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Interview with Senator Tom Coburn; President Obama's Trip; Interview with Eric Fehrnstrom

Aired May 2, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett.

OUTFRONT tonight, the debt bomb, our national debt tonight $15.6 trillion. So you may say or saying how did we get here? Well, check out the top three reasons.

Number one, the price tag for the Bush tax cuts, $1.8 trillion; number two, the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, $1.3 trillion at this moment. A distant third, the president's stimulus plan, $831 billion, never thought 831 billion would look cheap. Well, here's another powerful number. Right now this country is paying $224 billion a year in interest on our debt and that number is mushrooming. It sort of becomes an exponential problem.

By 2020 we will be paying $544 billion in interest alone. If you want to se something really scary, let's compare that $544 billion to Medicare. By 20 in the year we're paying $544 billion in interest alone and if you want to see something really scary, let's just compare that $544 billion to Medicare. By 2020 in the year we're paying 544 billion in interest, Medicare will cost a mere $279 billion.

We'll be paying almost double that just in interest on our debt. Now, you may say that's clearly foul and bad and terrible things, but some people believe that spending more is the best way to actually get this country growing again, to grow out of our problem. Liberal economist Paul Krugman says the stimulus plan was not big enough. He wants another 800 billion on top of what we've already spent and he is not alone in arguing for more spending, not less.

Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers wrote in this week's "Financial Times" and in "The Washington Post" quote "a country that pursues austerity to the point where its economy is driven into a downward spiral does its creditors no favor." You know as in if you keep cutting and you keep earning less, you have less money to pay back that interest and the interest doesn't get smaller. We checked in with our OUTFRONT "Strike Team" made up of the country's top CEOs, entrepreneurs, innovators.

They overwhelmingly say no to more stimulus. John Donahoe, CEO of eBay wrote me quote "the biggest threat to the economy is the growing deficit. We need to get Simpson/Bowles implemented soon after the election." And Stuart Miller, CEO of Lennar, the nation's second biggest homebuilder told me quote "we need to let the free markets work and start to focus on deficit reduction." You can see more about our "Strike Team" as always on our blog, but now one man who has made the fight against government spending his mission, Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. He's the author of the new book appropriately titled "The Debt Bomb". Senator Coburn is OUTFRONT tonight and good to see you, sir, in person.

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Good to see you.

BURNETT: All right, so I want to cut right to the chase here about one thing. You hate debt. You think we're in over our heads. But you are open, and this is really important to a lot of people watching, you are open to taxes to revenue as a way to get out of this problem.


BURNETT: So not just cutting as Larry summers says may be negative but also raising revenue.

COBURN: Well, there's two points. One is if you want to have increased spending, the best way to have increased spending is to have the private sector do it. We have over $2 trillion sitting on the sidelines right now that is not being spent because there's no confidence that Congress is running the country in a way that will create some certitude that you would put that money at risk.

So you could have a combination of revenue increases. You can flatten the -- broaden the base and flatten the rates and also pay for it by trimming some of the wasteful spending that nobody truly benefits other than those that are directly hired and wasting the spending, and you can accomplish what everybody wants to accomplish. But I would contend it's much better if we have that $2 trillion come into the economy than we borrow 800 billion and put it into the economy because the market will allocate it and get better returns on it than the federal government will.

BURNETT: But it's interesting because you were part of the "gang of six", Democrats, Republicans. You know Mark Warner, he comes on this show --


BURNETT: -- and everybody seems very reasonable. Yes, some people are going to pay more. I want a combination of things, I want cuts, all right. But then there's people like Grover Norquist and he is, you've called it a purity test that he sort of makes Republicans sign when they sign his pact. Why is that not helpful?

COBURN: Well first of all it's not helpful because he's the author and developer of what a tax increase is, which is ridiculous. You know the Senate voted for two of my amendments, one to eliminate the blending requirement on ethanol. He called that a tax increase. That was nothing but spending through the tax codes.

BURNETT: It was a subsidy, yes.

COBURN: Yes, well not a subsidy. They have a subsidy besides that.


COBURN: This is just -- this is just a tax benefit. It's spending. And so you can't allow somebody from the outside to determine what in fact it is. The other thing is we eliminated a tax break for the Hollywood producers, 38 Republicans voted for that. So there's not a clear definition of what violates Mr. Norquist's code other than what he says violates it, but the vast majority of Republicans don't agree with him on what that is.

BURNETT: So they sort of let their own point of view or perhaps even the Republican Party. I mean obviously -- I remember when Jon Huntsman was the one who was brave who said I'm not going to sign the pledge.

