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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Iranian Sanctions; GOP Primaries; Funny Money

Aired February 6, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT tonight, massacres in Syria, riots and arrests of Americans in Egypt and America getting tougher on Iran, the growing threat to America in the Middle East tonight.

And the husband of a missing woman blows himself up along with his children. Family members OUTFRONT tonight and the president defending the use of Super PAC money. His reasoning is OUTFRONT now.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett and OUTFRONT tonight, the Middle East on the verge. Countries across the region from Iran to Libya on high alert reacting to the highest tension there in decades and all eyes are on the United States. What will America do? The big story tonight is a massacre in Syria. The death toll mounting tonight as the government cracks down on protesters, demanding President Bashar Al-Assad step down. Now the Syrian opposition tells us that 74 people died today, many of them in the western city of Ohm (ph).

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not animals. We're human beings. We're asking for help. We're asking for your help. They're going to kill us all. (INAUDIBLE).

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Right now, the United States has been withdrawing, shutting down its embassy today. A source who has spent a lot of time with Bashar Al-Assad tells OUTFRONT the situation is deteriorating to what he called a blood bath, comparing it to Bosnia in the 1990's and saying America's military may need to step in. Meanwhile, the Assad regime hopes the turmoil in other part of the region will buy it time. That turmoil of course is in Syrian ally Iran.

The United States slapped more sanctions on Iran today freezing all assets in Iranian banks in the United States. A former CIA agent and member of the Revolutionary Guard, who uses the pseudonym of Ressa Kalili (ph) spoke to OUTFRONT today and said that Iran has about 1,000 ballistic missiles and that China is actually now selling Iran intercontinental ballistic missile technology, which will enable Iran for the first time to strike America directly from Tehran.

Now, that is not close to happening at this time, but the point is a few reports that they are aiming aggressively to accomplish it and tonight, there are reports from the Middle East that Iran is moving more of its uranium enrichment activity deep underground inside a mountain in anticipation of possible air strikes from the United States or Israel. Now, President Obama's rhetoric got a little bit heavier. Last night, he told NBC's Matt Lauer that he would do whatever it takes to stop Iran from getting a bomb and he didn't say that the United States would stop Israel from striking Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I've been very clear that we're going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and creating an arms race, a nuclear arms race in a volatile region. I don't think that Israel has made a decision on what they need to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right, as the Iranian situation escalates, at least rhetorically, there is a point coming where America will have serious decisions to make. There are also serious questions about an Arab ally that America expected to always be on its side, 19 Americans facing a frightening situation in Egypt tonight. They face prosecution on charges of illegal foreign funding as part of an ongoing crackdown on nongovernmental organizations in Cairo.

We're going to show you some undercover video of a raid on an NGO. That's what you're looking at right here. Egypt knows that this isn't going under the radar because one of the defendants of the 19 I just told you about is the son of United States Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. And then there's Libya, where America spent more than a billion dollars getting rid of Moammar Gadhafi.

Right now, lawlessness still rules. There are clashes between rival militias, rebels are looting and destroying homes. The interim government is trying to take control, saying it's going to try Saif Gadhafi, the son of the dead dictator within weeks. The bottom line though clear, America faces major choices in the Middle East now.

I've reported from all of these countries, but Syria, and truly this is an incredible moment that we face and obviously in an election year, rhetoric can get even more heated. Jamie Rubin is former United States assistant secretary of state and Jamie, great to have you with us as always.

JAMIE RUBIN, FMR. U.S. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: Nice to be with you.

BURNETT: So, let me just start off by asking all these situations obviously are I guess worse is a fair word to use in an election year --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: But let's talk about Iran specifically. What is happening here in your view? Is this going to be something where you do see some sort of strike? RUBIN: I think what's happening right now is what I would call the psychological warfare phase. We've long known that sanctions have a limited chance of convincing Iran to stop its nuclear program. The Israelis are increasingly worried that Iran is getting to a point of no return. A point beyond which no military action short of an invasion could stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, so the psychological warfare is the message being delivered to the United States, to journalists and throughout the world that Israel is getting close to a decision to use force. This is a kind of psychological warfare. The Iranians are doing the same thing.

BURNETT: Right.

RUBIN: Threatening to close down the Straits of Hormuz, so that's the phase we're in and the reason we're there is because we're no closer despite some significant efforts by the administration to solving the problem. Iran is no closer to being willing to give up its nuclear program.

BURNETT: And as the president said last night, it wasn't just his usual which is I want a diplomatic solution, but all options are on the table. Yes, he said that, but he also you know said in a forceful tone -- I mean there was a tone, you know he put real emphasis on that tone -- that the United States will not allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. Now I know some people say that that may not be possible to do unless you do go to a full on war.

