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Interview with Rep. Darrell Issa; Warning Signs in Benghazi; The Final Factors

Aired October 2, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT, next, did Washington reject repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi? That's what happened, according to House Republicans in a letter sent to Secretary Clinton today. One of the authors of the letter, Representative Darrell Issa comes OUTFRONT.

Plus, we're just about 24 hours away from the first presidential debate. What are they going to say? We've got advisers to both of them, Mitt and Barack OUTFRONT tonight, and how a lot of money is riding on tomorrow's debate -- a lot.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, warning signs missed? That's what the Republican head of the House Oversight Committee is charging tonight in the lead up to the U.S. ambassador's death in Libya. He's calling for Congress to return for a special hearing next week. It was a three-page letter and in it, Darrell Issa listed 13 security incidents and threats in Libya over the past six months. Including in June, a pro Gadhafi Facebook page posted a picture of Ambassador Stevens and mentioned his running habits. The posting directed a threat against Stevens. Issa says Stevens stopped his morning runs for about a week and then resumed them.

In June, an IED was successfully placed at the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, blowing a hole in the security perimeter gate, big enough for 40 people to go through. And in the weeks before the September 11th attacks, unarmed Libyan guards working at the consulate were warned by family members to quit their jobs, because of, quote, "rumors in the community of an impending attack". Those are just a few of the 13 things that Darrell Issa listed. And he also included this major allegation.

According to Issa, "multiple U.S. federal government officials have confirmed to the committee that prior to the September 11th attack, the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi. The mission in Libya, however, was denied these resources by officials in Washington." Now the State Department has responded to Darrell Issa's letter. Here is spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.


VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN: We are now working through all of the documents, all of the information that is available to us in this department. We will see where we are on the 10th, but it is our intention to cooperate fully.


BURNETT: All right. Hillary Clinton also responded to Issa with a letter of her own. I have it here. She said she has established an accountability review board, which begins work this week to determine, and I want to quote her, I'll read here to you straight from the letter, "wants to determine whether our security systems and procedures in Benghazi were adequate, whether they were properly implemented and any lessons that may be relevant to our work around the world." Darrell Issa joins me now. Good to see you, sir, and appreciate your taking the time tonight.


BURNETT: Let me start, if I may, sir, with the serious allegation that you've made. And this one -- as I just read the quote from your letter. That the U.S. mission in Libya made repeated requests for increased security in Benghazi, which were denied. Where did you get that information?

ISSA: We got it from whistle blowers and from confirmation from an interview with the former regional security officer, what is called an RSO, who actually has over 66 separate incidents that he recorded. We're not making any allegations. We're taking the facts that were brought to us, putting them in perspective, and asking the question, and getting, quite frankly concerns from the individuals that themselves that were responsible for security. And we're doing it not just for what is a done and sad situation in Libya. But because with the Arab Spring going on around the Arab world, the question is what are we doing in these other countries? Will we be ready or could this happen again?

BURNETT: So do you know who denied the security that you're saying was repeatedly denied?

ISSA: Well, we have a number of documents we have requested. Secretary Clinton has said that she is going to cooperate and provide. Those exchanges -- we want to make sure we look at all of the documents fully, rather than just, if you will, whistle blower side of the story. And that's the nature of our committee, is we get a credible and verified allegation of a failure anywhere, and then we follow it up with full confirmation on both sides and that's what we expect to do between now and the 10th with the goal on the 10th to make sure this doesn't happen again in some other embassy or with some other foreign service personnel around the world.

BURNETT: So it's interesting, because I know you're referencing you know an individual that you have information from saying that there were multiple security incidents. But this issue of repeated requests being denied I think is really at the heart -- from -- of what the letter says today. And the reason I wanted to ask you about the sources is because the State Department is telling CNN tonight that security upgrades were actually made to the Benghazi mission in part in response to some of the security incidents that you reference in your letter. So what are you talking about? It sounds like they got more security.

ISSA: Well, first of all, we want to hear fully from the State Department. We want to understand how they evaluated the threat, why there were so few people. Remember that we're not investigating per se the details the day that the ambassador and his party were killed. But let's understand, clearly he had almost no security on that day. Clearly, this was in a consulate that had been breached earlier with a hole -- an explosive hole that was described as a hole --


ISSA: -- that 40 people could run through. So we already kind of know the awful end result. We know there wasn't enough security. That's not our investigation. Our investigation is really about the signs and whether there's a process. And I think Secretary Clinton is saying she wants to do the same thing. And our hope is that between now and October 10th, we go a long way toward doing what we need to do and expecting it will continue after.

BURNETT: Why do you think it has taken so long for the administration to come out and say this was a terrorist attack? Obviously, they did so formally on Friday, the intelligence community.

