CNN "The Situation Room" - Transcript


Date: Dec. 7, 2011


BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks very much for joining us.


BLITZER: We got some new polls, and I know you've seen those numbers and you're doing remarkably well, double-digit leads in South Carolina, in Florida, in Iowa. You're moving up even in New Hampshire. But your critics say you, Newt Gingrich, are fully capable of imploding, if you will, making a mistake, a blunder that could turn things around. Are you worried about that?

GINGRICH: Sure. That would be a bad thing to do. I mean, is it possible? I guess. On the other hand, I've had a very long career, and I have a very public record. And I think people are coming to decide that they like substance and they like somebody who actually has balanced the budget, reformed welfare, cut taxes, gotten it done for real.

So, I think there's probably a little more resilience in my support than in some of the earlier folks who made a run at this.

BLITZER: I have been surprised, and I don't know if you have been. Some of the Republican congressmen who worked with you in the 1990s, contract with America, the Republican revolution, and you know these guys like Joe Scarborough, for example --


BLITZER: -- or Peter King of New York, Tom Coburn. They've suggested, used words like erratic, undisciplined, a train wreck. And they know you well, these guys. Why are they saying that?

GINGRICH: Look, I think, if you are very aggressive and you drive to get things done, I mean, we drove to get welfare reform, we drove to balance the budget for four straight years. I think in a legislative body, there's sort of a go along to get along collegial attitude. I wasn't there in a collegial job. I was there as the leader, and my job was to drive through change on a scale that Washington wasn't comfortable with.

And, you know, if you are a genuine outsider forcing change, you're going to, at least, bruise (ph) feelings. And I don't apologize for that. I think I've probably learned some more. I think I'll probably be more effective this time. But you look back, you know, we switched the fiscal condition of the United States by $5 trillion in a four- year period.

BLITZER: But you worked with Bill Clinton closely on that.

GINGRICH: I was able to negotiate with the president, but --

BLITZER: You couldn't have done it without him.

GINGRICH: Oh, no. Look, if I didn't pass it, he couldn't sign it, and if he didn't sign it, it didn't matter that pass, so we had sort of balance -- this is exactly the constitution supposed to do. But I do think there were times when the pressure of getting things done or, you know, frankly, making a compromise to get Bill Clinton's signature.

There were some of the guys who were further to the right and said don't compromise, Wolf, then you wouldn't get welfare reform.

BLITZER: Why would Tom Coburn say something and I'm paraphrasing, you know, Newt Gingrich, when he was the leader, he had one standard for himself and another standard for others.

GINGRICH: I don't know. You would have to ask Tom Coburn. I mean, look, I wish everybody had loved me, but I'd rather be effective representing the American people than be popular inside Washington.

BLITZER: Can you taste this Republican nomination right now? GINGRICH: No. I think it's -- look, remember, I was way down here, and now I'm up here. So, I know you can go way back down here. We still have a lot of work to do. With the next four weeks in Iowa, then a real rush in New Hampshire, then on to South Carolina, then on to Florida and Nevada.

I mean, all of those within about a month. So, I think if we have a little interview right after Nevada we'll have a better sense of how real it is and what's actually --

BLITZER: Is it too early to say that it's yours to lose?

GINGRICH: Yes, I will. I mean, it's either Romney or mine. It was a --

BLITZER: What about the other candidates?

GINGRICH: We're the two frontrunners. I think, it's a fair thing to say without diminishing anybody. The both of us haven't -- you know, have different kinds of strengths, but Romney is a very formidable opponent.

BLITZER: Obama supported Democrats, White House officials, Obama campaign officials, they say -- they look forward to running against you. They're nervous about Mitt Romney. They think he might be more electable. Independents might go to him a little bit more than you, but you, they look forward to fighting. What goes through your mind when you hear that?

GINGRICH: You know, it's probably a sign of my age, but I remember in 1966, Governor Pat Brown, Jerry Brown's father, was really concerned about a moderate mayor of San Francisco names George Christopher, and he really wanted to find some right-wing actor that he could beat easily.

And they were thrilled that Ronald Reagan was running. Reagan beat him by a million votes. I am perfectly happy for the Obama people to decide they want to beat up on Romney. This is a little tough on Romney, but that's fine with me. When I get to the general election, if I'm the nominee, after the president has those seven, three-hour debates, we'll see how they feel about it.

BLITZER: I'm old enough to remember Jimmy Carter in 1980 when his aides heard that Ronald Reagan was going to be the Republican nominee. They were doing some high five at that time.

GINGRICH: That's exactly right.

BLITZER: So, you got to be careful what you wish for. I want to get to some foreign policy issues, but we've got some questions from Facebook. We asked our viewers to send us some questions for you. Let me go through a few of them and get your answers.

