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JOHN KING, USA
Mitt Romney Surging; Interview With Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour; Interview With Texas Congressman Ron Paul
Aired January 27, 2012 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone.
Tonight, Newt Gingrich tries to stop Mitt Romney's Florida momentum a scathing new TV ad. But it backfires. 2008 contender Mike Huckabee complains his past Romney criticism is being used out of context.
A new report says Ron Paul personally signed off on racist newsletters back in the 1990s. Congressman Paul gets testy in responding to us.
And here exclusively tonight, the former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, new questions about his controversial final-hours pardon and we will get Governor Barbour's take on the contentious GOP presidential race.
It's been a long hard week for all of the candidates in Florida, perhaps especially Newt Gingrich. His showing in last night's debate was mostly panned. Gingrich now trying everything he can to slow Mitt Romney's Florida momentum.
But just four days from that state's big primary, the former speaker appears low on energy, some say running out of gas. Today, even his attacks on Romney seemed to lack their usual zing. This is about an hour ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The longer we campaign, the clearer we are about Governor Romney's record in Massachusetts, the more people realize the degree to which he governed essentially as by what Republicans would consider a liberal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Also today the Gingrich campaign launched a scathing new attack ad aimed at Romney, but it only created some new troubles.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: If a man is dishonest to obtain a job, he will be dishonest on the job.
NARRATOR: What kind of man would mislead, distort, and deceive just to win an election? This man would, Mitt Romney. (END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: That clip at the top there was Governor Mike Huckabee from 2008. This afternoon, Huckabee said its use was taken out of context and -- quote -- "not authorized, approved or known in advance by me."
CNN senior correspondent Joe Johns is in Miami.
And, Joe, you have been with Speaker Gingrich all day. It appears his energy is down. The wear and tear of the campaign beginning to show here?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: I think so, John. He looked a little tired today. Of course, everybody on the campaign did, everybody associated with the campaign on that schlep down from Jacksonville after the debate here to the South Florida area.
And not only that, he's up against organizational issues here. Romney's been organizing in Florida, especially South Florida for years, quite frankly. He's up against a money deficit, he's up against an ad war that is far superior being waged on the Romney side. And generally it's just a tough row to hoe here for Newt Gingrich, even if he hadn't lost his debate mojo, if you will, a lot of challenges for Newt Gingrich. He's going to try to pick up the pace with his travel schedule over the weekend, John.
KING: And, Joe, as you know, the knock sometimes on Speaker Gingrich is that he runs his own campaign. He's the top strategist. He's the scheduler and so forth. He had two very energetic, passionate debates in South Carolina. How do they explain two definitely flatter and less combative performances that may have hurt him in Florida?
JOHNS: I have asked the campaign that. And they don't have much of an answer for it.
In fact, the answer I got from them was that in their view Romney was untruthful on several occasions during this debate, and Newt Gingrich felt as though if he addressed some of these things, he would have appeared as if he had been nitpicking during the debate. They did put out an ad to try to address some of the things they think were untruthful.
But it's quite clear that yesterday during the day Newt Gingrich was very energetic, very much on the attack, and then when he hit the debate, he seemed just a little bit flat, John.
KING: Joe Johns tracking the Gingrich campaign tonight live for us in Florida, Joe, thank you.
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul has repeatedly denied any personal role in writing racist newsletters that were published under his name back in the 1990s. Today, however, "The Washington Post" quotes several former Paul associates who say he was aware, that he did sign off.
I asked Congressman Paul about this today while he was campaigning in Maine.
KING: "The Washington Post" reports today -- they quote your former secretary about these newsletters that went out under your name back in the 1990s, some of them with racially tinged, some say outright racist comments in them.
This is your former secretary Renae Hathway. She says: "It was his newsletter and it was under his name, so he always got to see the final product. He would proof it."
You have said in the past, sir, that you didn't always see what was in that newsletter. What's the truth?
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: She's made that story up. She also said that I was in and out of the office every single day. The office wasn't even in the town that I live. So that's a completely false reporting. And they should have verified that, because I think somebody from my staff answered it, but didn't get that information in. No, that's completely false.
KING: Completely false. I just want to follow up on this point.
She says that you would review every newsletter. Others in there -- there are some other people in the article saying you were busy, not to do that, but some others saying they recall you sitting at your desk and proofing them. And one even said you met with Ed Crane, the head of the Cato Institute. At one point, you acknowledged that the more out-there some of these statements would be, the more likely you would be to get subscribers.
PAUL: Well, I don't know what he's talking about.
PAUL: I don't recall that conversation.
