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John King, USA

Clinton Takes Over Podium; Marathon Man; Cash-Strapped Cities

Aired December 10, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Good evening, everyone. Just a remarkable day of political drama as the Democratic family feud over the president's tax cut deal with Republicans turned into what I call a high stakes game of Democratic poker. This was the wild card.


BILL CLINTON: Thank you very much, Mr. President. First of all, I feel awkward being here and now you're going to leave me all by myself.


KING: So, just how did it come to that? The day's high stakes hand began on the Senate floor where an old school liberal became a social media sensation, while the speech that, well, technically not a filibuster went on for eight hours and 35 minutes, treating the president and his tax deal like a pinata.


SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I) VERMONT: We pass this agreement and the national debt goes higher, it only gives them more impetuous to go forward to cut programs that benefit working families in the middle class.


KING: As he spoke and spoke and spoke, the liberal blogosphere lit up and 69-year-old Bernie Sanders that's Senator Sanders became a trending topic and became more bad news for the White House.

So team Obama decided to make a meeting that was supposed to be private, extraordinarily public. The calculation, both risky and simple. I'll see your Bernie Sanders and raise you a Bill Clinton.


CLINTON: There's never a perfect bipartisan bill in the eyes of a partisan and we all see this differently, but I really believe this will be a significant net plus for the country.


KING: While the current president left the briefing room after just a few minutes, the former president, he loved being back and to be honest, I wasn't sure if he'd be done in time for us to be here tonight.

But here we are and there were some lesions to be learned from the former president that I covered for more than a decade. So let's top him over. Left, right and middle, with CNN contributor Roland Martin, Erick Erickson and John Avlon.

I want to get straight to the point. Bernie Sanders just finished, just finished. He came on to the Senate floor this morning, 69-year-old guy, used to be the socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont. That was driving the day's politics.

The social media were lighting up. The liberal blogosphere were lighting up and so here's what he was saying. Essentially, he was saying all day long and this is what the White House decided to fight with Bill Clinton. He was on the floor saying, we have a Democratic president, but boy, he cut a Republican deal.


SANDERS: This was originally a Republican idea. Why did the Republicans come up with this idea? Well, these are exactly the same people who don't believe in social security. These are the same people who either want to make significant cuts in social security or else they want to privatize social security entirely.


KING: The argument from Senator Sanders and more and more from the liberals over in the House side is that they see a Democratic president. They don't think the willing to fight, so President Obama decided to bring Bill Clinton into the briefing room.

Bill Clinton said yes, President Obama better fight over health care reform, better fight if they try to take away those Wall Street financial regulations. Better fight to protect new student loan rules, but former president said not this time.


CLINTON: I think there are a lot of fights worth having and I presume the Republicans want to fight those, too, since they ran on them. They'll be able to have these differences, but this holds the promise that after the fights are over, we'll be able to find principle, compromise on those areas as well. And to me, that's worth doing, but first, the economy first.


KING: So, so, so many questions to answer after a dramatic day like this. Roland to you first, here's a lot of people in Washington are asking about. Does this somehow diminish the current president that he had to call on the former president or does it help him make the sell with liberals? ROLAND MARTIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it helps him make the sell, but also, you have to use those who are in your party who have been in that position before. Remember, you look at the whole issue of triangulation.

Many Democrats are saying that this situation today reminds them of welfare reform when President Bill Clinton was there, but again, what happened after welfare reform? He went on to re-election and so I believe we have a fight, use every bullet that you have including a former president.

KING: He has great credibility, John Avlon and that when he was president, the economy was booming. When he campaigned for Democrats this year, he kept saying over and over again, remember 22 million jobs, 22 million jobs. If I told 22 million jobs, the question is, who is he speaking to today?

Was he trying to get Bernie Sanders and some of the liberals on the House side to calm down and take a deal, or was he speaking to middle of America saying, you trust me. When I was president, you had a job. Trust this president.

JOHN AVLON, SENIOR POLITICAL COLUMNIST, DAILYBEAST.COM: Both. Both. I think the urgent message today was to Democrats. Especially House Democrats and Bernie Sanders out there saying that look, this is an issue that should reunite the Democratic Party.

This is a president that can unite the Democratic Party. This issue may be controversial, but it's the spirit of compromise. He's advancing what you say a broadly popular position. You know, we forget Gallup poll just few days ago showed that 52 percent of Democrats support this compromise on the tax cuts and 67 percent of independents.

So it's actually a pretty popular proposal, but it takes Bill Clinton right now to try to put the big face on it and unite the Democratic Party as much as possible around it.

KING: Erick, the right thought they were done with Bill Clinton. How did it feel to see him back in the briefing room today making the case?

ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, REDSTATE.COM: I think it's hilarious. You know, this conversation that's going on right now, it's not the president and public. It's executive to legislative and to bring Bill Clinton back. This is Season 4 of 24 where acting President Logan has to bring back Palmer because Logan is too inept to handle things at the time.

It's absolutely amazing that Bill Clinton is there while Barack Obama goes on -- I wouldn't want to make my wife upset either and miss a Christmas party, so I'm sympathetic. But at the same time, this isn't the image that the president of the United States wants. Bill Clinton never called Jimmy Carter back.

