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John King, USA

Rick Santorum's Outburst; Interview With Arizona Governor Jan Brewer

Aired March 26, 2012 - 18:00   ET


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

Tonight: a stunning open microphone blunder. President Obama thinking no one can hear him tells Russia it can get a better deal on missile defense if it waits until he wins reelection.

Plus, did Staff Sergeant Robert Bales return to base after killing some Afghan civilians and then head back out to kill again? His attorney joins us to discuss new details in the investigation.

As Rick Santorum defends his angry outburst at a reporter, the Mitt Romney campaign suggests the former Pennsylvania senator lacks the temperament to be president.

But up first tonight, the landmark debate unfolding at the Supreme Court on this question. Did Congress overstep its authority when it passed the Obama administration plan that mandates you buy health insurance? This morning the Supreme Court opened three days of oral arguments on whether the president's health care law is unconstitutional.

Even though cameras aren't allowed in the court inside, there were rare audio recordings today and they show Chief Justice John Roberts focusing on the key question, can the government force to you buy insurance and then fine you if you don't?


JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT: but the idea that the mandate is something separate from whether you want to call it a penalty or a tax just doesn't seem to make much sense.

GREGORY KATSAS, ATTORNEY: It's -- it's entirely separate and let -- let me explain to you...

ROBERTS: It's a command. A mandate is a command.


KING: CNN senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin was in the courtroom today and he is with us live now.

What is most significant thing that happened today, which is essentially the warmup act? JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Something really significant happened today. Because there was a possibility going into this hearing that the court could kick the can down the road, could say this whole issue is premature, the law doesn't go into effect until 2014.

What we saw was the eight justice who asked questions, Clarence Thomas was silent, as usual, but the eight justices also more or less agreed you could tell this case was not premature, that it was appropriate to decide the case and tomorrow they will address the question of the merits, is the law constitutional?

KING: And obviously it is a huge case of import for the Constitution, for the power of Congress, for the presidency, for our political system, and you cover the court better than anybody. No routine case makes it, but do they understand and how is it different when you get a case like this? This is the Super Bowl, this is the World Series.

TOOBIN: Just think of this -- 99 out of 100 cases are given one hour. Bush v. Gore was given one hour. This case is being given six hours. The justices are not pretending this is just another case. They recognize the enormous stakes involved.

KING: And any sense from what you heard today -- obviously they're all interested. Obviously you seem to think they want this case. Any sense of where they are?

TOOBIN: I really don't think so. You could sort of tease out certain things. But since tomorrow all they're going to do for two hours is talk about the mandate, we will know a great deal more.

One thing about this court is that they don't play devil's advocate. What you see is what you get. The questions they ask almost invariably reflect their true feelings, so after the hearing tomorrow we should know a great deal more about whether this law is going to be upheld.

KING: We will have you right back here tomorrow and we will go through it. Thank you, Jeff.


KING: What do you think the high court should do? In our new, brand new CNN/ORC poll, only 23 percent of Americans say leave the law just as it is -- 30 percent of Americans want it overturned in its entirety -- 43 percent say some provisions should be struck down -- 47 percent of Americans favor mandatory health insurance, but 51 percent oppose that.

And I guess no surprise here, the partisan divide is stunning -- 68 percent of Democrats approve the law and only 10 percent of Republicans do. You can count the Republican presidential candidates among the law's fiercest opponents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is a power grab by the federal government. It violates the 10th Amendment. It violates the economic principles of economic freedom in this country. It is wrong. It needs to be repealed.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It is going to destroy the economy of this country, it's going to raise unemployment rates, it's going to bloom the size of the government and it's going to dramatically increase our deficit. This is a loser on every single front.


KING: In a bit, we will have more of what the presidential candidates told my colleague Wolf Blitzer today, but let's shift overseas now for a moment to a highly embarrassing moment for President Obama.

In South Korea for a summit on stopping the spread of nuclear weapons, the president was overheard asking the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev, for some space on a thorny issue in U.S.-Russian relations, NATO's plans to deploy a missile defense system in Europe.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. And after my election, I have more flexibility.

DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir, and I stand with you.


KING: White House correspondent Brianna Keilar Brianna is traveling with the president.

Brianna, what happened here?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, this happened as reporters were being let into the room as President Obama and President Medvedev were finishing up a 90-minute formal one-on-one meeting.

The two leaders did not have microphones on but as you know directional microphones are pretty good these days and this conversation was caught, some of it on camera, and President Obama caught on an audio recording that was heard by the press pool saying that he needed space.

