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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Playing Games on the Fiscal Cliff; Syria Suffers Internet Blackout; Bradley Manning Cross-Examined Today

Aired November 30, 2012 - 19:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next, President Obama visited a toy factory today. And while everyone in Washington is acting rather childish about the fiscal cliff, this is not child's play, 33 days left.

And the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan, Rice facing new scrutiny today from Democrats, this time about her personal investments.

And the number of drones has surged. The newest versions though, pretty incredible. They look like a cheetah and a fish. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, a Washington stop playing battleship, yes, battleship. We went out and bought it because we wanted to remind you, the kids' game where the goal is, I'll read it, can you sink your opponent's fleet before your opponent sinks yours, pretty perfect.

This fiscal cliff though is not child's play. It's just 33 days away and today, President Obama's visit to a toy factory in Pennsylvania had everyone acting a bit childish.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: I've been keeping my own naughty and nice lists.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not interesting in playing.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I wasn't going to have him building roller coasters all day long.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Sure, who doesn't want to be a kid again especially at this time of the year, but Washington, you have real work to do. A looming fiscal cliff and what are we hearing? Well, as Republican Senator Jeff Sessions says --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SENATOR JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: It has a lot of flimflam.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Flimflam. We told you last night that Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner hop scotched his way down Pennsylvania Avenue to bring the president's proposal from the White House to Capitol Hill and instead of offering compromise, he leapt to the extreme.

In case you forget, here's what his plan does, it taxes $1.6 trillion of taxes. Higher tax rates on people, families making more than $250,000 as well as closing loopholes, limiting deductions, raising the estate tax rate and increasing the taxes on capital gains and dividends and the plan spends nearly $20 billion, another stimulus package of 50 billion.

An extension of unemployment benefits estimated around $30 billion and an extension of the payroll tax cut estimated at about $114 billion. But the Geithner plan didn't cut spending. In return for all of that, the president offers $400 billion in new cuts to Medicare and other entitlement programs.

And today, John Boehner basically said go fish.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It was not a serious proposal. And so, right now, we're almost nowhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Just when we needed someone to not say, mom, he was nasty so I can be, too. Boehner, like Geithner, leapt to the extreme. Republicans, the best response to a nonstarter right now could be to put a real thoughtful compromise deal on the table, an alternative.

And as for Mr. Geithner, he wasn't alone either. Remember, Mr. President, the promise you made during the campaign?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for a dollar of additional revenue.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: It's 2.5 to 1, that means you'd need $4 trillion in spending cuts to match the $1.6 trillion in additional revenue, but you only offered $400 billion, which of course is $3.6 trillion short before you even get to the stimulus plan and other spending items.

Ethan Pollak is fiscal policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute, and Stephen Moore is senior economics writer at the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page. Are you guys ready the play?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are. BURNETT: I know you both spoke to Robert Hand today, our producer, and he seems to think that nobody can beat him at this game, the best in the world. All right, let's get straight to it.

Steven, you know, a few weeks ago, you were optimistic so as Erskine Bowles. I mean, everybody was. John Boehner was. The president was. Congress' approval ratings even seemed to go up because everybody seems so conciliatory. Is this going to get done?

STEPHEN MOORE, SENIOR ECONOMICS WRITER, "WALL STREET JOURNAL" EDITORIAL PAGE: You know, Erin, I very rarely admit that I was wrong, but you know, I'm starting to get worried that maybe I was wrong. That these sides are further apart now than they were two weeks ago, which is hard to believe.

I actually do still think that this is going to get done. I don't think we're going to go over the fiscal cliff. You know, Republicans have put some proposals on the table moving in Barack Obama's direction.

I don't know exactly the game that Tim Geithner was playing yesterday. I mean, not only -- and by the way, thank you, Erin, for getting some of this math right. I mean, the press -- you're right. The president said $2.5 of spending cuts for every dollar of tax increase during the campaign.

But what he came up with yesterday was $4 of new taxes for every dollar of spending cut, that's when John Boehner simply said we're nowhere and that's where they are right now, but there's still 30 days.

BURNETT: But Ethan, don't the Republicans if they want to break this stalemate, maybe what the president's doing is saying, look, these are the cuts I want to make. You know I don't make tons of them, so guys, why don't you come up with the other $3.6 trillion. Where's John Boehner's list?

MOORE: I don't think that's really a fair criticism. I mean, the Republicans for the last three years have passed the budget that Paul Ryan put together. Now, you may not agree with that budget, but it does outline specific cuts. Republicans are on the record for those and Republicans would probably say here's our list of cuts, Mr. President. Where is your list?

BURNETT: Well, the president has also made, you know, historically other things he may not have included in here. I mean, Ethan, do you think that the Republicans still fine say they take it from Paul Ryan's budget. I mean, it doesn't really matter, but don't they owe him a list?

