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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Iran and Obama; Obama's Campaign Target; Social Issues; Rutgers Webcam Trial

Aired March 8, 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: Just moments ago, Israel's prime minister announced a timetable for strikes on Iran and we have a ruling today on Haley Barbour's controversial pardons that freed convicted murderers. And the Obama administration has hired a team of engineers to learn as much about you as possible. Oh, yes. What did they find out and what are they going to do with it?

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett and OUTFRONT tonight, is it time to trust, time for a breakthrough between the West and Iran? Today was all about trust between Iran and the United States and possible talks until just moments ago when Israel's prime minister gave an interview throwing cold water on the situation and laying out a time frame for a strike. In a later interview in Tel Aviv with Israeli TV's Channel 2, Benjamin Netanyahu said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL (through translator): I am not standing with a stopwatch in hand. It is not a matter of days and weeks, but also not a matter of years. Everybody understands this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Now this is his first interview since visiting with President Obama and it confirms what we reported on this show, which is that President Obama had delayed Israel's plans to strike Iran this spring, but have not stopped them. Netanyahu's words of course leaves the extremely political sensitive U.S. election time frame purposely wide open for an Israeli strike, but on a day when the U.S. and Europeans have agreed to go back to the negotiating table with Iran, the Israeli news is a splash of cold water, proving Israel is not backing down on trying to force a quote, unquote "window".

Now talks with Iran have failed since 2009 due in part to the West's insistence that all Iran's nuclear activities be on the table including enriching uranium for nuclear power, which Iran insists is the only goal of its nuclear program and it is something the Iranian ambassador to the IAEA told me recently Iran will quote, "never, ever suspend." Now there was one other unexpected thing that happened today and this was really fascinating.

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised President Obama who cited a quote "window of opportunity" to revolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program diplomatically. The Ayatollah told a group of clerics, quote, "this expression is a good word. This is a wise remark indicating talking distance from illusion." Sources tell CNN's Elise Labott that Khamenei may be seriously worried about a military attack or about the United States' crippling sanctions, and so he's trying to make an overture to the president.

It all leads us to ask is it possible for a major breakthrough between Iran and the West? OUTFRONT tonight David Albright, he's a former U.N. weapons inspector and president for the Institute for Science and International Security, Hooman Majd, who wrote the provocative "New York Times" op-ed this weekend entitled "Starving Iran will not Free it" and an Iranian American journalist who is also author of "The Ayatollah Begs to Differ" and of course with us Jamie Rubin, former assistant secretary of state for public affairs. OK, great to have all of you with us. Hooman let me start with you. What the Ayatollah said about President Obama, what was he really saying?

HOOMAN MAJD, AUTHOR, "THE AYATOLLAH BEGS TO DIFFER": Well I think he was allowing for there to be some room for negotiations. I think it was a clear indication from Iran that negotiations is their preference. They want to negotiate. They've indicated that for a long time, by the way. They constantly say we won't negotiate under threats. And when you start taking back -- stepping back from that threat of war, that's an opening as far as Iran is concerned, and I think the Ayatollah wanted to signal that and he's in charge. It's not President Ahmadinejad. He's the one who is in charge. He's the one who's going to make decisions on Iran's nuclear program and he was just signaling that they are open as long as these threats are stepped back from.

BURNETT: Jamie, do you think that there will be talks and will there be breakthroughs especially with this whole issue of quote, unquote, "preconditions"? I mean it makes a lot of sense that Iran would say get out of my business when -- if I want to have nuclear power, right? A lot of countries have nuclear power. Why should that be a precondition?

JAMIE RUBIN, FMR. ASST. SECRETARY OF STATE: I don't think the U.S. has denied Iran the right to nuclear power. I think there's a lot of smoke being thrown in people's eyes right now. Let's start with Prime Minister Netanyahu. The Israelis very much want the world to be talking about the possibility of a military strike. They believe and have said very candidly --

BURNETT: Yes.

RUBIN: -- the more that seems real to Iran the greater the chance that this can be revolved without it. Secondly, Ayatollah Khamenei clearly is worried about sanctions and clearly likes President Obama they've said from the beginning, personally. And so when President Obama was talking very disparagingly about Republicans and others who were talking of war, it suits the Ayatollah to praise President Obama for that. As far as a breakthrough is concerned, it's going to require some hard things from the United States that we've never been prepared to do and hard things from the Iranian. BURNETT: What do we have to do?

RUBIN: We have to accept a deal that's less than a complete ending of Iranian enrichment and the Iranians will have to find a way diplomatically or openly to admit that some programs occurred in the past that were military in nature. Because that's what the inspectors are going to try to determine and until they've gotten to the bottom of those pieces of evidence, the world will not be satisfied that this program is only of a peaceful nature.