MARTIN: John, that's true because remember on the START Treaty, what happened? President Barack Obama brought in Kissinger, brought in Baker, brought in Republican secretaries of state to make the argument. Former President George H. Bush said ratify it. So, again, where you have individuals who have been there, you use them to your advantage.

KING: Let me stop the conversation for one minute. We'll continue in just one second. Just want to give our viewers some breaking news. We just got in from the state of Alaska.

A state judge in Alaska has rejected the challenge of Republican nominee Joe Miller so his ruling is that Lisa Murkowski has won the election. She was leading - remember, she was the write-in candidate, the incumbent Republican defeated in the primary and then ran as a write-in candidate.

She was leading in the count by 10,000 votes. Joe Miller, the Republican challenged that, saying that a lot of those write-in ballots were not filled out exactly right. A state judge has ruled against Miller and in Lisa Murkowski's favor. The question now is will there be subsequent legal challenges. We'll continue to stay on top of that story.

That the last Senate election to be certified. All of the House elections have been certified. Maybe we'll come back to that in a minute when we get more details on the rulings. But here's the conversation in Washington today.

The big question was, is President Clinton a better communicator on the issue of the economy, especially, than the current president, Barack Obama? So let's have a comparison, here's President Obama yesterday making his case that no, it's not a perfect deal, but it's a deal we need.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: But, if this framework fails, the reverse is true. Americans would see it in smaller pay checks that would have the effect of fewer jobs, so as we meet here today to talk about one important facet for the future, I urge members of Congress to move forward on this essential priority.


KING: That's Obama yesterday. Here's Clinton today.


CLINTON: The agreement taken as a whole is I believe the best bipartisan agreement we can reach to help the largest number of Americans and to maximize the chances that the economic recovery will accelerate and create more jobs.

And to minimize the chances that it will slip back, which is what has happened in other financial crisis like that's what Japan faced and something that we have to avoid in America.


KING: (Inaudible) there, John. It's hard to judge this on two 30-second sound bites, but when it comes to talking to the middle of America about the economy, who's the better communicator?

AVLON: You've got to give it to Bill Clinton especially with those two clips - a bit stuck there, but Bill Clinton is unparalled in terms of his ability to communicate policy detail off the cuff in a way that resonates with the moderate majority of Americans.

He's got not only huge credibility when he talks about the economy, but he really is just -- he's enormously skilled. Barack Obama's a great communicator in his own rights, especially when he's campaigning, but you've got to give it to Bill Clinton on this front.

MARTIN: I think you have to look at again the conversational style, but you also have to recognize President Bill Clinton served in a variety of positions prior to the presidency. In terms of attorney general, in terms of being the governor, running, losing.

And so his retail politics is far more extensive when you talk about going from a state senator, running for Congress, losing, winning the U.S. Senate seat, running for president, whole different deal. A lot more experience --

KING: That is a critically important point who someone who covered Bill Clinton for a very, very long time. Barack Obama lost when he first ran for Congress, but he hadn't been elected first. Bill Clinton was an elected governor who lost and had to scratch his way back. He would tell you that that was the best lesson in politics he ever learned.

Erick Erickson, another point Bill Clinton made today was, yes, the liberal Democrats have to realize Republicans won the election and they're going to have to give some stuff up and that's going to be tough to swallow sometime, but he also then said in the next breath Republicans better realize, too, they don't get to rule the world. You see it that way?

ERICKSON: To a degree, yes. You know, it's funny, talking to a lot of people this past week. The big gamble for Republicans was they weren't sure they could get a better deal than what they've gotten right now. So you've seen a lot of people sit on the sidelines all week.

They didn't want to say anything then you had the blow-up yesterday among House Democrats and all of a sudden, Republicans felt very embolden that the Democrats were going to kill this deal so we can start speaking up and saying we don't like it and gamble that they were going to get a better deal.

I think by the time the sun sets on December 31st, we're going to have something in place, but that really embolden Republicans in the way they hadn't been in the past week.

KING: All right, a quick break here. When we come back, more of the dramatic Clinton appearance and why do politicians of good faith look at the same piece of paper, the same outline and see two incredibly different things?


KING: You had to know it's going to be this way. More breaking news just into us now. This is the Congressional Budget Office scoring of the tax cut deal President Obama negotiated with the Republicans. It says the deal would cost in revenue more than $721 billion to the United States government.

That's the effect of leading those tax cuts in place. Tax rates won't go up. The government won't take in that money. It also says the government would spend $136.4 billion more that's the cost mostly of extending unemployment benefits because they did not find offsetting cuts to pay for those.

The total cost and this is to the deficit, two-year increase to the deficit in this deal, $857.8 billion. That has been why some conservatives have objected and some Democrats as well. So why do people look at this deal and see it so differently.

Here's a column today from the conservative voice, Charles Krauthammer in "The Washington Post," he says this. "Barack Obama won the great tax cut showdown of 2010 and House Democrats don't have a clue that he did. In the deal struck this week, the president negotiated the biggest stimulus in American history, larger than the $814 billion 2009 stimulus package."

