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THE SITUATION ROOM
Donald Trump Interview; Donald Trump Endorses Mitt Romney; President Obama on Faith; Violence In Syria; Obama Touts Unlikely Source, No Fly List Doubles
Aired February 2, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: Donald Trump making his endorsement in the Republican race for the White House, while Newt Gingrich seizes the chance to pivot his campaign and close his gap with Mitt Romney in Nevada.
Also, President Obama speaking very candidly about his Christian faith and revealing a prayer encounter that he says humbled him to his core.
And why is the world just watching as the Syrian government massacres thousands of its own citizens? The surprising answer in an exclusive interview with the Arab League secretary general.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Newt Gingrich may view it as the gift that keeps on giving and a chance to try to chip away at Mitt Romney's lead in Nevada. We're talking about the remark Romney made right here on CNN that's gone viral that he's not concerned about the very poor because they have a safety net. Rather, he's concerned about the middle class.
Newt Gingrich is making the most of it as he and Romney campaign in Nevada, where the caucuses are only two days away.
Our senior correspondent, Joe Johns, is in Las Vegas right now.
Joe, what's the latest on this latest round between Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney?
JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, clearly, the Gingrich campaign right now is trying to sort of capitalize, if you will, and use the recent remarks by Mitt Romney.
But one of the things they have been concerned about is getting out of the habit of engaging in a mudslinging match with Mitt Romney. Gingrich clearly being advised now to focus also on his own ideas, his vision for the future to try to say positively what he is for.
And they view these recent comments by Mitt Romney about the poor as a perfect springboard. Let's listen now Newt Gingrich and how he seems to be tailoring his message.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I really believe that we should care about the very poor, unlike Governor Romney.
GINGRICH: But I believe we should care differently than Barack Obama. Both Governor Romney and Barack Obama seem to believe that a -- quote -- "safety net" is all the poor need. I don't believe that. What the poor need a trampoline, so they can spring up and quit being poor.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
JOHNS: In a state with such high foreclosure numbers and also high unemployment, you certainly have to be careful about how you talk about the poor.
Newt Gingrich right now polling in second place in the state of Nevada. That certainly is significant especially because this is a state that proportions its delegates to the Republican National Convention.
So they're trying to gets as many delegates here as possible. It's interesting, also, because they're actually going to contest some of the votes that occurred in the primary in Florida. They say they want those votes to be apportioned as well, as opposed to the winner- take-all situation that now exists -- Wolf, back to you.
BLITZER: Any immediate reaction from the Gingrich campaign to Donald Trump's endorsement of Mitt Romney?
JOHNS: Honestly, no. I have talked to the Gingrich campaign for some time, and they simply have not been saying anything about that.
At first, there was some hope that he was actually going to endorse them. They didn't say yes or no. What they said was, we don't know what Donald Trump is going to do. So when he finally did it, the campaign was pretty mum. Obviously they would have liked to have that endorsement -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Joe Johns in Vegas for us.
Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.
Gloria, what's Newt Gingrich's calculation now in going after Romney on this comment to our own Soledad O'Brien that he's not really all that worried about the poor because they have a safety net?
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: He's trying to do a bunch of things here.
First of all, he's trying to remind Republican voters that this is not the conversation we ought to be having as Republican candidates. He's trying to remind them that Mitt Romney is a patrician who probably not only doesn't understand the poor, but probably doesn't understand the middle class.
He's also trying to let them know, gee, those folks are calling me erratic. Look at the person here who made this unforced error. But most of all, as you point out, this is a conversation he wants to have with conservatives, as Newt Gingrich just said there, that Mitt Romney really doesn't understand that it's not the safety net Republicans care about or want to talk about, that they believe that if you make the economy better, that a rising tide lifts all boats, and that Mitt Romney probably doesn't even understand the conservative economic message.
BLITZER: Because this is clearly not the conversation Republicans want to be having right now.
BORGER: No. Look, there they are in the state of Nevada, which has a 12.6 percent unemployment rate, the highest unemployment rate in the country, the highest foreclosure rate in the country.
Republicans want and should to be talking about jobs. After all, they don't want this to be a referendum on Republicans. They want to turn this into a referendum on Barack Obama. And that's what they ought to be talking about in the state of Nevada, where people are hurting, Wolf.