RUBIN: Well, I think the president used different forms of language last night that he's used in the past about using all means in the United States arsenal --

BURNETT: Right.

RUBIN: But I don't think he really intended for my impression to ratchet up the rhetoric towards the use of force. On the contrary, I think the real message was that the Israelis haven't decided to do so and my understanding is that behind the scenes, the U.S. is very, very, very worried that Israel may choose to act and I find it very, very difficult to believe that President Obama after making such big claims for his ending wars in Iraq --

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIN: -- ending a war in Afghanistan, would want to launch what would make those wars really rather small potatoes. A U.S.-Iranian war has real region-wide consequences and potentially real dangers for the United States.

BURNETT: Bob Baer joins us now, former CIA operative and Bob, let me -- let me just get your sense here on how this Iranian situation goes from here. What sorts of undercover activities are going on there right now? And do you believe that the United States has a close to perfect sense of exactly where Iran is on these ICBMs (ph) and on its nuclear program?

ROBERT BAER, FMR. CIA OPERATIVE: Well there are a couple of things. Iran is still a ways from making a bomb. It could be a year. It could be two years, but it doesn't have the knowledge right now. It doesn't have enough enriched uranium. How fast they move and if they've set a date, we don't know. The intelligence is not that good. The Israelis think the worst. They think there's, you know we've got a certain space here and we have to make it now before they move this entire thing under ground and we're completely blind.

BURNETT: Bob, what about the role of China here? Because I mean this is -- it's just sort of incredible to me, right? I mean China is the largest foreign owner of American debt. There's only so much some people think we can do diplomatically to get them on board. They have pulled back significantly from buying Iranian oil, but every report that you see and we were just talking about a former Revolutionary Guard official saying that it is China right now that is showing Iran how to use and improve its missile technology.

BAER: Oh, I think absolutely the Chinese see a vacuum in the Middle East. We've left Iraq. We're leaving Afghanistan. It's a fluid situation all across the Middle East and the Chinese are going to step in and see what they can get. They need oil and they're going to need it for a long time. And if we've left the Middle East, they're going to fill that space.

There's no question about it. And I think they're perfectly capable of helping the Iranian set up air defense network and they have been sending missile parts and they're going to buy their oil and they're not going to go along with these sanctions at the end of the day. I think one way or another they're going to buy the oil. So our real problems (ph) and of course Moscow doesn't want -- you know likes the tension in the Middle East because --

BURNETT: Right.

BAER: -- it boosts the price of oil.

BURNETT: And of course that helped their biggest export. Jamie Rubin, let me ask you before one question about China and Egypt. This is a country that America has always counted on, always counted on. We give them billions of dollars in aid a year. They've got these 19 Americans that they want to put on trial. One of them is the son of the American transportation secretary. Can we not count on Egypt anymore?

RUBIN: Well it's clear that we are having a tough time in the Middle East in general. I think it is puzzling to me that the Egyptians haven't realized the extreme danger they're putting their relationship with the United States. Congress holds the ability to change policy on aid to Egypt. The institutes that are at issue here, the so-called National Democratic Institute, the National Republican Institute, these are the people being investigated.

BURNETT: Yes.

RUBIN: They are directly tied to the leads of Congress, so there's nothing, almost nothing the Egyptians could do that would more stoke the anger and frustration of American legislators and I am sure that if this thing isn't resolved very, very quickly there's going to be a real cutback of aid to Egypt and there's going to be a real change in the relationship.

BURNETT: Quickly before we go, Bob Baer, what will -- will we have some sort of resolution on the Iranian issue this spring? I mean obviously, I use resolution with quotes because I know there are a short-term and a long-term resolution, but will there be one?

BAER: I don't think so. You know there's too much tension in the Middle East. It truly is boiling. Syria and Lebanon are on the verge of a civil war. Both countries, the Iranians are going to get involved. Iraq is still not settled. I just don't see some sort of grand bargain with Iran right now and I think we really risk an escalation, some unintended completely, but an escalation.

BURNETT: All right, well Bob Baer, thank you very much, a warning there to both sides and Jamie Rubin always good to see you as well. And obviously we're talking about Syria. Well the man who said that it could be a blood bath and the next Bosnia and that America will need to be involved is going to be our guest OUTFRONT in just a few moments.

Up next, the three things you did not know about tomorrow's GOP contest and let me promise you candidates and drag, and I'm not talking about drag races are part of it. And pundits are calling some Super Bowl ads political. But they're completing missing the point, we'll explain, and a snowstorm crushing Europe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: So, in Colorado today Mitt Romney was feeling some heat from Rick Santorum. Here's what his campaign released this morning, quote, "we need a next president who's been strong and proven in fiscal and spending matters and we had Rick Santorum voting numerous times to raise the debt ceiling. So he clearly has been part of the big spending establishment in Congress and in the influence peddling industry that surrounds Congress."