That's a conservative voice saying the Democrats won. Well then why is Bobby Scott, a member of the congressional Black Hawk, a liberal Democrat, saying earlier today, Mr. President, you cut a bad deal?


REPRESENTATIVE BOBBY SCOTT (D) VIRGINIA: If you're going to do a tax cut, somebody's going to eventually have to pay for it and you can't give everybody a tax cut like it's Oprah Winfrey or Santa Claus, you get a tax cut, you get a tax cut and eventually, somebody's going to have to pay for it.


KING: It is odd, Roland, that it's same deal and I guess, people are just viewing through their partisan prism, but Charles Krauthammer, you'd think the Republican leadership's for it. You think by reflex he would for it and he says we got snookered.

MARTIN: I think that you have Charles writing a column where he is focusing on the politics of the deal, but you have Congressman Scott who's focusing on the reality of what's going to happen when it's time to pay for it.

In fact, I talked to him a couple of weeks ago and he made clear that we should extend the cuts for anybody because it will add to the deficit the numbers you simply read. And so his whole point is what happens.

Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. has a column today where he talked about will this be reaganomics and obamanomics by saying what's going to happen when Republicans come back in January. What they likely going to cut, social program.

KING: It is stunning though, John Avlon, to hear all these liberal critics of this deal suddenly talk about --

AVLON: Deficit hawks.

KING: We got to stop raising the deficit. Where they've been?

AVLON: I love it. I love it. Listen, every time Democrats are talking about fiscal responsibility, I think it's a good day in Washington. What I love is what's creeping into the conservative criticism of this deal is also something we haven't seen in a long time, which is conservatives acknowledging that tax cuts don't always pay for themselves.

That they have to offset - and look, with 10 days ago, we were talking about the deficit and debt. We were all focused on that. This deal throws that out the window in name of bipartisan compromise and short-term economic stimulus. Let's see if those folks can keep their debt down the line. That's what really matters.

KING: And Erick, when we come back to town next week, Bill Clinton tried to settle this argument today, but the left doesn't like it, the right doesn't like it. By the end of next week, will we have a deal?

ERICKSON: I think we're going to have some changes to the deal before we actually get it done. I don't see them being able to vote on it. The House Republicans I think probably will go along and some of the Senate Republicans, but I'm hearing more and more, it did not help for Rush Limbaugh to go all week kind of sitting on the fence and come out aggressively against it today.

The Heritage Foundation is now fully against it when all week, the Senate Republicans have been saying the Heritage Foundation supported it. That's not going to help them when they come Monday and Tuesday.

KING: Is there an argument to be made that if both ends of the spectrum don't like it, that maybe it actually is OK?

ERICKSON: That's what people in Washington tell themselves.

MARTIN: Absolutely. This is the way and again, you're likely going to see liberals falling in line because at the end of the day, can you get a better deal at this stage? I doubt it.

KING: The president said he had a holiday party to go to. We'll see if Bill Clinton is hiding in the shadows somewhere. Roland, John and Erick, thanks for coming in. He was having a good time over there today. We're not done when we come back, a lot more to talk about. We talked about the fiscal mess here in Washington. How about being a big city mayor with a huge budget deficit when your governor is saying there's no more local aid coming to you.

Cory Booker, the mayor of Newark talks to us about cash strapped cities and a lot of talk today that Julian Assange might be indicted by the United States even a report he has internet access in prison. We'll talk to one of his attorneys when we come back and Pete on the street, Pete Dominick, he's apparently envious of me and he'll tell you why.


KING: Welcome back. Let's check in with Joe Jones for the latest news you need to know right now. Joe --

JOE JONES: John, a new warning today from Defense Secretary Robert Gates about "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." He says he now fears the courts will order an end to the ban on gays serving in the military openly after the Senate failed to move forward with the repeal yesterday. Gates warned that could be chaotic.

Elizabeth Smart said she is thrilled by the guilty verdict against the man who kidnapped her eight years ago, an abduction case that gripped the nation. Jurors in Utah rejected an insanity defense by Brian David Mitchell.


ELIZABETH SMART: I hope that not only is this an example that justice can be served in America, but that it is possible to move on after something terrible has happened and that we can speak out and we will be heard.


JONES: An empty chair stood in for the Chinese dissident who was awarded the Nobel Prize today in Norway. He is serving an 11-year prison sentence in China. He was honored for promoting democracy and free speech. China calls him a common criminal. We call him a dissident.

KING: And we call him a bit of a hero. China is very upset at all the international attention here, but too bad, I guess, is the way to put it. That's a powerful symbol. And for those of you just tuning in, Joe, you follow Alaska politics a lot.

A judge in Alaska has rejected, we should tell you a state judge, rejected Joe Miller's case that Lisa Murkowski's signatures were somehow invalid so waiting to see if there's further legal action there, but as of right now, Lisa Murkowski has the upper hand in the last Senate race yet to be certified. We'll see how that one plays out.

