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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Defying America?; Romney's VP

Aired August 10, 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 the U.S. comes out today slamming a company for doing business with Iran, but does the tough talk add up? Why all the talk about Paul Ryan these days as a possible VP for Mitt Romney? We're going to show you a chart that shows huge interest and tell you why it's not going to happen. And later, a developing story in Louisiana where the earth is devouring trees 10 stories tall and sending residents running for solid ground. Let's go OUTFRONT.

OUTFRONT tonight, American loophole. Today, we got this e-mail. I printed it out. It's from the U.S. State Department and it announces U.S. sanctions against an oil company based in Syria for doing business with Iran. Now, at first we thought, hey, this is proof of how tough sanctions really are. They're going after everybody. After all, here's the president and the secretary of state talking about how tough American sanctions on Iran are.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This resolution will put in place the toughest sanctions ever faced by the Iranian government.

HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: The sanctions will be tough and clearly aimed at the Iranian economy.

OBAMA: The sanctions have enormous bite and enormous scope.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: But when we took a second look, buried deep in the State Department release was this quote on page two of my printout. "Any -- my emphasis -- business that continues to irresponsibly support Iran's energy sector or helps evade U.S. sanctions will face serious consequences." Certainly tough talk, but does it add up? No.

Just this week, American ally South Korea announced plans to import Iranian oil. Something the country had stopped for all of six weeks to comply with the toughest sanctions ever. Korea found an end around on the sanctions against ensuring oil tankers. So this development now means that four of the top five buyers of Iranian oil, China, India, South Korea and Japan are buying Iranian oil right now. Less than they used to but buying it.

So when you hear about how much money Iran is losing every month thanks to international oil sanctions, it would be more if the blackout was complete. And oil is not where the issue of the U.S. looking the other way ends. There's Samsung, South Korea's biggest company. You may remember us talking about this glaring example here on OUTFRONT. Samsung is crushing Apple on Smartphone sales worldwide.

In the second quarter of this year they sold 50 million Smartphones, double what Apple sold. And Samsung does business in Iran selling the Galaxy 3, printers, cameras and televisions. It's totally legal. Apple though is not allowed to sell anything in Iran because of sanctions. This double standard seems to be A-OK as far as the U.S. government's actions are concerned. Why, because the U.S. chose not to use its leverage when signing a free trade deal with South Korea in 2010.

In that deal, Korea got access to American markets. The United States did not demand that Korean companies choose between doing business in the U.S. or Iran. And there's another loophole that Congress could close when it comes to U.S. sanctions. Did you know that overseas subsidiaries of American companies can do business in Iran? Look sanctions as a concept may not be a good idea.

They hurt regular people and try to have them halt an alleged nuclear program in Iran may never be totally effective. But our point is this, right now the president of the United States, the secretary of state have put their reputations on the line. The U.S. is implementing the toughest sanctions in history on Iran. That's true. But all these loopholes still exist and they exist because the U.S. governments lets them.

Is the U.S. afraid that Standard Chartered, the bank that was in the headlines this week for doing business with Iran or a company like Samsung would actually choose Iran over the United States? OUTFRONT tonight, attorney David Tafuri who specializes in international business law. He is also a former State Department official, served in Iraq. And Peter Brookes, former deputy assistant secretary of defense and senior fellow of National Security Affairs at the Heritage Foundation, two gentlemen who are the perfect people to talk about this.

David, why is it that these loopholes are still there when the U.S., the president of the United States, has made it very clear that these are the toughest, strongest and most serious sanctions ever?

DAVID M. TAFURI, FORMER STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, Erin, the U.S. has stepped up sanctions certainly by any account and made it much more difficult for any company wherever they're based to do business in Iran. There are some exceptions in U.S. law. You mentioned one that allows companies that have a foreign incorporated subsidiary still to do business with Iran.

And then more importantly the bigger gap is where certain countries still have not agreed to sanctions and put in place their own national sanctions. You mentioned South Korea and some of the other countries. That's really where there needs to be more action in order to really put stronger sanctions and stronger economic imperatives against Iran. That also requires the U.S. to step up and negotiate and press its allies to put sanctions in place. BURNETT: And let me ask you about that Peter, because South Korea is a pretty fascinating example. Because the U.S. just had this moment of incredible leverage. I mean the South Korean free trade deal was the biggest free trade deal America signed since NAFTA. It was a big deal and I don't think there's any question if you said, hey, Samsung, it's the U.S. or Iran, what they would have chosen, but we didn't seem to ask.

