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Americans Arrested in Pakistan

Aired December 9, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight breaking news -- five students missing from the United States.

Could they be under arrest in Pakistan for terrorism?

We've got all the latest.

And then, war and peace for President Obama -- he's on his way to Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.

Why is the man who just ordered 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan accepting it?

Plus, Sarah Palin's approval ratings are on the rise. The president's are going the other way.

The honor Tiger Woods won't be getting.

We're going to debate it all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening.

Five missing Muslim men from Virginia been found and arrested in Pakistan. The men are from the Alexandria area, all in their early 20s. Some members of the Muslim community alerted authorities about suspicions that the men may have been planning terrorist attacks.

Joining us in Washington, our Jeanne Meserve is our CNN correspondent who covers homeland security.

Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American- Islamic Relations, who, by the way, has spoken to the families of the missing students and he's viewed a videotape left behind by one of the students. He says it disturbed him.

And Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, the former Muslim chaplain at Howard University, knows one of the students. He's talked to the FBI. He calls all this very troubling.

All right, of course, Jeanne Meserve, let's kick it off.

What do we know?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: We know there are five young men from Northern Virginia, age between 19 and 25. All of them were U.S. citizens, one of them identified by a source as Ramy Zamzam, a student at Howard University. The parents became concerned about the young men's whereabouts. Apparently they told the parents they were going to a conference, but when the parents tried to call them on their cell phones, they got a ring that sounded like something overseas. They were concerned. They went to their religious elders. That information eventually made it to the FBI.

The FBI launched an investigation. When law enforcement officials -- official tells me that the names of none of these young men had ever shown up on their radar before.

Now, we do hear from a senior State Department official that the names of these individuals were passed on to Pakistani authorities as persons of interest. And then we have the arrests in Pakistan.

The Pakistani authorities are definitive that the men they picked up were, indeed, the young men missing from Virginia. They say that they were trying to link up with terrorist groups in Pakistan, but had not been successful in doing so.

US officials, however, are not going that far. The operating belief is that these are the five men from Northern Virginia, but they cannot confirm that information at this point in time. And they underline that, at this point, Larry, no charges have been filed against anyone -- Larry.

KING: Did the parents know that these boys were going overseas?

MESERVE: Well, from what I understand, they were concerned about this. And there was a video left behind by one of the young men. As its been described by some of the individuals you'll be talking to here tonight, it was a very disturbing video and that there were hints in there that these young men were going somewhere. There were images of conflict and an exhortation that young Muslims had an obligation to do something.

So the family suspected that Pakistan was possibly their final destination. That is why the State Department reached out and specifically informed Pakistani authorities that they might be there.

KING: Mr. Awad, you have viewed the video, is that correct?


KING: How did you obtain it?

AWAD: Well, the families brought it with them when we connected them with the FBI in the presence of lawyers.

KING: What disturbed you about it?

AWAD: Well, the fact that it's like almost a typical video that you see on the Internet -- young Muslims misled and also misunderstanding certain verses of the Koran, juxtaposing images of conflict to justify actions that they would like to take. So that's, to me, disturbing in light of the fact these students have been described by their families as upright, engaging, great, you know, sons.

KING: Did it lead you to think that they may be up to no good?

AWAD: Yes. When you add it together, yes. I just walked away with that feeling. And I think the same feeling became -- the families had when they watched the video. And that prompted them to contact the leaders of the mosque, who also connected them with us. They brought them to our office. And let me just take a moment to thank the families for their courage and the leadership of the mosque, who trusted us. And we connected them with the FBI in the same day, immediately. And both the agency...

KING: Now, can...

AWAD: ...the agency and the families are working together with our organizations to close this chapter.

KING: Before we continue with any anti-Muslim thoughts, that's a very patriotic act on everybody's part. Chaplain Malik, you knew one of the missing men. Tell us about him.

IMAM JOHARI ABDUL-MALIK, FORMER MUSLIM CHAPLAIN AT HOWARD UNIVERSITY: Well, first I have to say I'm the former Muslim chaplain at Howard University, but...

KING: I said that, yes.

ABDUL-MALIK: But I have attended events and activities on campus in which other students tell me that Ramy was among the people present in that group. The FBI showed me photographs of individuals who were part of the group they suspect. I didn't recognize any of them from the photographs.

But the young men that we're talking about, if they are who I think they are, then they have been active in campus life, active with the interfaith work, doing community service. There was no indication on our part that these individuals could have ever done something against America or...

