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John King, USA

Interview With California Congressman Darrell Issa; New Standards for Secret Service; Bill Clinton Argues Case for President Obama

Aired April 27, 2012 - 18:00   ET


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

Tonight: new standards of conduct for the Secret Service. And a CNN exclusive: the identity of the agent whose payment dispute with a prostitute brought this whole scandal to light.

Also, a rare report from inside Syria, as the regime there continues to defy the world and violate a cease-fire.

Four years ago, Barack Obama condemned the use of Osama bin Laden in political ads. Now with Bill Clinton's help, a stunning about- face.

We begin this evening with exclusive details about the sex scandal that's shaken the United States Secret Service. CNN has now identified the agent who triggered the prostitution scandal that exploded during President Obama's recent trip to Colombia.

Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit has the exclusive report.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A hotel security guard at the Hotel Caribe says the commotion began in the seventh floor hallway where some of the agents were staying. Through hotel records CNN can now confirm at least three agents assigned rooms on that floor apparently left Cartagena early. Sources with knowledge of the investigation had indicated to CNN that two agents have been cleared, but that the agent who stayed in room 707 may already be gone from the service.

According to hotel records reviewed by CNN, agent Arthur Huntington was checked into this room. Two sources with knowledge of the investigation say it was Huntington who had the dispute with the escort named Dania Suarez. Suarez has now hired an attorney and through statements credited to the attorney demands she was an escort, not a prostitute. Her attorney isn't talking.

Earlier this week, a man who identified himself as Arthur Huntington declined comment to a CNN producer. Yesterday CNN returned to Arthur Huntington's home where the door was gently pushed shut without comment. The home was just listed for sale this week.


GRIFFIN: John, we have been trying to reach Arthur Huntington for comment from his representative even. Since Monday there has been none. As one former agent told me, this is not just a crisis for the Secret Service. This is a very real and personal crisis for the families involved.

KING: It certainly is, Drew. Excellent reporting. The reason we wanted to bring it to light is without this payment dispute in the hallway of the hotel we might not know anything about the conduct in Colombia.

Drew Griffin, some great reporting. thanks, Drew.

CNN has also learned tonight that new standards of conduct were passed out to all Secret Service personnel today. Two government sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN these enhanced standards of conduct designate areas and establishments that will be off-limits during future overseas trips.

Also bans agents from bringing any foreign nationals into their hotel rooms. The rules say United States laws will be in effect for all traveling Secret Service personnel overseas and the new standards ban alcohol consumption within 10 hours of reporting for duty.

The rules also say alcohol consumption is not allowed at all in any hotel where someone being protected by the Secret Service is staying and they also say not one, but now two high-level supervisors will be assigned to those so-called car plane teams. They go in several days ahead of the president with his motorcade.

Sobering new economic data from the government this evening, the gross domestic product, the value of all goods and services produced here in the United States, grew at a rate of just 2.2 percent last quarter, below most predictions, and down from 3 percent growth in the last three months of 2011.

Let's put this in a context with Mark Zandi. He's the chief economist for Moody's Analytics.

Mark, when you look at the numbers, federal spending is down. State and local government spending is down. Consumer spending is actually up a little bit. When you look at it, what's the biggest flag, the biggest downside?

MARK ZANDI, CHIEF ECONOMIST, MOODY'S ANALYTICS: Weakness in business investment.

Business investment in equipment and software, it was up, but only a very little bit. I think it's a lack of business confidence, that businesses are so cautious that is kind of the missing link here. It's the reason why the economy isn't really fully engaging. To me that was the most disappointing aspect of the report that we are not seeing businesses step up more aggressively.

KING: You have got 2.2 percent projected growth in this quarter, down from the last quarter. We have seen weekly unemployment filings up. We had a tepid jobs report last month. Does it suggest to you that things will get worse going forward?

ZANDI: No, I don't think so.

I think we will be OK. We got juiced up a little bit late last year, early this because of the extraordinarily warm winter weather. There will be a bit of a payback. That's what we are starting to see right now. I also think the higher gasoline prices are doing a bit of damage to the economy.

But all in all I think the economy is in a much better place than it was this time last year. I think we're on pretty solid ground. I don't think we will backtrack in a significant way.

KING: You say not going to backtrack, but we're stuck in a pretty low gear. To get it into a higher gear and to get growth above 3 percent and up to 4 percent, to get people feeling truly happy and growth to be robust what has to happen? In the answer, is there anything a president can do, anything Washington can do that would help in the short term?

ZANDI: Good question.

