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Gingrich Surging; Six U.S. Marines, Four French Troops Killed in Afghanistan

Aired January 20, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening from the CNN Election Center. I'm John King.

Tonight, Mitt Romney tries to stop the Newt Gingrich South Carolina surge by demanding the former speaker release results of a damning ethics investigation.

Plus, appropriate or despicable? We put my controversial opening question from last night's big debate to the "Truth" test.

And a deadly day in Afghanistan leaves six U.S. Marines and four French soldiers dead -- the French now threatening to pull out for good.

We begin tonight in South Carolina, where the Republican candidates for president down to their final night of campaigning before tomorrow's all-important presidential primary. Everything we expected at the start of the week now turned on its head. Polls show Newt Gingrich surging. The one-time front-runner Mitt Romney sees the state slipping away.

Today, Governor Romney fought back by demanding Speaker Gingrich release more details of the ethics investigation back when he was the House speaker in the late 1990s.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think over 80 percent of Republican congressmen voted to reprimand the speaker of the House, the first time in history. And Nancy Pelosi has the full record of that ethics investigation. You know it's going to get out before the general election. Sure, he ought to get it out now.


KING: Late this afternoon, a confident Speaker Gingrich fired back.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He doesn't release anything. He doesn't answer anything. And he's even confused about whether or not he will ever release anything.

And then they decide to pick a fight over releasing stuff? The report of the committee on ethics was like 900 pages. Now, as soon as the governor reads the 900 pages, I will be glad to chat with him. But in the interim, like, he could have today released his tax records so the voters of South Carolina could discover something.


KING: Our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, is with us now from South Carolina.

Gloria, what's behind this Newt Gingrich surge? How much of it is the speaker going up and how much is Governor Romney coming down?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it's a little bit of both.

But the truth is that I think Newt Gingrich has shown himself to be a real street fighter here. He's playing to conservatives in the state, as he did in answering your first question in the debate last night, John. They like somebody who can fight. And what we have seen with Mitt Romney on the tax issue and generally on the issue of how to handle his discussions of his personal wealth is that he seems really uncomfortable with it, as if he's kind of uncomfortable with who he is.

I mean, he knows that heading into this next election it's going to be about the wealth gap if he's the nominee. It's going to be between Barack Obama and whomever about the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. And as a wealthy man -- and, by the way, he is wealthy and everybody knows it -- he still seems to have a difficult time in talking about his wealth or his income taxes.

By the way, he said he paid a 15 percent tax rate. In a Republican primary, that's not a bad thing. People want lower tax rates for everyone. So it's kind of hard to decipher where he's coming from, whereas with Newt, you know exactly where he's coming from. You know exactly what his message is. And you know that he's fighting.

KING: And, Gloria, you spent some time with the Gingrich campaign today. He may get another moment here. If he gets a win or a very strong showing in South Carolina, he is back again and back in a position to have a serious impact on this race as we move on. What was it like?

BORGER: Right.

Well, it was interesting, because in the morning, he was supposed to speak at a leadership conference here. It was canceled because there wasn't a large audience. And then the next event was at a hospital where in fact he wasn't talking to voters. He was talking to people on a hospital staff. And there wasn't much contact with voters.

His wife, Callista, was reading a children's book. And I think it was interesting that she was put in the spotlight today. I mean, I would argue that might remind voters of his infidelities. Then in the afternoon he had a great rally in Orangeburg with more than 500 people, so a slow start. But again it shows the kind of lack of organization that you might expect from somebody who may be on the cusp of winning the South Carolina primary.

KING: And that is the big question, Gloria. Can the Romney organization overcome the Gingrich momentum? A fascinating final night on the trail in South Carolina. Gloria Borger is right there. Gloria, thanks.

And coming up, his feisty performance in our debate last night -- Rick Santorum is asking South Carolina voters to focus on the fall campaign. The former Pennsylvania senator says he's the man who can beat President Obama, not, he says, Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney. He drew a very interesting analogy today.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, the way they're looking at this is sort of like Goldilocks and the three bears.

And you have one candidate that's a little too radioactive, a little too hot. And then we have another candidate who's just too darn cold, who doesn't have bold plans, who doesn't have that clear contrast because of inconsistencies and flip-flops. And we need someone who's just right.


KING: With the polls showing Newt Gingrich surging there in South Carolina, Mitt Romney now trying to lower expectations for just how he will do in tomorrow's primary.


ROMNEY: South Carolina is an uphill battle from a guy from Massachusetts. I knew that. We're battling hard. The fact is that right now it looks like it's neck-and-neck. That's a pretty good spot to be. I'm pretty pleased and pretty proud of the success of our effort.


