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JOHN KING, USA

Black Friday Turns Ugly; Chaos in Egypt

Aired November 25, 2011 - 18:00   ET

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


JIM ACOSTA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Jim Acosta. John King is off.

From coast to coast today, Americans are voting with their wallets and credit cards and hard-pressed businesses love it. It is Black Friday, the day merchants count on after Thanksgiving, shoppers to lift them out of the red and into the black for the entire year. The extended hours and door buster sales seem to be paying off, at least as far as attracting crowds.

But there are always some people who spoil the fun. A video from Florence, Alabama, shows police using a stun gun to subdue a Wal-Mart customer. He was charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Now take a look at this. Near Los Angeles, one shopper actually pepper sprayed the people in line ahead of her at a Wal-Mart so she could get the year's hot video game console and it worked.

CNN's Sandra Endo has the developments.

Sandra, what more have you learned about the attack? It's almost impossible to believe that this actually happens during the holiday shopping season, but yet here we go again.

SANDRA ENDO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely, Jim. That video is so amazing, and incredible to see the crowd as they go after these discounted items in Wal-Mart.

And police say they are looking for a woman in her 30s who pepper sprayed the crowd as that deal went on sale. A large number of people were surrounding the area where Xboxes were discounted and police say 10 people were treated at scene the here last night. And we spoke to one person who was affected by the pepper spray and who recorded the frenzy on tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ENDO: Tell me about this woman. Did you see her before in line waiting for this deal to open up?

JUAN CASTRO, EYEWITNESS: I didn't see her personally but I sure got the scent of the mace. I got it in my throat. It was burning. I saw people around me, they got it really bad. I tried to get away from it as quickly as possible, because I didn't think those were worth it. No deal's worth that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ENDO: And police say they are looking over surveillance video from the store and they don't have an exact I.D. on the victim -- or actually the suspect yet, but they say that she doesn't appear to be using the pepper spray in self-defense, so she will likely face some charges -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Sandra, it looks like there were some other incidents at other Wal-Marts around the country today, but specifically with respect to the story you're covering out there in California, what is Wal-Mart saying about this?

ENDO: Well, the spokesman for Wal-Mart says in a statement that: "It was an unfortunate situation here in California. But we are glad everyone seems to be OK. We are working and with law enforcement to provide any assistance we can."

ACOSTA: What do police have to say about this? I mean, with all of the problems that police officers have to go around and patrol for, you would think holiday shopping would not be one of them.

ENDO: Yes, absolutely.

I talked to the police official here in Los Angeles. And he said this was something that he has never seen before, a call like this that they had to respond to the day after Thanksgiving regarding shoppers.

His message is that, look, everyone wants a deal, it's a tough economy. Of course, people want something on sale, but he says to everyone, he urges that shoppers just have a little patience out there and respect one another -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Little patience, a little respect goes a long way this holiday season.

Sandra Endo, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

Despite the scattered reports of fights, shootings and other incidents around the country, today's big news seems to be the huge crowds attracted by stores' extended hours and deep discounts. Get this. In Macy's in New York City, the store there opened its doors during the middle of the night and thousands of bargain hunters showed up.

Here is CNN's Chris Knowles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS KNOWLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, it's been a steady stream of people all day here at Macy's, this flagship store, the world's biggest Macy's.

They're doing things a little bit differently this year. In years past, 4:00 a.m. was when the doors opened. Not this year. It was almost like a black Thursday or black Thanksgiving. We were here at midnight, believe it or not. That's when the doors opened. You can see by these crowds a huge turnout.

We talked to the CEO, and he said it was the biggest crowd he's seen at one of these events and they had it at midnight, 10,000 people crushing the doors, flooding the store, looking for all kinds of bargains. One of them aimed directly at the preteen set. We will let this young lady explain.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You bought the perfume, C.D., a poster for $65, and then you got a free digital camera.

KNOWLES: Well, there it is, Bieber fever on Black Friday. And now we eagerly await Monday, Cyber Monday. While we won't have the rush of rushing the store, we will be on the keyboards looking for even more deals -- Jim.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And that should be a little safer if they do that. Thank you so much, Chris Knowles.

Despite the sluggish U.S. economy, our polling shows that more people plan to go shopping today compared to 2006, before the recession. It has gone from about one in five to nearly one in four.

And psychologist Jeff Gardere joins us now from New York to talk about all of this.