KING: What...

ABDUL-MALIK: ...or violent in any way.

KING: Chaplain, what was the student's full name?

ABDUL-MALIK: I only know of one of the students that -- that they've asked me about. And -- and, Larry, I'm really trying not to expose the names of these young people until law enforcement actually release them.

KING: I got you. Fair enough.

Jeanne, is this a case...

ABDUL-MALIK: I appreciate that. KING: Jeanne, is this a case where it looks like a duck and acts like a duck, it -- that they were going over there to -- to do no good?

MESERVE: Well, frankly, we just don't know, Larry. There are a number of different possibilities here. We're all well aware of the plethora of cases in recent months that have involved Americans becoming radicalized and some of them going overseas.

The fear is that this might be modeled on one of those other cases. You had Najibullah Zazi, who was -- went over to Pakistan and got training in camps there, or so it's alleged by officials. They claim he came back to this country with the intent of staging a terrorist attack here.

You have the case of all the young Somali men, many of them from Minneapolis, who let the United States and went over to fight with al- Shabaab, which is an al Qaeda affiliated group in Somali.

And the great fear is that perhaps these young men had some intention to do one or the other -- wage jihad overseas or come back and do something here.

I will tell you that one law enforcement source who I spoke to here who I will say emphasizes no charges have been brought here, this is still very much an investigation, says the hints that they have seen thus far in the investigation lead them to believe that their intention was to do something overseas -- to wage jihad overseas.

KING: We'll, obviously, be following up on this again tomorrow night.

And I thank you.

Thank you all very much.

Two experts on terrorism tell us what they make of all of this next.



HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: It's always been a concern. We have been well aware of the threats that we continue to face, along with friends and allies around the world. We know that much of the training and the direction for terrorists comes from Pakistan and the border area with Afghanistan.


KING: We're back with Peter Bergen, CNN national security analyst, "New York Times'" best sells author of "The Osama bin Laden I Know" and "Holy War, Inc."

And Paul Cruickshank is here. He's a terrorism expert, a fellow at NYU's Center of Law and Security. Paul collaborated with Peter Bergen on "The Osama bin Laden I Know" book and was part of the CNN special, "In the footsteps of bin Laden."

Paul, we'll start with you.

What do you make of this story?

PAUL CRUICKSHANK, TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, you have five American citizens going off to Pakistan, flying very much under the radar screen. Larry, the FBI had very little idea about them before they turned up in Pakistan.

This is part of a new trend that we're seeing -- a worrying new trend. We're seeing more radicalization in the United States, unfortunately, over the last couple of years, where we've seen about 11 cases -- terrorism cases in the United States in the last six months.

We're also seeing more Americans going off and training with militant groups in Pakistan over the last year. We've seen about a dozen Americans going there over the past year, which represents a surge in the number of Americans getting the sort of training that can make that into very dangerous terrorists potentially, Larry.

KING: Peter, the fact they were arrested in Pakistan, what does that tell you?

We don't have Peter?

I'm sorry.

What does it tell you, Paul, the fact that they were arrested?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, it -- it tells us that there was a lot of collaboration here between, firstly, Muslim community groups here in the United States. This is a success story in terms of the Muslim community giving information to the FBI. The FBI was then able to collaborate with the Pakistani authorities to bring people -- bring these people into custody, to stop them potentially launching attacks in Afghanistan.

It seems from this video, from what we've heard from it, that they were against what the United States was doing over there, Larry, that they may have wanted to go into Afghanistan. But it's not exactly clear what these people were up to yet.

KING: Peter Bergen, in your opinion, should this cause more concern on the part of Americans?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Oh, yes. I think if you take together all the cases that Paul just described, clearly, we're in a slightly different situation than we were two years ago. If you go back two or three years, so many of the terrorism cases in the United States were really aspirational, not operational. But when you have people who are going to Pakistan or going to Somalia, training overseas, hooking up with Al Qaeda -- and just in the last year, we've seen all sorts of variations of this. We've also seen, you know, successful terrorist attacks in the United States. There was an attack in Little Rock, Arkansas by an African-American convert to Islam in the summer. He killed an American soldier. He also seriously wounded another.

Similarly, Major Hasan. I mean there's still a debate about his motivations, but I think when you look at what he was doing on that day, he was giving away his possessions, he was talking about doing God's work, he was dressed in white the morning of the massacre, which is a color associated with martyrdom. And it looks like a jihadi terrorist attack.