Oh come on Mitt Romney. You know you would have raised the debt ceiling, too. OK. Here is Rick Santorum though going after Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Governor Romney is simply dead wrong on the most important issue of the day and should not be the nominee of our party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right, but you see it. The battle between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney appears to be the battle there, Colorado, one of three states voting tomorrow. Minnesota and Missouri or Missouri as some people say it also headed to the polls as well. John Avlon has been looking carefully at each state, some interesting insight to share. So let us start with Minnesota, land of Garrison Keillor. JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Land of Garrison Keillor, so these are three things to look at for tomorrow night, things you might not know about that's driving the politics. First, Mitt could lose Minnesota. Actually right now a lot of polls showing this is very neck and neck, it's a tight fight, Rick Santorum is devoting a lot of time campaigning there including its sweater vest factories while Mitt Romney's been largely decamped to Colorado.

And here's -- here's what John Brabender (ph), the Santorum camp's chief strategist told us. He said "there have been a lot of polls showing a very competitive race in Minnesota. Governor Romney seems to be taking those polls seriously. That's why he's ramped up his attack machine on Rick Santorum the last 24 hours." So keep an eye on this. This could be a real photo finish. You know Romney's romped to big leads in Florida and Nevada. That could stop tomorrow night in Minnesota. Keep an eye on it.

BURNETT: All right, which one do you want to do next Colorado or Missouri?

AVLON: Let's take a look at Colorado because this is --

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: We're going to wait. We're going to wait because this is actually a fascinating fight for the far right. Rick Santorum's trying to knock Newt out.

BURNETT: Right.

AVLON: He's got some money in the bank. He's been running attack ads against Newt Gingrich in Colorado, some pretty tough stuff. Let's take a look at what he's running.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP/POLITICAL COMMERCIAL)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Who are these three cap and trade loving bailout supporting, soft on immigration, big government mandating politicians? Now you know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

AVLON: Ouch.

BURNETT: Whoa.

AVLON: Comparing -- he's comparing Newt to Nancy Pelosi and President Obama.

BURNETT: This is the nastiest campaign --

AVLON: But (INAUDIBLE) right? He's using his cash to try to draw that strong contrast and show that Rick Santorum is the real social conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. That's really what a lot of these fights are about tomorrow night and throughout the month of February. Who is the guy who can stand up for the long haul and establish himself as that social conservative alternative to Romney?

BURNETT: All right, now there's one state tomorrow that I don't know really what's going on in this state. The state is voting and then in a few weeks, it's voting again and I don't know if it's ever going to count.

AVLON: Yes.

BURNETT: That would be Missouri.

AVLON: That would be Missouri. And look, I hate to break it to our friends in the "show me" state, Missouri doesn't matter tomorrow night. There are no delegates being awarded and in fact it's been called a beauty contest and there's reason for that. I just want to give people time to soak in that beautiful graphic.

BURNETT: Oh.

AVLON: It is a beauty contest.

BURNETT: Yes.

AVLON: There are no delegates being awarded tomorrow night.

BURNETT: This is a drag of -- not the drag races.

AVLON: That's -- yes that would be this -- and Newt Gingrich not even on the ballot. In fact, the real contest in Missouri has been kicked to March 17th, St. Patrick's Day.

BURNETT: He might be grateful he's not on the ballot because his picture and face didn't just get put on a --

AVLON: On a tiara and a ball gown --

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Tiara, ball gown lady, yes.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: The big secret about tomorrow in Missouri contest, it does not matter. There are no delegates being given. The real fight is going to be March 17th, but it could matter in terms of media momentum and that's what Rick Santorum in particular will be trying to go for --

BURNETT: All right, let's bring in Ramesh Ponnuru and David Frum into this conversation. I don't know. Could you both see who looked best in their dress?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was averting my eyes.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know who won the talent and congeniality contest.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: You know what? You're lucky that we didn't do the swim suit edition. All right, we stuck with --

AVLON: There was a conversation about that.

BURNETT: We had a conversation, but we were -- we couldn't decide who we should put in a bathing suit, so we decided to go equal opportunity --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We do know Ron Paul would call for world peace though.

BURNETT: Yes, absolutely. All right, Ramesh, what do you make of tomorrow? This key question of over whether Rick Santorum -- I mean strategically it seems pretty smart, right? Go after Newt. Try to knock out the guys like you and then go for the frontrunner, Mitt Romney. Do you think he can succeed?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well you know I think so. I mean the polls have been showing Santorum seems to be enjoying a little bit of a surge here although, you know at a certain point you have to wonder whether there's all that much value in winning the right to get beaten one-on-one by Mitt Romney. But I think the more interesting question is going to be does Romney start consolidating some support among voter groups in the GOP that have been suspicious of him.