COBURN: Yes, yes, yes. Well the question is, is what's our commitment? Our commitment ought to be the commitment to the Constitution and limited government that would breed the best and healthiest and most vigorous economy in the world. That ought to be our number one oath and that ought to be -- that's where we sign on the line and that's what we swear to when we come into Congress.

BURNETT: I want to -- I want to just play a quick sound bite from Paul Krugman. He was on with Rachel Maddow last night, making the case for another 800 billion and get your reaction. Here he is.


PAUL KRUGMAN, COLUMNIST, NEW YORK TIMES: We've had an overwhelming vindication of the ideas that say that this is the time for governments to spend. This is the time not to cut back. The urgent priority is jobs, deficits should wait, and yet that's an argument that nobody wants to hear in power because it's inconvenient for inner circles. I have to say in the end it's inconvenient for the one percent or the 0.1 percent.


BURNETT: What's your reaction to him?

COBURN: Well I go back to what I said before. First of all, where are we going to borrow the money? And what we're borrowing now the Federal Reserve is just printing money. You know and the impact of $800 billion, let's talk about what that impact is. Let's say he's right and it has some positive impact with the economy, but adding that to the debt, what that means, we've got one in two college graduates right now that can't get a job, a full-time job. It means your IRA 10 years from now is not going to have but about half the purchasing power it has today. And it means if you have a home, your home value is going to go lower, not higher.

So that's a Keynesian, pure Keynesian argument. There's no question we need to increase in final demand in our society and in our economy, but the way you get there is to build the confidence and do the things as Congress to get people the money that's sitting on the side now. If you look at the numbers, the velocity of money right now, and I'm not sure all your listeners are familiar with that. But the fact is we're at the lowest level we've ever recorded in terms of velocity.

That means all the money is sitting there to be loaned but there's no demand for it. So the reason there's no demand is because there's no confidence. Our biggest deficit is a deficit of leadership both in Congress and at the White House because we have to rebuild confidence in this country. And we ought to have leadership that's talking about here's the problems, they're all solvable, let's work together to solve them.

BURNETT: All right, well Senator, thank you very much and obviously Senator Coburn, a member of the "gang of six", Republicans, Democrats working together, and we hope that there's a lot more of that. (INAUDIBLE) book called "Debt Bomb".

"OutFront Story 2" is next.


BURNETT: Still OUTFRONT, sex assault in the city.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are a lot of women who have strong concerns right now.

BURNETT: A dissident's dilemma.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chen and his family have been threatened.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT when we come back.



BURNETT: Ahead, OUTFRONT what appears to be a rape epidemic in an American town, and a cloak and dagger Tom Clancy-type international intriguing story involving, of course, America and China.

But first, our second OUTFRONT story tonight. The day after President Obama's surprise trip to Afghanistan where he made headlines on the war while marking the anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing, Mitt Romney wanted to bring the focus back home.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: People ask me, well, what would you do to get the economy going? I say well, look at what the president has done and do the opposite. Americans are tired of being tired of this economy and of this president and they want real change.


BURNETT: John Avlon, Reihan Salam and Jamal Simmons are with me now, three musketeers, all right, good to see you. So everyone was picking on the president, John, for a few days about politicizing the death of Osama bin Laden. Well, you know what, if they're going to say you're doing it, then you show up on the one-year anniversary and you give your big speech and you hit a home run.


JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. You big-foot it with the bully pulpit and that's what he did and it really shut everybody up. I think the Romney camp got the message a little bit belatedly that arguing against bin Laden was a total political loser. Concede the point, move on. Pivot forward, move it back to the economy, which is Mitt Romney's strongest argument to make and that's what you heard him doing here today, using a sense of humor too which is always good.

BURNETT: So it looked like what he tried to do, Reihan, as we said, the president punked Mitt Romney, put him in a position where all he could say is yes, good job, sir, basically.

REIHAN SALAM, COLUMNIST, THE DAILY: Yes, that's absolutely right.


SALAM: And when you think about George H.W. Bush, for example, the thing is that he was a genuine war hero and he was a guy who achieved a tremendous military victory on behalf of the United States in the Gulf War. And guess what, no one cared. By the time November of 1992 rolled around, Americans decided, fair enough, we were excited about you a couple of years ago, we're not anymore.

BURNETT: And Jamal, was there any downside to the president -- obviously everyone is talking about well you know people who weren't even born when this war started are going to be occupying Iraq -- Afghanistan, sorry -- maybe that was a Freudian slip -- through the year 2025. But clearly the president thinks any downside there is well worth the big boost he got last night, the cheering of the troops surrounding their commander in chief.