And, Jeff, I have to say I was trying to come up with a tweet or a hashtag for a tweet as to -- to describe all the chaos we have seen today and I came up with hashtag blackpepperFriday or hashtag occupytheholidays. I'm not sure which one we should go with, but...

(LAUGHTER)

JEFFREY GARDERE, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: They both sound good, Jim.

ACOSTA: Do you watch all of this madness unfold and just wonder, you know, what is wrong with these people?

GARDERE: Well, look, when we look at the number of people who have acted out vs. the hundreds of thousands or millions who are out there shopping, it is significantly so low that we don't want to say that these Black Friday shoppers are all crazy.

However, it just does take a few people to spoil a party, and we know with the economy the way that it is, the potential for other people to act out emotionally, to get that rush, for example, that Chris Knowles was talking about, and then to react in a way that is totally inappropriate, that potential becomes almost exponential.

ACOSTA: Why are people behaving this way, do you think? Pepper spraying people in line -- in front of you in line, it just seems to make no sense at all.

GARDERE: Well, believe me, I think there are some people out there who are very unbalanced and they get that rush. They in many ways are bamboozled by the retailers into thinking that they're going to get these incredible deals, where studies have shown you can get those same deals after Thanksgiving, after Christmas, and so on, but it's about that experience.

So when you do have some people who are mentally unstable, they will react in a way that is totally inappropriate, that is dangerous. I think once they catch up with this woman, I would say she needs to have some sort of mental health evaluation because she didn't go out to buy food that her family needs. She went out to buy one of the latest items, which is something she doesn't need to have, and she pepper sprayed people in order to get it. I think that speaks to her mental instability.

ACOSTA: It's not just the images that we're seeing coming out today, people pepper spraying and getting pepper sprayed at big box stores.

You're also seeing people camp out in front of these stores for hours, sometimes days on end, before Black Friday gets started. Is that -- is that rational, to do that, do you think? I don't want to disparage people who are obviously trying to get a good deal. And everybody's entitled to do that, but it just -- you know, it seems like it's a bit much.

GARDERE: Jim, it has become an event. It has become a tradition, just like Thanksgiving. And I think people have very humdrum lives these days. They're very concerned about keeping their homes, they're very concerned about finances, and here's an opportunity for them to be children again.

When you showed some of that footage of the people going into Macy's, it really reminded me of people going into an amusement park. They were laughing, and screaming, and running, and just were ready to in many ways pursue that pleasure principle and walk out of there with some sort of a great deal, and in many cases something that they probably didn't even need but to say that they were able to do it. So it is a high for them. It is an event that they enjoy. But, sometimes, it can go awry.

ACOSTA: Jeff, that just gets me to what is the retailer's responsibility in all of this? Is there a responsibility? Should there be employees outside of these doors reminding people, look, it's just a sale, you know, try to keep control of yourselves and act respectfully toward your fellow shopper?

GARDERE: You're right on with that.

We know that they use psychological tricks where they pipe in slow music to get people to slow down and buy more. They put scents into the stores so that people can feel good or feel hungry, and want to stay in the store longer and tie eating into buying. So why not try to massage the brains of those people who are coming into the stores by pumping in information about being civil and enjoying it, but also enjoying it along with other people so that everyone can have a good and a safe time? ACOSTA: I think they might need more than a massage, Jeff. They might need a couple of glasses of eggnog, perhaps, as well.

GARDERE: I think so, with a little rum in it. But then it might go the other way, who knows?

ACOSTA: That's in the holiday spirit, I think.

GARDERE: Yes.

ACOSTA: Jeff, thanks so much for bringing that perspective to us. We appreciate it.

GARDERE: Thank you.

ACOSTA: Good to state you.

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY: You all take care. Happy holidays.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Today, the first lady, daughters Malia and Sasha and the family dog, Bo, made a brief appearance for the arrival of the White House Christmas tree. The 19-feet balsam fir comes from Wisconsin and will be displayed in the Blue Room.

President Obama stayed out of sight today, but his campaign Web site, get this, was open for business and even held a Black Friday sale of its own, if you can believe that, 10 percent off any purchase of $10 or more, which covers just about everything. The merchandise ranges from the usual buttons, bumper stickers, mugs and T-shirts, to, yes, grilling spatulas, and aprons and dog bowls.

