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JOHN KING, USA

What Next for North Korea?; Brother of Trayvon Martin Speaks Out

Aired April 13, 2012 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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

Tonight, a CNN exclusive. Trayvon Martin's brother takes issue with George Zimmerman's account that it was the 17-year-old Trayvon that initiated their fatal encounter.

Plus, its rocket launch was an abysmal failure. Will North Korea respond by testing a nuclear device?

And guess what? President Obama pays a lower tax rate than his secretary? A line-by-line look at his new 1040 and how it impacts the campaign tax debate.

But we start with breaking news in Oklahoma, where a tornado reportedly touched down just in the past hour right near the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

KING: And new developments now in the case of George Zimmerman, the man who admits he shot Trayvon Martin. He could get out of jail on bail one week from today if his lawyer gets his way. A bond hearing has been penciled in for 9:00 a.m. on April 20.

Until then, Zimmerman who is charged with second degree murder will be confined to his 67-square-foot cell in the Seminole County jail.

Meanwhile, Trayvon Martin's big brother is opening up about that February night. He talked exclusively to our legal analyst Sunny Hostin. Here is what he says about Zimmerman's version of events.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: When you found out what happened, the details of what happened, how did you feel?

JAHVARIS FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S BROTHER: Confused. Everything I heard was coming from -- perspective and it didn't sound like my brother at all. You know, my brother attacked him and did all this stuff. It doesn't sound like him at all. He wasn't confrontational or violent.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Sunny is with us from New York.

Sunny, Jahvaris obviously is an interested family member. He is not a witness. But how does his version, his recollection of how his brother is match up with what the prosecutor says played out that night?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it certainly does match up because of course I do have a copy of the affidavit and have been reviewing it extensively.

The affidavit describes Trayvon Martin as not the initial aggressor, as someone that was afraid of George Zimmerman, who knew George Zimmerman was following him and was really trying to get away. That's how Jahvaris describes his brother. He says his brother he was not a violent person, not a confrontational person and likely would have run away from a situation that scared him, rather than be confrontational. So it certainly jibes with what we see in the affidavit.

KING: Ever since this case came to our attention, the big question, among the big questions is, just who is Trayvon? Let's listen to a bit about his brother describing the personality of the younger brother he has lost now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FULTON: I like to think we had almost the same personality. I think of myself as a funny person, like to make jokes. And he was the same way. I love kids. I love my little cousins. And he was the same way. And if anything, he probably spent more time with them than I did.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: If there is a trial, Sunny, and that's a big if at this point, does character testimony like this have any role?

HOSTIN: Perhaps. I doubt that this kind of testimony would come in.

But it is at issue as to whether or not Trayvon Martin was the initial aggressor, was the aggressive person that night. Certainly, that is a component of this case. I did learn a lot about Trayvon Martin and the type of person he was, at least from his brother's perspective.

KING: A big question in the news today is whether the judge who has been handling the case so far will have to recuse herself.

What's the issue there?

HOSTIN: Yes, that was remarkable.

We learned today that the judge is married to the legal partner of an attorney named Mark NeJame. Mark NeJame was contacted by the Zimmerman family to represent George Zimmerman. Although he declined that representation, it is unclear as to whether or not he had a conversation with this judge's husband, who is one of his legal partners.

It is unclear whether or not the case was discussed at the law firm. It is unclear as to whether or not the judge's husband discussed the case with her. So there is that appearance of a conflict of interests. Let's remember this is a very new judge to the bench, was appointed in 2010, I believe. She's young. She's about 39 years old.

This is judge that is sort of an unknown factor in this courtroom. It is quite possible that a defense team would not want that judge, would perhaps move to have this judge recused and get one of the other three circuit court judges that are more seasoned and perhaps more known.

KING: We will keep our eye on that one as it develops as well. We should also say that Mark NeJame has signed on as a CNN legal contributor. So we have a bit of role in this question and controversy at the moment as well.

Sunny Hostin, thanks so much, fascinating interview with Trayvon's brother.

One of the most country's influential voices in popular culture is speaking out about the Trayvon Martin slaying. Listen to what Bill Cosby told our Candy Crowley in an interview here for this week's CNN "STATE OF THE UNION".

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So you saw more a gun issue than a race issue?

BILL COSBY, COMEDIAN: How are you going to solve a race issue when it becomes, he said/she said or he said/he said?