PETER BROOKES, FORMER DEPUTY ASST. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: Well you bring up a bigger point here, Erin, and that is that sanctions tend to be ineffective. They're not watertight. There's lots of leakage. The Iranians have been sanctioned by us since 1979. They've learned how to get around them. They're re-flagging ships. They're renaming ships. They have front companies.

They're doing all of these sort of things. They're doing joint bank ventures to get around international financial sanctions. Unfortunately, sanctions -- what the problem is the administration's hanging their hat on sanctions and that's what I'm trying to say here is that they're not always effective. They're a feel-good measure. They're more draconian than diplomacy and they're less draconian than military action. But the fact of the matter is unless everybody plays along, and there's almost 200 countries in the world, they're not going to work.

BURNETT: David, what about this issue of U.S. subsidiaries? I know you and I have talked about this a lot over the past couple of years with some reporting we've done on companies that were doing things that appeared to be questionable. That loophole is still open and Congress can close it.

TAFURI: That's true. That exception is still in place. It's under 31-CFR, Part 5-60 (ph) and Congress could close it. But Congress did amend the Iran Sanctions Act in late 2010. And strengthen the sanctions that also apply to any company including foreign incorporated subsidiaries. So that now those companies cannot do business in the oil sector in Iran, for instance, so they've made it tighter, but they haven't completely removed it.

BURNETT: Yes and they could, which is I think a lot of people watching this is frustrated, if you could close it, close it. Peter final word to you. When I look at the thing here with the Standard Chartered, the headlines we've seen around the world this week with the New York banking regulator alleging that the British bank had done $250 billion in deals with Iran. The company denies anything of that size. But I ask the question for this reason. You look at banks that have been censored (ph), sorry, for doing business with rogue states including Iran. The U.S. has gotten a lot of money from violators. Credit Suisse paid more than half a billion dollars in fines to the U.S. Treasury. More than $600 million from the Netherlands bank, ING, Barclays, nearly 300 million, ABN Amro, half a billion, that's a lot of money. Is this sort of that the U.S. says well it's easier to look the other way and then just get the money? I mean I know that sounds incredibly ugly but is it?

BROOKES: I see your point. Obviously, it's punishment to these banks, but I think what it more is, is deterrence from others, to others for breaking the law or breaking these regulations and to prevent them from aiding Iran, which is the big thing here is that Iran is probably the greatest international threat to -- the greatest threat to international security today and others shouldn't be working with them.

BURNETT: All right, thanks very much to both you. Appreciate your taking the time tonight.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you.

BURNETT: And up next, Mitt Romney, is he in real trouble and will that mean a game changing pick for VP? Yes, we've heard that before. And the business of soccer literally, your chance to own one of the biggest and, well, its fans are some of the most passionate on the planet. And, later, a massive sinkhole leading to evacuations in Louisiana. We'll go live.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Our second story OUTFRONT, the GOP veep stakes. What's the likelihood Mitt Romney will make a game changing choice when he picks his running mate? There are a lot of rumors out there. Exactly what the Romney campaign wants, names of people who are probably on the list, who might be on the list and people who want you to think that they are on the list. But one name that is suddenly getting a lot of buzz is Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.

There has been a big spike in just Google searches for Paul Ryan in recent days. Even though obviously his work as chairman of the House Budget Committee, responsible for the budget that gets so much talk over the past couple of years, has contributed to his Google popularity. But see the two together? Wow, they almost -- they almost look like twins. But how risky a choice would Ryan be?

This is a candidate whose reputation has always been more Richie Cunningham, less the Fonz. CNN's chief national correspondent John King knows more about these guys than anybody. John, Paul Ryan, U.S. congressman since 1999, an incredibly young guy, chairman of the House Budget Committee, obviously responsible for a controversial budget and you know something loved by the right, hated by the left. Why the sudden buzz?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well the sudden buzz in part, Erin, is because, remember, many conservatives don't trust Mitt Romney so they want one of their own on the ticket. Number two, a number of conservatives also say we're in the middle of this really small petty campaign. You've been talking about it, these horrible ads that are really about nothing.

So they say why should we have a race about Bain Capital and Solyndra? Let's have a race about entitlement reform. Let's have a race about cutting government spending. It would be risky if Romney picked Ryan, but boy, it would change the tone and the tenor of the campaign, wouldn't it?

