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Busting Campaign Myths; Iran-Linked Plot to Kill Americans; Pope's Butler Arrested

Aired May 28, 2012 - 19:00   ET


JOHN AVLON, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next this Memorial Day, the biggest political myths of this campaign season. We'll tell you why they don't add up.

And Washington gridlock. We're going to talk to the one man who some say is really to blame.

And rocker Gene Simmons on the rise of heavy metal Republicans and of course his family jewels.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm John Avlon in for Erin Burnett.

Tonight OUTFRONT, we're busting the myths of this political election wide open. Now Memorial Day is the unofficial start of the summer. And the presidential race is just entering its second stage. It's the time when campaigns try to hammer home negative attacks, now reinforced by super PAC ads.

We're living in a time when spin outweighs substance. When narratives can unfortunately matter much more than facts. And summer is the time when we see the campaigns try to make these attacks stick.

Now on this show we try to play it straight, criticizing, for example, the Democrats' claims that Republicans are conducting a war on women. While at the same time calling out conservatives for saying that President Obama is waging a war on religion. The problem is when we demonize people we disagree with, using fear and hate instead of reason.

Well, tonight we want to tell you exactly what we -- doesn't add up about. The biggest three myths of the political season as we head into the summer campaign stretch.

OUTFRONT tonight, CNN contributor and "New York 1" anchor Errol Louis and CNN contributor, author of "American Individualism," and my bride, Margaret Hoover.

Now, we'll get to your myths in just a second, but the one I think is the biggest so far this cycle is the idea that President Obama's economic philosophy essentially amounts to an attack on free enterprise. It's a charge we've heard as rival Mitt Romney raise repeatedly on the campaign trail. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're only inches away from no longer being a free economy, and our Democrat friends want us to just keep raising taxes just a little more.


AVLON: Now, this, of course, rips off that old idea that President Obama is somehow a socialist. It's an extension of the anxiety that says a debate about whether the top tax rate should be 35 or 39 percent is the difference between freedom and the slippery road to socialism.

Now the president has tried to clarify that, criticizing -- saying that criticizing Bain is not an all-out attack on private equity, let alone free enterprise.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My view of private equity is that it is -- it is set up to maximize profits. And that's a healthy part of the free market.


AVLON: So, Margaret, I think this constant drumbeat about an attack on free enterprise, confusing private equity with private industry, is a total myth, a total distortion, but I know you've got a very different take.

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, it is a bit of a myth. I don't think anybody is arguing that the difference between 39 percent rate and a 35 percent rate is the difference between socialism and free enterprise, but what you do see is somebody who has been part of the economy, who has been part of the very specific part of growing the economy, private equity, investing, which brings about new jobs, brings about innovation, saying this is going to dampen the economy.

AVLON: So what do you think, from the Republican perspective, is the biggest political myth we need to bust?

HOOVER: One of the things you see in these Bain ads, and you know President Obama hasn't been hammering Mitt Romney that long. Romney has had a lot more opportunity to run against President Obama. What you're seeing is a rift from the Democrats that somehow rich Republicans have made their wealth on the backs of the working poor and that rich Republicans don't have any ability to have any sort of compassion for people who have been hit hard during this economic downturn.

AVLON: Now we've got a clip that illustrates just that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They weren't concerned about your health. It was like working in the sweatshops of the '30s.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private equity is not, per se, bad. But what Bain Capital did was not capitalism, it was bad management.


HOOVER: What he does is he goes on to say, just after that, they go on to paint this illustration of Mitt Romney as a guy who simply can't be president because he doesn't care about people who have lost their jobs. And this notion that conservatives can't have compassion for people who are hurting is a rift that we've seen, frankly, since the Great Depression when Herbert Hoover was tagged for not caring about people who were hit by the economic downturn of the 1929-1930s.

AVLON: So that myth is one do you think needs to go?

HOOVER: Not only do I think it needs to go, we know -- Data Point, about Mitt Romney's personal charity. We know that he gives $4 million in 2011 in -- more than taxes in his charitable contributions. So we know that there are -- there are plenty of examples of Mitt Romney's personal charity. We know he's a man of compassion. And this narrative simply (INAUDIBLE) facts of reality.

AVLON: All right. Now, Errol, your myth is the classic canard we hear over and over that the president is constantly apologizing for America. It's a rift we've heard a lot on the campaign trail. Let's take a quick listen.


ROMNEY: The president went about this all wrong. He went around the world and apologized for America. We will stop the days of apologizing for success at home and never again apologize for America abroad. There's no reason to apologize for the United States of America, and I will not do so if I'm president.