And the other question is, what is solved by saying, he is a racist, that's why he shot the boy? What solves that? This, and what is he doing with it and who taught him and told him how to behave with this?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Candy Crowley is with us now.

It is an interesting perspective Mr. Cosby always has. What is to be solved, he says, by saying that he is a racist, this is a race issue?

Many of the civil rights activists and others that have been involved have said that. They have said this is profiling, this is a hate crime. Is Mr. Cosby, as he has in the past, taking issue with some of that leadership?

CROWLEY: Not by name and not specifically. But he is saying as you heard, what is it? We don't solve the problem by saying he is a racist, like what is in another guy's head because then it becomes a no, I don't, yes, I do sort of thing.

He thinks it is a gun problem. Let's remember he lost his only son to gun violence. What was interesting to me was he was also very nuanced about it because he said, I actually think you have a perfect right to have a gun in your own home to protect yourself. He, in fact, said that he had one at one time.

He said but with that gun, you begin to believe you can solve things. You begin to believe you can fix things. So he talked about how he would hear something outside and he would stick his gun in his pocket and go out there and he said, I remember the cop who taught me about using the gun and all of that said to me, once you pull that trigger, you can't put it back.

It was just a very interesting overview that didn't take the kind of normal sides that you tend to hear in a debate like this.

KING: He is clearly among the millions of us and I'm going to say maybe particularly so in the African-American community because of the debate about race and its potential impact following this closely. What else struck you in the conversation?

CROWLEY: I asked him about how he thought President Obama was doing and he talked about the many things that the president had to endure over this.

He does think that people have gone after him because of his race. He is very defensive about the president. I asked him about those that are complaining on the left that he hasn't done enough.

And he said I would ask them to look at what he has had to put up with.

Thinks he's going to have a second term and then he's going to do precisely what he wants. I don't know that that will help the Obama administration. But it was just -- he is very forceful in his defense of the president.

KING: Always a fascinating guy to hear from. Much more coming up Sunday. Candy, thank you.

As a reminder, you can see Candy's entire conversation with Bill Cosby this Sunday 9:00 a.m. Eastern on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." Candy, thanks again.

You will remember here last night a lot of hype. But North Korea's controversial rocket fell to pieces over the Yellow Sea just 80 seconds after it launched, a dud. Keep in mind the United States and much of the rest of the world had worried the launch was just a cover for a new major ballistic missile test.

The big question now how will North Korea handle its hurt pride? Some analysts say a nuclear test could be on the near-term horizon. But for now, the nation is, get this, throwing a party. Our Stan Grant is in Pyongyang.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From disaster to glory in a day. In North Korea, history is what you make it. As it always is here, this is about the power of images and the worship of their leaders. Two massive statues of the founder of the country, Kim Il-sung, and his son, Kim Jong Il. Watching over the third generation of this dynasty, the newly crowned supreme leader, Kim Jong Un.

(on camera): Well, after the abject failure of the rocket launch, this is how North Korea is responding, with this scene of triumph. These massive statues of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong Il.

When you are ruled by a personality cult, you can almost pretend the rocket launch never happened.

(voice-over): But this is how the day started. Here was North Korea's initial response to its rocket failure -- an empty chair. Behind it, a screen that was supposed to carry images of the launch. The world's media invited in for what Pyongyang hoped would be a propaganda coup. Instead, officials forced to sit in silence to a barrage of questions.

Suddenly, everyone was manning the phones -- a scramble to find out exactly what was going on.

(on camera): No warning at all. This really came very much as a flash to us.

(voice-over): Hours ticking by and not a word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where do we go?

Where are we going?

GRANT: And then a government minder announced we'd be taken to a high security, secret location.

This is what greeted us -- two huge figures draped in sheets, a sea of people stretched as far as they could see, generals in all their finery, chests full of medals. This gathering, supposed to be a celebration of the launch and a chance to pay homage to the dear leader, a man they still grieve for after his sudden death last December.

Stan Grant, CNN, Pyongyang.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: This just into CNN. Mitt Romney has filed an extension on his tax returns. We will share details on what we are learning from Governor Romney's decision to withhold filing for now for 2011 and President Obama who did file and release his returns today.

And later, Ann Romney has more to say about working moms. Why?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Ann Romney introduced her husband, Governor Mitt Romney, when Governor Romney spoke to the NRA convention today. But she didn't want to talk about gun. She wanted to continue a conversation about something else.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: Women were being referred to as a special interest group. And I thought to myself, really only Washington could do that. There's only one part of that phrase that's correct. Women are special.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Romney campaign now even selling bumper stickers saying moms drive the economy.

