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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Cracks in the White House Story; Interview with Representative Mac Thornberry; Wake-Up Call for Mitt Romney; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the U.N.; Interview with Barney Frank
Aired September 26, 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 attack in Libya. The State Department story has been clarified, elaborated and evolved and tonight, it might be crumbling. And Mitt Romney gets a kick in the -- well, I'm going to use the word pants from the latest poll in Ohio, but that's not what his team used -- time for a game-changing idea? And Representative Barney Frank talks brownies. Yes those kinds of brownies.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the White House story crumbling. Today, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted that al Qaeda was involved in the attack on America's Consulate in Benghazi, Libya. This came on the heels of a report from the Web site "The Daily Beast", which said the U.S. government new about al Qaeda's involvement within 24 hours of the attack. That attack of course was 15 days ago and what we've actually heard for the past 15 days is that the attacks were an attack on America. That was the president. Not preplanned, spontaneous, that was U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice and carried out by a small and savage group. That was Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Well, the president of Libya today also came out today and was very clear about al Qaeda.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOHAMMED MAGARIEF, LIBYAN PRESIDENT: I think (INAUDIBLE) hiding in Libya.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: It was actually in a high level United Nations meeting that Hillary Clinton for the first time today admitted that an al Qaeda linked group was involved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HILLARY CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: For some time, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other groups have launched attacks and kidnappings from northern Mali into neighboring countries and they are working with other violent extremists to undermine the democratic transitions underway in North Africa as we tragically saw in Benghazi.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Now "The New York Times" reported that other senior U.S. officials were surprised by Secretary Clinton's admission. Her linking of those al Qaeda linked groups to the crisis in Benghazi. Perhaps, because what she said late last week leads to a very different conclusion. On Thursday, Secretary Clinton said that she had and I quote her "absolutely no information or reason to believe there is any basis to suggest that the U.S. ambassador was on an al Qaeda hit list." Also perhaps because the president himself has not said terrorists were involved in the attacks. Here he is on ABC "The View" earlier this week when he was asked directly if he thought it was a terrorist attack.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no doubt that the kind of weapons that were used, the ongoing assault, that it wasn't just a mob action.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He left it to his press secretary, Jay Carney, to use the "t" word. Carney, under pressure from reporters, clarified saying today, "it was a terrorist attack. It is the president's view that it was a terrorist attack." The president didn't say it was a terrorist attack once yesterday in a half an hour speech to the United Nations General Assembly despite devoting the majority of his time to Ambassador Chris Stevens, the attacks, even the movie that insulted the prophet Mohammed. So, why is the administration hesitant to use the word terror?
Well a key foreign policy victory of this administration of course was the killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. And this summer at a fund-raiser, the very night that we were standing along the Mali border the president said "al Qaeda is on the run and we got bin Laden." Well, as we said that July night, the part about al Qaeda on the run didn't look that way to us. Al Qaeda linked militants were there armed with Libyan weapons obtained after the U.S. and NATO intervention in that country and now that four Americans have been killed in North Africa by extremist groups affiliated with al Qaeda and armed with Libyan weapons, the question remains.
Should the United States have known this attack on the American ambassador was coming and did the administration lie about intelligence that al-Qaeda linked groups were responsible for his death for the past two weeks? Representative Mac Thornberry is on the Armed Services and Intelligence Committee and he is OUTFRONT tonight. Good to see you, sir and appreciate your taking the time.
REP. MAC THORNBERRY (R), TEXAS: Glad to be here.
BURNETT: I know this is an issue you care a lot about. You've spent time in Mali in the past. You've been briefed on the situation in Benghazi. At that briefing, were you told that al Qaeda linked groups were responsible for the attack?
THORNBERRY: Well of course we always have to be careful repeating what we're told in classified settings, but basically, we were told something that goes -- that's consistent with what the administration was saying publicly and that is this was a spontaneous mob. It got out of hand and there were unfortunate consequences. Of course that doesn't make much sense if you just look at common sense, the fact that it was 9/11, the fact that it was a very highly organized and sophisticated sort of attack. And so that's before you get into the evidence it just doesn't -- didn't really add up.
BURNETT: It didn't really add up. I remember asking that night, people on our program, 9/11. It can't be a coincidence and --
BURNETT: -- people were trying to say that it was a coincidence and it didn't seem to add up. Can you think of a reason though that they wouldn't have told you if they had found out in the first 24 hours it was al Qaeda linked groups, why would they not have said so publicly?