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes. Most Americans really want to see the president of the United States, any president and the troops and honor the troops, so even if they don't support the war the second place (ph), they do support the troops and the American effort wherever it is the troops may be. And so the president I think smartly got himself very associated with that.

I mean the president likes to play spades. And in spades, I think he slammed the big joker down on the table yesterday and kind of scared Mitt Romney back -- you know set him back a little bit. What the Romney campaign has to be very careful of, the Democrats lived through this in 2004 when we were running against President Bush. You can't throw everything you have at that incumbent. You've got to be very disciplined as John was saying earlier, very disciplined about going at the economy, if that's your message, sticking to it and not getting distracted by these other issues.

BURNETT: All right, well let's get distracted for a moment since you've given me the segue (ph).


BURNETT: This is just, I mean -- you know, everybody has people like this in their past of some way, shape or form, but that's not going to stop us from quoting "Vanity Fair". OK, publishing excerpts from an upcoming book called "Barack Obama The Story" which has diary entries from a woman named Genevieve Cook who the president dated in 1984. All right, she said that the first time she told the president she loved him, which means he was loveable, there's the good side, he said thank you.

Well, maybe he was nervous. OK. She also wrote, quote --

SIMMONS: Yes, that was it.

BURNETT: -- "his warmth --


BURNETT: OK, quote "his warmth can be deceptive, though he speaks sweet words and can be open and trusting, there is also that coolness. And I began to have an inkling of some things about him that could get to me."


BURNETT: Again, is that good or bad and then she said he still intrigues me in her diary -- all right --



SALAM: This is how America feels about Barack Obama or how they felt about him in 2008. You know he was kind of cool, he had this demeanor. He had this easy charm. But wait, does he really -- you know sort of -- you have to win him over. And those are the kind of people you love the most. The people you feel as though well they're lukewarm about you sometimes, but wait suddenly --

BURNETT: The ones who won't love you back, Jamal --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the unrequited love of the American people?


(CROSSTALK) SALAM: It's genius. It's genius, certainly in terms of wooing --


SIMMONS: Yes, I think, first of all, this is a 30-year-old relationship --


SIMMONS: -- and lord knows you know the last thing I think any of us want is our dredging up old significant others and have them have to testify on your behalf 30 years -- 20 years later.


AVLON: -- there's a great moment in history where Bess Truman is burning Harry Truman's love letters. Harry Truman goes in and sees her and says Bess, what are you doing, think of history and Bess Truman says, I am. You maybe wish that your ex-girlfriends had done that if you were president.

SIMMONS: Absolutely. But you know all these presidents have some kind of thing, you know, all the pop psychologists talk about this. There's some kind of yearning or character thing that goes on with presidents.


SIMMONS: And whether it's Bill Clinton's desire to be loved by everybody or George W. Bush and his struggles with alcohol or, you know, Barack Obama and his kind of cool aloofness, there's always something about them that's a little bit -- you know, can be examined by the pop psychologists.

BURNETT: Yes. Yes, (INAUDIBLE) pop psychologists is they all have father issues. That's nice. Let's blame it on the fathers for once and not the mothers. All right --


BURNETT: Thanks to all three of you.

Eric Fehrnstrom, Mitt Romney's main man, OUTFRONT next in "Story 3".


BURNETT: Still OUTFRONT, a dissident's dilemma.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chen and his family have been threatened.

BURNETT: Hazed to death.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has angered me because no one has been arrested.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT in our second half.



BURNETT: Coming up OUTFRONT, a blind activist in China says America turned its back on him. And the feds step in after an outbreak of rapes in a Montana town.

And now to our third story OUTFRONT. Earlier tonight our own political contributor said Mitt Romney got punked by President Obama's trip to Afghanistan. Romney's senior adviser Eric Fehrnstrom is OUTFRONT tonight for an exclusive conversation. Good to see you, sir. Appreciate your taking the time.

I want to get straight to it because we've got a lot to talk about but I want to start there with Afghanistan. Mitt Romney said he was pleased that the president went to Afghanistan. Do you think he made a mistake? Should he have criticized him? Should he not? Are you happy with how he handled it?

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, SENIOR ADVISER, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN: Well, Erin, thank you for having me on the show. No, I think it's entirely appropriate for the president as commander in chief to visit our troops serving overseas. That's what he did in Afghanistan and I think he needs to communicate with our armed forces, let them know exactly what it is we expect of them, what their mission is, and to express his appreciation for the courageous way in which they carry it out. I think that's entirely appropriate.