I just think that you're talking about something I didn't write 20 years ago or so. And I don't how long you want to beat a dead horse. You always get the same answers from me. I didn't review them. I didn't endorse them. And I have condemned them.
And if you want me to talk about race -- and that's what you're trying to imply from these questions, some type of a negative attitude about me -- if you want me to talk about race, go look at my record and look at my answer to Stephanopoulos in the debates and you might get something worth reporting, rather than trying to demagogue this issue.
KING: Much more of that conversation with Congressman Paul later, including where he currently sees his campaign matching up in this tight GOP contest. Tonight, though, a new poll dramatically shows how quickly Speaker Gingrich is losing momentum in Florida. The Quinnipiac survey from Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of this week shows Governor Romney leading Gingrich 38 to 29 percent. That's among likely Florida Republican primary voters.
Just on Sunday and Monday Gingrich had a 40 percent to 34 percent lead over Governor Romney.
Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is here.
That's a quick turnaround. It takes something to change a campaign that fast. What was it?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it could be a few things.
First of all, you had the stories about Marianne Gingrich. That came out. And it didn't affect South Carolina but it now could be sinking in, in Florida. Because what this poll also shows is that Mitt Romney's winning back men, but he's also really winning women, 40 to 30. So that's very big.
Also, Romney's favorabilities have gone up. And that's kind of interesting to me. Maybe people are getting more comfortable with him as he feels a little bit more comfortable with himself. His favorability is up to 61 percent. Gingrich's is only at 50 percent. And Rick Santorum,, who had a very good debate, is at 53 percent.
KING: Rick Santorum not only had a good debate today. Today, he picked up an endorsement from Latino builders in the Miami area. Romney, Gingrich and Santorum all spoke to that group today. Ron Paul is in Maine.
KING: He hasn't spent a dime on TV in Florida. The question is can he be a strong enough showing for people to say, OK, he's viable heading on?
BORGER: Well, what he wants to be when you talk to his campaign is he wants to be the conservative alternative to Newt Gingrich. We saw that in the debate where he sort of said, OK, you guys, stop arguing about the stupid things. Let's stipulate a bunch of stuff about your taxes and let's get on to the issues.
He also attacked both of them on the issue of health care, which as you know health care mandates a key issue with Tea Party voters. So he would like to be seen as the alternative to Newt Gingrich. But he doesn't have the money. He's not spending money in the state. He does have a super PAC sugar daddy, which could help him heading on to other states. But it seems unlikely that he's going to catch fire.
KING: He needs somebody to stumble to give him a break.
Gloria Borger -- Gloria will be back with us a little bit when we map out the road ahead in the Republican campaign.
It's been more than three weeks now since the former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour issues pardons for more than 200 inmates. A number left prison before a state judge ordered no further releases until a court hearing, that hearing scheduled now for next week.
Before the furor died down, authorities revealed they can't find some of the freed inmates, including a convicted murderer. And now they can't find the paperwork on some of the pardons either, they say. Here's Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: We have a list of about 20 files that are missing, the vast majority of which are murder, manslaughter, several murders. And we have made a request of the governor's office and received correspondence indicating that they do not have these files.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You will hear from the former Governor Haley Barbour. He's here in just a few minutes.
But CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Hernando, Mississippi, tonight.
And, Ed, just heard the attorney general, Mr. Hood, there saying they're missing records. What's the significance?
ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's a couple of different things going on here, John. One of them -- and what the A.G. here in Mississippi is trying to convince a judge of is that these pardons didn't follow the constitution of this state, and that is that these pardons needed to have been announced in various newspapers or wherever for 30 days leading up to the pardons.
The A.G. says that did not happen in the vast majority of these cases. Perhaps there is some information in the paperwork that would help bolster the A.G.'s case. The other thing too here and is what many victims' families want to know is to get a better understanding of what Governor Haley Barbour was thinking.
Were some of these people turned down for parole? Was he advised against releasing some of these people? Some of that background information that many people feel they want to see to help them understand the decision process in releasing many of these people, four of which included murderers that worked as trustees on the governor's mansion's grounds.
KING: Ed, the state has located three of the four pardoned murderers. What's the latest on the search for the fourth, Joseph Ozment?
LAVANDERA: Well, that's what brings us here to the town of Hernando, Mississippi, which is in the northwest corner of the state just south of Memphis along the state line with Tennessee. It's believed that Mr. Ozment still has several family members in this area. The attorney general's office here in Mississippi says that they have made contact over the last few weeks with several family members of Joseph Ozment, but they haven't had any luck getting them to cooperate in having them point them toward where Mr. Ozment might be at this point.