White House officials, they are downplaying this saying this is just an acknowledgment of what everyone knows that there are election year politics in play with a lot of decisions. But the fact is when there is a hot mike and a president is caught saying something, it makes news. It has made news before. We know as we're here at the summit people look at what's going on at the summit but they really want to know what's going on, on the sidelines, and it is rare we're able to see an unscripted moment like this, John.

KING: It is rare, and any politician including this president who has had this happen to him before should know better. But he is saying essentially there, back off, don't pressure me until after the election, and then if I win, you will probably get a better deal.

Needless to say, the Republicans jumped all over this, right?

KEILAR: They are. They're extrapolating from this.

The point Republicans are making if President Obama has some flexibility after the election on this issue of missile defense, what other issues might he have flexibility on? And we have been seeing, for instance, Mitt Romney react to this and he also tweeted about it saying, fill in the blank, Barack Obama. I will have more flexibility to blank after the election."

That's pretty interesting because obvious the Obama campaign sees one of Mitt Romney's liabilities is as they have painted him being a flip-flopper, so you see the Romney campaign turning that criticism back at President Obama.

Speaker Boehner's spokesperson, Brendan Buck, saying, "Hey, State Department, I need some space until after the election on this Keystone thing. After my election, I have more flexibility."

There in that case you see a Republican trying to tie this to another issue, which is the president's January decision to block that oil pipeline that's become a bit of a political liability as gas prices have risen so high, John.

KING: Brianna Keilar overseas traveling with the president, another reminder the microphone is always open. Bri, thank you so much.

Also today the president gave a speech warning the North Koreans their provocations in pursuit of nuclear weapons have undermined their quest for security. But just hours after the president's speech, U.S. officials confirming the North Koreas have moved a long-range rocket to the launchpad. South Korea's president threatened his country would "thoroughly retaliate" if provoked.

Back here in the United States today new details emerging about the fatal shooting of that Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin. Leaked information from the Sanford, Florida, police and published in "The Orlando Sentinel" newspaper revealed Martin had been suspended from school for suspected marijuana use. Martin's parents are furious.


SABRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: Comment that I have right now is that they have killed my son. And now they're trying to kill his reputation.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: The leaked information also paints Martin as the aggressor in his confrontation with George Zimmerman, Zimmerman the neighborhood watch volunteer that shot him. And also more on Zimmerman's friends now coming to his defense.


JOE LIVER, FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This was not a racial incident. This was an incident where someone who was just trying to do the right thing ended up in a very, very bad position.


KING: CNN's David Mattingly who has been reporting on this case extensively is in Florida.

David, the city confirmed today they passed information onto the state attorney's office that Trayvon Martin initiated the violent encounter in their view, punching Zimmerman in the nose, knocking him down, slamming his head on the sidewalk. How are Trayvon Martin's supporters reacting to that?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're taking their cues from the family. The family very much strongly objects to that information coming out.

We learned today that it was leaked by the police department. It was not an authorized press release, information that should have gone out and the city itself saying they will launch an investigation in trying to find out where it came from and if they find the person that did it, that person could be losing their job. Everyone very serious here about trying to close the leaks.

But that information is now out. The family believes that it is part of an attempt to recast their son as the aggressor in this case and they object to that very strongly saying that it is a character assassination. And they go onto say that they believe that it is irrelevant right now, as well as erroneous.

Based on the phone call that Trayvon was engaged in with a girlfriend at the time that he had his encounter with George Zimmerman, they say if you listen to the phone call and look at the records, the time lapse records of the 911 calls, it doesn't seem to match up with what the police are saying.

KING: And, David, what more do we know about the details of the school suspension?

MATTINGLY: The details have been known to the family the entire time.

They say they didn't come public with that, we knew that he was suspended, and there was a report early on that it was because of excessive tardiness, but the family said they knew that wasn't the case and they knew that all along why he was suspended, but at this point they said they felt like that was really irrelevant to what happened. It had nothing to do with the confrontation that took place that night or they say why George Zimmerman decided to get out of his car and pursue Trayvon that night that he was killed.

KING: And, David, explain to us what's going on behind you there.

MATTINGLY: This is the big overflow crowd that could not get into the civic center tonight for the open mike that's been set up for city officials to hear what people have to say about this case.

And believe me, they have been getting an emotional earful from representative after representative, people standing up to talk about how emotionally charged this case is and why. This is a city park behind me and this is the overflow crowd, the hundreds that could not -- the arena that they're in only accommodates about 500 people and everyone else had to come out here.