AVLON: Errol?

ERROL LOUIS, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Amazing, amazing. Look, it's the name of his book, "No Apology." He's made it a centerpiece of his campaign and it just didn't happen. I mean Politifact, the objective Pulitzer Prize-winning news organization gave Mitt Romney a pants-on- fire rating because the reality is the president went to Cairo and made major speeches, he went to the United Nations, he spoke at the CIA headquarters.

He said over and over again the same things over and over again, which is that based on shared values, common interests and mutual respect, he wants to inaugurate a new relationship between America and the world. It was something he campaigned on. It was something he promised. It's something he's begun to deliver on.

Never does he say, I'm sorry. I'm sorry for what the United States has done. What he has said is that there's going to be a new policy. There's going to be a new approach. That he wants to have a new diplomatic relationship. He used the words of diplomacy.

AVLON: Do you think these stereotypes are rooted in sort of a hangover from the late '60s when -- the anti-war against Vietnam came to be seen as anti-American when the president was 8 years old?

LOUIS: It's a very easy sort of a thing to sort of fall into. I think that where Mitt Romney is coming from, it's -- he's harking back to the days when the United States wouldn't apologize for anything. As Obama has put it, the days when FDR and Churchill could sit over a glass of brandy and divide up the world. We're long past those days.


AVLON: Those were good days, though.

Let's do a lightning round because we're OUTFRONT on this show. We want you, guys, to dust off your crystal balls and take a look at what dangers you think lie ahead for the Romney and Obama campaigns.


HOOVER: On the Romney campaign, you've got to say he's got to develop some stances on foreign policy. In response to Errol, because this election may not actually be about economics. Everybody thinks it's going to be about jobs. But you know what in 2008 at the Democratic National Convention we thought this was going to be a national security election. It was two weeks before the stock market blew up on September 14th. You never know what the election is going to be about.

AVLON: All right. And Obama?

HOOVER: For President Obama, I think he's got to be very careful threading this line, very carefully when he's talking about the economy so as not to wage class warfare. It is -- it is a -- often a frequent troupe that the Democrats find themselves in.

AVLON: Errol, quickly.

LOUIS: You know, I think the Obama campaign has to worry that it might in fact be a case where people say, look, he got us out of Iraq, he's getting us out of Afghanistan. Thank you very much. And as they said to the first President Bush, we don't need you anymore. We want to deal with the economy now and he could be perhaps another first- term president.

AVLON: We'll see it. It's going to be a wild election ride ahead. Thank you both very much.

Now a new report gives terrifying details about a plot by Iranian-backed terrorists to kill Americans.

And did the butler do it? That's a question that everybody is asking in a scandal that has rocked the Vatican.

And this sounds like a story we've heard before. A female foreign exchange student found dead with Americans being detained as part of the investigation. No, this isn't Amanda Knox all over again. It's the latest murder mystery in (INAUDIBLE), Tokyo.


AVLON: Our second story OUTFRONT, explosive new details linking Iran to a murder plot targeting U.S. officials. The "Washington Post" reports that would-be assassins planned to use silencer-equipped rifles and a car bomb to kill American diplomats at the United States embassy in Azerbaijan.

Iran denies the plot but U.S. and Middle Eastern officials see the reported attempts as part of a larger campaign by Iran-linked operatives to kill foreign diplomats in at least seven countries.

Fran Townsend, our national security contributor, is OUTFRONT tonight.

Fran, did these allegations surprise you?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: They don't surprise me in that, look, Iran doesn't want a full-on military to military conflict with the greatest military power in the world, that is the U.S. and so it makes more sense to me that they're willing to engage in this sort of tit-for-tat.

We've seen attacks in India, Thailand, Georgia, all of which are sort of these low-level assassination attempts using C-4 and magnetized bombs. That -- it's deniable, it's limited in terms of its effect and so that they think they can get away with is a push back to American and western governments without precipitating a full-on military conflict.

AVLON: So this is out of the Iranian-sponsored playbook.


AVLON: But is there a precedent for targeting American diplomats abroad? That does seem to be new.

TOWNSEND: It is new. Look, we know going back to the '70s and '80s, the targeting of American diplomats, particularly in Lebanon, was not -- did happen. But we haven't seen that now for more than 30 years. And so the notion of targeting American diplomat overseas or in the case of the Saudi ambassador here in the United States, doing a targeting on U.S. soil, both push the red lines that have traditionally been observed by Iranian American officials.