That's why we're up here and that's where this search has really intensified and has been focused on for the several last few days.
KING: Ed Lavandera live for us in Mississippi -- Ed, thank you.
The former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour joins us next to talk about the firestorm he started by all these pardons and whether he's having second thoughts. And we will also get the governor's thoughts on a very contentious 2012 Republican presidential race.
KING: Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour stirred up a firestorm by issuing some 200 pardons just before he left office. He's pushed back against critics, saying he's comfortable with the decisions and he sees politics at play here.
The former governor is with us now.
In the previous segment, the attorney general said there are files missing. And he says the files were sent to your office when you were going through the decisions and now they're missing.
HALEY BARBOUR (R), FORMER MISSISSIPPI GOVERNOR: What the attorney general won't admit and we have told him repeatedly, there are no files for the mansion inmates. There's no reason for them to have a file. They don't apply.
They lived in the mansion. That's been the -- or on the mansion grounds. For decades, our governor's mansion has been served primarily by inmates from the state penal system, almost all murderers, because the experts say people who committed one crime of passion in their life, after they have served 20 years -- and these have served on average 20 years -- are the least likely to ever commit another crime.
That's why they have always been the people who served. I have pardoned 15 or so over eight years. Every one of them was a murderer, except one. And we have sent seven back and they didn't get pardons because they didn't play by the rules, they didn't do what they were supposed to.
But there is no file for them because their file is working around the governor, around the security at the mansion. Let's just make this plain for the attorney general. They are classified as minimum security prisoners. They can't come to the mansion until they have been minimum security prisoners for years.
So the idea that these are people out who the public ought to be afraid of -- and, John, you said that we pardoned 200-something inmates. Well, 189 of them were people who were out of jail. Most of them had been released years and years ago. Some of them have been out since the '70s.
So, 10 people were pardoned and released. We have 21,342 inmates in Mississippi. Pardoned and released, less than one out of every 2,000. So I don't get what the big issue is about.
KING: Of the four murderers who were pardoned, one of them has not identified himself to the state. As you know, you disagree with this, but they're going through this process. They want to see if they can somehow reverse this, even though you think you had the authority as governor. You disagree with the Democratic attorney general.
And I get that. But Mr. Ozment has not identified himself and said here I am, I will check in for the hearings.
Does that give you any pause?
BARBOUR: No, it does not at all. He has no obligation to do anything. He has been pardoned. He's a free man.
These others, the attorney general sent somebody out and served them with process in a civil hearing. And let's make that plain. This is not a criminal case. This is a civil case saying the Department of Corrections shouldn't have released these people because -- or shouldn't be able to release future ones because of the pardon not being -- the applications not being published in advance.
The Department of Corrections took responsibility for that publication. And you know who did it? The special assistant attorney general who reports to Jim Hood wrote my office -- and it's been published in the paper -- "We will take care of the publication."
So Jim Hood's guy failed to do the publication on time, which by the way doesn't matter under our constitution. And now Jim Hood is suing to take these people's liberty away because his guy didn't do what he said he was going to do.
KING: Now, you in the case of Mr. Hood think this is all politics. He's the senior Democrat in the state of Mississippi. You think he's got future ambitions.
I want to give you a chance, then, because as this has played out -- and maybe he's stoking it, in your view now -- but some of the victims' families say they wish they had some time with you. I want you to listen to some of them right here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIFFANY ELLIS BREWER, VICTIM'S SISTER: He's in jail for 18 years. She was 20 years old when she died and had her child laying in her arms when he shot her in her head. And he's pardoned?
BETTY ELLIS, VICTIM'S MOTHER: Is Governor Barbour going to pardon us for our aches and pains and heartache that we have to suffer? Is he going to pardon a child that had to grow up without a mother?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What do you say to those people who have come forward? They disagree with your decision.
BARBOUR: Well, that particular family actually came and met with my lawyers two years ago, because they understood that if any of these men, including that one, successfully served at the mansion, they had been serving almost 20 years -- on average, they have served 20 years -- and that if they successfully completed, they would be pardoned.
I pardoned all of them at the end of my first term. It's very unpopular to pardon people. I was roundly criticized for that. But the power of pardon in the state is to give people a second chance who have repented, been rehabilitated, and redeemed themselves.
In Mississippi's corrections system, only 28 percent come back. Our recidivism rate is 28 percent. Nationally, it's 54 percent. I am comfortable every one of these who were mansion inmates are rehabilitated and have redeemed themselves, and they deserve a second chance.
