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CNN LARRY KING LIVE

Autopsy Results Revealed on Natasha Richardson/Interview with Mitt Romney

Aired March 19, 2009 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, autopsy results are in and we now know what killed Natasha Richardson -- blunt trauma to the head. Her tragic death officially ruled an accident.

Plus, Mitt Romney -- the man who wanted to be president and thinks Obama has got the economy all wrong.

But how would Romney make it right?

And then, he's Barack, next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

The New York medical examiner's findings are in. Natasha Richardson's death was caused by blunt trauma to the head. The actress fell on a ski slope Monday, sustained an epidermal hematoma -- a blood clot that apparently formed and started growing when she sit her head -- when she hit her head, rather. Her death was ruled an accident.

With us tonight, Dr. Daniel Spitz, chief medical examiner, Macomb County, Michigan. Kevin Frazier, weekend anchor for "Entertainment Tonight." And Michael Riedel, who is the theater columnist for "The New York Post."

Kevin, are you surprised at the reaction to this?

KEVIN FRAZIER, WEEKEND ANCHOR, "ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT": Sure. Hollywood is shocked. And it seems to be a lot of disbelief. And there was an outpouring today and in the past few days of statements from big stars like Oprah, Meryl Streep, Jodie Foster, Lindsey Lohan.

But, also, you see that Hollywood is feeling kind of vulnerable right now, Larry. You know, we heard from Demi Moore today, when she released her statement on Twitter. And she said, of course, her thoughts and prayers are with the family, but it also reminds us of how precious life is.

And so people are shocked right now.

KING: And how quickly it can go.

FRAZIER: And how quickly it can go.

KING: They did a tribute on Broadway, did they not, Michael?

MICHAEL RIEDEL, THEATER COLUMNIST, "NEW YORK POST": Yes, they dimmed the lights for her tonight. That's what they do for all the great actors and writers and directors who work on Broadway. And if Hollywood is upset, I can tell you that Broadway is really shattered by this. Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson were beloved in this industry.

And remember, Natasha comes from a royal family of the theater, the Redgrave family. So she will be greatly, greatly missed here in New York.

KING: There you see the lights down on Broadway.

Any word about a memorial service in New York?

RIEDEL: It's my understanding that there will be a private funeral for her up in Millbrook, New York. Liam and Natasha had a beautiful farmhouse up there, where they spent a lot of time with their two -- with their two boys. And I know that house is very, very important to them in their lives.

In fact, I was talking to a number of people on Broadway today and many of them told me that every Christmas, that when they got their Christmas card from Liam and Natasha, the card was always a picture of their house that they loved so much up there in Millbrook.

KING: Any tribute planned in Hollywood, Kevin?

FRAZIER: Not yet. But we do know that so many people admired them in Hollywood, because they did such a great job of balancing their life in the limelight and also taking care of their boys, Michael, 13 and Daniel, 12.

And so people admired them for having that balance in their lives.

KING: All right, Dr. Spitz in Michigan, how were they able to do an autopsy and have the results so quickly?

DR. DANIEL SPITZ, CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER, MACOMB COUNTY, MICHIGAN: Well, you know, the autopsy will take, you know, a couple of hours. And at the time of the autopsy, you're going to actually see the epidural hemorrhage. And what an epidermal hemorrhage is is an accumulation of blood inside the skull, but outside of the brain. And that accumulation of blood is very easy to see when you do an autopsy.

KING: The puzzling aspect of this is they don't have to send out organs and stuff like sometimes on -- when we hear about autopsies, you wait two weeks, three weeks to find something.

SPITZ: Right. No. This is not about toxicology or special techniques or special studies. This is basically do the autopsy and examine the brain. And when you do that, you actually see the blood clot. You see the effect that that clot had on the brain and you know immediately that that's what caused this person's death.

KING: Was it -- was it caused by the fall? SPITZ: Well, it would have been -- certainly that when you have a fall and you have an impact to the side of the head, typically, the -- the temporal bone, which is on the side of the skull, is a very thin bone -- the thinnest bone of the skull. And that bone can fracture quite easily. And when you have a fracture, you can -- you can lacerate one of the -- one of the arteries that runs along the bone. And when you do that, that lacerated artery will allow the blood to accumulate in the epidural space. And that's why the classification as an epidural hematoma.

KING: So this could happen to someone crossing the street?

SPITZ: Well, you're going to have to have an impact to the head in order for this to occur. It's not always an impact to the head that you would notice as being -- as being very significant. And unfortunately, this is what happened here, is that an injury that didn't seem to be that -- that significant ended up being -- being life-threatening.

KING: Would a helmet have saved her?

SPITZ: Certainly, it would. Yes. A helmet in this situation would have limited the impact and certainly would have saved her life. Yes.