I think it's really the animal spirits. Businesses have to grow more confident and begin to step up, begin to invest and hire more. They are nervous, in part, because of the policy regulatory environment particularly in the financial services industry, health care industries, some of the utility industries, energy industry.

But perhaps more importantly than that, I think it's the nightmare of the very difficult times we have been through. It's very difficult for them to get over that and to really let loose and become aggressive. I think that's just going to take time. Thus to your second question, I don't think there is a lot that policy-makers can do except I do think they do need to nail down what they are going to do about the expiring Bush era tax cuts, about some of the spending cuts that are coming and also how we will achieve fiscal sustainability long run.

If they can do those things after the election, then I'm confident by this time next year businesses will get their groove back and the economy will perform better.

KING: After the election, the key part of that phrase there and that answer.

Mark Zandi, appreciate your time. Pretty fair I think we will have to wait for a lot of this until after the election.

Thanks again, Mark.

ZANDI: Thanks, John.

KING: The big question now what about the political fallout? will Mitt Romney and the Republicans, for example, benefit from today's sluggish economic report today?

CNN chief political analyst Gloria Borger is here.

Let's look at historically GDP in the first quarter of an election year. We show the numbers. This is why the Obama campaign has to be a little bit worried tonight. President Obama, 2.2 percent, as the government reported today. President Bush in his first quarter reelection year, it was over 4 percent. Bill Clinton in 1996, it was at 3 percent. George H.W. Bush, 2.9 percent. He lost.

Of the presidents you're look at that on that scene, George H.W. Bush lost and look at that, a number below 3 percent. Ronald Reagan after dealing with 10 percent unemployment had a booming economy by this time in his reelection year.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. That's very important, the growth rate because if you look back to Reagan his unemployment was 7.8 percent.

It wasn't terrific. It had gotten an awful lot better since he had been in office. But that growth rate of 8.5 percent for Ronald Reagan gave people the sense that the recovery would be robust and sustained. And what people don't have right now with President Obama and a 2.2 percent growth rate which, by the way, is less than people anticipated, they don't have any sense of security that a recovery will be here a year from now.

Most people believe things are sort of getting better, but they are not sure now how long they're going to get better for or whether we could start going in the opposite direction. That's the real problem for the president.

KING: I remember in 1992 people said they felt like they had been treading water for so long and getting hard and hard and so they wanted a change. They liked George H.W. Bush, but they said let's try something different.

That's why the psychology is critical. Because we asked in our most recent poll essentially who do you trust? Who will be the best steward of the economy, more likely to get it moving? President Obama 44 percent, Romney 42 percent. Essentially a dead heat right now. If people start to feel worse about the economy, think it is sluggish or perhaps slipping the numbers could change. That's the president's worry.


BORGER: That's exactly what the Romney campaign has decided it wants to take advantage of. They are taking the president on frontally on the economy. Even on the fairness issue, they're taking him on, on that.

There are a couple of things we are hearing. One is that the president is all about diversion, that, in fact, he's more image than substance. And the second is the president needs to explain his rationale for reelection, because if the economy isn't getting any better -- this is what the Romney campaign is saying -- then what's the president's rationale for becoming president again?

The Obama folks will tell you, things would have been an awful lot worse. Thaw want to go back to the Bush years and Mitt Romney doesn't have a magic formula for getting us out of this. But again, if the president can't say I guarantee you that things are going to be getting better and the numbers don't back him up there is a real vulnerability there.

KING: The numbers, the numbers. A lot of times, we look at a lot of dynamics in politics. The speeches, campaigns, the ads. Watch the economic data. That's your single biggest indicator of where this year goes.

Thanks, Gloria, so much for coming in.

Up next here, a one-time aide to John Edwards tells a jury he felt threatened and feared for his life while helping the former presidential candidate cover up his affair with a campaign worker.

And later, a powerful Republican lawmaker explains why he's threatening to hold the nation's attorney general in contempt of Congress.


KING: Explosive testimony today at the trial of former Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards.

The government's star witness, a former top Edwards aide, told the jury he felt threatened and feared for his life as he tried to raise money to conceal Edwards' sexual affair with a campaign effort.

Diane Dimond was in the courtroom today and joins us from Greensboro, North Carolina.

Diane, let's get right to that. It is Andrew Young, once a very trusted top deputy of Edwards. He said to the jury: "I was scared for my life. I was up against two billionaires and a millionaire. I was scared. It was bizarre."

What's the context of that? What exactly did he mean?

DIANE DIMOND, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was the very last time he ever spoke to John Edwards. Remember he had worked for him for eight or nine years.

