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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Interview with Wes Bush; Military Budget Cuts; Mitt Romney's Tax Returns; NYC Mayor Takes on Baby Formula
Aired July 30, 2012 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT next just how bad could the looming defense cuts be? We looked at the numbers, do the dire warnings add up?
And new questionings about Mitt Romney's taxes, after the presidential candidate talked about his tax rate and being audited, there was a lot of talk.
And New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg first he went after soda, but now it's mothers and breastfeeding. Let's go OUTFRONT.
Well good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett and OUTFRONT tonight, the big scare. With just four days before Congress high-tails it out of Washington for a month-long recess, I mean why wouldn't you take a month off when we've got the fiscal cliff there? I mean you know hey take a vacation.
There is plenty of talk about the dire consequences of the looming fiscal cliff and dire they are because we're talking about tax cuts expiring for everyone automatically, payroll taxes going up, emergency unemployment benefits ending and, of course, the $1.2 trillion in so- called sequestration cuts. Now about half of that sum is going to come from defense.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The obligation of the commander in chief is to act like the commander in chief, and that would be to prevent these cuts, which in the words of his own secretary of defense, would devastate our national security.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Interesting, acting like a commander in chief, because a lot of the previous commanders in chief have done a lot more than Barack Obama may be about to do. Let's just show you. We've certainly been here before. Former President Ronald Reagan during his second term cut defense spending by about 10 percent. The Cold War was winding down. Those cuts continued under former President George H.W. Bush. There were about 18 percent in cuts and then former President Clinton.
Now Clinton did start to increase defense spending during his term but it still ended lower than where it was when he took office. And another thing that stands out to me about this chart, just hold it out for another moment, is the defense spending and you're looking at real terms defense spending. It's higher now than it was in the Cold War or even during Vietnam. It looks like it was higher during World War II although there were some extraneous spending items then, so that's not a totally fair comparison.
But the chart is courtesy of the Center for American Progress and the Department of Defense. So when you look at that, you have got to ask the question, do the claims of national security disaster add up when it comes to the sequestration? Well I asked that very question to someone who should know the answers, Wes Bush, the CEO of U.S. Defense Contractor Northrop Grumman.
WES BUSH, CEO, NORTHROP GRUMMAN CORP.: Sequestration could have a devastating impact on our overall economic condition. You mentioned two million jobs lost. You know that could raise the unemployment rate on a national level above nine percent. We're talking about both defense and non-defense jobs. Sequestration impacts both elements of the budget, so the two million jobs span much more than just the defense side of it.
BURNETT: So help me understand because you know I've heard that argument and it makes sense. But then I look at some other numbers and it doesn't make sense. For example, the cuts, in terms of real terms, the cuts that the Defense Department already agreed to and then the sequestration on top of that would only be about 11 percent, in real terms. Ronald Reagan cut defense by 10 percent in his second term. George H.W. Bush cut it. So this is right in line with those. That seems to make sense.
BUSH: Yes, when you're talking about percentages, it always matters where you're starting from. I think it's more instructive to actually look at the dollars being cut. If you look at the total between defense and non-defense, it would represent a reduction of over $100 billion in the coming fiscal year. And that's really the number you have to focus on that translates into the economic impact that we're talking about. So a structure today, this would be a precipitous set of cuts that would happen very quickly, would happen without the benefit of strategic thinking on how they would be applied.
BUSH: To do that at a time when our nation continues to face an array of security issues around the globe that demand our attention, demand our presence, demand our military capability, really does not make any sense.
BURNETT: So are you saying, then, that on a percentage basis, that these cuts would be fair, but your problem is the way they're going about it, i.e., they're going on every line item, so they're cutting everything as opposed to maybe cutting some things that really should go and keeping other things?
BUSH: What we're talking about here is another $500 billion in cuts.
BURNETT: Right. BUSH: So if we're talking about those two added together, I would not say that that would be an appropriate level of cut --
BURNETT: But that's where I get the 11 percent.
BUSH: -- first 500 is something that was important for the nation.
BURNETT: Right, but that's what I'm trying to understand --
BUSH: Yes and if you --
BURNETT: -- because getting those two together is where I get -- hold on -- that's where I get the 11 percent on real terms, which, again, is about the same as Ronald Reagan did. So --
BUSH: No, from the total size of the cut, this magnitude would -- relative to the array of issues that our Department of Defense is addressing around the globe, I believe be unprecedented. In fact if you look at what Secretary Panetta has said, he has been very clear that the department's ability to meet its requirements, to really execute its mission would be fundamentally impaired by this magnitude a cut. And by that, we're talking about the second 500 billion.