Is this political gimmickry or a real attempt by the Romney campaign to capture the women's vote?

Joining me now, Kellyanne Conway, a Republican strategist and Gingrich campaign pollster, and Margie Omero, a Democratic pollster and president of Momentum Analysis.

Margie, I want to ask you first, because there are a lot of Democrats that would say privately that there was a fight over the women's vote anyway and a conversation about the gender gap anyway, but then Hilary Rosen goes on television and says Ann Romney hasn't worked a day in her life. There a lot of Democrats who are cringing now. You have seen the reaction from the president's team and the president on down.

A lot of Democrats cringing saying big opportunity, big opening for the Romney campaign. Are they right?

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, I will say, publicly, it was a misstep. Ann Romney is very likable and spouses are off limits.

But I think it's a mistake -- first of all, there is going to be a million more of these issue of the day outrage over a quote that's going to happen between now and November. I think it is a mistake to see this about a war of words about women, as opposed to a war on women when it comes to real policies. When it comes to policies, Republicans have shown repeatedly they are not on the side of women.

KING: But, Kellyanne, if the Democrats have the advantage and they do if you look at the polling, a huge gender gap right now, if they have an advantage on the policies at the moment, was this perhaps an opening? You have to have an opening to make up lost ground.

Was this an opening to get there?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, SENIOR NEWT GINGRICH CAMPAIGN ADVISER: It was an opening.

And Ann Romney has done a magnificent job leveraging it without seemingly overtly political. She was very affable, accessible and very ladylike, if I may, in her response, very proud to stand up for -- rather than play the victim, John, she went and waved banner for all stay-at-home moms who I respect enormously.

But I think there is a broader issue here. This is what happens when the Democrats spend two months trying to claim there is a war on women and basically only speaking to the lower half of women. They are always talking about reproductive rights and contraception and abortion.

Where is that in the CNN polling? Is it the top issue, top three, top five, top 10, top 20? It is simply not. We Republicans want to speak to the whole woman, we want to speak to her heart, her mind, her body, her soul, all of her. I think when you pigeonhole women into "women's issues" that somehow exclude the economy, food prices, fuel prices, health care, education, then from Debbie Wasserman Schultz on down, then you run into this problem when a gaffe like that occurs.

May I just add that when Nancy Pelosi became the first female speaker of the House, a big part of the biography was this woman stayed home with her children until the last, the youngest of five, was in high school and then she started her career. She did exactly what Ann Romney did.

The Democrats held that up for Nancy Pelosi as some badge of biographical honor, and they put down Ann Romney. It makes no sense.

KING: But you make a passionate case there for your side.

I will go to Margie first on this. If Kellyanne is right and I know you probably think she is wrong on some of it, but if there is this opening and if the Republicans can engage on the issues, why is it that at the moment -- it's Mitt Romney, not Ann Romney on the ballot and in the ABC/Washington Post poll among women Obama gets 57 percent, Romney gets 38 percent.

What is the biggest source of the Democratic advantage in the gender gap right now?

OMERO: There's a few things.

The first thing is that Mitt Romney has a difficult time connecting with women voters and voters generally. His own staff doesn't know where he stands on gender pay equity. It is not just about birth control and reproduction. It is also about Violence Against Women Act. Mitt Romney said he wasn't even familiar with that bill. There is a whole host of things.

It's not Democrats who have been making this an issue. It's Republicans in Congress who had a panel talking about restricting access to birth control, had only men, refused to have women speak. It's Republicans who in their presidential debate have been fighting over whether or not birth control is OK or not, even though 99 percent of women use it.

It's Republicans who have made this an issue. That's why you see this huge gender gap benefiting the president. He is focusing on things like jobs. Kellyanne is absolutely right. All these other issues are important. But Republicans aren't there. Democrats are.

KING: Kellyanne, you are on team Newt at the moment, but if Governor Romney were to see you and say, help me on the specific issue of the gender gap, what will you tell him?

CONWAY: I will help the Republican nominee.

I will make another point. This is what I would tell the Republican nominee. Barack Obama did a remarkable thing in 2008. He got 56 percent of the female vote. That is such a high number for a non-incumbent president. President Reagan, President Clinton, President George W. Bush, all reelected incumbents, overperformed their first take among women by seven or eight points in the reelection.