THORNBERRY: I don't know, Erin. I'm really perplexed about this. I mean it is true that al Qaeda has been diminished in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region --
THORNBERRY: -- but as you point out, al Qaeda has grown, become more sophisticated and more dangerous in Western Africa and we still have al Qaeda in Yemen and in Somalia to deal with, so if you're looking for a neat campaign narrative that says we solved this problem for you this flies in the face of that, but what's far more important than that is we need to learn the lessons of what went wrong here to help protect other ambassadors and other folks who are around and that's why I think Congress will move towards an investigation to try to get to the bottom of it.
BURNETT: Yes and I know -- you know Senator Corker has been on this show. He had described the briefing that he received as there wasn't one new piece of information. He was incredibly frustrated with it, but then he's come out and asked for more information. He wants every cable for example that Ambassador Stevens may have sent to the State Department, obviously could be crucial because the State Department says hey, I know that CNN is reporting that there were warnings and I know that they're reporting the ambassador was concerned about his safety and hit list, but if he was, no one ever told us.
THORNBERRY: Yes, I think we do need to get to the bottom of it. It's not just a matter of placing blame for this incident. It really is what went wrong here because four Americans lost their lives and so what intelligence information did we have? Did it get to the right people? What decisions did the State Department make? What decisions did the ambassador himself make? Why did he go to Benghazi --
THORNBERRY: -- with such a light security entourage and so -- BURNETT: Especially if he was afraid --
THORNBERRY: Well and there had been attacks --
THORNBERRY: -- against -- yes -- exactly -- against the British ambassador just before this. So, they knew that there were problems in Benghazi. Again, we need to have facts not political spin so that we can help prevent this from happening again.
BURNETT: I'm curious who you think though ultimately should be held responsible, if indeed there were warnings signs which were missed and also perhaps for the fact that if you were briefing Congress and you knew that al Qaeda linked groups were involved and you didn't tell anybody the full story then, who should be held responsible for that?
THORNBERRY: Well, we'll see what the facts end up showing. My guess is that they only had little fragments of facts, not a clear smoking gun that says we're going to attack the ambassador at the Benghazi Consulate on this day, but there were fragments there. And the thing that is just as concerning is why would you go out and spin fragments in perhaps a political way rather than just get to the bottom of the matter. And that's what we should hold them to.
BURNETT: The report on "The Daily Beast" actually says that U.S. intelligence agencies had strong indication of al Qaeda's involvement, but also (INAUDIBLE) the location of one of the perpetrators.
BURNETT: That they actually knew that within the first 24 hours.
THORNBERRY: After it occurred --
BURNETT: After it occurred --
THORNBERRY: Absolutely -- yes --
BURNETT: After the attack occurred --
THORNBERRY: I've seen those reports and that is very important information we need to get to the bottom of.
BURNETT: Because where is this person right now?
THORNBERRY: Yes and what do we know about him? What are his affiliations? And so that tells us the al Qaeda link, but it also goes to what your point and that is if we're going to really hunt them down as the president says, we know where he lives, 15 days --
BURNETT: Something about that does not add up --
THORNBERRY: It's taken -- it's taken a long time to get our team in there to investigate when y'all are the ones that found the diary, so something doesn't all fit together about taking this with the urgency that it needs to have.
BURNETT: All right, Representative Thornberry, thank you very much. Appreciate your taking the time and coming OUTFRONT tonight.
Well there's a stunning new poll in Ohio tonight it has the Romney campaign on its heels. Their graphic words for it are next. And Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad takes to the U.N. on the holiest of Jewish holidays to blast Israel and the U.S., but then after that, it got very strange. And the war on drugs, why one prominent member of Congress says it's high time for a brownie and a change.
BURNETT: Our second story, OUTFRONT, a wake-up call for Mitt Romney. President Obama opening up a big lead in what may be the most crucial swing state in the entire United States, Ohio. A poll out today has him up double digits, as you see 10 points and the Republican candidate took notice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to Cuyahoga County, where we have more Republicans registered than any other county in the state of Ohio.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we're going to deliver Cuyahoga County to you too, so --
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I need it in a big way, all right?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know --
ROMNEY: Cuyahoga County, come on you guys. You've got to come through.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right, he had a sense of humor there, but of course he'll need more than just Cuyahoga County in order to turn those poll numbers around. Political reporter Peter Hamby joins me now. And Peter I know you had a chance to talk to GOP strategists about this latest poll about Romney's situation in Ohio. What did they tell you?