ETHAN POLLACK, FISCAL POLICY ANALYST, ECONOMIC POLICY INSTITUTE: They do and they haven't really provided one. There's a great article in "Politico" yesterday. They talked about how Democrats, the president's come forward with $1.6 trillion in revenue increases, it's been very detailed. It's drawn heavily from his 2013 budget and then you know, he asks OK, Republicans what do you want on entitlement cuts and the Republicans have said present us a list of options and then we'll pick from those that are acceptable to you.

And you know, the administration I think rightly so said no, that's not how this game works. If you want something, you need to bring it to us, but we're not going to be the ones that are presenting to you both the revenue fix and the entitlement fix.

We don't want to do the second thing quite as much, so if you want entitlement cuts, you need to propose them to us and make them serious. Put them on the table and then we'll talk about that.

BURNETT: Stephen Moore, is it possible -- OK, go ahead.

MOORE: You know, I have a suspicion, now, I'm a Republican, so I'll admit that, but I'm thinking more and more, the president, he doesn't really sound like he wants to get this deal done. I mean, it's not that hard.

The truth is, they're not that far apart. The Republicans have put tax increases on the table much to the chagrin of a lot of conservatives. They said, look, we're going to limit deductions and now we'll follow the heaviest on the Democrats.

There is a suspicion among a lot of the Republicans that I talk to, the president really wants to squash the Republicans and have us go over the cliff and then blame the Republican Party for it.

BURNETT: But Stephen, is it possible that -- the president doesn't want make these entitlement cuts that much, but he said that he would fair point, right? But the Republicans, they make this whole thing that entitlements have to be cut.

But maybe they don't really proposals on the table because, you know, voters don't like entitlement cuts. Nobody wants to be the one to say, I'm going to make you work longer, get Medicare later, limit how much money you get. I mean, that's not politically easy.

MOORE: You remember during the campaign, Erin, when the Democrats ran all these campaigns about, you know, Paul Ryan and the Republicans pushing grandma over the edge in her wheelchair.

I mean, the Republicans actually have a printing date detailed less. I haven't really seen anything yet out of the president. Look, the one thing that I think we would all agree on, the three of us certainly would agree on.

You're not going to get anywhere in these negotiations or in terms of reducing this $1.1 trillion deficit if you don't do something about these entitlements. So everybody's kind of waiting, when will the president come forward with those recommendations?

POLLACK: If I could just jump in really quick, I mean, one of the problems with entitlement cuts is that they don't really produce a lot of savings in the first 10 years. I mean, a lot of things that Ryan proposed stayed in overtime.

So, if we're going to be obsessively focused on the ratio between revenue and spending, then Republicans are going to be in for some disappointment because all the things they want on entitlements basically phase in.

This is very consistent with what they've said about we don't want to change anything for people over 55. Now, I tend to agree with that. I don't think that there really should be a lot of entitlement cuts.

And the fact that even, you know, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney ran away from entitlement cuts in Paul Ryan's budget in the last election. I think is a sign of where the American public is.

They do want the rich to pay their fair share in taxes, but they really don't like a lot of the entitlement cuts that are currently being talked about.

MOORE: You know, that's a fair point.

BURNETT: -- small group of people and the entitlements affect everybody, right. I mean, to some extent.

MOORE: That's right. And Erin, look, in response to what, you know, you were just saying about the fact that these savings don't really kick in for 10 years, that is a legitimate point.

But you know, look back at what we did in 1982, when Tip O'Neill sat down with Ronald Reagan, you know, the most conservative president and one of the most liberal speakers of the House we ever had.

When they reached that deal to raise the retirement age on Social Security, today, we are reaping huge savings from that. So those savings that are going to be effective 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now, those will be enormous if we can get it done.

The problem is we keep punting every time we come to this and you know, the most important factor in the budget is the fact we get 80 million baby boomers that are retiring in the next 20 years.

BURNETT: And as we found out, the immigrants aren't having as many kids, so who's going to pay for those baby boomers. Thanks to both of you and have a great weekend.

New fears that the Assad regime in Syria is growing more desperate, could topple, an increase in violence, no internet access for the second day. We're going to show you the chart. This is a pretty incredible thing to see. Republican senators now calling for President Obama to arm the opposition now, is that crazy?

Plus, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor releases his 2013 schedule for the House of Representatives today. You know what? You'd love to be one of those guys.

And a frightening new trend emerges. Gangs targets dozens of children every day coercing them into sex with gifts.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Our second story OUTFRONT, panic in Syria. At this moment tonight, there is fear the Assad regime is getting desperate. So today, much of the country experienced a second day without internet access. It's a pretty incredible thing.