BLITZER: We just saw this endorsement, Donald Trump live here on CNN endorsing Mitt Romney. Do these endorsements, though, when all the dust settles really matter?
BORGER: No. No, I don't think they do.
When you talk to some people -- I talked to one person in the Romney campaign who said, look, we have been hurt the most by the very conservative voters. We haven't won them over. Donald Trump does well with those voters. So maybe this will help at the margin.
But take a look at this poll that Pew Research Center did in early January among Republicans. Impact on your vote of a Donald Trump endorsement, more likely to support, only 13 percent, less likely 20 percent, and no difference 64 percent. So that answers your question.
And, by the way, I think Mitt Romney didn't seem really comfortable there. Did he seem comfortable to you? There he is standing next to somebody who was a leader in the birther movement. I don't know how that will work with independent voters. It didn't seem like he was giving Donald Trump a bear hug.
BLITZER: I will be speaking live Donald Trump in a few minutes here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We have a lot of good questions to ask him about what this means, how does he translate the support into action. That's coming up. We will talk to Donald Trump in a little while.
Gloria, thanks very much.
Also other important news we're following, including in Syria right now. There are dramatic developments unfolding, in fact, new video from Syria allegedly showing gains by some of the forces opposed to the regime of the president, Bashar al-Assad. This video uploaded to YouTube purports to show members of the Free Syrian Army celebrating after seizing control of a neighborhood in Homs from government security forces.
And this video allegedly showing a tank seized by opposition fighters also in Homs, which has seen some of the most brutal backlash against the uprising.
CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of these videos.
Let's bring in Hala Gorani. She's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
It looks like every single day, Hala, it goes from bad to worse. The Arab world, the rest of the region, the international community not doing anything right now.
HALA GORANI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it doesn't seem like they're doing anything that will force the regime to change its behavior with regards not only to the protesters, but these armed rebels.
Wolf, you were showing video of rebels and defectors who are manning a tank in the streets of a major city in Syria, a country of 23 million people. This is a major and serious escalation. And this is something that is likely, if it spreads in the country, to spill over in the region.
BLITZER: You had a chance to speak today -- was it today or yesterday?
GORANI: It was yesterday.
BLITZER: Yesterday -- with the secretary general of the Arab League. They have basically thrown up their hands and they're saying they're out of there, there's nothing they can do.
GORANI: And I think for many of our viewers who followed Libya, for instance, where the international community, through NATO, took decisive action to help the opposition in that country because there was a threat of massacre coming from the son of Moammar Gadhafi.
I asked, on the secretary general of the Arab League, Nabil El- Araby, I said, look, on the one hand, Libya was a scenario where the international community intervened. Syria, it's not the same thing. Why not? This is what he told me, Wolf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: People will say why was Libya a case that the international community thought required intervention because a massacre was about to take place -- I'm quoting people -- whereas Syria is a country where a massacre is taking place and there's no intervention? Why?
NABIL EL-ARABY, ARAB LEAGUE SECRETARY-GENERAL: Well, I will try to answer my view personally, but I will give you some example.
First of all, at one time, Gadhafi's son Saif al-Islam threatened that he was going to wipe out the whole city of Benghazi. And they had the means to do that.
Secondly, you can say that the geopolitical location is different here and there between Syria and Libya. Thirdly, in Syria, there is a regular strong army. In Libya, there was no army, some militias headed by Gadhafi's sons, which -- that was completely different. And maybe there is no oil in Syria.
GORANI: So what are you saying when you say maybe there is no oil in Syria, that the economic motivation was there?
ELARABY: Could be. Could be.
ELARABY: But anyhow we can still add to that that this is an election year in the United States and there are elections in France, and Europe is not -- I'm not going to say bankrupt, but it's not in the best economic situation to enter into such a venture.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GORANI: Well, in our exclusive interview there, Wolf, you hear directly from the secretary general of the Arab League, the man representing the Arab world in its effort to try to pressure Bashar al-Assad to change his strategy inside his country, saying that, look, if there was oil in Syria, perhaps the West would act differently. That kind of candor is rare.
BLITZER: He's blaming elections in the United States and elections in France, the economic situation.
GORANI: Yes. That's something you hear a lot in the Middle East as well, Wolf, as you know.
