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White House Leaves out key Info on Libya Attack; Interview with Rep. Mike Rogers; Liar, Liar; Air Scare; Interview with Tara Wall, Ben LaBolt

Aired October 1, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT next knowingly wrong and out of date. That describes the intelligence giving its talking points to government officials days after the attack in Libya, in which four Americans were killed. Is there any way this could add up? Mike Rogers, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, is OUTFRONT tonight.

Plus, the "l" word, that's what both candidates are being called tonight, liars. Is this what we should expect during Wednesday night's debate?

And the White House targeted by a cyber attack believed to be from China, the attack was detected and foiled, but it was on our top secret nuclear trigger. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, the buck stops at the White House. CNN has learned tonight that the White House chose to leave out key intelligence from the attack on Americans in Libya. Now, there were three things U.S. intelligence has now confirmed to be true. The attacks were preplanned, terrorist attacks, and the work of al Qaeda-linked groups. None of these three points were in talking points distributed to Congress and other government officials.

Intelligence expert Rudy Attala (ph), who has worked in the Pentagon for two decades tells OUTFRONT the key information left out of the talking points can only mean the administration is covering something up. U.S. intelligence knew about the al Qaeda link within 24 hours of the attacks and the now infamous comments by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice saying the attacks were not preplanned, not the work of terror, were four days after that. This does not add up. Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers is our exclusive guest in a moment, but first, Elise Labott joins me with the latest on the news she has been OUTFRONT with from the start. Elise, you have been breaking this, this latest story about the White House choosing to leave information out. What are your sources saying as to why the White House decided to remove key points like the fact that al Qaeda- linked groups were involved, like the fact that this was a terrorist attack.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well I think Erin, if you look at the chronology of how this happened in the days after the attack, in fact the day after the attack, my sources were telling me this was a preplanned military style assault indication there were terrorists involved. And then as the days gone by, even though my sources continued to tell me that this was preplanned, military style assault, the White House started using these talking points saying that it was a mob. No sources of mine, no sources of CNN were ever saying that there was ever any evidence of a mob and then these White House talking points were delivered by Susan Rice on Sunday even though there were officials that continued to say that it was a preplanned attack. So it kind of makes you wonder why Susan Rice would go out and use those points. What officials say is listen, this was the best information that Susan Rice was given, administration talking points at the time, but you can see that you know there --


LABOTT: -- selective --


LABOTT: -- selective talking points being used because there were a lot of theories going on at the time.

BURNETT: But some in the White House, obviously this is the White House, were privy to all of these piece of information, terrorist attack, preplanned, al Qaeda-linked and somebody made the choice to not put that in the talking points that went to officials and also Congress.

LABOTT: Well we don't really know exactly who made that choice. I mean some officials say this was the best evidence that the intelligence community had. Other people say well this was part of the pile of intelligence and since it was in that pile that the intelligence community signed off on it, it's really unclear where these talking points came from, but certainly, you see just days after Susan Rice said this, the administration now walking back saying this is a preplanned terrorist attack with al Qaeda involved.

BURNETT: And a final question, it was Susan Rice that went out and did the talk show rounds. You might say why wasn't it Hillary Clinton? The man who died worked for her. She is the secretary of state. Does that add to the intrigue here as to why the ultimate person in charge wasn't going out?

LABOTT: Well, I think Susan Rice kind of got the short straw here. I mean there are a lot of people -- you know first of all Hillary Clinton, I think our own Candy Crowley can attest that Hillary Clinton doesn't do talk shows very often.


LABOTT: And certainly in an instance like this, I think that Hillary Clinton has been doing this a really long time and knows that what it looks like at first blush is not going to be what ends up really being true, even the next day or in the end. So I think it was probably an abundance of caution on her part that she wasn't the one out there and I think a lot of people in the administration think that Susan Rice was put in a bad position and (INAUDIBLE) talking points were put out a little hastily. BURNETT: All right, well thank you very much, Elise, appreciate it.

Well OUTFRONT tonight, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, and good to see you, Chairman Rogers. Appreciate your taking the time.


BURNETT: Obviously, now hearing as Elise has been able to confirm that the White House -- there were a decision made as to some of these key things that obviously are now considered to be crucial to this -- essential to this attack were left out of the briefing points given to Congress and given to the American people. Why did that happen?

REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), HOUSE INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE: Well, I can't say to why, but there are that's incredibly disturbing information and so there's two parts to this, Erin. One is the investigation itself. Listen this was not Barack Obama's ambassador. It wasn't the Democratic ambassador. It wasn't the Republican ambassador. It was the American ambassador. This was a terrorist attack against the United States of America that took the life of our U.S. ambassador and three very distinguished embassy employees. Americans deserve the truth. What happened?

