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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Interview with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse; Warren Buffett Rule Bill; Super PACs; Showdown with Iran

Aired January 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, HOST: Thanks, John.

All right breaking news tonight, a senator plans to introduce legislation that would put an extra tax on millionaires, the "Buffett Rule". He's OUTFRONT up next.

Hours away from the crucial Florida primary right now, we've got a new poll showing that Romney's up big, but Newt may have a serious shot. We'll explain.

And the manhunt ends. A Mississippi murderer who disappeared after his controversial pardon has been found in Wyoming tonight, the story ahead.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett and OUTFRONT tonight we have breaking news. Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announces tonight he'll introduce a "Warren Buffett Rule" bill in the Senate. First touted by President Obama in his State of the Union Address last week, the bill would require those earning more than $1 million to pay at least 30 percent in taxes. That's an effective rate. The marginal rate, as we've reported on that, would be 44 percent.

Senator Whitehouse comes OUTFRONT tonight. And we appreciate your taking the time, sir. Thank you very much.

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: Thank you, Erin. It's good to be with you.

BURNETT: All right, let me cut to the chase on this. A lot of people say this bill isn't going to go anywhere. You're going to get fights from Republicans. Millionaire's taxes didn't pass in the Senate last year despite the Democrats there. Is this really a move for a political headline or something you think will actually pass?

WHITEHOUSE: I think there's a good chance that it can pass. If it has difficulty passing on its own, you know bear in mind that at the end of this year, all of the Bush tax cuts expire and that's going to motivate everybody in Washington to rethink tax policy. And I think as we're rethinking it, it doesn't make any common sense at all to have people making say a quarter of a billion dollars a year paying a lower tax rate than their plumber does.

BURNETT: Do you think that -- let me ask you about this question about the Bush tax cuts, because they are scheduled to go away at the end of the year. That would mean marginal rates go up as well as the rates on capital gains and dividends.

WHITEHOUSE: Yes.

BURNETT: So wouldn't you get the same thing by waiting until then or do you want to raise those rates even higher than they would when Bill Clinton was president?

WHITEHOUSE: Well in theory the rates for high income earners are supposed to be 35 percent. In the booming Clinton economy, it was 39 percent. My legislation would put a minimum 30 percent floor on for people who have earned more than $1 million in that particular year. So it basically is a way to make sure that whatever loopholes and gimmicks there are in the tax code, once you're over $1 million you pay a minimum that is at least close to the statutory rate of 35 or if it goes back up, 39 percent.

BURNETT: So how -- one thing I've been curious about, because I know that the president sees this as an issue of fairness, but I don't understand where the 30 percent rate comes from. Right, 30 percent effective is 44 percent marginal. How did you pick that number as fair? What was the math and the intellectual fairness conversation that --

WHITEHOUSE: That's a good question. We were actually looking at a couple of different numbers, but when the president said one million and 30 percent, there was no point opening up air space between us and we closed on that number. That was one of the ones that we had been looking at. It is close to what in theory really high-end income earners are supposed to pay, the 35 or the 39.6 that allows some room so that people who are giving big charitable donations can still get credit for it without having that rubbed out, for instance, and it allows some wiggle room, but if the intention is that people in this country who earn that kind of money are supposed to pay 35 percent, 30 is pretty close to that, again, leaving a little bit of room, because it is intended to be a minimum.

BURNETT: Right --

WHITEHOUSE: But it's a lot better than say the folks say in the Helmsly Building (ph) who on average pay you know 14.7 percent I think is the number, which is less than what their doorman pays and less than what their janitors pay.

BURNETT: Would you let corporations not pay taxes on those dividends then and just have individuals pay it -- and I ask this because it's important because it's not just wealthy people that get dividends. It's retired Americans who get a lot of their income from dividends and from capital gains who also will be hurt by capital gains rates going up as they do under the president's plan.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, they won't be affected by this plan unless they are taking in more than $1 million a year in capital gains and dividends and in that case, I think they should pay the taxes that everybody intended they pay, which is 35 percent and this 30 percent floor will help close up some of the loopholes that allow people to evade that.

BURNETT: So, will you -- so will you fight the president when he wants to increase capital gains, as he said he does for everyone so that the retirees don't have to have that increase?