ISSA: Well, I served on the Select Intelligence Committee. It's filled with very conservative people who will often tell you that there may be a threat, there may be a threat, and then when something happens, even if it fits all of their claims, they still want to double and triple check. So I give the administration as much as I can the benefit of the doubt for the slowness. Again, though, whistle blowers, multiple confirmed whistle blowers have told us that they saw and reported what they saw as coming together of al Qaeda and testing our missions and the British missions. And that's part of what we want to ask is are these warning signs ones that should have been heeded and are there similar ones in Beirut or in Oman or in any number of other countries in the Middle East.

BURNETT: I'm curious, because you know you sound so -- you're very calm here. Your letter though was -- you know -- like I said, there were some real smoking guns in that letter, the allegations that were in there and I'm curious, given how calm you are tonight, given that you say you want to work with the secretary of state, why was it that Elijah Cummings, the ranking member of your committee tells us that you didn't ask him to sign the letter. You know you didn't do this in a bipartisan fashion.

ISSA: Well, first of all, I expect that the hearing will be bipartisan. A number of the Democratic members have already told me they'll be attending. I just got off of "Fast and Furious". We're not a committee that we've seen much cooperation, even when there's real wrongdoing that we're running to ground. In this case, there wasn't time to meet our statutory requirements, our rule requirements. And quite frankly we had a meeting with state in which the -- Mr. Cummings, his representatives were there. We asked these questions. This letter is based on specific allegations from whistle blowers, confirmed by the regional security officer, and then put into a letter. So they're not allegations by us. They're actual statements by individuals who were on the ground, both in Tripoli and Benghazi. And we are pursuing this on a bipartisan basis. To be honest, Mr. Cummings was helpful when I called him and asked for this interview with the regional security officer and he helped make it happen the same day, so we do have a working relationship. We do not often sign on to letters partially because that can take several days --

BURNETT: And what about --

ISSA: But I think the letter is --

BURNETT: I just want to ask you -- sorry -- a final question though about the timing of this. Obviously, it's important to know who knew what, when, and if the ball was dropped. I don't know if there is any American, Democrat or Republican who would disagree with you on that, but why next week? Why ahead of the presidential election when you yourself just said look I understand that sometimes it takes time to get the final answers?

ISSA: Erin, we sent a letter on September 20th that wasn't responded to as of yesterday. Subcommittee Chairman Chaffetz sent that letter. So we started this right away. We continued pursuing it. But let's understand men and women are serving us overseas around the world. And if what happened in Libya happens again because we waited until after election, 30 or 60 days, then we haven't done our job. The secretary is working right now before the election. She has put together a panel to start looking at this. We're doing our job, too. And just because it's an election doesn't mean members of Congress shouldn't work, including fact-finding and that's what we're doing. We're doing it as timely as we can. Candidly, I would have preferred that the September 20th letter had been responded to sooner.

BURNETT: Fair enough. All right, well thank you very much, Chairman Issa. We appreciate your time tonight. So the question continues. Were warning signs missed? Well, the man who briefed Ambassador Stevens is standing by. But first was key intelligence about the attack in Benghazi left out of a memo used to brief Congress and the American people? Intelligence like the involvement of al Qaeda linked groups which CNN has reported U.S. intelligence knew about within 24 hours. Well last night CNN reported that the White House chose to leave out some intelligence from information shared with the public about the attack, the so-called talking points you've heard so much about.

The talking points that Ambassador Susan Rice used on Sunday talk shows that emphasized an initial assessment that the attack began as a spontaneous protest, that it didn't appear to be planned. The White House's National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor tells CNN the White House was not involved in writing that memo. Elise Labott has been following this story and she is back with us tonight. And Elise, I know you have been working fast and furious on this. What was the memo and what did it say?

ELISE LABOTT, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS REPORTER: Well Erin, what senior administration officials are telling us that they were speaking from unclassified talking points that were provided by the intelligence community based on preliminary intelligence assessments, which were used in the briefing members of Congress and speaking about it publicly. Now, we know, as you said, there was other information reporting from our sources saying there were indications of possible terror involvement. But National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor says they didn't have that information and in a statement I want to read to you he says "this was an intelligence community assessment based on the analysis of all of the available information."

Vietor goes on to say, "There was no cherry picking. If it was used in the information you had at the time to make an informed judgment in good faith." And so Erin, of course cherry picking means did you know the accusation was -- did the administration use select intelligence from the talking points to make their case that this was a spontaneous protest. White House said no. We did not have any information of this nature that these unclassified talking points did not include any of that information.