Not to be outdone, of course you were ready for this one, right, Mitt Romney tweeted his campaign Web site will be holding a Cyber Monday sale also. Sign up now, and they will e-mail you a coupon that you can use for discounts on Monday. Just what we all needed.

(WEATHER UPDATE)

ACOSTA: Coming up next: late word on what's happening to those three U.S. students who were picked up during the week's chaos in Egypt. That's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: The protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square say they are determined to take back the revolution they started last winter. They're also seething over the way riot police abused and attacked people during this week's demonstrations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) IVAN WATSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What kind of injuries do they have?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They range from asphyxia and sometimes convulsions, the new gas they are using there, and also (INAUDIBLE) in the eye (INAUDIBLE) in the chest and in the head, so sometimes cuts.

WATSON: Are you angry at the government? Are you angry at the generals?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course, of course.

WATSON: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First of all, we had demands, not all of them, and maybe all of them are not achieved yet.

WATSON: Nada (ph), is this a revolution right now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, this is a second revolution right now.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And reporting in that clip, CNN's Ivan Watson has been among those demonstrators for quite some time now reporting on the situation. He joins us now live.

Ivan, just give us the latest on what the situation is like on the streets of Cairo right now. They still look pretty tense.

WATSON: Tense, but largely peaceful throughout the day. Five miles from where I'm standing, supporters, tens of thousands of them, of the ruling military council here, and here in Tahrir Square, behind me, which we have gotten to know so well, tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people pretty much denouncing those army generals that have ruled the country since former President Hosni Mubarak was forced out of power.

The people here are not welcoming the appointment of a new prime minister.

ACOSTA: Ivan, there are elections coming up on Monday. What can we expect from those elections? Could they potentially improve the situation in Tahrir Square?

WATSON: Boy, it's anybody's guess what will happen. It's interesting that the ruling army generals have announced that they're going to extend voting on Monday to a second day, in part they say because of the huge participation of the citizens in these demonstrations, in these rallies we have seen. So they will give Egyptians two days to vote in this first phase of parliamentary elections on Monday.

If you talk to different political parties across Egypt, they're pretty much split on whether or not elections should go ahead as (AUDIO GAP). Worth noting that the Muslim Brotherhood, one of the most -- best-funded, the best-organized of the political groups here, longtime in (AUDIO GAP) army and the former establishment here, they have not participated in these protests here in Tahrir Square, and they definitely want the elections on Monday because they predict they're going to win big in that first round of parliamentary elections, Jim.

ACOSTA: And, Ivan, there are new reports of sexual assaults on female journalists there in Tahrir Square. Obviously, this is going to remind Americans of what happened there in Tahrir Square earlier this year. What can you tell us about what's happened?

WATSON: This is a disturbing trend here, Jim.

Yesterday, a French TV reporter by the name of Caroline Sinz, she says she was surrounded by at least 50 mostly teenage civilians who tore at her clothes, sexually assaulted her, effectively raped her, she says, for about 45 minutes and also (AUDIO GAP) her cameraman. And this came just a few blocks from where an Egyptian-American writer, Mona Eltahawy, was also attacked not by civilians, but by riot police.

I spoke with her last night shortly after she had been released from a hospital. Take a listen to what she had to say to me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONA ELTAHAWY, JOURNALIST & COMMENTATOR: So, surrounded by four or five riot police who just beat the heck out of me with their sticks and then they dragged me to the side, inside the barricade now, into no man's land, and started to sexually assault me, and groped my breasts, put their hands in between my legs.

I lost count of the number of hands that tried to get into my belt. I was literally pulling hands out from my belt and just saying no, no, and trying to push them away, but being -- the beatings continued as I was trying to push them away, as I was trying to push their hands away. And they were dragging me by my head to the ministry, because the ministry's a few minutes away.

And I just -- there's only one way I can describe. It was just like a bunch of just wild beasts kind of finding their prey.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WATSON: Now (AUDIO GAP) was here in Tahrir Square with the demonstrators, despite the fact that in that assault the police broke her arm and her hand.

She said she was here to support what she calls a revolution against dictatorship, but also a revolution against sexual assault in Egypt. These attacks have prompted the group Reporters Without Borders to issue a warning to female journalists to be careful in Tahrir Square, which has irritated some of my female colleagues.

But I do have to say a few months ago I saw another assault, a mob attack on an Egyptian-American television producer where I was just feet away could not stop this crowd. They tried to tear this woman apart. She barely escaped with her life. It's a very disturbing trend here. And women here are trying to stand up against this type of injustice, Jim.

