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Witness in Trayvon Martin Case Speaks Out; Romney Picks Up More Endorsements

Aired March 29, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm John King.

We're tracking two breaking stories tonight. The only known eyewitness to the Trayvon Martin shooting speaks to our Anderson Cooper. You will hear his description of exactly what he saw.

And Mitt Romney picks up two big endorsements, and we're learning of a secret meeting with rival Newt Gingrich.

Tonight, for the first time, CNN can give you an eyewitness account of the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Our Anderson Cooper spoke to this eyewitness just moments ago.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: What did you observe after the shot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I said, it was dark. But after the shots, obviously, someone -- the one man got up, and it was kind of like that period of him -- I can't say I actually watched him get up, but maybe only within like a couple seconds or so, then he was walking towards where I was watching.

And I could see him a little bit clearer and see that it was a Hispanic man, and he was -- he didn't appear hurt or anything else. He just kind of seemed very -- I guess -- very worried or whatever, walked like on the sidewalk at that point, and put his hand up to his forehead. And then another man came out with a flashlight.


KING: Senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin joins me now.

Jeff, you went up and visited with the Anderson Cooper staff and heard more about the interview. I want to focus on what we just heard in that snippet. He said it was a Hispanic man. That would match obviously the description of George Zimmerman, the man who acknowledges he shot Trayvon Martin. He didn't seem hurt, he says, although he does say later he had his hand up at his forehand. What do we make of the part we just heard?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, the big issue that remains at the heart of this case is who was the aggressor in this confrontation and does Zimmerman have facts at his disposal that would be a good defense either in general or specifically under Florida's unique law?

Certainly, I think this is not the smoking gun one way or the other. But, again, particularly when you combine it with the video that was released by ABC yesterday of George Zimmerman appearing unhurt, his argument that he was somehow injured and under threat looks a little tougher to make based on this interview and based on the video.

KING: When you were up visiting with Anderson and his team, what else significant did you learn about this eyewitness account?

TOOBIN: What I learned is that this is going to be a tough witness at trial because this person doesn't have a really clear view of precisely what happened, who was the aggressor, and this person heard someone yelling help.

But I don't think this person knows in particular whether it was -- which one of the two people it was. So again, that's an important piece of evidence that, if this person knew, would be important.

KING: And you just heard -- let's contrast here. Let's play a little game here of compare and contrast. You heard the eyewitness there saying Mr. Zimmerman, presumably, a Hispanic man, walked away, didn't appear too hurt, did have his hand on his forehead at one point but walking away almost matter-of-factly is the way that was described by the witness.

Let's listen here to an account from George Zimmerman's father who says his son told him he suffered quite the beating.


COOPER: What did you observe after the shot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I said, it was dark. But after the shots, obviously...


KING: That's the wrong piece of tape there. Let's see if we can go back and play -- this is Zimmerman's father describing what his son told him.


ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, FATHER OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: After nearly a minute of being beaten, George was trying to get his head off the concrete, trying to move with Trayvon on him into the grass. In doing so, his firearm was shown. Trayvon Martin said something to the effect of you're going to die now.


KING: Jeff, a very different account there. I'm going to walk over here. You talked about that video that was released. The city has now put this police video up on the Web site. I want to bring it up here and show it.

We do know this. Let me turn this around for you here. We do know this. He was treated at the scene by the Sanford police if you look at the police report. We need to be careful in saying that. If he did have some injuries, he did receive some treatment in the police car.

But what you're looking for here, you look up here and if he had a broken nose or bandages, there is certainly no bandages in the face. If he was hurt, at least from this video it doesn't appear he was significantly hurt. When you match that up with what we just heard from the father, I want to bring up another piece of the video here, let me move this one aside, I just want to show the back.

If you pull this one out here, again this gets grainy as you stretch it out, you do see a small bit of red here -- oops, it's moving on me -- you see a small bit of red there -- let me move this down -- you see right here on the back of the head there's a little bit of red there when you stretch it out, and it's hard to see on television.

But when you look at this, it certainly doesn't give the impression that this is someone that was severely beaten if he then gets in the cruiser and goes down to the police station.

TOOBIN: Right. Also in that video you see he's not limping at all. If he had injuries, and he might have had some injuries, they are very, very minor or so it clearly appears.

Also, let's keep in mind, George Zimmerman shot this guy. He didn't take a swing at him in self-defense, he shot him dead. So the amount of -- there is potentially an argument of disproportionate response given the amount of injury he has.

Now, again, Florida law may be somewhat helpful to Zimmerman on that front. But it's worth keeping in mind that, you know, we're struggling here to find some sort of injury and Trayvon Martin is shot dead. If I could just add one more point about the interview with George Zimmerman's father, under any rule of evidence, that would not be admissible, what he told his father, some self-serving story he told his father.