KING: Do you think, Kevin, we are now going to see a rush of people to say don't ski without helmets, don't drive a bike without helmets?

FRAZIER: Well, I think people are concerned right now because it's one of those things that seems almost like a freak accident. You know, both their boys loved their mother so much. And therein (INAUDIBLE) husband. By the way, Liam Neeson was working on the film "Chloe" in Toronto. And they have said that, you know what, they're going to move on and deal with other scenes. They're not even going to worry about his scenes, because the last thing they want to think about right now is this movie while he grieves with his family.

KING: Michael, do you think the public perception is going to change now about head injuries and people are going to panic?

RIEDEL: Well, you know, I think the doctor's advice is correct, you should wear a helmet when you do these sports that have a high risk of injury. I have to say, I've been a skier my whole life. I grew up skiing in the '70s and there were no helmets on the slope -- slopes back then. I ski just with a little knit cap on. But I'm seriously considering getting a helmet now.

KING: So and that, doctor, is a good idea, is it not?

SPITZ: I think so. I mean when I've been skiing this winter, you know, all the kids seemed to be wearing helmets. But you rarely see an adult with a helmet. But I think that they should be worn across the board.

KING: How about things like hockey, bike riding, any...

SPITZ: Absolutely. Absolutely.

KING: Anything where your head can get hurt?

SPITZ: Absolutely. I think there's -- there's certainly been an increase in the helmet use in all kinds of sports. But I still think there's room for improvement.

RIEDEL: You probably could be wearing helmets here in New York. Just crossing the street sometimes is a little deadly here.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Kevin, is -- what was her last film?

FRAZIER: She just -- she's in several films. But she had been working on Broadway. And I think that, you know, the main thing is that she wouldn't take a lot of roles to take away time from her kids. And she did a great job of balancing the two. And as -- as you just heard, she was beloved on Broadway because she was a great stage actress.

KING: Michael, did anyone ever tape "Cabaret?"

RIEDEL: Tape "Cabaret?"

KING: Yes, tape it like for HBO.

RIEDEL: No. On Broadway, at Lincoln Center, which has a library for the performing arts here in New York, they tape all the shows. So if you're curious to see her performance -- and I saw it a couple of times live on stage and she was really magnificent. You can go to the Lincoln Center Archive and you can look at the videotape of that performance.

But it's never been shown publicly.

KING: Do you think now it might be available, like through HBO, some sort of deal to see that incredible performance?

RIEDEL: It's very difficult to work out the rights for these things and there are a lot of issues with the stagehands union. You can't broadcast things without paying the union.

KING: Yes.

RIEDEL: So it would be -- it would be pretty tricky to do that, I think.

KING: Michael, thanks so much.

You're an excellent guest.

As always, Kevin, you're terrific.

FRAZIER: Great being here, Larry.

RIEDEL: Thank you, Larry.

KING: As you just heard, the lights were dimmed for a minute on Broadway tonight to honor the memory of Natasha Richardson. Among those in the crowd was her husband, actor Liam Neeson, seen in this video, courtesy of "Extra".

(VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: By the way, you know, there was an incredible scene tonight on Broadway. You're seeing it there. As the lights -- look at that. The lights are dim. That's on our video wall -- the tape of the lights dimming in honor of Natasha Richardson.

They did it last night for the great Ron Silver.

There's great sorrow tonight for those who knew Natasha Richardson and admired the person and her work.

Lindsey Lohan costarred with her in the 1998 version of "The Parent Trap." She said: "She was a wonderful woman -- an actress who treated me like I was her own. My heart goes out to her family. This is a tragic loss."

Meryl Streep said: "She was the warmest sun in the center of a large constellation of family, friends, all of those lucky enough to know her. She's irreplaceable in our lives. She gave us so much generously. Her legacy is the love that connects us all."

And Oprah had this to say on her show today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE OPRAH WINFREY SHOW," COURTESY HARPO PRODUCTIONS)

OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: I just want to say how deeply saddened I am -- we all are -- by the sudden passing of actress Nastasha -- Natasha Richardson yesterday.

Our thoughts and prayers are with her husband, Liam Neeson, their two sons, the rest of their family and friends -- yet another reminder of how fleeting life can be and how precious we need to value every moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE VIEW," COURTESY ABC)

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST:

We have to start our show by, saying that, like everybody else, our hearts are broken and go to the family of Natasha Richardson.

JOY BEHAR, CO-HOST: Oh, yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. GOLDBERG: Who passed away last night -- a brilliant actress, a wonderful woman...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's so sad.

GOLDBERG: ...and yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes you cry.