ACOSTA: Ivan Watson, thanks so much.

A reminder of not just the difficult situation for the people in Tahrir Square, but for the journalists covering that story as well.

Ivan, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

WATSON: Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Three U.S. college students who spent the week in Egyptian custody should be home tomorrow. One of their attorney confirms they left the police station today and a relative says all three are headed for the airport and separate flights to the U.S. The three were accused of throwing Molotov cocktails during Monday's disturbances in Cairo, although one student's mother tells CNN her son adamantly denies they did anything wrong.

Next, strong words from the White House about the bloody chaos in Egypt, will it make a difference?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Tonight, we have new figures from the Egyptian government showing at least 41 people died in this week's fighting between riot police and pro-democracy demonstrators, with 3,250 others hurt.

Late today, the Pentagon revealed Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called Egypt's top general this week to discuss the situation. Also today, Egypt's military rulers confirmed elections for a new parliament will go ahead next week. They even extended the voting to two days, Monday and now Tuesday.

For some insight, let's turn to Nicholas Burns, who has worked at the State Department and is a former U.S. ambassador to NATO, and he now teaches at Harvard.

Nick, thanks very much for joining us. We appreciate it.

The White House put out a statement today which I find very interesting about the situation in Egypt. Let's go ahead and put it up on screen and read it to you and then get your thoughts on it.

It says -- quote -- "The United States strongly believes that the new Egyptian government must be empowered with real authority immediately. Most importantly, we believe that the full transfer of power to a civilian government must take place in a just and inclusive manner that responds to the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people as soon as possible" -- end quote.

And so wondering, Nick, what do you make of that statement? Is that a strong statement in your view? NICHOLAS BURNS, FORMER UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: I think this is a strong statement, Jim. It's a shot across the bow of the Egyptian military.

The White House is obviously very frustrated by the fact that the Egyptian military used brutal force against demonstrators this week. They have appointed a friend of Hosni Mubarak to be the new prime minister on an interim basis. The military has -- in Egypt has alienated just about everybody in Egypt this week. So the White House wanted to get this out. The elections are on Monday, and the point is clear.

ACOSTA: It appears that the big question that is hanging over Tahrir Square right now is, will the military leaders there in Egypt freely give up power to whatever happens in these elections.

What is your view on that? Is that basically the unanswered question here?

BURNS: Well, I think the military's going to give up power very reluctantly and very slowly. They have been in power for nearly 60 years, since Nasser's revolution in 1952.

They run most of the state-controlled companies in Egypt and enrich themselves on that. They have got a pretty good deal going. They distrust most of the political parties in Egypt itself. So I think the military's going to try to play this out, look beyond the elections and try to stay in power as long as they can, but they're losing support of the Egyptian people, certainly, of all the political parties. And they're losing the support of friends like the United States.

ACOSTA: And, Nick, what do you make of these mass uprisings like the one we're seeing in Tahrir Square? We're looking at some live pictures now of the situation there.

It is amazing, is it not, as to how these kinds of uprising can shape and influence change in that part of the world. And as they did it with Mubarak, they're doing it now. What do you think?

BURNS: Well, it -- I think it's been just a terrible week in Egypt, with the number of people killed and wounded, the excessive use of force by the military. You're seeing frustration on the part of average Egyptians.

They're taking to the streets. They're going to that iconic place, Tahrir Square, where they were able to overthrow Hosni Mubarak. They believe they can do it again by dislodging the military. This is going to be very tough, though, because the military's entrenched, they're dug in.

And we are going to have to see the results of the elections on Monday to get a true test of how the people feel. But most reports would indicate that the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic parties will do quite well in these upcoming elections on Monday and Tuesday. ACOSTA: And it's possible that, as we saw after the overthrow of Mubarak, that you may have a similar situation after these elections where elections will take place, a new parliament will move in, but yet the military will still have a strong hand in Egyptian affairs.

BURNS: Yes.

And I think that a lot of Egyptians now are frustrated by the slow pace of the transition to civilian rule. The military originally, as of last week, had wanted to stay in power until 2013. Because of all of the opposition to them this week, they have agreed to advance that to the summer 2012.

But that's theoretical. And I think we will have to see who wins these elections, whether or not the new party does have the support of the people in the streets, and whether or not they can form some kind of basis of trust with the military, so that the military will hand over power.