PETER HAMBY, POLITICAL REPORTER: Yes, Erin, the poll shows a 10- point lead for Barack Obama. Most Republicans in Ohio don't think the situation is that dire yet. They do acknowledge though both inside the campaign and outside the campaign in Ohio that they are losing and the main reason the Republicans in Ohio point to is that Romney doesn't really have a cohesive message. He hasn't really made the sale yet and said this is why you should throw Barack Obama out and install me as president.
And a key issue here is the bailout of Chrysler and General Motors that the president pushed through. They say that Romney hasn't been able to come up with a cohesive and consistent answer to this and the Obama campaign has been hammering on this. One Republican I talked to put it very bluntly, a senior Republican in Ohio said that Obama's advantage on the auto bailout is quote "a kick in the balls for the Romney campaign". You can't say it, so I will, but that's sort of a consistent criticism and complaint about the Romney campaign that they haven't been able to develop a succinct message about this issue, Erin.
BURNETT: At least -- look, at least I got to hear you say it. That's good enough for me, Peter. But one thing that's interesting to me is from your reporting and I know you spent a lot of time out in the field, that Romney has a good ground game in Ohio, knocking on 28 times as many doors as John McCain did back in 2008. That is a pretty stunning ratio, 28 times as many doors, so why isn't he doing better?
HAMBY: Yes, I mean the McCain campaign didn't really, wasn't renown for its ground game. The Bush re-elect in 2004 is probably the better model there. Romney has about half as many offices in Ohio as the Obama campaign, which has been embedded in the state for the last four years and yet according to "The Washington Post" poll, at least the Romney campaign is doing a pretty good job of keeping up. The problem again is that these volunteers and these field staffers for the Romney campaign and the RNC don't really know what product they're selling because Mitt Romney hasn't yet articulated again, according to Republicans in the state a compelling message as to why they should throw out Barack Obama because the economy in Ohio as you know is doing a little bit better than it is in other parts of the country, Erin.
BURNETT: It certainly is and the question is, who gets the credit, right, a Republican governor or the president. Reihan Salam joins me now along with Roland Martin. Roland, you know that was the kind of, you know you're unafraid to say what you think. A kick in the --
ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Right.
BURNETT: -- you know, hey at least they're saying they feel the way they feel.
MARTIN: Well actually, honesty is always the best policy here and look I think it's amazing that they are making Sarah Palin out to look like a, you know, prophet, if you will, when she said they should go rogue. They're going to have to get far more aggressive in this particular campaign in order to close this gap. These debates are going to be critical, but again, the CEO frankly is giving a muddy story, if you will, as to why he should be the person. I love boxing, Erin, and in boxing they always say you don't win the belt of a champion on points. You take it from a champion and Mitt Romney hasn't done that. He has to take it if he wants to win the presidency.
BURNETT: OK that -- it makes sense, but Reihan, what in the world is he supposed to do? It sounds like you know he tried to be aggressive after the attacks on the consulate in Libya. He came out and it seems people thought too soon he got picked on for being aggressive there. How can he be aggressive in a way that's actually going to win this race at this point?
REIHAN SALAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: There were so many different models that Mitt Romney could have pursued and the thing is that he's narrowed his options. My view is that about a month ago, two months ago, what he really needed to do was make a big play for the Midwest. Not just Ohio, but also Wisconsin by marrying conservatism and populism. The time when Republican candidates succeed is when they're able to marry those two things together. George W. Bush won in 2000, despite a roaring economy under President Clinton. Everyone thought that Al Gore should crush George W. Bush and he was able to win by playing against type for Republican by talking about issues like education and demonstrating to suburban voters and also to a lot of these populous Reagan Democrats that hey, you can trust me. I'm a safe pair of hands on these issues and Mitt Romney has had a very hard time doing that. So what he needs to do and he's running out of time to do it is say look, I'm the candidate who's going to deliver more work and better and higher wages through my plan and there are a few things like energy policy and also his resistance to the president's health law and maybe making the case that tax reform can deliver robust growth, but the things is that he's made it much, much harder for himself than he should have and --
BURNETT: OK, Roland, go ahead.