So, by that standard, Obama would need like -- he needs like 63 percent, 64 percent of women. He is not going to get that. So his gender gap is also among men, which nobody ever wants to discuss. Men have really abandoned him, particularly white men over the economy.

He really needs to make up those gains against women. You saw a really bad week for the White House with women this week when it was revealed that women -- in a nonpartisan study -- women in the White House make on average 18 percent less than men there.

How, with a straight face, do the Democrats then come out and say, we are the ones for pay equity, we're the ones for fairness to women? Let's look at what women are telling people they care about and match that. Look, the gender gap exists for several reasons. Women tend to be a little bit more Democratic and men tend to be a little bit more Republican.

But women are also very pro-incumbent. This president, just like George W. Bush and just like Ronald Reagan and just like Bill Clinton, has institutional advantages. Women don't like to rock the boat politically or otherwise unless they are given a reason. It is up to the Republican nominee to provide that reason, to tell them that you don't have to fear changing leadership at the top because things are that bad.

Fuel prices are double what they were when he started.

KING: A conversation we will continue for 200 days, I'm sure. And we will have you both back. Margie Omero and Kellyanne Conway, appreciate your time tonight.

Up next, you don't want to miss this. Newark's mayor describes what happened when he ran into a building to save a woman trapped in a fire.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWS BREAK)

KING: According to the Pentagon, the United States military had absolutely no role whatsoever, it says, in the failure of North Korea's latest rocket, but coming up: worries the rogue nation could follow up by testing a nuclear weapon.

Also, the president's tax forms show his income took -- get this -- a nearly $1 million hit last year.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: This half hour of JOHN KING USA, we look at the president's 1040. He releases his tax return and guess what? It shows he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Ask Mitt Romney. He just asked the IRS for extra time to file his taxes.

The National Rifle Association brags it has the clout to defeat President Obama. We'll put that to the truth test, along with Governor Romney's claim to be a staunch NRA ally. And when North Korea, embarrassed by a failed rocket launch, will they up the ante with a nuclear test?

April 15 falls on the weekend this year. You've got a couple extra days, until Tuesday, to file your tax return. You won't see President Obama, though, in line at the post office. He released his 2011 returns today. And they're fascinating for a few reasons.

No. 1, you might argue this job, well, isn't so good for his immediate bottom line. Look at this: his income declines over the past three years. He and his wife Michelle made $5.5 million back in 2009; $1.8 million in 2010; and just shy of $790,000 last year.

Why the big drop? Well, his book sales are down now that he's in office. Back in 2009, he also got a big boost, winning that $1.4 million for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Our CNN senior analyst, David Gergen, is with us tonight with more on the Obama 1040 and how it might shape the campaign debate on taxes.

David, here's another easy nugget from the president's filing. His effective tax rate, 20.5 percent, a lower rate, the White House confirms, than the president's secretaries.

Now, he didn't make more than a million dollars last year, but that raises the same fairness argument the president keeps making as it promotes the so-called Buffett rule, right?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: In fairness to the president, John, he has not only called for the Buffett rule but he has called for raising taxes on people that make over $250,000. That is by letting the Bush tax cuts expire for that group at the end of this year. He would be caught in that group, and his taxes would go up. And I think they would be higher than his secretaries' at that point. But the other part I must say, I think he's been wrong to go after Romney the way he has over this Buffett rule. But I was impressed with the president's other aspect to his tax return. And that is, he paid 20 percent taxes, but he also gave away 22 percent in charitable contributions. That's a pretty remarkable number.

Both Governor Romney and Barack Obama have been pretty darn generous when it comes to charitable contributions.

KING: Maybe they can agree and maybe we can agree that they both set pretty good examples when it comes to if you have some wealth or you have some money to reach out and try to help people in need. Maybe they can shake hands on that one in the feisty (ph) campaign.

What do you make of Governor Romney's decision tonight to say he's going to file an extension? Which means we won't see his 2011 return for possibly as long as six months. The campaign says as soon as it's ready, it will release it.

Now, in its defense, it has estimated his 2011 income at just shy of $21 million. It says he will pay a tax rate of about 15 percent, which will be more than $3 million.

David, is Mitt Romney, this extension often because people with such complicated investments are waiting for all the paperwork from their brokerage houses and the like. But I might make the argument that is he the only man in America who's asking his accountants to find ways for him to pay more in taxes?