And the reason that's so important isn't for the political fodder, it may or may not make in the next three weeks, but this is serious business. If you look at what happened in Kenya and Tunisia with the bombings there and then you have Tanzania -- excuse me -- and then you have the USS Cole in 2000, December, what happened with the 9/11 Commission they went back and said what happened when nothing happened when there wasn't any response is al Qaeda made the interpretation that it's OK to be more aggressive and then you had 9/11 that following year. And so this is important for two reasons.

One, I think Americans have the right and deserve the right to know it was their ambassador that was killed. There is certainly lots of misinformation flowing and I think political interpretation of intelligence is always a dangerous thing. And I don't care who does it. And lastly, what are we doing to track these people down and send the signal that we will not tolerate this? We risk another serious attack by not taking this seriously and that's my concern.

BURNETT: And let me ask you this key question. Is there any way that you could be persuaded by what some are saying may be what the administration is going to use to defend themselves on this, which is all right everybody, we knew it was al Qaeda-linked groups, but we didn't know which specific group and before we go out and use the word al Qaeda, willy-nilly (ph), we wanted to get that additional information. Is that something that would ever have you say, OK, that makes a little bit of sense?

ROGERS: That would have been great if they would have come out and said we didn't know what happened. We're going to take a few days and try to figure this out. That's not what they did. And matter of fact, I think the decisions that they made -- remember this wasn't the intelligence that was given them that was the problem. It was what they did with the intelligence that was given them that was the huge problem and it was a policymaker that I argued, huge mistake. So they came out and four days, as you pointed out, after the event and went on offense. No, this was just spontaneous. It was -- we couldn't have prevented it. We didn't know anything about it. A horrible way to get going and then the kicker is they blamed it on this video that nobody in America had seen and hardly anybody in the Middle East had seen --


ROGERS: -- and I argue that elevated. You just gave a permission slip to every bad guy across the Middle East to use that to their advantage and it resulted in U.S. taxpayer money being spent in Pakistan to try to defend the video that they believed was the problem --

BURNETT: Right, they ran an ad campaign -- yes --

ROGERS: Yes --

BURNETT: -- which was a significant ad buy in Pakistan.

ROGERS: Well and the problem with that, Erin, is it exacerbated the problem. And here's why people should be I think outraged is because that's not the information they had sitting on their desk. So they made all of these decisions and I argue maybe served to enflame the Middle East, enflame our troubles, and are just now and they can't even quite yet get out of this you know circling of the wagons, if you will.

BURNETT: So I want to know what word you think is the right word to use though. Did they -- I mean if they knew terrorists, they knew preplanned and they knew al Qaeda and they did not include it in the unclassified briefing did someone in the White House make a pointed decision to lie? Is that too strong a word?

ROGERS: Well I mean I'm not willing to say that today. I think that the information that we gather should lead us to the right answer to that question. It is very clear that there is an abundance now of information. The reason I came out on that last Sunday and haven't talked since is because I wanted to go through the information and make sure what did happen. What do we know happened --


ROGERS: -- and we didn't base it just on our briefings, by the way. As an intelligence committee we have other sources and our own methods to go out and collect information that we on an investigation will review like this.


ROGERS: To make sure we get the story right and it was clearly from the very beginning not lining up. So I think somebody deliberately made a decision to go in a direction that wasn't fully backed by the intelligence that gave them. Now, I think we're going to have to come to a conclusion of why that happened. I think the president needs to come out and explain this. I think the secretary of state needs to explain this and for a couple of reasons. Not just for Americans. I think we have the right to know, but the people who risk their lives every day in our embassies around the world, our intelligence officials who are risking their lives every day around the world, they have the right to know that their back is being covered by the United States and we're taking all the appropriate security measures not based on some political narrative, but what are the facts on the ground. Whoever wins in November, Erin, is going to have to deal with this --


ROGERS: Republican or Democrat and we better get it right for our national security.

BURNETT: We had spoken to someone who has spent a lot of time in North Africa studying al-Qaeda as an agent and has worked for the Pentagon for two decades who said that given the information we have now about what the White House knew and what they chose to put in the unclassified talking points, that there is evidence of a cover-up. I'm curious as to whether you agree with that and also whether you think and this I guess sort of evokes what happened with the Iraq war. Whether there was a cherry picking of information that would lead one to a conclusion, to a specific conclusion, maybe not the right conclusion, but would lead you to a conclusion in this case of a mob action that was spontaneous.

ROGERS: Well we're continuing to review. It is very clear to me that there was this -- they picked pieces of information for convenience sake that fit a narrative that they believed -- you know, I don't want to question their motive of what they thought they were doing. I don't know if it was political or not. I don't have any information (INAUDIBLE) political or not. It was clearly done. And I argue -- and I know other committees are going back to look at to see if Congress was deliberately misled, which would be a violation of the law. I'm not involved in that. They're going to have to fully I think go to the end of that. I would be careful about accusing anybody until that case came to a close, but clearly there were huge mistakes made here and huge I argue foreign policy mistakes were compounded by the original decision that they weren't going to use the information that the intelligence community was giving them and they were going to go off on their own. I think that's just -- it's a dangerous decision. I think we're seeing that now and we're going to pay a price for this and we're going to have to figure out how to put it back together.