BURNETT: And David, that brings me to you as a former U.N. weapons inspector. What do you make of what you've heard in recent days from the IAEA, which has been very clear in saying it is not sure that there have been indications the program is for military uses and just yesterday started talking about one of the key sites they've been denied access to, the Parchin site being quote, unquote "cleaned up".

DAVID ALBRIGHT, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: Well the IAEA is very worried. I mean the evidence they have is pretty compelling that Iran had a nuclear weapons program in the past that may be ongoing, and so they want to get to the bottom of it and Iran has just not cooperated. And I think what Jamie said is very important. It's really essential that Iran start to what we would call come -- start coming clean about its past nuclear weapons activities.

I mean no one's saying they're building a bomb now or have decided to build a bomb now, but they need to start coming clean and restoring their credibility. Frankly, they're seen as being dissemblers on just basic issues involving past nuclear activities and if they would take that step forward, I don't think they would be punished. I think they would be welcomed for it. And it's a step that several countries in the past did and it turned out to be the way forward to a solution. Whether Iran will do that I don't know. What they've done in the last several days at the -- in Vienna at the International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors meeting makes me think they're not ready to do that and we're headed for a very difficult negotiation --

BURNETT: Go ahead.

(CROSSTALK)

MAJD: We never ask whether the Iranians are telling the truth. What if they didn't have a nuclear program, a nuclear weapons program?

BURNETT: Right.

MAJD: David and other people tend to ignore that. What if they are telling the truth? What if that laptop that everybody talks about at the IAEA has this laptop that Iran for years has said is a forger, is a fake. What if that's true that it's a fake? How do you prove a negative? I mean that's the situation we had in Iraq. How do you prove a negative? I mean it's a very difficult thing to do --

ALBRIGHT: It's not at a negative. Sorry, it's not at all a negative. I was very much involved in debunking many of the claims about Iraq. Iran --

(CROSSTALK)

MAJD: You were who was saying -- you were the one who was saying before the Iraq invasion that they had -- definitely had chemical and biological weapons --

ALBRIGHT: I'm sorry. I was talking about their nuclear program --

(CROSSTALK)

ALBRIGHT: And I was talking about their nuclear program --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's kind of like --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Look --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a little dangerous, isn't it?

(CROSSTALK)

RUBIN: What we're seeing here, Erin, is an important debate and it's important because last time the United States did make a mistake, they went to war on the promise of --

BURNETT: Right.

RUBIN: -- weapons of mass destruction and that hangs heavy over the world's perceptions of the United States and that's why I think it is important for us to do this by the book, using the Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA's work, the U.N.'s work and saying that once those peaceful intentions have been confirmed, that we the United States are prepared to make our concessions and that means lifting sanctions. That means figure out a way so that Iran doesn't want to have nuclear weapons because its security isn't threatened. That's stuff that we haven't really been prepared to do or talk about openly. We need to do that if we want to avoid what President Obama said, which is the risks and dangers of using military force again.

BURNETT: Well, it does seem at least rhetorically that it has been talked into a situation where there is a window. And if there isn't a resolution, someone is going to be forced to do what they said or never be trusted again, if that's Israel, I mean people -- I can see how they might go. But David, what do they need -- what does Iran need to do to have the world trust them that whatever they did or didn't do is done and they're not doing anything? What do they have to do?

ALBRIGHT: Well one is -- I mean the IAEA has looked at this information for a long time. It's not about proving a negative at all. In fact there's very positive evidence that the IAEA wants to talk to Iran about and since 2008, Iran has refused to talk about it. And during the last week, what they did is they further told the IAEA that they were going to remove whole areas that they would not talk about. And that concerns what we call procurement.

Efforts by Iran to buy things overseas or the actual buying of things overseas and then that information shows that something has gone on that Iran is not telling the truth about and the IAEA wants to go there and talk to them and now they're starting to remove whole areas. And so that's why I'm a little worried. Now what I hope is that the supreme leader will intervene and will overturn this situation that was done in Vienna and start to talk openly about their program with the inspectors.

And remember the inspectors are the ones who are able to get to the bottom of the whole question on Iraq's WMD and raise serious questions about that before the invasion and particularly on the nuclear and so to now turn on them and say well somehow they're disassembling that the inspectors I think is disingenuous that the inspectors have been the ones that have done the honest job to try to figure things out. They said there isn't much there in the case of Iraq. They're saying there is something there in the case of Iran.

RUBIN: I think what we can't expect and this is the hardest thing for people as well intentioned and expert as David to appreciate. It's very hard for a country to say they lied. And so, we need to figure out a way where information can be provided where evidence can be provided, where answers can be given that are not in the context of they're not telling the truth. Now, they admitted they lied. Countries don't like to admit they lied.

BURNETT: Well you know what rule number one is on this show, we'll leave it at this, everybody lies, everybody, all right, so we all have.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Except for the three that are here tonight, all right, all right?