BLITZER: Because the Arab League was pretty much united as far as intervention in Libya. Syria, a different sorry.
GORANI: Yes, not so much. It might be a question of what's doable and what's not as well. Syria is of course a much harder country in terms of intervention. It does have a stronger army and it's a more complex situation.
BLITZER: And it does have the backing of Iran as well, so there's other issues. And at least in the Security Council, Russia and China are not willing to go along with the rest of the members either.
Hala, thanks very much.
GORANI: Thank you.
BLITZER: President Obama's reelection chances, they are on Jack Cafferty's mind.
Plus, why the president likes what one Mitt Romney adviser is saying. Stand by.
Also, President Obama's surprisingly candid talk about his faith, how he prays and how often.
And Donald Trump is standing by to join us live. We will talk about his endorsement of Mitt Romney. That happened just a few moments ago.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, as the Republican candidates continue tearing each other apart, President Obama may want to start worrying about November, if he hasn't already.
New Gallup state-by-state polling on the president's approval rating suggests he might be in trouble. Overall, President Obama averaged a 44 percent job approval in his third year in office, down from 47 percent during his second year. According to Gallup, his approval rating declined from 2010 to 2011 in 47 of the 50 states, not good. The president's approval rating was above 50 percent last year in only 10 states and the District of Columbia.
Gallup suggests that the state approval rating can provide some clues into how President Obama will fair in the Electoral College. If the president were to carry only those states where more people approve than disapproved of him last year, he would lose to the Republican candidate 323 to 215, that's landslide territory.
And political reports on several additional factors that are working against the President Obama, at least now. Congressional Budget Office predicting unemployment likely to climb back to 9 percent by election time. There's polling that shows President Obama tied or trailing Mitt Romney in several key swing states. And there's growing evidence that the idea of the president will raise a lot more money than the Republicans just isn't true.
Of course, there's still nine months before the election. We don't know yet who the Republican candidate will be. And if there will be a third party run. That could happen, too. All of these things, if they develop, could work to Mr. Obama's advantage.
Nevertheless, here's the question: Should President Obama be worried and if so how much about winning a second term?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog or go to our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.
You know, if that unemployment number climbs, if the Congressional Budget Office is right, and that starts to go back up, he's going to have a real tough sometime, I think.
BLITZER: Yes, if the number going down and move management right direction, that would be good for his reelection chances. If it's moving in the wrong direction, not so good. I think that's a fair point.
Jack, thank you.
CAFFERTY: All right.
BLITZER: President Obama's top advisers have been busy touting an unlikely source, a top adviser to Republican rival Mitt Romney.
Joining us now to discuss this is Michael Crowley. He's the deputy Washington bureau chief of "TIME" magazine, our sister publication, just came out with a new issue.
In the -- we'll talk about this unlikely source that the president is touting.
MICHAEL CROWLEY, DEPUTY WASHINGTON BUREAU CHIEF, TIME MAGAZINE: Sure.
BLITZER: Here's what Mitt Romney says about the president's foreign policy. You mention this in your article. I'll play the clip.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This economy has every potential to continue to lead the world. Our president thinks America is in decline. It is if he's president. It's not if I'm president. This is going to be an American century.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: American decline -- to which the president replied and said this in his State of the Union.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: America is back. Anyone who tells you otherwise, anyone who tells you that America is in decline or that our influence has waned doesn't know what they're talking about.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. You got the back story in the new issue of "TIME" magazine on this little optimism that the president now is expressing and it comes in part from an unlikely source.
CROWLEY: Absolutely. So, Robert Kagan who is a historian and a key adviser to the Romney campaign, actually part of the group of about two dozen people the Romney identified as their sort of inner circle advisers, has written a book which was recently excerpted in "The New Republic" magazine, making the case that this idea that America is declining is overstated, it's exaggerated.
We look back on the past and imagine that America was more powerful in past decades and it has been and that by, you know, empirical measures like military strength and economic strength, we're still overwhelming powerful and dominant on the global stage.
And the president has really taken an interest in this essay and kind of talking it up, his aides are talking it up, and saying everyone should read this and it kind of undercuts Mitt Romney when he says that he's allowed America to fall into decline, that he's embracing decline somehow. And he's saying this is one of Mitt Romney's own advisers making this case that kind of reflects well on my stewardship of the country.