The only way George Zimmerman's statements will be admitted in the course of this if there's a trial would be statements he made to the police or statements that he made if he testifies at trial. So self-serving statements you made to a relative would never -- it's interesting for us trying to fill in our picture of what happened here, but it is certainly not admissible evidence.

KING: Important context from our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin. Jeff, thanks.

That interview with the eyewitness coming up at 8:00 p.m. tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." Also join CNN tomorrow night at 8:00 Eastern. Our Soledad O'Brien hosts a town hall about the rising racial tension across the country: "Beyond Trayvon: Race and Justice in America." That's tomorrow night.

Now to tonight's breaking developments in the Republican race for president. Just moments ago, former President George H.W. Bush endorsed Mitt Romney. You see them right there along with the former first lady Barbara Bush at Mr. Bush's office in Houston, Texas.


GEORGE H.W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's time for people to get behind this good man. Some of them have waged a very good fight. I would say that about some of his opponents.

But we're so convinced and mainly because we have known Mitt for a long time that he's the man to do this job and get on and win the presidency.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Having your support means a great deal to me on a personal basis, a family basis and also on a national basis. So I look forward to being successful in honoring that endorsement by winning.


KING: It's part of a rally around Romney movement across the GOP generations.

Earlier today, the freshman Florida Senator Marco Rubio delivered his endorsement.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: The primary is over, I mean, by the admission of the candidates who have admitted they can't win the primary. they have said the only way they can win is at a floor fight in Tampa. And I think that a floor fight in Tampa would be the worst possible thing we can do in terms of winning in November. So I think Mitt Romney by the admission of his opponents has won the primary and it's time for us to get behind our nominee.


KING: Also three political sources tonight confirmed to me that Romney and rival Republican candidate Newt Gingrich had a secret meeting this past Saturday in Louisiana.

Aides in both campaigns are remarkably tight-lipped about this session, though my sources describe it as pleasant and productive. Beyond that they're not talking.

CNN's Jim Acosta and Peter Hamby here with me in Washington. Joining us on the phone is our CNN contributor Mary Matalin, the former campaign manager to President George H.W. Bush.

Mary, I want to start. A lot of people will say endorsements don't matter. Does it matter that 41, as you would call, has now endorsed Governor Romney?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It matters for the reason you alluded to, it's the juxtaposition of the across the spectrum of generations as you said, but also across the spectrum of factions with Rubio and poppy Bush together on the same day, irrefutably leading figures of both those factions.

It's a validation that this race is about to accelerate in favor of Romney and close up pretty fast now.

KING: I know he is one of your heroes so forgive the question. But George H.W. is not very well regarded by a lot of conservatives. Is there any way this could hurt Romney?

MATALIN: I don't think so.

We tend to think that we just created all this political knowledge. But you will recall my humiliation in 1988 when we were beat by a conservative faction, poppy Bush in Iowa. In '92, we were primaried. He is -- over the years, he has made many friends. And we understand that -- and everybody, conservatives and mainstream and whatever factions, names you want to give them at any given time, understand it's not an either/or. It's both.

Each faction is necessary and insufficient to defeat the Democratic, the liberal incumbent. I don't think it will hurt. It's a validation of Romney's reach.

KING: Mary, stay with us.

Jim, that sound we played with Marco Rubio moments ago, that was from an interview you conducted with him this morning. He's the other generation, he's the next generation, if you will, and conservatives love him.


KING: He says he endorsed Romney. But he didn't say, gee whiz, I love Mitt Romney. He essentially said, well, sort of it's over so why not.

ACOSTA: That's right. And you saw in that interview there he described Mitt Romney as the nominee. He's not officially the nominee just yet.

I also asked him in that interview do you think Mitt Romney will govern as a conservative and he said, yes, I think he will as a conservative. But you're right. It has sort of been like pulling teeth when it comes to the Tea Party conservative wing of the Republican Party to get them to come along.

But I think as Mary was saying, the weight, the collective weight of the endorsements over time is now having an effect.

KING: The collective weight.

Peter, when you call around it's hard now to find a Republican who says Romney can be stopped. Not all of them say Santorum or Gingrich should get out. Why is it so hard to get information about this secret meeting with Newt down in Louisiana? We know Gingrich came to the hotel where Governor Romney was staying. I was told it was a decent meeting, productive meeting, polite meeting.

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: I was at the hotel. I was with Mitt Romney that very morning.

KING: You still get your bonus.

HAMBY: No one saw it. Thank you. Appreciate that, John.