OK, well there's a lot more to come on this and we have a really fascinating story on Iran and the U.S. that we're pretty excited about coming up next week. President Obama hiring a team of scientists to study you is next and they're using it to target your vote. They're nuclear scientists, ironically. And the prosecution rests in the Rutgers sex cam suicide trial, what the defense needs to do to save its client. And gas prices could hit record highs very soon. Who is to blame?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: If you've posted something political on Facebook, the president's reelection campaign may be watching you. The Obama campaign is amping up its voter analysis, hiring scientists, engineers, statisticians, mathematicians to mine through troves of available data to study voter patterns and behaviors. (INAUDIBLE) information is obviously potentially invaluable because the campaign can then use it to target the people whose support it needs most. White House correspondent Brianna Keilar has more and Brianna, this is pretty amazing. How does this work? So theoretically you're into something. I'm into something else. We each get an ad saying Obama loves that thing, right?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes and this is a whole team, part of the Obama campaign that's dedicated to analyzing data about people and the answers that they're really looking for, Erin, are how persuadable are voters. What kinds of things really resonate with them? When are they moving toward President Obama? When are they moving away? And this is a high-tech take-off of some more traditional measures that we've seen like door knocking or phone calls.

Now, there is one man though who's pretty much running this whole thing. He's in charge of this unit. His name is Rai Ghani (ph). He's an expert in data mining and something that's called predictive analytics. So what is that? Well that is really figuring out specifically in his case, voter behavior and being able to predict how voters will respond. Over the last several months, his team has hired a number of specialists who are specialists in things like social media and digital marketing.

BURNETT: I've got to say (INAUDIBLE) because that picture looked like some kind of a scary mug shot, that guy, but it actually brings me to the question there is a little bit of a creepy factor to all this, isn't there?

KEILAR: Yes, there's something about this that I think especially when you're looking at someone and a lot of people have an experience in data mining, it sort of evokes some of the concerns that people have about be it online privacy or some of the things that they've learned about marketing in recent years that they didn't know about. But the campaign is insistent that they're not doing anything sketchy, that they're walking on the straight and narrow here and really they say what they're trying to do is predict voter behavior so that they can figure out exactly whether voters are persuadable and the bottom line they say is just figuring out, for instance, how many voters they can register or really get to the polls in battleground states so they can get 270 electoral votes.

BURNETT: So John Avlon is coming on in a second. If John is -- does he get the same ads that I would get or no?

KEILAR: No, now I don't know how much exactly this pertains specifically to this group that's working in the Obama campaign; but just for instance, I'm registered to get the e-mails from the Obama campaign for research sake as are my producers. I think it was a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from a female campaign aide talking about contraception as an issue and yet my producer Adam did not, so certainly we're being targeted in different ways.

BURNETT: All right, thank you very much, Brianna. And as promised, John Avlon is here. Jen Psaki is also here, former deputy communications director for President Obama and Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor for the "National Review" -- OK, good to have all of you with us. But Jen, I have to start with you. So Brianna is just talking about how people get different ads, women getting ads from the president on contraception and social issues, hot issue in recent weeks. Is the White House going to keep hammering on these social issues and target them at women?

JEN PSAKI, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well look what's important is that the last couple of weeks, the debate has been not just about any social issue, but about women having access to birth control. And because we're not in 1950 and because the majority of women in this country and men actually support women having access to birth control, this has really shed a light on how extreme and how far to the right the Republican platform has gone. So in many ways, this has motivated and excited women voters, Independent voters, people who weren't necessarily paying attention. And you know what the White House is doing is raising awareness for this issue and what's at stake for this election, which I think everybody would expect they'd be doing.

BURNETT: Ramesh, You think this focus on social issues is going to be just an unmitigated pleasant thing for the president?

RAMESH PONNURU, SENIOR EDITOR, NATIONAL REVIEW: No, and I think that Democrats are really getting ahead of themselves and assuming that it is. It is certainly true that particularly Rush Limbaugh's comments set the Republicans cause back. But I don't think this is a cut and dried issue that helps them. I mean if you look at Massachusetts, for example, Scott Brown has been strongly in defense of religious freedom, the Republican senator there. The Democrat who is -- one of the Democrats challenging him, Elizabeth Warren has tried to make an issue out of it and what do you know, Scott Brown has been moving ahead in the polls, not going behind.

BURNETT: All right, there's a sound bite I want to play. A man is going to be speaking at the Democratic National Convention, rising star in the Democratic Party, shows some of the possible mines the president could step on, on this. This is Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa talking about something he thinks needs to go on to the Democratic Party platform in a formal way, which is not now. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that the Democratic National platform should have a marriage equality plank (ph)?

ANTONIO VILLARAIGOSA, LOS ANGELES MAYOR: I do. I do. You know I think it's basic to who we are. I don't think the government should be in that business and of denying people the fundamental right to marry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So, John Avlon --

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes.