BLITZER: He's at the Brookings Institute here in Washington, Robert Kagan. He's a historian there, a scholar there. And his book is getting a lot of good reviews. He's -- I guess the reputation, fairly or unfairly, is that he's supposedly a neoconservative.
CROWLEY: Well, right. So, a lot of people would call him a neoconservative. He was a strong supporter of the Iraq war. He doesn't think we should have taken our troops out, thinks we should have negotiated time to keep them longer, wants a longer presence in Afghanistan.
But I think, Wolf, the bigger point here is that foreign policy right now, it's hard for the two sides to stake out different positions because there's so much overlap. Kagan praises Obama in a lot of ways. He really liked the Libyan intervention. He likes the way he's been going after al Qaeda. He likes his nuclear nonproliferation regime.
And so, I think that's true of a lot of military and foreign policy analysts will say that's kind of hard to get a clean shot against Obama and I think you see that partisan politics force Romney to kind of trump up the case a little bit or so the White House would have you say and they would point to Kagan and say that's really where the truth is.
BLITZER: Tom Donilon, the president's national security adviser, has publicly praised this book by Robert Kagan, and the president has said nice things about it, as well.
CROWLEY: The president has said it in private meetings. Tom Donilon has said it in public. Kagan is quite pleased, although he did tell me when I interviewed him, it was -- the Romney campaign headquarters have let him they were aware of the political purposes that his essay was being put to use for. He didn't say that they were upset with him, but it's been duly noted in Romney's headquarters.
And the one point I would make, the one thing that Obama does not say about this essay, Kagan says don't cut the military too deeply. That is how we would jeopardize American supremacy. That's why there's a big break between them and I think that's where you'll see the conversation headed in the fall. Don't cut the military budget too deeply, or you do jeopardize this supremacy that we still enjoy, says Kagan to President Obama.
BLITZER: Michael's article is in the new issue of "TIME" magazine, our sister publication. We'll put the cover up there, the banner on the cover. "This Man is Busting Wall Street" -- excellent cover story about the prosecutor in New York.
CROWLEY: Great story.
BLITZER: All right. Michael, thanks very much.
CROWLEY: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: President Obama opens up very movingly about his faith. You're going to hear him describe his spiritual journey, what he says has humbled him to his core.
And why did Donald Trump choose to endorse Mitt Romney? The real estate mogul himself standing by to join us live this hour.
And Prince William arrives at his next military assignment. Why residents there are not necessarily all that happy to see him.
BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a huge increase in the government's no fly list.
Lisa, what's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Wolf. The number of people banned from flying doubled in the last year, from 10,000 to about 21,000. The jump can be attributed to a change in policy. The government now bans people who are deemed a threat to national security, not just a threat to crash a plane. Analysts can also now use a single credible source to recommend someone to the terror watch list.
And great news if you're buying a home. Mortgage rates are in an all-time low, with the average 30-year fixed rate now under 3.9 percent. President Obama says he wants all borrowers to have those low rates and if his new plan passes Congress, homeowners will save an average of $3,000 a year by refinancing their loans.
And it is so cold in Eastern Europe, people are actually dying. Ukraine officials say 65 people have died from the freezing conditions, many of whom are homeless. And a news outlet in Poland reports 29 people have died there. More than 1,000 in the area are seeking help for hypothermia and frostbite. The air from Siberia is causing the unusually frigid conditions.
And Prince William's six-week deployment to the Falkland Islands is under way. British officials say the royal is there on a routine assignment for a pilot of his experience. But Argentina's foreign ministry says it a little differently, saying he is there wearing the uniform of a conqueror. Argentina and the U.K. went to war over the Falkland Islands in '92 -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Lisa, thank you.
Very, very personal details of this faith -- the president of the United States speaking candidly at the National Prayer Breakfast today and recalling one prayer encounter that he says humbled will him to his core.
And Donald Trump is standing by to join us live in THE SITUATION ROOM to talk about his endorsement today of Mitt Romney. What impact will that really have?
BLITZER: President Obama talking openly and surprisingly candidly about his Christian faith at the annual National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington today. The president shared that he prays regularly and he described a humbling meeting with the Reverend Billy Graham.