As you said, it's remarkable people in the Romney world and the Newt world are not talking about this. They're saying that both campaigns and both candidates and Santorum talk all the time . Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond, who I talked to today said, yes, they're concerned about is this damaging the party, will this hurt them in the long run?

But he was saying we view it that even if we go to a brokered convention, this won't be bad for the party. I talked to one person who is close to Newt today who said a brokered convention will be great for the party. This will reenergize conservatives. Look at the poll numbers. Conservatives still say Rick Santorum for example is the guy they identify with and not Mitt Romney.

KING: The speaker says he's going to stay in because he still thinks it's possible Romney comes up short.

But I assume, Jim, from team Romney, even if they don't give us the details, this is the beginning, he's got a lot of healing to do in healing this relationship. He and Speaker Gingrich have been quit raw. It would be quite important.

ACOSTA: Absolutely. That was palpable throughout this campaign to see the tension that was really in place there between the Gingrich camp and the Romney camp.

It was striking. When I was with the former speaker on Monday in Annapolis, he had the press conference -- or I think it was Tuesday -- excuse me -- he had that press conference in Annapolis and it was at that point when he said, I would be delighted to support Mitt Romney should he clinch the 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.

It was the first time I had heart delighted and Mitt Romney in the same sentence.


ACOSTA: It's been a long road for Newt Gingrich, yes.

KING: But he's worried about his legacy and reputation as well.

Our thanks to Mary Matalin, Jim Acosta, Peter Hamby. Thanks for coming in. We will stay on top of these developments.

In a little bit we will ask a former oil company executive what, what, what can be done to bring down your gas prices.

But next, a former CIA director looks at why there's such concern about North Korea's plans to join the space race.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Literally, John, this is rocket science. This is hard to do. And the North Koreans have not had a history of very successful high-end activity.



KING: Back to our breaking news now, an important development in the Trayvon Martin investigation. CNN's Anderson Cooper has interviewed what can be the only eyewitness -- only believed eyewitness anyway to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

Anderson is with us now from New York.

Anderson, let's play a snippet of this interview and discuss the significance of it in just a second. Let's listen first.


COOPER: What did you observe after the shot?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As I said, it was dark. But after the shots, obviously, someone -- the one man got up, and it was kind of like that period of him -- I can't say I actually watched him get up, but maybe only within like a couple seconds or so, then he was walking towards where I was watching.

And I could see him a little bit clearer and see that it was a Hispanic man, and he was -- he didn't appear hurt or anything else. He just kind of seemed very -- I guess -- very worried or whatever, walked like on the sidewalk at that point, and put his hand up to his forehead. And then another man came out with a flashlight.


KING: Some critical details there in the sense that we know from the police reports and other accounts that Trayvon Martin and Mr. Zimmerman were on the ground.

The witness confirms that and says he got up and walked away. But from listening to him here, it certainly sounds like he was describing Mr. Zimmerman, an Hispanic man, but it doesn't sound like he describing somebody who had the significant injuries that others have led us to believe.

COOPER: That's right.

This witness who wants to remain anonymous, and we have actually altered their voice to make it more difficult to identify them, they obviously have already talked to police, yes, said that this person did not see -- didn't seem to this person that George Zimmerman was injured.

But, again, this person did reiterate that it was dark and the visibility was not great. This person also seemed to indicate that George Zimmerman was on top of Trayvon Martin -- or the larger person, as this witness described it, was on top of Trayvon Martin, but was not clear if the shot came -- if the shot went off while that person was on top or if -- it's complicated.

This witness saw George Zimmerman get up, but did not see the person who was on top get up. So there was a slight break in what this person saw. So it's not clear if George Zimmerman was underneath Trayvon Martin when the shot went off, was on top of Trayvon Martin when the shot went off. The witness does not really -- cannot definitively say one way or the other the position of the various bodies, though certainly forensic evidence should point to that.

KING: What else from the interview struck you most?

COOPER: I think this is really the only person that we have talked to and heard from who actually was looking at the struggle as the shot went off.

This person did not see a flash, though. They said that the position of the bodies, they really could only see the person who was on top, though they couldn't really identify that person. But they could see the figure, the silhouette of that person while they were on top.

Also, George Zimmerman's father has given an interview saying that his son's head was being slammed into the concrete sidewalk. This person, this eyewitness tonight indicated to me that this struggle took place on grass or on ground, that there was two patches of grass with a sidewalk in between.

But according to this witness, the struggle was not taking place on the sidewalk. So, again, is this eyewitness wrong? Is George Zimmerman's father wrong? Is George Zimmerman's story incorrect? It's not really clear. But there does seem to be a contradiction with that.