ACOSTA: And I wanted to get to the CNN national security debate that took place earlier this week.

And, you know, there were a couple of key portions of that debate that we really wanted to talk to you about, Nick. And one of them involved this exchange between Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry over foreign aid to Pakistan. As you know, the Texas governor has said that he would like to see Pakistan essentially start at zero when it comes to the foreign aid it receives.

And then Michele Bachmann said something very interesting. She called Pakistan too nuclear to fail. And I was just curious. What did you make of that exchange, and that comment in particular?

BURNS: Well, I think that Governor Perry's frustration with the Pakistanis is understandable, because they've been a very, very difficult ally. But here's the problem with his proposal, to take all American aid way from Pakistan.

On a realistic basis, we need Pakistan to help end the war in Afghanistan over the next few years. We certainly need Pakistan to try to root out the terrorist groups like the Haqqani network that are on the Pakistan/Afghan border, and we need to have a relationship with Pakistan to keep the India/Pakistan relationship stable and peaceful. They're both nuclear powers.

If you take away all your aid, as Governor Perry has suggested, from Pakistan, you thereby reduce influence, and Pakistan is arguably the most dangerous country in the world to the United States. So I don't think it's a credible proposal.

ACOSTA: And Nicolas, is Pakistan too nuclear to fail, just very briefly, as Michele Bachmann put it? I thought that was an interesting comment.

BURNS: It's an interesting way to put things. I think both President Bush and President Obama have concluded, despite our unhappiness with Pakistan, we have to deal with its government, because that's what -- that's the only way to end the war in Afghanistan.

ACOSTA Nicholas Burns, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it. And happy holidays to you, sir.

BURNS: Thank you. Thanks, Jim.

ACOSTA: Still ahead, Newt Gingrich back on the campaign trail and still trying to explain his plan for dealing with illegal immigration.

But next, why tomorrow's a nail-biter for NASA.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now.

Operations are back to normal at the University of Chicago's hospital. A fatal shooting prompted an all-night lockdown and a search of every room in the building. Police arrested a person of interest and recovered a weapon.

An American held since August in the disappearance of his female companion in Aruba will go free next Tuesday. An Aruban judge today denied prosecutors' requests to hold Gary Giordano for another 30 days.

The latest "Dancing with the Stars" winner has an invitation to the Pentagon. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta phoned J.R. Martinez today, calling his performance a testament to the strength and resilience of America's wounded warriors. Here, here. Martinez was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in 2003.

The stock market today ended its worst week in two months. CNN's Alison Kosik is here to explain why there's some hope for a little more holiday cheer.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Jim, Wall Street is banking on a solid start to the holiday shopping season. Retailers rolled out Black Friday deals early and opened up stores earlier than ever before, meaning more time to shop and spend money.

Stores are also putting many of their Black Friday deals online. They're trying to tap into those people who don't want to go out into the shopping chaos. In fact, Best Buy is offering 95 percent of their Black Friday deals right online. So retailers are giving us more opportunities to shop, and it looks like we're biting.

So Wall Street expects sales to be better than last year. But still, they're not expected to be as good as what we'd see in a healthy economy, because Americans at this point are still concerned about the economy. They're looking for deals and ways to save on holiday gifts. And that generally translates into more conservative buying. But as long as people are buying, we're doing OK. Retail sales have been picking up. And it shows the consumer isn't dead and means the economy isn't either -- Jim.

ACOSTA: Thanks, Alison.

Tomorrow is a big day for NASA, by the way. Its latest Mars rover, nicknamed Curiosity, is go for launch just after 10 a.m. Eastern. John Zarrella shows us just how it will continue to hunt for the past or present life on the red planet.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jim, this is the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center. And you can see behind me there, that's the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The Apollo moon rockets were assembled here. The shuttles were assembled here. And now that the space shuttle program is over, they're housing Endeavour in here until it goes to the California Science Center Museum that's being constructed for it.

Of course, now that the shuttle program is over, NASA is moving on to deep space exploration. And they're taking a big step towards that exploration when they launch Curiosity, a rover to Mars.

(voice-over) Mars, does life exist there? Did it ever? NASA poised to take its boldest step towards answering questions that could change forever our view of humanity's place in the universe.

ASHWIN VASAVADA, DEPUTY PROJECT MANAGER: I think the best way of saying why we're so excited about this mission is that it sets us up for the future of finally answering that, you know, really age-old question of does life exist on other planets?