BURNETT: Have -- have you been told you're going to get all of the cables that came from the consulate and the embassy in Benghazi to the U.S., anything in prior months and years to this that could have indicated that this was coming, especially in the months, the two or three months before?

ROGERS: We are -- we've requested the documents. They have yet to arrive. The cooperation is not what we had hoped. And I just hope that we don't have to ramp this up. This should be done in -- we should do this as an internal investigation so that we can move forward and make sure that the other embassies of the world that we don't not let al Qaeda off the hook on this and I'll tell you, again, that 9/11 Commission was very strong --


ROGERS: -- not responding to the USS Cole cost us -- may have cost us the 9/11 attack, but clearly it was in their mind that they could do more. We have to make sure that this gets shut off now. And I said at the beginning, Erin, I think it was even on your show that if a month from that event we're still talking about who is to blame and we haven't done anything about the people who have done it, we are in serious trouble from a national security perspective.

BURNETT: Obviously, those days, we are getting to that day. Thank you very much, sir. We appreciate your taking the time.

And still OUTFRONT President Obama and Mitt Romney have something in common. They're both being called liars, so which accusation is doing the most damage?

Plus, could legalizing marijuana in a battleground state sway the presidential election? Yes, could it come down to something like that? There is big money involved. John Avlon OUTFRONT in Colorado and a second American Airlines flight has to make an emergency landing. A row of seats comes loose. Can planes really fly in bankruptcy?


BURNETT: OUTFRONT our second story, liar, liar. According to the Romney campaign, that is the president's strategy.


REP. PAUL RYAN (R-WI), VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president does a very good job of trying to mislead and distort and distract so he can try and win this thing by default.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Stop lying, Mr. President.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the challenge that I'll have in the debate is that the president tends to how shall I say it, say things that aren't true.


BURNETT: You know you've got to love Chris Christie. Say things that aren't true, mislead, sometimes, if you're going to call someone a liar, you can just call them a liar. That's what Christie did there, of course, but this is a preview of what we're going to be hearing from Mitt Romney on Wednesday when the two candidates face off for their first debate, at least that's what some say. Will it happen and will that attack work? Reihan Salam and Roland Martin are here -- hey good to see you both.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What's happening?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good to be here.

BURNETT: All right, so what do you think? Is he going to come out, Reihan, and say, look, you are -- there you go -- that famous (INAUDIBLE) there you go again. There's another lie or no?

REIHAN SALAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I think it's extremely unpredictable. I think that it does make sense for them to push back. I'm not sure if the debate is the right place to do it. And I say that because immediately after Paul Ryan's speech of the Obama campaign referring to the lies in Paul Ryan's speech and that's immediately echoed by President Obama's allies in the media. And then you don't have the Romney campaign response officially robustly. For example, President Obama has been running ads claiming that Mitt Romney's going to raise taxes on the middle class. Now, Mitt Romney has never made that claim. And this is coming from a report which is making all kinds of arguments --

BURNETT: Tax Policy Center --


SALAM: -- Tax Policy Center and that has made all kinds of assumptions that the Romney campaign has very explicitly rejected. So again they're treating this as though --


BURNETT: -- lot of loopholes that I know he doesn't want to close --


SALAM: -- economist Harvey Rosen has said that you can also generate enough growth to avoid any middle class tax increase. So again, there are a lot of credible folks who are saying something else. But again he's saying that (INAUDIBLE) it's a fact that he's going to raise middle class taxes which is bogus --

BURNETT: All right, but Roland, here's -- the Obama campaign, I guess David Plouffe is the Chris Christie of the campaign saying their campaign is built on a tripod of lies and the president himself has said sometimes they just make things up, so it sounds like the Democratic side is going to say hey liars.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Last I checked, isn't this called politics? You have lying all the time in politics. It is our responsibility to call folks out on it. On my TV 1 show, I have a new segment called -- I have a segment for the last couple of years called "The Biggest Damn Lie" and it's the biggest one each week that we hear in politics and --

BURNETT: That's got to always a very tough line to draw -- MARTIN: No, no, because it's real clear (ph) because some lies are much bigger than the others. And the bottom line is you have to call folks out on it. Here's the problem I have when it comes to a debate. I do believe though when you hear lies in a debate, they should be called out on the spot. I have a problem with this debate commission how it's all structured because when you hear a lie, it shouldn't be, hmmm. No, it should be I'm sorry, Mr. Romney or I'm sorry President Obama, that's not true because with so many people watching, people want to know I'm hearing the truth. It shouldn't be oh let me wait two hours later to actually get the truth. Call them out on the lies whoever says it, on the spot.