BURNETT: Do you think that Mitt Romney should have taken the opportunity to say, well here's how I would do it differently, or I wouldn't keep our troops until 2025 or whatever it might have been rather than just saying he was pleased or do you think that you got the messaging right from the Mitt Romney side?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, look, where we had a difference of opinion with the Obama campaign was late last week when they produced an ad that suggested that Mitt Romney would have arrived at a different decision in carrying out or issuing the kill order for Osama bin Laden. Look, when Osama bin Laden was killed a year ago, that was a momentous occasion, and at the time Governor Romney congratulated the president, he congratulated our armed forces and our intelligence community. This brought us together as a nation, and it was sad to see a year later the president use Osama bin Laden as the opportunity to issue a divisive and partisan political attack against his opponent. That was more than a bit unseemly.

BURNETT: I want to ask you about, obviously, the big event here. Your foreign policy spokesman Richard Grenell, he quit two weeks on the job, he's gone. He had come under fire, of course, as we're all aware now by conservative activists for the fact that he was gay. He had supported a U.N gay rights resolution. The Family Research Council president, Tony Perkins, was -- said he was glad. He said Bryan Fischer, the far right American Family Association, radio host had attacked Grenell and I quote, when he quit he said, "this is a huge win." Did he leave because he was gay?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, first let me just correct you. He wasn't two weeks on the job. He was scheduled to start May 1 and of course we were disappointed that he chose to resign ahead of his start date. We tried to persuade him to stay. Look, we hired Rick because he was supremely qualified to serve as our foreign policy spokesman. This is a guy who spent eight years at the U.S. mission to the United Nations.

He served four different U.S. ambassadors, including Ambassador John Bolton. We thought he would have filled a very specialized need that we had for someone who could speak on foreign policy and national security matters. We tried to persuade him to stay. He felt for his own reasons that he couldn't serve effectively and we were disappointed that he decided to resign.

BURNETT: So you did try to persuade him to stay? I'm just curious, because his statement and I just want to quote it directly to get your response. He said, quote, "My ability to speak clearly and forcefully on the issues has been greatly diminished by the hyper- partisan discussion of personal issues that sometimes comes from a presidential campaign." Obviously it sounds there, reading between the lines, that the focus on his personal decisions, on perhaps his sexuality, was why he chose to go maybe not because it was happening in your campaign, but it was happening by others in the Republican Party.

FEHRNSTROM: Yes and that's disappointing. Wherever there are voices of intolerance within the party or the Democratic Party for that matter, it doesn't matter where it's coming from, it's disappointing. And the governor has taken the opportunity in the past to denounce those voices of intolerance. But in Rick's case, and I can't speak for Rick, but I think he felt that his effectiveness was going to be compromised, that he couldn't carry out the job the way he wanted to do it.

But let me tell you with respect to Governor Romney and his record of hiring, it is based strictly on qualifications. We do not take into consideration non-factors like race or ethnicity or sexual orientation. We look for the best possible people to do the job. We thought Rick would have been the best person to be our foreign policy spokesman. We tried to persuade him to stay on and as I said, we're disappointed that he resigned.

BURNETT: One other thing I want to ask before we go here on the General Motors bailout. I'm curious about this. I wanted to play a very quick sound bite for you about what Mitt Romney said today. We played it a moment ago, but I want to play it again. Here's what he has to say about how he'd handle the economy versus President Obama.


ROMNEY: People ask me, well, what would you do to get the economy going? I say well, look at what the president's done and do the opposite. Americans -- (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Now, of course this weekend you said the president followed Mitt Romney's advice on the auto bailout, which is a little confusing there because he said do the opposite of what the president said but also confusing obviously because of that "New York Times" op- ed titled "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt" written by Mitt Romney. It sounds like you and Mitt Romney aren't really on the same page.


FEHRNSTROM: Well, let's go back and look at that op-ed that the governor wrote back in November of 2008. At the time nobody was suggesting that the auto companies go through a bankruptcy process, but we felt -- or the governor felt that the only way that they could reorganize and shed excess costs would be to do that under the protection of the bankruptcy laws. Just writing them an endless series of government checks was going to seal their doom. Instead they needed to go through a process so they could skinny down.

And the fact that these car companies are profitable today is because they got rid of those excess costs. Their employee costs are lower. That is not because of some check they got from government. That's because of the reorganization that was carried out under the protection of the bankruptcy law, which is what Mitt Romney advocated and it's eventually the course that Barack Obama followed.

BURNETT: Do you support what Barack Obama did with General Motors unions? Because it sounds like you do.