I just want to show you this chart. I mean, look at this, internet activity was going up and up, and then, I mean, just that was it, off. Can you just imagine life in that situation?

No one is sure exactly why and as violence continues to rage on the ground, there's a debate here at home as to whether even at this what seems to be late hour, the United States should get involved.

Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Joseph Lieberman have repeatedly called for the United States to arm the rebel forces, but the administration is not yet ready to do it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT FORD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO SYRIA: Will providing arms to the opposition convince the people who support Bashar Al-Assad in many cases because they're afraid of their own existence or will it simply lead to more fighting? That is the question that we are considering.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: It's a crucial question. OUTFRONT tonight, Alex Barinson, author and former reporter for "The New York Times" and Rand senior political scientist, Seth Jones. Good to see both of you.

Seth, there's a lot of things we don't know about the rebels as that point just made clear. James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence had warned Congress that some of the attacks we've seen in Syria born the hallmarks of Al-Qaeda so some of the rebels fighting Assad could be members of Al-Qaeda.

There have been atrocities committed by these rebels. There appear to be no question about that, executions. A new video posted yesterday showed a man filming himself while he shot ten unarmed prisoners. Should we arm the rebels?

SETH JONES, RAND SENIOR POLITICAL SCIENTIST: Well, I think we should arm and this is not just about arming. This discussion seems to overlook the fact that the rebels need intelligence. They need supplies.

The challenge though is that the largest opposition movement is the Free Syrian Army. The problem though is that we've got a range of Sunni extremist groups including al-Qaeda's front, which is called the (inaudible) front that operates in Syria.

It's conducted a range of attacks. It's an extremist group that wants to establish Sharia Law in Syria and the issue is if we're going to provide increasing lethal and non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition. It cannot get into the hands of al-Qaeda in Iraq because it will strengthen them.

BURNETT: But Alex, how in the world can we prevent that from happening?

ALEX BERENSON, FORMER REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": So how do you do that, right? That's the question you have to ask and I don't think anybody has the answer to that right now. I think we're sort of on the definition of insanity.

We're doing the same thing over and over again and we're talking about doing the same thing we did in Libya. We're talking about, you know, getting involved yet again in what essentially is a civil war in a Muslim country.

And I'm not sure why we expect different results and I wonder what those senators will have to say, you know, in a year or two or five if we provide a surface to air missile that gets used to take down a jetliner in Europe or Africa.

ERIN: And Seth, I mean, isn't that the problem? I mean, you know, what we saw in Libya was all those weapons have gone missing now there in Northern Mali or elsewhere in Northern Africa. And apparently some even got into the hands of Hamas in Gaza. I mean, is that -- is Syria seems to be Libya on steroids in terms of the things that can go wrong?

JONES: Well, I think at this point, it's kind of ludicrous to provide the Syrian opposition with surface to air missiles. I think what they probably need more than anything else is ammunition and small arms.

They can do a lot with just that kind of activity and really intelligence especially with the internet going down. It's harder for them to communicate with each other. Radios are down across the country. They need help in a range of ways.

I think our intelligence apparatus and our special operations units can do this in general and have done this clandestinely in multiple countries over the years. So I think we can do this and provide at least some oversight over how it's done.

BURNETT: Do we though, Alex, if we do it, do we have any -- will it have any impact on the outcome? I guess, you know, the U.S. does think strategically. I mean, like it or not, everybody they do. So they are going to say, if I'm giving you a gun, are you going to do something for me if you actually get in power and that also seems to be highly questionable.

BERENSON: Well, that does. I mean, I think Seth and I are a little bit closer than I thought because I don't think that providing sort of small arms is a bad idea. I guess, it's probably a good idea.

The question is whether that will make a difference. I think on the margin, it makes a difference, but really, Assad's greatest advantage is his air force and if we let that continue. If we don't provide surface to air missiles and we don't set up a no-fly zone, we're sort of on the margin.

BURNETT: So I want to ask each of you something because some people said, look, with the road to the airport in Damascus being blocked and the internet being down that this could mean, some people said Assad is ready to go. No one's really sure what's happening. But Alex, why do you think the internet is down, purpose for what? I mean, who --

BERENSON: It's clearly purposeful and it was clearly done by the Syrian government. They've denied that, but they lie and they are lying about that.

BURNETT: Because they fear losing?

BERENSON: Yes. I mean, you know, on Seth point. It makes it harder for the rebels to communicate. I mean, they obviously are trying to spy on the internet or they were when it was up. But they -- I think they decided it was in their interest just to knock it out entirely.

BURNETT: So Seth, how long can they keep it up?