He also spoke about the Christian obligation to help the poor. Amid the uproar, Mitt Romney sparked by saying he's more concerned about the middle class than the very poor.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: It's also about the biblical call to care for the least of these, for the poor, for those at the margins of our society. To answer the responsibility we're given in proverbs to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.
Mark read a letter from Billy Graham, and it took me back to one of the great honors of my life, which was visiting Reverend Graham at his mountain to retreat in North Carolina. And we had a wonderful conversation.
Before I left, Reverend Graham started praying for me as he had prayed for so many presidents before me. And when he finished praying, I felt the urge to pray for him. I didn't really know what to say. What do you pray for when it comes to the man who has prayed for so many?
But like that verse in Romans, the Holy Spirit interceded when I didn't know quite what to say and so I prayed briefly, but I prayed from the heart. I don't have the intellectual capacity or the lung capacity of some of my great preacher friends here to pray for a long time, but I prayed.
And we ended with an embrace and a warm goodbye and I thought about that moment all the way down the mountain. And I've thought about it in the many days since because I thought about my own spiritual journey.
Growing up in a household that wasn't particularly religious, going through my own period of doubt and confusion, finding Christ when I wasn't even looking for him so many years ago. Possessing so many shortcomings that had been overcome by the simple grace of God.
And the fact that I would ever be on top of a mountain saying a prayer for Billy Graham, a man whose faith had changed the world and sustained him through triumphs and tragedies and movements and milestones. That simple fact humbled me to my core.
I've fallen on my knees are great regularity since that moment asking god for guidance not just in my personal life and my Christian walk, but this the life of this nation and in the values that hold us together and keep us strong.
I know that he will guide us. He always has and he always will and I pray his richest blessings on each of you in the days ahead.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The president of the United States at the National Prayer Breakfast earlier today.
In the last hour, Mitt Romney picked up a big name endorsement. Why does Donald Trump think Mitt Romney is the strongest challenger to President Obama? We'll discuss right here in THE SITUATION ROOM when we come back.
BLITZER: Donald Trump is now backing Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. You saw that live here on CNN just a little while ago. He made the endorsement in Las Vegas and he's joining us now live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Donald Trump, thanks very much for coming in.
DONALD TRUMP, CHAIRMAN AND PRESIDENT, THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION: Absolutely, Wolf.
BLITZER: I got to tell you. I was a little surprised that you endorsed Mitt Romney because over these several months, not everything you always said about him was positive. I'll play a clip of what you told our own Candy Crowley back in April.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Mitt Romney is a basically small business guy if you really think about it. He was a hedge fund, he was a fund guy. He walked away with some money from a very good company that he didn't create. He worked there. He didn't create.
CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, CNN'S "STATE OF THE UNION": He did create companies.
TRUMP: He'd close companies. He'd get rid of jobs. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so what happened between April and now?
TRUMP: Well, first of all, it is political talk and second of all, he has done a great job. And I've done a good job and I've created a big company and he's done a really good job and put a lot of people to work. I also had never met him until that point. I really didn't get to know him really until the last couple of months.
And that was a long time prior to my getting to know him, but I have gotten to know him and he's a terrific guy. I don't know if he really comes out like he really is in person. He's a warm, smart, tough cookie and that's what this country needs.
We need somebody that's tough, that's going to stop China and OPEC and all these other nations from just ripping us up. And I think he can do it.
BLITZER: And this notion that when he was running Bain Capital and having all these firms that was a lot outsourcing going to China and other companies, that's not a big deal anymore?
TRUMP: Well, he's really saved a lot of companies. You know, Bain Capital, these guys, they go out and they take over really in many cases troubled companies.
And many of those companies went on to become great companies. So you can always have the exception to the rule, but he saved a lot of companies and created a lot of jobs as you know, Wolf.
BLITZER: Are you now going to back up your words with a lot of money -- you're obviously a very rich guy. Are you going to start giving him lots of money or his Super PAC, if you will? Because you can give unlimited amounts of money to the pro-Romney Super PAC.
TRUMP: Well, I'll do whatever is necessary. I think he's a terrific guy. I think he'll be a terrific president. I think he'll really lead this country in the right direction. We're going in the wrong direction right now.