BURNETT: It sure would. So what are the pluses and the minuses of picking Paul Ryan?

KING: If you look at the pluses, number one is what I just mentioned. There is some suspicion of Romney in the conservative base. This would energize the base, there's no question about it. Now he also is somebody who is a great debater and a very energetic campaigner and he's 42 years old so you add some youth and vigor, perhaps challenge the president on some of the college campuses around the country.

BURNETT: And what about the minuses? He's certainly not a foreign policy guy.

KING: He's not a foreign policy guy. He's never run or won statewide and I just said 42 could be an asset, guess what, 42 could also be a negative. People could say, wait a minute, young guy, he's only a House member. Is he ready to be commander in chief?

BURNETT: Now another name we're hearing a lot about of course is Tim Pawlenty. Quick bio of him, governor of Minnesota from 2003 to 2010 and of course he was a GOP presidential candidate in 2012 although not a successful one. His life story, I know John as you've been reporting though is the anti-Romney and here's a quick bite of what he told you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER GOV. MINNESOTA: I grew up in a meat packing town, so the dominant focus economically for the town back in the '60s and '70s were these mammoth meat packing plants. They all suddenly shut down and as a young boy I saw this massive job loss, economic dislocation, heartache, worry, my neighborhood, my community. It's one thing to talk about it, it's another thing to have lived it and experienced it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So John what -- obviously different backgrounds and T- Paw as he's called, does have that kind of heart warming connection to people maybe but does he have a connection with Mitt Romney?

KING: Well, he does have a comfort level now even though they were tough on each other early in the campaign. They were governors at the same time. Pawlenty's been a loyal soldier since he got out and endorsed -- look the pluses on Tim Pawlenty, what you just mentioned there is number one, blue collar roots, grew up in South St. Paul, comfortable in an ice hockey rink, comfortable in an Irish pub, comfortable goofing around with people, something Mitt Romney is very much not comfortable doing. So they think he could help in those small towns, the blue-collar communities across the Midwest.

He's a Catholic, turned evangelical, again in small town America, evangelicals a little suspicion of a Mormon. They think Tim Pawlenty might help there. And he held the line on spending when he was a governor. Governor Romney, Governor Pawlenty, they could say, two guys, Erin with no Washington take. Now on the down side, conservatives didn't like him when he was governor. At one point when he raised cigarette taxes, there's no signature Pawlenty initiative. You might not love it but you say Romney, Massachusetts health care. When you say Pawlenty what do you say? There's no signature initiative and there's this. There's zero evidence and even his friends can see this, that picking Pawlenty would put Minnesota in play for Romney.

BURNETT: Wow, all right. The final one that people talk a lot about, Rob Portman, Ohio. Obviously, he was a senator, budget director under George W. Bush, which may be a problem and was also a member of the House. What is the main plus/minus for Rob Portman?

KING: The main plus could be Ohio roots. It's a two-point state right now. The president is slightly ahead. If Rob Portman can boost you up, especially where he comes from, the Cincinnati area, Hamilton County, if you can help you win Ohio, Mitt Romney needs Ohio. Again, he was the federal budget director. You just mentioned that.

That's one of the huge challenges facing the country. He knows every nook and cranny of the federal bureaucracy. He was the U.S. trade rep. He is on the Arms Services Committee, so you could say here's a guy with some foreign policy/national security skills. And he has bipartisan respect. Democrats are trashing him now but that's the campaign. They like him. They think he's a nice guy. They enjoy working with him.

The flip side, the Bush baggage you just mentioned. And he can say 20-plus years in Washington. I know everything. That's an asset. Other people, Erin, might say, Washington insider, and some people say, he's a little bland.

BURNETT: You got to call it like you see it, John. All right, well we did poll our political "Strike Team" on this. Everyone, this is our panel of 31 independent journalists and analysts. And we asked does Mitt Romney need a game-changing VP pick? Like the country, split, although actually this would be a mandate, 53 percent say yes, 47 percent say no.

John, let me bring in the other John, John Avlon, into this conversation. What do you think? Game changing pick? By the way, game changing pick might be more like Marco Rubio or Chris Christie certainly than some of those names we just talked about.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. (INAUDIBLE) you've certainly seen the (INAUDIBLE) come out hard for Paul Ryan in recent days. I want game changer because you're starting to see the numbers solidify. It's still a long way out from the election, but the trend is not Mitt Romney's friend and I think he does need to shake up the race. And a game change pick, obviously game change got a bad name after Sarah Palin, but someone like Rubio who could maybe -- who'd certainly excite the base, help get tea partiers engaged and maybe bring Latinos, the youth vote and Florida could really make a big difference or a Paul Ryan. That's a long ball. There are risks, but it would excite the base and rally folks around the Romney ticket.