BURNETT: And Elise, do you know though why the memo didn't make any mention of scenarios other than blaming a film protest, when -- even when as we have reported from sources here at CNN in the days after the attack, numerous administration officials believed the attack reflected a planned effort by extremists.

LABOTT: Well it's a good question. I mean the fact that this emphasizes it's unclassified begs the question as to whether there was a classified intelligence assessment that might have had some of this information. We don't know. The White House says they didn't have that information. The White House saying they were provided with the best intelligence assessment they were able to share, based on the information they had on hand at that time. But, Erin, I mean this is one product of the intelligence community. And it doesn't seem to be all of the intelligence that the U.S. government had on the matter, whether that was shared with anybody else, we don't know.

BURNETT: Right and finally, Elise, why did it take intelligence, then until last Friday, 16 days after the attacks, before they changed the assessment? Again, given that news outlets, including our own, reported that it was within 24 hours when several of these crucial things, including the involvement of al Qaeda-linked groups was known to intelligence officials?

LABOTT: Well, I mean, that's another good question. I mean this was in the initial days after the attack. It's clearly a picture -- it was evolving. And you know the people in the government fighting terrorism were continuing to gather information that suggested otherwise, and as Darrell Issa just said, you know sometimes the people in the intelligence community are very strict about they don't change their assessment until they know for sure. Now Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was the first to speak about this changed assessment, and he said it took a long time to come to the current belief that it was a planned terror attack.

So it is a good question if why there was a rush to go with the, you know kind of spontaneous protest theory why it took so long to change the line. A lot of people say they were surprised that not only that this was being used in the first place, but that the administration stuck with it. But, again, White House saying that they did not have any information at the time, and they changed their assessment as soon as they were given this new information about al Qaeda involvement.

BURNETT: Right, of course, which is very interesting and they changed it as soon as, but that was many days after news outlets had reported the exact same thing. So there are still many questions about what happened before and after the attack in Libya and who knew what when. Our next two guests are here to help us break it down. Geoff Porter joins us now. He briefed Ambassador Stevens on the security situation in Libya. He briefs government officials on al Qaeda.

And Eli Lake, he's been out front of this story from the start breaking news and what the U.S. intelligence knew. And Eli, let me start with you given what Elise is reporting tonight. You have been investigating whether Susan Rice, the U.N. ambassador was, in addition to receiving the talking points, obviously now everyone knows what those included, right, including that it was not a preplanned attack, also perhaps had been briefed on classified information, which could have included different pieces of information, obviously. What have you found?

ELI LAKE, SR. NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, NEWSWEEK/DAILY BEAST: Well, the main thing to understand is that the key piece of intelligence that informed the unclassified assessment that this was a spontaneous reaction to a video protest was an intercept between a member of Ansar al Sharia, a kind of local group with affinities towards al Qaeda and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which is the affiliate for al Qaeda in North Africa. And so that fact that it comes from that conversation, there are lots of reasons as to why the intelligence community would not want that information to be out there. One it would compromise sources. The (INAUDIBLE) of the other is, is that there is a risk that if you name groups like that early on in an investigation, you could be creating a situation where you're getting false confirmation.

Someone may have seen a report to that effect, and you think it's an independent verification when in fact it's just an echo effect. But that said why would you then include one element of that piece of intelligence, which is that the Ansar al Sharia said we went ahead with the attack after seeing what happened in Cairo and not at least make some reference to the fact that it looked like it was an act of terrorism --


LAKE: -- and al Qaeda groups would be involved. Why choose one piece over the other? And that question, I don't really have a strong answer to yet. And then, of course, what Elise brought up, which is that there were lots of assessments of what was going on. Some of it was classified. Lots of things were classified. There are members of Congress, there are staffers in Congress, there are members of the administration who were getting more fuller and nuanced briefings with more information.


LAKE: But the question I don't know the answer to is whether Susan Rice got that information. When I asked this over the weekend of her main spokeswoman, I was not able to get a response to that either.

BURNETT: Right. Well, obviously, the question of who knew what when and who decided what was in, and not in these pieces of information, classified or unclassified, is still central to everything. Geoff, let me ask you because you briefed Ambassador Stevens in May. You know the situation better than anybody. At that time, we're looking at Darrell Issa with 13 incidents over the past six months --


BURNETT: It's a damning list when you look at his letter.


BURNETT: How did you tell Ambassador Stevens to evaluate the security situation, terrifying or not?

GEOFF PORTER, CEO, NORTH AFRICA RISK CONSULTING: Well not necessarily because there was a range of security risks in Libya.


PORTER: Some of them directly targeted Western interests. Some of them didn't. Some of them were directly at domestic issues, either at the NTC (ph), the government at the time, tribal issues, regional issues, ethnic issues, economic issues, such as control of the black market economy. And so you really had to parse the different kinds of types of violence that were taking place and Islamists or jihadi violence --


PORTER: -- was only one aspect of that --

BURNETT: So you weren't saying beware of something like this. I mean it wasn't like at that time you knew that this kind of a thing could happen.