I can't begin to tell you how many there are in the crowd. From where I'm standing, it just looks like a sea of people going across the block here. But there are some huge JumboTrons that have been set up and everybody watching every single word that was being said, and applauding quite frequently as people make their points to the city commissioners here.

KING: Pictures, especially the wide shots, overwhelming. David Mattingly on the scene for us and we will go back to David as soon as developments warrant. Thank you, David.

According to new reports a U.S. Army soldier sneaked off his base twice during this month's massacre of civilians in Afghanistan and we will ask his attorney about that a bit later.

But next, the Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, has taken no steps towards implementing the president's health care reform plan. We will talk to her about that after the break.


KING: Days of tensions inside and outside the Supreme Court today as the high court considers whether the government can order citizens, order you to have health insurance.

On the other side of the country, the Arizona governor, Jan Brewer, is the nation's only governor not to take any legislative action towards implementing the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare by some of its critics. She is part of a lawsuit also challenging the rule.

Governor Brewer joins us now from Arizona.

Governor, I know you oppose this law. I know you have joined a suit saying it is unconstitutional, but you haven't taken any steps in your state to be ready to implement it. If the high court says it is fine, it can stay in place, won't you be caught flat-footed?

GOV. JAN BREWER (R), ARIZONA: Well, that's not entirely correct, John.

I have taken steps here in Arizona because I felt it was the right thing to do, not knowing exactly what the Supreme Court is going to do, but I have started down the path and we are starting to implement the health exchanges. And we will be ready to set it up and move forward, so we don't put Arizona at risk of losing millions of dollars from the federal government in case they do win.

But, if they lose, I can just shut it right down. So I have tried to do the best on both sides of this issue. But I believe that we're going to win this case. I believe it is totally unconstitutional and it is absolutely unaffordable. It's unaffordable for Arizona for sure, and it is unaffordable for America.

KING: If you can in your words shut it down, what do you tell the estimated just shy of 60,000 young adults in Arizona who are now allowed to stay on their parents' health coverage because the law moves the age up to 26?

Or what do you tell the 1,700-plus Arizonans who had preexisting conditions, who couldn't get health insurance a year ago, but can now? What do you tell them if you win?

BREWER: Well, first and foremost, I understand their plight. We have all been at some time maybe in that kind of situation.

The bottom line is, is that I don't believe that the federal government -- and that is at issue. And I think states and states ought to have rights and those are issues that we can determine and that we could solve on a state level. Government just simply can't do everything for everyone.

And under the existing circumstances, I understand there are situations where people indeed need care and need services, but I believe in America that the majority of those people are getting those services under situations and circumstances that are afforded to them by their health care providers and their state government.

We need the federal government to understand and in regards to this lawsuit that it is going to have longtime, going forward, implications on our country, on liberty, and on freedom, and it is just not about health care. It is about states' rights and it's about mandating commerce, regulating.

KING: To that point, you have endorsed Mitt Romney for the Republican presidential nomination. As you know, it is a big constitutional question for the court and it's also a fierce debate in our politics.

Senator Santorum who still thinks he has a shot at getting the nomination, he says if Republicans nominate Governor Romney it will be a disaster. Let's listen.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He is the worst candidate to go against Barack Obama on the most important issue of the day. It is what I said yesterday. It's what I have said in every single speech that I have been giving throughout the course of this campaign.


KING: Would Governor Romney on this health care issue be the worst possible thing the Republican Party could do?

BREWER: I don't believe so or I wouldn't have endorsed him.

I think he has got the support of good conservative Republicans throughout America. I think that Governor Romney wants the opportunity to go to the drawing board, and if a solution is needed, that he wants to work with all of us to get it solved. I think he wants to work with governors, he wants to work with state government, and he wants to do what's right for the people of Arizona.

And he is a big proponent of states' rights and he is a big proponent of freedom and that's what counts.

KING: Governor Jan Brewer of Arizona, appreciate your time tonight.

BREWER: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

Senator Santorum loses his temper on the campaign trail. What made him snap? We will play the sound and get an opinion from tonight's "Truth" panel.

And James Cameron dives more than 35,000 feet underwater. We will tell you what he was doing, where, and why.



KING: When we come back: Three presidential candidates speak to CNN. And you will hear from all of them.

And new developments in the case of that U.S. soldier charged with 17 charges of murder in Afghanistan. We will tell you what the Pentagon now says he did. Plus, you will hear from his wife.