KING: Peter, will the United States send officials -- intelligence officials over to Pakistan to find out more about this?

BERGEN: Sure. And, of course, in Pakistan, there's a very substantial FBI. There's a -- a thing called The Leggett Program, which is FBI officials who are attached to the embassy. And I mean they'll be looking at this case pretty seriously. And we've already heard from Pakistani reports that these group -- that a group of Americans are alleged to have wanted to hook up with a group called Jaish Mohammed in Pakistan. That's a pretty serious group. This is the group that killed American journalist Danny Pearl on the basis of the fact that he was an American and a Jew. It's an -- a group with a long association with al Qaeda, very violent, relatively small. And if that allegation is true, these guys were really getting in pretty deep.

KING: Paul, how do you would gather they -- these -- these people are recruited?

CRUICKSHANK: Well, that's a great question. In lots of different ways, as we've seen in recent cases, that it could be individuals in the community, radicalizers with -- with violent ideology that go in and -- and sort of talk to them, indoctrinate them.

But increasingly in the United States, we're also seeing that the Internet is more and more important and that young men are exposed to this ideology over the Internet. There's an American cleric, for example, now based in Yemen, Anwar Awlaki, who has been releasing all sorts of videos that a lot of young Americans have been watching and have been influenced by.

So the Internet has played a -- a big role here. But the context here, Larry, is that, you know, there's been -- the United States has been engaged in Iraq, in Afghanistan. They're Muslim countries. A lot of the Muslim community oppose those -- those wars, Larry. And that really plays into some of what we're seeing here.

KING: And do you think, Peter, sadly, this leads to more anti- Muslim feelings?

BERGEN: Well, actually, you know, I think in the case of the Major Hasan case, I think most Americans understood this guy was just somebody who went postal, essentially, and had fastened onto these jihadi ideas. And maybe 15 years ago, he would have fastened onto Maoist ideas or some other thing.

I mean the guy -- you know, this was not about Islam. This guy was about -- this was about a guy who kind of went postal.

KING: Thank you both very much.

We'll be calling on you again, probably tomorrow.

Thanks again.

President Obama is on his way to Oslo. And we've got a great group to discuss all the news of the day in 60 seconds.


KING: President Obama -- there you see him. He's on his way to Oslo, Norway. He's going to accept the Nobel Peace Prize. He and Mrs. Obama left on Air Force One a short while ago. The trip is a quick one. The Obamas will be in Oslo for about 26 hours before returning to the United States.

The debate over whether or not he deserves the award has been reignited. It died down after the honor was announced two months ago. President Obama will accept a $1.4 million prize check, a Gold Medal and a diploma.

Coverage of the president's trip to Norway for the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony begins tomorrow an "AMERICAN MORNING."

Our panel here to discuss that and other things, in Las Vegas, Penn Jillette, the illusionist, author and libertarian. He's the larger, more talkative half of Penn and Teller.

Here in Los Angeles, our friend, Ben Stein, the economist and attorney. He was a speechwriter for President Nixon and Ford, a columnist for "Fortune" magazine.

Also here in L.A. is Tanya Acker, contributor to The Huffington Post, a political analyst. She worked in the office of the White House Counsel during the Clinton administration.

And finally, in New York, Stephanie Miller, progressive radio talk show host. Her Web site, by the way,

We'll be back and get their thoughts, right after this.


KING: Before we get our panels' thoughts, reporter Helen Thomas grilled White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about the seeming paradox of a war president accepting a Nobel Peace Prize.

Here's a little of Mr. Gibbs' response.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president will address the -- the notion that last week he authorized a 30,000 person increase in our commitment to Afghanistan and this week accepts a prize for peace.

I will say, Helen, that the president understands and, again, will also recognize that he doesn't belong in the -- in the same discussion as Mandela and Mother Teresa.


KING: All right. Penn Jillette, what do you make of this award?

PENN JILLETTE, LIBERTARIAN: Well, I -- I mean, if you look at what Nobel actually wanted for the Peace Prize, in terms of bringing down armies and the exact wording, it's fairly short, a lot of people don't fit into the category. And I think Obama is doing exactly the right thing and will be humble and smart. And irony is a -- is a -- is a fabulous dramatic conceit for a speech. I think it will be a great speech and I think the timing ends up being really, really odd.

But I don't think Obama has another choice. He's not going to turn it down.

KING: A good point.


BEN STEIN, COLUMNIST, "FORTUNE": Well, I think that -- I was quite puzzled when he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.