AVLON: Well, the biggest red line of all is the biggest question of all. Is this -- could it be construed as an act of war for a foreign power to target for assassination an American ambassador?

TOWNSEND: Absolutely. And remember, John, we heard that argument debated in Congress after the targeting of a Saudi official. Imagine absolutely, if there is hard proof, hard intelligence, credible intelligence that they were actually targeting and undertook steps to assassinate an American official in a foreign country, absolutely it should be considered an act of war.

AVLON: Well, and all this is happening at a very pivotal, very rocky time in negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Does this give the West a little more leverage to use at the negotiating table?

TOWNSEND: Well, absolutely. Look, you know, when you read the Joby Warrick article in the "Washington Post," it's -- what he makes clear is that the Iranians appear to have pulled back on this plan as they got closer to negotiations. Not wanting to upset the apple cart, understanding that if this became revealed, it could very well derail negotiations.

And so it will be interesting to see how the United States will use this as leverage, as -- as a bargaining tool, if you will, in the ongoing negotiations.

AVLON: How would you advise they use it?

TOWNSEND: Listen, I have to tell you this is one of those where it's absolutely so far beyond the pail, it's more than a bargaining chip. I mean I actually think that the Americans ought to threaten to pull back from the negotiations. You can't have a negotiation where your adversary on the other side of the table is threatening you with violence.

AVLON: Thank you, Fran Townsend.


AVLON: Next, leaked documents, cardinals accused, and a high- powered official out of a job. No, this isn't the latest Dan Brown novel, it's a real story that has roiled the Vatican.

And later, he knows how to rock 'n' roll all night, but now we want to know who's going to rock Gene Simmons' vote this fall.


AVLON: Our third story OUTFRONT, it's a scandal that could reach to the highest levels of the Catholic Church. Paolo Gabriele, the personal butler for Pope Benedict XVI was arrested and charged with aggravated theft. Now he's accused of stealing confidential papers and leaking them to an Italian journalist. Gabriele was among a handful of people who had access to the Pope's private documents.

A Vatican spokesman denies any cardinals are being investigated but some have speculated that Gabriele may have been caught in a Vatican power play.

CNN's senior Vatican analyst John Allen is OUTFRONT with us tonight from Denver along with our legal analyst, Paul Callan.

John Allen, I want to start with you. What motive would the butler have to steal these documents? What were their contents and why would he want to leak them to the press? JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: Well, let's start with the contents first. The documents that have been rolling out of the Vatican really since January that collectively constitute what is known as the Vatileaks scandal cover a wide range of ground, including some things that are almost sort of comically surreal and borge-esque (ph), such as an anonymous memorandum about a plot to kill the Pope that most people don't take seriously.

So we go from that extreme to very damaging revelations about the inner workings of Vatican finances, alleging corruption and cronyism and also raising questions about the effectiveness of the new measures, the new transparency measures Pope Benedict XVI has decreed to try to get the Vatican on the white list of countries that meet international standards in the fight against money laundering.

AVLON: And John --

ALLEN: The motives for releasing all of --

AVLON: Is this evidence of a power struggle going on inside the Vatican?

ALLEN: Well, that gets us to the question of motives, doesn't it? And that's really the $64,000 question to which we don't have a hard answer. Gabriele's lawyers have indicated he's cooperating fully with the investigation and so hopefully at the end of this we will know more.

But the two most popular theories at the moment would range from that this guy is a whistle-blower in the classic sense. The Italian journalist to whom most of this was leaked, the guy by the name of Gianluigi Nuzzi has described his source as someone who believed in transparency, that is that too many secrets had been accumulated that needed to see the light of day.

That's one theory. The other would be that Gabriele is an instrument in an internal Vatican power struggle between currents that are favorable and unfavorable to the current prime minister of the Vatican, that would be the Pope's secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertoni.

AVLON: That's a lot of intrigue in a very small state.

But, Paul Callan, let's talk a little bit about the legal process that occurs in the Vatican. The butler is charged with aggravated theft. What is the process that exists inside the Vatican state?

PAUL CALLAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, John, like everything else in the Vatican, it's shrouded in mystery and they are an independent sovereign state that exists within Italy, within Rome itself. And although the Pope is an absolute monarch, there is a judicial system in place.

Now of course they're used to dealing with sort of minor types of crimes, not anything of a major sort, but they have an entire court system with an appellate system built in. But because the Pope is the absolute monarch, he can intervene at any time and pretty much handle the case the way he wants to or forgive somebody for having committed a crime.

So if somebody is founding guilty, they then get sent off to the Italians to be put in jail. They don't have jails in the Vatican.