BURNETT: John King, what was your vote? KING: Erin, I'm not sure a game changing pick here would do it in the sense that Mitt Romney's problems are Mitt Romney's problems. His unfavorables are going up. People view him as increasingly a rich guy who doesn't think, you know that he wouldn't appreciate help fight for the middle class. Now could you help that, accentuate that with a Paul Ryan or Tim Pawlenty, a blue collar guy? Maybe. But Mitt Romney's problems are Mitt Romney's problems.

And go back through history. Tell me when, go back to LBJ, I guess, a vice presidential pick has changed a race that significantly. Most people think this one is close enough. Yes, it's trended away from Romney in recent days. Most people think do no harm is still priority number one and that he has to fix his own problems. With the VP role out, going into the convention, the economic, but it would help.

BURNETT: Right.

KING: It won't do everything.

BURNETT: All right, thanks to the Johns. We'll see what he'll do. I think we'll find out very soon.

Still to come, a secret plan by the Obama campaign leaked and next the Olympics effect, a number of reasons why it's for dreamers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Well, the Olympics, they're going to finish this weekend with some big contests including the men's USA basketball team going for gold. American athletes have done this country proud, raking in more than 90 medals. And this year there were some great stories, the most decorated Olympian ever, Michael Phelps. The breakthrough darling, Gabby Douglas, who can forget that, decathlete Ashton Eaton (ph).

These men and women have spent hours striving to accomplish their dream. Shaving seconds off their time, milliseconds off their time, to just go a millimeter further, add a tenth of a point of difficulty. For most of them, this has been their entire life. But they started out like a lot of us in little league and gymnastics classes. Now most of us never get anywhere close to an Olympic podium, but it doesn't mean that we wasted our dream, sweat, determination, hard work.

Eighteen of the 22 staff members of OUTFRONT played sports in high school. Four played in college. This weekend in New York City, 2,500 people are going to compete in the "Ironman" triathlon, a true test of endurance. Colleges across this country, athletes are on the fields practicing already getting ready for the fall season. Many of these athletes set goals for themselves, championship, few more goals. Maybe breaking a record if you're lucky.

When you do, that's the gold medal for you. It's the equivalent. For me, playing college sports is a big part of who I am. It taught me perseverance, resilience, how to lose. Our number tonight, six feet, 10 and three-quarters inches. That's the height our executive producer Jerry Wilson Serrati (ph) -- he goes by Will -- jumped in the high jump while at Duke. It was a record set in 1991.

I know he looks a little scary there, but he still looks just as handsome now. It stood for 20 years that record. It was only broken last year by Tanner Anderson (ph) who jumped seven feet, four and a quarter inches. Our own personal records are how we measure, challenge or will ourselves to be better and smarter and it's why Will's daughters follow in his footsteps on the gymnastics floor and the softball field.

Still OUTFRONT we're going to take you live to a massive sinkhole that is still widening, gobbling trees up to 10 stories high. A nearby mining company says their operations have absolutely nothing to do with it. Does it add up -- an OUTFRONT investigation. And later leaked documents that show the Obama campaign's plans for the Democratic Convention, they include Republicans.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about where we focus on our own reporting from the front lines. First tonight a memorial service was held today for the six people killed in a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Hundreds of people from all over the world came to pay their respects.

Among those speaking Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. He wore an orange head covering in keeping with Sikh tradition. And the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was there. He called the attack quote "an act of terrorism, an act of hatred, a hate crime". Three people remain hospitalized tonight including an Oak Creek police officer. Two of them are in satisfactory condition, one in critical.

A man in an Afghan military uniform killed three American troops in southern Afghanistan today. The Taliban claims the man is an Afghan police commander who lured the troops to his village. Now, this is just the latest incident of so-called "green on blue" attacks, where Afghan security forces or militants dressed as local police or soldiers target coalition troops.

Anthony Cordesman of CSIS tells OUTFRONT the Taliban and other insurgents knows that encouraging or sponsoring these attacks net in their view maximum political and media impact and that is why they keep doing it.