When we come back, how would you like to be a big city mayor when your governor tells you we're cutting local aid, Washington tells you there's no more stimulus money and the economy is tough. Newark's Mayor Corey Booker when we come back.


KING: While Washington is fighting about tax cuts and whether to make deficit redetection a priority, state and local governments across America are in crisis mode. The economy is still sluggish so tax receipts are down, plus there's no more stimulus money from Washington to help, so everywhere you look, there's pain and debate about what to do about it.

Let's look at the national map. Look at that, just about every state filled in. These are states that face budget gaps in the next fiscal year. Look at it, that's 46 states across America right there. So let's take a closer look. Some of the states have benefited from help from the Recovery Act or the stimulus program.

The lighter blue is how much stimulus money help from Washington has helped offset state budget gaps. You see here in fiscal 2009, it was that big of a chunk. In fiscal 2010, a little more, almost one- third of the money if you see $68 billion there.

A little bit of fiscal 2011, still on the system, but here this is what's happening if states look ahead to the next budget year, the light blue, the stimulus money is running out, so what happens with that? That presents a problem.

Let's take a look at the states that are hardest hit. California, more than 21 percent of its budget, now a gap. Arizona, only 37 percent of its budget. Nevada is over 50 percent. Illinois is 41. New Jersey, 38 percent. All of these states facing the biggest budget gaps and that presents a problem.

So then the question is, what do you do about it? Well, if you look out here in California, this is just the city of Los Angeles, a $320 million projected shortfall laying off teachers that's one big potential.

The police department, no new hiring there. Also, salary reductions for the mayor, a symbolic move there as the mayor deals with crisis across the city. Let's move over and look at the city of Chicago. Another big challenge here, $655 million the shortfall there. Cutting nearly 300 jobs, pulling money from reserves, a lot of that happening and more of a potential midyear crisis.

So there could be more cuts down the road if the problem continues. Let's move over here to New Jersey. There's another state in the east coast. You see this goes from west to east, $83 million the projected shortfall in 2011 in the city of Newark, New Jersey.

What's the proposal? Layoff some of the police force, a four-day workweek for some city workers and other salary reductions across the city. So one of the leaders forced to make all those tough choices right here and taking heat as a result is the Newark, New Jersey mayor, Cory Booker, who is in a very public battle at the moment with the unions of city workers and police offices. KING: Mayor Booker, I think the question I would have as you deal with this, 400 city workers you're letting go, 15 percent of the police department. What next?

If you look, the new unemployment numbers 9.8 percent. Listen to the chairman of the fed Ben Bernanke saying four or five years probably before we get back to robust economic growth. The outlook is even more bleak than what you're looking at now, isn't it?

MAYOR CORY BOOKER, (D) NEWARK, NEW JERSEY: For the whole nation, national league of cities looks at about 10 million municipal workers, about 500,000 of them looking to be let go this year and next year. It is not a good picture.

So here in Newark, what we're really doing is focusing on how to restructure government, how to do more with less. How to create public, private partnerships because there's no way government as we know it in America at the county, municipal or state levels is going to be the same.

This is nothing compared to the unfunded pension liabilities we have in states like New Jersey, California and New York, which goes to the trillions of dollars.

KING: It's probably not fair, but I assume politically, it's easier, quotes around easier, to layoff a janitor than it is to lay off a police officer because I could sit here right now and write the ad. You know, Mayor Cory Booker, he let 15 percent of the police department go and robberies are up, homicides are up. It's the mayor's fault.

BOOKER: Well, look, at the end of the day, my job is to fix the problems. When public safety is 60 percent of your budget, what we had to do is cut everything else and then we put everybody in city hall on four-day workweeks from the mayor all the way down to clerk's assistants.

So we have done everything we could to shrink our government. In fact, now, over 80, 90 -over 80 percent of our entire spend of every tax dollar is going to personnel because we've got everything else and then we laid off a lot of non-uniformed workers.

We were really left with nothing else to do, but to cut police, but we didn't want to actually cut police officers. We could have if we had a police union that was willing to work with us, avoided all of our layoffs and that's the thing we're finding as a rub, that the public sector unions have to be willing to work with us.

KING: In this current environment, I have to assume you feel like you're on your own in the sense that no more stimulus money from Washington. Your governor has said he's going to cut state aid.

When you look out there, here in Washington - let's use this example. The big debate is about whether to extend the Bush tax cuts and whether in any deal to extend the Bush tax cuts. You can get an extension of emergency unemployment benefits. Is that small ball in your view? Is anybody having a debate that you see as aha, there's the seeds for actual economic growth that will help you out of this mess.

BOOKER: Well, you know, I get a little frustrated. First of all, I do see a lot of leaders who do talk about it, but I am frustrated that the conversation consistently be is how we in this country are going to grow our economy.

What helps us create a more vital, competitive climate for business growth and investment and there are a lot of strategies that we've seen in the past that have worked from enterprise zones, from targeted tax cuts. We see them in other countries that are doing things to help stimulate their economy.

KING: What about stimulus spending? Should the president of the United States be standing up and saying, I know this is unpopular right now, but we need to spend more money to help cities like Newark, New Jersey and people all across the country?