WHITEHOUSE: Well I think we're going to have to do a comprehensive bill that addresses that. It's supposed to go up to I think 23 percent --

BURNETT: That's right --

WHITEHOUSE: -- at the end of the year. And you know, it needs to be balanced overall and I'm not going to fixate on any one part of it if there's an overall balance, but I do believe that it's an important part of that balance to make sure that people who we have all agreed already are supposed to be paying 35 percent or 39 percent in taxes, don't have a lot of loopholes that let them get out from under that and pay --

BURNETT: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: -- less than their plumber, less than their secretary, less than the truck driver who's bringing them you know packages to their door.

BURNETT: Right. Now, just to make the point, the effective rate experts have told us would be 44 percent on those individuals not 35 or 39, but again 44, maybe something people are totally fine with, but you just raised something that made me want to ask this question. I've got Mitt Romney's taxes right here, 500 pages. Take this multiply it by 145 and you get the number of pages in the U.S. tax code, 72,536. Isn't the problem not to go messing with the rate here or there, but to throw the whole thing out, find out how much we need to spend and come up with what is the fair amount for everyone to pay?

WHITEHOUSE: Well this actually would simplify things a lot because all of the gimmicks that blow up people's tax filings into big, fat packages really aren't useful anymore if you have a 30 percent minimum and you can't keep driving your rate down through loopholes, so I think this is actually a step in favor of tax simplification --

BURNETT: Not just another AMT?

WHITEHOUSE: But I will say, you know, Americans spend six billion person hours a year complying with this tax code.

BURNETT: Right.

WHITEHOUSE: And simplification is a very important goal and I think will help make it fairer, but I think most Americans are really fed up with how unfair the tax code is and how it gives so much in the way of goodies to people (INAUDIBLE) lobbyists and people who have the resources to take advantage of its loopholes.

BURNETT: I think everyone would agree with that. It does just seem though that the system is so broke and in Washington, there doesn't seem to be a lot of you know frankly courage, to throw the system out and take on the big special interests.

WHITEHOUSE: Well I'm hoping that we'll get that --

BURNETT: Mess around the edges, but leave the 72,000 pages in place.

WHITEHOUSE: I hope we'll get that and I hope that the January 1st, 2013 date when the Bush tax cuts will expire provides a motivation to have this discussion.

BURNETT: All right. Well thank you very much Senator. We appreciate it.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you, Erin.

BURNETT: All right and now you just heard him give that story. Let's talk about our top story tonight, countdown to transparency, a billion dollar election. Talk about money and influence, a very small number of people have a lot of influence. They're the donors to the Super PACs and tomorrow we may find out a lot more about them.

John Avlon joins us. Ken Vogel with "Politico" has been doing a lot of reporting, joins us as well, and Ken, let me start with you. You've been pouring through this. I was looking through the last disclosures, which were since last summer, which is frankly a little absurd, isn't it that we haven't heard about the donors since last summer. What are we going to hear tomorrow?

KEN VOGEL, POLITICO: Well, hopefully, what we're going to see are contributions to all these Super PACs and all the presidential campaigns through the end of last year. Now, that leaves rather a big hole because as you mentioned, there's been a lot of action since we saw the last report and even more of it in this month alone. When many of the major contributors really opened their wallets and their checkbooks to write huge checks to some of these Super PACs and we're not going to see those contributions because they don't fall within the reporting period.

However, I think what we will see are a number of large contributions to Mitt Romney's Super PAC, Restore our Future, which has spent upwards of $17 million on mostly on hard-hitting ads attacking Newt Gingrich through the early primaries and we're going to see a lot of money into that, including a lot from the financial industry I imagine including folks who have already given --

BURNETT: Yes.

VOGEL: -- and possibly some new names, folks who probably wanted Chris Christie to run and were disappointed when he didn't --

BURNETT: Right. VOGEL: -- through their lot (ph) and with Mitt Romney as a result.

BURNETT: Yes, it's interesting looking even, John Avlon, through the ones last summer, it was a lot of business people obviously, consultants, private equity guys. They guy Bob Perry (ph) behind Swift-Boats, he was on there. A lot of people like that, but you were going to get the Chris Christie guys.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Sure you are. Yes, I mean look the super rich go to the Super PACs because they can have maximum impacts. The problem is I mean as Ken just said, because disclosures lags, there isn't the kind of transparency let alone the kind of accountability that we were promised that go with these massive new infusions of cash --

BURNETT: Right.