Well, the world's most valuable sports franchise, soccer club Manchester United, made its debut today on the New York Stock Exchange. Yes, it's soccer stocks. Shares were priced at $14 each, which is actually $2 lower than analysts thought. It closed the day completely flat. It was unchanged, $14.

That is well below average performance according to Paul Hickey of Bespoke Investment Group, who tell us the average gain for an IPO on its first day of trading so far this year has been about 15 percent. So maybe the die-hard fans of Manchester should just wager on wins instead of betting on the stock. We'll see. Well, the International Energy Agency has cut its outlook for global oil demand next year. A big reason is sluggish economic growth. But the IAEA isn't the only concerned party. Plenty of people in the United States are still uncertain about how the economy is faring.

In the latest CNN poll, only 19 percent of Americans think the economy is starting to recover. That's five percentage points fewer than in April. And more think the economy's getting worse, 39 percent say so, up six percentage points from April.

Well, it's been 372 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Well, the U.S. budget deficit increased by nearly $70 billion last month. For the fiscal year through July, the deficit is now $974 billion. That almost has (INAUDIBLE).

And now, our third story OUTFRONT, a massive sinkhole in Louisiana is widening. It's now swallowing up 100-foot tall trees and leading to evacuations in southern Louisiana. Now, this sinkhole was first spotted on August 3rd, but residents in assumption parish said they saw warning signs months ago but nothing was done. Now, this sink hole is almost 400 feet wide and it's growing.

Ed Lavandera is OUTFRONT tonight in the parish, about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From above, it's hard to fathom, but this massive sinkhole has swallowed up hundreds of cypress tree, some as tall as 100 feet. It has the residents of Bellerose, a small bayou town about 30 miles south of Baton Rouge, feeling anxious.

STEPHEN CHUSTZ, LA. DEPT. OF NATURAL RESOURCES: They're just an area that is now turned to slush. It's -- the trees and so forth have sunk into the ground and it's unknown what caused it.

LAVANDERA: The sinkhole dropped about a week ago. It's now about 320 feet wide. In some places, reaches more than 400 feet deep. And several hundred residents have been told to evacuate their homes.

The sinkhole sits over a salt dome cavern. It's believed that the cavern collapsed, causing the sinkhole.

Louisiana's Department of Natural Resources says the company mining the salt dome, Texas Brine, was trying to expand the mine when it cut into the cavern last year, long before the sinkhole appeared.

JOHN ACHEE JR., ASSUMPTION PARISH ADVOCACY GROUP: In order to expand the mining of that cavern, a cut in the well casing, they made a cut in the well casing several hundred feet above the top of the cap. And then they reported a potential breach at that time and that information was brought to us in 2011. LAVANDERA: But the collapse is also next to a well containing more than 1 million gallons of liquid butane, a highly flammable vapor if it's released. Local officials say if that happens, it could cause catastrophic problems.

John Achee Jr. has organized an advocacy group to get answers from state regulators and the mining company that owns the underground salt dome.

(on camera): What are you guys most afraid of at this point?

ACHEE: Everybody is afraid of the unknowns. You know, we don't know how big the sinkhole can happen, if other sinkholes can happen. You know, they're talking about, now, looking in that gas in the aquifer, with the -- I believe it's the butane cavern, people are concerned about the explosion.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): The first signs of trouble were spotted more than two months ago. And Henry Welch (ph) took us by boat to the edge of the sinkhole to show us. Look at all these bubbles.

HENRY WELCH, RESIDENT: That's what started it all.

LAVANDERA (on camera): So, this is what you started seeing first?

WELCH: Exactly.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): As one resident told us the bayou water looks like a boiling pot of crawfish.

Henry Welch has evacuated his nearby home and he's not sure he'll ever be able to move back. He thinks all the property around here will now be worthless.

(on camera): Are you worried about what it means long term?

WELCH: Yes, I got my life saving and my place. I'm retired, that's all I got coming in.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And Ed is with me now. Ed, that image, I mean, the look on your face that I just saw when you saw that bubbling water was incredible. I mean, if they were seeing this two months ago, why did it take so long for officials to start to say, look into it and see what the problem is?

LAVANDERA: That's one of the frustrations and I think the answer's people around here are still waiting to get. All of this made worse because they say not only did they see the bubbles back toward the end of May but throughout most of June, they felt little tremor, little mini earthquakes around here that they had also reported and it wasn't till that sinkhole appeared and now they're being told that the well, that Texas Brine has been ordered to drill, to see -- to test the integrity of that salt cavern underneath that sinkhole will take 40 days to drill and everyone around here will be told to evacuate until then.