AVLON: So no jails in the holy city. They would go --

CALLAN: That's right.

AVLON: They would go to Rome.

John Allen, I wonder what this says about the system in place. The Vatican denying strenuously that any cardinals are being investigated. But are you hearing about others being charged?

ALLEN: Yes, I would say from the announcement early this week that Paolo Gabriele had been arrested, there has been real skepticism among many Vatican watchers about how culpable he may be. That is whether or not there may be an innocent explanation for the secret documents that were allegedly found in his apartment or if he was in fact purloining documents, from the Pope's desk, photocopying them and leaking them to someone.

You know, was he doing that as someone else's behest? Everyone around the Vatican knows this guy. He's known to be a fairly simple, very devout guy. He's known around the Vatican as Pauleto (ph), which means little Paul. I think many people are skeptical that ultimately he could be the mastermind of this affair.

AVLON: Paul, will the Italian government take this on? Do they want this fight in their courts and their jails?

CALLAN: Well, I'm sure they probably don't, but this is always the subject of negotiation between the Vatican and the Italian government. I mean they have to basically get the Italians to exercise jurisdiction and take the case, and they can then send the case on.

There was a case a few years ago where the Pope was shot, you remember that case. That got sent over to the Italians and they took it over. So it's happened in the past.

AVLON: John Allen, final question. Is there any connection to these documents being leaked and the dismissal of the head of the Vatican bank?

ALLEN: Well, the Vatican officially says no. They insist that the only connection is that they happened at more or less the same time. They will tell you that the dismissal of the Vatican bank head was a personnel issue related to the fact that the guy quite simply wasn't doing his job.

Now some, however, have suggested there may well be a connection in the sense that some of the documents that were leaked came from the Vatican bank, including a couple of e-mails that came from the personal e-mail account of the president, who just got sacked, an Italian economist by the name of Ettore Gotti Tedeschi. He's hotly denied that. The Vatican has hotly denied it. But in the current atmosphere of crisis and scandal, that has not stopped some people from connecting the dots.

AVLON: Well, it's fascinating stuff. Thank you both very much.

The cost of war. It's a phrase that you hear a lot, especially today. But what is the cost of war? A nonprofit organization called the National Priorities Project has put together a Web site they say tallies just that. calculates the total price tag of America's wars since 2001. More than $800 billion spent in Iraq and more than $500 billion spent in Afghanistan. That's more than a trillion dollars America has spent on its wars over the past decade.

But is that really the true cost of war? Of course not. And that brings us to tonight's number, 6,465. That's the number of American troops that have died in war since 2001. It's a staggering number. And if you add to that all of America's previous wars, it's over 1.2 million Americans lost in battle.

In honor of our fallen troops, has created "Home and Away," an interactive map which includes information about all of the men and women who have died in war since 2001. You can learn where they lived and how they died, leave a message or a memory about them for their families.

Please take a moment on this Memorial Day to visit the site and honor our fallen soldiers. It only takes a minute, but it means a lot to the friends and families of our troops.

The link is available on our blog at

Political positioning may be taking a short break today, but Capitol Hill is gearing up to face off over the Bush tax cuts. Coming up, the man who gets blamed for the D.C. gridlock.

And two Americans are being detained in Japan as part of the investigation into the death of an Irish exchange student. Are there echoes of the Amanda Knox case?


AVLON: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about. We focus on our own reporting from the front lines.

A fire at a mall in Doha, Qatar, has claimed 19 lives, 13 of those children. According to the Minister of State for Interior Affairs, the fire at the Villaggio Mall injured an additional 17. The fire erupted in the nursery. A collapsed ceiling and heavy smoke hampered firefighter efforts.

We want to update you on Amy Copeland, the 24-year-old grad student who's been infected with flesh-eating bacteria. According to her father's blog post, Amy has been able to utter her first words. She said her mind was blown and that she's very excited. She had previously only been able to mouth words. Amy lost her leg, her other foot, her hands and part of her abdomen in her fight against this devastating, flesh-eating bacteria. She contracted it after falling when a homemade zip line broke that resulted in a gash in her leg which became infected with the bacteria.

The National Labor Relations Board member Terence Flynn has submitted his resignation. Flynn came under fire after it was found that he was leaking documents. According to the NLRB inspector general report, Flynn, while serving as chief counsel, released nonpublic information to Peter Schaumber who resigned his position as a labor adviser to the Romney campaign just last month. Flynn has denied any wrongdoing.