AVLON: -- in the tip (ph) elections and that's what we've seen. They have put a finger on the scale that can change the momentum very, very quickly. It's having a dramatically distorting impact on our democracy.

BURNETT: And we're not going to seem Ken, Sheldon Adelson, which is another issue, right? The guy who is giving perhaps the biggest single political contributions of all time, is not even going to show up on this disclosure, right?

VOGEL: That's right. Because his contributions all came in January and they came in large part if you talk to people around that Super PAC and who are familiar with him and his giving, they say they came because he saw his long time friend, Newt Gingrich, getting absolutely savaged by ads from this pro Mitt Romney Super PAC, Restore our Future, and he felt like he had to come off the sidelines and open up his checkbook in a big way. And we've heard $10 million, five million from himself, five million from his wife and that's probably just the start of these things because Newt Gingrich wants to take this campaign all the way through the convention and with the help of very wealthy benefactors namely Sheldon Adelson and his wife, he can probably do that in a way that he might not be able to do were he not to have this outside support.

AVLON: And what's significant is this avalanche of negative ads we've seen. Certainly in Florida, an estimated 15 million is going to be spent on the Romney Super PAC alone in this state. We've seen that this overwhelming negativity (INAUDIBLE) in Florida, every other ad is negative. An amazing statistic I just got. I spoke to a guy named Rich Goldstein (ph) who heads up CMAC (ph), which is an organization that measures --

BURNETT: They track all the spending --

AVLON: Exactly right. He just told me that 93 percent of the ads in the last week in Florida alone have been negative. That is an extraordinary --

BURNETT: That is shocking.

AVLON: -- new statistic and that the bulk of that is coming from these Super PACs, millions and millions of dollars.

BURNETT: Well I have to say, I chuckled and I enjoy hearing some of the campaigns start to complain that the Super PACs are now not helping them out because you're too nasty. I mean you've got to be careful what you wish for, guys. You know you can't have it both ways. Thanks to both of you.

All right, right now, nuclear inspectors on the ground in Iran, are they going to find anything? Could it lead to a war? It's a real question in this election season.

And a Michigan mother found strangled in her Mercedes. Was it a random murder or did she know her killer?

And Facebook rolling out a new timeline, we're going to explain why this has some people very, very concerned.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Tonight, U.N. inspectors are in Iran to see if the Iranian nuclear program is for nuclear weapons or nuclear power. But how can the inspectors or frankly anybody in the U.S. military or Western intelligence services really know? That's part of a terrifying equation that could lead to a dangerous showdown with the Iranian regime. Is the U.S. military even ready though is a very fair question because today we learned that the Pentagon does not have a bunker buster bomb strong enough to destroy Iran's underground nuclear facilities.

That's right. We don't have a bomb that could do it. Now apparently they're working on creating one that will. It will be a 30,000 pound bomb called the Massive Ordnance Penetrator. With Tehran threatening to destroy Israel, warning to shut down the Straits of Hormuz and building up its navy in the gulf, is now the time to launch a preemptive strike. Sounds like warmongering, but there are some out there who are talking about the need to do just that.

Joining us now retired Air Force Colonel Cedric Leighton and Matthew Kroenig from the Council on Foreign Relations -- OK, good to have both of you with us. I appreciate it. Matthew, let me just start with you. If faced with the position that you really believe that Iran was close to obtaining a nuclear weapon and Leon Panetta obviously today saying that they could within a year possibly, why would you think a preemptive strike might make sense and how would it work?

MATTHEW KROENIG, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Well I'd be absolutely delighted if the current policy of sanctions and diplomacy could somehow work, but it's unlikely to convince Iran to give up its nuclear program. So that means in the near future the United States is likely going to be faced with a difficult choice of acquiescing to a nuclear-armed Iran or conducting a military strike designed to prevent that from happening. And these are both unattractive options, but a strike is the least bad option. A nuclear-armed Iran would pose a grave threat to international peace and security. It would be costly to deter and deterrence might fail. Whereas on the other hand, the United States could destroy Iran's key nuclear facilities and the consequences of a strike while serious could be managed and would be less bad than a nuclear-armed Iran.

BURNETT: Colonel Leighton, could the consequences of a strike be managed without a war the way that most of us would conceive a war, with just troops on the ground and you know a war in the shadow of what America is embroiled in still in Afghanistan?