"You've said on occasion that it is OK for politicians to change their view if new information is available. Can you recall the most important position you've changed and why you decided to make the change?"

GINGRICH: That's a really good question without getting hung up on the most important. I'll give you an example that's a little awkward nowadays. Trent Lott and I used to kid that we were the last two decisive votes for the Department of Education. In retrospect, it was a mistake. I think it is way to --

BLITZER: To create the department of --

GINGRICH: Yes. We voted in 1979 to create it. I think, in retrospect, that was an error, and it hasn't worked. So, that would be an example.

BLITZER: What else?

GINGRICH: I think that the --

BLITZER: I'll give you an example. You've been criticized for the healthcare mandates. You supported them, and now, you say you oppose them.

GINGRICH: That would be a good example in the sense that when Heritage Foundation and mostly every conservative was trying to stop Hillarycare, we used the mandates as a way of blocking her, because we thought they were less damaging.

In retrospect, we were wrong, because what happens, once you go to a mandate, you have turned so much power over the government that the politicians rather than the doctors end up defining healthcare. And so, it was a mistake.

BLITZER: Let me ask you the question I asked Ron Paul at that Debate I moderated in Tampa with the Tea Party Express. You're a 30-year-old healthy young man. You know what, you're making a living. You got a good job. You could buy health insurance, but you decide not to. You'd rather go to ball games or whatever, but then you get critically ill for whatever reason. You're in intensive care. You have no health insurance. Who should take care of you?

GINGRICH: John Goodman (INAUDIBLE) for the best answer in a book called "Patient Power" where he says what we ought to do is have a refundable tax credit to help people buy insurance. You don't want to boy the insurance, fine. Your share of the tax credit goes into a charity pool. Something happens to you, you're taken care of by that charity pool so that there is -- so that you are taken care of.

BLITZER: The charity pool, taxpayer money or private individuals?

GINGRICH: Taxpayer money would be the tax credit you would have used to buy the health insurance. And the result is that you may not get a private room. You may not get everything you want, but you are taken care of.

And I think it's important to look at that and to try to figure out, are there practical ways we can help people who don't insure themselves without automatically making them eligible for everything everybody else gets who's paying the price, you know, writing the check every month and --

BLITZER: But you know, you're a 30-year-old. You know, you know what -- they're going to take care of me. I could be in intensive care for a year. It could cost a million dollars. They'll take care of me. What's the incentive to go ahead and buy the insurance?

GINGRICH: The fact is we do that.

BLITZER: What I'm asking, is that appropriate, because you supported --

GINGRICH: No, I don't think it's appropriate. And I think that it is, frankly, cheating all of your friends and neighbors. But I also think that the price of getting to a mandate is too great in the constitutional liberty to do it.

BLITZER: And a state mandate was wrong and a federal government is wrong?


GINGRICH: Because it politicizes the system.

BLITZER: Mitt Romney stands by his decision in Massachusetts.

GINGRICH: Yes. And I think he was wrong. The difference in Mitt and I is that I think I was wrong and I changed. I think down deep, he thinks he's wrong, but he's being stubborn.


BLITZER: Here's another question from Facebook. "Do you believe that ethical or moral behavior should be a characteristic of a presidential candidate? If so, do you believe a candidate's moral past should be held in question when seeking political office?

GINGRICH: Sure. I think everything about a candidate has to be held into account, and you have to look and render judgment. Is this a person who has grown? Is this a person who has led a better life? I suspect everybody who runs for office at this level has had some flaws at some point. I don't think other than Christ, I don't think anybody has been flawless.

But you've to aside (ph), in my case I'm 68 years old. I have a very strong marriage to Callista, as you know. I'm very close to my two daughters. Callista and I have two wonderful grandchildren in Maggie and Robert (INAUDIBLE). And people have to look at all of that and to say, is he now a person who's mature and who I am comfortable having lead the country?

BLITZER: Mitt Romney has a new ad that's coming out, and he takes some implied digs, at least my assessment, of you. He makes the point, I've been married for 42 years. I belong to the same church my whole life.

GINGRICH: Look, I think Mitt Romney is a very admirable person. And I'm not going to pick a fight over Mitt Romney. We like both Mitt and Ann. We think they're terrific people. They have a wonderful family. Callista recently signed to all the grandchildren. Her new children's history books, "Sweet Land of Liberty."

He's going to run to what he things his strengths are. I think my strength is being a leader, being able to actually solve problems and being able to change Washington.

BLITZER: Could you see, if you got the nomination, asking him to be your running mate?

GINGRICH: I think there are circumstances where he'd certainly be on the list, whether he would want to or not, but he's a very competent person. This is a serious man. I could see -- I would certainly support him if he became the Republican nominee.