STEIN: But it was not clear what he had done, especially in the first nine days of office, to deserve it.

But I think that moving troops to Afghanistan is his best pro- peace gesture so far. If the al Qaeda and the Taliban took over Pakistan and used it as a launching pad for new attacks on the rest of the civilized world, including the United States, I think it would be a very, very dangerous anti-peace thing to do.

And I think trying to bring some kind of stability and not -- to Afghanistan and not letting it be a haven for terrorists is a very pro-peace act. And I think this was Obama's finest hour.

KING: Tanya, what's your read?

Ben is always -- you never know what Ben is going to say.


TANYA E.U. , CONTRIBUTOR, HUFFINGTON POST: Well, the thing I would say about his getting the award in the first place is that here's one thing that we know that the president did do. He turned -- he changed more -- American foreign policy from sort of being this cowboys and Indians video game to now, instead, being focused on real diplomacy and building alliances and to -- and moving toward Americans' longer term strategic interests. So he did do that.

Whether or not this is ironic, yes, there's a little bit of irony to it. But that, you know, the fact that he stands for peace and the fact that you, you know, have to sometimes engage in conflict and you -- in the nation's longer-term strategic interests, doesn't mean that he's anti-peace. I mean I guess it's not that paradoxical in that sense.

KING: Stephanie Miller, though, wasn't it a little early?

STEPHANIE MILLER, PROGRESSIVE TALK RADIO HOST: Well, you know, there's always the chance that Kanye West will interrupt him and try to take the award away, Larry.


MILLER: But I think that, you know, I'm an American tonight, Larry. And I'm pretty proud that my president is getting the Nobel Peace Prize tomorrow. I don't know if his Afghanistan strategy is going to work, but I hope so, because I'm an American and I think he's cleaning up a really big mess that the Bush administration left him and I think he's doing the best he can. And I'm really hoping and praying for him.


KING: Is it kind of a dilemma to go, though?

Penn, when you think about it, if you send people to war, he's trying to get a health bill passed, he's got an economic crisis at home and here he is hobnobbing with the world's elite in a fancy tuxedo and getting a check for a $1.4 million?

JILLETTE: Yes. Well, I don't know. I mean he certainly isn't anti-peace. It's very hard to find people who are. And we're certainly all happy Americans.

But -- but I don't think, you know -- what I'm upset about is the fact that there doesn't seem to be a strong peace movement in this country. I think if Bush had done the exact same things Obama is doing and increasing -- you know, 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, you would have people really going crazy. And I wish there were a stronger peace movement -- at least more people saying maybe we shouldn't do that at all. I mean, maybe we're creating terrorists by, you know, by all the people who are going to die over there.

KING: Ben, it does sound a lot like Vietnam. General Westmoreland...


KING: ...give me more troops, just give me more troops.

STEIN: No, it isn't like Vietnam at all, because the Vietnamese just wanted to control Vietnam and dominance over Southeast Asia. They never had any designs against the United States or Britain or France or Italy.

These people, the Al Qaeda and their friends in the Taliban, explicitly want to cause misery in the lives of the people in the United States. So to stop them and suppress them and keep them off -- off balance is a very, very worthwhile goal.

And the other -- the main problem I have with Mr. Obama's trip right now is that he's always lashing into businessmen who have business meetings, saying you're not supposed to travel, you should do it be e-conferencing or by e-mail. And he's traveling all over the world at great expense and time and hasn't...

KING: What's your -- what should he do, though...

JILLETTE: Yes, but you've got to go...


JILLETTE: ...get your Nobel Prize.


STEIN: I think he should say...

JILLETTE: You can't bust him for that.

STEIN: I think he should say...

KING: Hold on...

STEIN: I think he...

KING: Hold on, Ben.

STEIN: I think he should say it's legitimate for me to go and accept the Nobel Prize and it's legitimate for you businessmen to have your conventions, too.

E.U. : Ben, there's a big difference between -- I mean, with all due respect, there's a big difference between going to get the Nobel Peace Prize -- I mean he's not going to a rave at Paris Hilton's house and...


E.U. : -- and an AIG conference. I mean there is a big difference between those things.


STEIN: No, no. No, the difference is...

MILLER: Please, Ben.

STEIN: ...the Nobel Peace Prize will not get anyone a job, whereas the businessmen's convention might give some people jobs.

KING: Stephanie, do you want to add something here?


Oh, please, Ben.