BURNETT: All right, but then -- so let me just -- let me just get your answer to this though because in 2008, we had nearly 188,000 men and women serving on the ground, troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now in 2012, we only have 67,500 and we're going to have even fewer. So as we have fewer people actually serving in war, we would appear to need fewer tools for them to use in those wars, right, not more?
BUSH: Yes, this isn't just a matter of quantity. If you look at the capital investment in the nation's infrastructure, to support our military over this last decade, we've had to bias (ph) the investment towards the conflicts that we've been addressing and so there really has been a reduced amount of investment to support the force structure.
BURNETT: So how many people will you have to lay off at the beginning of next year due to the sequestration specifically?
BUSH: It's hard to tell exactly today. And that's part of the challenge that we're all dealing with, with sequestration. The law that was implemented specifies a percentage cut and has some description of how that gets applied. We've sought guidance from the federal government to be more clear about how sequestration would actually be implemented. The federal government itself is having difficulty coming up with that guidance because of the nature of the law.
BURNETT: I want to bring in John Avlon now. And John, what's interesting is of course he said that we didn't have an overall number for how many people they'd have to lay off, even though he stood by the Industry Lobbying Association's number of two million for the overall industry. I sort of thought they would have more specifics to make their point.
JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. No that was not an interview that was all about specifics and look where you stand is a matter of where you sit.
AVLON: The head of this business is not going to want defense spending to be cut at all. But it's stunning to see him not have an answer. When you raised historical comparisons dollar for dollar and made the point that we have been here before, the Republican presidents have cut defense spending. In fact even before that chart, go back to Eisenhower, Nixon, when we have fewer wars, we spend less on defense. And of course defense contractors aren't going to like that. That shouldn't be news to anybody.
BURNETT: Right --
BURNETT: Well a lot of the numbers, too -- it's frustrating when he says oh the cuts are big. Well I mean that's because we were projected to have large increases in defense spending, so a lot of what's going away is just the increase that was (INAUDIBLE).
BURNETT: Before you even get to an absolute cut.
AVLON: And this is what lobbyists always cry about. They're always judging against projected spending. If you cut projected spending they consider it a cut outright. Look what boggles my mind also isn't just people like him. I understand his self-interest is in keeping defense spending at unprecedented levels.
AVLON: We know historically these cuts are not unprecedented. What boggles my mind is the conservative members of Congress who talk about reducing deficits and debt all the time. And when -- after the super failed committee couldn't make a deal and all of a sudden these cuts are real they run screaming in the other direction because they don't like the pain it causes. Cuts are painful. Cuts -- any cuts can be said to reduce economic growth. But if you really are serious about dealing with the deficit and the debt, you deal with it. You don't not just demagogue it and this gutless wonders across the board boggle my mind.
BURNETT: And so what now are your odds of -- there's the whole debate going on of pre or post-election. I'm sort of in it's got to be post- election camp. I can't see it happening before, but are you more optimistic?
AVLON: I would love to be optimistic. Certainly this Congress hasn't shown us anything but an impulse to kick the can, but let's say these folks want to avoid the pain of sequester, then guess what? There's a way to do it. Make a deal. Make a deal. Cut spending. Reform entitlements, raise some revenue. We -- this was never anyone's first choice. It was always supposed to be painful.
AVLON: So now the fact it's coming in maybe that will focus some people's minds.
BURNETT: All right. John Avlon, thank you very much, a plea, a plea for reason and accountability, there's so little of it out there.
All right still OUTFRONT, Mitt Romney is talking about his taxes, but talk is not action.
And Penn State University may be on the verge of a huge blow to its already crippled football program.
And then, she wrote an article about the glamorous life of Asana al Assad (ph), the wife of the Syrian dictator as the Syrian regime began cracking down on its people. Now the reporter telling the behind-the- scenes story of what she says really happened when the first lady of hell, as she calls her, duped her.
BURNETT: And now our second story OUTFRONT Mitt Romney dodging questions about his taxes again, in an interview with "ABC News".
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was one year when you paid about a 13.9 percent tax rate. Can we clear this up by asking you a simple yes or no question? Was there ever any year when you paid lower than the 13.9 percent?
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I haven't calculated that. I'm happy to go back and look. But my view is I have paid all the taxes required by law.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You say you would go back and look. You would look for us?