KING: In this half-hour: the attorney who represents the U.S. soldier accused in this month's massacre in Afghanistan. Did his client go off base, shoot Afghan civilians, return to base and then leave and shoot more?

Also, what was behind Rick Santorum's angry outburst after a reporter's question?

Plus, a disturbing new report alleges a nationwide epidemic of cheating on standardized school tests.

First, the Republican presidential candidates may not be doing debates anymore, but our Wolf Blitzer had a trifecta today, three of them, this afternoon right here on CNN and "THE SITUATION ROOM."

Wolf joins us now.

Let's go in reverse order, if you will, of their standing when it comes to delegates and their elections. Newt Gingrich was on. And I want everyone to listen here. A lot of people say after he didn't win Mississippi and Alabama, he didn't win this weekend in Louisiana, a lot of pressure on the speaker to get on, but:


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: So you have absolutely no intention of dropping out of this race any time between now and the end of June, is that right?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the morning that he gets 1,144 that are locked down, then I think he claim to be the nominee. But until then, he's not the nominee.

Remember, I'm from Atlanta, where we were ahead by 10.5 games last with only 28 games to go, and the Cardinals didn't quit. Everybody wanted them to, but they just kept coming and they ended up winning. So, I think this is not over until it's over.

And, obviously, if he does become the nominee, I will support him. Beating Barack Obama is very, very important for this country.


KING: And that's Newt Gingrich there. Before we have a conversation, let's listen to Senator Santorum, who did win in Louisiana, who has won 11 states now. But the delegate math is very tough for Senator Santorum. If you look at our count, Governor Romney has a more than 2-to-1 lead. But...


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Let's talk about your strategy for a moment, because all of the math that we've done suggests that you don't have a realistic chance of getting to 1,144. Romney does. But you might be able to prevent him from reaching that. Is it your goal just to get to have a debate on the convention floor?

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: With all due respect, we don't agree with your numbers. We think they're wrong.

BLITZER: You think you can realistically get to 1,144 before the convention?

SANTORUM: We think we can get there. And we think the likelihood, I agree, the likelihood that neither of us can get there. But I think we can still get there. Our numbers are very different than yours. You have some calculations with Florida, Idaho, Arizona, for example, winner take all. And you know, the RNC rules say you can't have winner take all. So those will be apportioned at the convention. And you give Romney all those delegates. And he'll give Gingrich or any of them.

So you're going to see a lot of changes when the reality sets in that this race is going to -- is all likelihood going to go to convention.


KING: Now, you know how we do the numbers. I trust our team very well; I work with them quite closely. But to his point, he's essentially trying to say if he can get momentum in the latter primaries, if he can get -- keep Romney from getting 1,144, then maybe -- maybe you convince the delegates to come that way.

But did you get the sense, sitting across from him -- you know him -- does he really believe that or is that what he has to say to keep it going?

BLITZER: I get the sense that he really believes he can prevent Mitt Romney from getting the magic number of 1,144 before the convention in Tampa at the end of August. He believes he can do that.

And if there is a floor fight, if there are delegate that are undecided, uncommitted, he might be able to convince them because of the healthcare issue in particular, which he says Romney is still vulnerable on, because he, in fact, as governor of Massachusetts, did support mandates in Massachusetts.

And to a certain degree, Newt Gingrich has the same theory: just let it get to the convention and let him stay in. If he remains standing in there until the convention, and no one has the magic number, who knows what can happen.

And if you speak to him off camera, Newt Gingrich has got a lot of historical precedence going to 1920 with what happened on the tenth ballot.

KING: The tenth ballot in 1920. You know what? Given how volatile and crazy this year has been, some people say who can blame him?

BLITZER: A lively convention.

KING: That would be a lively convention.

Let's move on to Governor Mitt Romney. You asked him, I'll call it the commander in chief question here. As many of you know, if you've been following us today and watching the news, President Obama, highly embarrassing moment in South Korea today. He's talking to the Russian president. He thinks nobody can hear him, and he says essentially, "Back off. I know we have a disagreement on missile defense, but if I win the election, I have more flexibility." You asked Governor Romney is that right or wrong?


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These are very unfortunate developments, and if he's planning on doing more and suggests to Russia that he has things he's willing to do with them he's not willing to tell the American people -- this is to Russia.

This is without question our No. 1 geopolitical foe. They fight every cause for the world's worst actors. The idea that he has some more flexibility in mind for Russia is very, very troubling indeed.