BURNETT: I mean David, you saw that obviously on Saturday night in Nevada, Mitt Romney won every category and even when you take out the big benefit he got from members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, he still won in every category, very conservative Tea Party areas where he had struggled against Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum in earlier states.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, but I'm not sure how much of an accomplishment it is to pile up bigger and bigger votes with smaller and smaller ideological slices of the American electorate. One of my all-time favorite political stories is told by Karen Hughes (ph) in her memoir. She describes walking along the beach and seeing one of those advertising fliers flown behind a plane and it said Jill come back, I am miserable without you, Jack and she thinks bad message, Jack, too much about you, not enough about her.

Republicans in these primaries are talking to themselves. They're denying the realities of climate. They are focused on social issues. And the problem is that Mitt Romney's going to come out of these caucuses, especially in danger of wearing the things that you were saying there. As you pointed out a second ago, does Mitt Romney really want to be running as the guy who is opposed to raising the debt ceiling when we bump into it?

BURNETT: And to be honest, when you look at this issue objectively, it's a ridiculous thing for him to say. Because he knows full well exactly what debt ceiling means and all the implications that go with it --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.

BURNETT: -- spending, so you know it's an interesting point.

AVLON: But this is what happens when you pander in the primaries. And you know the thing is that the long contest the Democrats had in 2008 was largely a contest about who could appeal to voters in the center of the spectrum.

BURNETT: Right.

AVLON: This is all about who can appeal to folks on the far right. And Minnesota, which is you know a fascinating state in a general election, the Republican Party's fault lines are between Tim Pawlenty that kind of center right sensibility and Michele Bachmann. Remember they're both Minnesotans, so this is really going to be an interesting fight. The caucus states, not necessarily the most representative way to select a president either.

BURNETT: All right, John, Ramesh, David thanks very much to all of you. Appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

BURNETT: Of course remember, Barack Obama voted against raising the debt ceiling, then he became the president and realized yes. All right, it doesn't work that way.

OK, still to come more than 70 civilians were killed in Syria today. We're going to go to the region for a report from Arwa Damon and next we take you to a number of places in America where they are ditching the dollar.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Seventy-seven years ago, the board game Monopoly went on sale for the first time. We all grew up trying to accumulate Monopoly money; you know Park Place and Board Walk. But these days, it's not just Hasbro that's printing up its own bills. That brings us to tonight's number, 36. That's the number of local currencies that are being used within certain communities in the United States of America. Yes, serious alternatives to the dollar. Ali Velshi is CNN's chief business correspondent. Wow, this is pretty shocking.

(CROSSTALK)

ALI VELSHI, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Very interesting story.

BURNETT: Yes.

VELSHI: So what it is, it's really got more to do with communities trying to keep spending in the communities. So there are these different currencies, one of them is the Berkshire (ph); one of them is the Bay Bucks (ph) in Seattle, Washington. They're meant to say spend the money in the neighborhood, it's only good with retailers who accept it. And sometimes they trade at a discount; sometimes they trade at a little more than a dollar. Sometimes banks take them. It's a neat concept where -- and it's spreading into people who are saying, well at least I know what this currency is worth.

BURNETT: Is this a real alternative to the dollar?

VELSHI: Well not on a grand scale. It is on a local scale. So we went into Brooklyn to talk to a woman, an artist in the Williamsburg area who is trying to start something called the Brooklyn Torch. Let me just tell you how she explains it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY JEYS, CO-FOUNDER, BROOKLYN TORCH: Business owners are entrepreneurs and this speaks to an entrepreneurial spirit of trying something new, just trying, you know, experimenting. If it works, it works. If it doesn't move onto the next, but this -- it's an idea that I think business owners responds to. Hopefully, it does stimulate the local economy by getting people to come out into their local shops where the money is available to trade with.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VELSHI: So, that's how it works. It just -- they sign up local businesses who say, yes, I'll take the local currency, whatever it is. They do it because they know people will spend it in the neighborhood.

BURNETT: All right, so, this is not something that --

VELSHI: I don't think it --

(CROSSTALK)

VELSHI: Look, it doesn't spell the doom of the dollar. It's legal. You can make all sorts of currencies. Look, we use all sorts of different ways of paying for things. There are some states that are giving some thought to whether or not they have a statewide currency.

BURNETT: Yes.

VELSHI: There does seem to be some overlap between the people who think that there should be statewide currencies and those who think the dollar is about to crumble and those who think the Fed is a big conspiracy.

BURNETT: Right.

VELSHI: I think this works in local areas. It works in tourist areas. It works in local communities. A neat idea, keeps business at home. Don't know that it goes much bigger than that, but it is interesting.