And that's what we as Christians believe. My wife and I are Christians. Our state constitution is based on the Christian idea. And for some people, it's hard to forgive. And I don't blame them. I understand them. I'm not mad at them. I respect the fact that, if you lost a loved one or a friend, that it's very hard to forgive.
But the state doesn't take that position. We spend $350 million a year, John, on rehabilitation. And we don't rehabilitate everybody. I wish we did. But when we have people who get rehabilitated, and after 20 years of service, and they deserve a second chance, it's the governor's job -- and the governor's job alone -- to let them have a second chance.
That's why I'm very comfortable with this, comfortable we're going to win on the law. But I'm comfortable that these people are no more a threat -- and certainly the 189 that have been out of jail are no more a threat the week after I pardoned them than the week before I pardoned them.
KING: Want to turn to presidential politics.
You and I got to know each other when you were the chairman of the Republican National Committee back in the mid-1990s, when the Republicans took the House. You were chairman at that cycle. Speaker Gingrich talks about his role in that.
You see leaders now who were leaders back then, Bob Dole, for example, issuing a statement, a lot of the establishment saying if Newt is the nominee of the Republican Party, John Boehner will lose the speakership, we will be devastated in the House races. We won't get the Senate back. When you look at Speaker Gingrich, do you see that risk?
BARBOUR: Well, look, every one of these guys has got strengths. Newt is doing really well because the debate format suits him. He's a historian, he's a professor. He is really, really bright.
KING: Do you worry about him at the top of the ticket? Is he a drag?
BARBOUR: Right now, both of our principal candidates, but also Rick Santorum, who I believe is still in it, and also Ron Paul, they all have got to improve their game.
The thing I don't like about what's going on, I hope it doesn't become so personal that they can't support each other.
KING: It might be too late for that.
BARBOUR: Well, I don't think so, but that's a problem.
But the biggest thing is, we need to be talking about Obama's terrible record, his policies and the failures of those policies. They just today announced GDP went up 2.7, 2.8 percent in the fourth quarter. It went up 1.7 percent of all of last year. That is so anemic that the Federal Reserve Board said this week, we don't think the recession or the anemic economy is going to end until 2014.
Now, that speaks volumes about the real shape of the economy. I came out of the Reagan White House. In November and December 1983, we created 759,000 new jobs in America. November and December of last year President Obama's been pounding on his chest about, we created 300,000 new jobs, less than half. We have still got a long way to go. And that's what this election will be about for most Americans.
KING: Once you get a nominee, perhaps. At the moment, they're going back and forth.
One of the things they're going back and forth about -- and I agree with you this might be a little silly, given the consequential issues facing the country -- is who's the legitimate heir to Ronald Reagan. You just mentioned you cut your teeth as a young politico in the Reagan White House. Newt Gingrich likes to say that he's that person.
What did Ronald Reagan think of Newt Gingrich?
BARBOUR: As far as I know, it was a friendly relationship. But I have nothing to the contrary to that.
I think Mitt Romney has a lot of things about President Reagan. I mean, Mitt Romney's a guy who goes out and says, we can't have an entitlement society. That takes courage. Ronald Reagan had that kind of courage. That's why we did Social Security reform under Ronald Reagan, by the way, with a Democrat House.
And here is Barack Obama, because he's got a Republican House, acts like he can't get anything done. He won't lead. Thank goodness Ronald Reagan never felt that way. And thank goodness Bill Clinton never felt that way. Just because the other party's got one or both houses, the president doesn't just then get to complain all the time.
Presidents need to lead. That's what this election needs to be about, the kind of leadership we have had for the last three years.
KING: Governor Barbour appreciate your coming in today.
I'm losing my papers right there. That was a good catch, though, not so bad.
Good to see you.
And next: Relatives of a massacred family go to court where a judge sentences one of the killers to die.
Then, later, the head of one of Wall Street's biggest banks says the Occupy protesters have a point.
KING: Welcome back.
KING: Coming up: Congressman Ron Paul discusses his plans for the rest of the presidential campaign.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PAUL: We have a long way to go. And we're going to accumulate as many delegates as we can get.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're also fact-checking some of those candidates' claims from last night's big CNN debate.
KING: Welcome back. In this half hour, did Mitt Romney only vote Democratic when there was no Republican alternative on the ballot? Well, we'll fact check that and other claims from last night's CNN debate.
Also, Congressman Ron Paul talks about his chances of winning the Republican nomination.
Plus, get this: a Lego man's trip to the edge of space. Of course, complete with a camera.