JONES: They could keep this up for a long time. Most insurgencies take about a decade to win or lose. This one has a lot of potential for a greater bloodshed.

BURNETT: Wow, and you think this could take that long?

JONES: Well, it could. I mean, you know, the issue is that I think if the United States gets a little bit more involved, the Jordanians, the Turks, you get sanctuary and training camps in Turkey.

I think the Assad regime will fall eventually, but then the question is how long will the fighting continue among the rest of the groups. That's I think where the length of time kicks in.

BERENSON: You think the Jordanians are going to be happy with training camps?

BURNETT: The Jordanians have a lot of problems right now, no.

JONES: The Jordanians have already provided assistance and have provided limited training to opposition. So yes, I think they're there.

BURNETT: All right, thanks to both of you. We appreciate.

OUTFRONT next, a grueling day of cross-examination for the man at the center of the Wikileaks classified investigation. Bradley Manning accused of leaking thousands of classified documents that ended up on Julian Assange's Wikileaks web site.

And the world of espionage takes a strange turn. Surveillance drones that literally, well, fish, animals drones. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: The biggest classified leak in history. A grueling day of cross-examination has just ended for the man accused of leaking hundreds of thousands of classified documents that ended up on Wikileaks.

Prosecutors tried to poke holes in Bradley Manning's story. He said he was abused during his 9-month confinement in a Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia. In fact, he testified that he contemplated suicide while in custody because of the conditions.

And that he was forced to stand naked in front of guards. The Pentagon says Manning was held in accordance with the rules, but if convicted, he could face life in prison.

OUTFRONT tonight, Chris Lawrence who is covering this at the Pentagon. So Chris, Manning's claimed he had said he was forced to stand naked in front of guards. Prosecutors tried to poke some holes in that today, did they succeed?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: In some ways, Erin, very much so because they got Manning to admit that the guards never actually ordered him to drop the blanket that was covering his body. Let's back up.

Manning had made a crack because they had placed so many restrictions on him in confinement that if he really wanted to kill himself, he could hang himself by his underwear. The guards took that seriously and that night, he was stripped naked except for a blanket.

When he got up the next morning, he had to stand at parade rest. Now, Manning had to admit today that he inferred from what the guard said that he had to drop that blanket to stand at parade rest.

He admitted today, they never said that. In fact, Manning said that in later days, in the subsequent days, the guards always put his clothes on his food tray and he was given plenty of time to get dressed before standing.

BURNETT: So one question a lot of people have is whether there would be a plea deal. That Bradley Manning would try to plea to something so -- that the time he would have to serve would be significantly shorter. Is there a plea deal being talked about?

LAWRENCE: There is. It's a deal in which Manning would plead guilty to some of the lesser charges, but not obviously aiding the enemy, which is a big charge that carries life in prison. That deal presumably would net Manning about 16 years in prison, but here's why you're hearing all of this talk.

Back and forth, the arguments over how he was treated. It's because there is some precedent for reducing the time based on how you're treated while you're incarcerated. There was a case about 12 years ago where an airman who was mistreated got a three for one credit for the days he had already served. Manning's attorney is presumably talking about possibly a ten for one credit. He could be talking up to seven years knocked off his sentence if he were to get it.

BURNETT: All right, Chris Lawrence, thank you very much.

Now OUTFRONT next, more problems for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. facing more questions, not about Benghazi, about personal investments. And not from Republicans, from Democrats.

And a lot of people say our government doesn't work, well, you know, they might be right. The House of Representatives released its 2013 work calendar today. We have all the days you need to know about.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT. We start the second half of our Friday show with stories we care about, where we're focusing on our reporting from the frontlines.

And we begin with three people who were killed during an attack at a community college today in the eastern Wyoming city of Casper. It's not entirely clear though how they were killed. The suspect was among the three died in an apparent suicide. Police say that no firearms were involved. That the victims' injuries were caused by a sharp edged weapon. Now, the suspect was not a current student at the campus, but the police chief says all three knew each other.

Well, two of the nation's largest ports are largely shut down tonight due to a strike. Workers in Los Angeles and Long Beach walked off the job Tuesday, claiming their jobs are being outsourced. Their employers denied it. Despite negotiations, the two sides remained at a standoff and that's hurting the bottom line.

The executive director at the port of Los Angeles tells OUTFRONT some ships are now being diverted to Mexico. Those two ports are bringing 40 percent of the nation's import. And at this time of the year, that means everything you're buying for Christmas.

Tensions are rising in Egypt after assembly members passed a draft constitution today. All 234 articles were approved unilaterally by the Muslim Brotherhood. That, of course, is the party of the president, Mohamed Morsi. Frustrated Coptic Christians and liberals walked out before the vote because they said their views weren't being heard.