PORTER: No, there was the possibility that there were going to be jihadi actions in Eastern Libya. So, for example, Africom, special operations command, the agency, the FBI --


PORTER: -- had all been tracking the possibility of (INAUDIBLE) jihadi activity in Eastern Libya since at least 12 months ago.

BURNETT: Right. PORTER: And so --

BURNETT: So there was intelligence though -- I mean they were aware. But what about Ambassador Stevens, was he himself -- this story about the morning run that Darrell Issa included, that you know there were threats against him on Facebook from jihadi groups so he stopped his morning run where he would go out on the streets --

PORTER: Right.

BURNETT: -- for a week but then he went back to it.


BURNETT: Was he too trusting?

PORTER: He was an honest broker. But I think, again, it's important to parse the kinds of violence. The threats against Ambassador Stevens on Facebook were listed by a pro Gadhafi group, which is not necessarily a jihadi group.


PORTER: So you've got different actors with different agendas. Now, it's also important to note that the threats against Ambassador Stevens took place in Tripoli, which is a different security environment than Benghazi. So you have to evaluate where you are, where the threats are coming from, and you have to distinguish between them. And this is something that the intelligence community has been trying to grapple with.

BURNETT: All right, well thank you very much, Geoff Porter, we appreciate it, and Eli Lake, Elise Labott as well. And still OUTFRONT, countdown to the first debate. Members of both campaigns join us to tell us what their candidate will be focusing on tomorrow night. Plus, you want to know who is going to win the election in November? Get your crystal ball out because there is a place that actually can deliver an answer, a Colorado neighborhood with a near- perfect record of picking winners, so we're going to go there OUTFRONT. And new reports tonight of seats coming loose on American Airlines planes, more reports. Why is this happening?


BURNETT: Our second story, OUTFRONT, "The Final Factors", our OUTFRONT series on the key swing districts in the key swing states and their key swing issues that will ultimately decide the swinging election. First up, the Green Mountain neighborhood in Jefferson County, Colorado, just 10 miles from the site of tomorrow's first presidential debate in Denver. The key issue there, the struggling middle class. John Avlon traveled to Green Mountain for an up-close look at those crucial voters.


JOHN AVLON, CNN contributor (voice-over): In the middle class neighborhood of Green Mountain, in the heart of Jefferson County, residents of this one precinct have correctly predicted the outcome of all but one statewide and national election since 2000. They are the ultimate swing voters in a key swing district of a key swing state. Candidates have to compete hard here to win votes.

BOB MURPHY, MAYOR OF LAKEWOOD, COLORADO: There is a sort of don't tread on me culture here. They don't really like government telling them what to do in terms of social behavioral issues, yet they appreciate good government.

AVLON: How does the registration break down look in this precinct?

MURPHY: It's one-third, one-third, one-third, just a hair more Republican than Democratic.

AVLON: Residents here are primarily retail workers, government employees, teachers and small business owners. Average income just under 53,000, close to the national average. Wy Livingston owns a local tea shop, Wystone's World Teas, she voted for Obama in 2008 but is now undecided.

WY LIVINGSTON, OWNER, WYSTONE'S WORLD TEAS: There is no one that can speak for me solely across the spectrum on every issue. Some Republicans have great ideas. Some Independents have some great ideas and certainly some Democrats do. And I think we as adults with the right to vote in this country need to make really good choices based on what resonates with us and not necessarily across the party line.

AVLON: Like so many members of the forgotten middle class, Wy and her fellow Green Mountain small business owners feel squeezed on all sides. Kathleen Curtis owns Village Roaster's.

KATHLEEN CURTIS, OWNER, VILLAGE ROASTER: The middle class is shrinking, isn't it? People are just plodding along, hoping that Social Security will be there when they're ready to retire.

AVLON: Kathleen says she hasn't been able to give herself a pay raise in three years. She has voted for Democrats and Republicans in the past. Four years ago, she chose Obama. But right now she is still undecided.

CURTIS: At the time I thought that he was the man for the job. And I would have to say after four years, I'm somewhat disappointed in the state of the economy. I need to know that there's going to be some relief there.

AVLON: Kathleen, Wy and many other voters here say they're looking to the debates for some answers.

LIVINGSTON: Small business is the backbone of this country. We weren't bailed out. And so it's really understanding what's going to happen these next four years that's really important to me.

AVLON: Voters here want specifics. They want to know how each candidate will help strengthen the middle class. The answers they get tomorrow night could sway the vote of Green Mountain, vote of Jefferson County, the vote of Colorado, and ultimately the outcome of this election.