The chief of the CBO just came out as you know and he said that unemployment is going to be at 9.2 percent next year, which was shocking and that our growth had been reduced to 1 percent if we're lucky.
So, you know, when I see what's going on with this country and then I see all of what's happening with OPEC and China and many other countries, how they're taking advantage of us, I will do whatever is necessary to get him elected.
BLITZER: I ask the question because you're in Vegas. I'll be blunt. Are you going to be for Mitt Romney what the owner of the Venetian is for Newt Gingrich?
TRUMP: Well, number one, Mitt has really been able to raise quite a bit of money, which is very impressive. So he doesn't need anything like that. And also I like Newt, you know, Newt is a friend of mind. I think Newt is a terrific guy in many, many ways and I do like him.
But I don't think Mitt needs lots of money, but I'll certainly do whatever is necessary, however I can help. Whether they want me to make speeches, whether they want me to contribute, raise money, I'll do whatever I have to do.
We need somebody great as a president. I think he'll be a great president.
BLITZER: Ron Paul clearly disagrees with you. He issued a statement following your endorsement. He said this, "Please explain to Republican voters in Nevada why they should consider the opinion of a billionaire from New York who endorsed the archenemy of all Republicans in Nevada and really the enemy of all Republicans in the United States. He's referring I guess to Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada.
TRUMP: Well, I'm friendly with many Democrats and with many Republicans and frankly, with many independents and maybe that's what you need a little bit. Because frankly, the way you have gridlock in Washington is disgraceful.
I have many friends that are Democrats. I have many friends that are Republicans. And, look, I appreciate what Ron Paul says, but the fact is I have lots of good relationships on both sides of the aisle and I think that's what you need today. Washington is total gridlock.
BLITZER: A few weeks ago, correct me if I'm wrong, you registered as an independent in New York, no longer as a Republican because you wanted to leave open the option potentially of running for president after the season ends for "The Apprentice."
You wanted to leave open the option of running as potentially as a third party candidate as an independent. So does this now mean that option is gone?
TRUMP: Well, it certainly would be gone if Mitt wins and I hope he gets the nomination and I hope he goes on to do a great job win the presidency and become a great president. Obviously, I'm not going to endorse somebody and then run against him. That would be a story that even you would love.
BLITZER: If he doesn't get the nomination, let's say Newt Gingrich gets the nomination, would you consider running?
TRUMP: Well, then the options are always open. As you know, the laws prohibit me essentially from running during the course of "The Apprentice." But on May 17th, when we have our finale, I can do whatever I want to do.
But I don't think that will happen. It was never my first choice and I told you a number of times I always wanted to endorse somebody and have that somebody go out, beat Obama and become a great president.
BLITZER: Didn't make any difference to you that remember that debate you were going to moderate with News Max at the end of December. Newt Gingrich immediately accepted your invitation, Mitt Romney declined. Was that a factor at all?
TRUMP: Well, when he declined, you have to understand and I told you this, he called me. He couldn't have been nicer and he really would have done it if I had asked him to do it. I understood why. He was leading. He was doing well.
And I understood the reasons and I didn't put any -- I really put no arm twisting, no anything on. And he decided that if he had the option, he wouldn't do it and I said that's fine. He was very respectful, very nice, couldn't have been nicer and so was Newt. I mean, they were great.
BLITZER: Did those guys, any of the four for that matter who are still left standing, did they actually lobby you and ask you to support them?
TRUMP: Well, yes. And obviously Newt and Mitt were the ones that I was most interested in, but the answer is yes. Almost all of the candidates wanted my support because I represent not because I'm a nice person, I think I am, but not because I'm a nice person.
People see that I understand what's going on in the world. They see that I have the ability not to allow people in this country to get ripped off. And pretty soon we won't be a great country. There are those who say we're not a great country right now. We owe more than $15 trillion.
We're this debt. We borrow from China. In three or four years, China will be a greater economic power than us because of what's happening. So people realize I understand that and I carry a lot of votes because really simply people tired of being ripped off. And that's what's happening to this country. We're being ripped off.
BLITZER: Did you give Newt Gingrich a call today to give him a heads up on your decision?
TRUMP: I actually called him twice last night. I left a message. I hope it was the right number. I like him a lot. He's a friend of mine. I like him a lot.