BLITZER: You think Russia is a bigger foe right now than, let's say, Iran or China or North Korea? Is that what you're suggesting, Governor?

ROMNEY: Well, I'm saying in terms of a geopolitical opponent, the nation that lines up with the world's worst actors. Of course the greatest threat that the world faces is the nuclear Iran, and nuclear North Korea is already troubling enough.

But when these terrible actors pursue their course in the world, and we go to the United Nations looking for ways to stop them. When Assad, for instance, is murdering his own people, we go to the (AUDIO GAP) that always stands up for the world's worst actors, it is always Russia, typically with China alongside.

And so in terms of a geopolitical foe, a nation that's on the Security Council, that has the heft of the Security Council, and is, of course, a massive nuclear power, Russia is the geopolitical foe. And -- and their -- the idea that our president is planning on doing something with them that he's not willing to tell the American people before the election is something I find very, very alarming.


BLITZER: He explained his point when you pressed him. And I get what he means. Geopolitical foe, in the Cold War they were an enemy or they were the opponent. It's an interesting choice of words there from Governor Romney but also very harsh criticism of the incumbent.

BLITZER: Yes. This was an unforced error on the part of the president of the United States. You would have thought that after three years of covered summit meetings, you'd know there are open microphones all the time. And you don't start whispering to Medvedev something that you don't necessarily want to be made public.

And I can understand why he would say that, that he wants the Russians to wait. The U.S. is looking to Russia right now for help in dealing with Iran and other sensitive issues, and they're trying to -- he's trying to woo them to a certain degree. But this was a -- this was a blunder.

KING: And he knows President Putin is just around the corner. They say Medvedev, and President Putin tends be to be a little bit more open in his criticism of the United States.

BLITZER: More hawkish, yes, as far as the United States is concerned. But I understand what Romney was saying about a geopolitical foe, a geostrategic foe. You know, North Korea or Iran; might not necessarily be our (ph) China. At least a lot of experts think is a bigger potential geopolitical threat to the U.S. than Russia is.

KING: And the economic characterizations. Wolf Blitzer, big day for you in "THE SITUATION ROOM." Thanks for joining us.

We turn to the investigation into exactly what happened the night the Army staff sergeant, Robert Bales, allegedly gunned down 17 Afghan civilians. CNN is told the Pentagon now alleges he committed those act in two separate outings, returning to base in between.

Bales is charged now with 17 counts of murder, including the murder of nine Afghan children. For the first time earlier today, his wife tried to shed light on what could have happened.


KARILYN BALES, WIFE: I have no idea what happened. But he would not -- he loves children. He would not do that. It's heartbreaking. I can't imagine losing my children.


KING: Joining us now is John Henry Brown. He's the attorney for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales.

Sir, let me ask you this up front. There are some new accounts coming out that, according to the military investigation, your client is alleged to have twice left the base: gone out from the base, committed some of these murders, come back to the base, and then after some period of time, gone back out again. What does your client say happened that night?

JOHN HENRY BROWN, ATTORNEY FOR ROBERT BALES: That is an allegation, of course. That's certainly not proof of anything. And obviously, John, I can't tell you what my client remembers or don't remember, other than telling you that he has some memory problems about everything that happened that night.

KING: Has the military shown you any evidence that he left base once or twice or more that night?

BROWN: No, no, actually there's a defense -- part of our defense team is on the ground in Afghanistan right now. And we are gathering information and interviewing witnesses and getting information from the military prosecutors, but I haven't had a chance to look at that yet.

KING: Obviously, you are waiting for information from them. You are watching this case being discussed publicly here in the United States and around the world. I want you to listen here a bit of what your client's wife -- she gave an interview this morning with NBC, and she says she's listening to things that she simply sometimes can't believe. Let's listen.


BALES: I used to believe that everything I read was true or, you know, most things I read were true. And now as I'm reading a little bit of these, some things are true and some things aren't true, so I'm waiting to hear what actually is true.


BROWN: Well, I think what Kari was talking about -- I was with her yesterday, by the way, but -- and I've been with Kari a number of times. But I think what she was referring to is that, you know, early on in this story, John, there were reports of -- you know, unattributed, of course, that, you know, if Sergeant Bales did do this, that it was a result of marital pressures and financial pressures and -- and stress.

And the minute I heard that, I knew that that was not accurate information, because I knew there were absolutely no marital difficulties in this marriage whatsoever. I think Kari -- so I think is saying that she's heard this, and it's been floated out there but absolutely not true. So everything else we hear we're suspicious about.