ROMNEY: I haven't looked at the tax rate paid year by year. I know that I pay a very substantial amount of taxes and every year since the beginning of my career so far as I can recall.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. We're betting that Mitt Romney is aware of whether he paid 13.9 percent or less in some years. CNN contributor Roland Martin joins me along with Republican strategist Alice Stewart. And Alice, let me start with you because there's something else that Mitt Romney said during that interview with David Nuri (ph). He said, quote, "from time to time I've been audited, I think as happens to other citizens as well. And the accounting firm which prepares my taxes has done a very thorough and complete job paying taxes as legally due." So this seems to kind of -- it confuses me even more, right? He's been audited, which kind of proves the point we've been making for a while. He's never done anything wrong or remotely shady in his taxes. So why won't he release the returns?
ALICE STEWART, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well Why should he? He has 100 percent acted in compliance with the law. He has produced the last two years of his tax information. He has never broken the law in this regard. Why should he? You know if he does release two more years, then the media and the Obama campaign is going to want him to release 10 or 20. This is nothing more than a pathetic distraction from the Obama campaign who would rather talk about something that the average person is not concerned about than what people are concerned about which is the Obama administration's record for the past 3.5 years, which is not good.
BURNETT: Hold on --
STEWART: Income taxes.
BURNETT: Roland, one thing I have to say, though, I think David Nuri (ph) did ask the right question. I think people would care if he paid less than 13.9. Obviously there have been reports out there, which we're not going to know whether they're true or not unless he tells us that -- because of losing investment income in 2009 may have paid no taxes that year, zero.
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is utterly hilarious. This is the guy who tells us he loves his father and he wants to emulate his father. Wasn't it his father who set the standard for releasing taxes? Now he wants to roll that back. Here's the whole deal. Republicans were trying to get Mitt Romney to release his taxes back in March so this would not be an issue. What they have -- what he has just done is handed the Obama campaign a bat to bash him upside his head like Robert DeNiro (ph) in "The Untouchables." And so and they're going to run ads showing conservatives like Brit Hume and others saying he should release his taxes. And so Romney, what are you doing? You're not going to win this argument. Your daddy set the standard. Follow your daddy.
BURNETT: I mean Alice, Alice, it does seem -- I mean if he's got nothing to hide, why not do it because to be fair the standard has changed. Like it or not, most people now who run for president they are releasing six to 12 to some cases, 20 years of taxes.
MARTIN: His daddy started it.
BURNETT: That's fair. His father did start it. But Alice, I mean why not? If you've got nothing to hide, hey guys take the 20,000 pages, have fun. STEWART: Look he's done everything the law has required him to do and I can assure you, I've traveled across this country on the campaign trail. Not one single person has asked any questions about the income tax return of any of my candidates.
MARTIN: Alice --
STEWART: And I can assure you we've got 23 million Americans out of work. We have an abysmal GDP at 1.5 percent. We have unemployment above eight percent for the past 41 months. That is what people are concerned about, who is going to get in there and turn those numbers around --
BURNETT: Hey Alice --
MARTIN: Erin, real quick, Erin --
BURNETT: Hold on --
BURNETT: Give me one second, Roland, because Alice, Hogan Gidley who also worked on the Santorum campaign with you said that he thought that Mitt Romney should release the taxes.
MARTIN: That's what I was about to bring up.
STEWART: The point is Mitt Romney has released everything that he has required by law that he has to do. And what he's doing, smartly enough, is heading on the campaign trail, talking about what people do want to hear about. The average person is concerned about jobs and the economy. The latest Gallup poll says they want their presidents to focus on health care, the economy, doing away with corruption in government, the education and Social Security. Those are the issues that people are talking about.
MARTIN: Alice --
STEWART: So I don't know why we're wasting time --
MARTIN: Alice please --
STEWART: -- sitting here talking about something when the average person is not concerned about that.
MARTIN: Alice, please just don't give me the GOP talking point. Your former boss who you were working for said during the campaign, Mitt, release your taxes. And so I'm sure during the Santorum campaign, you guys used that as a talking point. So please don't give a GOP talking point. You know as a political pro Romney is hurting himself because he is giving the impression, I have something to hide. This is why you do this four months ago. He's only hurting himself.
STEWART: He's released everything by law he's required to do. And he's doing what we need to be doing at this stage of the game -- what we're doing as we get -- now we're 99 days out from this election. People are concerned about what are your policies, what are your views, what are your positions on the key issues, which is turning the economy around and creating jobs. And that's what he's doing and that's why right now the poll numbers show he's neck and neck with the president. And for a sitting president to be neck and neck at this stage of the game is not a good place to be.
BURNETT: I want to turn the conversation before we go to something else that I'm sure you all could talk for quite a while about, but this is the Democrats saying they're going to include gay marriage as a platform in their official -- their official party platform at the convention, in North Carolina, it's a gutsy move. Roland, why are they choosing to do it? I mean this could cost a couple of states.