KING: And you have altered the voice to protect the witness. An abundance of precaution or is this witness, because of all the national attention on this case, the protests and the like, is this witness worried?

COOPER: I think the witness is concerned about being -- having their name out there, having their likeness out there, being part of this public debate. They have done their job. They have talked to police, given a statement, but does not want to be identifiable for probably understandable reasons.

KING: CNN's Anderson Cooper, very important interview with an eyewitness to the Trayvon Martin shooting, that full interview coming up "A.C. 360" at 8:00 tonight.

Anderson, we appreciate your time helping us understand the beginning of it. Tune in "A.C. 360" again 8:00 tonight and 10:00 for more of that conversation. Anderson, thank you.

And still ahead here, the truth about a Republican contest we don't hear much about. Who gets to be vice presidential nominee?



KING: Coming up: the average price of gas inching closer to $4.00 a gallon. President Obama blames the big oil companies. Will that strategy work?

And a troubling surge in the number of children diagnosed with autism. Our Sanjay Gupta has the details next.


KING: This half-hour: stunning new numbers about autism that every parent will want to hear. The government now says one in every 88 American children has autism.

High gas prices, plus tax breaks for big oil, President Obama says it's a double whammy on your wallet. He wants it to stop. But his critics aren't sold.

And Mitt Romney picks up a pair of big Republican endorsements. If he clinches the nomination, who is in line to share the ticket?

The number of children with autism is way up, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It now estimates that one in every 88 children is autistic. Take a look at how quickly the rate has shot up. In the year 2000 and 2002, it was about one child in 150, two years later, one in 125, then one in 110. And now the latest report from 2008, one in 88. That's a 78 percent increase over the last decade. But why?

Our chief medical correspondent, Sanjay Gupta, with us now to help answer that. Sanjay, frightening to parents, to hear those dramatic numbers. Do we know why such a dramatic increase?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, John, when they do these types of surveys, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, they're -- it's what's called an epidemiological survey. So they're looking at numbers specifically. They're looking at the number of 8-year-olds who have autism in this country at any given time. They're looking at specific communities and extrapolating. They're not trying to figure out causes with this type of study, although that is the question everyone is asking. Part of it is probably because we're paying more attention to autism than ever before. And so there's greater awareness and, as a result, also greater detection. But even if you account for that, the numbers still seem to have increased.

People always say, John, it's a combination of genes and environment. But I will put this forth, and that is that, you know, our genes and our human bodies, they don't change that fast. They wouldn't account for a 78 percent increase over ten years. It takes hundreds of years for our genes to change. So it's definitely more environment, toxins, infections, exposures.

It could also be that parents are having kids later in life, and as a result of that, that could be a risk factor, or the fact that the parents themselves have accumulated toxins in their bodies, and that could be the risk factor.

We don't know the answer. But you know, all this information is worth something. It's causing us to drill down more on what might be causing this.

KING: And does it make any difference the earlier you detect, the earlier you have a screening? Does it have any -- does that have anything to do with sort of the care going forward? Does the child have a better chance if you detect it younger?

GUPTA: I think it absolutely does, John. And I think that's not just a platitude. Because you hear this all the time with regard to medical issues: diagnose it early, treat it early. In this case, it really -- really is important.

And I would say that, even in the youngest kids, really looking for signs. And parents, you know, they're observing their kids more than anyone. So looking for specific signs in kids between the ages of 6 and 12 months, for example, even that young. They may not be -- kids should be babbling at that age. They may not be saying words. But if they're not babbling, that could be a concern.

If they're not making eye contact, for example, with their parents. If they're not as engaged, they don't reach for people or gesture in some sort of communication or reach to be picked up when a parent walks by, those could be concerns.

None of them individually, you know, make a diagnosis of autism by any means. And I have young kids, and I know kids can behave very differently, even among siblings.

But you know, if there's a pattern of things, get it diagnosed early, get it treated early. And the early intervention seems to make a big difference, trying to teach kids social engagement, even as young as 18 months can make a difference for those kids going forward.

KING: And the costs are astronomical. Researchers say as much as $3 million over a lifetime. Do most health insurance plans cover this, beginning to end? GUPTA: I don't think most insurance plans cover this. A lot of the cost, you know, on a family is out-of-pocket. It's a huge toll on couples. I think close to an 80 percent divorce rate, for example, among couples who have a child with autism. So it's a huge toll.

KING: Dr. Gupta, thanks.

GUPTA: You got it, John. Thanks.