KING: CNN's Jim Acosta spent the day with the Romney campaign. He joins us now live.

Jim, and let's get right to it. How do they explain this turn for the worst over the past week?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's a good question, John.

We caught up with Mitt Romney earlier today in Gilbert, South Carolina. There was a morning shower at his event. Perhaps it was the weather because he was dampening expectations for tomorrow's South Carolina primary. He said during that event where you heard him speak just a few moments ago he was talking about Newt Gingrich's sort of regional advantage in the South, talking about the fact that he used to represent the state that borders South Carolina.

John, Newt Gingrich has not lived in Georgia in the last 20 years. He's lived outside of Washington, D.C., all of that time. So that regional advantage might be a stretch.

Stu Stevens, a chief strategist for the Romney campaign, was telling reporters in the spin room last night that they could lose South Carolina. Mitt Romney was reminding reporters earlier today that he finished fourth in this state four years ago. He's not going to finish fourth this time around, but he's certainly not going to drive the rest out of the field out of this race, as they once hoped, John.

Interesting. They try to set expectations on the eve of this important primary.

Jim, let's listen to something else the governor said today.


ROMNEY: I sure would like to win South Carolina. But I know that if those polls were right, regardless of who gets the final number, we're both going to get a lot of delegates.


KING: Doesn't sound like the Mitt Romney who first got to the state after New Hampshire, Jim, hoping that he could win New Hampshire, win South Carolina, and that this would be a sprint. People wouldn't be worrying about delegates, it would be about momentum. What are his people telling you privately now about the shift in the race for the long term?

ACOSTA: Right.

What they're talking about at this point, John, is the long term. They're saying that they're the campaign that is built to last, that can go the distance. They're already up with more advertising than any other campaign, probably all of the campaigns combined, down in Florida. And so that is the next step.

If they don't do well here in South Carolina, and it's looking like a Gingrich squeaker here in South Carolina, then they go to Florida. The field is a lot different. As you know, John, Florida is one of those states where they have to compete in a lot of different media markets. And the advantage then again goes to Mitt Romney mainly from his organizational strength, because of the fact that he's raised so much money, because he has this super PAC that is able to blanket the airwaves with lots of advertising.

That really gives Mitt Romney the advantage down in Florida. He doesn't seem that worried about how he's going to do overall over the long haul. He told Laura Ingraham on her radio show earlier today that Newt Gingrich may win some states here or there. And it made it sound as if they're ready to take this thing -- to take this thing the distance possibly, John.

KING: Fascinating shift over the last few days. Jim Acosta live with the Romney campaign in South Carolina, Jim, thank you on this important night.

And let's not forget the fourth Republican candidate. Ron Paul was an impact player in Iowa, made an impact in New Hampshire. Today in South Carolina, he spent the day on what his campaign called a whistle-stop tour of the state, but without the train.

In Warrenville, South Carolina, this afternoon, Congressman Paul took a direct shot at Mitt Romney's campaign donors.


REP. RON PAUL (R-TX), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a leader right now, supposed leader in this campaign. He gets -- his this top three donors are banks, including Goldman Sachs.


PAUL: Now, our campaign has the top three donors. First, it's the Army, then it's the Air Force, and then it's the Navy.



KING: Let's turn overseas now to a deadly day in Afghanistan.

About midnight, six U.S. Marines died when their helicopter crashed. Then an Afghan soldier turned his gun on a group of French troops, killing four and wounding 15. That attack has the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, threatening to pull all of his country's forces out of Afghanistan.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from Kabul tonight.

Nick, let's start with the helicopter crash that killed those six U.S. Marines. The Taliban claims responsibility. Is there evidence of that?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, it's fair to say no, to be honest. They have claimed in a text message they shot the helicopter down, but an ISAF official saying to me it was mechanical issues that caused this hard landing.

Where these crashes occur, the insurgents always leap forward to claim it was them. ISAF normally says technical reasons. At this point there's no evidence to back up either claim, although historically it does appear the majority of these crashes that we have seen in recent months are down to technical issues, John. KING: And, Nick, on top of these tragic deaths of the U.S. Marines, you have these French troops, four of them, shot and killed. There have been some other international troops killed recently.

Sarkozy saying he may pull all 4,000 French troops out now sooner than anticipated. This is part of a growing trend, isn't it?


These attacks by Afghan soldiers against NATO forces here have been seen very regularly over the past year or so. This has got people deeply concerned. This is basically affecting the exit strategy. U.S. forces here have to train up Afghans to take over running the country's security so they can leave.