GERGEN: He may be. You sort of wonder whether this is going to be a self-inflicted October surprise when he releases his in October.

I'm surprised he hasn't filed them now to go ahead and get this story out of the way. There are obviously going to be elements of those tax returns that are going to stir controversy and, you know, put him back in the 1 percent category and all the rest. So I would think he'd want to get that out of the way now when things are very, very fluid.

Because his prospects actually this week look a little better than they did two or three weeks ago before Santorum dropped out. As you know, we've got two national polls out which show him with a very tiny, but a lead. He hasn't had that for a long time against Barack Obama.

The White House has been saying all along this will be a close race. There's some evidence that they may be right this week.

KING: And as you know, I asked Governor Romney about how many years of his taxes. His dad released quite a few back when he ran for president in the '60s. I asked about the Senate debate a couple months ago. Listen to his answer first. We'll talk on the other side.

GERGEN: Sure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't know how many years I'll release. I'll take a look at what the other -- what our documents are. And I'll release multiple years. I don't know how many years. And I'll be happy to do that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The White House is going to make this an issue. They keep saying, we want to see it all, Governor. We want to see 8 years, 10 years, 12 years. Will he be able to say, here is two years, three years or is he ultimately going to have to give in?

GERGEN: You know, I think -- I think he's going to have to give in. And the problem is, if you don't take a firm stand saying, "This is what I'm going to do" and then do it and do it early in the campaign, you give -- you give the opportunity for your opponent, in this case Barack Obama, to go beat you up over the head and use this as a subtext for a lot of other points Obama is trying to do.

He's trying to use all these tax issues as a way to drive home the point that Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, are very rich by American standards. They have given away a lot of money to charity. But you know, he's trying to make him seem like other, that he doesn't relate to you. They don't get you and all the rest.

I don't think ultimately, it's going to work. I don't think those are the central issues of the campaign. But you can see that the Obama team and their allies are really trying to push those points.

KING: David Gergen, appreciate your help tonight. The tax question, another issue we'll continue between now and November. David, we'll see you soon.

Turning now to the fallout over North Korea's failed rocket launch. The White House confirms it will not go forward with food aid to North Korea. And the United Nations Security Council met today to discuss its options.

And now President Obama is pushing salt into the wounds, you might say. He just told the Spanish language station Telemundo that North Korea has, quote, "been trying to launch missiles like this for over a decade now, and they don't seem to be real good at it." Ouch. A little insult there from the president.

Let's take a look at exactly what happened last night. Remember, it was late in this program when we first received confirmation that the North Koreans had launched their missile. This is what we were worried about last night. The drop range is supposed to go like this. If the missile test went as planned, stage one drops here. Stage two drops here. All goes well. Right?

But all did not go well. Let's take a look at what the flight path was here instead. We'll bring this up and let it load into the computer, I hope. See if we can play it through. Here we go. This is what happened instead. It's the rocket launch. You see it's a three-stage rocket. One, two, and three. As it goes up, it is supposed to, within just a minute or two, bottle stage drops, middle stage drops and the third stage is supposed to go into orbit like that. You see what happened. You see it broke into pieces instead, coming down into the Yellow Sea. An embarrassing failure for North Korea.

Still, condemnation from the world for trying this rocket test in the first place.

Let's get some context now. Former ambassador Christopher Hill, he led the six-party talks with North Korea back in 2005. Mr. Ambassador, we spoke last night about North Korea's defiance of the world. It defied the world and failed. It's embarrassing. You could say it's humiliating. You know this culture and this leadership better than most. How will they react internally?

CHRISTOPHER HILL, FORMER AMBASSADOR TO NORTH KOREA: I think it's embarrassing. They're obviously going to have to find someone to blame. They were a little more open about it than they've been in the past. They've never really come out and admitted failure of this kind. So that's a slightly -- slightly different approach.

But, well, I wouldn't want to be a North Korean engineer. I think they're going to look for some scapegoats.

KING: And the administration says no food aid. This has been a back-and-forth, carrot stick debate. For many, many years he's been in the middle of it. Was that the right approach for the administration to say, "No food aid. We told you if you did this, you don't get it, and you won't"?

HILL: Well, I think that is the right approach. Frankly, I don't think there's any other approach. This is a carefully choreographed deal that the Chinese worked out. And we were going to implicitly link food aid to stand out on some of these nuclear missile programs and the North Koreans reneged on it. So we have absolutely no choice.