KING: Gas prices closing in on the $4 mark. President Obama called on the Senate to end multibillion dollar tax breaks for the big oil companies. But the Senate said no, even after this nudge from the White House.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's like hitting the American people twice. You're already paying a premium at the pump right now. And on top of that, Congress, up until this point, has thought it was a good idea to send billions of dollars more in tax dollars to the oil industry.


KING: Republicans killed the bill. They called it a political stunt that wouldn't lower gas prices. Our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin, is here live.

The president bashes oil. He's mad at the Republicans now, but he's the president of the United States. The price of gas is getting perilously close to $4 a gallon. How big of a political problem do they sense at the White House?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You can just tell by the frequency of the president's remarks on this issue that they knew it's a vulnerability.

And the president is doing what he can to remind voters that he is taking this on. They talk about not just the president's efforts to promote alternative energy and fuel efficiency standards, but, you know, this phrase, all of the above, which he took from the Republicans.

This week they announced what you could describe as the precursor to potential new exploration off the Atlantic coast. Off the Atlantic coast. And also in recent months, early steps to drilling in parts of the -- parts of Alaska from a Democrat. That's unusual.

Now, I should point out that a new CNN poll shows that most Americans don't blame the president for high gas prices, but they still blame him partially, and it's enough.

KING: And he's on the ballot. The oil companies aren't on the ballot when you come around in November.

How much of a role reversal do they feel here -- that's a polite term -- in the sense that in 2008 one of his campaign platforms was "Send me to Washington, because the clowns that are there can't figure out how to do a big energy policy. They can't figure out how to help you." Now he's on the other end.

YELLIN: I was out there every day following him during that campaign. And he was constantly hammering on former President George W. Bush because gas prices doubled under his watch.

Well, guess what? Gas prices have doubled under President Obama's watch. And no matter how much he tries to point out that it's because the recession made them artificially low and crisis in the Middle East is making them too high, people want action.

So nothing he can do right now is going to bring them down in the short term. And all people are really caring about is the dollars they're paying at the pump. And he's paying the price.

KING: Hurting (ph). Other economic statistics starting to get a little bit better, but this one is a big cloud. Big cloud. Jess, thanks.

Let's get some more perspective on this issue now. John Hofmeister, the former president of Shell Oil company and the founder and CEO of Citizens for Affordable Energy.

John, is the president right? He says the oil companies don't need these tax subsidies any more. If you look at the numbers, the top five big oil companies last year made nearly $133 billion. If you do the math, that's $15 million an hour.

JOHN HOFMEISTER, FOUNDER/CEO, CITIZENS FOR AFFORDABLE ENERGY: I don't think it's a matter of financial need. I think what I testified, when I was still at Shell and what I've heard other CEOs testify is, if we start selecting companies because of their profitability and discriminate against selective companies that are successful, well, we really ought to start with Apple or pharmaceutical companies. Their return on investment, their profit margins are far higher than oil companies.

The issue here is, and I testified to this, what about the totality of the tax code when the bigger problem is the competitiveness of American companies versus the rest of the world? And let's deal with the entirety of it rather than just focus on a few companies.

KING: As you know, there's a lot of finger-pointing around the country, and especially here in town I work, in Washington, over who's responsible for the pain Americans are going through at the pump right now.

Republicans say this president has not allowed enough domestic production. Well, today he tried to rebut his critics. Let's listen.


OBAMA: Well, the fact is we're producing more oil right now than we have in eight years, and we're importing less of it, as well. For two years in a row, Americans bought less oil from other countries than we produced here at home, for the first time in over a decade. So American oil is booming.


KING: Who's right?

HOFMEISTER: Well, everybody is right and everybody is wrong. The actions being taken today, that the results we're seeing today were decisions that were made three to four years ago when we had the previous high oil price period.

So fortunately, private landowners and states have granted permits to enable the increased production to occur.

But let's be clear: the Gulf of Mexico is in decline because of the moratorium and the slowed-down permits since the moratorium. Federal -- drilling on federal land is down about 40 percent in the last three years.

So for the president to take credit for what's happening on private lands under state permits, he can take credit for it, and in that sense it has happened. But if you really look at what do we need, we need so much more, John. We need so much more domestic production. Let's get to ten billion barrels a day, where we used to be.

What the president is talking about is a 200 to 300,000 barrel a day increase. That's incremental. We're importing ten million barrels a day, and we need 20. So let's produce ten like we used to. Then, let's turn natural gas into transportation fuel like we've been talking about. It needs a plan; it needs leadership. We can fix this problem but only if we get serious about it.

KING: The question is serious about it. And Washington hasn't been able to have a comprehensive energy debate in some time because of political differences.