COL. CEDRIC LEIGHTON, USAF (RET.): Well, Erin, I'm afraid not. And here's the problem with the idea of going to war at this particular moment in time. We militarily as you mentioned in your earlier setup for this piece, are not ready for it yet. The bunker buster bomb that you talked about, the 30,000 pound MOP, is a very --

BURNETT: Oh, MOP. That's the acronym for Massive Ordnance Penetrator --

LEIGHTON: That's right, MOP, exactly and that is -- the Massive Ordnance Penetrator is a very good weapon, but it's still in a testing phase and is not ready to do the type of damage that we need it to do. Because once you go into Iran what you need to do is you need to totally eliminate the nuclear threat, but if you do that, you can't -- you have to be assured that you've gotten everything and unfortunately, we cannot be assured that we have taken care of the -- that we would be able to take care of every single element of the Iranian nuclear system. They've got quite a system of underground bunkers. They have quite a system of tunnels. They have quite a system of command and control facilities --

BURNETT: Right.

LEIGHTON: -- defenses is to protect those, so it's a very, very tough job and quite frankly I would have to say we're not ready yet and it's unfortunate, but we have to live within the reality of that fact.

BURNETT: Matthew, what do you think about that? I mean the facilities are underground, they're far underground, the MOP, the bomb is not ready yet. We're not even able to launch a preemptive strike.

KROENIG: Well so that's not quite right. The Department of Defense received delivery of the Massive Ordnance Penetrator in November, and so they are ready to go and they could destroy these facilities, so for example, Natanz, the key uranium enrichment facility as you point out is buried and hardened.

BURNETT: Right.

KROENIG: It's under about 75 feet of dirt and several meters of reinforced concrete, whereas the Massive Ordnance Penetrator can penetrate up to 200 feet of reinforced concrete. So there is a lot of confusion I think in the public debate about what Israel could do and what the United States could do. The Israelis would certainly have difficulty with some of these buried and hardened facilities, but the United States has greater capabilities and we could destroy even these buried and hardened facilities.

BURNETT: But Colonel, we all remember when Colin Powell had the quote, unquote, "evidence", right of the Iraqis moving things around, right? That was supposed to be evidence, and of course it turned out to later be proven to be inaccurate and untrue. So, what -- how are we really going to know what Iran is doing? Because you don't want to -- you don't want to be too late and be wrong, but certainly, America doesn't seem to have the will to take a leap of faith and go too early and be wrong.

LEIGHTON: We have to be right and that's the precise issue that we're dealing with here. Intelligence by its very nature is an imprecise science and an art and because of that fact, there are a lot of things that come out you know in these types of deliberations. When we look at going to war, we have to be very certain about that commitment because quite frankly, we have to be careful that the Iranians don't draw us into something that they want. They have a much more really theocratic way of looking at things.

They have a doomsday approach to the way they conduct their politics and the way they conduct their military operations. It's an approach that we don't share. And because of that, it would be very, very dangerous to be drawn into a struggle with Iran before we're ready for it. The massive ordnance penetrator is -- has been delivered -- Matthew is right -- it has been delivered to the Department of Defense, but they probably will need even better bombs besides the massive ordnance penetrator to do the job and that is going to be the key element that we have to work with in this particular case.

BURNETT: All right, well gentleman thanks very much to both of you. It's got to be one of the worst acronyms ever. I mean you know MOP is hardly what you know comes to mind when you think of what that thing is capable of. But everyone, please let us know -- tweet me and let me know what you think about whether a preemptive strike would ever make sense or not in this situation.

All right, well the winner-take-all "Sunshine State" primary hours away. John Avlon has been combing through some of the key myths that we all seem to still have about Florida voters. They're going to get debunked.

And there's another big event around the -- around the super corner, the Super Bowl. We're going to tell you a number of things that you probably don't know about it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Well the Super Bowl less than a week away. There has been a lot of numbers being tossed around, point spreads, cost of commercials, total viewers all that kind of stuff. But we decided to crunch the numbers on something we enjoy at Super Bowl parties, food. Last year, the official pizza sponsor of the game was Papa John's and they sold more than one million pizzas on Super Bowl Sunday. This year, they're going to give that many pizzas away for free as part of their coin toss promotion. But that's only about half the number of pizzas that Pizza Hut expects to sell during this year's game. According to Pizza Hut they plan to use 1,200 tons of dough, 90,000 gallons of marinara sauce to create more than two million pizzas. And it's not just pizza that football fans will be eating.