And Edwards hadn't spoken to him for a long time. He said, come out to my property and meet me on the side of the property because I don't want you to see my wife. She doesn't like you. They drove for country roads for about 10 minutes and then they got in the same car. Andrew Young said that he thought either there were people out there who might shoot him or at the very least that the senator was going to tape record him.

He said the senator turned to him and he said, I never knew anything about that money from Bunny Mellon. Did you? He said it was such a surreal meeting in this car in the middle of nowhere that he was just scared to death.

KING: The critical part here for the jury is this is your first witness and the star witness. The defense is trying to puncture his credibility to say he's not reliable, to say flat out he's a liar. What's your sense? Is Andrew Young standing up? Is he standing up as a credible witness?

DIMOND: Well, I will tell you, I'm of two minds about it and maybe the jury is, too. They seem to be paying attention.

But Abbe Lowell, the defense attorney, did a lot of damage to his credibility on past statements he made. but when you go back and look at it, it's that he didn't remember the date. He's been hammered on dates that happened in 2006, 2007 and on other substantive issues.

But I think the prosecutors rehabilitated him to some degree and made him human at the end of the day. Andrew Young started to weep on the stand at the very end. This has been a nervous, sort of stiff testimony. But Abbe Lowell said look at the things you were charging them for. A visit to Disneyland, and skiing trips and the San Diego Zoo.

He said, listen, I was on the run. I'm paraphrasing. I was on the run with my family and my little three children for Senator John Edwards hiding his mistress and my wife -- and he started to crack -- this wonderful woman, he said, did the very best thing she could to keep it normal and balanced for my children.

It was a moment everybody finally I think realized there was some real damage done here over many, many years to the Young family in this whole episode.

KING: Powerful testimony you describe there. Senator Edwards was known in his days as a trial lawyer as a very aggressive, passionate, persuasive guy. What's he been like this first week of the trial? I have seen some video going in where he seems to say good morning very quickly and move through. Is he talking to anybody, engaging his attorneys?

DIMOND: You know, it's interesting.

When John Edwards gets into the courtroom, he comes in like a candidate. You know, he's got the beautiful tailored suits, he's a trim-figured guy, handsome man. He sort of makes a loop around the room and the room gets quiet and then he stands at his seat. He doesn't sit down. He stands as if he's still running for something maybe.

He has not been particularly engaged with Abbe Lowell. He mostly makes his comments to the woman next to him, a woman named Allison Van Laningham. She is the one who gave the opening statement. This really has been Abbe Lowell's show all the way so far.

KING: The first week is over. Diane Dimond, we appreciate your perspective. We will keep in touch as this very dramatic and important trail continues. Thank you. Have a great weekend. DIMOND: You bet.

KING: Prosecutors want a judge to reconsider his decision to release the man accused of murdering the Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. The reason, the huge amount of money he has raised on the Internet. We will tell you how much in a minute.

And later, Congress tries to stop an increase in student loan interest rates. But the way they have done it has President Obama, who wants this, threatening a veto.



KING: Important developments may be coming as lawmakers now investigate a program, Fast and Furious, you remember, that sent U.S. guns to Mexico's drug gangs. Next, a top Republican who is getting impatient of what says is the U.S. attorney general's lack of cooperation.

Plus, today's ominous developments in Syria, a suicide bombing in the heart of that country's capital.


KING: This half-hour, a deadly bombing rocks Syria's capital city. More bloodshed after the so-called cease-fire. We are taking you to the streets Damascus just moments after the blast.

House Republicans want to know how U.S. guns ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartels, but they say they are being stonewalled by the attorney general. Tonight, one congressman tells me why he's not bluffing about issuing a contempt of Congress citation.

Plus, the "Truth" about using the death of Osama bin Laden to score political points. Barack Obama once said that's off-limits. Not anymore.

Attorney General Eric Holder may soon face a contempt of Congress citation. House Republicans now considering the dramatic move because they say the Justice Department is stonewalling their investigation of a program called Fast and Furious. You may remember the program was supposed to trace weapons smuggling but ended up helping Mexican drug cartels acquire guns from the United States.

One of those guns was found at the scene of a murdered U.S. Border Patrol agent.

The contempt citation is being prepared by Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. And According to "The L.A. Times" it reads in part -- quote -- "Those responsible for allowing Fast and Furious to proceed and those who are preventing the truth about the operation from coming out must be held accountable for their actions."

The committee chairman, Darrell Issa, joins me now from Capitol Hill.

Mr. Chairman, is this a bluff to get the Justice Department to give you more of what you want or are you prepared to take this step?

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: It can't be a bluff.