And what happens is, at the moment, the average price for a gallon of gas is $3.92 a gallon, AAA says. Last month it was $3.71. A year ago it was $3.59.

Is there any end to the increases in sight? And when people are mad, in our polling, 90 percent blame the oil companies; 83 percent blame foreign countries; 78 percent say it's the situation in Iran; 64 percent says it's the president; 58 percent says it's the Republicans. So the people blame everybody.

HOFMEISTER: And I understand why they blame everybody, because you don't get a straight story from anybody. And so let's blame everybody.

The reality is domestic energy companies can only produce oil when they have permits to do so. The vast amount of oil is on federal land and in offshore locations. And the permits are not forthcoming. So you blame the government; don't blame the oil companies.

On the other hand, we have had this problem for so long, we have been living on imports for so long, it's not just this administration. It's every Republican administration since Nixon. It's every Democratic administration since Carter that has seen this coming and done nothing. And this is the case of this administration, as well.

KING: John Hofmeister, as always, thank you.

HOFMEISTER: Thank you.

KING: The Republican Party still hasn't picked its presidential nominee. But the vice-presidential chatter is beginning. Coming up, the "Truth" about the man or woman who could be the next VP. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Marco Rubio is now on team Romney, endorsing he says, because it is obvious the former Massachusetts governor will be the GOP nominee. But the freshman Florida senator and the conservative favorite says don't put him on any Romney VP list.


REP. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: My answer hasn't changed on the vice presidential stuff. I know people keep asking. My answer hasn't changed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Still under no circumstances?

RUBIO: Yes, I'm not going to be the vice president. All right?


KING: Another conservative favorite, the House Budget Committee chairman, Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, also shrugs off the veep speculation.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R), WISCONSIN: I am so focused on my job in Congress. If I wanted to be president or vice president so badly, I would have run for president. You know, I don't, so I didn't.


KING: Tonight's "Truth" is the curtain raiser for a quadrennial Washington tradition. Governor Romney needs to clinch the nomination before he can officially start thinking about a running mate. In fact, he has prohibited any official discussion of the topic inside his campaign until, in the words of one advisor, quote, "It is timely."

But that won't stop Washington and even some top Romney insiders from unofficially starting the conversation. An early list: Rubio, Ryan, despite their public lack of interest; Ohio Senator Rob Portman; South Dakota Senator John Thune; Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey; Bob McDonnell of Virginia; the former Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty.

The early inside favorite -- emphasis on early -- is Portman. The thinking goes like this. He puts critical Ohio in the bank. The downside, like Romney, evangelicals aren't big Portman fans.

It's worth remembering, Romney ran with a woman, Kerry Healey, when he was elected governor of Massachusetts. And his team is fretting a big gender gap in the polling against President Obama. So add CEO Meg Whitman to the list, though losing her race for California governor won't help.

And the wildcard could be the former secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice.

Leaking long lists and short lists is as deep a Washington tradition as fireworks on the Fourth of July. But top Romney advisors suggest this. They say his search would be more disciplined. Governor Romney went through the vigorous vetting process four years ago. And those close to him say he won't put others through that just for show.

Joining us now to talk truth, Obama pollster Cornell Belcher; CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger; and the former Republican congressman, J.C. Watts.

Should I add you to the list?


KING: Why not?

WATTS: When your -- when your professional athletes say it's not about the money, then that's what Paul Ryan and Rubio are saying. But it really isn't about the money with me. You couldn't melt me and pour me in that job.

But I think your assessment with Portman, I think starting in Ohio, Portman, Kasich -- John Kasich used to be a member. But he's been in the governor's chair for two years and probably would be too quick and he'd look like an opportunist. But I think Portman is a good start, and I think Christie and Condoleezza Rice, boy, I love that.

KING: I keep that wildcard open. I keep that wildcard open, both because if you want to do something different -- Governor Romney did well with a woman in Massachusetts. He does have this big gender gap. It would be outside the box, a guy who's not known for going outside the box.


KING: Governor Nikki Haley? Has she been governor long enough? Governor Martinez of New Mexico would be great. A Latino female chief executive. Hasn't been governor very long.

What about Jeb Bush or Mike Huckabee? CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: That doesn't help with the gender gap. Here is the problem with the gender gap. Right now the president is running with a larger gender gap we're seeing than with '08.

KING: Let's put it up. I hate to interrupt you, but I want people to see it. Obama leading -- Obama among men, the president has a 10-point lead; among women, look at that: 60 to 37. Wow.

BELCHER: It's incredible. By the way, if he takes that margin into November, every congressional swing seat in this country is a toss-up for women voters.