Now, an army spokesman says Sudan will move its troops from the disputed region of Abyei the border. The move comes the day before Sudan and South Sudan officials meet in hopes of setting up a framework for a new peace agreement. Omer Ismael, adviser to the Enough Project, tells OUTFRONT the one thing that's compelling both sides to talk is the economy. He says the economy in both countries is in crisis.

Now, it has been 298 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Well our fourth story OUTFRONT tonight is key to whether we get that top credit rating back.

Now, the House returns from break this week and Republicans are already talking about their summer wish list. A top priority, you guessed it, making the Bush era tax cuts permanent, which are set to expire at the end of the year.

Just around the same time, $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts are scheduled to kick in unless both parties can agree on a grand bargain, the deal they have tried and fail to make over and over again. Now, one man gets blamed a lot for this gridlock, Grover Norquist, the founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform.

Grover Norquist is OUTFRONT tonight.

Grover, good to see you.


AVLON: I wanted to play one clip for you and get your reaction. It was Alan Simpson. He was on "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS" this weekend, and he talked about the rigid stance many Republicans have taken refusing to raise revenue as part of a grand bargain.

NORQUIST: Raise taxes?

AVLON: Let's take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ALAN SIMPSON, CO-CHAIR, PRES. OBAMA DEFICIT COMISSION: You can't cut spending your way out of this hole. You can't grow your way out of this hole and you can't tax your way out of this hole. So put that in your pipe and spoke it we tell these people. This is madness. If you want to be a purist, go somewhere on a mountaintop and praise the east or something. But if you want to be in politics, you learn to compromise.


AVLON: Now, I'm pretty sure he's talking about your pledge. What's your reaction?

NORQUIST: Well, Alan Simpson hasn't been paying attention to American politics for maybe a decade. What he missed is that the Ryan plan, which the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed, almost every Republican voted for it, has strong support among Republicans in the Senate, brings the United States' spending down $6 trillion from what Obama is planning to spend. It actually avoids any tax increase and moves us to reform how welfare is done, not just aid to families with dependent children but 70 different welfare programs and gets us on a path to reduce government spending below 20 percent of GDP down towards 15 percent of GDP.

As you move out, actually pays off the national debt. You don't need to raise taxes to balance the budget. You don't need to raise taxes to keep the economy going. You only need to raise taxes if you intend to keep spending as wildly as Obama, Reid and Pelosi did. If we were to keep on that path, you better raise taxes.

AVLON: So you're saying Alan Simpson is out of touch with Washington, he's been gone a long time, been retired.

NORQUIST: He's out of touch with reality here.

AVLON: One person who's very plugged in is Senator Tom Coburn, impeccable fiscal conservative credentials.


AVLON: He was on the show earlier this month as a member of the gang of six of course. Erin asked him about the pledge.


ERIN BURNETT, HOST, "OUTFRONT": 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?

SEN. TOM COBURN (R), OKLAHOMA: Well, first of all, it's not helpful because he's the author and developer of what a tax increase is, which is ridiculous.

(END VIDEO CLIP) AVLON: He's giving you a lot of credit as the person who determines what a tax hike is or isn't. But what do you say when a guy like Tom Coburn criticizes you from the fiscal conservative perspective?

NORQUIST: Well, Coburn has done some very good stuff in fighting against earmarks. However, he has regularly come out in favor of tax increases in the past, so he doesn't have any standing as a Reagan anti-tax Republican. He's done some good things on spending. Sadly, he's in favor of the ethanol mandate, which is very damaging to the economy, and something that we have opposed him on. So he's a little sensitive on that.

So, however, to his point, the taxpayer protection pledge, which is a commitment that any elected official can make if they wish to their voters, they don't have to, and they say in writing if you elect me to be a congressman or senator and I go to Washington, I'm not going to raise your taxes. When we have a challenge, I'm going to reduce spending, I'm going to reform government.

Most politicians have a choice, whether they're governors and you see this in the pro-reform governors around the country, they're not raising taxes, they are reforming government and that's what's working.

AVLON: Just so we're clear here, do you consider a grand bargain that would lower tax rates but close loopholes in order to raise revenue, much like Reagan did, in the past a violation of the pledge, yes or no?

NORQUIST: Well, if you do what Reagan did in 1986, which was the Tax Reform Act of 1986, Americans for Tax Reform, the group I chair, was put together by Reagan and he asked me to run it.

What did we do? We reduced marginal tax rates, took the top rate down to 28 percent for individuals. And we broadened the base so that we eliminated a lot of deductions and credits. It was revenue neutral. It was not a Trojan horse for a tax increase.