Out on the streets, demonstrators packed into Tahrir Square in protest. The fate of the Constitution won't be clear for another two weeks when Egyptians get to vote on the draft.

Well, the Mauritanian president is warning international military intervention in Mali could backfire. And the reason is that fear that locals could choose to align with Islamist rebels. That's something of great concern and one group they're worried about is an al Qaeda, is al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. That, of course, is the group the international community has been trying to oust in that region.

Stratfor analyst Mark Schroeder tells us that AQIM is actually consolidating and getting stronger in the region. And without international military intervention, he says Mali's military won't be able to push them out.

Mali's prime minister has told me personally it doesn't have even have enough guns for his soldiers.

It has been 484 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Incomes and consumer spending fell in October. Economists we spoke with said Sandy had a significant effect on the numbers.

And now our third story OUTFRONT: new problems for Susan Rice. And this is different than what you think I'm about to say.

After weeks of criticism from Republicans for her characterization of the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Susan Rice now faces scrutiny over her personal investments. Stockholdings listed in Rice's financial disclosure report raise a potential conflict of interest if she were to become the nation's top diplomat.

A conflict of interest that -- well, it's something Democrats don't like.

Mary Snow is OUTFRONT.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The latest controversy surrounding Ambassador Susan Rice involves a major investment in a company that wants to build the controversial Keystone Pipeline. Rice owns between $300,000 and $600,000 worth of stock in TransCanada, according to her own financial disclosure forms.

The Keystone Pipeline would connect the tar sands oil development in Canada to the U.S. Gulf Coast and if Rice becomes secretary of state, any decision on it would fall under her jurisdiction.

BOB DEANS, NATURAL RESOURCES DEFENSE COUNCIL: We need for the next secretary of state to be completely unburdened of any interest that could present a conflict or the appearance of a conflict.

SNOW: Bob Deans of the Natural Resources Defense Council is among those opposing the pipeline for environmental reasons. His group's online publication brought Rice's investments to light.

White House press secretary was asked Thursday if that would pose a conflict.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, I have no -- I'm not going to speculate about a personnel decision the president has not made. A nomination he has not put forward. SNOW: The TransCanada Holding is just one part of a sizable portfolio for Rice and her husband, who is from Canada. The watchdog group Center for Responsive Politics estimates the couple's net worth between $23.5 million and $43.5 million as of 2009.

Her financial link to TransCanada was not an issue in her current position as U.S. ambassador to the U.N. If she became secretary of state, ethics rules would require action, such as divesting her holdings linked to the Keystone Pipeline.

A spokeswoman for Rice said in a statement, "Ambassador Rice has complied with annual financial disclosure and applicable ethics requirement related to her service in the U.S. government and is committed to continuing to meet these obligations."

While the NRDC is speaking out about Rice ice potential conflict of interest, its spokesman says it supports her potential nomination and would not ask her to recuse herself from the Keystone Pipeline decision.

(on camera): The Liberal group RootsAction.org launched an online petition demanding Rice sell all of her stocks not only in TransCanada but any other Canadian firms that could stand to benefit if the pipeline is approved.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And now, our fourth story OUTFRONT: Washington working hard or hardly working.

OK, look, we know a lot of you work hard, but then you give us things like this. That's your calendar for next year. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor released the schedule for House of Representatives next year.

Look, this is bipartisan. I don't care whether you're a Democrat or a Republican. I'm sorry. I'm trying not to sneeze here. But you're going to love this. The House is going to be in session 126 days. That includes eight days in January, and two in August. I mean, you know, you got to have August off, right? France.

OK. Compare that to the average American worker to works about 230 days a year.

Reihan Salam joins me now, writer for "The National Review." And Maria, Democratic strategist, CNN contributor.

OK, I'm sure we can all agree we would love that schedule. OK? Especially if your compensation remained what it was.

OK. Reihan, now, Eric Cantor --

REIHAN SALAM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes. BURNETT: I'm being serious here, says the new calendar allows lawmakers a week, a month, to spend back at home. It is important you are like, you got to hear constituents. But, now, when I did the math, 126 days in Washington is 25 workweeks. That's only 50 percent of the year.

SALAM: Erin, members of Congress are still doing their jobs when they're in their constituencies, when they're reaching out to their constituents.

BURNETT: Yes.

SALAM: So, they're still working on legislation and much else. If you're concerned about Congress wasting time, I think we ought to be more concerned about, for example, the fact that individual candidates are raising money, rather than parties. That's the thing that really distracts them from the hard work of legislating. Being out there in their districts, getting in touch with folks who understand their interests, that's actually really, really important as a part of their job.

BURNETT: Right. I think we can agree on that.

Maria, do they need that much time, though? To Reihan's point, how much of this is going to things Americans don't want, big money and politics.