Ultimately, many committees of Congress, including ours, are trying to get to the truth in a number of matters. Some of them go all the way back to the Bush or Clinton administration. Some of them like Fast and Furious occurred on this president's watch.

In this case, just to put it in perspective, only a few weeks ago we learned of Cartagena, of the Colombian scandal, 12 Secret Service agents. Today, nine of them are gone, two have been cleared and I believe the last one or two will be gone shortly.

In the case of Fast and Furious, this has gone on for more than a year. Key people at all levels still have their jobs and most of them, we don't even know their names. When it comes to taking quick action, I commend the Secret Service director. I have got to question Eric Holder about holding people accountable.

KING: The attorney general says he's responded to more than three dozen letters from Congress, facilitated numerous witness interviews, given you more than 6,400 pages of documents.

And yet you say he's in contempt or at least at the verge of contempt. Why?

ISSA: Well, quite frankly, he's totally stonewalled discovery of why Congress was lied to on February 4, why were lied to in a letter and in live testimony.

He's made that off-limits, finding out why we were lied to. Ultimately, the American people were misled for more than 10 months, told that there was no gun walking. That's part of the investigation is, why is it we were given outright false testimony and key people at Justice were part of it and they are still there?

That and other questions are important, but here is the most important. Brian Terry's family wants those held accountable for getting 2,000 guns into the bad guys' hands, two of which killed their son, their brother, their cousin. And that, at a minimum -- we have got to hold people responsible by losing their jobs for this bad judgment. This was not slightly bad judgment. This was monumentally bad judgment.

KING: And so how much time does the attorney general have before you bring this up to a vote in the committee? And you would need to take this to the full House. Do you have the speaker's support? Has he said, go ahead, Mr. Chairman?

ISSA: This draft was the result of work to make the case properly. It was a draft. We're sorry that it got out there. Ultimately, "The L.A. Times" has our thoughts on many of the areas we've received no discovery on. It's a little technical, but we have 22 areas that we asked for discovery on. Every one of them the speaker agrees with me are in-bounds and appropriate for Congress needing to know.

And 12 of them, we've received no answer at all on. So rather than getting into pages and so on, we need answers. We're entitled to the answers. The attorney general has said before our committee we're entitled to what he thinks we need and he will give us. That's just not the way it works. It's not the way it should work in a republic like ours where the balance of power says the president wants to hold people accountable and yet, his own chief law enforcement officer is stonewalling the truth coming out so people can be held accountable.

KING: So when? When are you prepared to bring this to a vote?

ISSA: Well, I'm prepared to continue trying to get to the truth. I've said my patience is not infinite. Obviously, we've prepared the documents.

Ultimately, the decision belongs to leadership, because they have to decide on the House floor. My committee is continuing to do its job. We're doing our job in dozens of other areas. The American people want us working on waste, fraud and abuse broadly.

So this isn't the only investigation, but it's one very important to people on both sides of the border. And I hope the president over the break will say to Eric Holder, if you want to continue having my full confidence, you've got to come clean with the information.

Otherwise the buck will stop with the president, and it will look like every other cover-up over the years. It isn't the president's in the beginning. It becomes the president's by the end because of inaction. That's what I hope will change over the break.

KING: Chairman Issa, appreciate your time tonight.

ISSA: Thanks, John.

KING: Take care, sir.


KING: The United States will not be sending observers to monitor the situation in Syria. Under the United Nations-backed peace plan, some 300 observers are supposed to monitor a cease-fire and then peace negotiations, but as you know, the killing hasn't stopped. A suicide bombing today in Damascus killed at least nine people.

Bill Neely from Britain's ITV is right there in the Syrian capital.


BILL NEELY, ITV REPORTER (voice-over): In the heart of a capital, a bombing that has blown Syria's ceasefire to pieces. The target, riot police and troops. The attacker, a suicide bomber with an explosive belt. Syrian forensic teams look for evidence. The regime desperate to stem a tide of attacks that is turning Damascus into a battleground. And if President Assad loses control of Damascus, he loses everything.

The troops and riot police who survived were clearly shaken. They've been deployed close to a mosque to confront demonstrators after Friday prayers. A suicide bomber took the fight to them. Nine died, most of them security forces, and more than 20 were injured.

(on camera) This bombing is significant not just because it happened here in the center of the capital city, Damascus, but because of the method of the attack. A bomber wearing a suicide vest attacking troops may be common in Iraq but not here in Syria. Not until now.

(voice-over) Syria's crisis is no nearer to being solved. It was meant to be a ceasefire here. There's little evidence of it.