BOOKER: Well, I'll be honest with you. If it's just stimulus dollars to help us fill a budget hole this year, what happens the next year? So that's not the kind of spending that's going to create long- term sustained growth in our economy.

And by the way, it's something that, obviously, cities like ours want, but I'm more interested in the kind of stimulus spending that's going to create long-term economic growth, that's going to create sustained jobs in my city. So investments in infrastructure actually create economic growth. Creating the right kind of tax breaks within port areas, like in my city, within areas that you want to draw in investment, actually make a different. Creating tax breaks for research in areas like my city, that has a lot of research universities, actually creates economic growth.

KING: Well, we'll grade the president as part of that debate. I know you follow politics. I also know the president is a friend of yours. Many Democrats in this town are frustrated. They think the president has taken a message from the election, looking ahead to his own reelection, and that that is, cooperate with the Republicans to cut spending on some things. Cooperate with the Republicans to try to at least put the budget on a path to being balanced somewhere down the road, where many say he should stand up and draw more red lines and fight. What do you think?

BOOKER: I love to see a White House that's willing to get into the minutiae and that does have ideas, but these are not the kind of things that are being elevated. What's being elevated is the shallow, partisan divide that seems to be exciting because our country likes to look and witness a fight. If we don't start talking about issue of access to capital, tax policies that make sense, that promote growth within our communities and our areas, investments in infrastructure that actually help build economies and sustain long-term economic growth -- these are the kind of conversations that we should be having. This is not a time to cut back all spending and -- it's just not. But it is a time not to make bad investments that are one-time fixes. This is a time to make -- we make long-term investments that are going to reap a reward. So cutting back on R&D, cutting back on higher education, cutting back on infrastructure support -- these are the kind of things that are -- just make no sense.

KING: Let me ask you, lastly, on that point, that if you talk to especially some of this new class of Republican governors coming in across the country, you ask them for an example, a lot of them point to your governor, Chris Christie. They say here's a guy who is making cuts, who is standing up to the unions. He's become a national model. Does Mayor Booker think that's a good thing or a bad thing?

BOOKER: Well, look, again, the cult of personality in politics, I'm not going to get into. Governor Chris Christie is a friend. We have substantive agreements. He likes the Jets. I like the Giants. But the reality is, when it comes to solving problems, I'm happy to have a governor that's standing up and saying, Hey, wait a minute, we have real national problems here that we're not talking about, that are not being forced into the public dialogue because nobody wants to hear bad news. And right now, I think it's almost an obligation of executive leaders, Republican or Democrat, to tell the truth.

For example, we in the United States of America have trillions of dollars in unfunded pension liabilities. These are not going to go away. You can be a very successful politician by not talking about it, by making short-term decisions, trying to push the problem off. But eventually, you're going to be pushing things off and we're all going to fall off a cliff.

So we've got to start getting away from partisan conversation, speculation about who's going to run for president or what, and start looking at exactly where we are right now and how do we protect our democracy. The American democracy, this great, noble experiment that has such strength and potential and possibility, is going to be cannibalized if we cannot get a dialogue that confronts our problems honestly and talks about real solutions and not about short-term partisan political victories. And that's what I'm hoping can come about.

So Chris Christie and I have formed a partnership around finding solutions. Again, we could both write dissertations on what we disagree on, but when it comes to issues like educating urban youth -- which, by the way, the majority of our nation's workforce will be minority very soon, and unless we heal this education gap that exists between minorities and non-minorities in our country, our entire GDP is going to suffer as a result. So if I can find a Republican partner who's willing to tell the truth about education and work with me in a substantive way, not a rhetorical way to make differences, I want that partnership.

So left or right, Republican or Democrat, I don't care who you are, if you're in the arena and you're willing to take on the righteous fight of the American democracy, to make it bolder, richer, more inclusive, more prosperous, then that's a person that I want to be on the field with. And I think that if we all get on the field and stop thinking this democracy is a spectator sport, where you just stand on the sidelines and give color commentary in the most negative, cynical way, if everybody gets into the game, we're going to be able to move this democracy forward. We are bigger than the problems that face us, but we've got to start acting like that.

KING: Great place to end it. Mayor Cory Booker, thanks for your time.

BOOKER: Thank you very much for having me.

KING: Has the Justice Department contacted attorneys for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange? And a British newspaper reports Assange has Internet access in prison. Really? One of his attorneys joins us just ahead.


KING: WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is in a London prison for a fourth day. He faces a hearing on extradition to Sweden, where he's wanted for questioning about sex crime allegations. But his legal troubles could get a whole lot worse. There's growing concern within Assange's camp that he may be indicted here in the United States in connection with the leak of hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic documents.

We're joined now by Julian Assange's lawyer, Jennifer Robinson of London. And Ms. Robinson, I want to make clear from the beginning, have you had any official contact from the United States government, whether it's the Justice Department here in Washington or anyone from the embassy over there, any official contact from the United States?

JENNIFER ROBINSON, JULIAN ASSANGE'S LAWYER: Absolutely not. We are, of course, concerned as a result of the very public pronouncements in the U.S. about potential prosecution of our client under the Espionage Act or perhaps under other computer crimes legislation. But we haven't had any formal communication as yet.