MARTIN: Easy. Keep in mind it was President Barack Obama early in the year who was not supportive of this being included in the platform. Once he came out and announced that he was supporting same- sex marriage, that changed the whole ball game. I wouldn't be surprised if you polled folks nationally they probably thought it was already in the platform for the Democratic Party.
BURNETT: Alice, final word. Will this galvanize voters for the GOP or no, non-issue now?
STEWART: Well if the gay marriage issue wants to take on the traditional marriage folks, then game on. I think they're in for a tough battle, but the fact of the matter is they may galvanize their base, but this election will be decided by the Independents and those folks are results oriented. And they want someone who will produce results in the presidency.
BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to both of you. We appreciate it.
And next OUTFRONT the court battle between titans, the two biggest phone makers on the planet and a new milestone in the miraculous recovery of Aimee Copeland (ph), the young woman who battled flesh- eating bacteria. There's a big milestone and her father is going to tell you about it OUTFRONT.
BURNETT: Battle of the titans, so it doesn't get better than this. A battle between the biggest and the sexiest tech companies on earth and you know we'll let you decide which is which. But this is the battle between Samsung and Apple. There is no David in this story. There are billions of dollars at stake and you might end up losing your phone too, so this matters. Jury selection has begun in the patent fight between Apple and Samsung. Basically Apple wants Samsung to pay $2.5 billion to Apple, in sales, damages and lost profits for supposedly violating its patents.
The intellectual property being fought over includes things like the tap to zoom and scrolling functions that you're accustomed to on both of those devices. But one of the biggest issues is design, so take a look at this. Apple says that after the iPhone came out, Samsung started copying its design so this is actually in the Apple legal brief. They say this is what you were doing before, Samsung. Look at your little phones. They look like BlackBerries (ph). Then here came the iPhone (INAUDIBLE) and now look at the Samsung devices. Apple says, doesn't that look familiar? And look at the time line.
Let's show you another image. This is actually an interesting one as well. This is for the iPad. So again, Apple is saying this is what Samsung's product looked like before. Then out we came with the iPad and now look at Samsung's new touch screen tablet after the iPad 2. All right Samsung though says this is a whole load of -- it's bogus. Samsung's brief describes these images as cherry-picked by Apple and in fact they have a very long and complicated thing that shows all the different iterations of phones to show that the iPhone was indeed not the catalyst for how your Samsung Galaxy looks.
And that brings me to the number tonight which is -- $24. That's how much Apple wants for every single device that Samsung is selling that violates what Apple says is its design patent. Now this is according to FOS Patents (ph), which is a blog that has been tracking this battle day in and day out, $24 a device is a lot of money. Now Samsung of course says Apple is violating some of its patents and wants money from Apple on its 3g technology. So it goes back and forth and back and forth. But the bottom line is it's big money and it could affect whether you're able to have those Samsung Galaxy phones that now are much more popular than Apple's around the world.
Well still OUTFRONT in our second half, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a new target in his so-called nanny state an interesting term, considering now he is trying to force women to breastfeed and a former "Vogue" reporter says she was duped by the first lady of Syria.
BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our reporting from the front lines.
First, the man accused of killing 12 and wounding 58 in the Colorado movie theater has been formally charged. James Holmes has been charged with 142 criminal counts and here's how they break down: 24 for first-degree murder, 116 counts of attempted murder, one count of felony possession of an explosive device and one count that is a sentence enhancer.
About half the seats in the courtroom were filled by victims or their family members. And, of course, at the last hearing, some have said Holmes appeared disoriented. Our Ed Lavandera was in the court. He said this time around, Holmes appeared more lucid and aware of what was going on -- although he said he did appear to, quote-unquote, "zone out" at times.
Well, corn prices have hit a record high in this country as this country suffers through its worst drought in 50 years. We went through the USDA's latest crop progress report. And only 24 percent of the American corn crop is in good or excellent condition. That's down 2 percent from just last week. Nearly 40 percent of this country's soybean crop is rated very poor or poor, which is matching the lows seen during the 1988 drought for soy.
Right now, the weather forecast indicates some of the northern Corn Belt will get a little bit of rain. But there will continue to be a drought in some of the hardest-hit areas.
Well, tonight, we're learning some of Penn State's football players may be transferring from the university. Earlier this month, the NCAA placed severe sanctions on Penn State. As a result, it's allowing football players to transfer without penalty. Junior quarterback Rob Bolden is no longer listed on the Penn State roster on the team Web site. And there are several reports that running back Silas Redd visited USC over the weekend.