A short time ago I had a conversation with the Texas congressman Ron Paul. He is not in Florida, like the rest of the Republican candidates for president. So what is his strategy for trying to win the nomination? (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
KING: Congressman Paul joins us from Lewiston, Maine, today. Congressman, thanks for your time.
I want to start with some policy questions. You have been very firm in all the Republican debates saying we need to cut spending. You say cut 1 trillion in your first year. I want you to listen to President Obama today on the road promoting his plan to help make college more affordable.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we'll help you do it. We will give you additional federal support if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren't loaded up with debt when you graduate from college.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You heard the president there, sir, saying additional federal support. If it was a Paul presidency, would the federal government get out of the student loan and the student aid business?
REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, we have a problem with debt. So how do you solve the problem of debt by accumulating more debt? So he's just talking about who gets the debt. And he says the federal government does it. That just puts the debt on somebody else. Maybe another young person will get it, somebody that didn't get to go to college. So that's just a gimmick.
But they don't address the subject which I have in the debates so often, is why is the cost of education so high? And it's high because there's inflation. You pump money into something, you push prices up just as we did with the houses. So it's a failed policy.
When I went to college it was much cheaper, and you had jobs, and we could work our way through. So this is all a result of too much government interference in trying to give everybody something for free. It just doesn't work.
KING: Another big issue on the table right now is the Pentagon is working on a plan. Defense Secretary Panetta says he's supported to slash about 100,000 troops from the active U.S. military. A lot of conservatives say whoa; that's too many. How about you, sir? Is that a good number?
PAUL: Well, you have to look at that. I don't know where he's going to cut. But no, I think that's a good idea.
But even -- even Rumsfeld used to talk about that. Remember when he was talking about a smaller and elite army? But what you have to have is a small and elite foreign policy. If you're still going to maintain all these bases and pretend you can do all these things and cut out the troops, I think there's a conflict there. And that's why Rumsfeld never got very far and Panetta won't get very far, either.
You have to downsize the appetite for running the world and policing the world and doing all this nation building. So it's inconsistent. I don't think he can do it.
KING: You're in Maine today. Most of your rivals are in Miami or elsewhere in Florida. You just told the audience in Maine you're there because of the delegates. You're in for the long haul.
Help me answer this one, sir. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being yes, 1 being probably not, where do you view the likelihood of Ron Paul winning the Republican presidential nomination?
PAUL: Probably about equal to the other candidates in the race. I mean, there were nine of us, remember? So, no, I mean, it's going to be difficult. But to say that I have it sewed up, no. We have a long way to go, and we're going to accumulate as many delegates as we can get and see what comes out of it.
KING: The former G.E. CEO, Jack Welch, was on one of our morning programs this morning, and he doesn't think you'll win the nomination. But he also says the Republican Party better be careful. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JACK WELCH, FORMER G.E. CEO: Ron Paul is going to exit left on this stage sometime down the road before August or in August. And the GOP doesn't want to lose those wonderful voters that he's brought on board. So how well they treat Ron Paul going forward is a very big deal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do you feel the party's treating you well, sir?
PAUL: I think they're making an attempt to do so. And I think he has something going there.
But the part of that interview you should have reported on was his wife saying that their four boys all supported me. So that was the magnificent part of that interview. And maybe tonight he's going to have to discuss it with his sons why he wants me to get out of the race.
KING: That's an excellent point. A good sense of humor there. You had a great sense of humor at the debate last night, including when Wolf Blitzer asked you about the prospect of your medical records. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: If you were elected, are you prepared to release your medical records so voters out there know what your health is?
PAUL: Oh, obviously. Because it's about one page if even that long. But I'm willing to -- I'm willing to challenge any of these gentlemen up here to a 25-mile bike ride any time of the day in the heat of Texas.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: A couple of questions there. Do you ride 25 miles in the heat of Texas? And you know, I think I'd pay money to come see that event if you could get the others to show up, sir.
PAUL: Well, I can. I don't have the time. I usually satisfy myself with about 12 to 15. I mean, when I'm not engaged in strict campaigning I'll walk for an hour in the morning. Then I ride my bike in the evening, and I love it and I enjoy it. But an hour or so, you know, in the morning or in the evening, I mean, there's a limit to how much time I can give to it. But no, I can do the -- I can do the 25 miles.
But you know, I've been thinking about bringing up my medical records. And now, I don't know where to go. I don't know who has my medical records. They're all in my head. I don't have -- I can't go to a physician and say, "Hey, print out my medical records." Because you know we have a lot of physicians in the family. And I have -- I don't take any medications. And so therefore, I don't have a medical record.