During the game, Americans are expected to consume about 4,000 tons of popcorn -- it just starts to make you feel sick, doesn't it -- 14,500 tons of chips and over -- OK get ready -- I mean just think about the other end of this equation -- one billion chicken wings. You know, chickens, you know they were flying around. All right, this brings us to tonight's number, 20. According to 7/Eleven, sales of Pepto-Bismol, Tums and other antacids go up 20 percent the day after the Super Bowl -- must be the wings.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Still OUTFRONT the "OutFront 5", tracked down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out there is how we ended up catching him.

BURNETT: A focus on the husband.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is an innocent man. He has a wonderful family. He loved his wife.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT in our second half.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our reporting, do the work and find the "OutFront 5". And up first tonight, Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse announces tonight he'll introduce a "Warren Buffett Rule" bill in the Senate, which would require those earning more than $1 million to pay at least 30 percent effective rate in taxes, 44 percent marginal. I spoke to the senator earlier and he told OUTFRONT the move is not a political ploy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHELDON WHITEHOUSE (D), RHODE ISLAND: I think there's a good chance it can pass. If it has difficulty passing on its own, you know, bear in mind that at the end of this year, all of the Bush tax cuts expire, and that's going to motivate everybody in Washington to rethink tax policy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The senator also said he believes the bill would help simplify the tax code, which is hold on -- 72,000 something pages long. I mean, you know, when you get 70,000 I guess, It's all just rounding, right? OK. Number two: the U.S. Senate voted tonight to begin discussing legislation which would prevent insider trading by members of Congress and their staff. The so-called Stock Act passed the key procedural vote, 93-2. Both Republicans and Democrats in Congress have expressed support. A vote in the Senate will happen later this week.

The House said today it would consider the bill in coming weeks. That might be something that passes and some action that would be good.

Number three: Americans have taken refuge in the U.S. embassy in Cairo over concerns about their safety. However, U.S. government officials tell CNN they don't believe that they're in danger. State Department criteria say U.S. citizens can seek refuge in an embassy if they fear their lives are in danger, not if they fear arrest.

One of the Americans, Sam LaHood, has been prevented from leaving Egypt and said last week he feared he may be arrested. Obviously, he is the son of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Number four, Facebook has started switching over its 800 million users to a new layout called Timeline. The new mandatory feature shows your Facebook experience since you joined the site.

Kathleen McCullough (ph) of CNET tells OUTFRONT, users should use the 7-day grace period to preview their timeline and take that opportunity, young people, about to apply to say, OUTFRONT for a job, to remove the picture of you, you know, doing a keg stand or something else, right? Get rid of it while you can, because otherwise, it lives forever. The other option, of course, would be not join Facebook.

OK. It has been 178 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get back?

New data showing consumer spending was flat in December, but incomes rose by the most in nine months. That is good news. That extra money was put in the bank, the savings rate rose half a percent, to 4 percent. All of that very good news for this country.

All right. Less than 24 hours from now, we could be learning which Republican candidate won the Florida primary. Literally, 7:32 Eastern, we might be able to give you a little indication, some of the precincts will be reporting.

So far, more than 632,000 Floridians have already voted to early and absentee voting. Now, to put that into perspective, that's more than the total number of people who voted in South Carolina's primary.

Florida is a much different state. It is a huge state. But in ways that might surprise you, it's sort of different.

John Avlon is OUTFRONT to tell us the three myths about Florida voters.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. You know, it is the political tiebreaker, but there's nothing traditional about the Sunshine State. We go, we take three stereotypes and pierce those myths.

First of all, it's the senior citizens rule. You know, it's the land of early bird specials. Retirement communities, punctuated by amusement parks.

But the fact is, actually, that only 17 percent of the state is senior citizens. That's just above the national average. And around 22 percent of the state's population is under 18.

So this is nowhere near that stereotype of sort of retirement community central. In fact, two of the five youngest cities in America are in Florida: Gainesville and Tallahassee.

BURNETT: Gainesville and Tallahassee.

AVLON: How about it?

BURNETT: Wow.

AVLON: Yes.