MARIA CARDONA, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's way too much, I think, Erin, and I've always thought that. And, yes, we understand that Congress needs to be in touch with their constituents. They need to talk to the folks back home.

But guess what? We have a lot of advanced technology these days that we can do that without actually having to be in their districts. More time that they're here in Washington.

And especially now, Erin, where we are facing such critical problems. We are looking at a situation where the tax bills for the majority of Americans are going to skyrocket if Congress doesn't do something. And then we're presented with a workweek that is less I think than Congress has done in 20 years.

Look, the average American when they aren't in debt, they actually go look for another job. They work overtime. What does Congress do? They work less days. It doesn't quite click.

BURNETT: Reihan, to Maria's point, there isn't one five-day workweek next year. Now, I know you want to spend time with your constituent, but I'm just going to call out like I see it. They're all Fridays and Mondays.

(LAUGHTER)

BURNETT: They're all want to go home and see their families. And I'm not saying that's wrong, I'm just saying to Maria's point -- look, there's big problems facing this country. If they were passing bills and getting things done, maybe everybody would be OK with it.

SALAM: Well, that's also philosophical disagreement, right? Some folks think the more bills you pass the more good you're doing and I don't think that's necessarily true.

BURENTT: That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying get the big stuff done.

SALAM: Fair enough, but there's another piece of it, right?

BURNETT: That's right.

SALAM: So, when Maria is talking about technology, another thing is let's think outside the box. Is it possible to vote from your home constituency as well? I mean, that's something that we ought to explore. We got to think about actually having our members of Congress rooted in their communities more than they're necessarily rooted in Washington.

I understand there's a lot of important work to be done in D.C., but I don't think this is as nearly as big a problem as the money chase and a lot of the other things that are distracting these folks from doing their jobs -- increase the budget for congressional staff. That would give them the analytical tools they need to do their jobs well. But, you know, the calendar, I think it makes a lot of sense.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Go ahead, Maria.

CARDONA: I was going to say, there are two problems with that. The first is a perception problem. Congress already has a huge perception problem among the American people. And so when they are taking more days off in the face of these huge problems when Americans are working their butts off to try to get out of debt, it doesn't click.

And the second thing is that, you know, we are going upon a holiday season here and Americans are really looking to their leaders for solutions, especially after this Congress. So instead of spending time outside of Washington, we should actually have them not leave Washington until they fix the fiscal cliff. At least, let's fix the fiscal cliff and make sure that American families aren't faced with possible larger tax bills come January.

BURNETT: I mean, Reihan, wouldn't it just make you feel better if you didn't feel that the real reason we're going to get a fiscal cliff resolution, whether it's a little tinkering or something bigger, probably tinkering, wasn't because they actually wanted to be home on Christmas.

SALAM: I think that they absolutely should try to get this done. I certainly don't think they should go home before the situation is resolved.

BURNETT: Yes. SALAM: But I also think when you're looking at what kind of Congress you want, you want a responsive Congress.

BURNETT: Yes.

SALAM: We want a Congress that's rooted in American communities, not inside the Beltway.

BURNETT: Look, Reihan, I know, you just want Mondays and Fridays off, too, and you're trying to make the arguments to "The National Review" as to why that is better. All right?

CARDONA: Americans want their leaders to work, period.

BURNETT: Thanks to both of you. We appreciate it.

Of course, we want all of your feedback as well.

OUTFRONT next, breaking news: the billionaire software tycoon John McAfee, he's wanted for questioning in the death of his neighbor. He's on the run and our Martin Savidge literally just moments ago caught him. He was running literally. And he's going join us with that right after this. He's getting it ready for you at this instant and it's going to be a lot harder to spot the things that spot you because we've got drones that are now designed to look like animals and fish.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Breaking news right now. Fugitive software tycoon John McAfee wanted for questioning in the murder of his neighbor in Belize has been on the run for three weeks, from authorities. But our Martin Savidge found him, caught up with him while he's on the run literally moments ago for an exclusive interview.

And Martin is on the phone now from Belize City.

Martin, I know it was really difficult to find him. What did he tell you, first of all?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (through telephone): Well, first of all, I mean, he maintains his innocence and we grilled him over and over about this issue. Look, if you had nothing to do with the murder of your neighbor, Greg Faull, why don't you do the right thing, turn yourself into authorities.

They said they only want to question you. He is terrified that is not what it's about here. He says he had nothing to do with the murder, but he's fearful that if he turns himself into authorities -- he won't be murder. He makes that point very clear and he's adamant this is all part of some government because he didn't pay the right (INAUDIBLE) in the government.