BLITZER: You know, you're a -- you know better than most, you're a controversial guy back in April, May, there was a poll that came out, a CNN/ORC poll, opinion of Donald Trump, favorable 31 percent, unfavorable 64 percent, 5 percent unsure.
So here's the question. Is this going to help Mitt Romney your endorsement or hurt Mitt Romney?
TRUMP: Well, I guess it's going to help because everybody wants it, but more importantly when I was thinking of running prior to leaving, if you look at "Meet the Press," they did a poll and I was number one in the polls the day before I decided to go and do "The Apprentice," which unfortunately took me out of this because I actually enjoyed it.
I was leading in all the polls. A recent poll came out of which independent would you most like to see run and I was number one, easily number one in that one. So you can quote all the polls you want, but the polls that matter are those two polls.
And most importantly, when I was running, I was number one the day before I left. Check out "Meet the Press," your favorite show.
BLITZER: All right, well, my favorite show is THE SITUATION ROOM, but that's another story. Let's talk about some controversial comments he made here on CNN yesterday. I'll play the clip. He told Soledad O'Brien this. It's caused some controversy as you well know. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We played that whole long exchange yesterday, but the wrap against him is that he doesn't necessarily connect with average folks out there. Do have a problem with what he said yesterday?
TRUMP: Well, I think it was very unfair reporting actually because he said I have a safety net and I'll fix it if necessary. And I thought that was -- there are many people that don't understand what the press is talking about.
I'm pretty good at English. I always did very nicely in English and if you let that sentence run on a little bit, as you did, some people don't let it run on, you actually did.
There was something nothing -- it could have been said differently, I guess. Everything could be said differently, but he talked about a safety net and he talked about fixing it if he had to.
BLITZER: It comes on the heels of some other comments when taken out of context that would be like a sort of a reel for the Democrats going into November, like to fire people who don't provide services, you like to fire people as we all know, as well, from time to time.
TRUMP: Sure, but the firing was very unfair, too because if you let that sentence run on, he was talking about insurance companies. And I saw ads that were made.
I think Obama's people made an ad and up a couple other people where they ended it after the word fire. And that was very unfair because if you let the sentence run on, he was talking about insurance companies. So I think it's very unfair reporting.
BLITZER: The whole notion of what you're going to do now. You're waiting now just to wrap it up, you're waiting to hear from the Romney campaign, from Mitt Romney himself whether you're going to give speeches on his behalf, organize fundraisers on his behalf or just write big checks on his behalf. Is that what we can anticipate?
TRUMP: Well, I don't know what to anticipate. I gave my endorsement to Mitt Romney. I'm very proud of that. I think he'll do a great job against Obama. If he debates the way he's been debating and if he campaigns the way he's been campaigning, I think he'll beat Obama.
I actually think easily because Obama has been a terrible president. So I think he'll actually beat Obama and, you know, I'm very proud. As far as doing, I'll do whatever I have to do. If they want me to make a speech, I'll make a speech. I'll do whatever I have to do.
BLITZER: Donald Trump, thanks very much for coming in.
TRUMP: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: The attorney general of the United States heads to Capitol Hill and finds himself under fire. What made one Republican lawmaker threaten to hold him in contempt of Congress?
Plus one of the ways Mitt Romney made money has significant tax implications. Our own Erin Burnett is investigating. She's coming up.
BLITZER: Let's get to our "Strategy Session." Joining us our CNN contributors, the Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona and the Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos. He's the co-founder of Purple Strategies, a bipartisan communications firm.
Donald Trump, does this really going to help Mitt Romney, not help Mitt Romney, can hurt, what do you think?
ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, first of all, what a master salesman. This guy knows exactly when to seize center stage and make a big moment. Is this going to help? Yes.
Usually endorsements don't in America today, why, because voters have so much information. They get to know these candidates personally. They don't need someone else to tell them what to do.
But this endorsement actually matters, why again, because Newt Gingrich is running as the outsider. He says it's the Washington establishment trying to stop him. This changes the game because Romney now has someone who is the ultimate outsider, Donald Trump.
He's the hand grenade under Washington's door. So now Romney has somebody that eats at the very heart of Newt's argument. I don't think Romney could have gotten a better endorsement maybe Sarah Palin.