FEHRNSTROM: With the unions, no, I don't think the governor would have put as much ownership of the company into the hands of the UAW because what he did in that case was to set aside bankruptcy laws, subordinate the interests of secured creditors to the union. That to us seemed like playing political favorites. But in terms of setting these companies on the course toward profitability, what did that was the managed bankruptcy process, not some check from the government. And it was the governor who was first out of the box advocating for that reorganization under the bankruptcy laws.

BURNETT: All right, but just to make it clear from what you said, you know it sounds like Mitt Romney now supports what the president did because you say the president followed Mitt Romney's advice on the auto bailout.



FEHRNSTROM: No I think -- no, what I'm saying is that the president followed the advice as it was laid out by Mitt Romney back in November of 2008. It took the president seven months after that point to finally move these companies into a bankruptcy process. It was the bankruptcy process that got these companies to skinny down, to shed excess costs, to lower their employee costs and that is why they're profitable today, not because they got a check from government.

BURNETT: OK. All right, well Eric Fehrnstrom, thanks very much and good to see you.

All right, a blind Chinese activist walked out of the American Embassy in Beijing today, but he says he didn't want to and he fears for his life. "OutFront Story 4" next.


BURNETT: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT.

We start the second half with stories we care about, where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines.

Well, 13 people are being charged in connection with the hazing at Florida A&M University. This includes the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion. Eleven of the 13 suspects are charged with felony hazing, which resulted in death. All 13 charged with a misdemeanor.

An attorney for Champion's parents told us they are disappointed more severe charges were not filed. Band members have said Champion died shortly after taking part in an annual rite of passage where pledges run down the aisle of a bus while being punched.

Former NFL linebacker Junior Seau has died of an apparent self- inflicted gunshot wound. Seau spent 20 seasons in the NFL, 13 years with the San Diego Chargers, his last seven with the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

He did have some troubles in 2010. He was charged with domestic violence and hours later drove his car off a cliff, landing on a beach. The accident was blamed on a lack of sleep. Seau was only 43 years old.

Well, French presidential candidates faced off in what is now the only televised debate in French presidential campaign. Things got heated when current President Nicolas Sarkozy called frontrunner Francois Hollande a slander, after he accused Sarkozy of making partisan appointments in the public sector. Wow, in the United States, that's just politics, as usual.

Second run of voting will take place on Sunday.

Well, violence in Bamako, the capital of Mali, continued today with the military junta capturing hundreds of people who are allegedly associated with an attempted counter-coup. In March, the military junta toppled the democratically elected president while they ended up handing power to an interim government that continued to exercise power over key areas. The State Department said today that it will continue to assess the needs on the ground and determine support if needed.

But our understanding as of tonight is that more than 320,000 people have been displaced in Mali. Well, it has been 272 days since this country lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back? Well, today, a new report showed businesses added 119,000 jobs in April. That comes ahead of Friday's key national jobs report.

Economists polled by CNN Money expected the U.S. to add 160,000 jobs and that number not enough to keep up with population growth.

But, first, our fourth OUTFRONT story: an exclusive and damning set of details from the blind human rights activist in China whose story is captivating the world and causing a crisis in U.S./China relations. Did the U.S. turn its back on Chinese activist who sought refuge for persecution?

Chen Guangcheng walked out of the U.S. embassy in Beijing today after 24 hours, where he was seen with America's ambassador to China, Gary Locke.

The question is: why did he leave after six days of the embassy?

CNN Stan Grant spoke to Chen exclusively on the phone and asked him.


CHEN GUANGCHENG, CHINESE DISSIDENT: The embassy kept lobbying me to leave and promised t have people to say with me in the hospital. But this afternoon, as soon as I checked into the hospital room, I noticed they were all gone.


BURNETT: Chen says he fears for his life now that he's on his own, says he regrets his decision to leave. He told Stan Grant he has a message for the president.


CHEN: I would like to say to President Obama: please do everything you can to get our whole family out.


BURNETT: The situation is overshadowing the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. She is visiting China right now.

Stan Grant joins us, along with former State Department official, Jamie Rubin, and former homeland security adviser, Fran Townsend.

Stan, let me talk with you. And pretty amazingly, you were able to get Chen on the phone. Obviously, we heard him there in Chinese, the translation in English appeared on the screen for viewers. But can you tell us what he sounded like, what his emotion was like? That doesn't always come through in another language.

STAN GRANT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, you know, we spoke to him, it was 3:00 a.m. Thursday morning, Beijing time, when we actually got through to him. We called him in his hospital bed, sitting next to him was his wife.