BURNETT: And in that shot, one cool caddy driving down the road. OK, so you said all these voters you're talking to, pretty amazing saying look we want specifics, we want specifics, hey we want them too. But did they tell you what specifics are going to help them make up their minds?

AVLON: They're looking for everything from specifics on how small businesses can be helped to specifics on something like fuel economy. They're really -- these are (INAUDIBLE) small business owners we talked to, and they're really representative of the struggling middle class that feels squeezed on both sides for so long. And what they are frustrated with is with the negative tone of this election and the ads they're being besieged by on their television in this swing county. They really want -- tomorrow night they want the candidates to start offering specific solutions looking forward. How are you going to improve their quality of life?

BURNETT: So it sounds like they don't want debates over you're going to raise taxes, you're not, 47 percent comments said at fund- raisers. They want specific actionable items.

AVLON: That's right. Wy, the tea shop owner we spoke to said that she was so frustrated with Republican criticisms of Obamacare without saying what they would do differently. So it's not simply enough to attack. She wanted new proposals put on the table. And it really is heartening, you know, these are folks who are undecided because they're taking their time to make up their mind and they're doing it as educated voters. People aren't in the bag for Democrat or Republican.

BURNETT: Right. All right, well John Avlon, thank you very much, speaking for the undecided. And next, what should we expect President Obama and Mitt Romney to say tomorrow night? Are they going to take the advice of those swinging voters? Well, officials from both campaigns, OUTFRONT.

Plus, a lot riding on the debates and we're not just talking about courting voters. We're talking about money. I mean incredible amounts of money. We'll be back.


BURNETT: Well, 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 tonight with a Pennsylvania judge who says the state's controversial voter ID law cannot be enforced during the presidential election next month. Judge Robert Simpson issued a preliminary injunction, saying he wasn't convinced that some voters wouldn't be disenfranchised by requiring them to show a photo ID. The injunction, though, is only temporary and the law could be enforced starting next year. The ruling is expected to be appealed.

Well, a border patrol agent was shot and killed in Arizona today. 30-year-old Nicholas Ivie and another agent came under fire after responding to a sensor that went off near the border. It was according to Customs and Border Protection. Ivie was killed in the firefight. The other agent is at a local hospital. His injuries are not thought to be life-threatening, but Ivie is the third border patrol agent killed in the line of duty this year.

Well, the whereabouts of Jimmy Hoffa are going to remain a mystery, at least for now. Roseville, Michigan police say two soil samples don't show evidence of human remains. We've been telling you about this search. It was prompted by a credible tipster who claimed a body was buried there around the time Hoffa disappeared. He was the former Teamsters boss who went missing in 1975 and was declared dead seven years later.

It's been 425 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

We did get some good news today from automakers. September sales were up, more than expected, up 13 percent. Second-biggest purchase most Americans make, everyone, is a car after their home. So that's a real sign of people feeling confident.

And now our third story OUTFRONT: debate countdown, with 24 hours to go, both President Obama and Mitt Romney are prepping for their Wednesday night face-off in the ring.

Romney took a break with his debate partner, Senator Rob Portman, to get lunch at a Chipotle in Denver today. Chipotle is pretty good.

While Obama stepped out of debate camp in Nevada to visit the Hoover Dam. That's pretty neat, too.

With as many as 60 million Americans expected to tune in tomorrow to watch, both camps are trying to keep expectations low. In fact, it's a big game to say I'm going to do worse than you. I'm going to do worse than you -- who set the bar lower.

All right. OUTFRONT tonight: Romney senior adviser Barbara Comstock. She's in Denver, where the debate is going to be held. And Jen Psaki, press secretary for the Obama campaign. She's in Las Vegas with the president.

Good to see both of you. And you got nice big smiles. I love this optimism. We're all excited about tomorrow.

Barbara, let me start with you, though, because there was something "Politico's" chief political columnist wrote today that sort of made me smile and I wanted to get your reaction to it.

Roger Simon wrote and I'll quote him, "There are three things Mitt Romney must do to win the first presidential debate on Wednesday. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are."

Do you know what they are?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Well, I think it's going to be talking to the American people about how the middle class has been buried under the higher taxes, the higher regulations and the -- you know, just the job-killing policies for the past four years and how Mitt Romney can talk straight to the American people about how he has a plan to create jobs. Specific things, like in my home state of Virginia, he's going to allow us to have exploration off shore with energy so we can have good high-paying jobs. That's something supported by Democrat senators like Mark Warner and Jim Webb in my home state of Virginia and something this president has stopped.