KING: You mentioned some of the comments here in the United States. I want you to listen here to the attorney general of the United States, who several times in the past week has spoken about his personal involvement in an investigation. Listen to this, then we'll talk on the other side.


ERIC HOLDER, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: We are doing everything that we can. We have a very serious, active, ongoing investigation that is criminal in nature. I authorized just last week a number of things to be done so that we can, hopefully, get to the bottom of this and hold people accountable, as they should be.


KING: You hear the attorney general, but our sources hear that the Justice Department, his department, is under considerable pressure to find means to charge Mr. Assange. What does that tell you?

ROBINSON: Well, of course, there's a lot of political will, and indeed, I think the U.S. government is under pressure to prosecute. But our position remains the same. We have yet to see a sensible explanation of the legal provisions under which they would -- upon which they would rely to prosecute our client. He hasn't committed any crime. He's a publisher and editor of a publishing organization in WikiLeaks, and indeed, any prosecution of Mr. Assange as editor of WikiLeaks would call into question protections of the 1st Amendment in the U.S., and indeed, should be cause for concern for all media organizations.

KING: And so what goes through your mind and what happens in your legal discussions when you hear people in the United States talking about, Well, charge him under the Espionage Act?

ROBINSON: Of course, we're taking legal advice on what provisions of the Espionage Act they seek to rely. But our view is, is that he has no criminal liability in that regard.

KING: Does it make any difference -- he is obviously being held in the U.K. now and perhaps would be extradited to Sweden. I know he is fighting that. But perhaps that could happen down the road. Does it make any difference if the United States did suddenly have a charge and want to seek custody of Mr. Assange -- is there any difference -- is he better of sitting in the U.K.? Would that be easier for you to fight than, say, if he were sitting in a prison in Sweden or is there no difference?

ROBINSON: Well, both Sweden and the U.K. have extradition agreements with the U.S. We would prefer to fight the charges here and to fight extradition here on the grounds that Britain has a very strong tradition of liberty and a strong adversarial process. On that basis, we would like to fight it here. But again, we don't have any information. We are concerned about the prospect, given all of the sounds coming out of Washington, but of course, we don't have any specific information as to what's happening at this stage. And we believe our client hasn't committed any crime.

KING: And since the initial hearing, has there been any progress about either your efforts to just have these charges thrown out, or at least to have them dealt with while he is in the U.K. with Sweden, or is that all in limbo?

ROBINSON: We are still yet to receive the evidence that form the basis of these allegations. We have to remember that these allegations came out in August. No formal charges have been laid. And the prosecutor simply wants to question our client. She has refused all voluntary offers of cooperation, and indeed, refused our requests for evidence. District judge Riddle on Tuesday at the hearing expressed concern at the strength of the evidence that founds (ph) the basis for the arrest warrant, and has sought -- well, suggested to the prosecution that they ought to make submissions in that regard.

We are yet to receive any evidence that underlies the warrant (ph), and until an unless we get that evidence, we're unable to provide submissions to the court on that point. So we are severely hamstrung in terms of preparing our case on Tuesday.

KING: Can you tell us a bit about the conditions in prison? There was a report in "The Guardian" that he had been put into a different ward, restricted access from other prisoners, and also that he had received some form of computer access and perhaps Internet access. Now, some would find that part, Internet access -- if it's true, I think some would find it highly amusing. Others might find it highly alarming. Is that true?

ROBINSON: Well, the conditions are restrictive. He is, of course, being held in a segregated wing under special security surveillance. He has -- he does not have access to the Internet. Indeed, he doesn't have access to a laptop, even an Internet-disabled laptop. He has had difficulty getting access to newspapers. He has very limited access to telephone calls. So he has very little access to the outside world. Indeed, it's been incredibly difficult for us to arrange visitations with him in order to take his legal instructions. We had our first visit yesterday, which was for just an hour. And it's appallingly inadequate for us in order to take his instructions to prepare this appeal.

KING: Let me ask you last (INAUDIBLE) what did he say during that visit about what has transpired in recent days? To some, he's an international hero. To some, he's an international villain. Did he have much to say about that?

ROBINSON: Well, he's, of course, frustrated to be held in prison for a crime that he's not been charged with and a crime that, indeed, he hasn't committed. And of course, he is frustrated when I informed him of the allegations that have been circulating on -- in the media about the allegations that he somehow ordered these hacking attacks on MasterCard and Visa. This is absolutely incorrect. And he sees this as a deliberate attempt to conflate WikiLeaks with hacking organizations.

WikiLeaks is a publishing organization. It is a media organization. And it has no engagement in hacking. He did not order any sort of attack on any of those organizations, and he wishes that he was outside of prison so he could, in fact, refute them himself. So he's quite frustrated in that regard.

KING: Jennifer Robinson, appreciate your time today.

ROBINSON: You're welcome.

KING: Up next, a return to politics back home. A tax mutiny against the president complicates his goals for the lame duck session of Congress.