And even after that, they don't know when they'll be allowed back or told that everything will be OK, to come back. This is going to take months.

BURNETT: Wow. All right, Ed Lavandera reporting there. That image is just really unbelievable.

And now our fourth story OUTFRONT: Republican speakers at the DNC. Yes, it is not a typo. According to a leaked memo obtained by Mike Allen of "Politico," that's part of the plan for the Democratic convention. It's a strategy to attract independents, which also includes a focus on many of the president's more liberal positions, including support for gay marriage, the end of "don't ask, don't tell," and funding for Planned Parenthood.

Democratic strategist, CNN contributor James Carville is OUTFRONT tonight, the man who owns the play book for the party.

So, James, this is a gamble. And I mean, I'm curious whether you think buying into all of these positions is going to pay off.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, that's where the Democratic Party is. Let me put this way -- we're never going to change our position on gay marriage. Eventually, the Republican Party will change their position. Public opinion is going towards the Democrats, probably with the Democrats now.

And every week, you see a poll in support for gay marriage increases. And, you know, you can't be a modern Democrat, a modern national Democrat, and have a position against this. It is a decided issue in the Democratic Party.

If that's the case, they'd just as soon, as you would say, be OUTFRONT with it.

BURNETT: Good word choice, right?

What about Republicans speaking? I mean, that's an interesting way to appeal to independents who frankly probably have a lot of frustration at both candidates.

CARVILLE: Yes, I think that makes -- if they're doing that, I'm kind of impressed. I think it's a very sensible thing to do. And it gives a chance to portray a different thing, and I'm sure it will have some different kind of contrasting business model with Governor Romney's --

BURNETT: Can you really be a Republican if you agree to speak at the Democratic national convention? Isn't that, like, you're really turncoat.

CARVILLE: Well, you know, they would say that they put much more of our country or party above partisanship or something like that. I doubt people are going to say that. Other things to find in the world before being Republican. I suspect they'll be pretty well-briefed before they get up and speak.

BURNETT: I would imagine.

All right. I want to ask you about some polls, because there are some out this week, CNN poll, among many, but here's what ours shows, registered voters, choice for president, 52 percent, President Obama, 45 percent Romney. Of course, this is nationwide and it really will come down to the swing state. That's an important caveat.

But look at the lead that President Obama had over John McCain in 2008 in July, it went away in just a month, and the president ended up winning. These polls can switch rather dramatically. So what do you think? Is Obama's lead safe?

CARVILLE: No. I don't think anything in American politics is safe. You've got any number of things that can go wrong.

Having said that, Romney -- his summer looks like that sinkhole in Assumption Parish you just showed. I mean, it's been awful from the tax returns, to the trip to Britain, to everything you can imagine. This guy's just had an awful summer.

Can he turn it around? Sure. But right now, if I'm a Republican, I'm pretty disgusted with the way this thing has gone. I'll be honest with you. It's pretty remarkable.

And the president it looks like starting around Memorial Day, he sort of got his mojo back and these guys have run a tough effective campaign so far. I don't know, there's no way that this thing is anything close to being put away.

BURNETT: So let me ask you about something on ads. The ads have really -- I don't know, they've personally troubled me and so many other people. But there's one particular ad run by the super PAC which is run by a close friend and former deputy of President Obama's. I want to play you a quick sound bite from that ad.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE SOPTIC, FORMER STEELWORKER: When Mitt Romney and Bain closed the plant, I lost my health care. And my family lost their health care. And a short time after that, my wife became ill.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: She ended up dying of -- it's a horrible story. The facts in the ad though as you're aware were wrong. She wasn't covered by his insurance.

And the ad seems to blame -- the ad does blame Mitt Romney for her death. That ad is nasty and I don't know, I think over the line.

Will those kind of ads backfire on the president? CARVILLE: Well, first of all, I have to disclose that Paul Begala, my dear friend, is with Priorities USA. I think they say that these things have consequences. The dispute would be is that if he's still -- if he still had his health insurance, would his wife been on the insurance policy. But this kind of --

BURNETT: But she had insurance --

CARVILLE: This kind of thing is debated sort of ad nauseam. I think -- the facts I'm not totally clear on. We've sort of gone back and forth on this.

BURNETT: Right.