BURNETT: People may be more comfortable with gay marriage than they've ever been before, but putting it as a formal tentative your party's platform, as the mayor said, is probably not something the president wants to do. AVLON: It puts him in a double bind (ph) there's no question. The president has stayed away from this issue. He is not in favor of marriage equality because in --

BURNETT: He's evolving.

AVLON: He's evolving, which is code for let's talk about it in my second term. If all of a sudden you get this in a plank (ph) it does potentially create a real problem. It creates a Democrat's problem on social issues. What's fascinating is how much this issue has evolved though. Fifty-nine percent of Independent voters now support marriage equality. That's 10 points up from just last year --

BURNETT: Incredible.

AVLON: So you've seen a seed (ph) change in American opinion on this issue. Still very polarizing especially among the activists in both parties but it would put the president in a bit of a double bind (ph).

BURNETT: All right let's talk the 2012 race here. Now, this whole issue of who's getting in, who's not getting in. John, you've done some digging. Just in terms of if Newt Gingrich got out, for example --

AVLON: Right.

BURNETT: -- do all those votes go to Rick Santorum and if so, does that crush Romney, I mean the math?

AVLON: Not all of them, but the vast majority.

BURNETT: Yes.

AVLON: I mean and we've seen this, you know, in Missouri when they had their beauty pageant contest a little while ago and it was just Newt Gingrich wasn't on the ballot, Santorum got 55 percent of the vote, now Mitt Romney, 25. So that shows what Santorum could do if Gingrich isn't there siphoning off conservative votes. He would have won Ohio. Gingrich got 15 percent of the vote in Ohio. Those votes had gone even two-thirds of those conservative votes had gone to Rick Santorum, he would have won Ohio.

BURNETT: Could he get the nomination?

AVLON: It changes the math. It makes it more competitive, you know and that's the key right now, it's all a delegate --

BURNETT: Jen and Ramesh, I'll give you a chance to react to something that Romney said today that honestly I just had to play tonight. Here's Mitt Romney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Keeping me up at night? Not much that keeps me up at night. I must admit by the end of the day --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

ROMNEY: -- I am tired and I always eat something at the end of the day. My favorite is cold cereal. So I try to eat some cold cereal at the end of the day and a full tummy and a long day puts me right to bed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, what kind of cereal do you like? We're big cereal fans around here? What's your cereal?

ROMNEY: Well you know I like Honey Nut Cheerios --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go.

ROMNEY: And I like Honey Nut Chex and let's see I like Crispix --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: Sorry. The whole thing is just absolutely bizarre. Full tummy, OK, Jen, what do you think?

PSAKI: Wow. I'm glad that cereal helps Mitt Romney sleep through the night given we're still recovering, our economy is still recovering. We have a few national security issues at hand. I will tell you there are a few issues that keep the president up and I don't think even if he has a bowl of cereal, he's sleeping through the night without worry.

BURNETT: All right, thanks to -- thanks to all three of you. We appreciate it. Full tummy -- I don't know -- it's just something about hearing it out of a grown man, it was somewhat strange, OK.

Now to a very serious story, this is the Rutgers webcam spying trial. We've had nine days of testimony; nearly two dozen witnesses took the stand. Prosecutors rested their case against former Rutgers student Dharun Ravi today. Now he's accused of placing a web cam in his room to spy on his roommate Tyler Clementi and purposely humiliating Tyler because he was gay. Now Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in 2010.

That was after he learned that Ravi and others watched him have a romantic encounter with another man and then they talked about it online. Now Ravi's defense team says he set up the webcam because he was worried about his roommate's older unknown lovers stealing his stuff but some of the evidence against him came from Ravi himself as detectives questioned him about his prolific text messaging.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to have those logs. The first thing I'm doing is getting your text logs. Every text you sent from that phone. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, what I'm telling you here is if there's something you want -- I'd rather it come from you. (INAUDIBLE) OK listen, this is what this young man told us. If I go in and find this --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have stuff to say then.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well then you damn well better say it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was talking to my friend Michelle from Cornell. I told her what happened. We were just joking around saying (INAUDIBLE) Tuesday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was telling her we should do it and I was joking around, like oh kids here saying they're going to have a viewing party --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It just seems like you do a lot of joking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Ravi's team will begin their defense tomorrow by questioning an investigator on the case followed by several character witnesses. Paul Callan is a criminal defense attorney. As you know he's been following the case for us. Paul they're going to -- eight or nine character witnesses are going to come to -- in support of Dharun Ravi. Is that going to be enough to get past some of this testimony, which is just -- it's hard to see how you get past that, isn't it?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: They need a lot more than character witnesses. Now, I understand why the defense is doing this. They're going to try to throw up the fact that this is a good kid. He's a nice guy. His friends like him --

BURNETT: Did something stupid, maybe heartless, but he's not a bad guy.