KING: An interesting week, to say the least. The president cuts a big tax cut deal with Republicans, and when the vice president tells angry House Democrats to take it or leave it, well, they leave it. Mutiny makes for interesting politics, but what will it take to move the policy debate forward?

Dana Bash joins us from Capitol Hill. And with me here in studio, Ed Henry and Gloria Borger.

Some of this seems to be a case of mixed messaging, if you will. I want you to listen here. This is the president of the United States sitting down for an interview with NPR.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My sense is, is that there are going to be discussions between both House and Senate leadership about all the final elements of the package. Keep in mind, we didn't actually write a bill. We put forward a framework. I'm confident that the framework is going to look like the one that we put forward.


KING: If this was just a framework, then why is the vice president going into meetings and saying, Take it or leave it? Ed, which is it?


ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Because they tried that, and it didn't quite work. They were hoping -- when they first announced the bill, even before the vice president went to the Hill, Dana will tell you that they basically at the White House and on the Hill were saying, This is the deal. There's no amendments. There's no changes. Then it was, This is a framework, take it or leave it. It hasn't worked. They don't have the votes.

So what the president is stressing, I think, in that interview is that this is the framework. We hope to keep most of it. And in the end, I think it's very likely they tinker on a few things so the House Democrats can say, You know, we were mad, we stood up to the president, we made it better. And then they're all going to go home.

KING: Go ahead.

DANA BASH, CNN SR. CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know what's so interesting about this, to that point, is that I am finding in talking to members of Congress, even in the leadership, it's not just that it's a framework versus legislation. The problem is that this framework was negotiated between Vice President Biden and the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell. So nobody else really knew exactly what was in it. That is part of the problem.

So now on Thursday night, the Senate actually put pen to paper and made this into legislation language. Some of the things that maybe they already thought were in -- was in the framework or wasn't in the framework. Now they're actually seeing, so it sort of depends on what the definition of "is" is.


BASH: Look at all of this -- look at all of this that's in here for us. But you know what? You know, who knows?

KING: So they negotiated in the context of the new politics, with the Republicans more powerful, but maybe forgetting that at least for a few more weeks, the Democrats are still in charge.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And I think this was the president's way of saying, Oops, we didn't include you in these discussions, and so instead of calling it a done deal, we're going to say, well, we're going to let you put your fingerprint on it one way or another, but just one little fingerprint. No more.

KING: He said he would be post-partisan. Maybe he meant post- Democrat.


KING: Sorry about that. All right, so it's not just the House liberals that are upset. In the Senate, there's criticism, too. And one of the great dramas that played out on Friday is Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, about as liberal as you get, was the socialist mayor of Burlington, Vermont -- he went to the floor for hours and hours and hours. Not only did he criticize the deal and criticize the president, one of the points he wanted to make was that the little guy gets screwed here. And he was talking about all these Wall Street executives. He specifically mentioned John Mack of Morgan Stanley, saying, you know, You got a huge bonus last year. Your company got loans from the Treasury Department when it was in trouble, and now this.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: Instead of losing his job, under this agreement, Mr. Mack will be receiving an estimated $926,000 tax break next year. Congratulations, Mr. Mack. You're doing just fine.

(INAUDIBLE) get 250 bucks for a disabled vet.


KING: Dana, this was quite the drama, not technically a filibuster, but talking on for hours and hours. And an old-style word like the filibuster becoming a trendy topic in the new social media.

BASH: Oh, absolutely. And Bernie Sanders's office is just thrilled that he's the hottest thing on Twitter for doing this, and everything else. But look, the bottom line is that Bernie Sanders has been the most vocal of many Democrats in the Senate and the House who just are, I mean, flat out not going to vote for it, no matter how much they tinker around the edges.

But that does belie the reality, which does seem to be in the United States Senate, at least, both Democratic leaders and Republican leaders are a lot more confident that (INAUDIBLE)

HENRY: You know what's interesting, too, is more and more what I'm picking up at the White House is they're trying to become more pro-business. The president is highlighting trade. They've been stung by these allegations that they were at war with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. They want to say, Look, we're going to make the business climate good. These tax cuts are very favorable to the business community. And I've just heard that on Wednesday of next week, the president's going to have sort of a summit with CEOs at Blair House, across from the White House.

And my point is that as the president gets closer and closer to the business community to sell this, some of his own Democrats are up there beating up on Wall Street, the kind of rhetoric this president did early on, but has moved far, far away from.

BORGER: There was a Gallup poll which showed that 67 percent of independent voters favor extending the tax cuts for everyone. And that is what I believe this White House is looking at because those are the people they've got to win back if they're going to win in 2012.

KING: So it's a big pivot, not a one-issue pivot.

BORGER: No, I think it's a very big pivot. And I think that the Democrats are just going to have to sort of pick their fights, figure out where they can deal with President Obama, but understand that this is about keeping the White House.

KING: And so the longer the debate, the renegotiations, the turning of framework into legislation takes, the more in question everything else is in this lame duck year-end session of Congress.