BURNETT: Sometimes, that takes a tough level of preparation although you should be able to do it more --

MARTIN: That's why you have -- that's why you have a team to decide and that's their job.

BURNETT: And you come back --

MARTIN: We live in a world --

SALAM: It's not just about preparation.

BURNETT: (INAUDIBLE) subjective. I mean I can't even believe I'm saying that --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, no, no, no --

BURNETT: You can check our (ph) data on tax policy --

SALAM: President Obama --

BURNETT: -- to be true or not --

SALAM: President Obama promised that he would not raise middle class taxes. OK, whereas in his Affordable Care Act there are a number of tax increases that will impact households making less than $250,000 a year. Now you can parse that. You can say well that's not a tax increase the way that I talked to you about something else, but (INAUDIBLE) one thing or another is it a tax increase or not? It certainly is through the tax system. it is impacting some middle class households, so did you lie? He's going to say no I did not lie --


MARTIN: And that's fine, but again if you say something you call him out on it. Here's the deal. Romney is not going to try to bring it up in the debate. Nor will President Obama because the moment you do, you now have opened the door for your opponent to actually call you out --

BURNETT: Then you got to look in the mirror and it's an ugly picture --

MARTIN: So -- there you go -- and so the responsibility is going to rest on the debate moderator who is not going to do it. But again what people out there are saying is can I get somebody to tell me the truth? And I will say this here. You can parse words all you want to, but there are some things called undeniable truth and so no matter how you're going to dance around it, there are some things that are very clear. Some things are true. Some things are false.

SALAM: There's also such a thing as throwing things against the wall and then pounding on the possibility that only after the election will we sort out the truth --

MARTIN: Right --

SALAM: And that is what the Obama campaign has been extremely effective at doing --


SALAM: And the Romney campaign hasn't been as effective at doing that.

MARTIN: Oh, well first of all the Romney campaign, they have been very good when it comes to the lies and because look -- I can show you the proof. Just go to our Web site. We got all the time. But again, you have campaigns --

SALAM: Again that's another thing --


SALAM: -- check up on after the fact right --

MARTIN: No, no, and that's my point, you said earlier --

SALAM: You want to call --

MARTIN: No, no, no, you said earlier don't fact check during the debate. I said absolutely. If you have that many eyeballs watching and this is --

SALAM: I did not say -- we can go back and hear the transcript.


SALAM: I said did not say go fact check during the debate --


SALAM: I said that it's subjective and it's unclear and you can manipulate the process.

MARTIN: To some things, but there are some things that are very clear. That are very clear that's either true or false and so, for instance, if you hear Romney say with the stimulus that was all spent on products that didn't work, first of all, 40 percent of the stimulus actually worked --

SALAM: When did he say that?

MARTIN: Oh dude, seriously? Do you need us to --

SALAM: President Obama --


SALAM: President Obama --


BURNETT: -- Republican talking point that the stimulus did not succeed --

MARTIN: I'm not arguing --


SALAM: But he didn't say --

MARTIN: No, no --

SALAM: -- that none of it worked. In fact --

MARTIN: I'm not arguing -- first of all, we have heard people say none of this worked. I'm not --

SALAM: But you said Mitt Romney said that OK --

MARTIN: I'm making the point --

SALAM: This is throwing things against the wall and seeing what sticks.

MARTIN: No, no, I'm not throwing it up against the wall. I'm saying what has been said.


MARTIN: I'm making the point --

SALAM: Not what Mitt Romney said -- fair enough -- OK.

MARTIN: Erin, in a debate --


MARTIN: -- what I'm saying is we should have the opportunity that when somebody makes a statement you can have your team, their laptop sitting right there, want to say I'm sorry, a moment ago you said this here, that's simply not true and you put them on the spot to have to answer that versus let it slide and then we figure it out later.

BURNETT: But Roland -- and -- but Roland, you are saying you agree there could be a role for that sort of a thing --


BURNETT: That would enable --

SALAM: Here's the problem --


BURNETT: That's to say look, tax cuts on the middle class, for example --

SALAM: It depends critically on who the moderator is, right --


SALAM: -- and fundamentally -- and fundamentally I think that it's fair to say that the Romney campaign doesn't generally feel like they're getting a fair shake. So I think that when you actually say look at the fact checkers in "The Washington Post" and various other publications that have been objectively fact checking various statements. The thing is that they are actually incredibly subjective; they themselves have been fact checked in many cases and haven't actually told the complete story --


BURNETT: I'm going to have to hit --

MARTIN: Didn't both campaigns agree to the moderators already? So they already agreed to it. I'm simply saying you can do it. So it's not like that's somehow up in the air.

SALAM: They didn't agree to actually the moderators entering the debate and becoming participants in the debate. That's a fact --

BURNETT: I can tell you having done fact checking briefly during one of the conventions that being a fact checker is -- you've got to take a lot of vile nastiness.