We're also going to get rid of those job-killing regulations that killed 1,200 jobs in the coal fields of Virginia and West Virginia and elsewhere.

And we're also going to cut taxes on small businesses. Cut taxes across the board of a -- across the board tax cut instead of the promise that Barack Obama is going to increase taxes across the board of the biggest tax increase in history on January 1st.

And Mitt Romney understands that you have to have small business to grow these jobs. And that's the way we're going to invest in small businesses.

Take the job-killing Obamacare regulations that will crush small businesses, but then give -- replace it with good policies that allow businesses to buy health insurance with what they need, buy it across state lines, have preexisting conditions covered. But the kind of policies that they won't be bankrupt and fined.

And 20 million people are expected by this -- by the administration's own calculations, 20 million people -- I guess it was CBO that said it would lose their coverage under Obamacare and that's not going to work for my state of Virginia.

BURNETT: I have to say, I hope he has your ability to go without taking a breath and have things that make sense.

But Jen, let me ask because Barbara raised something really important, when she talked about -- Mitt Romney wants to talk about his tax plan. I am sure that the president wants to talk about Mitt Romney's tax plan, too -- specifically that promise to cut taxes for everybody in a revenue-neutral way.

JEN PSAKI, OBAMA CAMAPIGN PRESS SECRETARY: Well, look. I think the American people would love to hear Mitt Romney talk about his tax plan and share more details. Because we saw in the "New York Times" this morning -- well, this is a little unrelated but I still want to touch on it. That Mitt Romney has benefited financially from his own investments in the time he had at Bain. That's something he has been telling the American people something very different on.

And when it comes to his own tax plan, you know, he hasn't provided any specifics. The arithmetic just doesn't add up. Paul Ryan had the opportunity to speak to it this weekend and said he didn't have time to do that. So, there are a lot of questions out there. We'd love to know how he's going to pay for $5 trillion tax plan for millionaires and billionaires and not leave the burden on the middle class.

BURNETT: Barbara, let me ask that question specifically. Is there a plan for how Mitt Romney will respond to that question? That, you know, the Tax Policy Center, it's a nonpartisan group. There are people who served in both Democrat and Republican administrations, has concluded -- and, by the way, there do appear to be some things they can change about that conclusion. But has concluded that to have a revenue-neutral tax plan, you would have to raise some taxes on the middle class.

Is Mitt Romney going to get specific on that or say it doesn't have to be revenue-neutral? Or how specific will he get?

COMSTOCK: That's a totally discredited study. And we are cutting taxes on all people. In fact, it's Barack Obama's policies which actually we don't know what they are, and Jen just didn't tell you.

I mean, we have talked about Keystone pipeline on day one. We're going to create jobs. They're going to have 12 million jobs we're going to create. And then we're going to lower the taxes on small businesses, because we know that's where the job growth comes from, is the small businesses.

And the small business tax increases that Barack Obama promises, because those taxes that he wants put in place, two-thirds of them hit small businesses. And that will kill 700,000 more jobs.

And women are the ones who are starting up businesses at a bigger rate. Minorities are. You know, in my community, I have a large Asian population, all that have small businesses. And these are the people who are going to be taxed. When they need that money for their mortgages, for their kids' education, they don't want to send to Washington, they want to keep that money in Virginia to create the next job, take care of their kids and to grow the economy.

And that's what we have done in Virginia. That's why we're number one for jobs and we want a partner in Washington who isn't fighting us on jobs. We want a partner who is working with us on jobs.

BURNETT: Let me just interject quickly, and you guys have to keep -- keep my word here, five seconds each.

Do you coach your candidate on, hay, don't put your nose in the air, put your hands in your pockets, don't do those things that make you seem arrogant or whatever it might be. Do you tell your guy to do that, both of you, anything like that? Yes?


BURNETT: Go ahead, Jen.

COMSTOCK: Joe Biden -- you know, just don't be Joe Biden and try and crush the middle class. The middle class has gotten buried.

BURNETT: Oh, no, no, no. I wanted a direct answer on this, Barbara.


COMSTOCK: We agree with Joe Biden and the middle class has gotten buried and my candidate is going to tell you how we --

BURNETT: OK. I'm going to leave it there. I'm going leave it there. It is your job to try to make your case. You tried to do it.

But I will say, I hope there is some advice to the candidates about -- you know, the nose in the air thing, kind of snooty thing that people can do. Anyway.

OK. Our fourth story OUTFRONT: The candidates are certainly hoping to bring their A-game tomorrow night. But exactly how important are these debates to voters. And can they sway enough voters to swing the election?

So, we checked in with our independent political strike team and the result, 73 percent yes, 27 percent no.