BURNETT: All right. OK. Already had me there.

All right. Myth number two, the Cubans.

AVLON: My number two -- the Cubans, right? And this is certainly rooted in reality, like most stereotypes. You know, after Castro took over Cuba, bunch of Cubans fled to southern Miami and that is still a stronghold. Presidential candidates in the Republican primary, they pay homage to that community.

But the reality is that state's character has really changed. It's now the capital of Latin America. And, in fact, Cubans only make up just over a third of the state's total Hispanic population. Beneath that, you got Puerto Ricans. Of course, fellow Americans, Mexicans, Dominicans and others. So, really, even though Hispanics are --

BURNETT: Well, look at other. That's amazing.

AVLON: Yes, Latin America, Central America. You get that major -- this is a stable place for those communities to invest their money, raise their families. So you have a different dynamic. Eleven percent of voters in the Republican primary in Tuesday are expected to be Hispanic. But overall, more Hispanic Floridians are Democratic than Republican.

BURNETT: Yes, I guess that would fit with many stereotypes.

AVLON: That's right.

BURNETT: All right. Myth number three, the typical Florida voter. Now, you've already gotten rid of the Hispanic myths. You've already got rid of the senior citizens. So, what am I left with on the typical Florida vote?

AVLON: There is no typical voter. That's the secret. That's the big reveal.

But really, it's 10 media markets. I mean, this state is so fundamentally different. And what's fascinating is, you know, the whole red state/blue state stereotype, this state is red state, blue state, and swing state all combined.

BURNETT: I like it.

AVLON: Up in the north, from Panhandle to Jacksonville, that's really the part of the Deep South that's culturally part of Alabama and Georgia.

You get to the middle of the state, that I-4 corridor, this is the legendary swing part of the state, from space coast to Orlando, to Tampa-St. Pete, a lot of families moving in for jobs. So, it really, this is where the elections are won or lost.

And in the southern part of the state, Northeastern transplant, certainly a huge Hispanic community tends to trend Democratic.

So, it really is belies every single --

BURNETT: I like it's not red or blue. It's red, white and blue. It's truly American.

AVLON: How about it?

BURNETT: There you go.

All right. Multiple polls in Florida right now show Mitt Romney with a double digit lead over Newt Gingrich. But that has not kept either candidate from attacking the other one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)

MITT ROMNEY(R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's been flailing around a bit trying to go after me for one thing and the other, and you just watch it and you shake your head. It's been kind of painfully revealing to watch, but I think the reason he isn't doing so well is because of those last two debates, don't you think?

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The reason I seemed flat in the second debate in Florida is I have never seen a candidate for president that methodically dishonest. I mean, I stood there thinking, how can you say these things you know are falsehoods?

(END VIDEO CLIPS)

BURNETT: All right. Is Florida sure thing for Mitt Romney or not? What does this all say about the road ahead? That's the crucial question. Reihan Salam is columnist with "The Daily" and Democrat strategist Jamal Simmons join us. Obviously, Reihan is not a Democratic strategist and John Avlon is also -- I know, you disclosed it. It's not like you're trying to masquerade.

All right. John Avlon, let me start with you. Let's assume the polls are right. Let's assume Mitt Romney wins. So, he gets all the delegates.

What does this really do, though, to the math? I mean, is this sort of the king maker state as so many think it is?

AVLON: It is a pivotal momentum state, but no. The math does -- is determinative. You need 1,144 delegates to get the Republican nomination. Right now, Mitt Romney has just over 30. He's got 2.6 percent of the way to the total. So if he gets that 50 delegates, that's a big boost, but it's -- you're still only 10 percent of the way there, which is why Newt and Rick Santorum and Ron Paul especially saying they're going to go all the way, they've got a credible case to make. I'd say call off the coronation. Let people vote.

BURNETT: Reihan, John makes a fair point in terms of the math. But perception links to money raising links whether these people actually can put their, you know, money where their mouths are and stay in the race.

REIHAN SALAM, THE DAILY: I think that's absolutely right. I definitely see John's point, something dramatic could happen that could sort of drain a lot of support out of Mitt Romney. But my sense is that if Mitt Romney wins by a substantial margin, the donors are going to lose all enthusiasm for the other candidates and there's going to be a desire among Republicans to consolidate around the eventual nominee, and that's going to make it really, really tough for the other candidates.