"Sport Illustrated's" Stewart Mandel tells OUTFRONT we might see more players try to take this opportunity to transfer after the season, putting the Penn State program in question.
Well, a couple in northern Mali was stoned to death this weekend for having an adulterous relationship. They were executed according to Sharia law. This is, of course, not the only violence people in Mali are experiencing. As you know, we've been talking a lot about that.
What we saw there, if you want to help some of the people in Mali, including children like this one that we saw there, we've partnered with a nonprofit organization Save the Children to send food and medicine to the refugees who are fleeing the radical Islamists in control of much of the northern country. Visit our blog at CNN.com/OutFront.
Well, it has been 361 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?
It's almost going to be 365. We've got some special plan.
Now to our third story OUTFRONT: Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his so- called nanny state. First, he announced the proposal to ban big servings of soda. And now, he's taking on baby formula. Starting in September, Bloomberg will implement his "Latch On NYC" initiative.
Why is that a disturbing term? On this plan, most of the hospitals will keep formula out of plain sight to encourage new mothers to breastfeed. Mothers who still want to bottle-feed can. But nurses have to sign out the baby formula and explain to them why it's not the best thing to do.
Now, this is a, quote-unquote, "voluntary" initiative. But so far, two-thirds of New York City hospitals have already latched on to the idea.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, NEW YORK: Most public health officials want to encourage women to breastfeed at least for the first couple of weeks because the outcomes are better. And if they can do it, that's great. If they can't, they can't. You know, or job -- we're not making anybody do it. We're suggesting. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Is this a step too far for the mayor?
OUTFRONT tonight, Rene Syler, CEO and founder of GoodEnoughMother.com. We should mention she worked for Even Flo, which is a baby product and supply company. Also OUTFRONT tonight, Kristen Howerton, a blogger for RageAgainsttheMinivan.com.
All right. I love both of your blog names. Let me just say that.
Now, let's get to it.
Rene, does the mayor have a point? I mean, obviously he right there in the sound byte said, hey, I'm looking at a couple of weeks. But pediatricians do recommend six months of breastfeeding. So, is he doing the right thing?
RENE SYLER, FOUNDER, GOODENOUGHMOTHER.COM: I mean, listen, before anybody says anything -- I have to say, I'm a big appropriate of breastfeeding. I nursed both of my children.
I just don't think that this is the way to get that done. I don't think -- he says it's a voluntary program. But a woman who's just had a baby and her hormones are all sort of being regulated and she's got this screaming child and she's trying to feed this baby and then you have to call a nurse and ask the nurse for formula, it seems like so much. Then the nurse is going to stand over you and lecture you about --
BURNETT: Right. And if you don't want to do it or it hurt, you're made to feel that you're a failure or a bad mother, or something like that, right?
SYLER: Exactly. I just don't -- I don't -- I feel like this is just one more attack on mothers and on women. I feel like -- you know, it's not that women don't want to try. I think most women understand, most everybody knows that breast is best unless you've never heard that before, which I'd be shocked by.
We know that breastfeeding is good. We know it's best. But like in the case with me and my daughter, it took three weeks before we figured it out.
BURNETT: Right. It can take time.
Now, Kristin, what about the New York Health Department? They're putting out a lot of numbers out there. One of them, 100 percent excess risk of inner ear infections, which is one of the things that we hear that can happen very early on in a child's -- a baby's life if they're on formula. But 44 percent of all infants get that, whether they're -- ear infections, whether they're breastfed or whether they're not breastfed.
So, some of these numbers appear to be a little bit scare tactics. KRISTEN HOWERTON, BLOGGER, RAGEAGAINSTTHEMINIVAN.COM: Yes. You know, it could be. But I do think that this initiative is good in that I think that there is pretty rampant formula-pushing happening in American hospitals all across America. I mean, I know when I had my babies, both times I was given a gift bag that had branding of formula all over it. I was offered formula bottles by nurses.
So I do think that there's a middle ground here that we should be driving for where women are encouraged to breastfeed and aren't just offered a bottle of formula to give to their children as soon as their baby is born.
BURNETT: What do you think about that, Rene? Is that true that they're pushing formula, is that a fair characterization?
SYLER: You know, I mean, pushing formula -- it's been a long time since I had a baby. It's been like 14 years. But pushing formula might be a bit much, I think.
But she's absolutely right. There should be some middle ground. I don't believe that middle ground is having a nurse sign out the formula each time you need to feed your screaming baby.
BURNETT: What about, though, the difficulty that a lot of women will have to deal with? Which is, they have to work. And soon after having a child, they have to go back to work. I know that technically there's all these things in place where you can breastfeed at work or pump. But, you know, for a lot of women, that's not practical.