GOLDBERG: Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: All right. Still with us in Madison Heights, Michigan, Dr. Daniel Spitz. He's chief medical examiner, Macomb County.

And now in Los Angeles, returning again, Dr. Neil Martin, chief of neurosurgery at UCLA. And Dr. Travis Stork, emergency room physician. He practiced at Colorado's trauma center, close to four ski resorts. He saw a lot of head injuries. And he's host of the television show, "The Doctors."

Dr. Stork, you're not a brain surgeon, right?

DR. TRAVIS STORK, CO-HOST, "THE DOCTORS": This is the brain surgeon right here.

KING: OK.

STORK: I'm the E.R. Doctor. And this is such a common injury for people that come into the E.R. I work near these big ski resorts. In a day, I might see a dozen head injuries. And I have to say, this is a one in a million happening because I will take care of people who are unconscious for 10, 15 minutes and they come in and two or three hours later their symptoms resolve and they're fine.

For her to take a fall like this on a green slope and end up with an epidural hematoma and die as quickly as she did is so unusual. So I know everyone at home is so concerned because if a kid bumps their head or they bump their head, everyone is terrified seeing this happen to me.

KING: Dr. Martin, do you agree with that?

DR. NEIL MARTIN, CHIEF OF NEUROSURGERY, UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: Well, I think that's absolutely right. As a neurosurgeon, I tend to see the severe ones -- the ones that are deteriorating and have to be rushed to the operating room.

But absolutely, in the emergency department, there are many, many, many head injuries for every one that has to go right to the operating room.

KING: Are we right in the sense, Dr. Stork, to -- for want of a better word -- Dr. Spitz, rather -- for want of a better word than panic, are we right to be very concerned about everything that happens if the kid falls off the bike?

SPITZ: No. I agree with the other two physicians. This is a rare event. But the bottom line is there are things we can do to protect ourselves because you really never know when a freak accident can happen, you know, to you or a loved one of yours.

So, you know, we need to protect ourselves. But this is not a reason to panic. This is a very rare event.

KING: Dr. Stork, what do you do when a head injury comes in?

Let's say the person is unconscious or semi-unconscious?

What does an emergency room physician do?

STORK: Well, the first thing we're going to do is stabilize the patient. But what could have been life-saving in this example is getting a head C.T. Scan as soon as possible. That will show any active bleeding in the brain.

And if there is bleeding in the brain, there are interventions that can occur. But the key is you have to do it quickly, because the skull is a rigid space. And if there's bleeding inside of that skull, as it expands, that pressure can cause the brain to essentially herniate. And once that happens, you have almost instant brain death.

And, Larry, the most important thing I want to emphasize to people is, if you have a loss of consciousness, you really should go to the emergency department -- continued confusion, any nausea and vomiting. And if anyone is sleepy or lethargic after an injury, you have to get seen.

If you bump your head and you've got a little bruise and everything else is A-OK, chances are within an hour or two hours everything is going to resolve and you're going to be just fine.

KING: More in a moment on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE.

Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back on LARRY KING LIVE.

Jane Fonda costarred with Natasha's mother, Vanessa Redgrave, in 1977's "Julia."

Here's what she said: "I first met her on the set of "Julia." She was a little girl, but already beautiful and graceful. It didn't surprise me she became such a talented actress. It's hard to even imagine what it must be like to her family or for her family. My heart is heavy."

Jodie Foster co-starred with Natasha and Liam Neeson in 1994's "Nell.": "Natasha was brilliant," Jodie said, "beautiful, funny, talented beyond measure, as emotionally raw as she was razor sharp. May Liam and her beautiful boys and her loving family hold her close as they move through this tragic moment."

And so many of you want to send best wishes to Natasha Richardson's family. Our blog has been very busy.

Let's check in with David Theall to see what you're all saying -- David?

DAVID THEALL, LARRY KING LIVE PRODUCER: Larry, as you know, this is a place where people just naturally go to leave their condolences -- fans to the family, fan to fan, as well. Some of the things that we're seeing: "A tragedy." Somebody else says: "A marvelous actress whose talents will be missed." Yet another says: "I'm at a loss for words."

There is also some talk happening on the blog already, people wanting to know if there is any charity to which they can send donations in her memory.

Now, you were talking to the panel earlier about parents and whether or not they should be worried. That's also happening on the blog. We're hearing from some parents. One of them is Tracy and she says this: "Larry, I hope and pray parents aren't soon belittled and discouraged from seeking medical attention for their children who may suffer unprotected falls and injuries after this."

We're also hearing from people like Julie, who are still trying to put everything that happened together here and angry at the facts that are coming out. Says Julie: "A tragic loss and a ridiculous set of circumstances that brings us to this point. She should have been forced to go to the hospital immediately."