So they do think that these debates can sway enough people to swing the election. I mean, that's a really crucial thing to say, everybody, because we're hearing that only 5 percent, 6 percent of Americans are undecided. So you might think mathematically there aren't enough undecided people to swing the election, but that's not the verdict of our team.

Ken Vogel is one member who answered no the question, but he does say these debates can be crucial for another key reason and he's the chief investigative reporter for "Politico".

Good to see you, Ken. Always fun to have you on.

So, this is the money game, right? I mean, whoever gets the higher score tomorrow, there's going to be a big, big decision.

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Yes, that's right. And it's something where if you look back at history, Gallup crunched the numbers over every presidential election between 1960 and 2004.

There were only two times where the debates were seen as pivotal in affecting the outcome. That was 1960, where the JFK-Richard Nixon debates where Richard Nixon appeared really sweaty and uncomfortable. And then 2000 where Al Gore was seen as sighing and sort of dismissive of then-Texas Governor George Bush.

So when you asked Jen Psaki and Barbara Comstock whether they were giving their candidates on this sort of more aesthetic elements of the debate, they really should be because those are the ones that people --

BURNETT: Yes. VOGEL: -- really sort of take away from.

BURNETT: That's what we all remember, right? Do you wear the gray suit on black and white TV, Nixon.

OK. Let me ask this, Ken, because you've done a lot of work on this. Super PACs and the candidates are actually competing for money, which a lot of people might not realize, right? But the campaign can cover whatever it wants with the money, the super PAC supposedly isn't linked to the campaign at all, right? So it's not as ideal for the campaign.

The Romney campaign, $86 million raised. The pro-Romney super PAC, $41 million. And American Crossroads, the super PAC affiliated with Karl Rove, $58.7 million. So you can add that up and get a big number.

Or, you could say, hey, look, if Karl Rove doesn't like how Mitt Romney does tomorrow night, then he could give a lot of that $60 million, the biggest chunk of change, to, I don't know, Senate candidates, congressional candidates, and not Romney.

VOGEL: That's right, Erin. There are a lot of Republicans and Democrats who are very closely watching what these outside groups -- and it's not just the super PACs we have the money for and the finances. But also these 501c4 nonprofit groups that are raising a ton more money, the Karl Rove-affiliated Crossroads GPS, the Koch brothers affiliated Americans for Prosperity.

And there is a feeling that if Mitt Romney starts to look like he can't win, that they will pull the plug on him, and start diverting the money that they otherwise would have spent on his campaign, on congressional campaigns, and that really underscores the difference between these sort of post-Citizens United elections where the power and the determination of viability is really being made by these outside groups versus before where you had the parties being able to decide, hey, we think this candidate has a chance.

And in 1996, for instance, we saw the parties decide that Bob Dole wasn't going to beat President Clinton. So it diverted the money from Dole to the congressional candidates. And it kept the majority, the GOP did, in Congress. Now we have just a few people, both the billionaire donors and the operatives of those outside groups making those kinds of pivotal decisions.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much, appreciate it.

Still to come, we have learned of six new instances of seats coming loose on American Airlines' planes. I mean, how in the world is this happening? And who is responsible?

Plus, it's 29 days until Halloween. But who is counting? Tonight, though, the countdown is under way to something I have already started shopping for -- the holidays.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: And now our fifth story OUTFRONT: an airline in crisis. Tonight, we are learning there have been six instances where American Airlines' jets have had loose seats in the cabin. Four were discovered during inspections, two occurred in the air, and had to be diverted, and actually had to do unexpected landings at JFK in New York.

As you can imagine, it would be a terrifying experience for passengers who had their seat detach from the floor in mid-flight.

Here's the pilot from Saturday's incident.


PILOT: Passenger seats, rows 12D, E and F came loose from the floor. We don't want that flying around and hurt the passengers behind them.


BURNETT: Flying around. The FAA is now on the case.

OUTFRONT tonight, Mary Schiavo. She is former director general of the Transportation Department.

Good to see you, Mary. Really appreciate you taking the time.

I'm really confused as to how this could be happening. Obviously, the fact on here that's important to note is that American Airlines is operating in bankruptcy and there's a lot of labor issues and challenges going on. So, the airline says there is a problem with how the seats were secured to the floor. The transport workers' union is blaming it on outside contractors.

So how concerned should passengers be that an airline in bankruptcy is outsourcing maintenance, seat -- things like seats, and not doing it themselves?

MARY SCHIAVO, FORMER INSPECTOR GENERAL, TRANSPORTATION DEPT.: Well, it's of concern, because American has had a number of years of problems with maintenance. In 2010, my old office, office of the inspector general, said (INAUDIBLE) investigation and they found that American was having increasing maintenance issues and deferring maintenance, wasn't doing properly.