BURNETT: All right. Ali well, thank you very much. Hey, I remember in college late one Saturday night -- VELSHI: Yes.

BURNETT: -- one of my suite mates using saltines to pay for pizza.

VELSHI: Right and college has actually got one of those places where you have currency that you use at the cafeteria --

BURNETT: Right -- exactly.

VELSHI: It exists. It's an interesting idea.

BURNETT: I think she ended up paying in cash the next day. Ali, thank you very much.

VELSHI: All right.

BURNETT: All right.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Still OUTFRONT the "OutFront 5" -- Syria under siege.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) people (INAUDIBLE) our blood just like water.

BURNETT: Deadly turn.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All three bodies were found together in the middle of the house.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT in our second half.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our reporting, do the work and find the "OutFront 5" and tonight, Syria, The death toll mounting.

The latest numbers from the government crackdown on protesters are right now about 74. A source who has spent a lot of time with Bashar al-Assad tells OUTFRONT the situation is deteriorating to what he calls a blood bath. He compares it to Bosnia in the 1990s and says America's military may end up stepping in.

We also have new reports tonight from the Middle East that Iran is moving more of its uranium enrichment activity deep underground, inside a mountain in anticipation of a U.S. or Israeli air strike.

Number two, a Los Angeles elementary school at the center of two child abuse cases will be closed temporarily. Miramonte Elementary will be closed through Wednesday to, quote, "take a break." A school official told OUTFRONT a quarter of the students were absent today. Last week, teacher Mark Berndt was arrested after police say they discovered that he took bondage photos of more than two dozen children.

Then on Friday, a fellow teacher, Martin Springer, was arrested for allegedly fondling two young girls in his classroom. We're told the school board will vote tomorrow on whether to fire Springer.

Number three, the death toll is rising from an unrelenting winter storm battering Europe. The Ukraine appears to be the hardest hit so far. The breadbasket of Europe, more than 120 deaths from temperatures below 10 degrees and likely to stay there for the rest of the week. Dozens also reportedly dead in Russia, Rumania and Poland.

The world's busiest airport, London's Heathrow, is back open after canceling half of its flights on Sunday. The cancellations affected 20,000 passengers. Some that I know just flew into Heathrow this afternoon late and they say the airport is now operating as normal.

Number four, Netflix will soon have some competition in the online streaming business. Verizon and Redbox, which you may be familiar with; it's a DVD kiosk company, you know, sometimes you see it at Walmart -- they announced they are launching a subscription streaming service later this year.

They're both being pretty vague about the details, but we looked at the numbers. It's a really rapidly growing service that's been dominated by Netflix. They have 23 million streaming subscribers. Netflix says it can add 2 million more in just the next few months.

Well, it has been 185 days since America lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back? Well, we may be spending more on the military, you know, with those recent cutbacks, because violence in Syria is reaching a breaking point.

Human rights groups report at least 74 civilians have been killed just today across the country. Now the U.S. State Department announced that it is pulling out all of its remaining staff because the Syrian government would not address American security concerns.

Now a few moments ago, CNN's Arwa Damon joined me from Beirut, and I asked her how bad the violence was in Syria today.

ARWA DAMON, CNN REPORTER: You know, Erin, they're describing scenes that they themselves are saying are unimaginable. It's utterly hair-raising. They say that no one has been spared the violence, especially in the flashpoint city of Homs, that has emerged as the epicenter of clashes between government forces and the Free Syrian Army, the opposition fighting force.

One of them was talking about how difficult it was for him to see this 4-year-old girl that he said had been wounded, another 6-year-old girl that also had an injury to her eye, yet another child that had his entire jaw blown off. The agony that the parents are going through, some of whom are wounded, others just in utter pain because they've been unable to protect their children. And then, of course, they are -- there are the countless, countless deaths. Activists are saying that the bombardment by the Syrian government has been absolutely merciless at this stage.

BURNETT: And, Arwa, you talk about Homs as the epicenter of the violence, but has it spread? In your judgment, at this point, is this a full-fledged civil war? Is it a national or is it still in certain areas?

DAMON: It's very close to being a full-fledged civil war. Now Homs, yes, it's the epicenter of all of the violence. It's where a lot of it is focused, quite simply, because it is the city where the Free Syrian Army has managed to, relatively speaking, grow in numbers.

But you do also see a fair amount of clashes and violence happening up in Idlib Province, for example, right up against the border with Turkey. And there has also been, in the last week, a lot of clashes taking place in the Damascus suburbs because, around a week ago, these areas, too, were no longer in government control.

In fact, some of the clashes taking place just a 10, 15 minute drive away from the heart of the capital. So it seems that, especially in the last few days, the government has been really trying to go into these areas where the Free Syrian Army is managing to operate, at least to a certain degree, to try to crush it once and for all.