We will continue this conversation, as we always do, at CNN.com/larryking. Look for that blog link, click it and we invite you to jump into the conversation.

We look forward to hearing from you -- Larry.

KING: Thanks, David.

David Theall atop the blog scene.

When we come back, we've got some helmets here and a discussion about the use of them and when with our outstanding doctors, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Mitt Romney is just ahead.

We're honoring the memory of Natasha Richardson tonight.

Ralph Fiennes, who co-starred with her in ""Maid in Manhattan,"" had this to say: "For everyone who knew and loved her, Natasha's death is a terrible, devastating loss. She was a star, a great actress, a beautiful woman, a fiercely loyal friend, a brilliant and generous companion. I can't imagine a world without her wit, her mischief, her great, great talent and her gift for living."

And from British stage and film actress, Helen Mirren: "Anyone who knew her will be in mourning today. I hope that Liam and her sons are helped in their pain by the great love and sympathy that's coming to them from people all over the world."

Richardson was a triple threat -- an accomplished stage, screen and TV actress.

Here's a look at some of her best work.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "CABARET")

NATASHA RICHARDSON, ACTRESS (SINGING): I used to have a girlfriend known as Elsie, which whom I shared four sordid rooms in Chelsea. She wasn't what you'd call a blushing flower.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "NELL")

RICHARDSON: She's never heard (INAUDIBLE) in her life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey. Hey, RICHARDSON: Did you think of that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes people just do things. It's called impulse.

RICHARDSON: It's called doing what you want...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You ought to try it some time.

RICHARDSON: ...whenever you want to and not give a (EXPLETIVE LANGUAGE) about anyone else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE PARENT TRAP")

RICHARDSON: And I suppose you just expect me to go weak at the knees and fall into your arms and cry hysterically and say we'll just figure this whole thing out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "MAID IN MANHATTAN")

RICHARDSON: You are so good. Thank God.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "EVENING")

RICHARDSON: She's not exactly in her right mind, if case you haven't noticed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "WAKING UP IN RENO")

RICHARDSON: That's the one thing I wanted to do on this trip. I told you I wanted it since second grade when Miss. Beechner (ph) told us about it. She said everyone thought God rested on the seventh day, but really he was working on his hobby, carving the Grand Canyon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDSON: I thought we had a moment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're back with our panels of doctors.

By the way, Dr. Stork, you have animation of what happens to a head on impact?

STORK: Yes. It's interesting for people to look at this, because the brain is a vulnerable organ. It's extremely soft. And it lives in the skull. And any time you hit your head with any force -- it doesn't have to be much. It can be on a green slope skiing. And you can feel fine afterwards.

But the arteries and the veins that live in the brain can be torn. They can be ruptured. And we talk about this, usually afterwards -- we're not convinced that Natasha didn't have symptoms. A lot of times you'll get stung by an injury, you get up and you say, I feel fine, because you don't want to act like you're hurting.

But I am almost certain that she had some...

KING: Yes, but what does somebody around do, say you don't feel fine or -- what do you do?

STORK: Well, again, apparently the ski instructor stayed with her, so obviously people had concerns. And if you have concerns enough to stay with someone, it's probably worth getting it checked out.

KING: Dr. Martin, you've got a helmet and the brain here, right?

MARTIN: Yes. Well, Larry, this is the problem -- sudden movement to a complete arrest of movement. That stops the movement of the skull and the head, but the brain continues moving and it collides with the inner surface of the skull, which is just as hard as the outer surface. You know, there's a huge difference between a fall on concrete and a fall into sand or soft -- soft ground. That's what a helmet provides you -- just that little bit of give to change that deceleration from a very sudden event to something that's softer.

KING: So what happens? MARTIN: So if the skull is in the head, then when there's an impact, the skull continues moving just a little bit. That's just enough to soften the blow, allow the brain also to slow down, along with the skull. And it prevents that collision between the brain and the skull that can be so damaging. It reduces the torque on the brain blood vessels.

KING: Dr. Spitz, what is a hematoma?

SPITZ: Well, a hematoma is just a blood clot. And an epidural hematoma is describing that hematoma to a particular location. The epidural location is the space between the skull and the dura, which is a fibrous membrane which surrounds the brain.

KING: (INAUDIBLE)...

SPITZ: Most people have heard of a subdural hematoma. That's a hemorrhage underneath the dura. This is more a rare and people haven't heard of it, but it's just the blood clot is outside the dura, but inside the skull.

KING: Isn't an epidural what they give a woman when she's giving birth?

MARTIN: Well, it's in the same space where the bleed is, excerpt the epidural space in your brain connects with where the epidural is when you give it to a woman. And that's why it's a little bit confusing. But the epidural is not as common. And the irony involved of all of this is it's very classic if you have an epidermal hematoma to have this lucid period where you're acting normally and then things can go downhill really quickly.