However, Senator John McCain, who had been one of the critics, saying we're not probably going to get to that START treaty, a nuclear arms treaty with Russia -- we probably won't get to that this year because we need time to talk about it -- he seems -- and a little fun here, listen -- to be warming to the idea.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: Being a snob, I don't pay that close attention to what goes on in the House of Representatives. But apparently, from media reports, there is some kind of a revolt going on. How serious that is, I'm not sure. But I'd also like to point out, I think that START is very important, OK? And I would like to see it ratified.


KING: He's starting to lean into that one a bit, Dana.

BASH: No, he definitely is. I don't necessarily think that means he's going to vote for it if it does come before the Senate, but I can tell you that Democratic leaders were absolutely thrilled to hear him say that, thrilled that two other Republican senators, both senators from Maine, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both came out today and said that they would support it. They say in the Senate they're just waiting for the green light from the White House, that all systems are go, that the way that they have negotiated this is fine and they can take it to the floor for ratification. And I do expect, at this point, that the Senate is going to stay here until they take this up...


HENRY: But oh, how things have flipped in a couple weeks, you know, because a couple weeks ago, the START treaty looked dead. Oh, you might get "Don't ask, don't tell," might get a tax cut deal. Well, wait. He's not getting "Don't ask, don't tell," not getting the Dream Act, maybe he doesn't get the tax cut-

BORGER: But he is getting the deal.

HENRY: ... but he's going to get START.


KING: He's getting things that are foreign policy or his tax deal (INAUDIBLE) negotiate. But what about this is the last gasp for the liberals? They control the House. They control the Senate. When we come back in January, they won't have the House. They'll have a smaller margin in the Senate. Dana, anything on the liberal wish list that they're holding up, saying, We need to get this through?

BASH: "Don't ask, don't tell" is a great example. I mean, what happened on Thursday with that defeat, there is so much anger, especially in the gay rights community and elsewhere that Harry Reid put up that vote, knowing it was going to fail, that is something, if they don't at least try to take it up one more time in the lame duck session, they're going to be very upset, especially if it means doing the START treaty for a lengthy period of time and not doing that.

HENRY: Do you think congressional Democrats are a little nervous about Bill Clinton being in the Oval Office with President Obama on Friday afternoon...

BORGER: Right!

HENRY: ... triangulator-in-chief? Maybe they got a taste of that this week on the tax cut deal, and having Bill Clinton over at the White House probably raised their eyebrows.

BORGER: And don't forget, Bill Clinton also said what a mistake he had made on "Don't ask, don't tell."

KING: Yes. A very, very close associate of the former president told me this was a big stop on Obama's "I get it" tour.


KING: Having Bill Clinton to the Oval Office!

BORGER: You remember Bill Clinton? I don't know if...


KING: I remember him well. See these gray hairs? I remember him!

BORGER: Do you remember when Bill Clinton had everybody up to Camp David for -- scholars and therapists and everybody after '94 to kind of tell him how to proceed?

KING: I do.

BORGER: This is -- this is, I think, President Obama's mini version of that maybe.

KING: All right. All right. All the help he can get, I guess. Thanks, Gloria, Ed and Dana.

Up next, Pete Dominick is apparently jealous that I have one of these. It's an invite to a White House Christmas party. Why would Pete be mad?


KING: The company holiday party is back. After a few years of belt tightening, more companies are once again hosting their annual get-togethers. And of course, you know this, our Offbeat Reporter Pete Dominick, well, never one to miss a party.


PETE DOMINICK, JKUSA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: That's right, John King, the White House having their holiday party tonight. I think you're on the invite list. And I wanted to find out if people are looking forward to their work holiday parties, or even if they're having one this year. Let's go find out.



DOMINICK: ... looking forward to it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, absolutely, yes.

DOMINICK: Are you afraid that you might drink too much and do something that's a mistake? That's always the concern with the work holiday party, the alcohol.


DOMINICK: One thing leads to another, and you're making out with your boss!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Well, actually, my boss is a man, so...


DOMINICK: All right, I got to get my car. I'm going to my work holiday party. Wait. Wait, why is my car leaving?

What kind of place do you work at?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Good Morning America."

DOMINICK: Don't drink too much.


DOMINICK: I know how Diane Sawyer gets.


DOMINICK: OK, thank you very much.

You're invited to our work holiday party. I'm inviting a lot of students out here tonight.


DOMINICK: They're all coming as my husband and wife. It's going to be fun.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whew! Happy holidays! Yes!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm just having some people over.

DOMINICK: That sounds exciting. Can I come?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... play music and...

DOMINICK: I can break dance, you know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can? Can you do the waltz?

DOMINICK: We're at our own holiday party right now. Yes! Get some egg nog out here!

Back when you were working, did you go to the holiday party at the job?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it was during the working hours.


DOMINICK: Good answer!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it was in the evening, they can go screw themselves.


DOMINICK: John King, if you are going to the White House holiday party tonight, my advice again, no videotaping, sir. We don't want to see that showing up. Have a good one. And we'll see you Monday.


KING: Pete, you have a good one, too. And everyone at home, have a great weekend. We hope to see you right here on Monday night. That's all from us tonight. "PARKER-SPITZER" starts right now.