HOWERTON: Well, I think it's important to notice that this initiative is addressing children in hospitals.
You know, it's up -- this wouldn't have any effect on working moms. We're just talking about the time period of when a woman's in a hospital. It's really just 24 to 48 hours after birth. I mean, after that point, every woman can leave and do what they feel is best for them.
SYLER: But it literally took me three weeks of frustration, trying to teach and trying to work out this breastfeeding dance with my own daughter. And that was not with someone standing over my head saying, hey, you're doing it wrong or you're doing it wrong. That's not, I don't believe, the support that nursing mothers need. They need it to be in a loving and caring environment and not someone saying, hey, you know, you're doing it wrong, the wrong way.
BURNETT: Well, thanks very much -- go ahead, final word, Kristen.
HOWERTON: I think in that case, we have to trust that nurses are going to be gentle and helpful with moms. The hope is that they're not going to be shaming but that it's going to encourage nurses and moms to give it a shot instead of just reaching for the bottle.
BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to both of you. We appreciate it. And viewers, let us know what you think. I mean, Mayor Bloomberg, what is next? Soon his picture will be on the wall in hotels like in certain parts of the world, maybe.
All right. Our fourth story OUTFRONT, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has some advice for Syrian leader, Bashar al Assad.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LEON PANETTA, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: I'm sure deep down Assad knows he's in trouble and it's just a matter of time before he has to go.
BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: What would you say to him?
PANETTA: I would say, if -- if you want to be able to protect yourself and your family, you better get the hell out now.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Get the hell out now.
Well, to date, human rights groups say the conflict in Syria has left more than 20,000 people dead.
But before the atrocities in Syria were known to the world, journalist Joan Juliet Buck wrote a glowing profile of the first lady called "A Rose in the Desert." It appeared in the March 2011 issue of "Vogue" magazine. And, of course, in May in that year, Syrian uprising started to intensify, "Vogue" removed the article from its Web site.
The Web site PresidentAssad.net still has the article posted as you just saw there.
And OUTFRONT tonight, Joan Juliet Buck, who says she was duped by Mrs. Assad and her family.
And I'm so glad to meet you because I have to say, when I read that article, I read it back at the time and I said, my gosh, what was she thinking? What was she thinking with this article? And now you're actually going to tell us what happened.
So, what happened that made that article come out the way it did?
JOAN JULIET BUCK, NEWSWEEK CONTRIBUTOR: Well, the piece was -- "Vogue" is a magazine that looks for the positive. If you're in "Vogue," you're going to look great, you're going to be wearing great clothes. And whoever writes about you is going to say only the best things about you. That's the way it goes.
But I went -- at the time, Bashar al Assad was thought maybe as a reformer. Hillary Clinton said it. Lots of people said it. John Kerry was there the whole time.
There was hope that maybe Bashar al Assad was not an evil person like his father and that he and his wife, the beautiful Asma, represented something new in the Middle East. It was even believed that he could be some kind of conduit to peace in the Middle East.
BURNETT: Right. And I think we should note, in your defense, that the research and the writing of this article was actually done in December of the year before, before really anyone even knew about Tunisia --
BUCK: As I write in "Newsweek," I was given this assignment on the 1st of December, 2010.
Mohamed al-Bouazizi, the Tunisian fruit vendor who set off the Arab spring by setting himself on fire --
BUCK: -- did it on December 16th. I was already in Damascus. During January, there were small uprisings in various Middle Eastern states. And Tunisia happened in January. And by the middle of January, Ben Ali had fled.
BUCK: And Tunisia was free, as it were. That dictator was gone.
So, there was also Egypt, where we were all cheering what was happening in Tahrir Square.
BURNETT: So, did you start to get nervous --
BURNETT: I mean, here's your first line, Asma al Assad is glamorous, young and very chic, the freshest and most magnetic of first ladies.
BURNETT: Second paragraph, you talked about Syria, a place without bombings, unrest or kidnappings.
BUCK: Right. But there's a couple of other lines where I say that it conducts strict electronic and personal surveillance on both nationals and visitors.
BURNETT: Which you experienced, right?
BUCK: Which I experienced, but it was funny because somebody got into my computer. But I didn't actually have the computer looked at until I'd finished writing the piece because I didn't know exactly what it meant. And it was something, you'll think about it later.
BURNETT: So what -- a lot of people are going to say when you look back on what you saw -- you know, forget what you wrote and whether you wrote it more glowingly than you wish you did. But what about the relationship between Asma and Bashar and the children? What, looking back, did you see?