NEELY: Furious supporters of Syria's president shouted, "Is this what freedom looks like? Is this what protests lead to?"

They're getting jumpy, because bomb attacks and shootings are now becoming more common in Damascus, soldiers targeted as never before.

U.N. monitors are stationed close to the scene of the bombing. They didn't visit it. They were on the road to another town. There are only 13 of them in the whole country. More than 200 others still haven't arrived. But there is no peace to monitor here. No real ceasefire to keep.

Bill Neely, ITV News, Damascus.


KING: Now back home now to a bitter fight on Capitol Hill. Defying a veto threat from President Obama, House Republicans today pushed through a Bill that would extend lower interest rates for student loans, but they want to pay for it by taking money from a health-care fund Democrats say is supposed to help women.

CNN congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan watched this battle unfold.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The yays are 215, and the nays are 195. The Bill is passed.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The House vote was not without a healthy dose of political theater.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: And I picked this big political fight where there is no fight is just silly. Give me a break. BOLDUAN: House Republicans accusing President Obama and congressional Democrats of manufacturing a fight.

BOEHNER: People want to politicize this because it's an election year. But my God, do we have to fight about everything?

BOLDUAN: Democrats are accusing Republicans of turning a noncontroversial education measure into a war on women.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), MINORITY LEADER: What we're saying here today is stop your assault on women.

BOLDUAN: And President Obama hammering Republicans all week while speaking to college students in election-year battleground states.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You've got one member of Congress who compared these student loans -- I'm not kidding here -- to a stage three cancer of socialism. Stage three cancer. I don't know where to start.

BOLDUAN: The thing is, both sides insist they support ensuring the student loan rates don't spike but once again, how to pay for it is at the center of the dispute. The Republican measure covers the $6 billion price tag by cutting funding from part of the president's health-care law focused on preventative care.

REP. ROSA DELAURO (D), CONNECTICUT: We would prevent screenings for breast and cervical cancer. That would be the action that they would undertake if this fund is eliminated.

BOLDUAN: But Republicans call that outrage hypocritical, since Democrats voted for similar cuts to the program earlier this year.

BOEHNER: You may have already forgotten that several months ago you all voted to cut $4 billion out of the slush fund when we passed the payroll tax credit Bill. So to accuse us of wanting to gut women's health is absolutely not true.


BOLDUAN: Democrats, though, throw it right back at Republicans, because the House GOP budget for next year already calls for the student loan rate to jump.

It is important to note, of course, at the heart of all this, a perfect opportunity for both sides to draw distinction -- distinctions where they see political advantage. Of course, you know, John, Republicans attacking the president's health-care law, Democrats trying to appeal to women and young voters.

KING: So they agree to extend these lower interest rates, important to students, important to their cash-strapped parents. But they're just going to fight their little petty political fight over -- about how to pay for it, put the policy aside. That's the House. What about the Senate? BOLDUAN: And the Senate. Well, especially now with the president's veto threat, this is not likely to go anywhere in the Senate. Controlled by Democrats. The Democrats have their own version of the Bill. They would pay for it, which is part of the fight, by eliminating the corporate tax break. That isn't going to go far with Republicans, though.

So again, we're probably at the same place where we often are in these battles. They all agree on the end goal. How to get there is where the fight is. If they do nothing, this student loan interest rate will double come August.

KING: Anybody out there with the student loan taking a U.S. government class, I dare you to find in the book the pages where it tells you Congress is supposed to work like this. You won't.

BOLDUAN: Good point, John.

KING: See you in a bit.

Coming up here, the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death is fast approaching, and the Obama campaign doesn't want you to forget it. The truth about the politics of fear when we come back.


KING: During the George W. Bush presidency, Democrats had a golden rule or maybe it was a constant complaint. Thou shalt not politicize Osama bin Laden. Well, tonight's "Truth" is a message to Mitt Romney. That was then. This is now.


BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Suppose the Navy SEALs had gone in there, and it hadn't been bin Laden. Suppose they had been captured or killed. The downside would have been horrible for him.


KING: Now, we shouldn't be surprised here. Killing bin Laden is a significant achievement. And for all the talk of playing by kinder, gentler political rules, President Obama and his team are as cutthroat as they come.


GRAPHIC: Which path would Mitt Romney have taken?

Mitt Romney criticized Barack Obama for vowing to strike al Qaeda targets inside Pakistan if necessary.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: "It's not worth moving heaven and earth spending billions of dollars just trying to catch one person."

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now there will be those who suggest featuring bin Laden in a campaign video might run counter to this.


