws and precedence, and no one is listening."

But Fred Wertheimer with Democracy 21 says political nonprofits are a slippery slope.

WERTHEIMER: We're having secret money, unlimited money, being raised and spent in federal elections. Secret money, unlimited money is the most dangerous kind of money in our politics. It has led to corruption and scandals before and it will do so again.


SYLVESTER: These nonprofit groups can be very influential. Crossroads GPS, the Karl Rove group, it announced that it was spending $500,000 in ads in Senator Ben Nelson's home state to convince him not to run for re-election. And we don't know if there's a cause and effect here, but today Nelson announced his retirement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Maybe. All right. Good report. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Mass chaos erupting at the Mall of America sending scores of after- Christmas shoppers running for cover. Just ahead, what police say triggered a series of spontaneous brawls all over the building.


BLITZER: Lisa's back. She's got some new information on that devastating Christmas house fire that killed three children, their two grandparents.

Lisa, what are we -- what are we learning?

SYLVESTER: Yes, a really tragic story, Wolf. Well, just a short while ago we learned officials now say smoldering embers removed from a fireplace in the million-dollar home may be caused that blaze. Meanwhile CNN has obtained desperate 911 calls from neighbors reporting the fire when it broke out. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: What's at dress of the emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I just got cut off. I was calling about a major, major fire with people in the house.

UNIDENTIFIED 911 OPERATOR: Yes, we have the fire department on the way, ma'am.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Please, come quickly.


SYLVESTER: All that's left of the charred structure now is the mailbox. The rest of it was torn down yesterday after the city declared it unsaved.

And police are made at least nine arrests following the mass chaos that erupted at Minnesota's Mall of America. Yesterday's brawls reportedly broke out in different parts of the building all around the same time. Some witnesses speculated the incidents may have been triggered by rumors two famous rap stars were visiting the mall. No serious injuries are reported.

And it was a history-making moment for New Orleans Saint quarterback Drew Brees who became the NFL's newest single-season passing leader at last night's game against the Atlanta Falcons. It's a title that's been held by football legend Dan Marino since 1984. The New Orleans Superdome exploded in spontaneous celebration the moment that play was made.

Look at them celebrating there and the Saints went on to beat the Falcons 45-16. So congratulations to Drew Brees -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Drew Brees, a great quarterback indeed. Congratulations to him and the Saints.

They are the videos that apparently you watched the most this year. Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The thing about YouTube videos is that some you get. And some seem like give gibberish. For instance, in this year's top 10 most viewed videos --

(On camera): The number five spot went to a very annoying cat. The number 10 spot went to a very adorable cat.

((Voice-over): A mother cat hugging its kitten while the two of them take a catnap. Number nine video was Volkswagen's Super Bowl commercial called "The Force." Number eight was cute 11-year-old Canadian singing Lady Gaga's hit. Lady Gaga was so impressed she invited Maria Aragon to sing a duet in concert.

Number seven was a dance comedy video. YouTube is the place if you want people to -- at least 56 million people looked at the twin talking babies who seem to understand each other perfectly. Adults enjoyed adding subtitles and nominating them for best foreign language film.

Comedy music videos were popular. And we might as well acknowledge the number one video that got over 180 million views.

(On camera): OK, that's enough acknowledgement. But it's the video that came in at number two that's number one in my heart. Since it's my story, that's the one we're going to concentrate on.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know what the meat drawer is, right?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. What was in there?

MOOS (voice-over): There is just something riveting about the talking dog being teased.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know that bacon that's like maple? It's got maple flavor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The maple kind, yes.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took that out and I thought.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know who would like that. Me. So I ate it. Looks like he's getting his hopes up and then they're dashed, and then he gets his hopes up again and then they're dashed again.

MOOS: Former ad agency guy, Canadian, Andrew Grantham, now makes a living creating and voicing talking animals. People submit thousands of videos, and he adds the dialogue.

Andrew wouldn't say how much his advertising partnership with YouTube pays. But Clark the dog now has a Facebook fan page with a joke bacon tree and a bacon T-shirt. And if you're wondering --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're kidding me.

MOOS: -- what he really said in dog speak.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Tomorrow I'll speak with Mitt Romney, his wife Ann, their son Josh. A rare chance to meet the family. Tomorrow, here in THE SITUATION ROOM, 4 P.M. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.