So I was really -- my reflective attitude was, I don't even know if it would fill a page. I guess I could put down a page. You know, I had a surgery here, too, to fix some knees. But other than that I don't have any medical problems.
KING: Congressman Paul there a bit earlier today from Lewiston, Maine. He's a funny man.
A lot of claims and allegations thrown around by the candidates in last night's debate. How much truth do they contain?
With us tonight Bill Adair. He's the editor of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Web site PolitiFact. Also Washington bureau chief for "The Tampa Bay Times."
Let's start with something that Governor Romney said that has now become a source of contention because Speaker Gingrich doesn't think it's true. It's Governor Romney here. He's a Republican now. Has he ever voted for Democrats? Or has he ever voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I've never voted for a Democrat when there was a Republican on the ballot. And in my state of Massachusetts, you could register as an independent and go vote in -- either primary happens to be very interesting. And any chance I got to vote against Bill Clinton or Ted Kennedy, I took.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Put that one to the truth test.
BILL ADAIR, EDITOR, POLITIFACT: We gave that a half true on our truth-a-meter. And it was a really tough call. We had a kind of pretty passionate discussion about it. We ended up giving it a half true because it depends on how you look at it.
As he said he voted as an independent, could vote in a Democratic primary. And he has said he voted for Paul Tsongas in 1992 when there were no other Republicans on that particular primary ballot.
However, he could have voted as a Republican. He could have chosen to vote in the Republican primary. So half true on the truth- a-meter for that one.
KING: Half true, half true. So he does the Tsongas. Maybe he didn't want to be a Pat Buchanan guy or a George H.W. Bush guy. We'll figure that one out.
All right. Newt Gingrich says during his time as speaker he worked closely with President Clinton. He takes some credit for the balanced budget.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When we balanced the budget with the 1997 Balanced Budget Act and ultimately had four consecutive balanced budgets.
We doubled the size of the National Institutes of Health because we set priorities. It is possible to do the right things in the right order to make this a bigger, richer, more exciting country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: True statement?
ADAIR: Mostly true. And this is an interesting one, because he has been saying this wrong repeatedly. He has repeatedly been saying, "When I was speaker I had four balanced budgets." He didn't. Two of those budgets occurred after he left office.
And what happened is -- and it seems to be actually after you asked him about this -- he has now -- he's now getting it pretty much right.
The way he said it, the Balanced Budget Act in 1997 and then four consecutive balanced budgets, is accurate. It's just that two of those occurred when he was not speaker.
The wrinkle for us, and the reason we rated it mostly true, is his statement kind of attributes the whole thing to the Balanced Budget Act when there were many other factors. Mostly, the big booming economy of the late 1990s. So mostly true on that one.
KING: Wouldn't the current president love that big booming economy of late 1990s?
All right. One of the testier moments last night, and one of the only defensive moments for the former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney came when Rick Santorum was pressing his case against the Massachusetts health care plan.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What Governor Romney just said is that government-run top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it. Now, think about what that means.
ROMNEY: That's not what I said.
SANTORUM: Going up against Barack Obama, who you're going claim, well, top-down government-run medicine at the federal level doesn't work, and we should repeal it. He's going to say, "Wait a minute, Governor. You just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: OK. Pretty hard to miss. Senator Santorum trying to make the point about government-run top-down medicine. He made it pretty repeatedly there. Can he?
ADAIR: We call that mostly false. And the reason is, and this is a claim that's been made repeatedly about the Massachusetts health care plan, at one point Michele Bachmann called it socialized medicine. Is it government-run? No. What it is, is a system that requires people to get private insurance, allows them to keep getting treated by private doctors overwhelmingly. And so it's not accurate to call it government-run.
The one part of truth to it is that you could say it's top-down in the sense that there is an individual mandate and a requirement for businesses to provide health insurance. So that's the only part of this that's true. So mostly false on the truth-a-meter for that one.
KING: Bill Adair, excellent work, as always. Truth, justice and facts in debates, right? That's what we want?
ADAIR: You bet.
KING: It will happen someday. Bill, thanks so much.
Sarah Palin is now going after the Republican Party establishment and defending Newt Gingrich. In a Facebook page posting titled "Cannibals of the GOP Establishment," the former Alaska government writes this, quote, "We need a fair primary that is not prematurely cut short by the GOP establishment using Alinsky tactics to kneecap Governor Romney's chief rival. This primary should not be rushed to an end. We need to vet this." Never subtle.
Next, the truth about what Mitt Romney says he doesn't know.
Plus, a new study says girls need to put down all their social media gadgets and try interacting with real people.