If this trust between them erodes, if they can no longer trust the Afghans to do that job, then that really does affect the ability for U.S. forces to draw down in the forthcoming year and eventually leave by 2014, John.

KING: Nick Paton Walsh for us, important reporting on a deadly day in Afghanistan, Nick, thank you.

And still ahead here, tonight's "Truth" tackles last night's debate and a first question that brought this and more from Newt Gingrich.


GINGRICH: I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.




KING: We're live tonight at the CNN Election Center.

But before leaving South Carolina this morning, I went to the Boulevard Cafe near Charleston to sit down with some voters, one a Newt Gingrich supporter. You will hear from her a bit later.

Two gentlemen were undecided. I asked them, do the controversies about Newt Gingrich's past, some personal questions and some questions about his tenure as House speaker in Washington, what the Romney campaign calls baggage, does it bother them? Listen.


RYAN DOWNING, SOUTH CAROLINA: With everything that's coming out and more baggage and everything, I don't know. It makes the decision harder.

KING: Some people say it's his management style as speaker, how he -- it was a combative, polarizing time in the Clinton days. Other people say it's the personal stuff, questions of character. Is it one? Is it both?

ED DAUGINAS, SOUTH CAROLINA: I would say, when he fined for ethics violations, that's a mark that -- his character and performance and perhaps his stance in office. And I have a concern about that.

KING: And you?

DOWNING: If this is how someone manages their personal life, then how will they manage their public life as well?


KING: Joining me now to discuss the day tomorrow, the big South Carolina primary, Ralph Reed. He's the chairman of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, former executive director of the Christian Coalition.

It's good to have you, Ralph.


KING: You have spent a lot of time in this state of South Carolina.

Let's break it down tomorrow. First, I just want to go -- come up here and just show this because I know you think this is important. And the reason we do that, if you go back to 2008, this is Mike Huckabee country up here. Now, he didn't win the skate. John McCain did. But this is where find in Greenville, Spartanburg your big pockets of evangelical votes.

My question to you first is will we have a repeat, where Governor Huckabee carries these areas, but Fred Thompson did very well, didn't win the state? But probably denied Huckabee a victory four years ago. In a Gingrich and a Santorum, will we have the same effect this time and allow Governor Romney to sneak out with a victory?

RALPH REED, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I don't think we know yet, John.

But what we do know is if that were to happen, it would allow Mitt Romney to squeak through. If you go back and you look at what happened up here in the upstate in 2008 in Greenville and Spartanburg and Pickens and some of these other counties, you take the combined Huckabee-Thompson vote, in some of those counties, it was 50 percent. In some, it got as high as 57 percent.

But nowhere did Huckabee get over 34 percent of the vote. So what we're seeing when we look at the polling, and admittedly there's a lot of published polling going on, is that Newt Gingrich is particularly surging among two groups, number one, Tea Party voters, and number two, evangelicals.

Evangelicals are going to be 60 percent-plus of the vote. He's right now leading Romney among those voters as of today 2-1.

KING: Let's look at them. If you look at the map here, the darker the area, the higher the percentage. This is evangelical voters. Up here, where we were, Greenville, Spartanburg, some areas over here too, so this is where we will be looking tomorrow for the evangelical vote.

You mentioned the Tea Party. Let me bring that up as well. Same difference here. The darker the area -- and they overlap to some degree.

REED: And there's a lot of overlap.

KING: Overlap to some degree.

REED: And the challenge that Romney is facing is this. He's doing well among self-described moderates, non-evangelicals, independents.

KING: Find a lot of those down here.

REED: And he's doing well in the downstate.

The problem is, every one of those voter groups is a distinct minority. Half the vote is going to be up here -- 25 percent of the vote will be here. It will be won or lost right in here in the middle spine around Columbia. And this is where Bush did so well against McCain. This is where Bush really won it in 2000.

KING: So I want to break this down to show what you're talking about. And I will move the map a little bit away from the names. The purple is Rick Santorum.

You see he has spent a ton of time up here, evangelical, Tea Party voters. Gingrich, some. He's been more spread out, diverse through the state on his visits. Governor Romney, a sprinkle up here, more down in the areas where you say he needs to deliver.

Here's my question for you. Governor Perry drops out, he endorses Speaker Gingrich. Again, a lot of time up in here. Do these voters listen to Governor Perry and go to one candidate? Or you have Senator Santorum pushing pretty hard, saying, I should be your guy.

REED: Well, I think Perry was part of a larger wave.

This really began on Monday night on Myrtle Beach, when Gingrich mixed it up with Juan Williams with the FOX News Network. And that's really where it began. And it's really happened in about 72 hours. And then, of course, that was repeated last night on the debate in the exchange between you and Gingrich.