CALLAN: Yes, exactly, but you know it's like waving a white flag when you call character witnesses in a criminal case. It means you don't have the evidence so let's call his friends to say he's a nice guy, so I don't think it's enough. I think they need more.

BURNETT: Should he take the stand, Dharun Ravi?

CALLAN: You know, the usual thing is, don't put your client on the stand. I would put him on the witness stand. I would let him tell his story to the jury. Let him cry. Let him indicate how horrible this has been for his life. I think that's the only thing that could really save him in this case, because if the jury likes him and they think he's just some dopey adolescent who made a bad decision, maybe he walks out of that courtroom.

BURNETT: Before we go, he's deleted text messages, Twitter thing -- Twitters that he sent -- tweets, sorry -- to some of his friends, one of which he tweeted one of his friends, did you tell them we did it on purpose about the webcam. What's that's going to do, the deleting?

CALLAN: Wow, valuable lesson here. You delete those tweet -- those Twitter or text messages these were --

BURNETT: Yes.

CALLAN: You think they're gone. They're not gone. The police got them back. This is the most damaging evidence against him on the hindering apprehension charge, which is the charge of trying to cover up and lawyers often say watch out for the cover up because that's even more dangerous than the crime itself sometimes --

BURNETT: Cover up is worse than the crime.

CALLAN: You bet --

BURNETT: Thank you very much Paul Callan.

Well a ruling by the Supreme Court in the case of Haley Barbour's controversial pardons late this afternoon, was he in the right to pardon those convicted murderers? And a viral video racks up millions of hits on the Web. What's it all about?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting, do the work and find the "OutFront 5". In his first interview since meeting with President Obama on Monday Israel's prime minister gave a time frame for a strike on Iran.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NETANYAHU (through translator): I am not standing with a stopwatch in hand. It is not a matter of days or weeks, but also not a matter of years. Everybody understands this.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Well this confirms what we have been telling you on this show, which is that President Obama delayed Israel's plans to strike Iran this spring, but did not stop them. Netanyahu's comments come on the same day the U.S. and Europeans have agreed to go back to talks with Iran. Former U.N. weapons inspector David Albright tells OUTFRONT it's essential Iran go to the negotiating table ready to come out and admit they did something in the past with nuclear weapons. It is unclear whether that happened or whether it will happen.

Number two, the present price of e-books are at the center of a Department of Justice probe. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting that Apple has been warned it could be hit with a lawsuit over allegedly teaming up with publishers to raise the price of e-books. Apple and Amazon have deals which forbid publishers from offering deeper discounts to other retailers.

James McQuivey from Forrester Research told OUTFRONT if that pricing model is rejected, e-book prices could drop by 20 percent. And you know what I want? More real books.

Number three: U.S. Treasury selling some of its stake in AIG. Taxpayers selling nearly $207 million of their AIG shares at $29 a pop, that brings in $6 billion. Half of the shares actually are being bought by AIG.

Now, this may sound like a lot, but after this sale, taxpayers will still own 1.25 billion share of AIG valued at $36 billion. Barclays' Jay Gelb says it looks like the Treasury is focused on getting out of AIG at a profit, which probably will not happen with shares taxpayers own.

Number four: initial jobless claims jumped to 362,000 from 354,000 in the prior week. Today's report comes ahead of tomorrow's unemployment numbers. We're going to get that key rate in the morning. Nineteen economists surveyed by CNN Money are predicting 210,000 jobs were added in February, leaving the unemployment rate unchanged at 8.3 percent.

It's been 217 days since we lost our top credit rating. What is the United States doing to get it back?

Well, you may remember that one of the reasons we lost our AAA rating was because Congress was fighting over the debt ceiling. Well, today, we got a little agreement. The House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan bill aimed at helping start-up businesses. It eases Securities and Exchange Commission rules on small company. The Senate is working on its own version.

Hey, one small step for Congress. One great step for the United States.

Well, more than 200 convicts including four murderers are free tonight after the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the pardons granted by former Governor Haley Barbour before he left office in January. Now, the ruling was 6-3 late this afternoon and the court decided the pardons could not be quote set aside or voided by the judicial branch.

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood filed an injunction to stop is pardons and recently told me that Governor Barbour's actions were a violation of the law.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: People reserve their right to have that 30 days notice. And my job is to bring it to the court's attention and it's up to the court. We've argued. I was in the well of the Mississippi Supreme Court for an hour and a half, just me arguing. So, you know, there are some concerns about it. But, you know, the constitution is not just some technicality. It is the constitution of the states of Mississippi, and it must be strictly construed and followed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Ed Lavandera is following the case for us tonight. He's been talking to both sides.

Ed, good to see you tonight.