That, of course, is consistent with the pledge. That's what Americans for Tax Reform supports. It's what the Ryan plan does.

AVLON: So revenue neutral is your key. The point for you isn't deficit reduction per se, it's keeping taxes low, fair enough. But there's one other -

NORQUIST: And spending low.

AVLON: You say that you've been a strong advocate for tax simplification and broadening the case, you just referred to that. I get a little confused on this, because doesn't broadening the base mean that American who say currently pay no federal income tax, some 47 percent, would be paying income tax for the first time? Isn't that essentially raising taxes?

NORQUIST: Well, what you're talking about is overall -- the overall tax burden and the kind of tax deductions and credits that we're talking about reducing are ones the taxpayers themselves pay now. So you're not talking about taxing guys who aren't paying any taxes now, you are talking about redistributing the present tax structure.

As long as it's revenue neutral, it's not a net tax increase. There would be some people who have a particular tax credit that disappears, but over time you'd rather have lower rates and a broader base, because you have better economic growth for the country.

AVLON: Redistribution. I think that's a dirty word in your lexicon.

NORQUIST: No. Ending redistribution done by the government at present. Reducing it.

AVLON: Thank you for your time.

NORQUIST: You got it.

AVLON: Two young American men are under arrest in Japan in connection with the strangling death of an Irish exchange student.

Tokyo police say that 21-year-old Nicola Furlong was found unconscious in a hotel room with one of the men. Police believe she and a friend went to that hotel with two Americans after attending a Nicki Minaj concert last Wednesday night.

The Americans, 23-year-old John Blackstone and a 19-year-old who has not been identified have not been charged with Furlong's death, but they were arrested for sexually assaulting the victim's friend in a taxi on their way back to the hotel. Lots of questions about this tonight, including whether this story will come to have echoes of the Amanda Knox case back in Italy.

Paul Callan is back with us.

Paul, like Amanda Knox, the Americans charged in connection with this were part of a foreign exchange student. Is there similar circumstances? Is there a false sense of security for some of these students studying abroad?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: A lot of people will see similarities to the Amanda Knox situation. However, there are differences as well. In this particular case, of course, with Amanda Knox, Meredith Kercher was her roommate. This appears to be a situation where the Americans were strangers to the two Irish exchange students who were involved.

But I think it does raise the issue that a lot of Americans get lured into a false sense of safety when they're in American programs in foreign nations. They don't have any special protections, though.

AVLON: The two young Americans have not been charged. But do you think murder charges are imminent given your understanding of these circumstances? CALLAN: Well, Japanese investigators have the right to hold them without charge for a period of 48 hours. What they have done now is they are lodging sexual assault charges, or at least these are the reports we're hearing. They then go before a judge and they can keep them in custody for another 10 days while they continue with their investigation.

So I think it's possible that you will see murder charges come down. Certainly, there's evidence of strangulation being reported in the Japanese press, but we have to see whether the autopsy and the investigative facts bear this out.

AVLON: Are there any indications whether Nicola Furlong went willingly to that hotel room?

CALLAN: We simply don't know at this point. They were in a cab together. We know there was a claim that someone was sexually assaulted in that cab. There were allegations of a lot of alcohol involved.

So the facts are not very clear. And we're going to have to await more facts to see what happens.

AVLON: Well, it's a story that's gaining steam and raising a lot more questions than we have answers right now. Thank you, Paul.

CALLAN: OK. Nice being with you, John.

AVLON: Now, the latest out of Egypt, where the offices of a presidential candidate have been ransacked.

And the one and only Gene Simmons comes OUTFRONT on hard rock Republicans and, yes, his family jewels.


AVLON: We're back with tonight's "Outer Circle", where we reach out to our sources around the world.

This news just in from Egypt: Protesters attacked the offices of presidential candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, an ally of former President Hosni Mubarak. It was just announced he is one of two candidates who will compete in a runoff election next month. Shafiq's Cairo campaign headquarters were ransacked and set on fire.

Protesters also took Tahrir Square to show their disapproval of the results of the historic democratic election.

Earlier I spoke to Ben Wedeman in Cairo and asked him what's really behind these protests.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, the choice facing Egyptians couldn't be more stark and for many more unpalatable. Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood came in with 24 percent of the vote in the first round. Ahmed Shafiq, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister got 23 percent. So the choices between a religious and social arch conservative and a man whose last full-time job was working for Egypt's deposed and detested president.