KING: And you say that works with the base.


REED: Oh, there's no question about it. I have been doing this for 30 years. I was in the audience on Monday night.

I have never seen a spontaneous standing ovation for a presidential candidate in a debate. They were standing on their chairs chanting his name. So I think it was that. I also think the voters were looking. They weren't yet ready to close the deal for Romney.

And this has all happened very quick. If we'd have been together five days ago, we would have been talking about Romney maybe going 3-0 in the first three contests. Never happened before in modern presidential politics. Instead, if things continue as they look going into tomorrow, he would be one of the three.

KING: Santorum, Romney, Gingrich, and we have got a wide-open race heading into Florida and beyond maybe.

Let's let the people of South Carolina vote.

REED: But, still, a word of caution. Romney spent $3 million on TV in Florida. It's a media state. He's much stronger there. He'd like to win tomorrow, but I think his team is comfortable that he can fight the long fight.

KING: We will start here tomorrow. We will talk again as we head down to Florida.

Ralph, thanks for coming in. Appreciate it.

REED: Thanks, John.

KING: Up next here: The Obama administration is refusing to back down over a health care reform rule that one Catholic leader says will force people to violate their consciences.

We will also mark the passing of an iconic jazz singer who influenced, jazz, rock, soul, and R&B artists around the globe.


KING: Welcome back.


KING: Still ahead here: tonight's "Truth" about the first question at last night's presidential debate.

Also, details of the accident that killed the woman who put freestyle skiing in the Olympics.


KING: In this half-hour: the "Truth" about the first question in last night's presidential debate. Appropriate or despicable?

Also, a 29-year-old Olympic gold medalist who took risks and paid the ultimate price. Plus, the moment you probably missed, the president of the United States singing.

First, though, new revelations about exactly what happened a week ago tonight when a cruise ship capsized off the Italian coast. The ship's much-maligned captain now has a defender, an attractive blonde woman who reportedly sat down to have dinner with the captain after the ship's hull was ripped over by submerged rocks.

CNN senior international correspondent Dan Rivers joins us live now from Italy.

Dan, tell us what we know.

DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it appears that the captain was having dinner after the collision at 9:41 p.m. exactly a week ago, the chef on board, who's come out and said that not only did he have dinner, but he also was waiting for dessert, apparently, by about 10:30, despite the fact that the ship by this point was listing quite dangerously, and the kitchen even was pretty badly damaged by the fact that the ship had leaned over so far.

The woman who he was allegedly dining with is a Moldavian 25- year-old woman who's an employee of Costa Cruises. She was not working at this point. She had a ticket as a private passenger. She's come out and talked to the media defending the captain, claiming that he stayed on board until 10:00 to midnight that night which is completely at odds with what the Coast Guard told us and the radio traffic that we heard earlier in the week, suggesting that the captain had -- got off the ship fairly early on onto a life raft and was being ordered back on by the Coast Guard over the radio.

KING: Dan Rivers live for us tonight in those new developments.

Dan, thank you very much.

Twenty-nine-year-old Sarah Burke was considered a pioneer in freestyle skiing. And perhaps more than any other person was responsible for making it an Olympic sport. Her life cut tragically short this week when she died after being first seriously injured in practice.

CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen now explaining the dangers of the sport.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, witnesses say that Sarah Burke whiplashed onto that hard, icy surface. That was the term they used, "whiplashed." And actually the injury was not to her head. The injury was to her neck. She actually tore a vertebral artery. That's one of the arteries that carries blood to the brain. And when she tore it, she went into cardiac arrest and also her brain was deprived of oxygen.

And, John, the next day surgeons did go in and try to stitch up that injury. They tried to fix it but she had just been deprived of oxygen for too long, and they did end up taking her off of life support.

Now this wasn't Burke's first injury. In fact, two years ago she did break a bone in her back but was able to get back to work relatively quickly. In 2009, another snowboarder by the name of Kevin Pierce, he had a traumatic brain injury. And he was actually out of the sport for quite awhile. He's only just now getting back to it. He was in the hospital for five months. He said he just couldn't get back to the sport. And then he was sort of hesitant to get back to the sport. But he now is actually back into it.

You know this -- when we talk to folks about this sport they said it's not an incredibly dangerous sport. It doesn't have the injury rates that other sports might have. But still, injuries do happen. She was using all the safety equipment that she was supposed to be using, we're told, but she didn't land on her head so her helmet didn't help her. It may have been just sort of this strange kind of fluky way that she landed. But certainly a community now is in mourning for this very beloved skier -- John.