MARTIN: That's because people don't like being called out on lies.

BURNETT: People do not like it --

MARTIN: Call them out --

BURNETT: -- when the --

MARTIN: Call them out.

BURNETT: -- it doesn't go in their direction. All right, well thanks very much to both of you. All right our third story, OUTFRONT, a midair scare. For the second time in recent days a row of seats on an American Airlines plane came loose. It happened earlier this morning on a flight from JFK to Miami. Our Sandra Endo is following the story and is OUTFRONT tonight and Sandra, what have you been learning about this?

SANDRA ENDO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, we know the details here, an American Airlines flight from JFK to Miami had to return to JFK this morning after a row of seats came loose and this is the second plane to actually go through this. Saturday, a Boeing 757 from Boston to Miami carrying 175 passengers diverted back to Kennedy Airport when three seats in row 12 came loose shortly after take-off. Now the plane safely landed and there were no injuries reported, but American issued a statement saying "there could be a possible issue with a certain model of seats and how they fit into the tracking used to secure the seats. Out of an abundance of caution, American has decided to pro actively reinspect eight 757s today that could possibly have the same issue. The issue does not seem to be tied to any one maintenance facility or one work group."

Now we contacted the pilot's union for American Airlines and they said the Saturday incident is quote "an embarrassing problem and that an overhaul of the plane involved was performed by third party maintenance workers." Now as you know, Erin, American is already going through a turbulent time with pilots calling in sick and more maintenance orders coming in and they are ranking at the top of the list of major carriers when it comes to the number of flight cancellations and delays -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, Sandra, thank you very much. Of course, American Airlines is in bankruptcy and it makes you question whether that does affect how the airline operates.

Ahead, the U.S. government under relentless attack from hackers and today all signs point to China on one of the most sacred and secure parts of our national security. And new national and battleground state polls just released. Is the streak of bad news for Mitt Romney finally over? Members from both campaigns going to duke it out, who is going to tell the truth, OUTFRONT next.


BURNETT: Welcome back. We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our reporting from the front lines and we begin with Iran. A cameraman who came to New York with the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for the U.N. General Assembly is now trying to stay here in the United States. His American lawyer says the cameraman has applied for asylum. And in a statement to OUTFRONT the attorney said "my client disagrees with the regime and how oppressive it is and is becoming -- he had concerns about his relationship with the regime and how they would treat him upon his return to Iran. He objected to things that were requested of him by the regime during the trip to the U.N. that he did not want to do." We're going to keep following that story here on OUTFRONT.

Well Honda is recalling more than 570,000 Accords sold in this country due to potential fire risks. The problem is with power steering hoses which can leak creating smoke and potentially spark fire. Honda said in a statement there have been no crashes or injuries reported as a result of the hoses, but there was an engine fire and to make things worse the part needed to make the repair is not available until next year. For now, owners can take their car for an interim repair.

It has been 424 days since America lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Unfortunately, we are edging closer and closer to the fiscal cliff. According to a Tax Policy Center study, American households will see an average tax increase of $3,500 each if Congress does not do something to avert the fiscal cliff, in which everything from payroll taxes to full tax rates will go up.

And now, our fourth story OUTFRONT: under attack by hackers. This was pretty incredible because the White House today confirmed that its military office was the target of a cyber attack with a suspected attacker, China. This is the office responsible for the United States of America's nuclear war plan.

Now, CNN has learned this was an unclassified network which was hit. Officials say they dealt with the threat, but these attacks are relentless and the Pentagon encounters thousands of them every single day.

So, how does Washington keep up with this threat?

OUTFRONT tonight, retired Colonel Cedric Leighton. He dealt with cyber issues for his most of his time at the Air Force.

Colonel, great to se you.

Obviously, the White House is saying, look, we dealt with this. It was unclassified network. But still, this is the White House. This is an office which is responsible for the United States of America's nuclear war plans.

How serious was this?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): Well, Erin, it's great to see you, too. But this is too close for comfort when it comes to hacking attacks, and the kinds of things that we have to concern ourselves with, especially when it comes to protecting the nuclear codes and anything else that really is sensitive from a military nature. The White House military office was responsible for those things, and also, all of military support that the president gets. So, information that is passed even on their unclassified networks can be very, very sensitive.

BURNETT: So, how would we know? I mean, is the White House saying today, we don't have any evidence the data was taken. But given the fact that China and others are simply just relentless, right? And the information that we store could be hundreds of billions of dollars, if not our entire national security at risk, if someone so crucial at pieces of information.

How would we know if they stole something?

LEIGHTON: Well, sometimes you don't know and that's the problem with these kinds of attacks. Generally speaking, you know, when it comes to spear fishing attacks, they're among the simplest types of attacks nowadays. Basically what that means is you send an e-mail and you hope that the person responds who clicks on the link. The emails that we use in this particular case were probably fairly innocuous and they were smart enough supposedly to control what they actually clicked on.