BUCK: What I saw -- obviously when people are being visited by American "Vogue", they're at their best. They want to look gorgeous and glamorous and their house is going to be really clean.
BUCK: So she used a brand-new saucepan. I don't know if that meant that the house was a fake set with all new props or if they'd gone out and bought a new saucepan because American "Vogue" was coming.
BURNETT: Right. But you raised the possibility that it could have been a set. It could have been a fake place, right?
BUCK: It could have been a fake set. He could have been a fake president.
I don't know. I don't have the political training. I'm not a political journalist.
BUCK: I just know what was exactly in front of my eyes. What was in front of my eyes was kind of a nerdy guy who didn't seem threatening or particularly complex.
BURNETT: Really? Not particularly complex? Interesting.
BUCK: Yes. And a woman who was very, very on message. She's a banker. I don't really trust bankers. It's a prejudice of mine.
Everything she said was for me to know that the children of Syria were her number one concern, that with her discovery centers, Massar, she was going to help the children of Syria have the confidence to build a civil society. She said it to me so many ways and so many times, I had gone -- because I was hoping to look at antiquities.
BUCK: All she talked about was enabling the children of Syria.
BURNETT: And you in "Newsweek," your headline is, "Mrs. Assad duped me, and my notorious interview with Mrs. Assad, the first lady of hell".
BUCK: Of hell, because what happened, she enabled -- no, did she do it deliberately? Did she know what she was doing, by telling a totality of over 200,000 children, young Syrians, aged between 5 and, say, 20, that they had the power to change the way things were in their country, by telling them that, was it she who enabled the nine -- the 15 kids who at the end of February 2011 in Daraa wrote a graffiti on the wall of their school saying, the people want the regime to change?
These are the kids who were arrested. These are the kids who were tortured by Assad's regime. And for me, the whole reason I wrote this piece -- I met a woman who was on message like a banker, but it was all about enabling the kids.
And from the moment the atrocities started, which was with the torture of the kids who had done the graffiti and this torture was discovered at the end of March, from the moment this started, I was saying to myself, who's this woman I met who only spoke about enabling the children of Syria?
BURNETT: Right. Maybe there's a very great irony in all of this. Well, thank you very much, Joan. We appreciate it.
And, of course, Joan's new article about the story -- and it's really worthwhile in reading, sort of a minute by minute of what she saw and what happened. I have to say, I enjoyed it much more than the first article that you wrote. It's in "Newsweek" right now.
OUTFRONT next, a milestone in the recovery of Aimee Copeland, the young woman we've been talking about, to her family. She won that battle with flesh eating bacteria. And her father with the milestone she achieved this week is OUTFRONT next.
And the frantic effort to stop the spread of a deadly outbreak of Ebola.
BURNETT: And now, we're back with our outer circle where we reach out to sources around the world.
And tonight, we go to Uganda, where health officials are trying to stop the spread of an Ebola outbreak that's been difficult to detect because patients are sick but they're not showing the typical symptoms like bleeding.
David McKenzie is following the story from Nairobi. And I asked him what officials are doing to control the outbreak.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, there's been a deadly outbreak of the dreaded Ebola virus in East Africa. So far, 14 people have been killed by the virus. There's no known cure. And it spreads very fast and kills very quickly. It all happened in the western part of the country, in Kibaale.
The index case or the initial case was a pregnant woman. Nine members of her family died when it's believed they buried her, as well as a health worker who worked to try and save her life. Now, the Centers for Disease Control based in Atlanta is sending a team out to Uganda. There's already a team there with the World Health Organization and government officials to try and curb this outbreak.
One thing working in their favor is that it's such an effective killer that it's often hard to spread outside of the region where it started -- Erin.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Our fifth story OUTFRONT: Aimee Copeland, the 24-year-old who lost her leg a foot and her hands to a flesh-eating bacterial infection that almost killed her has been defying the odds in her recovery. She is in the midst of grueling physical therapy sessions that are now geared towards some of the basics, getting in and out of a chair. She's also learned to work with a new hand and leg prosthetics. It's been a miraculously quick recovery.
And OUTFRONT tonight, Aimee's father, Andy Copeland, who's been giving us regular updates on Aimee's progress.
And, Andy, good to see you as always. I know that physical therapy sessions have been pretty difficult. But what are some of the things that most recently she's mastered?
ANDY COPELAND, AIMEE COPELAND'S FATHER: Well, I'll tell you, just the regiment she's under now is incredible. She does 200 crunches in about seven minutes, 400 leg lifts in about seven minutes. She does an untold number of push-ups.