Last year, American was fined $162 million for maintenance violations. And now a series of things related to smoke in the cockpit, issues on the ground, and these seats.

The seats are important, because they come on an old airplane. They had moved the seats. They had changed the attaching mechanism. And so it's just one in a long line of things that have been related to American maintenance. And that's why they're under special watch by the FAA for the maintenance.

BURNETT: Is the FAA doing its job, though, when this actually happens in midair? I mean, I know they're supposed to step up observations of an airline in bankruptcy. Are they dropping the ball?

SCHIAVO: Well, they are to a certain degree. They have put them under a special watch. But usually what happens on carriers, they're supervised by the inspectors in their own area, in the Dallas area, where they call it certificate management or maintenance.

And what they could do, FAA could step up the next level, and they could actually have a national team come out and do -- they used to call them NASIPs, but special investigation of American. And it's probably something that they should be doing, because often airlines are put under special watches when they're in bankruptcy. But here, there's been a whole series of maintenance issues.

BURNETT: Would you fly -- I mean, you were the former inspector general. Would you fly a bankrupt airline? If you could avoid it?

SCHIAVO: Well, you know, in this country, you often can't avoid flying bankrupt carriers. There have been times in our history when almost all of them were in bankruptcy.

But right now, because of the problems with maintenance, delays and cancellations -- no. I think we need to give American time to heal.

That's not to say they can't. Other carriers have gone through this. US Air went through it in the early '90s and emerged stronger. Some carriers like Eastern went through this, and won --

BURNETT: So you would fly them?

SCHIAVO: And they didn't make it through.

I would not. I'm going to let them have time to fix their problems. And I hope they do. I think that they can, if they really do a top-down scrub.

BURNETT: All right. Well, thank you very much, ma'am. I appreciate your time.

The former inspector general said she wouldn't be flying American Airlines right now.

Well, OUTFRONT next, a woman charged with a crime after she says police raped. Does it add up?


BURNETT: We're back with tonight's outer circle where we reach out to our sources around the world.

And we begin tonight in Tunisia, where protesters have taken to the streets in support of a woman who was charged with public indecency after she was allegedly raped by police officers.

Now, the officers claim that they found her in a, quote, "immoral position". They only made that claim after she filed a claim against them.

Atika Shubert is in London watching this and I asked her if these indecency charges will hold up.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, it's really up to the judge. Today is only the first of many hearings to determine whether or not this woman will have to face this charge of public indecency. What's so incredible about the story is really the sequence of events.

This woman says she and her fiance were stopped by three policemen. Two of them put her in a police car and then she says they drove around the city of Tunis with each policeman taking turns raping her for more than an hour.

The third policeman stayed behind with the fiance to extort about $200 from him, or the policeman threatened to charge them with adultery.

Now, the only time this charge of public indecency came up is when she and her fiance decided a short while later to complain to the police, and that, when they entered the police station, is when suddenly the police turned around to tell them that they instead had been charged with public indecency. And so that sequence of events is when hundreds of protesters were out on the streets of Tunis today, Erin.


BURNETT: That is a gruesome story Atika had there.

Well, it's 35 days until the election but why we might need to wait 83 days to Christmas to find out if our economy is actually on the mend.


BURNETT: It is 83 days until Christmas. Ha, ha, ha, does that really upset you? I know we have Halloween and Thanksgiving to get through. But the name of our show is OUTFRONT and you know what? I love Christmas. I already have some of my gifts bought. They sit in a little place. I put them aside in one place so I don't lose them and forget about them.

Even though we're still 29 days away from Halloween, Christmas has stuck its bright little red nose into our business. Ornaments, stockings, artificial trees are all available for sale online. You get your catalogs, they have Halloween in the front and now they have the Christmas section. Some retailers have even started setting up the first of the displays in stores.

It's all part of the retail industry's plan to squeeze as much holiday spirit and money out of the year. It's understandable because most retailers actually rely on the last two months of the year for 40 percent of their annual sales -- which brings us to tonight's number: 4.1 percent. According to the National Retail Federation, that is how much more Americans are going to spend on Christmas gifts this year, and it's a big number because it's higher than the average of 3.5 percent over the past 10 years.

And it continues a trend that began after holiday sales plunged during the financial crisis but before you get so excited about all this, consider that 4.1 percent is actually still a whole point lower than the growth in each of the past two years. And the smallest increase actually since 2009, when sales barely moved at all.

So, while consumers can't wait for it to snow, they're still not ready to make it rain.

That's all right. Hey, 83 days, we're giving you plenty of warning to go out and save America from the fiscal cliff.

Thanks as always for joining us. We appreciate it. Have a great night. We'll see you back here same time tomorrow. Thanks so much for joining us.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.