Obviously, former governor, Mr. Barbour, and former attorney general, Jim Hood, who we just saw there have commented already tonight. What have they said?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Haley Barbour, who, as you well know, Erin, has refused our requests for interviews for almost two months put out a statement this afternoon and said, "I'm grateful for the decision issued today by the Supreme Court of Mississippi upholding the governor's constitutional authority to exercise clemency. These were decisions based on redemption, rehabilitation and redemption, leading to forgiveness and the right defined and given by the state constitution to the governor to offer such people a second chance."

And, of course, this is continues not to go over well with victims' families who we've spoken with several times here this afternoon, who say they believe this ruling is extremely unfair and they're devastated by all of this.

And, of course, Jim Hood, the attorney general that you interviewed some time ago also put out a statement. He wasn't doing on camera interviews tonight, but he reacted to the Supreme Court decision this way, saying, "We respect the decision of the court, but feel for now it must weigh on the victims and their families. It is these victims and family members who have lost today and the criminals who have won."

Which reminds me of one of the dissenting opinions, Erin, today in this ruling that said that this was a stunning victory for lawless, convicted criminals -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Ed Lavandera, thank you very much. He talked to the victims' families as well tonight.

Let's bring in CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

What do you make of this? Are you surprised?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Blown away, shocked, amazed.

BURNETT: Really?

TOOBIN: I was just blown. This Mississippi constitution has a very unusual provision, but it's a very clear provision. It says if you want to apply for a pardon, you have to publish your request in a local newspaper 30 days before the pardon can be issued. I mean, it's very clear.

Many of these pardons, including the ones to the murderers, there was no publication requirement.

BURNETT: Or they did publish them, but not with 30 days.

TOOBIN: Well, some did, some didn't. But, clearly, they didn't do it within 30 days. Some didn't do it at all.

The Mississippi Supreme Court acknowledged that that part of the constitution was not followed, but they said under the Mississippi constitution, the governor's power is so great that that's a technicality. That doesn't count. As long as sort of signed the paper that grant pardons, we're not going to interfere with that power.

The three dissenting justices said, what do you mean? This is why we have courts. They interpret laws. They interpret the constitution. And we tell the governor when he's not following the law. They lost.

BURNETT: So, what happens from here then? I mean, does this keep getting appealed up to the U.S. Supreme Court?

TOOBIN: No, this is it. This thing is over. This is a decision of the Mississippi Supreme Court interpreting exclusively Mississippi law. It has nothing to do with the United States Constitution.

BURNETT: You can't appeal.

TOOBIN: I mean, you could file an appeal. But the United States Supreme Court is never going to hear this because that's not what they do. This is over.

These people are free and it's not just that they are like they're let out of prison. They can vote, they can buy guns, go hunting. It's like they were never convicted at all.

BURNETT: Right, because their past is completely wiped out.

TOOBIN: That's the difference between a pardon and just having your sentence end. They are not convicted felons under the law.

BURNETT: So, I mean, it is amazing when you think about it in that context.

I mean, obviously, a lot of them were already on parole, but some of them were not.

TOOBIN: Well, certainly, the murderers were not on parole. Several of them as we know were trustees in the governor's mansions.

BURNETT: Right. TOOBIN: And some of these crimes were horrific. And the families were not consulted. And it is just such a shocking story and I don't think -- I mean, I think as a legal matter, this thing is just over.

BURNETT: That's incredible.

All right. Well, thank you very much, Jeff Toobin.

TOOBIN: OK.

BURNETT: All right. Well, there's a viral video that has racked up millions of hits on the webs -- on the Web, sorry. But did the group behind it manipulate some of the information?

And a man who made more than a billion dollars by investing in things like Facebook is coming OUTFRONT to talk about how he did it and you can too. And, you know, it involves singing, you know, a little rap music.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We do this at the same time every night, our "Outer Circle," where we reach out to sources around the world.

And we begin tonight in Syria, where activists say at least 62 people died today. The violence comes today as Bashar al-Assad's government suffered its highest level of defections so far. The country's deputy oil minister announced in a video that he is defecting from the regime and joining the revolution.

Our Arwa Damon is following the story from Beirut and I asked her how dangerous this decision was for the deputy oil minister and if more defections will follow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, these defections are incredibly dangerous because activists and the opposition will tell you that this is a regime that would not hesitate to kill anyone who dares stand against them. And these types of defections are also very difficult because, according to what others have said to us in the past, the government bans officials from traveling outside of the country without specific permissions and they're all closely monitored.

The deputy oil minister is now in hiding in an undisclosed location. As to whether or not this will spark more defections, that is what the activists are hoping for. But we would really need to see wide scale defections for this to really force the regime to crumble from within. And up until now, this is a regime that maintained a fairly solid grip on power -- Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Thank you, Arwa. And this Sunday, CNN and Arwa are giving you an unfiltered look at CNN's reporting inside Syria. It's a one-hour special, "72 Hours Under Fire," Sunday, at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

All right. A video about Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony has gone viral on social media sites. It has racked up millions of reposts and tweets.