BURNETT: And why did the U.S. decide to evacuate its embassy now? I mean, obviously, there's been a rocky relationship between the embassy and the government for a while, and our ambassador had to leave because of rocks and securities (sic) concerns a few months ago. So, why was it so bad this time they had to completely leave?

DAMON: The U.S. embassy's location in Damascus, it's fairly exposed. It's very vulnerable. There is no real solid security around it, and so the Americans have asked the Syrian government to beef up security around its embassy. That did not take place. So, finally, the U.S. saying that because of security, it felt the need to have to shut down its operations at this stage, Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Arwa. Thank you very much. Arwa Damon reporting from Beirut tonight.

Well, Andrew Tabler has interviewed President Bashar al-Assad. He spent a lot of time with him and a lot of time reporting in Syria. He's the author of "In the Lion's Den: An Eyewitness Account of Washington's Battle with Syria."

Andrew Tabler is OUTFRONT tonight. Good to see you, sir. Really appreciate it. I guess, Andrew, if I may, I want to start off with a comment that you made. We began our program talking about that you see real similarities between Syria now and what we saw in Bosnia in the 1990s. What exactly do you mean? ANDREW TABLER, RESEARCH FELLOW, THE WASHINGTON INSTITUTE: We have areas of Syria that are breaking outside of government control. Now, the state is reasserting its control there in a game of whack-a- mole, where it hits the protestors -- the armed (ph) opposition very hard, but the army can't be everywhere at the same time, and so then it has to withdraw.

And then the armed opposition comes up somewhere else. This is wearing down Assad's forces and it is slowly pulling the Syrian conflict out of control and into the bloody insurgency that we all feared would take place with a lack of international action.

BURNETT: And so, when you talk about -- use the words, a blood bath, what really is at risk of happening in Syria?

TABLER: What's going to happen is that the regime is trying impose what they call is the security solution, and then with Russian help, try and impose some small changes in the country to reform and to save the regime.

So then, of course, the Syrian people aren't having any of it. They're -- they continue to remain out in the streets for 11 months. This is going to drive up death tolls. You can have areas of the country falling outside of government control and the regime desperately trying to reassert its control.

BURNETT: So how is this different, in your view, from Libya? I mean, perhaps it's more like what was happening in Egypt a year ago. But, you know, obviously, the president has said this is different, and has seemed to say, at least at this point, that we're not going to be militarily intervening in Syria the way the United States did in Libya. Will the U.S. end up going into Syria?

TABLER: If these areas of Syria fall outside of government control and they're quote-unquote "liberated," and then the regime continues to try and crack down, that could drive up death tolls so that neighboring countries intervene.

And that's where in Bosnia, of course, we had the idea of the safe havens. and it's into this kind of humanitarian framework that the United States could participate, so it would be different than Libya, where you had suddenly part of the country breaking away, missile strikes, a civil war and in this particular case, I think any kind of intervention would be humanitarian and, I think, actually much needed.

BURNETT: All right, well, thank you very much. Andrew, we appreciate your taking the time and everyone please tweet me if you have a point of view on whether the U.S. should intervene in Syria for humanitarian reasons or otherwise. I'm very curious to see how people fall on that one.

OUTFRONT next, the president defends his super PAC, and the husband of a missing woman blows himself up and his two sons. It is a horrific story. His sister-in-law says it could have been prevented. She's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: So super PACs in this election have raised a stunning $78 million so far. And at the top of the spending chart, Pro- Romneys, the pro-Romney super PAC with at least $30 million raised. The super PAC which supports President Obama has raised $4.4 million.

And, by the way, this is all really chump change compared to what they're going to be raising over the next few months. I mean, everyone talks about this election, it's going to be many billions of dollars.

The president weighed in today on the large amount of money that's been raised for the super PACs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you ask me would I love to take some of the big money out of politics? I would. Unfortunately, right now, partly because of Supreme Court rulings and a bunch of decisions out there, it is very hard to be able to get your message out without having some resources.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well, meanwhile, a new ABC "Washington Post" poll showed that while the country is completely split on whether President Obama should get a second term, voters also believe that if the general election were to be held today, the president would beat Mitt Romney and he would definitely beat Newt Gingrich.

OUTFRONT now political reporter Ken Vogel and Democratic strategist Jamal Simons, also, Republican strategist Doug Heye, OK, great to have all three of you with us. We appreciate it. Interesting news, when you look at this, Ken, about the super PACs, right?

I mean, I guess he's basically saying I don't like them, but since I can't change the rule, I'm not going to say I won't play in the sandbox because people will throw sand in my face and I'll lose, so I'm not going to play, right?