OBAMA: This was somebody who was deserving of the justice that he received. And I think Americans and people around the world are glad that he's gone. But we don't need to spike the football.


KING: Now, to me, President Clinton's starring role in this new Obama campaign video is what makes the politics so delicious. Remember, the 2008 primaries? It was Senator Hillary Clinton who brought the al Qaeda leader into the debate in a tough ad, suggesting then-Senator Obama wasn't ready to be commander in chief.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's the toughest job in the world. You need to be ready for anything.


KING: Now back then the Obama campaign was furious. It compared Senator Clinton to President Bush and said it was wrong of her to, quote, "invoke bin Laden to score political points."

The 2008 Obama campaign went on to say, "We already have a president who plays the politics of fear, and we don't need another."

Got that? In the last campaign it was wrong to invoke bin Laden for political points. And again, in the Obama campaign's words, we already have a president who plays the politics of fear and we don't need another. But that was then. This is now.


CLINTON: He had to decide, and that's what you hire a president to do. You hire the president to make the calls when no one else can do it.


KING: Fair game? Hypocrisy or what? Let's turn to our panel tonight. Ryan Lizza is Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker." Alex Castellanos is a CNN political contributor and Republican consultant; CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Donna Brazile is here.

To the Democrat in the group first. All is fair in love and politics. However, when they were so adamant about it, so clear about it in the last campaign it does look hypocritical to say, yes, with bin Laden now.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Let me say this, John. You can call it whatever you want to call it. But as an American I'm glad bin Laden has been brought to justice. And I'm proud of the president and the role he played in ordering his execution. And I'm proud of those brave men, the SEALs who went.

KING: And yet you're a very loyal Democrat who doesn't deal with the question of whether...


BRAZILE: So I am proud of it. You know, last year, I'll never forget I was chair, interim chair of the Democratic National Committee. And I received word, "Hey, don't politicize this." Nobody politicized this.

This is a victory lap we all should take as Americans, because 3,000 people lost their lives.

KING: That video, Alex, says we -- all of us Americans could take that victory lap except Mitt Romney.

CASTELLANOS: And, you know, this week Joe Biden told us that the president had a big stick. And the only people I think -- I'll say the only men who need to tell you how big the stick are is the men with small sticks.

KING: Come on now.

CASTELLANOS: Seriously. This is the schoolyard bully. This president came into office such a different candidate than we see today. He came as an intellect, as a guy who was respected quietly. And we now see a very politicized guy, bragging about how strong he is and how big his abilities are.

KING: We know, Ryan, that this is flipping the playbook. Because for years Republicans said Democrats are soft; Democrats aren't tough enough to be commander in chief. Democrats will blink.

And Obama was the president. President Obama was president when bin Laden was killed. And as I said, that is a significant achievement. And good for him. However, given his past words , does it surprise you or is it just proof that the guys are going to play tough?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, they're going to play tough. He's always played tough in all his campaigns. Even though it hasn't always been his reputation.

And as somebody who spends a lot of time trying to figure out how this White House makes decisions and it's often quite difficult to get people to open up, they have really opened up on this bin Laden decision. The "TIME" magazine, two major stories in "TIME" magazine. A big sit-down interview with Brian Williams. They have gone through every minute detail of this decision.

And I would say I think there's one difference between his complaint against Bush. His complaint against Bush was about fear mongering. So he's not necessarily using bin Laden as a, you know, if you elect Romney, bin Laden's going to kill you. There's a tinge of that.

He's using the decision-making process that led to the bin Laden raid to prove that the president is a good decision-maker.

BRAZILE: We're not going to Etch-A-Sketch and remove from Barack Obama's record the things that he's accomplished just because the Republicans don't like him personally or don't like his policies.

The fact is, is that bin Laden is dead. And we -- and not only is he dead. President Obama has gone after all of those other al Qaeda leaders. He is keeping us safe. He's committed. He's renewed his commitment to bring more terrorists to justice. That's...


KING: My question is I think they would be negligent if they didn't highlight -- whether it's in advertising or speeches, they would be negligent if they didn't highlight the death of bin Laden, the death of al-Awlaki. By pointing out, when you're on record, don't bring the politics into this, why bring Romney in?

However, if you were working for them -- you're a Republican, but you're a tough ad guy. If you were working for them, even if your candidate is on record saying that four years ago, wouldn't you do the same thing?

CASTELLANOS: But I'd do it a lot differently. I would let others do it. I wouldn't do it as a feature in my campaign. And then you repeat what others say. But you don't do it out of your campaign and let Bill Clinton do things like this. Here's his problem.