MARTIN: It's a little hard for Mitt Romney to talk about what he is going to do on health care when he said he is going to repeal all of the Affordable Care Act then come back and say I'm going to keep some parts of it. So again, it's sort of like dude, exactly what are you trying to do here? I think the difference between the governor (ph) and George W. Bush, he ran as a compassionate conservative and he had his conservative base locked up. Romney still dealt with people who are saying we're not really trusting you on that particular point. But I will say this, Erin. If you're the Obama campaign, what Jim Messina should do, he should play the video of Alec Baldwin in "Glengarry Glen Ross" saying always be closing. The one thing you cannot understand is look a poll is a poll. But folks have not cast any ballots, and so the Obama campaign should stay extremely aggressive and to say look no vote has been cast. Let's see what happens in early voting, but stay absolutely aggressive because if you just sit back a little bit, you could cause this race to narrow. That's the last thing they want.
BURNETT: All right, thanks very much to both of you. We appreciate it. And later in our hour, our guest, a man who once said Mormonism is a cult said this race is not over and he's got one thing he says Mitt Romney must do and -- that would to turn the whole race around. He's coming up. And Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed some of the U.N. General Assembly today. Was he trying to invoke John Lennon?
BURNETT: Our third story, OUTFRONT, Ahmadinejad at the U.N. For the eighth and last time as Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke to the United Nations General Assembly and as expected there were protests. The Israelis and Americans did not attend. The Canadians walked out. Although I saw France was there and protesters demonstrated outside the U.N. Much of the speech was what you would expect from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel and speaking on Yom Kippur, he referred to Israelis as quote "uncivilized Zionists" and railed against the U.S and Europe for quote "entrusting themselves to the devil". But then it got really weird when he seemed to take a different tone. During the section of his address called "imagine for a moment", Ahmadinejad said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, IRANIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Imagine for a moment -- had there been no (INAUDIBLE), distrust and malicious behaviors and dictatorships with no one violating the rights of others, had the wars of crusade and (INAUDIBLE) of slavery and colonialism not happened, had the Serbs not taken (ph) World Wars in Europe, the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Africa, Latin America and in the Balkans not happened, imagine how beautiful and pleasant our lives and how lovely the history of mankind would have been.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: And they would have been much more beautiful and pleasant. That's right. That was Ahmadinejad talking about freedom, peace and compassion. There was some speculation about what brought on what appeared to be a new tone and I have a little idea. Maybe he's hoping the Kumbaya feeling will help make the U.S. a safer haven for him because just as Ahmadinejad began speaking at the U.N. today, his press secretary was arrested in Tehran for writings that allegedly insulted Iran's supreme leader. He is going to serve a year in jail and he's just one of dozens of Ahmadinejad allies detained in the past year and a half in the crossfire between Ahmadinejad and the Ayatollah Khamenei. Maybe that's why when I saw Ahmadinejad this week, he said he might be back in New York next year as part of the Iranian-U.N. Delegation even though he won't be president. I'm wondering maybe he's hoping you know, he can stay here. It's sure better than what the alternatives might be in Tehran.
Well coming up, our guest says Mitt Romney is doing it all wrong and he has the solution. Everyone is complaining and picking on him, but how about someone with an idea, he's got one, and how much should student protesters be paid for having been pepper sprayed? Yes, there's a number to that -- it's next.
BURNETT: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT. We start the second half of the show with stories we care about where we focus on our reporting from the front lines. First the University of California, it is confirmed to CNN that it's reached a preliminary settlement with students who were pepper sprayed during a protest at the UC-Davis campus last year. Now, the settlement still has to be approved by the court, but it calls for the university to pay $30,000 to each of the 21 plaintiffs and the class action suit and $250,000 in all for their attorneys. They're going to set aside another $100,000 to pay individuals who can prove they were directly hit during the incident. Expect people around the country to buy pepper spray hoping to get sprayed.
The extradition of radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri has been halted for now. Hamza is also known as Mustafa Kamel Mustafa. He launched an appeal to fight his extradition to the U.S. and as a result, a judge has issued an interim injunction pending a hearing.
In a statement to OUTFRONT, the British Home Office says it will continue to work to ensure Hamza and four other men who were to be extradited are handed over to American authorities as soon as possible. Hamza faces 11 charges including conspiring in 1999 to set up an Islamic jihad training camp in Oregon.
Michigan police are going to be searching for the remains of Jimmy Hoffa under a driveway in Roseville, Michigan. In a statement to CNN, Michigan police chief says his department decided to take a core soil sample from a resident on Friday. Now, they had earlier used a radar which detected an anomaly between a concrete slab. Police say the move was prompted by a credible tipster who claimed the body was buried there around the same time Hoffa disappeared. Jimmy Hoffa is the former teamster's boss who went missing in 1975 and was finally declared dead seven years later.