KING: About last night. Mitt Romney was, by most accounts, judged a winner, if not the winner, of our CNN Florida presidential debate. He entered with a lead in momentum. And tonight he maintains that lead, and his camp believes, anyway, a decent wind at his back.
But here's tonight's "Truth": Governor Romney wiggled out of a few questions with the "I don't know" excuse. May have worked last night, but he should know better and know more heading into later debates. Here's one example.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You've had an ad running saying that Speaker Gingrich calls Spanish, quote, "the language of the ghetto." What do you mean by that?
ROMNEY: I haven't seen the ad. So I'm sorry. I don't get to see all the TV ads.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now, after the debate, Romney's spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom, told reporters the candidate does review every campaign ad but can't be expected to recall every one. That's not unreasonable. But maybe future prep sessions might include a run toward the ads actually on the air the week or the day of the debate.
When Governor Romney used the "I don't know" answer another time, Speaker Gingrich took issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GINGRICH: Well, you'll notice that the governor wasn't aware of the ad he was running. He's not aware of the investments that were being made in his name.
ROMNEY: Of course I can't. That's a blind trust.
GINGRICH: Comparing my investments with his is like comparing a tiny mouse with a giant elephant.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Truth is this one is a bit more problematic for Governor Romney than forgetting an ad script. For starters, not all of Romney's investments in Fannie and Freddie Mac were in his blind trust. His disclosure form notes some of them were mutual funds that are not in his personal blind trust. Today Governor Romney's financial trustees said the mutual funds issued, though, are part of a separate trust Romney uses for charitable contributions. And the trustee says Governor Romney has no role in those investment decisions.
OK. So maybe he didn't know. But if he followed his own advice, he might have avoided the question. Here's what Romney said back in 1994 when he raised Senator Edward Kennedy's blind trust as a campaign issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: The blind trust is an age-old ruse, if you will, which is to say, you can always tell the blind trust what it can and cannot do. You give a blind trust rules.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Now let's be clear. There's nothing to suggest Governor Romney's answers were anything but the truth. But truth is, when you're on the record about giving a blind trust rules, you can't complain if someone else raises a politically controversial investment.
Let's begin there with our political pros tonight. Senior Romney adviser Kevin Madden and GOP strategist and one-time Newt Gingrich top aide, Rich Galen.
To those points there, if you're -- he knows he's on the record saying this about Ted Kennedy. Shouldn't he be just maybe a little bit more briefed on this and be a little more transparent? Or should he maybe have issued rules saying, "Let's get out of Fannie and Freddie?"
KEVIN MADDEN, ROMNEY ADVISER: Well, look, I mean, first of all the fact remains that the governor when he sat down and discussed how he was going to -- where he was going to place his finances when he decided to run for governor, I think going through that course of consideration with whether it was lawyers or other financial advisers, particularly also as well as ethics advisers about the best way to do that, they probably suggested to him and I suspect they suggested to him the best way to do that was a blind trust.
Now, that goes counter to some of the arguments that he made in 1994. But the fact remains that that decision was made and he has to live it.
I think what's more important is the level of transparency that the governor encourages and admits to now. I think that's what the American people are looking for. And they're more inclined to worry about the bigger issues at hand.
We saw a lot about this last night in the debate. We're talking about ads. We're talking about financial disclosures. We're talking about who owns what stock where. That's probably not as important to the American people. I know it's a part of that particular debate, but I think the governor has, you know, worked past those distractions and now is very focused on the issues. And I think that's one of the reasons that -- I think that's what voters care about.
KING: Well, how do you advise a candidate? Let's say Governor Romney, a candidate, says, "I'm going to put all this in a blind trust. My trustee's going to handle it. I'm not going to be involved so I don't have conflicts of interest."
And then a political conflict comes up on a pretty commonly-held stock: Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, especially with housing, the bonds, the mutual funds. You then, if you know you have a blind trust, even he says you can set rules. In the middle of it...
RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: But that means in advance. You have to say, "OK, now, here's a list of all of the entities on the planet, and these are the ones you're not allowed to invest in." That's kind of a hard call to say, "Oh. and let's don't forget Freddie and Fannie."
The bigger thing here, I think, is that you run for something in 1994, and then 112 years later, somebody comes up with this eight millimeter film of you.
KING: That's not HDTV back in those days, but you know, if you say something in a campaign once, fair? Fair? Especially today.
GALEN: It's hard for me to believe that anybody will, that anybody will change their vote because of -- because of the Fannie and Freddie thing.
I think what people will change their votes on is how the candidates connected themselves on the stage, in the debate, in the heat of battle. And I thought last night, as opposed to last week, when Gingrich just wiped up the floor with everybody, I thought last night Governor Romney did a pretty good job.