And this is a man who is in fear for his life. He wants to leave China. He doesn't trust Chinese officials. He says threats are being made to kill he and his wife if they stay in the country any longer.

So this was a man who sounded very concerned. He was speaking very quickly. Often was taking longish pauses, you could hear him gulping at various times.

His wife came on the phone. She also sounded very nervous. In fact, she said to us that she is not even free to walk around the hospital. She's afraid to step outside the door because of the many guards there, there's no doubt, listening to him and talking to him.

This is someone who changed dramatically from a smiling man who left the embassy, to the man now sitting in his hospital bed pleading to be able to leave this country, Erin.

BURNETT: Stan, we're going to find out in just a moment from Jamie and Fran about what happened and what pressures might be on him but also on the secretary of state. But what else did he tell you about what's happened to his family? Because I know we had heard reports that perhaps his wife and children had been beaten by Chinese officials.

Were you able to get answers to any of those questions?

GRANT: Absolutely. This has been crucial in turning him around. Initially, he was telling U.S. officials he wanted to stay in China. He wanted to continue to make a life here. That's why he left the embassy.

But after speaking to his wife, he realizes the threats are too great. He says after officials and guards realized that he fled and escaped house arrest, they then came for his wife. I'll quote here from what he told us. "She was tied to a chair by police for two days, then they carried thick sticks to our house, threatening to beat her to death. Now they have moved into the house."

He says that threats were made to his wife that if he did not leave the embassy, that she would be taken back there and this is the fate that was waiting for her. People were standing by waiting with weapons to really exact revenge here -- Erin.

BURNETT: Ad so this is why he's saying he wants to leave the country completely now, right?

GRANT: Absolutely, absolutely. He wants to get out of the country.

I think as you just played a moment ago, appealing directly to President Obama to make this happen. He also said if you talk to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, tell her we need to get out of the country. It's so much more difficult now. When he was in the embassy, he had some protection. Now, he's out. He's a Chinese citizen in a Chinese hospital, under Chinese law and someone the Chinese government has long considered to be an enemy of the state -- Erin.

BURNETT: Jamie, what can the United States do, especially when he's going directly to the president on the phone? I mean, Stan's the only one to talk to him. What can the U.S. do, and if we don't do anything, does it show we don't have any power or control in China?

JAMIE RUBIN, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, first of all, no American administration can make China or any other country do what they want to their own citizens. What's new here and what I think is good news for those of us who care about human rights is for about 10 years now, human rights has been off the agenda between the United States and China. Republicans, Democrats, it's no longer a big debate in Congress the way it used to be.

Congress used to threaten to cut off trade with China because of issues like individual dissidents. That era has passed. So, this tragedy for Mr. Chen has brought human rights way up the agenda for the United States and China.

What I think will happen realistically is Secretary of State Clinton and the president, when he's in contact with their counterparts, will now be raising Mr. Chen's case time after time and making sure that they bring up his name in conversations, asking about him, say we're still watching him, we're still concerned about his fate.

And I think that will probably for a time prevent the kind of abuse that he was suffering when he was in virtual house arrest in the provinces just a couple of weeks ago.

What transpired in the embassy -- I have not received a firsthand report. Clearly high-level American officials, the highest possible level for this kind of issue, an assistant secretary of state, department legal adviser who have long both have long experience, Harold Coe, the State Department legal adviser in the previous administration, was assistant secretary for human rights.


RUBIN: So these are human rights officials who obviously worked with him and may not have gotten all that he would have wanted.

BURNETT: But, Fran, doesn't this show that the U.S. lost some sort of a diplomatic battle with China?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Well, that's just right. These people are very experienced who met with him. And this should not be shocking that his family was being threatened, that he was unaware of that. The question is did they discuss this with him? Did he understand?

What he's saying to us now is that he didn't understand the implications of his leaving the embassy. It is true to say we are in a far weaker position than we would have been if he had been in the embassy. But, quite frankly, he was left at the hospital, according to Stan's report, and he really is now -- we've left him at the mercy of a Chinese government that clearly is threatening his wife and he wants to leave.

I mean, this is -- it's one of those things the president has spoken quite frequently about we're a country of values that must live by them even when it's inconvenient. And, frankly, this was an inconvenient right for the human rights issue to come as the secretary of state was arriving.

BURNETT: I mean, Jamie, I see how this puts this on the agenda, there's the silver lining, but then there's also the sort of loss of face for the U.S., which is with a lot of country, you can't tell a country what to do but the U.S. would have more leverage, and with China, we don't.