KEN VOGEL, REPORTER, "POLITICO": That's right. He's trying to have it both ways here. And this is a president who, going back to his earliest days in politics, has made getting rid of the interests of the influence of big money in politics sort of a central part of his political identity. In 2008, he and Senator McCain combined to discourage outside spending in their race.

In 2010, he complained about it bitterly when Karl Rove and some of these Republicans raised a lot of money in some of these outside groups. But after they -- Rove and these outside groups beat Democrats rather badly in the midterm elections, Democrats started to back away from their opposition and now you see them actively trying to raise this exact same kind of money. BURNETT: Yes, I mean, I guess there is an irony to it. I mean, you know, I know it wasn't long ago that Mitt Romney was having that same conversation. "Oh, I hate those super PACs," I believe on "Morning Joe." So now that they're both in the same position.

Jamal, what do you make, though, of how polls go, that the public is completely split on its second term, but right now, for the first time in a while, those polls have been dead heat between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. Now we choose the president.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: You know, this is what happens when you are an incumbent without a challenger in a primary.

You have the ability to go out and communicate every day, talking directly to voters, people in the middle of the electorate, make sure they know what you think, while on the other hand you've got Mitt Romney, who is battling Newt Gingrich to capture the hearts and minds of the conservatives, the more right-leaning people in the party.

So it makes sense that over time, the independents will begin to like the president more because he's been talking to the independents, while Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich have been talking to more conservative voters.

But you know, keep in mind, this is a poll of registered voters, not likely voters. And those of us who kind of do this stuff for a living tend to pay more attention to likely voter polls than registered voter polls. But either way, it's a good directional shift for the president.

BURNETT: And, Doug, what do you make of this? I mean, that -- it's -- some people have said, OK, look, having a nasty primary might be good for Mitt Romney. He'll get better at the debates and things like that, and that will help him and maybe that's been the case.

But, certainly, he's had to appeal to narrow groups, as David Frum was talking about earlier in the show, as opposed to trying to put out policies that will appeal to the 40 percent of the electorate that describe themselves as independents.

DOUG HEYE, FORMER RNC COMMUNICATIONS CHAIRMAN: Sure, probably good in the long-term, but bad in the short-term, meaning in polls like this today -- but the ABC "Washington Post" poll is also a national poll. And where I think Republicans take heart is drilling down in the states.

If you look at swing states like Florida, Nevada, Ohio, these are states where economic confidence in the direction our country's going in the bottom 10. My home state of North Carolina, which Barack Obama barely won, unemployment's at 10 percent. Voters are unhappy. It's another state that we can pick off.

And in Iowa, when Barack Obama was president, the Democrats in Iowa had an advantage of registration, about 110,000. As of the Iowa caucus, that's down to 4,500. So we have some things on the ground in the states when we really drill down that are going in our direction. And that's where we hope to see big success come November.

BURNETT: How much money, Ken, are we going to have when all is said and done?

VOGEL: Well, the FEC estimated that we could have -- that's the Federal Election Commission -- upwards of $10 billion spent on this election.

I don't think that's an exaggeration, when you factor in how all these super PACs and all these other outside groups are going to spend, not just in the presidential, but also in the congressional races, then you add in the parties, and the candidates themselves, and we're going to see quite a bit of money, record-shattering spending in this election, no doubt.

BURNETT: All right.

SIMMONS: Erin, you put a --

BURNETT: Yes, go ahead, Jamal.

SIMMONS: -- you put a very good graphic up a second ago that had the $4 million the president -- super PAC supporting the president raised versus the $30 million for Mitt Romney's. You know, there's that other PAC out there that's Karl Rove's PAC.

The Republicans on the super PAC front are doing a lot better than the president's and the Democratic side is, although the president's doing very well and raising money for the Democratic party and for himself. I think there's going to be very -- that disparity is probably going to keep things about even.

But when you're running a presidential campaign, there's so much free media. Their message counts, your -- and who your candidate is counts so much that they've got -- I think that will even things out for both sides.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to all three of you. We appreciate it.

And tonight, we have some terrible details in the case of Josh Powell. He was the man who, police say, killed himself and his two young sons when he blew up his home late yesterday in Washington state. You're looking at the pictures there. Police say it was the explosion -- the explosion was very carefully planned.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ED TROYER, PIERCE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: We've discovered multiple e-mails that he sent to his pastor, he sent to his cousins and he sent to other people that are a bit longer in length. They dictate what to do with the utilities, what to do with his money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Powell's wife, Susan Cox Powell, was last seen two years ago in Utah. He and his sons went on a camping trip. Now Josh Powell had long since been a suspect in his wife's disappearance. Powell had lost custody of his sons, Braden (ph), who was five, and Charlie (ph), who was seven. And last week, a judge rejected his petition to have his children returned to his care.