So for many Egyptians, they may have to cast their ballot with one hand and hold their noses with the other. Young revolutionaries are saying they're not going to vote at all and some are already chanting down with the next president, whoever it might be -- John.


AVLON: Next to Syria. Special U.N. envoy Kofi Annan arrived in Damascus today calling for justice, in the aftermath of Friday's massacre in the town of Houla in eastern Syria. One hundred and eight people, including 49 children, were killed. Opposition forces blame government forces for the massacre, while Bashir al-Assad's regime is blaming terrorist groups.

Mohammed Jamjoom and I asked what Annan is hoping to accomplish in Damascus.


MOHAMMED JAMJOOM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, upon his arrival in Syria, Kofi Annan said he was shocked and horrified by what had happened in Houla. He said that it was an appalling crime and those responsible must be held accountable. Now, Annan who met later in the day with Syria's foreign minister also said that the Syrian regime must prove that it is serious in its intentions in resolving the crisis in that country peacefully.

But a lot of people doubt if his visit will make much difference. We must remember that for weeks now, many in the international community have been saying that Kofi Annan's peace plan is in tatters. And just yesterday the rebel Free Syrian Army declared that plan dead and said that they plan to retaliate against the Syrian regime, whom they blame for that massacre in Houla -- John.


AVLON: Last to the U.K. where former Prime Minister Tony Blair denied that he was influenced by the powerful media magnate Rupert Murdoch. Blair was grilled during a hearing about the phone hacking scandal that's engulfing Murdoch's newspapers and that nation.


TONY BLAIR, FORMER U.K. PRIME MINISTER: I don't know a policy that we changed as a result of Rupert Murdoch.


AVLON: Dan Rivers is following the investigation in London. I asked him how Blair was covered by Murdoch's newspapers while he was prime minister.


DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, I think Tony Blair would probably admit that he got a reasonably fair hearing from Rupert Murdoch's press, perhaps helped by the fact, as he admitted here today, that in 1995 he traveled halfway around the world to Australia especially to meet Rupert Murdoch and some of his top executives and then just two years later, lo and behold, "The Sun" newspaper switched its allegiance famously from the conservatives to back Tony Blair and New Labor and that resulted in a landslide victory for New Labor, which continued for two subsequent elections.

So I think he probably would say that, yes, he was treated reasonably fairly, although as he admitted here today towards the end of that the relationship did begin to sour -- John.


AVLON: Now let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's ahead.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Hey, John, we've got more on the massacres in Syria ahead on the program tonight. It is certainly a story that's difficult to watch, difficult to tell but a story the world needs to know about -- the wholesale massacre of more than 100 people in Syria, dozens of them children. You're looking at the bodies there wrapped in shrouds.

The Assad regime did what it always does, blaming it on terrorists. Keeping them honest, we'll speak with a reporter in Houla when this happened. I'm also joined by national security analyst Fran Townsend and Professor Fouad Ajami.

In crime and punishment, new and troubling information about Pedro Hernandez. He's the man under arrest for murdering 7-year-old Etan Patz more than 30 years ago. Tonight, details of how he confessed years ago to the crime and why when this confession was reported to the police, nothing was done, allegedly.

Those stories, also the protests against the North Carolina pastor, the one who preached that gays and lesbians should be rounded up, put behind electrified fences to die. He was back in the pulpit this weekend. There were protests outside the church, inside the church. He got a standing vocation. We tracked him down and tried to get him to answer some questions for us -- John.

AVLON: Thanks, Anderson. Those are important stories and we'll be watching.

Well, our fifth story OUTFRONT tonight. Now, music stars are no strangers to politics. Frank Sinatra was friendly with JFK and Ronald Reagan. Elvis and Richard Nixon, there's two great tastes that go together. And Bono and George Bush. And, of course, Beyonce and President Obama.

Obama is giving the Medal of Freedom award to Bob Dylan trying to build that bridge as well. But something is a little different in this election cycle, the rise of the heavy metal Republicans. Ted Nugent and Kid Rock are backing Mitt Romney and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth, he came out for Rick Santorum, which I thought was a little unexpected.

But our guest tonight is a hard rock legend in his own right, a founding member of KISS and star of the reality show "Family Jewels," Gene Simmons.

It's good to see you.

GENE SIMMONS, MUSICIAN: Thank you. I'm sure you mean "Gene Simmons Family Jewels". Notice how it has more gravitas.

AVLON: It does have a certain weight to it when you say it that way. You're right.

SIMMONS: It's a big word like gymnasium.

AVLON: Well, you know, I've been seeing a lot of headlines out there saying you've endorsed Mitt Romney. Is it true?