Of course, government here denies that completely and says this is a nation of law. He would be treated with all the proper respect and with the right authority. He does not have to be on the run. BURNETT: And, Martin, let me ask you -- I know this was a clandestine meeting. It was very difficult to secure. This is a man who eccentric, I guess, is obviously a fair word. I know he was in disguise.

So, tell me how you got it and what he looked like?

SAVIDGE: Yes. We're just sort of emerging from this bizarre bubble that we were immersed in for about the last couple of hours trying to arrange this and this has been days in the making. But we had to take multiple vehicles. We were picked up by people, there were passwords, code words, everything out of an old James Bond film.

We switched vehicles, get another vehicle that was turning around, going back, U-turns clearly designed to keep us confused and then the meeting spot, we don't really know where it was. But when we got inside, we watched this old man sort of creep past and I said that is John McAfee and it was because once we get into this room where we're going to interview him, he walks and he begins shaking the white powder out of his hair, puts the cane down and the arm that looked like he's somehow limp is now back (INAUDIBLE) again.

I mean, it's like an inspector (INAUDIBLE) almost, a really unusual circumstance. And the man is terrified. That is very clear. I asked him if he had guns, he says no. I asked if he was on drugs, he says no. But he is very much in fear of his life. He thinks that authorities are closing in.

And as he put it, he said his options are dwindling.

BURNETT: Martin Savidge, thank you very much. Reporting there has been chasing down this elusive, bizarre and very frightening story.

And now, our "Outer Circle," we reach out to our sources around the world. And we're going to Britain tonight where there's a frightening trend known as grooming gangs. Dozens of children are being targeted by them on the daily basis. And the so-called gangs are actually run by men who build relationships with children, earn their trust and eventually force them to have sex.

Atika Shubert is in London and I started by asking here just how widespread this is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, the numbers are disturbing. According to the British children's commissioner, a new report shows as many as 45 children a day may be targeted by so-called child grooming gangs. Now, these are gangs of men preying on usually young girls, but sometimes boys as young as 12 years old. They're called grooming gangs because of the slow process of winning over these children's trust.

Usually, it starts with giving them a ride home or buying them meals. Then, alcohol, drugs, and eventually forcing them into sex, even stories of passing them on between men.

So, it is really horrific stuff and, unfortunately, we don't know exactly how much of these gangs there are in the U.K. and one of the saddest parts is that these gangs tended to put a wedge between the child and parent so that the victim doesn't even know who to trust anymore and won't go to their parents for help, Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. Atika, thank you.

And now, let's check in with Ashleigh Banfield. She's in for Anderson tonight. She's got a look at what's coming up on "A.C. 360."

Hey, Ashleigh.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Erin. Thank you.

You know, we're keeping them honest ahead on "360".

On paper, this just sounded like a great idea. It certainly did catch our eye. But a CNN investigation found some very serious questions about whether Illinois Governor Pat Quinn launched an ambitious antiviolence program for crime prevention or political purposes. Our Drew Griffin has been watching it. He's got that investigation. It's really great.

And also ahead, Baby Veronica, this is her, being taken by her biological father from the parents who adopted her at birth. She had never met him before, but there is a fascinating legal twist involving the rights of Native American kids and their parents. It's different and it's unique. And the case could go all the way to the Supreme Court, and Jeff Toobin is going to join me with all of that.

It's all coming up at the top of the hour -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Looking forward to seeing you in just a few moments, Ashleigh.

And now, our fifth story OUTFRONT: the rise of drones with fins. The number of American drones has surged. You're probably aware of that. But I mean, the numbers are incredible. In 2001, we had 50 of them. Now, we have 7,500 drones.

In a new twist, the machines designed to watch are now looking like fish. This is called the BIOSwimmer. It was developed by the Department of Homeland Security to dart into hard to reach places under water.

And it's not the only nature-inspired robot. There is a cheetah. Put a skin on it and of course, the robo mule. Both developed by the advanced -- Defense Advance Research Projects Agency, which is called DARPA.

OUTFRONT tonight, our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, this is sort of -- I know the real new front. Drones themselves have changed the entire way this country will fight war forevermore. But let's start with that BIOSwimmer. What can it do?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a very interesting project that was actually funded by the Department of Homeland Security to basically -- it takes the shape of a tuna because tuna can maneuver in the water, they can get into small places.

And the idea is if you could put sensors on this, cameras, acoustics, radar, whatever, you could put this kind of device into U.S. harbors, maybe to go through shipwrecks, maybe to go through underground debris, maybe just to keep watch for potential terrorist attacks on U.S. ports. The whole idea with all of these programs is that nature really is, you know, the best way.

There's a good lesson to be learned here. These are devices that can move as they do in nature like a tuna. Tuna is pretty good at getting through some of those tight spots under water.