KING: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

A bit earlier we told you about our breakfast meeting with some voters at the Boulevard Diner near Charleston, South Carolina, today. You heard from two undecided men who said they worry a bit about Speaker Gingrich's baggage from the past.

Well, listen here, a strong Newt Gingrich supporter says yes, she knows about that but she still thinks he's the guy.


LINDA SMOAK, WEST ASHLEY, SOUTH CAROLINA: I love the fact that he has those gigantic ideas. You know, one after another. I think that's very important for a president.

KING: You think he could beat President Obama?

SMOAK: I do. Of course, I think any of them can. But yes, I definitely do. And I think he's the best one to do it.


KING: We're on the eve now of tomorrow's big South Carolina presidential primary. Rick Santorum is making his closing argument, telling voters he, not Mitt Romney nor Newt Gingrich, will be the strongest candidate against President Obama in the general election.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I would say to the people of South Carolina, take a step back. Get past the glib one- liners. The beating up of the media, which is always popular among conservatives. Get past the inevitability that the person with the most money wins. He didn't win Iowa.

(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE) SANTORUM: And focus in on what we need to do for the fall.


KING: CNN's Dana Bash today covering Santorum. She's in Charleston tonight.

Dana, the Santorum team came away from last night's debate thinking he'd turned in a feisty, a forceful performance. Do they think it's enough to give him momentum in the end when they know Speaker Gingrich has been surging?

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I honestly don't know the answer to that. In fact, John, I asked Santorum effectively that, about the fact that, you know, he probably has to do pretty well tomorrow to keep going. And he basically scoffed at that saying that he -- look at how much has changed in the past day, the fact that he has, as he just mentioned, won Iowa, Rick Perry dropped out of the race.

But what he doesn't know is whether those things and last night's debate really will make an impact in -- on the voters here. Because he said he thinks maybe it will take a couple of days for those things to sink in and he's not sure he has that time. What he did so well in Iowa was spend so much time there. As you know. And that's how he came from asterisks in the polls all the way to number one.

He doesn't have that time here, he doesn't have that organization. But he is trying to say that he is the one that social conservatives need to go for.

You know, John, look, he was giving an analogy that was very interesting. He called it the Goldilocks anally. He said one of the candidates is too hot, radioactive, obviously meaning Newt Gingrich. One of the candidates is too cold, obviously meaning Mitt Romney. Bet you can guess who the one he thought was just right?

KING: And Dana, the question is, if he doesn't have the organization in South Carolina because in the time, the Florida is a much bigger state, a much more media heavy state. Does he have the troops in the ground and the money in the bank to compete at the next stop?

BASH: The money in the bank they claim inside the Santorum campaign that they're gathering. They say that even though Rick Perry endorsed Newt Gingrich, some of his big money people are coming over to him. They insist that they're already going up on the air with ads in Florida. But look, the bottom line is that Rick Santorum was very, very happy earlier this week when he got this endorsement from the Christian conservative leaders who met in Texas last weekend.

At this point if you just look at the polls it doesn't seem to have translated into real support here. He needs that kind of support to really have a viable candidacy going forward. But at this point he is insisting he is one of two people who has actually won a contest. He's not going there at all until he sees what happens tomorrow. KING: Until he sees what happens tomorrow. We'll all be watching that. The South Carolina presidential primary.

Dana Bash, live in Charleston tonight, thank you.

Our special coverage begins at 6:00 Eastern. You won't want to miss that boat.

Shifting now, though, from the politics on the presidential campaign trail to a big issue in Washington, a major win for Internet companies. For now. Congress is backing down at least for the moment from a pair of controversial anti-piracy bills that led to Wikipedia and other Web sites going dark earlier this week in a day of protests.

CNN's Kate Bolduan is back with us.

And Kate, how are the major tech companies reacting to this at least temporary woe?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The major tech companies, they are applauding it. But this of course is following the high-profile protests by those major tech companies. Some of the heavy weights like Google and Wikipedia.

Congressional leaders today, John, they announced they were essentially shelving the two anti-online piracy bills that both previously had enjoyed some bipartisan support. In a statement Senate majority leader Harry Reid, he said he was pulling the Protect IP Act from a scheduled procedural vote Tuesday, saying, quote, "There is no reason that the legitimate issues raised by many about this bill cannot be resolved."

And in the House, a similar reversal on a similar bill called SOPA. Got to love the acronyms. Stop Online Piracy Act, it's called. The chair of the House Judiciary Committee announced in a statement that the committee would, quote, in his words, "postpone consideration of the legislation until there is a wider agreement on a solution."

The bills were backed by content providers like Hollywood studios, who had complained that they're losing millions of dollars a year because of illegal downloads. They want tougher protections. And full disclosure, CNN's parent company Time Warner supports the legislation.