Now, the documentary produced by the non-profit group Invisible Children follows an alleged former child soldier in Kony's Lord's Resistance Army and calls for action against the warlord. But the video has been criticized by some who say Invisible Children manipulated facts and ignores atrocities committed by the Uganda government.

A spokeswoman for Invisible Children tells CNN that the group had to simplify events in the documentary to make it easier for their target audience to understand.

Well, I asked our Brian Todd about the Kony 2012 phenomenon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, this video has gone more viral than anything we've seen on YouTube recently. Close to 40 million views on YouTube in just a few days.

It's a half hour long entitled, "Kony 2012." It calls attention to the atrocities committed by Uganda warlord Joseph Kony. Analysts say his so-called Lord's Resistance Army has killed tens of thousands of villagers, abducted up to 70,000 people, most of them children, forced boys to become child soldiers, girls into sexual slavery.

He wants to overthrow the Ugandan government, get this, in favor of a regime based on the Ten Commandments. Well, Kony is now on the run from African forces and American troops who are advising them. He's been doing this, analysts say, for 25-plus years.

But this video has really catapulted his profile. The filmmaker Jason Russell wants to bring more pressure to capture Kony and get him to the International Criminal Court.

Now, critics say the video manipulates the facts, ignores the Uganda army's atrocities in this war, ignores the fact that Kony's army is not as strong as it has been in recent months and hasn't launched these many attacks in recent months. The filmmakers say that's because of their work and they realize the Uganda army is not innocent here -- Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. Thanks to Brian.

Well, let's check in with Anderson Cooper.

Anderson, what do you have on "A.C. 360"? ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": We're keeping them honest tonight in the program. More on the stunning ruling today from the Mississippi Supreme Court. These convicted murderers were freed from prison by former Governor Haley Barbour. Now, the state's highest court has upheld the controversial pardons issued by the former governor as he was leaving office. We'll speak to the man who was shot, nearly killed by one of those men, one of the men that Barbour pardoned.

And a second keeping them honest report tonight on President Barack Obama, the candidate promised he would run the White House, not Washington lobbyists. So, how did a guy named Steve Ricchetti who used to run a lobbying firm land a senior job in the administration? Is this hypocrisy? We'll discuss that with the panel. Keeping them honest.

Those stories and a "360" follow on the shocking story of forced sterilizations right here in the United States. Tens of thousands of people forcibly sterilized over the years, some now are looking for some form of justice for some of the states.

That report and the "Ridiculist," Erin, at the top of the hour.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, thanks. Looking forward to seeing you then.

All right. Well --

(MUSIC)

BURNETT: So, we all know how hip hop artists are known for flaunting their dough at times. There's Fat Joe and Lil' Wayne, as you can see, making it rain. But can they teach us how to make it rain?

Tonight's "IDEA" guest says yes.

Ben Horowitz is cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz which has made a fortune from investments in companies like Groupon, Skype, Facebook. He launched his own company Opsware that he sold to Hewlett-Packard for $1.6 billion in cash.

Well, Ben came OUTFRONT earlier to tell us what Bushwick Bill taught him about how Erik Schmidt should run Google and how that translated to billions.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN HOROWITZ, CO-FOUNDER, ANDREESSEN HOROWITZ: When I was CEO, and I'd listen to music, a lot of people listen to music and you get inspiration from it. And a lot of things in hip hop very instructive for being in business. Particularly, hip hop is a lot about business and so it was very useful for me in any job.

And so then when I kind of became in my new job and people were looking to me for management advice, it was naturally to kind of -- if I had something hard to explain, I'd go, I learned that from a hip hop song. So --

BURNETT: Yes.

HOROWITZ: So, I'd give them the hip hop song and then it resonated. So --

BURNETT: All right. Let's -- I want to see if you can give me a few of them. One of them is really set up something by Bushwick Bill.

HOROWITZ: Yes, Bushwick Bill. So, I was writing a piece on, called peacetime/wartime CEO, and it was about Eric Schmidt and Larry Page at Google. And I was trying to describe the difference.

And by wartime CEO could mean a lot, but Bushwick Bill had the meeting that I wanted.

(MUSIC)

HOROWITZ: For me, it's like decisions over correctness is the classic wartime motto. Like we got to go fast, we're not going to wait for all that negotiating.

BURNETT: Right.

And obviously, wartime/peacetime CEO is sort of something where you had, you know, at peacetime, you can just grow and -- Google labs. Go do whatever the heck you wanted. Wartime, you got problems.

HOROWITZ: Take your time. Get everybody's input. That's the consensus. These kinds of things.

Whereas wartime is we got to go. Get your butt in line. We're going. This is the way. Get on the bus or get off the bus, like decide.