KING: She also has said that there were no signs of PTSD before he went on this deployment. Could that statement in some way, sir, undermine any defense you might want to put forward?

BROWN: No. Most of the soldiers I've spoken with, who I've spoken with a lot that contacted me since I got involved in this and also experts in the area of PTSD, one of the things that we know are that the soldiers, the professional soldiers, often hide these symptoms from their family. It's a matter of, one, not wanting their family to be concerned about issues like concussive head injuries.

We know for a fact he has that concussive head injury. So a lot of the soldiers just don't tell their families about problems they're having, so that's not really uncommon. Kari was being protected by Robert about a lot of the things that were going on in his life.

KING: Do you know anything about was he on any medications, either for the head injury or anything else, or was he prescribed, as many soldiers are, anti-malaria medications or anything while he was in the field in Afghanistan?

BROWN: Well, that's a good question. I know it's a hot issue right now. Sergeant Bales was unable to recall, when I was speaking with him for 11 hours, exactly what medications he's taken in the past and what he's been -- he took recently. I think it's part of the whole memory problems that he's having.

So I cannot confirm that he was taking any of these, but I suspect he was. We're going to have to get his medical records, since he doesn't have a real good memory of that.

KING: Mr. Brown, I appreciate your time tonight. We'll stay in touch as this high-profile case moves forward.

BROWN: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

Coming up, Rick Santorum's outburst at a reporter. Tonight's "Truth": should he have known better?


KING: Tonight's "Truth" is a lesson about the stress and strain of long emotional campaigns. But first, a bit of a flashback. Rick Santorum last December, then in single digits in the Iowa polls, insisting he would get his chance.


SANTORUM: I feel very good that we're going to surprise a lot of people, and I know most folks are thinking we're going to be at the back of the pack. We're not going to be at the back of the pack. We're going to do very, very well.


KING: And very well he has done, winning Iowa and ten states since. But Mitt Romney has won more states and more delegates, and as March winds down, Senator Santorum knows the odds of victory are dwindling.

But the anti-Romney rhetoric is getting tougher; the anti-media rhetoric, too. This was Friday in Texas.


SANTORUM: You win by giving people a choice. You win by giving people the opportunity to see a different vision for our country, not someone who's just going to be a little different than the person in there. If they're going to be different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate for the future.


KING: And this Sunday in Wisconsin.


SANTORUM: Pick any other Republican in the country. He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama. Why would Wisconsin want to vote for someone like that?


KING: After that speech, especially about that point, the "New York Times" correspondent, Jeff Zeleny, asked a question.


JEFF ZELENY, CORRESPONDENT, "NEW YORK TIMES": You said that Mitt Romney is the worst Republican in the country. Is that true?

SANTORUM: What speech did you listen to?

ZELENY: Right here. "He's the worst Republican."

SANTORUM: Stop lying. I said he was the worst Republican to run on the issue of Obama care. And that's what I was talking about. I have said uniquely -- every speech I give, I said he's uniquely disqualified to run against Barack Obama on the issue of health care. Would you guys quit distorting what I'm saying?

ZELENY: You think he is the worst Republican to run?

SANTORUM: To run against Barack Obama on the issue of healthcare, because he fashioned the blueprint. I've been saying it in every speech. Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Come on, man.


KING: Now, in Senator Santorum's defense, he was clearly focused on the health-care issue when he launched into the worst candidate attack on Governor Romney, but reporters covering campaigns, especially the good reporters, know to listen for any small changes in the stump speech, and it was a more than fair question. So why the outburst?


SANTORUM: I don't regret taking on a "New York Times" reporter who was out of line. You know, if you're a conservative and you haven't taken on a "New York Times" reporter, you're not worth your salt, as far as I'm concerned.


KING: The "Truth" is, the senator should know better. He knows how the process works.

And to his credit, Senator Santorum is almost always accessible to reporters. He also knows Jeff Zeleny is a pro. To me, this is less about the media and more about months and months on the road plus the math, math that heavily favors Governor Romney, as we prepare for the march into April.

Let's get some perspective now from the former Rick Perry campaign manager, Rob Johnson; CNN contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona; and national communications director for Rick Santorum, Hogan Gidley.

You know -- you know Jeff Zeleny. You know he doesn't deliberately distort anybody's words. The health care on this issue was not in that one sentence. And he walked up essentially to just double check, just to make sure. Why so mad? Why "B.S."? Why "lie"?