SIMMONS: I have not.

AVLON: Really?

SIMMONS: I have not endorsed President Obama who I voted for. And I've not endorsed Governor Romney.

I want to hear a lively debate. I want to hear why either of these gentlemen is going to be voted in. And you're absolutely right when you -- because you've done your due diligence. You're correct. Tonight, "Gene Simmons Family Jewels" debuts on A&E, our seventh or eighth season. Please watch it. My mother wants another house.

Back to you, sir.

AVLON: Well plugged sir.

But you did say, as "Rolling Stone" reported, that you felt that America is a business and should be run by a businessman, that sounds like Romney.

SIMMONS: It could be. But I believe that all governments intrinsically are businesses and should be. In other words, you can be altruistic and humanistic and other big words, but the truth is if your exports are smaller than your imports, you're bankrupt. And if you write more checks than you take in, you're bankrupt.

So, here we are today. We mean well, we're nice people, and we're $15 trillion in debt.

And somewhere in there there's got to be some sanity brought into this. Budgets mean nothing. Nobody knows anything. And everybody's out of work because the economy's in the dumpster. You need people who are not professors in Berkeley assuming political office because they've never run a company and don't have a clue what they're talking about. Hypothetical and academic are other big words, but the only people that creates jobs are businessmen and businesswomen, and they should be in government.

AVLON: Well, you've built quite a successful business yourself. I mean, it's extraordinary the branding and merchandising of KISS has far outsold the music, which is a testament to your business acumen.

I do have a question of what you make of this trend of heavy metal stars coming out for Mitt Romney. Because I can't imagine he's a fan of the music himself. What's behind this trend?

SIMMONS: I don't think anything has to do with anything other than the fact that these citizens of these United States are voicing their opinions. And I think whether you're CNN or FOX or anybody else, it's time for everybody to be quiet and let citizens be citizens and voice their points of view and then secretly when they get into the ballot booth, they will vote their conscience.

But before that, everybody's unhappy. The Democrats are unhappy with our president. By the way, I voted for President Obama and I voted for President Clinton but I also voted for President Bush. I will be damned if any one of the political parties, not just Democrats or Republicans, want to put a stamp on my forehead to say this is who you are.

AVLON: You're a fellow independent. I appreciate that.

SIMMONS: That's right.

AVLON: I've got on important question for you though because it is Memorial Day. People should know that you just hired a veteran through the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Hiring Our Heroes program to be a roadie on your upcoming tour. He's a lifelong KISS fan as well as a U.S. vet. You announced it on the "Today" show.

What made you make the decision to hire a vet and create that power of example?

SIMMONS: Well, shame on us that the first jobs being offered are not to our vets. We have a volunteer military. Volunteer is an important word. Our sons and our daughters are going overseas and risking their lives. And then when they're done serving if they make it back alive or wounded, they're supposed to go back into the mainstream and good luck to you, thanks for saving America.

And it behooves all of us big businesses, small businesses to hire vets. So we have -- I have a restaurant chain with my partners rocking brews. We hire vets. KISS gave a buck out of every ticket we sold last tour to the Wounded Warriors project. We're involved in Fisher House, Rock for Vets. You've got to give back.

Nobody's asking you to risk your life, but you better step up and do something for those that did risk their lives. At least give them a job.

AVLON: Thank you for spreading that message.

And next we say thank you to me men and women who serve our country.


AVLON: Look around the world today. Children are being slaughtered in the streets of Syria, still on-going war with the Taliban and Afghanistan, people of Egypt struggling to have free and fair elections. And you'll quickly appreciate again what a blessing it is to be an American.

Freedom isn't free. It's a cliche because it's true. Our freedom is secured by brave men and women who are willing to lay down their lives in defense of our liberty. All our fallen soldiers are heroes. They're heroes because of the way they chose to live their lives, not just because of the way they died. They remind us that courage is the indispensable quality in a democracy. And their example should inspire us all to be better citizens, stronger and more selfless, dedicated to the idea there is always more that unites us than divides us as Americans.

We should honor our veterans and the families of the fallen every day, not just on Memorial Day. We can do this in small ways, such as just saying thank you for your service when you see someone in uniform, or paying our debt forward by hiring veterans returning home or donating to charities that provide scholarships for children of fallen soldiers.

In these ways, we can show our commitment to the wisdom of Abraham Lincoln, quietly adding our own amen to the words of the Gettysburg address "that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain. That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."

Happy Memorial Day.

Erin's back here tomorrow. "A.C. 360" starts right now.