BURNETT: And what about Kanye West, another inspiration?

HOROWITZ: Yes. So, Kanye was really interesting because he's got -- I had this concept that I had run into, which is really smart people who are not good employees and there's certain patterns to them. And one of the patterns is somebody very smart, who is just fundamentally trying to take down the company.

There's nothing you can do about it. They're just a natural like saboteur or revolutionary.

BURNETT: We all know there's people like that.

HOROWITZ: And here's Kanye, the great musical genius of his generation in hip hop, but like society really can't even deal with him because he's always saying something that people go, oh, I can't believe Kanye said that. I can't believe he did that.

And the thing he really had in common with the kind of smart bad employees is that there was always something that Kanye said that was correct, right? Like it was all wrong, but there's something that was right and that made the whole thing worse, and that's always how it happens in the company. You know, somebody is so smart and charismatic, but they're working against you. So, they really can't be an employee.

And so, you know, he comes out with a song, basically describing himself called runaway, which is his instruction to anybody who wants to have a relationship with, run away.

BURNETT: So, one more. Rakim.

HOROWITZ: The Great R as we call him. So, of the great tenets of the firm is we really preferred that the founder run the company because --

BURNETT: When you're investing in a company.

HOROWITZ: When we invest in a company.

So, I wrote a post explaining as to why founders do such a great job on running companies. And it was a really hard post to write, but then I was listening to Rakim, who was one of the founders of rap music. And he was struggling with the same concept apparently because a lot of guys were moving into the rap industry from other parts of the music business. And he wants this --

BURNETT: There were interlopers.

(MUSCI)

HOROWITZ: And that's exactly how we feel about the professional CEOs. Beautiful combination for the post.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: All right. Well, OK, sing, make money.

Well, gas prices are flying. We all know that. Who is to blame?

And 20 percent of the people in Beverly Hills are Iranian American and you know who loves them? Ryan Seacrest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: So today, gas prices hit $3.76 a gallon in this country. Oil prices are now at $106 a barrel. Now, according to one of the firms that monitors this, Caprock Risk Management, we're going to be testing 2011 highs for oil of $115 a barrel, and could even see $125 this year.

Again, according to President Obama, the United States is producing more oil today than at any time in the past eight years. So what's the deal?

Well, part of it is refining. Crude oil turning into gasoline is a process, and a lot of our refineries are at capacity or not operating. Also, fears of a conflict in Iran are also driving prices. If tensions cool with Iran, we could see oil prices drop very quickly, $10 to $15 a barrel, just like that.

But there's something more to all of this: speculation. And that brings us to tonight's number: 56.

According to the CFTC commissioner, the guy in charge of overseeing commodity trading in this country, his name is Bart Chilton -- he says that's how many cents speculators have added to every gallon of gasoline. Speculative investors include hedge fund and investment banks that make bets on where crude oil prices are going.

The question is, are they to blame for rising prices or simply betting correctly on where prices are headed?

Part of the problem -- in recent years, many American retirement funds, through pensions and 401(k)s have started to be able to invest in commodities, and people have been putting their money there on purpose, regular investors, retirees, betting that demand from places like China will send prices for things like oil higher and higher. But the more money that floods into commodities, well, the higher the prices go.

This issue isn't easy, and we applaud the president's Oil and Gas Price Working Group, it's going to focus in on fraud. They're coming back to work this week with after a ten-month hiatus. We hope they will find out if anybody is purposely manipulating the system just to make money.

Betting on oil prices may be OK, but cheating and fraud is not.

Well, more than half of the Iranians in this country live in California. And we're going to get to -- well, meet a few of the more strange ones this weekend.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: The TV channel TLC confirmed today that the reality show "All American Muslim" won't be back for a second season due to low ratings. The reality show followed the lives of Muslim families in Dearborn, Michigan, but it got its most publicity when it was involved in a controversy. In December, Lowe's pulled ads on the show in response to a protest from the Florida Family Association, which called the show Muslim propaganda. When the controversy ended, the ratings dropped. It turns out they were too normal.

This week, there's another controversy over religion-themed TV shows, with which brings us to "Shahs of Sunset." Produced by Ryan Seacrest, it features a cast of uber rich Iranian Americans living in Beverly Hills and includes a self-described Persian princess with a fiery temper who says she can't stand ugly people. They shop, they fornicate, they fight. It's already been called the Persian "Jersey Shore," and have a lot of the same complaints coming in that Snooki experienced. But will it matter?

"All-American Muslim" was critically acclaimed and showed Muslims living normal lives, but it was canceled. Snooki weathered the storm and advertisers flocked to "Jersey Shore" eventually. Do shows need to be sensational and ridiculous to succeed? Some may make fun of "Shahs of Sunset" and "Jersey Shore" and call them trashy. But guess what? "Jersey Shore" is still on the air.

Anderson Cooper starts now.