HOGAN GIDLEY, NATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR FOR RICK SANTORUM: Look, look, Rick is a passionate guy. Everybody knows that. The reason they like him is because of that passion, because of how he feels about the country. I mean, that's nothing new to anybody. He's an Italian kid from a steel town; doesn't start every fight, but he sure finishes a lot of them.

And he took on a reporter from the "New York Times," because he felt the "New York Times" reporter was being unfair. He's done it many times. As you just mentioned, he's accessible. He's out there all the time. He's the only candidate that actually talks to reporters before, after, and probably during his presentation. He doesn't give a canned speech.

But his whole issue is about Obama care and Romney care being the same thing, and he's been talking about it for months. Back in Iowa he was talking about it. He was talking about it today. He showed the shot from the Supreme Court. He went down there to explain to people just why those two pieces of legislation are identical and why Mitt Romney has zero credibility to talk about health care as an issue in this campaign.

COOPER: The Romney campaign, Rob, today does a conference call, and they say, "Well, look, this guy doesn't have the temperament to be president, if he's going to snap at a 'New York Times' reporter."

Look, all candidates -- Governor Romney I haven't seen snap like that, but all candidates have their moments. I've covered seven -- seven presidential elections, and it happens out there.

But Santorum's point was the Romney people are in the back of the room; they're stoking this. That happens in campaigns, too. Is it better, actually, to attack Romney, not attack the reporter? Or is that fair game?

ROB JOHNSON, FORMER MITT ROMNEY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: First of all, attacking the "New York Times" is probably worth two or three points for Senator Santorum in the Republican primary.

But also, Governor Romney has had his temperament challenged and he has shown it out on the campaign. He laid hands on Rick Perry. He made a $10,000 bet with Rick Perry. He also attacked Brett Baier for interviewing him.

So it just happens. Running for president is hard, and it's grueling, and it's tough. And people get tired, and we're all human.

MARIA CARDONA, It does get grueling and tired and it is tough, but this is where you separate the men from the boys. I mean, this would have been a perfect opportunity for Santorum to continue to focus his passion on the issues. The right answer to that would have been, "Yes, on healthcare, Mitt Romney is absolutely the worst candidate to put up against Barack Obama because, blah, blah, blah." I mean, that would have been the perfect answer. He was tired. He was annoyed. He did.

And I think you're right, to some of his own conservative followers...


CARDONA: To some of his conservative followers, that is the thing to do, but it doesn't do anything to bring on independents and to expand the coalition that he's going to need to ultimately win.

KING: Well, here's the question I have today. You explained to me how you can intellectually connect these dots. Senator Santorum passionately making the case. And some Republicans are mad at him, because they think Romney has this all but locked up. They think he's hurting the cause.

But he passionately makes the case, especially on this day in the Supreme Court arguments, do not nominate Mitt Romney. He can't carry the case against health care. Right? He would be the worst Republican on this biggest issue of the day.

Then he tells the Christian Broadcasting Network when he's asked, would you consider being his running mate if he wins? "This is the most important race in our country's history. I'm going to do everything I can. I'm going to do everything I can. I'll do whatever is necessary to help our country."

If he's the worst candidate the party could nominate, why would you join his ticket?

GIDLEY: Well, you've got to make him good somehow, so let's make him good with Rick Santorum. Right?

I mean, if you want to take on the president on this important issue of health care, you've got to have someone who has a consistent record of being against the government takeover of people's lives and freedom. And that's Rick Santorum.

So I mean, look, it's the job nobody wants but the job no one rejects. I mean, obviously, if that were the case, I mean, you know, there are a lot of people out there, as we all know, who are brought up in these conversations about who would be vice president. And they always say, "I'm not running for vice president," because we're not. We're running for president. We have a long way to go. This thing is halfway over. We're ready for the second half.

KING: But aren't you guys supposed to train the candidates to say, "I'm not answering that question today, because I'm going to be the nominee."


GIDLEY: If I was able to train Rick Santorum to say anything, I would be making a whole lot more money than I'm making.

JOHNSON: I think Governor Perry said vice president isn't worth a warm bucket of spit.

KING: I think he was quoting somebody else.

JOHNSON: He was.

KING: But...

CARDONA: But that's true, but also when you say things about Mitt Romney, the way that Santorum has, your chances of being the VP kind of dwindle a little bit.

KING: We're almost short of time. Here's a quick political question. Would you actually -- I know the policy that you want, but the politics. Would you rather your side lose at the Supreme Court to motivate voters? To have them say Obama care is constitutional?