BURNETT: Six contests in February, John. We've got 187 delegates up for grabs. And you've got obviously Nevada. And you've got Michigan, Missouri's a little messed up, but still counts in there. Sorry, Missourian.

Colorado -- you name it. So, let's just, what happens in those?

AVLON: I mean, this is a long match, or a lighter caucus state. Some are primaries. But -- and really, it's all lead-up to Super Tuesday in early March where you've got 10 states voting. And that really becomes determinate.

But the point is, you know, give folks -- give candidates a chance to try to coalesce. Maybe some will drop out.

But we have these contests. And we've had, you know, we've spent nine months leading up to elections. We're one month in. This is a crucial month, but there's still February and March to go, and then, it starts being all in. And that's really when you're going to see the inevitable.

BURNETT: And, Jamal, what -- how much does this make you have some flashbacks, to the Hillary/Barack battle a few years ago?

JAMAL SIMMONS, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Yes, it's the Hillary/Barack Obama battle. It was a long, drawn out ground war it seemed like.

You know, for Mitt Romney, his hope is he's got to win big. But for Newt Gingrich, March 6th is going to be a big day for him. On March 6th, Georgia primary, which is where he's from, Georgia goes -- Tennessee, Texas. There's a bunch of states that he should do pretty well in because a lot of them are in the South.

And if he scores big in those states, Mitt Romney will have to contend with the fact that somebody's coming at him. And meanwhile, let's not forget about Ron Paul. Ron Paul has got these dedicated volunteers and organizers, particularly in caucus states who are really organizing to get him some delegates.

So, you might have a little bit of a muddle going right into April.

BURNETT: But are all these dreams -- this dream that people in your party have, a brokered convention. I mean, it's kind of a little obsessive, the dream is.

SALAM: You're totally right.

Here's something that bothers me. In terms of what John is saying, it would be great to have a real race if it were a real clash of ideas. If it were Rick Santorum versus Mitt Romney, the social conservative versus those kind of, you know, mainstream Greenwich, Connecticut, kind of Wall Street Republican, that's going to be an interesting conversation. But if it's Ron Paul versus the Republican mainstream.

But if it's Mitt Romney digging rich, versus Newt Gingrich, it's Newt Gingrich out to sell books and to make his consulting business flourish just a little bit more come 2013, 2014 -- I'm sorry, that's not a real race. This is not a clash of ideas of pathetic and ridiculous.

(CROSSTALK)

AVLON: That's hard stuff, Reihan.

SALAM: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, that was a real race. There were ideas in play. Blue collar versus the liberal --

AVLON: Let's say that Rick Santorum and Ron Paul stay in. You know, you do have a clash of ideas. And there's different ways the Republican Party. There are deep, deep divisions and they should get a chance to run them out.

BURNETT: Jamal?

SIMMONS: This is a really good point because in the Hillary Clinton versus Barack Obama fight, they were fighting each other to get to the center. Who can win white middle class, moderate voters in Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and those states.

In this contest, it's a fight to the right. They're trying to figure out who can win Tea Party, evangelical voters, that sort of thing. It's a very different contest, which I'm not sure will do Mitt Romney any favors when he's in the general election.

(CROSSTALK)

BURNETT: Right. That's a fair point. Thanks to all three. Appreciate it as always. See you all tomorrow.

Track down how authorities found a convicted murderer weeks after he was pardoned. This is part of the whole Haley Barbour saga. This man found thousands of miles away.

And a woman found murdered in her Mercedes. Who strangled her?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: A tragic death remains a mystery in Gross Point Park, Michigan. Fifty-six-year-old Jane Bashara was found strangled to death in the backseat of her Mercedes on Wednesday. She was found less than 10 miles from her own.

She's a marketing manager, mother of two. And she was last seen leaving a client on Tuesday in Detroit at 4:00 p.m.

Her husband, 54-year-old Bob Bashara says she never came home and he reported her missing Tuesday night. Police named Bashara, searched his home, and named him a person of interest. No charges have been filed.

Bashara's sister and friends and family are rallying around him.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA MAURER, BOB BASHARA'S SISTER: He is an innocent man. He has a wonderful family. He loved his wife.