Tonight, Mali is requesting the United Nations Security Council adopt a resolution authorizing to set up of a military force to help retake the northern part of the country which is currently under the control of Islamic militants linked to al Qaeda. The situation in Mali was discussed several times in meetings with the United Nations today. U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon said at a high level meeting that this region needs your attention, your focus, do not abandon it and regret later.
And Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech that the U.S. is stepping up its counterterrorism across the Maghreb and the Sahel.
Well, it's been 419 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating, what are we doing to get it back?
Housing is still a key issue, new home sales dropped slightly in August, but prices were up at 11 percent. That's at a five-year high. That's something to celebrate.
And now, our fourth story OUTFRONT: a Hail Mary pass from Mitt Romney. Pastor Jeffress says evangelical voters hold the key to Romney's victory. He's the leader of the 11,000-member First Baptist Church of Dallas. At one point, he called Mormonism a cult, but he now supports Mitt Romney and is here with me tonight.
Pastor, good to see you. Thank you. PASTOR ROBERT JEFFRESS, FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH DALLAS: Good to see you, Erin.
BURNETT: OK, so let's start with this. What is the secret? What is the secret that's going to turn it around for Mitt Romney?
JEFFRESS: Well, you know, insanity's doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Up to this point, the Romney strategy has been to focus on the economy. Just talk about the economy, don't get off on the social issues. That will (INAUDIBLE) voters.
Well, this isn't working out well, is it? The economy, because the economy's improving with the housing prices yesterday, consumer sentiment up yesterday and also, it fails to recognize that many of Republican base, many of them, are social conservatives who care about the economy, but, Erin, we also care about the moral and spiritual deterioration of our country, and I believe that Romney needs to speak out and show the distinction between the Democrat platform, which is embrace gay marriage, doubled down on abortion, which waffled about on whether to include God in the platform.
There's never been a time there's a more stark contrast between a Democrat platform and a Republican. I'm afraid that if Romney continues this course and doesn't stand and run on the Republican platform, I think a lot of evangelical voters may sit this one out.
BURNETT: OK. So Republican platform is against abortion in all cases.
BURNETT: Mitt Romney has made it clear that's not his position. That he would support the right to an abortion in the case of life the mother, rape, incest.
BURNETT: That's what most Americans, the vast majority of Americans agree with. Are you saying that he should go against with the Republican platform, against abortion in all cases?
JEFFRESS: I think he needs to make clear that he believes in life and I'll have to let him sort out what he believes about that. My personal view is murder is murder, and except in the case of a life of a mother being endangered, you don't have a right to take the child's life because of the way the child was conceived. But that's another programming issue.
My point here, Erin, is that Republican voters largely are evangelical voters. They vote 3-1 Republican. They care about more than simply the economy. And I'm just saying that in these debates next week, if the issue of life comes up, if the issue of marriage comes up, my advice to Romney is not to go wobbly on those issues, but to state clearly what he believes and I think he can energize evangelical voters. BURNETT: OK. Energize evangelical voters. But aren't they already living in states Mitt Romney is going to win? Doesn't he need to go for people who may think what you're saying about abortion is not what represents their point of view and say I don't want to vote for a guy that's going to say that? That's way too far right for me.
JEFFRESS: Erin, remember this -- in 2008, 20 million voters sat home and didn't vote. Barack Obama won by 10 million votes. The fact is, he has to have evangelical voters.
I said early on he could win without us and he did, but he can't win the general election without us. I think it's very important to do that, not only to energize the evangelical base, but I think coming out strongly for life and for traditional marriage, it will also suppress minority evangelicals, many of them in my church, Latinos and African-Americans who voted for Obama the last time, but they can't swallow his position on gay marriage.
They're not going to go out and become Republicans and vote for Romney.
BURNETT: So, they're going to stay home?
JEFFRESS: They're going to stay home if those differences are highlighted.
BURNETT: OK. But is it going to be enough for him to say I stand for life? Because he said that, and it sounds like you're saying I need him to go further. I mean, I'm getting this one point, because abortion did become a big issue with the platform, competing platforms.
How far does he need to go?
JEFFRESS: Well, I think he needs to say he's for life. Even his stated position, which I don't agree with necessarily, but in cases of incest, rape or the life of the mother, I still think that's a stark contrast to the Democrat position.
BURNETT: -- just has to tout. He has to put his fist down the table and say.
JEFFRESS: That's exactly right. I think again, the point is, not only will it energize evangelical voters, but I think it will really suppress the turnout among these minorities. They're really having a hard time -- they're talking to me about it.