But you don't know. There are so many cases -- for example, the case of the Nortel Corporation in Canada, where there was malware resident on their computers for over 10 years before anything was done about it. And the company ended up losing tons of intellectual property. And it was just, you know, another nail in their coffin when it came to their bankruptcy and other things. There are so many aspects to that that became really, really difficult.

And when you're talking about the White House military office, and really any office in the White House, it becomes a great cause of concern because what you want to do is you want to seal those networks off as much as you can from these kinds of attacks.

BURNETT: Right. It's unbelievable. Not just hundreds of billions of dollars of R&D, we put in everybody, but if it's decades of work and developing some sort of a program, military program in this country, then someone like China could steal it and just get caught up to us that quickly.

Our thanks to Colonel Leighton.

So, now to Romney's swing state of hope. So, the latest polling out of North Carolina, if it's any indication, you could see Romney's demise in swing states has been greatly exaggerated. Romney is now leading in the key battleground of North Carolina by four percentage points. Last week, we showed you another poll from the state which had the president ahead by two points.

OK, maybe you're getting a little obnoxious with all the bouncing around. But this is pretty incredible. And nationally, our new poll shows the president ahead by three points. As you can see, that's within the margin of error. Is this new momentum for the Romney campaign going to be enough?

Ben LaBolt is the campaign press secretary for President Obama. Tara Wall is the senior advisor for Governor Romney.

OK, good to see both of you. We appreciate it.

Ben, let me start with you, because I know you have been out here. You know, Jen Psaki was on this show from your campaign, saying on Friday, look, we're always going to play like we're five points behind. But are you worried when you see polls like this in North Carolina? You have to get a little excited. You are ahead. Now, all of a sudden, not.

BEN LABOLT, OBAMA CAMPAIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Well, you know, we never thought we were going to win these battleground states by 10 points. The fact is this has been a closer competitive race for the past year and a half. But you saw in that poll that CNN had today, that your network had today, in which the president has erased Mitt Romney's edge on the economy.

And I think that's because the American people have started to focus on his policies. The fact he would provide a $5 trillion tax cut to the wealthiest Americans and make seniors and the middle class pay for them, that he'd repeal Wall Street reform and the Affordable Care Act and replace it with nothing. They're starting to focus on his policies and the choice is starting to crystallize as Election Day approaches.

BURNETT: I would say that our poll only had the president ahead by one point in the economy, so you are correct -- although that is margin of error.

So, Tara, let me ask you. Is this good news from North Carolina enough for you, or are you still very worried about what Ben alluded to, that there are several key states, which you must win, or you're not running that close, according to the latest polls?

TARA WALL, ROMNEY SR. ADVISER: Well, first off, I'd say that was a nice pivot by Ben. Of course, they're concerned because President Obama won North Carolina last time around and I think it should give them pause.

But, again, when you look at these polls and I've said this before, you know, we expect this to be very tight all the way down to Election Day, in these battleground states across the country. So I think that you know, what you're saying is that bounce that President Obama had coming out of the Democratic convention has gone away. It's dissipated and more Americans are looking at the Romney/Ryan ticket as one that will address issues and will deliver a plan that has impact on middle class Americans, that will bring down taxes for all Americans, period.

There's only one candidate that's actually talking about raising taxes and there's another candidate, that's the Romney/Ryan ticket, that will cut taxes for all Americans. So I think as we go into this, we'll hear a lot more of that, obviously, at the debate. And this is the next phase f that campaign.

BURNETT: All right. And interesting on the issues, Mitt Romney leads according to our poll, on unemployment and the deficit. But the president leads, as Ben indicated on the economy, but also on taxes.

Let me ask you this, Ben, because one thing a lot of our viewers may assume, at least I feel people have heard a lot lately is that Democratic base is now energized and the convention was partly responsible for that. So, recently, Jim Messina told "The Huffington Post," enthusiasm matters, our people are more enthusiastic than their people.

Our new poll, I got to show you this -- how do you feel strength of support? Seventy-two percent of Romney voters are strongly, you know, excited; 72 percent of Obama voters. So, that's a virtual tie. And extremely or very enthusiastic about voting in November, 65 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of Democrats.

Does that worry you? In '08, part of the reason the president won was his people were way more enthusiastic than John McCain's people.

LABOLT: Well, we heard a lot about the vaunted enthusiasm gap on the Republicans side last year and that's been erased. And now, it all comes down to turn out. You know, it's different from past elections, is that people are voting right now, today, in Iowa. They're starting to vote tomorrow in Ohio.