BLITZER: All right. Let's talk a little bit some other sensitive issues. Barney Frank. At one point, you said, he should go to jail for supporting Freddie Mac. Tell us what you said --

GINGRICH: He was engaged in activities to get somebody very close to him a job in an institution he was supervising.

BLITZER: Freddie Mac.

GINGRICH: Yes. Remember, the things I attack both Chris Dodd who was getting also some special deals on mortgages while he was in charge of supervising mortgages, and Barney Frank was their official business. Everything I did that has been reported is as a private citizen in business after I left government.

BLITZER: Did you make 1.6 to $1.8 million with Freddie Mac?

GINGRICH: No, I didn't. I think Gingrich Group as a company may have, but we were company with a good number of employees and offices in three different cities.

BLITZER: Because some -- like John (INAUDIBLE) when he was a senator, he says publicly, you encouraged him to support, to take a different position on a Freddie Mac related issue.

GINGRICH: I don't remember ever doing that. You're talking --


GINGRICH: I honestly don't remember ever doing that.

BLITZER: I'll get you the information. I'll show you the story that appeared.


BLITZER: The other $100 million. Did you -- have you in your companies made $100 million since leaving Congress?

GINGRICH: Over 12 years. We've had four companies and we produced seven movies. I have a total of 24 books, 13 of them "New York Times" best sellers. I gave 50 to 80 speeches a year. You know, we were very busy.

BLITZER: $50,000 a speech?

GINGRICH: Well, it depends on whether it was on the road or here in Washington, but if they were all --

BLITZER: So, $100 million. Actually, the argument that Newt Gingrich cashed in after leaving Congress?

GINGRICH: Or in other way you can say this that I'm as good a businessman as Mitt Romney.

BLITZER: What do you say?

GINGRICH: I say that I work very hard. We have very good companies. Our movies are very good. The one we made about Pope John Paul II, "Nine Days That Changed The World," was picked at the Vatican Film Festival as one of the three best films in John Paul II.

Our books, you know -- I mean, even Callista. Callista had her very first book that she did her own was a "New York Times" best-seller. That wasn't because we went out and had influence. That's because lots of people decided they like (INAUDIBLE).


BLITZER: As he surges in the polls, Newt Gingrich is now facing some pointed questions.


GINGRICH: The Israelis are not going to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: If the Israelis told you in advance, would you say go ahead and do it?


All right. As you know, I sat down earlier today over at the Ronal Reagan building with Newt Gingrich. We spoke just before he addressed the Republican Jewish forum. Of course, I had a chance to ask him a few questions about Israel and the Middle East and Iran, what's going on. Here's the final part of my interview.


BLITZER: All right. Let's talk about some foreign policy issues. It's 3:00 a.m. You're president of the United States. Your national security advisor --

GINGRICH: We're replaying the --

BLITZER: Your national security advisor calls you and says, Mr. President, the Israelis have just bombed Iran's nuclear facilities. What do you do?

GINGRICH: Well, hopefully, they would have told me earlier in the day.

BLITZER: Who's they?

GINGRICH: The national security advisor.

BLITZER: They didn't know. The Israelis did it without telling the United States.

GINGRICH: I think if I were president, the Israelis would have told us.

BLITZER: Why do you say that?

GINGRICH: Because I'm a clear ally of Israel. I am very close to Netanyahu. I would -- and I've said publicly, I would rather plan a joint operation conventionally than push the Israelis to a point where they go nuclear. The Israelis are not going to tolerate an Iranian nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: If the Israelis told you in advance, would you say go ahead and do it?

GINGRICH: If they told me in advance, I would say how can we help you?

BLITZER: You would actually participate --

GINGRICH: I would provide them intelligence. I'd provide them logistic support. Look, this is a line we have to draw. An Iranian nuclear weapon is potentially a second holocaust. Israel is a very urban country. Two or three nuclear weapons wipes out most of the Jews who live in Israel. I believe Ahmadinejad would do it in a (INAUDIBLE). When you have people put on body suits to walk into a crowded mall to blow themselves up, you better believe they put on a nuclear weapon. So, I think the world needs to understand, Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon. All the world can decide is whether they help us peacefully stop it or they force us to use violence, but Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: I don't know if you've seen these most recent statements from Prince Turki of Saudi Arabia, the former ambassador in Washington, the former intelligence chief. He says that if the Saudis see the Iranians getting a bomb, the Israelis already have a bomb, Saudi Arabia may decide to get a nuclear --

GINGRICH: They will decide to get a bomb. I mean, we're at the edge of a nightmare. We frankly may have crossed over with Pakistan. My guess is Pakistan has well over 100 nuclear weapons. And that the Pakistani military is so penetrated by extremist elements. You have no idea if one morning they're going to lost three or four of them. I mean --

BLITZER: You don't think the Pakistani military is capable of protecting that nuclear arsenal?