BURNETT: As a -- and when you think about just under water, I mean, simple things, right? I mean, 90 percent of the world's goods go by ship. You need to be able to see what's going on underwater.

How many other animal-inspired drones are there, though? And are they as sophisticated and sort of natural as that tuna looked?

STARR: Well, look, most of these programs right now are in development and as you said, it will be the way the military fights in the future, or security is protected.

You mentioned a couple of them. The cheetah, there's a horse- like object. You know, whatever you want to say they resemble. Four- legged robot, very large, that can go over rough terrain and carry gear on it, possibly even troops. This can get into places, go over very rough, steep terrain that vehicles could not. So that's one.

Looking at some of the drones that are flying overhead, you can see how they trying to make those maneuver as they do in nature.

But you know, one of the most interesting programs that even the military can't solve right now is a dog's nose. We all see the bomb- sniffing dogs out there. For years, the military's tried to develop a mechanical dog's nose, something to match what a dog can do on the battlefield and so far, the dogs are winning.

BURNETT: I have to say, I'm glad about that. You've got to have something where nature is the winner.

Barbara, how important is this technology? I mean, is this really becoming more and more drones? We have already seen it happen, fewer soldiers. But we would be able to fight entire wars with them?

STARR: Well, maybe not entire wars. Probably there is still really the human dimension in there that somebody has to take responsibility for what is going on. But you know, what these can do is if you have these, you don't have to put as many troops at risk in hostile territory, you can keep your pilots safe, you can keep your ground troops safer, send the drones, the robot, in ahead. Let them take the risk. If something mechanical gets shot up, that's a lot better than a U.S. soldier.

BURNETT: Barbara Starr, thank you. Pretty incredible images there.

Well, suspicion, intrigue and dirty dealings. We all enjoy hearing about them. There's just something about the juicy details of a great scandal. John Avlon loves them, too. He's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: The Petraeus sex scandal isn't the first such controversy, of course. Watergate, Iran Contra, Monica Lewinsky, all of them were second term scandals after convincing re-election victories. Hmm, what is it about that?

John Avlon has a new book that gives us perspective on these stories. It's called "Deadline Artists: Scandal, Tragedies and Triumphs." And John came OUTFRONT earlier to tell me about it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: So, you're writing columns, you've done this before. I mean, you look, this is your second volume of going through these columns.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right.

BURNETT: So why did you decide to go after this scandal?

AVLON: This is the stuff of breaking news, Erin. You know that. These have always been the stuff of breaking news. Whether people are -- newspapers in 1899 or online today, this is what gets people's attention.

And when you look at the best of American columns, this is an American art form and they really do, these columnists, these opinion makers, have strong personalities, they're great story tellers and they help make sense of the chaos of the world around us.

So, when you bring the best of the past in one book it's great reading just as it was today. It's history in the present tense.

BURNETT: It makes me just think about how different things used to be with newspaper columnists, now you have this cacophony, right, of online commentary.

AVLON: You do, and that's one of the things we learned when putting together this book, with Errol Louis and Jesse Angelo, my co- editors.

You know, there's a real difference between the classic reported column of the past and kind of the online opinion today. What you realize is those reporters in the past, they did reported columns. They told stories.

They were storytellers first. They did their own reporting, they brought the characters out, the heroes and the villains, and they made things come alive. They weren't relying on television. It was vivid descriptive writing.

And that's why they read so beautifully today. This is a book of short stories that really happened. And so often, the online journalists that I'm a part of, we're content to write our own opinions and too many folks don't get out from behind their desks. There's a real difference in the quality of storytelling. We can learn a lot from these folks.

BURNETT: So what are your favorite columns in the book?

AVLON: Two in particular stand out. Murray Compton writing for "The New York Post." A column called "Southern Gentleman." He interviews the most vicious racist you ever met and lets him hang himself. He doesn't pass judgment. He lets him speak in his own words.

In fact, he begins the column by saying, he describes this individual and says he's almost totally impossible to dislike. And that lack of judgment and letting a character speak for himself is a novelistic quality. It's a short story quality.

The other that really stands out for this book, Damon Runyon on "The Cinderella Man". Remember that movie a couple of years ago, "The Cinderella Man"? Russell Crowe, boxing drama. It's about James J. Braddock.

Well, Damon Runyon gave him James J. Braddock the nickname the "Cinderella Man", but no one had ever anthologized that column before. The boxing Hall of Fame didn't have it. The Damon Runyon estate didn't have it. We found it in the New York Public Library.

So, it's the first time that column has ever been anthologized.

BURNETT: That's right. So, it's like you're living history.

AVLON: And it's history written in present tense. It's really a love letter to classic American journalism. A great American art form, the newspaper column.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: It's a great book.

"A.C. 360" starts now.