Is he supposed to accept the Nobel Peace Prize by Twitter?

I mean, come on.


MILLER: This is the president of the United States...

STEIN: Well, and should he be put...

MILLER: ...getting the Nobel Peace Prize.

STEIN: And should he putting hotel workers and maids and people who make the beds in hotels out of business by can -- having -- making people cancel their business meetings?

No, absolutely not.

KING: We'll be back.

JILLETTE: You know, the -- this really (INAUDIBLE)...

KING: Hold it, Penn.

We'll come back.

It's just getting started, folks.

If you have something to say about any of our topics, go to and tell us what you think. And while you're there, check out exclusive features from Nick and the one and only Sting.

Back after this.


KING: Let's move now from the Oslo topic to Afghanistan. We go to Tanya this time. Should we be there?

ACKER: Yeah, I think we have to be there. Remember, this is not a war we started. The president's surge and sending more troops there, this really is not a surprise. He campaigned on Afghanistan. He said -- and I think a lot of people believe -- I'm among them -- that this is where American attention should have been firmly focused since 9/11. Going to Iraq took our eye of that ball. We absolutely should be there.

KING: Didn't he also campaign, Stephanie, against dying in military action? MILLER: But Tanya makes a good point. This is always what he said, Larry. And again, I guess I am of the camp of giving the president the benefit of the doubt. He's been in less than a year. This is another giant mess the Bush administration left him. And if you read "The New York Times" article, it seems like this is a very well thought-out strategy.

I don't know if it's going to work or not, Larry. But it does seems like he really has -- he understands the cost of the war, both human and cost-wise. He said, when General McChrystal comes back, it's not going to be about more troops. It's going to be about drawing down and to what extent we're drawing down.

I say give this strategy a chance. I think he refuted, Larry, that Vietnam analogy you talked about, by saying they did group and attack us from there. That is different than Vietnam. Give him a chance to finish the job.

KING: Penn, if President Bush has done the same thin -- well, he wouldn't have picked an exit date. But if he had done the same thing, would you be climbing -- would a lot of Americans be climbing all over him?

JILLETTE: Absolutely. I think there's no difference. And I certainly -- I don't think anybody understands the cost of war. I think it's beyond human comprehension. It's horrible. And there is a possibility -- not definite -- but the possibility that killing people overseas also helps the recruiting, and builds the hate a little bit.

I know they wish us ill. But I don't know that going in to 11,000 civilian -- I mean, 11,000 casualties and 7,000 of those civilian, seems like it's not going to generate a lot of good will. I think that there should be at least more people saying that peace is an option.

KING: No less a military hero, Ben, than Dwight Eisenhower once said -- we quoted him. The other night I had him in front of me. "War is stupid. Every gun built, every ship built, every bomb built takes away from clothes for children and health for seniors."

STEIN: This is a very, very productive, rich country. The amount of money he's spending on these additional 30,000 troops is tiny in the context of the wealth and the income of this country.

I must say, I would go farther than Stephanie goes, although I suspect I don't agree with her on much else. I would say give him a lot of rope to move forward with this -- let's hope he doesn't hang himself with it -- if it's vital to keep the Taliban and al Qaeda from running a sovereign country. Let's not have an exit date. Let's not have a limit on how many troops we have there. If this war has got to be won, let's fight it like we fought World War II, like it's got to be won.

KING: Let's go now to the op-ed in the post. Sarah Palin says President Obama should boycott the climate change in Copenhagen. Let's start with Stephanie this time. Agree or disagree? MILLER: The president should boycott Copenhagen entirely?

KING: That's what Sarah Palin said.


KING: Here's what she said: "with the publication of damaging e- mails from a climate research center in Britain, the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point. The revelation of appalling actions by so-called climate change experts allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated about this issue."

MILLER: Um, yeah. It's hard to take someone seriously that thinks that dinosaurs -- I don't know -- dinosaur gas caused global warming or whatever it is she actually thinks. So, you know, Larry, the president is going to Copenhagen because that's what leaders do. And the consensus of science, for quite some time, has been -- some stolen e-mails that think this or that are not significant. The consensus of science over many years has been that humans are causing climb change.

KING: Penn, what do you think?

JILLETTE: I think the e-mails are very, very troublesome, and not insignificant. But I think it's part of the president's job to go to this. I think boycotting it would be insane. I don't think it matters who says it. I don't think you need to attack -- I mean, Sarah Palin gets attacked enough. I don't think anybody takes her very seriously. You wouldn't want to boycott that. You have to go there anyway.