CARVILLE: We could point out that was an Obama campaign ad and a Romney ad on welfare has been criticized by none other than President Clinton. They've been pretty out front defending this ad and I don't think they put something if they didn't it was true. There might be a different interpretation of it. But I think she lost her insurance at some point.

BURNETT: All right. Don't you think, James, on some level, blaming someone for someone's death is just distasteful?

CARVILLE: Well, we could sit here for a long time. But I'm not going to criticize anything that my dear friend Paul Begala does.

BURNETT: All right. I think that's fair.

CARVILLE: I think -- I think he wouldn't put an ad he didn't think is fair either, but not going to do that.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to James Carville.

And OUTFRONT next, the terrifying story of a Canadian diplomat kidnapped by al Qaeda. His tale of survival still to come .

And later, a murder trial that lasted seven hours and sealed the fate of the woman some call Jackie O. of China.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

And we begin tonight in Syria where opposition activists say that more than 100 people were killed by security forces across the country today. CNN cannot verify that number.

The deteriorating situation though has led Great Britain to pledge about $8 billion in aid to the rebels. Britain insists the money won't pay for weapons but Nic Robertson is following the money and I asked him what the money will go to.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, what the British foreign secretary has made clear is this equipment is for civilian use, not military use. There will be assessments made of how it is being used, $7.8 million worth of equipment and training, satellite communications equipment, radio equipment, trauma kits, medical kits, training for Syria activists, training for Syrian citizen journalists, so that they can record and document cases of human rights violations. So there will be potential in the future for prosecuting Syrian generals for war crimes.

One contentious issue, though, he did say the British government would be sending bulletproof vests for civilians in Syria who are helping out in the humanitarian situation. That clearly leaves the possibility open. Gunman can take these bullet-proof vests away from the civilians and use them in the conflict. Likely Britain will get criticism for that -- Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. Sounds like that's the case. Thanks to Nic.

And now we got to Sudan, where all 25,000 people living in a refugee camp in Darfur fled after fighting broke out between militia groups and government forces. David McKenzie's reporting on this from Nairobi. I asked him what this means for the region starting to hope for peace.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, they've already fled their homes during Darfur's civil war, now an entire refugee camp has fled their camp because of fighting in the area in northern Darfur.

Some 25,000 people, according to the U.N. have fled their homes. They're now here in Khartoum where they're living out in the open and receiving medical care from the WHO, as well as from UNAMID, the U.N. peacekeeping force there.

The troubling sign in Darfur, for a long time, people believed that the violence was easing off there. But in the recent months, the U.N. says there's been an uptick in criminal activity, because of the weapons coming into the country, despite an arms embargo. That means that people are facing these armed gangs, tribal gangs, as they're described by the U.N. and, really, it's the civilians who are bearing the brunt.

We need to watch the story closely because it could spread to other parts of the troubled region -- Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Now, our fifth story OUTFRONT: the terrifying story of a Canadian diplomat who was kidnapped by al Qaeda in North Africa. This was in 2008 and he was held for 130 days, somewhere in the Saharan desert.

Robert Fowler was then the U.N. special envoy in Niger. He was traveling with a colleague along a remote road in an area he thought was very safe. Now, they were grabbed near the border of Mali. He's chronicled his ordeal in his book "A Season in Hell," and I spoke with him about it yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERT FOWLER, FORMER AL QAEDA HOSTAGE: One Sunday evening, about 5:30, a truck passed us going very, very fast, slowed in front of us, cut us off. Before the two trucks had come to a spot there were AKs pointed at the face of our driver and two guys leaping out of the back who hauled us into the back of the truck in front.

And then we began a -- what I call in my book, our descent into hell -- a five-day, 1,000-kilometer journey all off road, due north, into the middle of the Sahara desert.

BURNETT: And did you know who they were? Did you know that these were -- I mean, guess what did you think they were, al Qaeda, someone else?

FOWLER: Well, no, I didn't know. And as soon as they threw us into the truck, they threw a smelly old blanket on top of us, told us to shut up.

BURNETT: Right.

FOWLER: Twelve hours later, we stopped just before dawn, and I was walking up and down in front of the century, and he looked up from making a little pot of tea and said, "Have you figured out who we are yet? We are al Qaeda." And the bottom of my world fell out.

There's no doubt we were not targets of opportunity, they came to get us.

BURNETT: And so spent nearly -- or more than four months, nearly five months in captivity.

FOWLER: Yes.