BRAZILE: The Republicans don't want to hear anything good about the president.

CASTELLANOS: This president wants to run against Mitt Romney as a flip-flopper. That's one of the campaigns he's got. To do that, he has to be strong. He has to demonstrate he's ram-rod strong as Joe Biden said, but there is a problem with that.

He's also the president who flip-flopped on mandates, on health care. This is the president who's pay-as-you-go budgeting as a candidate but has piled up a lot of debt. This is a president who said we're going to go into Libya while we're getting out. He's been on a lot of sides of a lot of issues.

BRAZILE: ... Mitt Romney that has no policy that you can put your hand on today because he's going to flip it tomorrow. He does a better pancake than I do.

KING: You make the official (UNINTELLIGIBLE) trying to get inside their decision-making process. We all know this economy [SIC] is going to be decided on the economy. But other things sometimes do move the numbers, or you try to rattle the other side. What's the point here? Are they trying to get into the Romney campaign's head? Come debate us on foreign policy, on the economy?

LIZZA: Absolutely. I would love to move to foreign policy. I saw Marco Rubio's speech on foreign policy this week. Marco Rubio, very impressive rising star in the Republican Party. In 2012, did not mention al Qaeda or terrorism once in a speech.

So we have this amazing situation maybe just by virtue of Democrats are in the White House and the White House controls terrorism policy right now. But the Democrats are not talking about that issue the way they did ever since 2000 -- 2001. The Democrats have some ownership over this right now.

CASTELLANOS: They do. And any day not spent talking about the economy is a better day for Barack Obama. That's why they're going here. And of course you can expect him to try to drag the election in that direction.

KING: So you don't like -- what you're saying.

CASTELLANOS: It's -- listen, do you want to be talking about what just happened to the GDP today?

LIZZA: He did kill bin Laden.

KING: That's a problem.


BRAZILE: No, no. Mitt Romney said he would not move heaven and earth to kill him. And that is on the record, and we're not going to Etch-A-Sketch it.

LIZZA: She was making a point about how significant the one person, bin Laden, is. That's a legitimate -- legitimate point.

BRAZILE: A very significant person. The mastermind.

KING: Everybody stay put. Feisty conversation on a Friday. Hang tight.

Some drug smugglers didn't wait for the United States Navy to catch up with them. Next, you'll see how many bales of cocaine they dumped and what it's worth.

Plus, the "Moment You Missed." Mr. Spock -- yes, Leonard Nimoy -- welcomes the Shuttle Enterprise to New York City.


KING: We're back talking politics with Ryan Lizza, Alex Castellanos and Donna Brazile. Bin Laden in the prior segment. Now it's back to the economy this segment.

The government today telling us in the last quarter the economy grew at a very flat rate, just 2.2 percent. Most economists thought it would be a little higher than that. I want you to look at some historical perspective. This is the growth in the economy in the first quarter, in the re-election year of these incumbent presidents. Barack Obama, you see 2.2 percent. George W. Bush, in his 2004 reelection year was above 4 percent. Bill Clinton in 1996 was at 3 percent. George H.W. Bush, look at that, below 3 percent. He's the only guy on that screen who lost. Ronald Reagan after 10 percent unemployment, was lucky. The economy started booming heading into his reelection year.

Ryan, how important is the psychology of the economy for this president? Two percent growth is not a recipe for reelection.

LIZZA: First of all, here's the answer to why we're talking about bin Laden, or why the president is talking about bin Laden. For three years in a row, we've had this spring of false optimism with job numbers and some early growth numbers that looked good. And then you get into April and May, and they start to look bad, and the recovery starts to look weak again. And now I think the big concern has to be double-dip recession.

KING: So your people around the country, forgive me, got to be a little nervous about these numbers. They know incumbent president George H.W. Bush had high approval ratings. People thought he was a nice guy. Pretty much the same. Bill Clinton and Ross Perot ran the same campaign that Mitt Romney's going to run. Nice guy, can't fix the economy.

BRAZILE: I hope when you say my people, you talk about the people who want to go out there and find jobs and not be worried about who's...

KING: I mean the White House. Democrats around the country.

BRAZILE: OK. I had to make sure, because you said, my people. And I got a lot of people here. Got a lot of family.

CASTELLANOS: You got a lot of people here.

BRAZILE: Yes, baby. I know you're not going to be talking about sticks anymore.

All right. Well, look, the truth of the matter is, is that we want this economy to grow stronger. We want everybody who's out there to find a job. We want people who are graduating this -- this spring to go out there and get a college degree.