GINGRICH: Well, the Pakistani military was capable of protecting bin Laden for six years.

BLITZER: You believe that they knew about it?

GINGRICH: It's inconceivable that he could have been in -- that was a national military city. Their major military university is one mile from his compound. Now, do I think Bin Laden was sitting a mile away from national military university and nobody noticed it in their intelligence service? It's inconceivable.

BLITZER: Republicans often -- and this is what I've heard this over the years, and I've studied this -- they talk very strongly about U.S./Israeli relations. And you're an historian. You know this and you have lived through a lot of it. But some of the most tense moments in U.S./Israeli relations have been when there has been a Republican president. Like, for example, Ronald Reagan -- we're in this building, a strong friend of Israel, right?


BLITZER: What did he do when the Israelis, under Menachem Begin, the prime minister, bombed Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981?

GINGRICH: At the time they condemned it, and later he said it was a mistake.

BLITZER: He ordered his U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Jeane Kirkpatrick, to raise her hand and condemn Israel. If you would have been president, what would you have done?

GINGRICH: Well, it was a different world. I mean, I would frankly have applauded the Israelis, which I did at the time. But it was a different world.

BLITZER: Why was it a different world?

GINGRICH: I think at the time you had a lot more worries about the Soviet Union. I mean, Reagan was totally focused on defeating the Soviet empire, and he didn't want anything which made that more complicated.

And he had just cut a deal with the Saudis to flood the world with oil, to drive down the price of oil, to break the Soviet economy by cutting off all their hard currency. And so he -- and he also had the Saudis engaged in funding the Mujahideen in Afghanistan.

So they were very cautious about getting the Arab world upset in that period. And that's why he also -- remember there was a very tense period when the Israelis occupied part of Lebanon. And it's the same reason.

Reagan had a hierarchical principle in his mind. His job was to finish off the Soviet empire. He wasn't prepared to deal with a post- Soviet world, and he would have said so. And frankly, if you look at that eight-year campaign against the Soviets, it is one of the great strategic achievements of all time.

BLITZER: Would you move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem?

GINGRICH: The first day. It will be an executive order the day I'm inaugurated.

BLITZER: And what would happen if the Arab countries sever relations with the United States, Muslim countries, as a result of that?

GINGRICH: The Saudis aren't going to sever relations with the United States. The Emirates are not going to sever relations. They're too afraid --

BLITZER: They have threatened over the years if the U.S. were to do that, that's what they would do.

GINGRICH: They are too afraid of Iran right now. And I would also say to them, fine, you want to prove to us how much you hate Israel? Prove it. This is nonsense.

Countries are allowed to define their own capital. Remember, these are countries that don't even admit that they're allowed to exist.

I mean, I'm frankly -- and I'll be talking about it today -- I am really fed up with this fiction that we should be grateful that the Obama administration has funded the iron dome to stop missiles from Gaza. We're not asking the question, how come Hamas is ferrying missiles from Gaza?

I mean, if people were ferrying missiles into the U.S., do you think we would be talking about a peace process? You know better. We would be annihilating them.

BLITZER: Would you condemn Israel for building settlements on the West Bank?


BLITZER: Every U.S. president since '67 has said those settlements are illegal.

GINGRICH: Look, I have a totally different view. Israel is in a state of war with people who refuse to recognize her right to exist. If you are in a state of war, I'm not prepared to say to the only democratic stable ally in the region you have to hit a separate standard.

You know, Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Liberation Authority, as recently as a couple of months ago, said, we do not recognize Israelis right to exist. In November, the POA ambassador to India said, anybody who thinks there is any gap between us and Hamas is kidding themselves. We do not recognize Israelis right to exist.

These are the so-called moderates. Now, why should you say to the Israelis, please don't offend people who openly say they want to wipe you out?

BLITZER: If the prime minister of Israel were to say to you as president, please free Jonathan Pollard, the convicted Israeli spy, what would you say?

GINGRICH: I will say as a candidate that I want a thorough review of -- because every secretary of defense in both parties, I believe, has said no. And I want to thoroughly understand why they have said that.

BLITZER: You haven't looked into it at this point?

GINGRICH: There are secrecy things involved here that I frankly don't -- and I want to have access to as a candidate, and I don't think it's necessarily appropriate to have access to it. But I am very cautious about what position I would take on that.

I am prepared to say my bias is towards clemency, and I would like to review it. He's been in a very long time. But we are pretty tough about people spying on the United States. And I also have a study under way to compare his sentence with comparable people who have been sentenced for very long sentences for comparable deeds.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, thanks very much.

GINGRICH: Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Good luck.

GINGRICH: Always fun.