KING: Would you guess she was in pain, Dr. Martin?

MARTIN: Well, a headache is not uncommon after any kind of a blow to the head. I think that the concerning finding in a case like this is when the headache gets worse and worse and worse over a period of time. There were reports that she wasn't feeling well after an hour. I suspect that that's because she had a headache. She may have been nauseated and vomiting. And that may have been the sign that there was something building up.

And the problem with the brain is it can accommodate almost like a sponge with a growing mass -- a growing collection of blood -- only up to a certain point. Once you start deteriorating, you slip over the edge and the deterioration becomes very rapid.

KING: So we can say definitively now, wear a helmet?

If you're skiing, wear a helmet?

STORK: Wear a helmet. Helmet is the new cool. If you see someone not wearing a helmet, say, hey, you might want to be wise and put a helmet on. Helmet is the new cool.

KING: Thank you, doctors. Thanks, Dr. Spitz, Dr. Martin and Dr. Stork.

Thank you all very much.

SPITZ: Thank you much.

STORK: Thank you.

MARTIN: Thank you.

KING: As talented as she was at bringing other people's words to life, Natasha Richardson had a personal eloquence, too. A comment she made to "The Daily Telegraph" in 2003 resonates with great poignancy right now. She said -- get this: "I wake up every morning feeling lucky, which is driven by fear, no doubt, since I know it could all go away."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back.

Joining me now is Mitt Romney.

He was a candidate for the 2008 presidential nomination of his party, the Republican Party. He's a former governor of Massachusetts, a businessman successful by any measure of the word.

We're going to talk about the economy, our new president and, of course, AIG.

But first, Barack Obama appeared tonight on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno."

Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO," COURTESY NBC)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The bonuses that went to AIG are a problem. But the larger problem is we've got to get back to an attitude where people know enough is enough. And people have a sense of responsibility and they understand that their actions are going to have an impact on everybody. And if we can get back to those values that built America, then I think we're going to be OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Welcome back, governor.

MITT ROMNEY (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Thank you.

It's good to be with you, Larry.

KING: Some are seeing a problem with the president doing the "Tonight Show," the first sitting president ever to do a late-evening fun show. Do you have a problem with it? ROMNEY: Well, this probably isn't the right time for it. I must admit, I line up with Warren Buffett on this. I prefer to see the president focusing all of his time and energy on the economy.

KING: That's what he was talking about.

ROMNEY: He is talking about it. He's out doing a rally in California. He's posing for the cover of magazines and doing a number of things. He's putting together a health care plan, putting together a cap and trade program, a lot of things on the agenda.

And frankly, if you're doing too many things, a couple of important things can slip by. And one of them that slipped by was the AIG legislation that allowed AIG executives to get these bonuses. It was put in a specific bill. Now, of course, the administration is saying they didn't know about it. You have to ask yourself, if everybody was staying home, doing their job, focusing entirely on the economy, is that something that somebody would have read? You have a thousand page bill. Somebody would have read it before they signed it.

KING: Do you have a theory on bail outs? Because President Bush did it. President Obama has done it. And their answer has been, hey, you've got to do it. You've got to do what you've got to do.

ROMNEY: Well, the term bailout has been applied to a number of different things. I think it's important to distinguish them. We don't want to have our economy collapse, so we're going to bail out the economy, if you will. We don't want to have our financial system collapse, because to make a market work, you've got to have currency, you've got to have banks. You don't want to have a cascade of failures in banks, so that your currency is not worth anything.

But you don't -- in a private world like we -- our economy works in, you don't start bailing out companies one after the other or individuals that are in trouble. You don't say, I'm going to take care of this person and not that person, or this company and not that company. Bailout of enterprises that are in trouble, that's not the right way to go. I know President Bush started it with the auto industry. I thought it was a mistake.

KING: Are you as angered over this AIG thing as probably 90 percent of the public?

ROMNEY: Yes, my view is that this is really the fault of two parties. One, the members of our government that weren't paying attention, at best. That's the most favorable way to characterize it. They weren't paying attention to the issue. They were doing a lot of other things. They should have been focusing entirely on the economy.

The other, of course, is the folks at AIG. And you ask yourself, why couldn't they have done what other enterprises do that get in trouble, which is people come together; they talk about the sacrifice they are going to make to try and keep the enterprise going. But these guys seemed not to be willing to do that. And I think it's unfortunate. This is a president who is learning on the fly. He's never turned anything around before. He hasn't had the experience of leading a nation or a business or a state in trouble. And the first rule I can tell him is focus, focus, focus. Focus on the job at hand, getting this economy going, and making sure there are no errors, no mistakes, no excessive spending. It's too risky, given the fact that the economy is hanging by a thread.