ZARRELLA: The mission is called the Mars Science Laboratory, or MSL. The most sophisticated vehicle ever sent to Mars, it has the capability to detect signs of life.

If it works, come next August, after traveling 350 million miles, a 2,000-pound, 6-wheel rover called Curiosity will arrive at the red planet. Using a tether system never tried before, it will be lowered down to a place called the Gale Crater. The size of a small car, Curiosity is the Cadillac of rovers.

JESSICA SAMUELS, SURFACE SYSTEMS ENGINEER: We're choosing to make the rovers bigger and bigger, because we want to cover more ground. We want to be able to put an arm out and drill a rock.

ZARRELLA: Drill a rock? Why?

ROB MANNING, MSL CHIEF ENGINEER: On Mars, if you -- if life exists as single-cell organisms or if it ever existed, we believe it will be under the ground or inside rocks.

ZARRELLA: Inside Gale Crater sits what scientists believe is a layered mountain, in essence, the history of Mars told in the layers. And if water ever flowed on Mars it might have been in that crater. Curiosity's arm will collect samples and place them in its onboard laboratory with the ability to detect organic material.

VASAVADA: Now, if we discover organic materials on Mars, then it gets very exciting. You know, the chances of it may be low, but the payoff is huge. Organic materials are required for life as we know it.

ZARRELLA: But it won't mean life exists, just the building blocks.

MANNING: If you go to the driest desert on earth, can you find life on your samples if you do a year robotic study? Probably not. It's actually quite difficult. Life has to stick up and make itself seen.

ZARRELLA: Finding life itself would be left to the next wave of explorers, robotic and perhaps even human.

(on camera) For the engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory out in California who built Curiosity, this is a hugely important mission for them. It's one of the very last of the deep planetary missions that NASA has on tap right now. So they're really hopeful that they will get some incredible science when all is said and done -- Jim.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Thanks, John. We'll be watching.

Coming up next, Newt Gingrich tries again to explain his position on illegal immigration. And at the same time, takes a swipe at one of his rivals.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: Even though it's Black Friday, Newt Gingrich is back on the campaign trail. He just wrapped up an experience in Florida, telling a crowd, quote, "I am not for amnesty for 11 million people."

In that speech, as well as in tweets earlier today, Gingrich tried to clarify what he meant when he gave this answer during the Republican debate this week. Here it is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The party that says it's the party of the family is going adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century.

And I'm prepared to take the heat for saying, let's be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Governor...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And taking the heat he is. With us tonight, Democratic political strategist Peter Fenn, along with President Bush's former speechwriter, David Frum, who is a CNN.com contributor. Thanks for joining us.

You know, the former speaker was down in Florida just a few moments ago. He essentially said what he said during that debate, with the exception of that one comment there, that he's not for amnesty for 11 million people, because that's essentially what the accusation was. As soon as he made that comment on Tuesday night.

Just curious, David, starting with you, did the speaker essentially make a major mess of his campaign on Tuesday night, or what do you think?

DAVID FRUM, FORMER BUSH SPEECHWRITER: Well, he hasn't made a mess of his campaign, which is obviously going well, but he has made a policy mess.

I mean, if Speaker Gingrich is talking about having an individualized hearing for each of 11 million people to decide how long they've been in the country, how deep on their connections, that's obviously impossible. And when you do -- when you undertake that path, you will rapidly break down into something like an amnesty.

And if, if he's talking about having a situation where some large number of people are amnestied to receive the right to work but not the right to vote, then you're creating for however long that generation of people is alive, a class of workers without rights, political rights in this country, a second class of citizen, and that's a very disturbing path to go on.

Mitt Romney may have moved around on this issue a lot, but I think his final answer is the correct answer.

ACOSTA: And Peter, what do you think? What did you make of this?

PETER FENN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, first of all, I think there's absolutely no question that he's a little nervous about taking the heat. And he's trying to...

ACOSTA: He's feeling it.

FENN: He's feeling the heat. And he knows how important this issue's going to be in those early primary states. So by trying to get away from the "A" word, the amnesty word, he's trying to protect himself politically.

But I think David's right. Look, part of the problem that he's got right now is this is a position he's held for a long time. And he doesn't -- you know, he's trying to say, "Oh, I'm not talking about comprehensive" -- well, it's exactly what he's talking about. And...