LABOLT: Our supporters are camped out at polling places across the state, and thousands more Democrats have voted in Iowa last week than Republicans. But that's the way we've built this organization on the ground for the past 500 days to turn our supporters out. The Romney campaign is really been vetting that they can win this thing on the air with all the super PAC spending. We're investing in a ground organization to get our supporters to the polls.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much to both of you. We'll hit pause there, but obviously going to be talking a lot to both of you in the next 30 some odd days.

And still to come, another campaign issue: taxing marijuana to fund schools. It actually could move the needle on this presidential election. That is no joke.

Plus, violence in Afghanistan rising as the war is winding down, but it isn't stopping a father, a mother and a son from deploying together to the war.


BURNETT: Pop on the ballot. Voters in Oregon, Washington and Colorado, three states, are going to decide whether or not to allow marijuana to be sold and taxed. And in Massachusetts, they're going to vote on whether to legalize medical marijuana.

Now, in Colorado, the push for legalization could actually affect the entire presidential election.

OUTFRONT in the story, John Avlon, tonight, in Denver.


REP. JARED POLIS (D), COLORADO: It could either way. AVLON (voice-over): Here in Colorado, the fight for the White House is only one contentious issue on the ballot.

If Congressman Jared Polis has his way, his state will be the first in the nation to legalize marijuana possessions for adult.

The idea is simple: tax and regulate marijuana in much the same way liquor is today.

That's right -- money for schools. The amendment would use the first $40 million to build new schools.

But does this mile high idea add up?

Denver school superintendent Tom Boasberg says no.

TOM BOASBERG, DENVER SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT: With this kind of discussion dependent on this kind of a measure strikes me as much more of a gimmick, and strikes me as a real cruel joke, that this is the framework that people are proposing to have a discussion about what our kids need.

POLIS: It will have a good impact on schools. I don't know why it would be a cruel joke or a gimmick. Is $40 million enough? No, of course, but it makes a strong dent in it.

AVLON: Opinion is divided in this purple swing state. But a "Denver Post" poll shows that 51 percent of Coloradans support the amendment, with 40 percent opposed. The only age group dead set against legalization are those over 65. And among voters age 35 and younger, the margin of support is 2-1. That's a coveted voting bloc for both campaigns, which have dismissed the idea of legalizing marijuana.

REPORTER: Should marijuana be legalized for --

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Aren't there issues of significance? The economy?

REPORTER: This is significant issue in Colorado.

ROMNEY: The economy --

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're not going to be legalizing weed or what anytime soon.

AVLON: One question is whether this a amendment will drive some of those voters to support libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, the former Republican governor of New Mexico, who is a strong advocate of marijuana legalization.

BURNETT: Look, t it's a domestic issue. It's a debate in Colorado. Mitt and Barack from what you just showed there should know a lot of care. It's a key issue.

But I know this isn't the first high profile attempt to legalize marijuana. So what's the track record, John?

AVLON: That's right, what hasn't been good for advocates of marijuana legalization. Most recently in California, just two years ago, in the 'Tea Party election of 2010, polls said this measure might pass. California looked like it was on the verge of legalizing marijuana. Went down to defeat on Election Day.

It's a significant cautionary tale for folks who look at the polls this far out, especially in a state this deeply divided. But what's fascinating, Erin, is the way this argument is being pitched right now. They're saying strict regulation, fund education. They're really trying to put schools front forward on this issue. It's a different tactic than we've seen in the past on this effort to legalize marijuana.

BURNETT: Well, I can't wait until it comes up during the debate because I just bet that it will, as it should.

Thanks very much to John Avlon.

Well, ahead, three Americans were killed in Afghanistan today. It is the latest in a spree of deadly attacks targeting American troops in a war that goes on and on and on. And while supposedly the war is winding down, people are still answering that call of duty and putting their lives on the line for America.

OUTFRONT next, a four, a mother and their son all deploying together.


BURNETT: And now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper. He has a look at what's coming up in just a few moments on "A.C. 360."

Hi, Anderson.


We're keeping them honest tonight on the program.

With just days until President Obama and Mitt Romney take the stage for the first of three debates, each candidate is in full prep mode. Ahead on the program tonight, what each needs to do to win and where each may be vulnerable? We'll talk to former presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani about that. He once had a pretty memorable heated exchange with Mitt Romney about what he expects to see and hear on Wednesday night.

Also in crime and punishment tonight, the killing spree that crippled that nation's capital. Ten years later, D.C. sniper Lee Boyd Malvo speaks out from prison with a chilling admission, "I was a monster." Ahead on the program, the inside story from those who lived through the terror in their own words.

Also, what happened to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's cameraman, who is now seeking asylum in the United States? A lot more stories. Also, the "Ridiculist", Erin, at the top of the hour.

BURNETT: All right, Anderson. See you in just a few moments.

And now, our fifth story OUTFRONT. A family goes to war. After nearly 11 years in Afghanistan, the violence there is still surging. Early this morning, a suicide bomber driving a motorcycle killed 14 people, including three NATO service members and four Afghan police. The Taliban claimed responsibility.