KING: How do you account for the fact that his popularity stays high?

ROMNEY: I know that people recognize that this is a man who is a decent fellow. He's intelligent. He's well intentioned. He's just not experienced in the matters that we're dealing with right now. And, you know, I hope he's able to get this economy turned around.

KING: You don't want him to fail?

ROMNEY: I want liberal policies to fail. I want him to fail in trying to put in place a health care plan that takes away the private sector from health care. I want him to fail in this cap and trade program as long as China and Brazil and Indonesia are not going to play in it. But I want him to succeed as a president, meaning, I want him to succeed in strengthening our economy, keeping us free, bringing our troops home in success from Iraq and Afghanistan.

But I don't want his liberal policies to succeed.

KING: If he called on you, would you aid him?

ROMNEY: Of course.

KING: He said he would use Republicans and Democrats.

ROMNEY: Any citizen is certainly going to respond to the call of the nation. I don't imagine my name, however, is mentioned in the White House, other than as a butt of jokes or other attacks. But again, I'm not -- I don't have any interest in participating in the administration. I feel like Judd Gregg did, which is President Obama, during the campaign moved, you know, very strongly to the center of the political spectrum. But as a president, with everything from card check now, cap and trade programs and his health care plan and his mortgage bailout plan and AIG, all of these things combined, he is far away from where I stand. And I, therefore, would not be part of that administration.

KING: Presidents do that, though. Bush moved to the center and then governed right.

ROMNEY: Well, it depends on the particular issue. I think in the case of the most successful presidents, they've been able to work at a program with people on the right and on the left, and achieve success by doing that. Bill Clinton, for instance, bowed to the desire on the part of the Republicans to reform welfare. I think it was a good thing. George Bush, likewise, was able to work on a collaborative basis to bring No Child Left Behind to fruition, and some other initiatives that he thought were important.

KING: The latest polls say you are the leader to get the party's nomination the next time around. Others say it's Rush Limbaugh leading the party. We'll see what Mitt Romney thinks after the break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: What do you make, Governor Romney, of this Limbaugh thing? Is he the head of your party?

ROMNEY: He's a very powerful voice among conservatives. And I listen to him. A lot of other people listen to him. He's not a spokesman for the party, of course. But we don't have one spokesman right now. That's just one of the features of not having either House in Congress or having the White House. You don't have an official place to be heard.

So our megaphone is not as loud as the megaphone that comes from Barack Obama. But it gets heard, nonetheless. And a lot of voices are being heard on our side of the aisle. And I think that's a good thing.

KING: So Rush is just one of them?

ROMNEY: But he's a very powerful voice in the world of conservative thought. He's not a spokesman for the party officially. We have a spokesman for the party, our RNC chair.

KING: And do you like Michael Steele?

ROMNEY: Yes, he's a good man.

KING: You are, apparently in recent polls -- you seem to lead -- it's still early --

ROMNEY: Kind of early, don't you think?

KING: Are you going to run again?

ROMNEY: I can't imagine making that decision at this point.

KING: But you're going to run again.

ROMNEY: No, I don't think. I'm glad that you're so insistent.

KING: Why wouldn't you?

ROMNEY: There are a lot of good reasons not to. First of all, I hope that Barack Obama is so successful that -- and he adjusts his policies such that he moves to the center, he aligns with Republicans and Democrats, and does what we thought he was going to do when he was campaigning.

KING: But you still have to have an opponent.

ROMNEY: Of course you have to have an opponent. I don't look at political office as something that you want to do because it will be fun or a campaign as a thrill. You get involved in public service because you think you can make a difference, and the skills and experience you've had would make the country stronger. That's something you measure down the road based upon who else is there and what the challenges are. I'd have to weigh that at the time that a race was shaping up.

KING: What do you make and did you make of Governor Palin?

ROMNEY: Boy, she was able to connect with our party in a very powerful way, ignite a lot of enthusiasm and excitement. That kind of political skill is rare. I hadn't met her before the announcement that she was going to be our VP nominee. And I thought, boy, she's going to have a tough time up there on the stage at the Republican convention.

Was I wrong. She got out there and just lit the place up, and was able to draw a lot of support from across the nation. She's a powerful voice.

KING: Did the McCain campaign in any way disappoint you?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm sure the McCain campaign disappointed John McCain.

KING: The way it was run, aspects of it?

ROMNEY: I don't recall --

KING: You and he had difficult moments.