RUBIN: We don't have a lot of leverage with China and haven't had it with a decade is the point I'm making.


RUBIN: There was a time in our country when majorities in Congress were prepared to put our trading relationship aside, on hold in favor of human rights. That majority of Democrats and Republicans -- they are gone.


RUBIN: So during the past administration and this administration, human rights is on the agenda but let's call it fourth or fifth. So, for the moment this individual, dissident's fate is now being discussed the way, for example, a decade ago, a particular dissident who was being discussed during the Clinton years or the one before, who is in the U.S. embassy -- ready for this -- a year and a half during the first President Bush, but he announced upon his arrival with his wife that he wanted to leave the country. He stayed in the embassy for, I believe, 18 months before he was eventually released.

BURNETT: Final word to you, Stan, I just want to give everyone a sense of what the repercussions really are. You've been trying to go to his home to find out what's been happening with Chen. And, obviously, now, you spoke to him on the phone. You're being followed, right?

GRANT: Yes, absolutely. We're followed whenever we try to go out and speak to dissidents and the authorities here tap our phones, they watch our e-mails and know where we're going. They call our drivers en route. They call people we're going to speak to.

In fact, in the past few days people we have spoken to in connection to this have been arrested, have been taken away for questioning. Some are still being held either in jail or under house arrest. This goes to show how serious they take this.

Another point that is important, Erin, and that is the vulnerability of people like Chen. You know, we've tried to get to his village in the past and we have been physically attacked. We've been beaten and chased out of there. They do this to us, they do this to him.

Any criticism from the outside world or other countries often emboldens these officials and these authorities. As they've said to Chen Guangcheng in the past, they're above the law in China, they can do whatever they want.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to all three of you. And, obviously, I want to make the point of how there of how brave and intrepid Stan Grant's reporting is to continue to do this, but they also have tried to intimidate him.

Well, the U.S. government has launched an investigation into a series of rapes in an American town. Did the city and police look the other way, mishandle those investigations? The town's mayor OUTFRONT next.


BURNETT: We're back with our "Outer Circle" -- where we reach out to our sources around the world.

And we begin in Afghanistan tonight where a powerful car bomb killed seven people, wounded 17 just two hours after President Obama left the country. Obviously, it raises serious concerns about the lack of security in that country.

Nick Paton Walsh is in Kabul and I asked him when security will get better.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, almost two different Afghanistans. President Barack Obama able to fly in under the cover of darkness and address the American people while many Afghan people were asleep. A loud blast this morning two hours after he left, waking many people in Kabul as a suicide bomber targeted a maximum security compound, often lived in by foreigners, killing seven Afghans and injuring 10 schoolchildren nearby caught in the crossfire, an act condemned by the United Nations, saying the Taliban should have known there was a school 200 meters away

An instance like this, despite the edifying rhetoric we heard from the president, reminding Afghans living in this country that they aren't really that much safer after a decade of NATO being here -- Erin.


BURNETT: Thanks to Nate Paton Walsh. Now to London. Gareth Williams, who is the British spy, his body was found naked, decomposing in a padlocked bag in his bathtub.

Everybody was wondering what happened to him but some people had said it was a sex game gone wrong. Now they say he was probably unlawfully killed but they say it's unlikely they will ever know what happened. That's what the coroner announced in her final report today.

Atika Shubert is following the story and I asked her whether the coroner made any links between his profession as a spy and his death.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, we just don't know. The coroner said there is no evidence directly linking his death to his work, but she also had scathing criticism for the British Secret Service, the MI6, saying they failed to report that Gareth Williams was missing for about a week, despite the fact that he missed several meetings. Also that the MI6 failed to hand over critical evidence, including nine memory sticks that they found at his workplace.

Now, what we do know is that both the coroner and the lead detective on the case believe that another person was with him when he died. Likely, they say, the person who locked the bag and placed it in the bathtub. Police are now searching for that person -- Erin.


BURNETT: It is a bizarre story.

All right. Let's check in with Anderson with a look at what's coming up top of the hour.

Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Yes, hey, Erin.

We're keeping them honest tonight on the program. An entire busload of students watched as fellow band member Robert Champion was beaten to death, watched him kicked, suffocated and watched him die. Well, today, 13 people were charged in his death, but not one of them with murder or manslaughter. We're going to speak with the mother of Robert Champion who says hazing doesn't begin to describe what happened to her son on that bus.

Also ahead, an apparent suicide by NFL legend Junior Seau. What caused him to put a gun to his chest and then pull the trigger? Seau is one of several NFL players who have committed suicide in recent years. We'll speak to Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who extensively studied brain trauma in football players, see if that played a role.