However, they're still going to be on the wrong side of the issue for women. They're still on the wrong side of contraception, still on the wrong side, you know, supporting the Blunt thing. They're still on the wrong side, quite frankly, on environmental issues like clean air and clean water that are awfully important to women.

WATTS: I think contraceptive, that's more of a faith issue, religious issue. But if you're talking about profiling for Governor Romney, women, black people, Hispanics, where's the vice president that's going to profile that well? Evangelicals?

BORGER: Here's the interesting thing about Mitt Romney to me. If you look at where his problems are, it's not unlike John McCain was back in 2008 when he went for the now famous game-changer.

BELCHER: Game changer.

BORGER: He went for Sarah Palin. I -- there's something that says to me Mitt Romney doesn't want to repeat history that way, even though Sarah Palin did energize the bass. They still didn't win. And maybe your theory is right, that he would go with somebody Romney- esque, who would be...

KING: I think one of the things that -- look, Senator Rubio has made a lot of fans in both parties, particularly in the conservative movement. And I think the Palin experience minimizes the likelihood of a first-term senator or a first-term governor getting the pick. Do you agree?

WATTS: Well, I do. And the game-changer thing, John McCain needed something because he was poor with the base. But that problem still is -- that's my point. The problem still exists with Governor Romney.

KING: You think he should pick Palin?

WATTS: She's doing -- it is about the money with her.

BELCHER: I hate to pile on. But it's problematic, and I feel sorry for you. But it's problematic we don't have a conversation about...

WATTS: No, you don't. BELCHER: I do feel sorry -- you have to have a conversation about who can we bring to this ticket to energize the base of the party?

WATTS: I totally agree. I totally agree.

KING: Part of the conversation about Joe Biden four years ago was looking at the...

BELCHER: We didn't say he would energize the base.

KING: Looking at -- no, it was looking at the map, where the president was hurting. Among those places we had downscale, blue- collar voters, Pennsylvania steel country where Hillary Clinton kicked Senator Obama's butt back in those districts (ph). That's one of the reasons you did go with the scrappy kid from Scranton.


BELCHER: But -- but people don't vote for vice president. They don't. They vote still for the top of the ticket.

KING: That was my next question. Does it really matter?

BELCHER: I would say -- I would say it can hurt you, I think.

BORGER: It's the first test of judgment, for me. When you look at a presidential candidate, this is the first big decision this candidate makes.

John McCain's first big test was Sarah Palin. As I said, I do not think Mitt Romney would repeat that, because I think, having been through it, he kind of understands. And I think he's going to pick somebody who he thinks can become president.

WATTS: Well, it can't hurt you, but don't get it wrong.

BELCHER: That's right.

BORGER: Do no harm. Do no harm.

KING: Do no harm. But can he pick -- can he pick a Chris Christie? Is that two guys from the northeast?

BORGER: Too liberal.

KING: Too liberal?

BORGER: I think it's too liberal for the base.

BELCHER: If you look at where Chris Christie was early on, I think that's right. I think it is too liberal for the base. It doesn't solve his problem and that is conservatives still don't trust him.

WATTS: I think -- I still think that Ohio -- Ohio is a sexy state...

KING: That's the old-school way of doing it, get a state. Get an important state. Lock up a state.

WATTS: That's right.

BORGER: What about Mitt Romney isn't old school? I mean, you know, he is an old-school kind of politician who would look at the map.

KING: Well, he's a methodical sort of PowerPoint CEO.

BORGER: No Republican has ever won without the state of Ohio.

KING: I want to play -- I want to play a little bit of snippet here at the end. George H.W. Bush, President Bush 41, endorsed Governor Romney today in Houston. And Bush 43, George W. Bush, came up a little bit at the end. Let's listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ... his son's endorsement?

ROMNEY: You know, I haven't met with President George W. Bush. We speak from time to time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has he endorsed you?

ROMNEY: Ah, no.


KING: The elder Bush had to turn and ask, "He hasn't endorsed you?" about his son. Barbara Bush said they're in touch all the time.

BELCHER: I want him to endorse him. I want that picture.

WATTS: Of course you do.

KING: Do these things matter? You get Marco Rubio, young, Tea Party, good with the conservative base. George H.W. Bush, some conservatives are still mad -- gentleman president (ph) -- but some conservatives are still mad because he broke "Read my lips, no new taxes." Is that proof -- I know you're a Newt guy. But is that proof the rally around Romney thing is accelerating?

WATTS: John, he did that prior to today. That -- he made that endorsement a month and a half ago. I'm telling you H.W. Bush is the consummate gentleman. I love him. He's a dear friend. But I don't think he does anything with the people that Romney needs help with, evangelicals, Tea Party, conservatives, et cetera, women. If there's a gender gap, women, I don't think he moves that needle any.