But I don't think you should just dismiss the fact that whenever scientists do something disingenuous like that, I think we should land on it. It doesn't negate the whole theory. We just don't know. But it's certainly not good.

KING: We will get Ben's and Tanya's thoughts on that and lots of other things when we come back.


KING: You remember Dick Cheney said something that if one percent of something is true, we should go whole-heartedly at it? Well, an op-ed page today, Thomas Friedman said we should go Cheney on climate change, that even if there is only a one percent chance of global disaster, we need to treat it as a certainty, in terms of our response. Thomas Friedman, no jerk.

STEIN: That's what you say. That's -- he's a smart guy and he lives very near where I grew up. So I give him credit for that. But there is an awful lot of information coming out of those leaked wiretaps, those hacked e-mails in East Anglia, that there was a conspiracy to cover up the fact that there is not as much global warming going on as they say there is. And it's clearly -- it's unequivocally true, by some sets of data, that 1,500 years ago, it was a lot warmer than it is now, that 2,500 years ago, it was a lot warmer than it is now. That wasn't caused by man's industrial activity.

I think there should be 100 percent consensus on this before we go to the trouble of turning the world upside down. And if you look at the look charts of how much global warming there's been, it really is not that much. But I agree with the basic idea. If there is a small chance that we will save the world from disappearing by switching over to hydrogen cars, we should do it.

KING: Tanya? It's not harmful to have a hydrogen car.

ACKER: And we'll never get 100 percent consensus on anything. I mean, this whole climate-gate, I think it's become a red herring so big that you can stock a Jewish deli for a year. These emails do not change the notion that Earth is warming. There is a problem. And even though there are some scientists, some of whom have been paid by oil companies for years --

STEIN: Some are paid by the solar power industry, too. That does not matter. The Earth is not warming. It's cooler now than it was 11 years ago. That's unequivocal.

ACKER: One of the points that came out in these emails was that some of these scientists were not able to account for a lack of warnings, I think, since the '60s. That being said, that didn't undermine the long-head notion that, notwithstanding by some metrics -- I think there was some tree ring analysis that didn't show warming. If you look at temperatures, if you look at other thermometer readings, we are seeing warming.

KING: Stephanie, Philip Wylie (ph), the late Philip Wylie once told me that when you talk to people about generations not yet born, it goes in one ear and out the other. They don't care about great grandchildren they don't have. So climate change shouldn't make an impact. The opposite of that is most Americans, 70 percent of Americans, think global warming is a fact. What do you make of this?

MILLER: I'm a childless loser, Larry, as you know. So I don't really care. But, you know, I think the fact that Ben Stein believes in the scientists from Exxon Mobil to say there is no global warming --


MILLER: It's like the study from Kentucky Fried Chicken.


MILLER: Fried chicken is Americans' favorite food. Big surprise.


MILLER: There are scientists that work for oil companies that have said what you are saying.

STEIN: There are plenty of scientists who work at universities who say there is no global warming. You must made that up about Exxon Mobile. You just picked that out of thin air. I have never read a study by anyone from Exxon Mobil about it.


STEIN: You just made that up about Exxon Mobile.

MILLER: There are scientists that Tanya said work for oil companies. That's my point.

STEIN: I haven't read any articles by them.

KING: OK, let's say Texaco. Anyway, we will get a break and come back and start with Penn Jillette and talk about health care. Where is that going? Don't go away.


KING: I want to apologize. Apparently, we got cut off through a glitch in one of our cities that cut to a commercial. And I will go back to Penn Jillette again. Health care, Ben; the president welcomes the Senate Democratic compromise. It looks like it's going jettison public option. But Medicare kicks in earlier. What do you make of all this?

JILLETTE: Well, Medicaid kicking in early is a very big deal, and it maybe evens moves more towards the liberal agenda than the public option. You know, I think it's a little bit -- for me, spending our way out of a recession, fighting our way out of a war, and regulating our way to more health care choice are all contradictory ideas. It always makes you seem smart, but it always makes me feel uncomfortable.

KING: Shouldn't we finally have, Tanya, some sort of health care in American?

ACKER: Yes, absolutely. This is so long overdo. The Senate Democratic compromise is not the bill that I would have written or passed. But I'm not in Congress. Nobody ever votes for me for anything. But I -- this is long overdo.