In addition to those suicide attacks, there has been a surge in attacks by Afghans turning their weapons on the Americans who have been training them, and working with them. Some Americans are going into the war zone, even now, even with those rising risks.

OUTFRONT tonight, Kyung Lah with a story of an entire family deploying.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dinnertime means family time at the Skillman household, from who's chopping to who's stirring, to who is sitting around the table and who soon won't.

(on camera): How hard is this for your family?

MASTER SGT. DAN SKILLMAN, U.S. ARMY RESERVES: Not real sure. I don't really think about it. I really don't.

LAH (voice-over): A grandfather to three girls, his other title is Master Sergeant Dan Skillman, U.S. Army Reserves. He deploys to Afghanistan in just weeks with his wife, Master Sergeant Lola Skillman and their oldest son, Jaymes, a sergeant.

Husband, wife and son will be gone nine months as reserve support at Kandahar. Despite the 29 years that Lola has served, this will be her first time deployed to a war zone.

Are you scared at all?

MASTER SGT. LOLA SKILLMAN, U.S. ARMY RESERVES: Yes. Some people say no, they're not scared. They're ready to go do this. But I think in the back of everybody's mind, it's a little bit terrifying.

LAH (voice-over): At the Skillman home, where the unpaved road meets the Montana big sky, they know about sacrifice for country. Lola's father was awarded the Purple Heart during World War II. Dan's father joined the National Guard. Dan deployed for a year in Iraq and Jaymes almost didn't come home from Iraq, when a grenade hit his vehicle.

SGT. JAYMES SKILLMAN, U.S. ARMY RESERVES: The war is not over. We still have a job to do. Suzy (ph), she -- right now, she just thinks I'm going to work and I won't be back for a long time.

LAH: Suzy, his 4-year-old who can't quite pronounce -- UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Afghanistan.

LAH: Much less comprehend where daddy's going.

D. SKILLMAN: It is very tough to talk about what if they don't come back. That's just what everybody knows about going to war. So, you try to talk about it but how can you?

LAH (on camera): The U.S. military doesn't have a specific policy about the deployment at the same time of an entire family unit. In this case, parents and a child.

The military says it also does not keep track of how many cases like this are out there, but ask anybody around here and they'll tell you this is something they have almost never heard of.

COL. MITCH MALONE, U.S. ARMY RESERVES: We have so many American heroes in this country that serve every day. It's enormous, the amount of sacrifices that our American families make here and abroad, and they do it for selfless service for the country.

LAH (voice-over): The military is called a brotherhood. The Skillmans prefer to call it family.

D. SKILLMAN: My wife and my son.

LAH: Here and there.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Helena, Montana.


BURNETT: Well, next, a story we did about cows eating junk food got a lot of responses from you, beef eaters and vegans alike.

Plus, I admit, I have some very serious issues.


BURNETT: So we feel our viewers should have their voices heard. You know, we have Twitter, we have Facebook, we have a blog. Tonight, we're going OUTFRONT online is we're calling it. We featured a number of undecided voters on the show during this campaign, you know, a lot of stories about that.

One of our viewers, Chris S., says that that does not add up. In fact, he sent this message via Facebook. I'll quote him. "Come on, if you're still undecided by now, you either have serious issues or you just don't give a damn."

I'm reading it the way I think he would have said it. Well, Chris, I do give a damn. So I must have serious issues because I still don't know who I'm voting for. Now, maybe it's because neither candidate has really given a clear idea of what the next four years would bring with him as president. They could both do a better job at that. So, here's hoping that the debates starting this week start giving us some real answers to those questions.

Now, last week, you may recall, and if you don't, please go to our blog and watch it, we really enjoyed this one, we brought you a story about rising corn prices which have actually led farmers to feed their cattle junk food that gets rejected by grocery stores for humans so it goes in the cows you're going to eat. Yes, what gives, you know? Anyway, they eat gummy worms instead of -- and chocolate instead of corn. We got a lot of responses to that.

Joey via our blog wrote, "Giving corn feed to beef is unnatural enough, let alone this stuff. Beef is actually supposed to be grass- fed over something like a 7-year period."

Now, hey, you're probably right about that, Joey. Corn versus grass is a whole other can of gummy worms. Still, I have to believe that corn is healthier than candy, even though it's been described to me as basically sugar for cows.

And finally, we received this tweet from Dnav23. "@ErinBurnett, are you coming to Colorado for the debates, if so, welcome. You have great fans here. We love OUTFRONT and wish you continued success."

Well, thanks for the kind word. OUTFRONT will be in Colorado covering the debate on Wednesday. We're looking forward to it. Real mountain high, you know? Hope you're watching Mitt and Barack dance in the ring.

Let us know what you think, Twitter, Facebook and our Web site,

"A.C." starts now.