But many tech companies, they say the measures would lead eventually to censorship of the Internet. And with the announcement today it seems round one at least goes to the -- goes to the Internet as lawmakers say they have to now, John, head back to the drawing board to try to strike some sort of compromise.

KING: And what's the prognosis there as they head back to the drawing board? Do they think they can resolve this relatively quickly? Is this a pause or a huge delay?

BOLDUAN: At the moment it's unclear really what the path forward is. Of course because this really just kind of unfolding and the Senate is not even back yet. But from the indication from all the -- congressional leaders putting out statements today, they indicate that they're ready to go back to the drawing board, that they will continue negotiating and to find a better balance here between protecting copyright infringement versus -- you know, and free speech. But of course, finding that balance is the very hard part that they will now need to tackle -- John.

KING: Kate Bolduan, it's a fascinating debate. Kate, thank you.

BOLDUAN: It sure is.

KING: Ahead here the truth about last night's debate and the first question that caused the first fireworks.


KING: This story did not come from our network. As you also know it is a subject of conversation on the campaign. I'm not -- I get your point. I take your point.

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: John, it was repeated by your network.



KING: I've been covering campaigns for a quarter century now. This is my seventh presidential election cycle. My job is to report the news, not be part of the news. Well, today I guess I am.


KING: She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage. Would you like to take some time to respond to that?

GINGRICH: No, but I will.


GINGRICH: I think -- I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.


KING: Now some of you think it was an appropriate question. Some of you, like the former speaker, found it, as he put it, close to despicable. Some who believe it was an appropriate question are critical of asking it right off the top. I respect all of those opinions and arguments, even as I strongly stand by our decision.

If you do what I do for a living, you better be ready to take some lumps. And you should welcome a healthy debate over everything we do.

But here's tonight's "Truth." As we have this debate, and I do welcome it, let's not ignore the obvious and time-tested political calculation in the speaker's response.


GINGRICH: I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.



KING: Attacking the media is a Gingrich trademark and a guaranteed Republican red meat applause line.


GINGRICH: I for one, and I hope all of my friends up here, are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama who deserves to be defeated.

I'd love to see the rest of tonight's debate asking us about what we would do to lead an America whose president has failed to lead instead of playing Mickey Mouse games.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: Speaker Gingrich, if you think questions about your records are Mickey Mouse, I'm sorry.


KING: Plus, compare the speaker's debate outrage at me with a much calmer response earlier in the day when he was asked essentially the same question absent the debate studio and the national television audience.


GINGRICH: I'm not going to say anything about Marianne. My two daughters have already written to ABC complaining about this as tawdry and inappropriate.


KING: In his debate answer he did say something about Marianne. He called her a liar.


GINGRICH: Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period says the story was false. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Knowing his history, some of those criticizing the question argue I should have known I was teeing up a major political opportunity. We knew that was a possibility and we wrestled with it. Plus, his second wife's timing coming forward, just before South Carolina votes, is more than a little curious. We wrestled with that, too.

In the end we decided -- I decided it was the lead political story of the day. Like it or not. And we had an obligation to ask about it. I was doing my job as I see it. And the speaker? He was doing his. As he sees it.

Here to discuss this, the former New York congressman, Susan Molinari. She worked with Gingrich in the Congress. She's a Mitt Romney supporter now. Pastor Jim Garlow, he's a member of the Faith Leaders Coalition for the Gingrich Campaign, and my friend and colleague, former CNN Washington bureau chief, Frank Sesno, now with the George Washington University.

Pastor, I want to start with you. An appropriate question in your view? Is Marianne Gingrich coming forward questioning the speaker's integrity? Is that a fair question in a presidential campaign?

JIM GARLOW, FAITH LEADERS COALITION FOR GINGRICH CAMPAIGN: I do look at it pastorally. Divorce is a terrible thing, it's a painful thing, it's hard on everybody. And when you get caught in the he said-she said situation that is a no-win situation. It's about a 12- year-old story.

I think there's a couple of tragedies in here. One is the fact that a major media outlet was doing that 36 hours before the election, made them look very, very suspect for such an old story. And secondly, I would agree, John, that the big story of the day was Rick Perry stepping aside endorsing one candidate. And the question might have been to the other three, why did he not endorse one of you three?

That's the kind of the new story of the day in my opinion.

KING: I appreciate that. I respect that. The Perry endorsement did come up in the follow-up question.

Congressman Molinari, fair game? You've been in politics for a long time. Fair game or out of bounds?