Why is it in the United States of America that people are being bankrupted because they go to the doctors? Why are people relying on emergency room care when, instead, if they had access to a primary care physician throughout the course of their lives, they'd be healthier; we'd spend less money. This is way overdo. I'm happy to see something happening.

KING: What about you, Stephanie?

MILLER: You know what? When Howard Dean is smiling, I know something is OK. I think that Penn may be right. I think, frankly, Larry, what we've got is better than the really watered down, opt in, opt out, trigger, hammer, whatever the public option was becoming. I think Medicare for all is where we are going, and we are going to strengthen this over time, I hope, like Medicare or civil rights or Social Security.

So I'm really happy. But don't tell the right wingers like Ben Stein. We hate this, Larry. We hate what happened.

KING: I don't consider Ben Stein. I think of Ben Stein -- you never know where he is going. Where are you going on this?

STEIN: Where I'm going on this is that before Stephanie was born, I wrote the speech that sent the first federal comprehensive health care legislation up for Mr. Nixon in 1973.

KING: Nixon proposed a lot of liberal things.

STEIN: He was a very liberal Republican. We sent that up. And our idea was a very simple one. It's outrageous in a country as wealthy as this that poor people should not get adequate health insurance. So we will give poor people money to buy health insurance. We won't have the government step in with health options, with choices, with telling people what kind of medical care they can get.

KING: Why did that fail?

STEIN: Nixon got overwhelmed by Watergate and had no more clout.

KING: Did the insurance companies fight that?

STEIN: I don't think they did fight that. I still think that's a good idea. I know it's not going to happen. But keep the government's big feet out of it. Just give poor people or people who don't have the money to buy it money to buy a private insurance policy.

KING: Penn, is it lobbying that has prevented anything from happening?

JILLETTE: I don't know. I think it's that -- it's that it's very, very complicated and we're making it more complicated instead of less. I always like to think, is there a way we could solve some of these problems with more freedom? And the fact that what we got is not working does not mean this is the only way out. I may agree with Stephanie on that.

KING: Let's now turn to the former governor of Alaska. In addition to remaining a polarizing figure, Sarah Palin continues to provide fodder for the late night comics. Here's an example.


JIMMY KIMMEL, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": A man was arrested at the Mall of America yesterday for throwing tomatoes at Sarah Palin. As Sarah Palin calls them, Italian apples.

The man showed up at her book signing in Minneapolis. He threw two tomatoes. Neither of them came close to hitting her, and instead they hit a cop and now might be charged with assaulting a police officer. They released his mug shot today. He looks familiar. I cannot figure out where he is from.


KING: All right, Palin's memoir, "Going Rogue," a blockbuster hit. She's attracting huge crowds. Her popularity seems to go up. It's not at 50 percent, where Obama is, but he is sliding a little. What do you make of her?

STEIN: She is an amazingly charismatic figure to some. But I must say I cannot take her seriously. I think her positions on many issues are extremely correct. But she is -- to me at least, probably not to others -- but she just doesn't sound like a serious person and I don't take her seriously.

KING: Tanya, how big a threat is she?

ACKER: Not a threat.

KING: They said that about Ronald Reagan.

ACKER: OK, but Sarah Palin -- granted, that's the other side of the aisle. Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. And I don't think I'm alone in thinking that. Sure, she has got some increasing poll numbers now. But she has recently been charged with traveling around the country promoting a self-serving, revisionist account of an election. Whereas President Obama, by contrast, has been presiding over a war or two and the economy.

I mean, I don't think that her poll numbers mean much in terms of her long-term political credibility.

KING: Penn Jillette, what is your read on Sarah?

JILLETTE: I didn't read it. I didn't read her book and I don't why know anything about it. And I find it very difficult, even on TV with Larry King talking to me, to care.

KING: You don't care?

JILLETTE: Well, I just don't care about her.

KING: OK. All right. You don't care. Stephanie, what do you think?

MILLER: Oh, I know the mall thing. It is attack of the killer liberal tomatoes. It is another poor Sarah story, Larry. You know, I have to say, my dad ran for vice president with Barry Goldwater in '64 and took quite a drubbing, Larry. Let me just say, there is no whining in politics. To me, all she does is wine. This whole book is just complaining and whining. And, you know, there is no crying in politics.

JILLETTE: There is a lot of whining in politics, a lot of it. I don't like it. I don't want it. I won't listen to it. But it exists. STEIN: What do you think Mrs. Clinton was doing when she charged everything against her husband was a vast right-wing conspiracy. That is all politician does is blame other people for their problems.