I had one African-American pastor in our area who said it's an insult to me to say that the fight for marriage equality is like racial equality. He said don't equate sin with the color of my skin and I think there are African-Americans who feel that way, and I think by highlighting these stark differences, it could be a winning formula. BURNETT: Missouri Republican Todd Akin is still running. He's passed all the deadlines. So, he's in it. He's running. This was and is a crucial seat for the Republicans.
Obviously, for those who don't remember, he's the one who referred to legitimate rape earlier, widely condemned, including by Mitt Romney. Today, Rick Santorum and Jim DeMint both endorsed him. Do you?
JEFFRESS: I don't have any dog in that fight, as we say in Texas. So, I don't have a position on that. I think what he said was very unfortunate and probably misspoken, but I don't have a position on Clay Akin.
BURNETT: Misspoken? You think you can really misspeak something like that?
JEFFRESS: Well, I think it was an ignorant thing to say, but we all say things we wish we could take back from time.
But I do think Mitt Romney has a chance to win this election, but I think he's going to have to do something differently because what is happening now is not going to win. He's got to energize this base.
Erin, I'm hearing Republican strategists saying oh, look, you evangelicals, you don't have any choice, you don't have any choice at all. You're not going to vote for Barack Obama.
It's true, we're not going vote for President Obama, but we do have a choice about staying home. Now, I've come out and I've endorsed Governor Romney. I'm going to vote for him because I believe there is a difference between his position and the other, but I don't think he can afford to wobble next week in the debate because frankly, his record of consistency on this issue isn't very strong, so he doesn't have a lot of leeway to maneuver there.
BURNETT: All right. Well, Pastor Jeffress, thank you very much. Appreciate you coming in and taking the time.
And now, let's get to John Avlon -- because, John, I know you wrote about this issue for CNN.com today.
What's your response when Pastor Jeffress says, look, he needs -- Mitt Romney needs to come out and double down for these evangelicals. Will this work?
JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No. The pastor's speaking from a very personal and passionate perspective, but it ignores electoral map.
Look, only around 20 percent of Americans oppose abortion in all cases, rape, incest, life of the mother. As the Republican platform calls for, constitutional ban on abortion -- only 20 percent of Americans support that position. The vast majority of Americans for example on the issue of abortion believe it should be safe, legal and rare. Activists on either side are deeply polarized, but simply playing to the base is a simply a losing formula. Any winning presidential candidate needs to appeal not just to their base, but to independents and centrists, and that's where extreme positions on social issues may excite the base but alienate voters in the center of the electorate.
BURNETT: Now, what's interesting, John, you know, the pastor said, look, he's not saying Mitt Romney has to go further right. He didn't like his point of view necessarily on abortion, but he said if he stuck with rape, incest, life of the mother and just pounded his fist about it, that that would be enough.
Does that nuance change it at all for you, your evaluation?
AVLON: No, I mean, there's a reason the Romney camp, for all their faults, has been trying to say this election is about the economy. We heard the same thing in 2010, during the Tea Party wave.
This is a libertarian argument essentially about it's the economy. It's about reducing the deficit and debt. That's the issue that consistently Governor Romney has an edge on President Obama on in virtually every poll. Who's better equipped to deal with the deficit and debt?
The more they play to the religious right on social issues, the more they risk alienating these centrist voters, those independents and even libertarians and under cutting their own core argument, which is necessary to cobble together a majority.
BURNETT: Let me just bring in, Pastor Jeffress. You disagree with that point John just made.
JEFFRESS: Absolutely. The latest polls show that people trust Obama now more with the economy. Romney, the latest poll I saw yesterday that came out said that. This economy issue solely is a losing issue for Romney, as the economy improves, but also it fails to recognize people care about other things other than just the economy.
AVLON: Pastor Jeffress, if I may, I was making the distinction about not just the economy, but specifically about the issue of deficit and debt. And that's the bridge where conservatives can reach out to independents with credibility. They have in the past.
So, I appreciate your desire to have your nominee really focus on playing to the base in the religious right. That is absolutely your prerogative, but you can't rewrite math or polls to simply say that's a winning strategy when it comes to reaching out and forming a broader coalition.
JEFFRESS: What I'm saying to you is that I think the hunt for these elusive independent or undecided voters out there at the expense of energizing your base is going to be a losing strategy. It was in 2008 for John McCain. I think it will be this time.