GIDLEY: No. No, I don't. I mean, freedom is the underlying theme here. This is what can't be taken away. It's very important. You can't play politics with freedom.

KING: Wouldn't it motivate Democrats more if the court threw it out?

CARDONA: It would motivate Democrats more, but I would not root for that. Because right now there are 180 million Americans who are benefiting from the portions of the law that are already in effect, and that is not something that I don't think anybody wants to be in a position to take away.

KING: Politics, the politics.

JOHNSON: This isn't about Republican and Democrat. It's about the American people and about their freedom and this onerous bill, this onerous law that has been put on them.

KING: We'll watch this case and watch the campaign. Hogan, Maria, Rob, thanks for coming in.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up at the top of the hour. Erin's with us now for a preview.

And Erin, we all know about open microphones. The president had this candid chat with Russia's president. What's your take?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, you know, I guess it's better than being in the bathroom with your open microphone. I know that has happened to people.

But he did obviously make a bit of a gaffe, and we're going to talk about exactly why it happened. What he was trying to signal to Russia. And actually, we're going to break it down, John, because when you look at what Russia is doing, versus United States policy in Iran and Syria, it may shock a lot of people to see the president open to cutting a deal with Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin. So we're going to talk exactly about all that, top of the hour.

KING: We'll see you in just a few minutes for that important discussion. Thank you, Erin.

Coming up here, school districts across the country allegedly cheating on standardized tests. How many? Stay with us. The number may shock you.


KING: Welcome back. Kate Bolduan is back with the latest news you need to know right now.

BOLDUAN: Hey, there, John.

Hello again, everyone.

A very hard story to bring to you. First, a mother of five beaten with a tire iron in her own home has died. This California -- California woman, Shaima Alawadi has been on life support since being found by her daughter Wednesday. Her mother is calling her death a hate crime, because a threatening note was found next to her.

Shaima had received a second letter a week ago saying, quote, "This is our country, not yours, you terrorists." Very disturbing.

In other headlines, a report in "The Atlanta Journal- Constitution" says almost 200 school districts show signs of cheating on standardized tests. Tests showed what the paper calls statistically unlikely score increases and other irregularities.

The report is based on a seven-month investigation of almost 70,000 public schools. About 180 teachers were implicated in 2009 during a similar cheating scandal.

And Tim Tebow speaks for the first time as an official New York Jet. He'll be a backup quarterback and could play other roles on the field. Tebow says he's OK with that, and that he is excited to join the team.

The Broncos traded Tebow to the Jets last week after signing Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

What else is he going to say? Of course he's excited to be playing.

A 71-year-old former Marine is pedaling across the country. Seventy-one years old, folks. Rick Hermerlin will use -- use this bike, starting in South Carolina and hoping to reach California. He's trying to raise $10,000 for a charity that supports injured Marines and their families. Hermerlin says he's run -- he's run 100 marathons, 100 half-marathons and 100 10-Ks. That is very impressive.

KING: Impressive. That's awesome. It's a great cause.

BOLDUAN: What an amazing guy. That's -- those are the kind of stories I like talking about.

KING: Yes, yes, yes. And here's -- I don't know if we'll like talking about this one. Today's "Moments You Might Have Missed." It's pretty bizarre.

Herman Cain releases a video of a rabbit. It's supposed to represent small business under the current tax code but, people, yes, people are calling the ending strange and disturbing. You make the call.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is small business.

This is small business under the current tax code.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any questions? Any questions?


KING: That's the second. The goldfish one was earlier. Abusing animals, even faux abusing animals.

BOLDUAN: Right. It was not -- they say it was a stuffed bunny.

KING: But it's dark and strange.

BOLDUAN: There's also some reporting that early today, I believe, that it was temporarily taken off YouTube for a review, because it may -- they thought it may have violated some of the YouTube policies, but it's back up.

KING: There are ways to make a point. There are dramatic ways to make a point.

BOLDUAN: And he's trying one of them.

KING: And then there's that. No, I think that's something else.

BOLDUAN: I don't -- I don't know the category.

KING: All right, Kate.

If you have a question for me, political or otherwise -- I hope it's not about flying rabbits -- I'll be doing a live interactive chat tomorrow, live, at 12 p.m. Eastern. Tweet me your question, @JohnKingCNN, and I'll be happy to answer it tomorrow.

That's all for us tonight. We'll see you right back here tomorrow night. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.