BURNETT: Did you -- you must have had -- I mean this is after the horrible death of Daniel Pearl. Did you think that --

FOWLER: Yes.

BURNETT: -- you would make it, or did you really resign yourself to a horrible death?

FOWLER: Well, I think never give up hope, but fear was our constant companion. I was terrified the whole time. I went to sleep terrified and I woke up terrified and I believe it would all end in a tent with a knife like Daniel Pearl. We went into a tent three times to make videos. And each time, we went in to make a video, I checked to see if they put plastic on their rugs, because I didn't figure they'd risk messing up their rugs with all that blood in the middle of the desert. Happily, I never saw any plastic.

BURNETT: And how did you eventually get your freedom?

FOWLER: Well, I don't know the details. There are press reports, Erin, of the fact that they got some money and they got some prisoners released in Africa. My prime minister, Stephen Harper, said Canada paid no ransom and released no prisoners. But somebody did. And if they hadn't, I would be dead.

BURNETT: These stories can end so horribly.

You mentioned one of the people you interacted with, with the al Qaeda linked groups there was a man named Omar and obviously we recently just got back from the Mali border. We were in a Mali refugee camp in Burkina. Along the border, there seem to be militias were active.

And we called Omar one day and I just wanted to play for you what he said and get your reaction to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Erin, CNN. Hello, Omar?

OMAR HAMAHA (through translator): Yes, this is Omar, hello.

BURNETT: Hello.

HAMAHA: No, no, listen. I do not speak to a woman. If you would like to speak to me, give me a man. It is necessary to respect our religion. We are -- we do not speak to women, do you hear me?

(SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE)

HAMAHA: No, we do not speak with women.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: So when you hear that conversation, you know that man, you were intimately connected with that man. Do you know that voice? Who is he?

FOWLER: Well, I do indeed. It was the voice that gave it away.

This guy who you tried to interview is the guy who grabbed us. He was the, quote, "mission commander," in his own words, who led the attack on us and grabbed us near the capital of Niger in mid-December 2008. And I would recognize that voice anywhere, anytime.

I would also recognize what he said to you, the fact that he wouldn't speak to you as a woman. And one day he said this to us. He said, my idea of the best way to die would be to strap on the martyr's vest and enter a meeting of the United Nations discussing gender equality. That would be my way to go.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BURNETT: Powerful words.

And up next, the Jackie O. of China stands by her man, and will go away to prison for the rest of her life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BURNETT: Stand by your man. Tammy Wynette's famous advice pleading with women to tell the world you love him and to keep giving all the love you can. Sure, Wynette was married five times but that is not the point.

The point is she probably never met Gu Kailai, the loyal wife of Bo Xilai, once a rising star in the communist party, a man some said would be the next president of China.

Gu is dubbed the Jackie O. of Chinese politics. And she's now awaiting punishment after a murder trial that lasted just seven hours. She's charged with murdering British businessman and family friend Neil Heywood who authorities say was poisoned to death by rat poison.

Xinhua, China's state-run press agency, has claimed that Gu has admitted to murdering Heywood and blamed it on a personal breakdown, quoting her as saying during her trial that, quote, "I will accept and calmly face any sentence and I also expect a fair and just court decision."

Heywood reportedly threatened Gu's son.

Meanwhile, her husband Bo was nowhere to be found. He's been stripped of his communist party leadership, for sure. But he hasn't been seen since March. And the strange part of this is this sequence of events is eerily similar to another famous Chinese power couple.

Jiang Qing was Mao Zedong's last wife. She also had a glamorous side. She was a movie star before she married Mao. She was Mao's personal secretary in the 1940s and was part of the propaganda department in the 1950s.

In 1981, she and her infamous gang of four went to trial for killing close to 35,000 revolutionaries over the course of a decade before Mao's death in 1976. Now, despite claiming she was only following her late husband's orders, Qing was found guilty. She received the death penalty which was later reduced to life. She hung herself in prison in 1991.

Her husband, Mao, meantime, was considered the orchestrator of the eliminations of the thousands who spoke out against his regime but he was never once held responsible.

Both women, Gu Kailai and Jiang Qing, believed in their husband's missions and took those missions to a whole new terrible level. Jiang paid the price and it looks like Gu will as well. It made us wonder why their husbands weren't held accountable in the same way. And wonder why standing by your man became such a dark and twisted thing in communist China.

Thanks so much as always for watching. Have a wonderful weekend.

"A.C. 360" starts right now.