SUSAN MOLINARI, ROMNEY SUPPORTER: No, I think you had to ask it. I think again whether we believe that this is out of bounds, it was raised. It was the story of the day. I think it would have been -- I think you would have been called into question if you had not raised it.

And quite frankly, John, I think you did Newt Gingrich a huge favor by putting it out there at the beginning. Because it would have been a bell that would be hanging over the entire debate. It allowed him to tackle it from the start. Knock it out of the ballpark. His answer was very predictable based on -- you know, what you just said him in terms of him always attacking the media elite. And so I think you did the right thing.

KING: Frank, if you were in our meetings, and we wrestled with this. And the viewers at home, they can believe me or not, we spend a lot of time talking about all of the questions, every question, which issues you want to get to. Obviously you don't get to a lot of your questions in these debates. But this one particularly, because of the timing, because of the speaker's history, because it's a personal matter, not a policy matter. If you were in those meetings we were saying yes or no, what would your vote have been?

FRANK SESNO, THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: There was no question, it was a yes. The only question would have been, is it a first question or not? But you cannot overlook, especially in a campaign such as this which is so driven by character, that someone's ex-wife steps forth and says he does not have the character to be president of the United States.

It's he said-she said. It may be tawdry, it may be nasty. But you cannot ignore it. And Gingrich didn't either. The bottom line, John, here is, you know, Newt Gingrich wants to say it's the media, stupid. It's not the media, stupid. The story is the story. It had to be asked.

KING: And you know, I just want to show this. And again, as I said at the again as I entered this discussion here, I was trying to do my job and I completely respect the speaker for trying to do his. He is a politician. I take no offense of him turning on me. That's part of the process. But I want you to listen here, so you can understand -- criticize me if you want, but I want you to understand the politics involved here.

Here's Speaker Gingrich talking to Anderson Cooper moments after the debate ended.


GINGRICH: Well, I thought it was a terrific debate for all of us. I thought the audience was really appreciative. I thought John did a great job. It was direct. It was tough. You can see the differences. And I personally felt pretty good about it.


KING: Just moments later, speaking on FOX News, he assumes a more conservative audience, he said this.


GINGRICH: If voters ask it or if you get asked it in a normal press conference you just answer it because you're running for president and you owe people a candid answer. I just thought to open a national presidential debate at that kind of personal level was such nonsense. And the -- as you could tell, the audience agreed totally that it was just nonsense.


KING: Susan, you know the speaker real well. I know you support one of his opponents, but he is a master at this.

MOLINARI: Well, and this is one of the reasons why I support one of his opponents. Look, I'm in Mitt Romney's camp because I think he's got the -- you know, business acumen to really turn this country around and has a series of, you know, successes in Massachusetts or with the Olympics and just about anything he tries.

But at the same time, I did serve with Newt Gingrich and to show those two films doesn't surprise me at all. Any one of the people who served with Newt, who were part of the revolution, who came back and held -- you know, that Newt helped elect and then asked him to step down would not be surprised by this changing demeanor.

That's why, you know, we came out earlier this week and said he's an unreliable leader because you never know which Newt are you going to get. That can be very dangerous on a candidate and extremely dangerous in a president.

KING: Pastor Garlow, give me some advice. Give my colleagues some advice. You mentioned, and you're right, this was about 12 years ago when this played out. You're in a state where 60 percent of the voters tomorrow if they track the last election will be evangelical voters. You have a candidate in Newt Gingrich who often talks about values and has been in the past in his political career harshly critical of Democrats on values issues.

Do you say, don't deal with these at all or if you think they can be brought into the campaign, help me. How would you do it?

GARLOW: Well, a fair question. I appreciate the tone. I've been on with you before and I found you to be a very courteous. In fact you're one of the rare situations, I actually called the station back after you had me on to thank you for how courteous you are. So I want to compliment you on that.

And I do think for full disclosure Susan needs to reveal she is both pro-abortion and she is for gay marriage, and she's for a guy who we feel like flip-flops on those issues, so I think that needs to be brought out.

Now as it relates to Newt Gingrich --

MOLINARI: You know --


MOLINARI: This is not about Susan Molinari --

GARLOW: I've led a number of conference calls, several different times --

MOLINARI: But I can see why you support Newt Gingrich.

GARLOW: I've led up several conference calls -- several conference calls that I have led in which the speaker has been on and it's a delicate topic. We do bring it up. I think probably the challenge if it should have been the first question, a legitimate question, but when I bring those questions up, and I'm a supporter of him, and I admit that, and you're not. You have an objective media person.

I would say the way I couch it might have helped you a little. I'd say, Mr. Speaker, this has come up a lot of times over the issue. You've answered these questions an awful lot of times. I apologize for having to bring this up one more time, but can we discuss the issue of some of your personal failures in the past?