I'm not saying he has to make these social issues the heart of every stump speech he gives. I'm just saying when it comes up in the debates over the next few weeks, he can't go wobbly on this. He cannot equivocate or hesitate about these important issues to us.
BURNETT: All right. We're going to leave it there. But thank you very much, gentlemen. Of course, the big question is, why is Mitt Romney not doing better on evaluations of the economy? Something I'm sure his campaign is asking themselves.
Well, protesters and police clashed in Greece today and it had a direct effect on your retirement funds. Yes.
And a very frank talk on legalizing marijuana.
BURNETT: We're back in tonight's outer circle where we reach out to our sources around the world.
And we begin tonight in Athens where demonstrators clashed with police while protesting new austerity measures. Tens of thousands showed up. The biggest anti-austerity protest in Greece in more than a year, and the demonstration was one reason stocks here in the U.S., the same stocks in your pension and 401(k), fell today.
Elinda Labropoulou is on the ground and I asked her how those cuts will affect the Greek people.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ELINDA LABROPOULOU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, what we expect from these austerity measures is to see more pensions and salaries being cut. There's also talk about the retirement age being raised by two years from 65 to 67 years and, of course, there are also these additional taxes to come.
All this comes at a time when a lot of Greek people are facing tremendous difficulties buying medications. Schools are saying that they may not be able to provide heating this winter, and unemployment has skyrocketed in the period of three years, up to 25 percent, youth unemployment being as high as 60 percent.
So as you can understand, the impact of the measures is going to be hard for the Greek people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. Thanks to Elinda.
And now, our fifth story OUTFRONT, withdrawing from the war on drugs. America has been hooked on this fight for decades and it has cost more than a trillion dollars. But there is a shift underway to revolutionize how America fights drugs and it doesn't have just the support of President Obama, but also has the support of rival Mitt Romney.
Here's John Zarrella with an in-depth look at how one of the least talked about campaign issues, America's addictions, has ties to the number one concern of this country, the economy. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A fishing trawler tries outrunning a Coast Guard cutter.
The crew of the cutter fires its .50 caliber machine gun.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's smoke. That's smoke. All right!
ZARRELLA: Disabling the trawler. On board, 20 tons of marijuana. This was the mid 1980s. The drug war was at its height.
The, Vice President George Bush headed up a task force to fight the problem.
GEORGE H.W. BUSH, THEN-VICE PRESIDENT: We have got to do better in interdicting it.
ZARRELLA: In Miami, cocaine is found hidden in commercial jets, flowers, even boxes of yams. Problem is, some aren't yams at all. Rather plaster casts painted and shaped like yams. Inside, pure coke. Stash houses and drug labs are routinely raided.
(on camera): That was a war on drugs. These days, it's not even a war of words. The White House doesn't even call it a war any longer, focusing more on prevention.
And in this political season, the issue of illicit drugs rarely gets a mention on the campaign trail.
(voice-over): When it does come up, President Obama and Mitt Romney appear to be on the same page.
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: The president of the United States must make a priority of helping reduce demand in this country.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The United States can focus on drug treatment and prevention.
JUDGE GISELE POLLACK, MISDEMEANOR DRUG COURT: Absolutely. I agree with that.
ZARRELLA: If anyone should know, it's Judge Gisele Pollack. She presides over misdemeanor drug court in Broward County, Florida. The idea? You get clean, you avoid a criminal record.
POLLACK: You've done perfect throughout the entire program. There's no violation of probation.
ZARRELLA: Pollack says drug courts ought to be a priority for the candidates because they reduce drug dependency and save taxpayers millions and she's got the numbers to back it up. A study showed Pollack's court saved the county as much $30 million a year over a five-year period -- basically, the difference in the cost of treatment and counseling versus incarceration. POLLACK: If we can keep them out of the criminal justice system at this level, then we will save billions and billions in prison costs.
ZARRELLA: For the White House, it's a multilayered approach -- focus on education and prevention, .treat drugs and addiction as a public health issue, not just a criminal justice concern. Law enforcement continues choking off the supply.
This year, the federal government is spending over $10 billion over prevention and treatment. Law enforcement and corrections just over $10 billion.
Mitt Romney has not outlined how he would allocate federal dollars, but both men say they are not in favor of legalizing marijuana. And both are emphatic that working closely with Mexico, which has supplanted Florida as a favorite drug route, is a must.
Pollack says she'd like more political discussion about drugs in part because substance abuse can be the result of a job loss or top economic times.