KING: He was more assertive, Kevin. He was also much less defensive about talking about those issues, about his finances, about that. And you know him well. You talk to people. They say he's just a private person. He doesn't like to talk about this stuff. But clearly the staff -- or he's nudged himself into saying, "I get it. It's a question. I need to open up more." Fair?
MADDEN: I think that is fair. I think what we also have is about a week and a half's worth of experience, a week and a half of mistakes. You know, it's much easier to make right decisions when you've made a few wrong decisions. That's really evident in politics.
So, I think that is, but to your first point, too, I think it is something that it's not really polite conversation when he believes it needs to come up. I think there is a recognition now that this is something that the media's going to focus on. Our opponents are very focused on it. The -- I think the answers are much more crystallized and direct and firm this time.
KING: So, you know Newt. What happened? What happened? You mentioned the passionate debate performance in South Carolina. He come out, and he's in front, because if you look at the Quinnipiac numbers right here, right now, you've got Romney ahead 38-29. Sunday, Monday, fresh from South Carolina, Gingrich is ahead 40-34. So a wave has hit Florida, and it's a Romney wave. What happened?
GALEN: Well, two things. I think first of all, the -- clearly, the wave of the first nights and those early polls were a reflection of what happened in South Carolina, and now that the seas are no longer roiled and they're flatting out a little bit.
But I also felt very strongly -- I wrote this for "The Daily Beast" -- I think Newt's tired. I think he's trying to run every bit of it by himself. He's 68 years old. That...
KING: He looked and sounded tired, too. This is the point in the campaign where everybody's tested. Everybody from the lowly intern to the candidate, because you've done Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina. Bow you're into Florida and you're looking at -- you're looking at February and March, and you're starting to wobble a little bit.
GALEN: And this -- January's the slowest month. There's only four. You get into February there's 6 or 7. March, there's like 20 and this things just start cascading.
MADDEN: And real quickly, too, I am very shocked by the fluidity of this race. We are seeing 15, 20-point swings in voter opinions right now. I think what happened was that Newt Gingrich came out of South Carolina with a very positive information flow, but once Florida voters started to check in and started to learn a lot of negative information -- they have seen a very angry Newt. They have seen a very erratic Newt the last couple of days, and that's not sitting well with Florida voters.
KING: Kevin, Rich, have a great weekend.
KING: Florida on Tuesday, and then into February, March and beyond.
Plus, the North Korea government is warning -- get this -- anyone who uses a cell phone could be punished as a war criminal. We'll tell you why, next.
KING: Welcome back. Kate Bolduan's here with more news you need to know right now.
KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello again, John.
Hello again, everyone.
When North Korea declares a period of mourning, they mean it. The "Telegraph" newspaper reports the North Korean government is warning that anyone who uses a cell phone or tries to defect to China during the mourning period for the late Kim Jong-Il will be punished as a war criminal. Reuters estimates about a million North Koreans out of a total population of 49 million actually have cell phones.
Twitter is going to start deleting tweets on a case by case basis in countries that require it. For instance, it will delete pro-Nazi messages in Germany and France, which have laws against publishing that kind of content. The deleted tweets will remain visible outside the countries where they were -- where they are prohibited. Very, very interesting.
And Facebook could be preparing to file its initial IPO paperwork as early as next week. The deal is reported to be valued between 75 and $100 billion. "The Wall Street Journal" reports that if the IPO is worth $100 billion, it would make Facebook worth as much as McDonald's. That is really, really amazing.
And this might sound odd or not at all, depending on where you stand on this, but too much social media makes you antisocial, apparently. A Stanford University study of 8- to 12-year-old girls suggests young people need to put down the digital gadgets, get offline and turn off the TV and engage in -- amazing -- real conversation. The more actual face time, the better.
The reason: one of the researchers says face-to-face communication helps the person learn about emotions.
I think that's probably accurate, John.
KING: You watched the debate last night. Right? A lot of time talking about the space program. Well, look at this. A pair of Canadian teenagers, they saved up $400 for their own space mission. Let's show you right here. They strapped Lego man to a helium balloon and -- yes, they stuck it on a camera -- of course, they did -- and they let him go. There are some pictures. Not quite space. That's the edge of space, about 80 miles up.
BOLDUAN: Eighty miles up, which I'm told by -- I didn't come up with this, but our fabulous control room, that that's -- that is from New York to New Haven, that footage.
KING: That's a view that's down here on the earth, not up there.
All right. Everybody have a great weekend. That's all for us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.