A lot of other stories, we're covering, including the "Ridiculist" starting at the top of the hour -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Anderson, looking forward to seeing all of those stories.

And now, our fifth story OUTFRONT: 80 rapes in three years. That's a staggering for the college town of Missoula, Montana -- so staggering that the U.S. Department of Justice has launched an investigation. At the heart of the matter is not whether the assaults occurred but how the local police, the county attorney and the University of Montana handled the reports of sexual violence.

Was there a cover-up? A look the other way? Missoula County Attorney Fred Van Valkenburg says he's going to cooperate but he says the federal government is overreaching its authority.


FRED VAN VANKENBURG, MISSOULA COUNTY CHIEF PROSECUTOR: We find it extremely ironic that the United States Department of Justice, an agency dedicated to the preservation and protection of rights of people in this country refuses to tell us what we have supposedly done wrong.


BURNETT: In February, the University of Montana came under fire after a Saudi Arabian exchange student was notified he was accused of rape. He left the country before police could investigate.

Major John Engen says the city is doing everything it can to prosecute violent crimes against women, and he joins me on the phone tonight.

And, Mayor Engen, thank you very much for coming on the phone.

I saw this headline, 80 rapes in a few years. I was shocked like a lot of people were. But obviously, the reason there's a DOJ investigation is they're saying that the police department, the university failed to adequately look into these, investigate.

Have you gotten enough information to determine whether there's anything to that?

JOHN ENGEN, MAYOR OF MISSOULA (via telephone): You know, thanks, Erin. My sense of things today is that the Justice Department received enough information, enough complaints, heard enough allegations and did enough of their own research through records that they believe an investigation is warranted. We're doing everything we can to cooperate with that investigation.

I have nothing but faith in my police force. Those men and women are committed to serving the community, but I can tell you we can always get better. And if there are problems with the way we're doing business, we're very interested in understanding what those problems are and remedying those problems.

BURNETT: There are -- there are reports, women have said, that they have complained they have come into the police station with a rape allegation and been handed a pamphlet that basically says, look, it's a crime to false report rape and that was a standard -- appears to be standard reading material. Have you been able to find out whether that is true?

ENGEN: You know, in fact it's not true, Erin. The fact of the matter is that in that particular case, the victim had had a conversation with the chief about false reporting. The chief mentioned there is some literature out there that he does not agree with, has not agreed with. And in fact did a study locally that proved that very few reports in Missoula are false. But that report does exist. He provided it at her request.

I should also say, you know, one rape is too many. One sexual assault is too many. But 80 sexual assaults in three years in a community our size, in a university city, unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it, is about average per capita. We're actually not that unusual.


ENGEN: The profile of these cases certainly is, and we want to deal with them.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, mayor, for coming OUTFRONT.

Obviously, we're going to be talking to the mayor as we continue to cover this story the next few days.

The E block is next.


BURNETT: The United States of America isn't as popular as it used to be for tourists. Now, this started after 9/11 when the United States added visa restrictions and increased security to the travel process.

Now, this sent international tourists to other destinations, some in Europe, where it was easier to get visas. In 2000, America had a 17 percent slice of tourism spending. That number is now just about 11 percent.

So for the first time ever, America has started marketing itself as a tourist destination to everybody else. The $12.3 million ad campaign targets the tourists that are going to spend a lot of money in America. Hey, Canada, we're talking about you guys, Japan and the United Kingdom.

In a few weeks, this ad will appear in Brazil and South Korea. The commercial is part of a campaign and has a song by Roseanne Cash -- I love Roseanne Cash -- highlighting popular destinations like the Grand Canyon, the French Quarter in New Orleans and, of course, New York's Times Square.

Now, this is an amazing country, but there is a problem. When people come to our country, one of the first things they see is not the Grand Canyon or Times Square, it's our airports. And, see, the problem is America has a lot of bad airports. "Travel & Leisure" magazine, in fact, released their list of the worst airports in this country. Three of the top five are in the New York area, JFK, and Atlanta is number 10.

Now, that's actually pretty good for Atlanta because -- Hartsfield, I'm talking to you, man, you are a painful airport to navigate around. The worst of the worst.

But the magazine also released a list of their best airports. Minneapolis, Charlotte and Detroit all did incredibly well and deservedly so. But I can't believe Jacksonville, best airport in the country, didn't make the list.

Let us know what airports you love or hate. We say this constructively, Hartsfield. You can get better.

Thanks so much for watching.

Anderson Cooper starts now.