The real issue, of course, is the people in North Korea who are starving, who have nothing to do with the well-fed regime. And probably, I think the World Food Organization, World Food Program in Rome will be looking at those issues. And to the extent there's an absolute humanitarian need, it will probably be provided by international organizations.

KING: Like everything else in our country right now, this became an immediate issue in the presidential campaign. This is Governor Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee. He said this: "Instead of approaching Pyongyang from a position of strength, President Obama sought to appease the regime with a food aid deal that proved to be as naive as it was short-lived. At the same time, he has cut critical U.S. missile defense program and continues to underfund them. The incompetence from the Obama administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and our allies."

Fair, unfair, somewhere in the middle?

HILL: I think it goes pretty far there. I usually don't interfere in my own country's internal affairs, but you know, this is a tough issue dealing with North Korea. And I think a lot of what has been guiding the administration is the need to work with South Korea, the need to prevent any gaps opening between our perceptions of the situation with those of the South Koreans and also the need to kind of work with the Chinese.

Because at the end of the day, if this is ever going to get solved, it's going to get solved because the Chinese really said, "We've had enough of this. This is bad for business." And they're not there yet. The Chinese have been very preoccupied with their own internal issues. So, you know, there's a lot to balance there. It's not easy.

KING: Do you think they will now go ahead and test -- have a nuclear test just to prove they're not going to back down, not going to hide after this failure?

HILL: Well, you know, that's certainly been the pattern in the past. Of course, the pattern in the past was never to admit failure in the first place. So there are some changes here.

Certainly, the Chinese and others would be furious at the North Koreans for going ahead with the nuclear test in China. That may be really more than the Chinese will accept from them.

But -- and the North Koreans have proved again they don't really care. So it is their normal prescription for what to do when something ails them in terms of failing at something. So I would say the likelihood is greater today as a result of the failed test.

KING: Ambassador hill, as always, appreciate your insights. We'll keep an eye on this and keep in touch.

Coming up here, the politics of the right to bear arms and the GOP race for the White House. Is Mitt Romney a friend of the NRA?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: The National Rifle Association and its leaders, well, they're not known for their modesty.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WAYNE LAPIERRE, NRA PRESIDENT: "All" means every single one of us. All in to defend freedom, to take back our country. And mark my words, when the sun goes down on election day, Barack Obama will have us to thank for his defeat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Does the NRA have that much clout? Probably not, but they are an important piece of the conservative coalition. Yes, they are. And Mitt Romney's goal was to go beyond guns and frame the stakes today for the fall campaign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: Instead of expanding the government, I'm going to shrink it. Instead of raising taxes, I'm going to cut them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The truth is, an important, very important secondary goal for Governor Romney was to shore up his shaky right flank.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: I applaud the NRA leadership for being among the first and most vocal in calling upon Attorney General Holder to resign or get fired.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: For the record, Governor Romney, not always a darling of the NRA.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them. I won't chip away at them. I believe they help protect us and provide for our safety.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: After winning that 2002 race for governor, Romney did sign into law a state assault weapons ban. At the signing ceremony, he said this: "These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people."

Now, it's not just the campaign that puts the NRA in the gun debate, back, front, and center. The Trayvon Martin shooting in Florida has intensified criticism of state "stand your ground" laws.

In a "Daily Beast," published just today, the New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, lashed out at the NRA. Quote, he said, "They are interested in pushing a political ideology, not protecting public safety."

Bloomberg went on to say, "In nowhere is that more evidence than in the NRA's advocacy for 'stand your ground' laws."

"Truth" is, though, the guns debate is almost exclusively now a state by state debate. The federal assault weapons ban expired eight years ago. The last major federal gun control legislation was four years ago just after the Virginia Tech shooting, a bipartisan proposal, requiring states to provide information on the mentally ill to the national criminal background test system. Here to talk truth in politics with guns tonight, pro-Gingrich super PAC adviser, Rick Tyler, "National Journal" editorial director and CNN political analyst Ron Brownstein, and the president of the Center for American Progress, Neera Tanden.

Ron, before we let the partisans get involved here, why? Why is Washington essentially saying, "We're out of the gun debate"? I think the answer is, enough Democrats are too timid. Right?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The answer is what happened in 2000 with the NRA and their role in helping defeat Al Gore. The Democrats have probably over interpreted that after a decade.