In fact, one day I went there to see her, she was doing push-ups and her therapist was turning to talk to a guy (ph), she must have talked to him for five minutes while she was doing push-ups. So, she does this thing called planks and side planks. I looked it up to find out what it is. It's just an unbelievable regiment she does for an hour and a half each day. So, she's really pushing it hard right now.
BURNETT: Wow. So, how many of the prosthetics does she have? And is she fully acclimated with?
COPELAND: She's actually has three prosthetics now. She has two hooks that she uses basically in place of hands. It's interesting -- it seems that after having those hooks on for about 10 minutes, she seemed to have been able to master the ability to use them. She reached over, there were a pair of shorts her wheel chair, and she was going to get up and transfer over to her wheelchair from the bed and she just reached over and effortlessly grabbed the shorts, threw them across her body and said, OK, let's get in.
And the prosthetist looked and said, wow, he says, usually it takes three days for somebody to be able to master the coordination of using those hooks to do something like that.
Plus, she has one prosthetic on her right leg which is the area of her below knee amputation. Her left side, she still doesn't have her prosthetic yet on that side. That side's not really that healthy. She still has some sores that are pop up and it's possible she may require an additional surgery there sometime before the end of the year.
BURNETT: You're standing in front of your house. I know you've got a developer that's been helping your build what's calling Aimee's wing.
So, how is that coming? I know that's going to be a place that she -- you know, completely friendly to her when she does return.
COPELAND: Yes. It's been remarkable progress. Pulte Homes has stepped in and really knocked this thing out in record time. They gave us a schedule of 40 days but I think they're scheduled to complete this sometime next Tuesday.
COPELAND: So it's amazing that they've knocked it out in the time frame that they have.
We also have a general contractor, Casey Moon (ph), who's working on the inside of our structure now. He hopes to be done with the existing structure by the 14th.
So we're really pushing that to make sure everything's ready in time for Aimee to home.
BURNETT: And I know when Aimee is going to come home -- I mean, this has been a time that could have been many months away. No one knew. And given what you're describing with her crunches and her push-ups and her -- the miraculousness of this recovery, when do you actually expect her to come home?
COPELAND: Well, we're seeing she's going to be home by the 22nd. And it's interesting. I told her, said, great, I said, when you come home, I said, I want to have cameras there, everybody, you know, seeing Aimee come home. She goes, no, dad, I don't need that. I need -- let me come home. And she said, I just need to come home.
Because I felt like it was going to be a great big moment that we could record. She doesn't even want me to record it with a home video. She said, you know, did you record me when I went off to college? And I'm like, no. She said, OK, this is the same thing, don't make a big deal out of it.
So, she's asked us to give her some personal time when she comes home, that she can become acclimated to her new environment, and just be able to enjoy being home because, gosh, she's been in a medical facility now for three months, and we're really looking forward to her being a place where she's -- feels safe and where she feels like she's finally home.
BURNETT: And that will be a great day.
OUTFRONT next: a Russian rock band held in jail for almost five months would no end in sight. Why the government's cozy relationship with the church could be behind it.
BURNETT: In March, we brought you the story of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot. It's an all-female group. But they said to have as many as 10 members. And they put on masks so you can't always tell which ones are there.
They're known for being anonymous and politically charged. They were one of the most vocal critics of Vladimir Putin when more than 100,000 people took to the streets of Moscow earlier this year, singing a song called "Putin Chickens Out." But according to Russian authorities, they went too far on February 21st when they stormed the altar of the Christ the Savior Cathedral to sing an anti-Putin punk prayer, including the lines, "Virgin Mary, drive Putin away."
They were only there for about a minute but it offended many believers. And shortly after the performance, three of the band's members were snatched off the street and currently face up to seven years in prison. They've been held with no bail since February which is almost five months.
Their trial finally began in Moscow today. The official charge is hooliganism with, quote, "religious hatred".
But is this about religion or politics? The prosecution says the women's treatment and the charges are fair but there appears to be more to it. Although church and state are officially separate under Russia's constitution, the Orthodox Church is one the primary supporters of Putin and he's claimed the leading role in setting moral standards. This cozy relationship has led much of the Russian public, Amnesty International, and celebrities like the Red Hot Chili Peppers to champion the Pussy Riot cause.
Recently, a lawyer for the band said, the documents tried not to make it look like a political case, but for us, it's obviously political and when someone says there are no political prisoners in the country, we feel like laughing.
This week, Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will be in London for the Olympics, an event that celebrates it is best of the human spirit. Hopefully, some of that will rub off.
"A.C. 360" starts right now.