ACOSTA: Put out a ten-point proposal for what he wants to do, yes.

FENN: If you look at it, it's not new stuff. Of course, No. 1 point, secure the borders. So you're going to hear him talk about that. But you know, I think most people will go after him. The right wing of the Republican Party will really go after him on this.

ACOSTA: Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann both accused him of amnesty, as you know, earlier this week. And so Newt Gingrich put out this tweet. I want to read it to you, because it's very interesting. He went after Romney, the speaker did, by saying, "Here's a trip down memory lane." Included Mitt Romney's Twitter handle, and then included a link to a 2007 interview that Romney gave on "Meet the Press." Let's play that clip from that link from the Newt Gingrich tweet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: My own view is consistent with what you saw in "The Lowell Sun," that those people who have come here illegally, and are in this country, the 12 million or so that are here illegally, should be able to sign up for permanent residency or citizenship.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, that is an interesting comment. But you have to take it in the full context. And Mitt Romney went on to say in that interview -- and let's read this, just very quickly -- "but they should not be given a special pathway, a special guarantee, that all of them get to stay here for the rest of their lives, merely by virtue of them having come here illegally."

So he sort of shifted the other way in the context of that same comment.

FRUM: What I find -- I mean, there's a tension in the Republican Party, and it's not a tension between immigrants who don't vote in Republican primaries and non-immigrants. It's a tension between donors, people -- between the Republican donors and Republican activists. The donors want a permissive policy, because they want wages low.

And people would say about Gingrich and Perry, well, isn't it funny? They have these plans for, you know, massively upwardly redistributionist tax plans. And they have plans to cut benefits for people, but that is offset by their humane liberal position on immigration.

No, the immigration is completely consistent. And this is a policy that drives wages down and returns on capital up.

ACOSTA: But Peter, as a Democrat, you must love this debate, right?

FENN: Of course. They're trying to have it both ways. And, David's right, look, the Chamber of Commerce wants to work this problem because they need the folks. The -- the -- you hear the agriculture side of our economy going crazy on this because they're scared to death.

ACOSTA: You saw what happened down in Alabama.

FENN: Alabama, absolutely.

ACOSTA: Crops rotting on the vine.

FENN: But here's the crazy thing. For Romney, Romney, look, here he is again. I mean, he did -- in the "Meet the Press" but also the "Lowell Sun" earlier he was very clear on this.

Now he's trying to be the tough guy on immigration. The guy can't change his position on every single issue without people saying you don't have a core; you don't believe in anything.

ACOSTA: David, isn't the question that basically voters as we come down the stretch here, if they have a choice between Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, the choice is Newt Gingrich, who will essentially say whatever he thinks on a particular policy proposal, or Mitt Romney, who used to say these things five or six years ago and is now moving to the right to attract Tea Party support.

FRUM: No. I think the choice is between Newt Gingrich, who says what the party donors think, and Mitt Romney, who says what the party activists think. In both cases, I think...

ACOSTA: But there's a tension there.

FRUM: There's a tension. A lot more cynicism is due as to why Newt Gingrich takes this view. The days in which immigrant labor went to work in agriculture are long behind us. We're talking about restaurants. We're walking about the gaming industry. We are talking about construction. We're talking about meatpacking. That's -- that's where people would say, "You know what? Given the choice of paying $9 an hour and $20 an hour," the people who pay say, "I chose $9."

ACOSTA: OK. I feel like the Arkansas razorbacks here. Let's take a time out right now. We'll get back to this in just a moment. But in just a few minutes Congress comes back to work next week. In a minute we will consider what life will be like without the super committee to kick around anymore. Stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ACOSTA: As of Monday, there are just three more weeks left in the year. Well, that is if you're a member of Congress. But lawmakers will have plenty to do, including working out cuts to the defense budget without the help they'd expected from the super committee. Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence previews some of the decisions they will have to make.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The F-35 will end up costing $150 billion more than what the Pentagon projected ten years ago. So even though we can fly faster than the speed of sound, the fighter jet can't outrun its critics, who want to cut the number of jets or kill the program outright. And it's just one target in an everything's-on- the-table battle to cut the defense budget.

TODD MORRISON, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & BUDGETARY ASSESSMENTS: They will have to cancel some programs. They will have to cut back on the number of items they're buying.

LAWRENCE: The Pentagon may have to cut another $600 billion over the next ten years, starting in 2013. Certain cuts can't be made that quickly.