BORGER: I don't think George W. Bush does much for those people either.

BELCHER: Cheney.

KING: We're going to leave that as the last word.

WATTS: Al Sharpton.

KING: There you go. J.C., Gloria, Cornell, thanks.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. And Erin now, the House -- another big issue -- story today. The House approved Congressman Paul Ryan's budget on the House side. But you still think super fail, why?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Super fail because this isn't going to go anywhere in the Senate, and it's just -- it's very frustrating for all Americans, whatever side of the aisle you're on. If you're passionate about only that point of view we're never going to get anywhere in terms of cutting spending, in terms of dealing with some of the big problems that we have.

So frustration today, but we are joined by Senate budget chief Kent Conrad, a man who, as you know, John, said, "Hey, look, you know what? I'm so frustrated with what's going on, my No. 1 legacy is to try to deal with the deficit problem. And the best way to do it is to leave the Senate and not be the guy in charge of writing a budget.

He's going to be our special guest tonight at the top of the hour.

KING: And an important guest to have. A lot of the people who actually like to get things done are leaving, and that's a bad sign. That's a bad sign for the nation's capital. Erin, we'll see you in just a few minutes.

And if you don't know this and you think you're lucky, the Mega Millions jackpot now climbing. Get this: $540 million and rising. The biggest prize ever in America. Are you going to grab a ticket? Split your winnings with me?

And one of your favorite newsmen is back. How Will Ferrell announced the "Anchorman" sequel. Two hints: it involves a flute. Coming up.


KING: Here's Kate Bolduan, back with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hello again.


Hello again, everyone.

There is a -- there is a potential problem in getting evidence for the upcoming trial of Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier accused of massacring Afghan civilians. A U.S. official tells CNN, quote, "We do not have access to the crime scene," or in the words of Bales' attorney, there is no crime scene, no DNA evidence, no fingerprints and no confession.

And today leaders of the Arab League opened their first summit to be held in Iraq since 1990. They focused on the Middle East's latest trouble spot, Syria. Iraq's leader warned that efforts to arm either side in Syria would result in what he called a proxy war.

And airport screeners in Philadelphia caught a 29-year-old man trying to carry flash powder and fireworks onto a United Airlines flight this morning. He says he forgot that they were in his backpack. I guess so. The man was arrested, although federal officials say there are no indications of terrorism.

And big dreamers across the country are lining up, including me, to buy tickets for tomorrow's Mega Millions lottery drawing. The jackpot now: $540 million and growing. It is a record for any lottery.

And I know you're all wondering. Mystery solved. Maryland's cop -- Maryland cops recently pulled over Batman, or at least a guy -- at least a guy in a Batman costume driving a Batmobile that didn't have the right license place. "The Washington Post" reports his real name is Lenny Robinson, and he's been visiting children in hospitals in the D.C. and Baltimore area in costume for a decade. It's a great story. I was reading up on this man. And he does a lot of great things, just cheering kids up and giving them some hope.

KING: Looks pretty good. There's Batman. Looks the part.

BOLDUAN: Quite realistic. Quite realistic looking.

KING: Who put that question mark in the teleprompter? Joking.

Finally, tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." "Anchorman" is back. I should have worn my red suit. Will Ferrell reprising his role as the scotch-swilling, flute playing mustachioed newsman. After a few jokes and a jazz flute solo, here's how he broke the news to Conan O'Brien.


WILL FERRELL, ACTOR: As of 0900 Mountain Time, Paramount Pictures and myself, Ronald Joseph Aaron Burgundy, have come to terms on a sequel to "Anchorman."


BOLDUAN: Oh, the lines we could quote. I don't know...

KING: Quote, go ahead.

BOLDUAN: ... if you know this, America, but John does like to threaten that he's going to quote his favorite line right before every time we come on air. Do you want to do it?

KING: San Diego?

BOLDUAN: Settled by...

KING: You can do it. Go on.

BOLDUAN: Settled by the Germans.

KING: Settled by the Germans. I think it's great. I just wonder if the public news team is going to come back or those guys who got their arms chopped off in the first part of the brawl.

BOLDUAN: What -- what could possibly be the plot of this one?

KING: I don't know. You can't throw him in with the bears again. You've got to try something else.

BOLDUAN: Don't they -- don't they do the world news report? Wasn't that the end of the last one?

KIN: That was. This is a funny business. Who knows if they still have their jobs.

BOLDUAN: No kidding.

KING: Kate, we'll see you tomorrow. That's all for us tonight. We'll see you right back here tomorrow night. Rick Santorum, our guest on the program.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.