ROMNEY: Yes. But I don't recall worrying about his campaign. I looked at my own campaign. We made our own mistakes. I'm sure the McCain campaign made some of their mistakes, too. I have nothing but respect for John McCain. I mean, the guy is a national hero, and his posture on the issues was absolutely right. So I supported him, endorsed him and I continue to speak with him on a relatively frequent basis.

KING: Back to the economy. The House today passed a measure to slap a hefty tax on big employee bonuses paid by companies getting federal bail outs. Good idea?

ROMNEY: Well, look, everybody is mad at AIG and their executives for doing what they did. It makes no sense at all. But to suggest that this is not the fault of the people in Congress who passed the specific measure allowing them to take these bonuses is a diversionary tactic and wrong. You don't have a government take punitive action against a small group of people.

Frankly, it's unconstitutional, in my view. You don't want to see that kind of power exercised by a governmental authority, to say, you know what, we're going to go after you. What they did to those guys -- the guys at AIG, I'm mad at them as anybody else. What if they said, that Larry King, he said some very offensive things about our president; we're going to go after his bonus and pass a bill to take away his money. That is not the American way.

And I understand it was driven by emotion. But in my view, it was the wrong course.

KING: Don't you think, though, the public probably supports it?

ROMNEY: Oh, sure, I think it's a very popular thing on the part of many in the public. But give it some thought, think of the second order affect. Do you really want to have a federal government that can decide after the fact to go after someone they disagree with for having done something they don't like, and take away their money?

And as angry as all of us are at what AIG executives have done, the place to vent our anger is at the people who allowed this to happen.

KING: More with Mitt Romney on this edition of LARRY KING LIVE right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. We're talking to Mitt Romney about a number of pressing issues, including the economy. Everyone is touched in some way by current events, including tonight's CNN Hero nominee. He's Jorge Munoz, quite a guy, doing what he can without very much to help day laborers in Queens. I asked him how he got started.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JORGE MUNOZ, CNN HERO NOMINEE: About four years ago, I saw people throwing food in the garbage. So I asked if I could have that food and hand it to somebody else who needed it.

KING: Your day starts with all of this at a quarter to 5:00 in the morning with food inventory. Tell us how you prepare and gather the meals for the week.

MUNOZ: Well, I'm a school bus driver. I keep every day calling my mom. So she prepares the food. And when I get there, we pack the meals and head to the corner in Queens.

KING: Are the people appreciative of what you do?

MUNOZ: Oh, yes, they are. They are waiting for me, even in winter or summer. They are waiting right there every night around 9:30.

KING: Do you consider yourself a hero?

MUNOZ: No, I think the hero is my mom. She is the one who teached me to share things in my childhood.

KING: I'll speak for us at CNN. We consider you a hero. Congratulations, Jorge, thank you.

MUNOZ: Thank you so much, Larry. KING: Our hero nominee this week, great story, Jorge Munoz.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A lot of Americans like that.

ROMNEY: It's what makes the country what it is. I think there are some folks who believe that America is great because we've got such a great government. I don't believe that for a minute. I think America is great because we have people like that. We have individuals who love their families, who give to their community, who give to others in need, who build businesses, who create jobs. It's the individual spirit that makes America what it is.

KING: Do you have a hero?

ROMNEY: I have a lot of heroes, but probably at the top of my list are mom and dad. Neither one are around anymore but extraordinary people.

KING: We'll be right back with Mitt Romney. Don't go away.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

KING: The president held a town hall in California earlier today. He seems to hold one a day. This is his second in two days. Here's a little of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: We are going to meet these challenges. We will come out on the other side stronger and a more prosperous nation. That I can guarantee you. I can't tell you how long it will take, what obstacles we'll face along the way. But I promise you this, there will be brighter days ahead.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Upbeat a good idea?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. I was very concerned early on in the administration's rhetoric. They were very, very negative, talking about this being the worst downturn since the Great Depression. There were stories everywhere, as a result, talking about the Depression. That's the wrong way to go. The president has to be upbeat and the economy will turn around. The question is, will it turn around faster by virtue of what the president has done or will he actually have slowed it down?

There are some things he's done that will help and will encourage the economy to get going again. There are other things that haven't helped as much. Frankly, I liked the Republican stimulus plan better than I liked Barack Obama's. But we are going to see a stronger economy. When that occurs, when we see that turning point is difficult to predict.

KING: Former President Bush said he's not going to spend anytime criticizing Obama. He says he deserves silence. However, former Vice President Cheney is taking a very different tact, charging that he's making choices which would make us vulnerable for another attack. Which way do you go here?

ROMNEY: Well, I think there's a standard which is applied to former presidents, and that standard is that they have had their time on the stage and it's best for them to step aside and let the new president have his or her chance. I think President Bush is doing the right thing. I think every other Republican is --

KING: Former vice president.