I mean, part of the problem the Democrats have is they are afraid of losing voters on the gun issue they've probably already lost. Rural voters, blue-collar white men. In fact, if you look at overall public opinion on guns, it's pretty closely divided. And there is still support for gun control within the portions of the electorate that actually do vote for Democrats, suburban women and so forth.

But by and large, the interpretation of 2000 was that the NRA was critical in Al Gore's defeat. And the gun issues never really had any tracks since.

KING: Do you see any possibility President Obama, who needs to win Virginia, say, North Carolina, say, Colorado, I could go on, say, Ohio, is going to make guns a big national issue? He didn't in 2008. Or that any -- the national Democrats at another level. Chuck Schumer in New York city, Mike Bloomberg in New York City might. But is it Joe Manchin in West Virginia or Claire McCaskill in Missouri?

NEERA TANDEN, PRESIDENT, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: Look, I think that gun issues have also subverted to economic issues. And economic issues are the first, second, and third, fourth concerns for voters, Democratic voters, Republican voters.

Obviously, Mitt Romney went to shore up his right-wing base or his conservative base. But, you know, I don't think that he was speaking to the broad swath of American voters. And he is always reminding us that people are concerned about the economy. And he tried to frame even a conversation on guns around the economy, perhaps to hide his bad voting record with the NRA or perhaps because he wants to focus on the economy, as well.

KING: He's in this juggle right now, Governor Romney is, Rick, as you know. And he does have his skeptics. And you just saw in 2002, when he was running for governor and then when he was governor, he was not a darling of the NRA.

Is he viewed as credible or is that one of his big question marks?

RICK TYLER, PRO-GINGRICH SUPER PAC ADVISOR: Well, he promised to uphold the Massachusetts liberal gun laws, and he did that. So now he's promising to hold up, you know, the NRA's agenda. So I guess I'll have to take him at his word.

The NRA is an organization we often never heard from, but that is pretty smart. They sort of erect a wall. They don't go out and say you should have a gun or let's force guns into everybody's hands. They basically say, "You cross this line, you come into our territory, we'll take you out." And they can do that, because they do have massive political power.

BROWNSTEIN: But the reality is their territory is no longer indispensable for a Democrat to get to 271 in the Electoral College. And that is what the Democratic Party has a hard time acknowledging.

Even in a state like Colorado and Virginia, yes, the NRA can hurt you very much in the rural parts of those states, but in suburban Denver and northern Virginia, there's actually more support for gun control than Democrats have been willing to try to speak to.

So it is a very different model now. Democrats are much less dependent on the votes of blue-collar white voters than we were even ten years ago. And that really does give them more freedom to depart from the NRA, but they haven't taken it.

TANDEN: And just on that particular issue, I think that the challenge is that the NRA has made the same statements they made today in 2008, about President Obama. And, you know, they weren't able to defeat President Obama then. You know, there's no record there for them to attack. And I think they will, similarly, not be able to defeat President Obama.

TYLER: But there's also been an advancement in gun control laws. The fact is the NRA is one of those organizations that does keep people in check, and the members on the Hill, they know it.

The Democrats do think they have an issue in this "stand your ground" law, but stand your ground is simply a -- you know, it's a preponderance of evidence. It's, you know, but it's in response...

KING: It's less about the gun than about the state of mind and the conduct. Right?

TYLER: The defense is the same thing. What they wanted to do was relieve the assailant, the person attacking -- who's being attacked for having to prove every which way that he tried to flee. They tried to dismiss that. That was in response to these people who were attacked.

BROWNSTEIN: And this right now -- this right now...

TANDEN: ... every which way. I mean, it was just a basic standard, that actually was keeping up safe for many years.

BROWNSTEIN: It's a theoretical conversation now, because there's no evidence that Barack Obama wants any part of a fight with the NRA, who is very effective in their terrain. But all I'm saying is their terrain is not necessarily... KING: It's almost a -- it's almost a standoff detente that both sides -- both sides win in a sense. He doesn't fight with them. No one's changing the law there.

BROWNSTEIN: I think that will be the status quo.

KING: You think that was (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Neera, Ron, Rick, appreciate you coming in tonight.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" coming up in just a few minutes at the top of the hour. Tom Foreman is here with a preview.