MORRISON: Like closing bases, reducing personnel costs, reducing the number of personnel. Those are things that take time to implement.

LAWRENCE: But the average soldier could see lower pay increases, even adjustments to combat pay. The cost of military health care has spiraled from $19 billion to well over $50 billion in just ten years.

TINA JONES, FORMER PENTAGON COMPTROLLER: So the average family will probably -- military family will probably experience some increase to that or a decrease in their -- the benefit, per se.

LAWRENCE: Tina Jones is the former Pentagon comptroller who says the DOD could come out of this leaner and meaner. She agreed with Newt Gingrich when he criticized the military's taking ten to 15 years to buy and build new weapons.

GINGRICH: When Apple changes technology every nine months.

JONES: Their businesses processes are slow and arcane and can be very inefficient.

LAWRENCE: Which can lead to systems like the F-35, a program where the government estimates it will spend $1 trillion.

JONES: So more careful management of costs, there's going to be no room for error on this. They've got to do a better job at that.

LAWRENCE (on camera): But a fighter jet doesn't go down without a fight. Developer Lockheed Martin has already made more than a million dollars in political contributions. Nearly 10,000 jobs are on the line. So nearly 50 members of Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, have already formed a caucus whose sole purpose is to save the F-35.

Chris Lawrence, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And Chris brings up a good topic of conversation. Still with us, Democratic political strategist Peter Fenn and President Bush's former speechwriter, David Frum.

And, you know, Leon Panetta has been first, you know, in line in Washington to talk about how catastrophic these cuts might be to the Defense Department. He sent a letter to John McCain, basically saying that we would have the smallest ground force since before World War II. The smallest Air Force ever. How serious are these cuts that they're talking about? Is this something that Americans should be worried about?

FRUM: Well, the beginning of the cuts will not be serious. They're to be phased in over ten years. It will be phased in automatically under the super committee heading. But it is another example of how -- there's one thing you need to know about American government, it is that the rising cost of health care is breaking the capacity of government to do the things people want government to do, beginning with defending the country.

It is -- it is -- this is the line through every program. We have to find a way. And you cannot separate government costs from public -- private-sector costs that you run this kind of health sector inflation. It consumes and devours everything.

ACOSTA: All right. Let me do this. Let me jump in and let's talk about this endorsement that's coming out on Sunday in "The Manchester Union-Leader." And let me go to you, Peter, because I think you'd like to weigh in on this.

There is a -- there is a chance, I suppose, that the "Union- Leader" may not endorse Mitt Romney. And this is a highly-critical endorsement that will be happening in this campaign. What happens in Mitt Romney does not get that endorsement?

FENN: Of course, he didn't get it last time. John McCain got it, which disturbed him greatly. And it's not as powerful as it once was. But if you look at the history of the "Union-Leader" endorsements, they went for Ronald Reagan twice, against Gerald Ford in '76 and then in '80. They went for our friend Pat Buchanan twice in the '90s. They go with conservative folks.

I think if Newt Gingrich were to get this endorsement tomorrow -- or Sunday, that that would be a nice boost for his campaign.

ACOSTA: What if it's Jon Huntsman? What if Jon Huntsman were somehow...

FENN: I don't think there's any chance that...

FRUM: No way.

FENN: .. there's Huntsman. He's too moderate for them.

FRUM: He's spent his entire couple of months...

FENN: But, you know, the "none of the above" candidate might be Rick Santorum. I mean, for them to say, you know, he's a true conservative. He's a solid guy. Let's go with Rick. But if it's an "anybody but Romney" sort of endorsement, it's a little bit of a slap in the face.

ACOSTA: What do you think, David?

FRUM: Look, I'm not going to predict the movements of this one newsroom. But it is an example of how -- of the tremendous buyers' resistance there is to Romney. He's so capable. He's got so many good qualities, but the Republican Party just can't abide him.

FENN: They can't stomach him.

FRUM: They can't. And if they must, they must.

ACOSTA: About 23 percent do.

FRUM: But right now Republicans have, I think, a lot of unfounded optimism about how easy it will be to beat President Obama. They want to beat him with somebody they like, not with someone they have to tolerate.

ACOSTA: We'll have to wait and see. David Frum, Peter Fenn, thanks very much.

That's all for tonight. Coming up next, a CNN documentary, "The Last Heart Attack" with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Thanks for joining us.