MILLER: Oh, please, Ben, this whole book is just about getting even. It is about settling scores.

JILLETTE: Did you read the book?

MILLER: I read every word.

JILLETTE: Wow. You're -- oh, amazing.

STEIN: I don't think I believe her.

MILLER: I care when Larry King asks me about it. I care.

JILLETTE: I know, you should care.

STEIN: I don't think she is telling us the truth.



KING: Earlier today, the House Homeland Security Committee voted to subpoena the White House gate crashers, Tareq and Michaela Salahi, whatever. I'm tired of this story. The couple has been the target of plenty of late night punch lines. Here's Letterman.


DAVID LETTERMAN, "THE LATE SHOW": How about the kids, the couple that sneaked into the White House for the big state dinner? Remember those guys? The Salahis? The guy and his wife, good-looking couple. Now, they are going to be subpoenaed by the House Homeland Security Committee. And I thought, well, finally, they are being invited somewhere.

Hey, look, honey. Look what we got in the mail! But I mean, honestly, look at it this way, you can't blame the Salahis for going where they're not invited. I mean, isn't that our foreign policy, when you think about it?


KING: Ben, what do you make of this Salahi story?

STEIN: I have been lots and lots of social events at the White House. They're usually incredibly strict.

KING: Very.

STEIN: Somebody screwed up very badly here. And there should be an investigation of the Secret Service. They really screwed up badly.

KING: Does it give you concern, Penn?

JILLETTE: Well, why -- why is there executive privilege on not having the secretary, the social secretary --

KING: I don't know why.

JILLETTE: It seems crazy.

STEIN: A very good point.

KING: Presidents use it, though.

JILLETTE: I know. But shouldn't he wait to use it until he has done something wrong?

STEIN: I'm not sure anyone has used it for a social secretary.

ACKER: No president wants to create a president where you bring his staff -- see Karl Rove and the Rove subpoena -- where staff gets dragged before Congress. Certainly, there are some questions about what was the social secretary's office doing? And why did they, perhaps, drop the ball here. But the bigger question really is, one, what did these people say to these federal agents? Did they break the law? Did they give it -- make false statements to federal officers ,which would give rise to, I think, appropriate prosecution? And then how did the Secret Service let them in?

KING: Stephanie, what do you think of this?

MILLER: Well, I'm mostly just bitter about it, Larry, because, in my mind, I'm solely responsible for getting the president elected, and I can't get into the White House, nor can I get a reality show.

But on a serious note, the first -- the first black president, I'm concerned about this. And I think it's pretty serious, you know?

JILLETTE: Every president.

KING: I want to get in one more quick thing.

JILLETTE: It's a dangerous job.

KING: We may have a comment on this. It's away from the topic. But earlier this month, an Oklahoma woman shot and killed an intruder who crashed through her back patio door. She was on the phone to a 911 operator when she did it. Here's part of that call.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You need to hurry. He is going to break this thing open. When he does, I'll have to kill him, ma'am. And I don't want to kill him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you understand what he is saying at all?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Boy, he is crazy.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hurry. Dear god, hurry. I haven't shot yet. Hurry.

Can you -- oh, my god.

I shot him going out front I hit him. God help me. Oh, please, dear god, I think I have a killed him. Please, father in heaven. Please, father in heaven. Oh, my god.


KING: What do you make of that, Ben?

STEIN: It is an extremely touching and overwhelming. It's just overwhelming. I say it is overwhelming.

KING: Tanya, different age we live in?

ACKER: Absolutely. My god, just the fact that she had such conscience over killing somebody breaking into her house. My heart goes out to her.

KING: Talk about a reality show, Penn. How about that?

JILLETTE: Is heartbreaking. I don't know if it shows anything about our times changing. It is -- I think horrible things like this have always happened. It is very hard to listen to.


KING: But we can now, Stephanie, play a 911 tape.

MILLER: Well, you know, it reminds me of those pictures of the president at Dover Air Force Base. I think it is always a good moment when we can really think about the cost of a human life, whatever the situation is.

KING: Ben, you're a speech writer. We got about 20 seconds. Do you expect a great speech in Oslo?

STEIN: I think a very good speech. His last speech about Afghanistan was his best speech, and I expect this one to be better.

KING: Thank you all very much, as always. Sting has written exclusively for us about his favorite Christmas memories. Go to and read all about it. Right now is Anderson Cooper, "AC 360" starts right now. Anderson?