ROMNEY: I don't know that we have a precedent there. I'm not going to judge another person's action in that regard. But I can say in my view, Barack Obama is ripe for criticism. This AIG mess is certainly at his doorstep. The fact that he's not spending his time focusing on managing the economy, but is instead in Hollywood tonight and working on cap and trade and health care and other issues, diverting from the issue at hand, I think is certainly fair game to be discussed.

KING: Do you think we're more vulnerable to an attack?

ROMNEY: I think if we're going to release the detainees that are in Guantanamo and put them out either in our own prisons or at prisons in nations that are going to release them, that will make us less secure. I'm glad that President Obama decided to pull back on his original plans to immediately bring our troops home from Iraq. We're succeeding there. He's decided to go a little more slowly there in bringing our troops hope. to make sure that it's stable. That's the right course and I appreciate that.

KING: Back with our remaining moments with Mitt Romney and another appearance of President Obama's appearance on "The Tonight Show" next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Here's another clip from the president's appearance on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno tonight. Watch.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LENO: Let me ask you, when people, Mr. President, would you like to play? Yes, I would. Do they throw the game? Come on.

OBAMA: I don't see why they would throw the game, except for all the Secret Service guys with guns around.

LENO: Exactly, exactly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: That was fun, right? That didn't harm anything?

ROMNEY: I hope not.

KING: Unless out his basketball dunking again. The word is, we know former President Bush is about to write a book. And there's the word that you are.

ROMNEY: That's true. I also heard that Sarah Palin is writing a book. There was a rumor that she had been offered an 11 million dollar advance from her publisher.

KING: That's a lot.

ROMNEY: My publisher is talking to me about 11 million dollars as well, but I couldn't come up with that much money. I've used that before, but I am writing a book.

KING: You are?

ROMNEY: Yes, you bet.

KING: About?

ROMNEY: About the country and the challenges that America faces, what it's going to take to get ourselves back on track. I'm very concerned that we're seeing the emergence of very different threats coming from Russia, from China, from the Jihadists, both from an economic standpoint, in the case of Russia, with their energy resources, and China with their productive resources.

We see an economic threat and a military threat. And it's going to take some changes here if we're going to remain the leader of the world.

KING: Do you have faith in American business?

ROMNEY: Yes. Everybody in this country has to recognize that every single dollar we have represents a good or a service produced in the private sector. Every job we have that isn't working for government comes because somebody had an idea and began a business. Small business people, big business people, they're just American citizens who took a risk and some of them find the chance to make that risk became positive and generate jobs and income.

That's a great thing. It's a good thing. We know what happens when it's not working. That's what's happening right now.

KING: What about when business goofs?

ROMNEY: To err is human and to make bad decisions is also human. You've seen some very bad characters. But whether that's an executive or a basketball player or a politician, it's throughout every society I know of. But look, we need business to be successful if we want to have good jobs. And I'm not going to be taking my time taking pot shots at the entire profession of business or any other profession in this country. Except maybe lawyers -- I'm kidding. KING: Shoot the lawyers.

ROMNEY: Shoot the lawyers first.

KING: Your wife has multiple sclerosis, a disease some scientists think will be cured through stem cell research. How is she doing?

ROMNEY: She's doing terrifically well. She's riding horses on a regular basis. She thinks that keeps her healthy and strong. And she's one of the few that has had very little progression from the disease. So I'm pleased and hopeful.

KING: Do you support the stem cell thing?

ROMNEY: I support stem cell research. I do not support creating new embryos for the purpose of taking away the life of that embryo, and taking stem cells from those embryos. There are a lot of better ways than getting stem cells from --

KING: Even though they're probably never going to be lives?

ROMNEY: If you create them in the laboratory, you're creating new life. And I wouldn't do that for the purpose of research, but there are fortunately much better ways of doing it, which has now been proven by scientists across the country.

KING: Do you think we're going to cure MS?

ROMNEY: I sure hope so. I think eventually we'll be curing most of the major diseases we know during our lifetimes. But when these things get cured, that's going to be a long time down the road.

KING: Your wife still as outspoken as always?

ROMNEY: She's the best, I'll tell you. I'm sure she's watching tonight. So, of course, outspoken and right.

KING: She says what she thinks?

ROMNEY: That's for sure.

KING: Always good seeing you.

ROMNEY: Thanks, Larry. Good to be with you.

KING: Governor Mitt Romney. We always enjoy being in his company.

Go to CNN/LarryKing. Tell us what you think about this show or any other. While you're there, sign up for our e-mail and text alerts. Check out our guest lists and great web features. All at CNN.com/LarryKing. Next big web feature, Tommy Lasorda.

Time now for Anderson Cooper and "AC 360." Anderson?

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