And Tom, we've been talking about North Korea. You did, by the way, a superb job last night as the live rocket launch was playing out, but there was also a conversation about reining in Iran there.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT/ANCHOR: There absolutely is, John. What we're looking at tonight is the new cold war. In many ways, even though the rocket fizzled, a lot of people say this cold war is just now heating up, and it could substantially change the way we see our world and our own safety in it.

Plus, we have a fascinating and I've got to say funny story about how the FBI tracked down one of these super hackers because he couldn't help bragging about his girlfriend -- John.

KING: Looking forward to that, Tom. You know, crime doesn't pay. See you in just a few minutes.

You know, for weeks, we've been cringing at the thought of having to fill up the gas tank, but finally, a bit of a price break. Why some analysts say it might even last.

Plus, a major surprise -- some think it's a surprise -- from Hollywood's golden couple.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's Mary Snow with the latest news you need to know right now. Hello, again.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, again, John.

Osama bin Laden's three widows and two daughters will be deported to Saudi Arabia next week. One of the widows will return to her native country of Yemen next month. They will be finishing up 45 days under house arrest for living illegally in Pakistan before U.S. Navy SEALs raided the al Qaeda leader's compound last May.

Negotiations over Iran's nuclear program will continue on Saturday in Istanbul. Delegates from the U.N. Security Council will push Iran to restrict its nuclear efforts. Iranian officials have been under intense international pressure to limit the program. Iran faces heavy economic sanctions from Europe and the U.S.

Last week, the country proposed to reduce the amount of enriched uranium it produces. It isn't clear if that option is still being considered.

Tired of emptying your wallet at the gas pump? Well, it looks like retail gas prices may have peaked somewhere around $3.43 a gallon. Triple A cites a four-cent drop in the price of gas since last week, and Iran's recent negotiations over its nuclear program may have something to do with it.

The National Mall in Washington needs a facelift. At least that's the idea behind a competition to improve use of the space and to add new amenities. Now, the proposed designs are available online. The organizers are asking the public to weigh in on their favorites. The winning designs will be announced in May. The aim is to pay for the renovations with private donations.

And Coca-Cola is sealing a deal for a free soda with a hug. Just hug the vending machine and get a free Coke. This is part of the company's latest marketing campaign throughout Asia. They're saying it's a simple idea to spread some happiness. Looks like students at the National University of Singapore are already embracing the concept. A little different.

KING: If you give a lot of hugs, do you get a lot of soda?

SNOW: I guess so.

KING: If you're really thirsty, you're going to do a lot of hugging, I guess. Or caffeine. Good way to charge up, I guess. All right. Stay put, Mary.

Tonight's moment some of you may have missed. I suspect some of you have figured it out by now. Brad Pitt, well, he finally put a ring on it. After seven years and six kids, he popped the question to Angelina Jolie. Check out that rock. Pitt designed the ring himself, and Jolie flaunted it, you might say, at the L.A. County Museum of Art.

Back in January, Brad Pitt told CBS the couple was starting to feel pressure from their kids, Maddox, Pax, Zahara, Shiloh, Knox, Viv, pressure. That's a lot of pressure.

This will be Jolie's third marriage, and it's marriage No. 2 for Pitt. That's a good little jury to put pressure on them, those kids. They're cute.

SNOW: They are very cute. A lot of pressure. And I think I need sunglasses for that rock.

KING: Not a bad rock. Not a bad rock?

SNOW: Not bad.

KING: You'd take it?

SNOW: A lot of -- I definitely would take it.

KING: You'd take it? SNOW: Yes. I think we're going to be seeing a lot of headlines about this couple. Just thinking.

KING: You think you're going to see a lot of headlines about this couple. Let's see. I want to get a closer look there. I don't know. I don't know.

SNOW: It's a pretty nice one.

KING: It's pretty nice.

Does this surprise you at all?

SNOW: You know, it is -- I mean, for all the headlines, they're all over the papers, right, all over TV, and yet it is kind of surprising. And they've been together for so long and -- but I'm sure they'll be just OK -- be very -- more than OK, and I wish them all the best.

KING: We wish them the best of luck, and I would wish them the extraordinary best of luck in trying to find a way to have a nice, quiet private ceremony somewhere, no paparazzi, have a nice time, have a good break.

SNOW: Yes. That's going to be a little tougher.

KING: Mary, you have a great weekend.

You have a great weekend out there watching, as well. We'll see you Monday night right back right here.

That's all for us, though, for now. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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