BLITZER: According to "Forbes" magazine, he's worth $3 billion. So if he wants to write checks to those pro-Romney Super PACs, for a million dollar, $5 million, that's small potatoes for him. MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely and that is one way that it could help, but I actually think in the long run, it could absolutely hurt.
Frankly, I thought I heard him flip-flop on Mitt Romney, so I see two peas in a pod. Donald Trump, the flip-flopper or supporting Mitt Romney, the flip-flopper, they're also two peas in a pod because they're both in the 1 percent. They both like it fire people. So there you have it.
BLITZER: Almost a surprise because in April, he said some not so nice things about Mitt Romney. We played that clip from "State of the Union" with Candy Crowley and he says, well, that was politics.
CASTELLANOS: That is politics. But you know, politics is a lot like football, the early playoff games, you might have your home team. But later as the playoffs go on, you may not have your original choices you want.
He has said that he's gotten to know Mitt Romney over the past few months and that's important. I've had the opportunity to get to know to Romney, too. There is somebody there that is a man of faith, a man of character, worked with him four years ago.
So I can understand how getting to know someone like that gives you a little insight. And Trump is about economics. He sees a country in decline. He wants to reverse it. He's looking for a businessman who can change Washington and get that done.
CARDONA: But here's a problem for Mitt Romney, on the heels of his unfortunate comment about not being concerned about the very poor --
CASTELLANOS: Which was not exactly what he said.
BLITZER: Well, he said if it needs repaired, they'll fix it.
CARDONA: Well, a couple of things on that. First of all, his own plan eviscerates the safety net. So let's get real on that and the second thing is this isn't the first time that he makes unfortunate comments like this.
When you have somebody whose comments easily roll off the tongue, about not being concerned about the poor, about wanting the housing industries to hit rock bottom, not wanting to help middle class families with a tax cut worth $1500, that is something that at the get level of middle class and working class Americans.
They're going to look at this guy and say this guy is not somebody who can understand what I'm going through and Donald Trump's endorsement underscores that.
CASTELLANOS: I'm not sure it's going to have that kind of effect at all. Maria maybe perfect and has never slipped up, but most Americans have now and then.
CARDONA: Now and then, that's the problem. CASTELLANOS: What's important is that Mitt Romney had a big victory in Florida. He needs to translate that into national momentum. He stepped on that --
BLITZER: We'll of course have live coverage. Thank you.
A hearing on Capitol Hill over the administration's flawed gun running operation hits Republicans against the attorney general of the United States.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: You know, that kind of question I think is, frankly, and, again -- I think that's beneath a member of Congress.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: You're going to hear what one lawmaker asked that got that direct response from Eric Holder. And new information you've never heard before about Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty's back with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: The question this hour, Wolf, is how worried should President Obama be about winning a second term. David in Virginia writes, "He should be very worried. When your performance in leading the country is so bad and you can only blame your predecessor and vilify your likely successor, people start to wonder four more years of what? That's where I am. This hasn't worked and if he's re- elected, there's no reason to think anything's going to change."
George writes from Italy, "Global enterprise this Cafferty file, Obama should not worry about winning a second term, the Republican candidates are strange beings. We should be the ones worrying and afraid."
Dan writes, "He should be concerned as all incumbents should be, however he's in a position that no president since FDR has had to face. He's been facing a do nothing Congress of historic proportions, half of it deliberately blocking every bill that's ever been proposed to help jobs and the economy. It's amazing that he's done what he has without their help."
Dave in Phoenix writes, "As an independent voter, I can't see how. The Republican Party is clearly anything, but pro-American anymore, pro white, pro religion, pro rich people, but not pro American."
Felicity writes, "Solyndra, Fast and Furious, trillions in debt, unemployment unchanged, if President Obama is not shaking in his boots, he should be. Also, he promotes class warfare and envy towards rich people except the one who give billions to his campaign."
Joe writes, "If Romney is Obama's opponent, the president has nothing to worry about. Mitt Romney is a dolt, a vapid man with very few ideas and the stage presence of Greek column. Obama is beatable, but not by this guy."
If you want on read more about this, go to my blog, cnn.com/cafferty file or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- personality of a Greek column -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very clever, thank you.