But we also know that the uncertainty of what's going on in Europe, gas prices, the volatility to market, look, John, I'm glad that we're coming out of this recession. We're just not coming out quick enough, fast enough to get -- get people back on their feet.

CASTELLANOS: But these are campaign-changing numbers. Just to talk about the politics of it a little bit. What does this mean for the Obama campaign? This means that the best argument he's got is, look, this is as good as it's going to get before you decide to vote. That means he has to turn and fire on Mitt Romney with this argument, which is, but Mitt Romney would make it even worse. He'd take us back to George Bush. Remember what caused all this? That's going to be their argument. And the other thing...

KING: But not an aspirational campaign like the last one?

CASTELLANOS: This is going -- this is going to be burn the village to save it.

BRAZILE: George Bush?

CASTELLANOS: This means he loses the middle on the economy. And when you lose the middle, when you can't grab it with a positive message on the economy, in this environment what do you do? You shrink the middle until there's no middle left. You polarize the country along every conceivable axis. Which is what he's doing. Men against women.

KING: He can't expect...


BRAZILE: That's the Republicans playbook. Not our playbook.

LIZZA: The big mistake they've made since day one messaging on the economy is just not preparing the American people for the long slog. I mean, the economists have known for a long time that post- financial crisis recessions are long. And this White House didn't prepare the American people for that.

CASTELLANOS: That's an important point, because they chose long over short in terms of their plan to recovery. Right? They delayed the recovery by putting stimulus into the economy.

It's the opposite of what Reagan and Volcker did. They took the pain the first two years, and Reagan got that upswing. But under...

BRAZILE: This is not the same thing. This recession mirrors the Great Depression. It does not mirror the recession that we saw under Bush, Clinton or Reagan.

KING: The debate will continue 193 days.

BRAZILE: We're going to come back. We should be optimists.


KING: Donna, Alex, Ryan, appreciate you coming in.

Kate Bolduan is back now with the latest news you need to know right now. Hey, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Hey, there, John.

Catch you up on some more headlines, everyone. The U.S. Navy has seized nearly 5,000 pounds of cocaine from drug smugglers off the coast of Panama. That's $360 million worth of illegal drugs. The two suspects escapes on what's known as fast boats, dumping the drugs overboard before jetting off. But a U.S. Navy ship teaming up with sailors in the area did manage to recover 89 bales filled with cocaine.

The "Detroit Free Press" says Tigers outfielder Delmon Young isn't -- is not in the lineup for tonight's game against the Yankees. Young was arrested early this morning in New York after getting into a drunken dispute with a 26-year-old man outside a hotel.

Police say he could face -- he could be charged with a hate crime because of, quote/unquote, "religious statements" made during the dispute.

So how much do you know about the U.S. government? Immigrants seeking U.S. citizenship must pass a ten-question test on U.S. history and government. About 93 percent of them do, meaning do pass it.

But a study by Xavier University finds that only about 65 percent of native-born -- native-born U.S. citizens can correctly answer the required six out of ten questions.

You can find out if you can pass the test by going to our blog at We have a link there for the test.

Some of them I found fascinating.

KING: Interesting.

BOLDUAN: Sixty-two percent could not name the governor of their state. Seventy-five percent were not able to correctly answer, "What does the judiciary do?" Sixty-two percent could not name the speaker of the House.

KING: The judiciary runs the country. We all know that.

BOLDUAN: Exactly. Exactly. So study up, everyone.

KING: Tonight's "Moment You May Have Missed." Live long and prosper. Right? The words of Spock. I'm a Trekker here. Otherwise known as Leonard Nimoy. That's how he used to bid farewell to the Space Shuttle Enterprise today when it took its final flight to New York City.

The Star Trek star commemorated the spacecraft as it heads to its new home at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. He was on-hand. There you go. Unveiling of the space shuttle 35 years ago when it rolled out of the hanger to the theme of the Sci Fi series. The Starship Enterprise inspired the space shuttle's name.


LEONARD NIMOY, ACTOR: It was named Constitution, and Gerald Ford was president at the time. They got a big load of letters from "Star Trek" fans, who are very good at writing letters. They convinced the president of -- that the ship should be named Enterprise. That's how it came about.


KING: Look at that. Kate, can you boldly go where no man has gone before? And they're out there somewhere.

BOLDUAN (GIVING THE VULCAN SALUTE): I'm trying to remember how to do this. This is -- it has always been a challenge.

KING: Very good.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

KING: Honorary Vulcan.

BOLDUAN: I practiced during the break. I'm not lying.

KING: Everybody -- everybody have a great weekend, including Kate.

That's all for us. We'll see you Monday. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.