MOLINARI: John, can I --

GARLOW: And you coach it that way and I think the speaker would have responded to it accordingly.

MOLINARI: John, can I respond to that because --

KING: Quickly, sure. Quickly.

MOLINARI: It sort of amazes me that the pastor would choose to make me the issue, not the two candidates that are running. But OK. If that's where we're going to go. And I'd like to tell the pastor that I'm no longer pro-choice. I became pro-life because I found a pastor and a priest who helped me work through a change in my position after I had my children, so you know, maybe you need to do a little more homework, too, Pastor, before you take it to the airwaves.

GARLOW: I do. I thank you -- I thank you for that.

KING: All right.

GARLOW: That needs to be updated on your bio. Thank you for that information.


MOLINARI: I don't think my --

GARLOW: I compliment you on that.

MOLINARI: I don't think my personal bio says that I am -- what my political positions are so.

KING: But, Frank, let me ask you one last question in closing. One of the interesting parts to me in this, this is my first presidential campaign cycle where I'm moderating debates on national television. I used to be a print guy, have a lot of experience in debates, is the audience. There's a debate, the TV people like the audience, the candidates like their audience because the supporters get to get energy in the room. Would it be a different debate if it was done in a studio with no audience? SESNO: Well, yes and no. I mean you have the dynamic inside the room, as you say, and the cheering and the jeering and the laugh and the applause and all of that kind of thing. And that drives the candidates and it drives the tenor of the place. But the question has to be asked, your job, John, as you well know, my job if I'm doing this, is not to be popular. It's not to say I'm sorry to ask this question because you're not supposed to apologize for asking what's out there.

Your job is to hold people to account. Your jobs is to ask people tough questions. Not to be obnoxious about it, not to be disrespectful about it. But to be persistent about it. And that was done. And I think we have to point out, too, here that, you know, there's a long tradition -- I have this great cap at home, John. Maybe you have one like it. Bright red. It says, "Annoy the Media. Re-elect Bush." That was the first Bush, that was in 1992.

KING: Right.

SESNO: This goes way, way back. You know, it's shoot the messenger.

KING: I remember a trip to Alabama right on the 1988 convention with George H.W. Bush and I was --

GARLOW: John, I want to say I appreciate you --

KING: Pastor, I need to cut this one short, but I'll invite you back any day, sir. We're running out of time in the program tonight.

GARLOW: Thank you. OK.

KING: Frank Sesno, Pastor Garlow, Congressman Molinari, I appreciate all three of your perspectives tonight and I appreciate this debate and the disagreements. A healthy debate to have and a discussion to have.

Thank you all so much.

Still ahead here, how much do you spend on coffee every day? Next, a new survey says we're spending much more, much more than you might imagine just to get our caffeine fix.

Plus, tonight 'Moments You Missed." President Obama, turned a fundraiser at the famous Apollo theatre into show time.


KING: Kate Bolduan is back with some "News You Need to Know Right Now." Hi, there.

BOLDUAN: Hey there, John. Today's biggest campaign rally in South Carolina may not have featured a, quote-unquote, real presidential candidate. I'll leave you to be the judge of that. Stephen Colbert and Herman Cain teamed up for a rally in Charleston.


HERMAN CAIN (R), FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: (Singing) Believe in yourself, America.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, THE COLBERT REPORT: But most importantly, ladies and gentlemen, and I mean this sincerely, I want to thank Stephen Colbert. I want you to vote for Herman Cain because Herman Cain is me.


BOLDUAN: Cain told the audience not to vote for him, saying, quote, "Don't waste your vote," and yes, if you were wondering who's Becky Becky Becky Stan Stan, if I said that correctly, also came up at the rally.

A new survey shows what U.S. workers really want is up-to-date computers and better coffee. The Accounting Principles Survey says U.S. office workers shell out $20 a week or about $1,000 a year to buy coffee at work with younger people spending the most.

So, John, 46 percent of the respondents said they wanted more up- to-date office equipment. Next event for that, they wanted more comfortable office chairs.

KING: I'll just stick to more coffee. Especially in a campaign.

BOLDUAN: I'm sure.

KING: We have a lot of that. Kate Bolduan, thanks so much tonight.

Remember, 6:00 p.m. tomorrow night in the East, we come on the air with our CNN special coverage, "AMERICA VOTES 2012", the South Carolina primary. A critical night. A dead heat into the final hours. You want to be right here with us tomorrow night.

I'll see you then. Now, it's back to Erin Burnett "OUTFRONT." She takes it away right now.