Susan Cox Powell's sister, Denise Cox, is OUTFRONT tonight. And Denise, thank you for being with us in what obviously is a terrible time for you. And I'm -- you know, no words and so sorry to hear about those boys.

You, though, said that you thought -- you saw this coming? You saw signs that Josh might do something. What did you see?

DENISE COX, DISAPPEARED WOMAN'S SISTER: The way the kids were acting, and how they were being closer to us and shutting down on him, and the way they were opening up to my family on what happened with their mom, and the statements they were saying, and the way he was losing control. He had to get it back somehow.

BURNETT: And I know you're -- I think I'm -- and correct me if I am wrong, but what you're referring to is the boys, obviously, when this happened, were 2 and 5, and now they were starting to remember certain things that might have happened that night that they were -- that he didn't want them to talk about?

COX: Yes. I think he -- I believe he felt they forgot what happened or they were too tired. He underestimated his children, which are very bright children. And when they started getting comfortable with our family, he got scared and figured he had nothing left to do, other than take them.

BURNETT: Had they said anything to you, Denise, or anyone else in your family about what they saw that night?

COX: They -- the boys never -- when I got a chance to see them, they didn't talk about their dad to me. I -- they -- he wasn't ever brought up in my conversations with them.

It was more his mother, because I grew up with her, and they wanted to know -- wanted me to tell stories about how she was and what she liked to do and her interests and just what kind of person their mother was, because they were not allowed to talk about their mother or mention her name around their dad.

BURNETT: What did your sister tell you about her relationship with Josh? And I know you believe that he is guilty of killing her, right?

COX: Oh, absolutely. She was wanting to leave him and -- but she figured if she stuck it out and they went to counseling, they would fix things. And as much as I told her that it can't be fixed, it's past that point and you need to move on, I offered to pick her up and come get her and just grab the boys, I'll come get you.

And when things were getting really bad, she just said, no, she wanted to work it out. And she was -- it was hard to talk to her about much of anything, though, because Josh was always around and I had to try to call her when he wasn't around.

BURNETT: Well, Denise, thank you very much for coming OUTFRONT. And I'm so sorry for such a horribly tragic ending for those boys.

All right. Next, we're going to be talking about Clint Eastwood and American manufacturing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINT EASTWOOD, ACTOR: This country can't be knocked out with one punch. We get right back up again and when we do, the world's going to hear the roar of our engines. Yeah, it's halftime, America, and our second half is about to begin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: This ad with Clint Eastwood about Detroit, which aired last night in last night's Super Bowl got a lot of people talking about a comeback in American manufacturing. And then for Super Bowl viewers, only in the state of Michigan, there was this controversial ad from Republican Pete Hoekstra, who's running against Democratic incumbent senator, Debbie Stabenow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs. Thank you, Debbie Spend-it Now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Now, Hoekstra's in some hot water over potentially faking that woman's accent.

But the ad's message, along with the Clint Eastwood commercial, got me thinking, what kinds of jobs do we want in America? Our Stan Grant talked to workers at an Apple contractor. It was a Foxconn contractor in China, where they make iPads. Now this woman had never seen a finished iPad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

"MS. CHEN," FOXCONN EMPLOYEE: I like it.

STAN GRANT, CNN REPORTER: You like it?

"MS. CHEN": Yes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: She makes less than a dollar an hour assembling that iPad. And the tough question for America is do we want those kinds of jobs back? Steve Jobs famously told the president last year before he died that, quote, "American manufacturing jobs are not coming back." In the case of Apple, we looked into the numbers. There are 246 retail Apple stores in America. They employ about 30,000 people, dubbed by Apple as geniuses. Now while that pales in comparison to the estimated 1.2 million Chinese Foxconn employees, who make products for Apple and Microsoft, the jobs pay, well, a lot more.

And we thought it was time to throw some not-well-known facts onto the table in this debate. One, we do make things in America -- a lot of things.

According to the U.S. Federal Reserve, 89 percent of American consumer spending is on items made right here in the United States of America. A lot of that is on services, food and things like that. But we make cars and washing machines here, just ask GE. Imports from China account for -- this is amazing -- only 2.5 percent of U.S. GDP.

And, two, we aren't going to be able to make the things that China makes more cheaply. Take clothing, about 40 percent there of what we buy is made in China. That's because they can do it cheaply, and if they didn't do it, another even poorer country would.

The truth is, we want wages to grow in America. We need to make things other countries can't. That will always mean cars, but it also needs to mean sophisticated high-end engineering products, too.

Too many CEOs of Midwest-based companies tell me they can't find Americans qualified for the manufacturing jobs they have. And that's something we can change with education and training to keep America great.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts now.