POLLACK: We live in a society of aggravating stress. So, it's only natural that people are going to turn to substances, whatever they maybe, to numb their pain or stress.
ZARRELLA: Ironically the most talked about issues leaning to one of the least.
John Zarrella, CNN, Miami.
BURNETT: As John just mentioned, both President Obama and Mitt Romney have made clear that they're not in favor of legalizing marijuana, but you know what? Some of you are. And so are some of your elected leaders. There are efforts to legalize it on the ballot in three states.
And in Massachusetts, voters will decide whether to legalize it for medical use.
Well, there's one who -- well, you'll hear his view on pot.
I spoke earlier to Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank. He's been a big supporter of marijuana reform. So, I started by asking him, why do you care so much?
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: I believe in personal freedom and liberty. I've been the leading opponent of efforts to shut down Internet gamble. I think people ought to be free to read what they want.
And particularly with marijuana, I think it's a great hypocrisy. I think, frankly, it contributes to a good deal of the sense of unfairness of young people who are told they shouldn't do this. They've gone on these negative effects. But then see older people engaging in things that have a greater impact on people.
And then there's another thing. I'm primarily motivated by personal freedom. I want to free up government resources to do things that that I think are important in improving the quality of life without having to raise taxes. At the federal level, that means cutting military spending. At the state level, it means not spending as much as we do on prisons.
Look, if someone hits somebody over the head, I want to pick war between me and him. I want bad people knock up. But people who smoke marijuana, the extent of prosecuting them and jailing them.
One of the best things we can do to reduce state expenditures is to stop going after people who use marijuana.
BURNETT: You could also make money on it, right? I mean, if you tax it --
BURNETT: Six billion dollars, tax it like alcohol and tobacco.
FRANK: Very good point. The analogy is prohibition. Instead of being a drain our resources, we could tax it, like everything else and it would be a contribution.
Again, I think it's destabilizing and expensive. There are also -- look, it's not fairly done. And it's clear, if you look at the arrests for marijuana. Disproportionately, they come from people in minority groups and there are a lot of highly educated and upper income white kids who smoke it. They're much less likely to get arrested. It's the big problem in New York with the stop and frisk.
So, it adds a degree of social disorganization and cost and it's an impingement on personal freedom.
BURNETT: Now, there was though a study out of Yale, which I wanted to get your opinion on, because all of those points that you make, a lot of people may support. But they said if you use cigarettes or marijuana, those are crucial indicators of using harder drugs later on in life, prescription drug abuse, particularly. They kind of refer to it as a gateway drug.
What do you think about that?
FRANK: That's a fair question. Let me say two things. First of all, if we follow that logic, I guess we'd have to outlaw cigarette smoking. And you correctly say it was cigarettes and marijuana.
BURNETT: The states will never do that, they need the money too much from the -- FRANK: But, that logic of public policy and that's one of the points they're making. You tell people, we are going to keep from smoking marijuana, we're going to promote the smoking of cigarettes. That's not just illogical, but I think that exacerbates social tensions.
Secondly, to some extent, we make marijuana gateway drug, but there is nothing about marijuana that has a great deal in common with heroin except for the fact that the law treats them somewhat similarly.
BURNETT: Well, you know what? It's interesting. I looked up and I saw it was you. So, I know it's you I'm talking. But I kind of thought for a second that I was talking to Ron Paul.
FRANK: Well, Ron and I are in great agreement on this. We're in great agreement on not banning gambling. He and I -- we differ on the economic situation, because I think economics inevitably involves other people.
BURNETT: So, I guess I have to ask you a crucial question here. Do you smoke regularly pot?
FRANK: No, I don't. I smoke a cigar or two a day. I did have a brownie once and it made me sleepy. But, you know, I don't gamble either.
BURNETT: You just learned something about Barney Frank, yes.
Mira Sorvino's crusade is next.
BURNETT: Tomorrow on OUTFRONT, a big day at the U.N. General Assembly. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers his speech. He's already made comments as he got on the plane to come to the United States, saying he's going to take a tough line on Iran. In recent weeks, Netanyahu has also been very critical of the United States, saying there is no more time for diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program.
Does that add up?
Plus, actress Mira Sorvino OUTFRONT to talk about her crusade with the United Nations to stop human trafficking.
And tomorrow you're going to meet a teacher who struggled finally for years. But then she found a way to profit off of what she was doing in the classroom and that idea has turned her into a millionaire.
It's an amazing story. It's OUTFRONT tomorrow. We'll see you then. Have a great night.
"A.C. 360" starts now.