He is the pillar of the community. People love Bob. He has done so much -- him and Jane were just in this community doing fund- raisers, and everybody knows my brother and know that he is incapable of this act. And we are totally supporting him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. The Basharas were married for 26 years and Bob Bashara denies any involvement in his wife's death. Police say he is cooperating with the investigation.

Paul Callan is a criminal defense attorney. He's handled many cases like this.

Sunny Hostin is a legal analyst, too. She's been following the case.

Good to see both of you.

And, Sunny, let me just start with what we know -- a wife and mother, couple that had been married for a quarter of a century. She's found strangled in the backseat of her own car, near her home. No sex assault. No robbery at this point that anyone is aware of.

What does this tell you?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR AND LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it tells me certainly she knew her murderer, right, because as you mentioned, you're talking about no forced entry into a home, no forced entry into the car, no sexual assault, no robbery.

And a crime that allegedly took place between 4:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. That's prime time for neighborhoods. People are coming home from work. Children are playing outside. Children are being brought home from babysitters. The timeline doesn't make sense.

What also strikes me as odd, Erin, is the fact that she was strangled. Many criminal investigators will tell you that that's a very personal way of murdering someone, that's a very violent way of murdering someone.

So, this to me is not some random act of violence, but an act of violence against someone who she knew.

BURNETT: And that is why, Paul, ostensibly, the first person police are looking at is the husband. Now, they always do in these cases, but they did here, naming him a person of interest. He's cooperating, reportedly failed a polygraph.

What does that tell you? Is it too soon to name him a person of interest? Or is that the right to do?

PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I have trouble with this person of business interest any way. It's sort of cop speak for politically correct suspect. You know? Really?

BURNETT: Right.

CALLAN: Person of interest.

But in any event, they are obviously suspicious of him as they usually are with a spouse. But let's look at the other side of this, she's found seven miles away from her home. She's been strangled to death in the rear, or the body is found in a Mercedes-Benz. There's nothing we're hearing so far to link him physically to the commission of the crime.

It's not easy to strangle somebody to death. If you had a husband planning to kill his wife, would he strangle her, and then take the car to Detroit?

There's something missing here and I think it's really a mistake to jump to conclusions too quickly about who's the true killer. BURNETT: Sunny, so, police are obviously going to look for a motive, whether they end up officially charging Bob Bashara or not. They've confiscated computers from the home and other things. What specifically are they looking for right now to build a case against him?

HOSTIN: Well, if he is a person of interest and I disagree with Paul, I don't think it's cop speak. I think it's careful speak, because if someone is a suspect, different rights attach, you know, you can ruin people's reputation. So, person of interest means they don't have enough interest to charge, but they're looking at him.

And I think in terms of motive, Erin, if you're talking about domestic violence issue, you're looking at the classic motive. You're looking at whether or not someone was having an affair. You're looking at whether or not some had some sort of financial issues. You're looking at whether or not someone had a life insurance policy. You're looking for why someone would do something like this.

So, I think he's in a pretty good place considering the fact he's just being called a person of interest. My understanding is, some of the officers called him a suspect, which tells me there's someone slipped up or perhaps one police department thinks he's a person of interest and another police department thinks they have their guy.

BURNETT: Paul, let me ask you about the method of murder. As Sunny pointed out, strangulation is significant, she says usually by someone who's close.

You've been involved in these cases before. What does strangulation say to you?

CALLAN: Well, you know, I've prosecuted a lot of murder cases here in New York City, you know, as a D.A. and strangulation is a very personal form of murder, but --

BURNETT: Why, would you want to like enjoy and --

CALLAN: Yes, you do. You want to watch them die. You want to revel in their suffering. But a psychopathic killer, a serial killer, many of them use this method as well.

And it's not an easy way to kill somebody. You need the physical strength to cause the person to pass out. It takes at least a minute to a minute and a half to actually kill somebody. A lot of times, the person revives before they die, not an easy way to kill somebody.

So that's why people say it's personal.

BURNETT: Right.

CALLAN: And Sunny and I should have this person of interest debate at another time.

HOSTIN: Bring it on, Paul. Bring it on.

(CROSSTALK)

CALLAN: -- when Richard Jewell was arrested in Atlanta in 1996 that never existed before that.

BURNETT: But we will have it, because Paul was fired up there and Sunny made a cases. So, we'll adjudicate it here OUTFRONT some other time.

Thanks to both.

BURNETT: All right. Well, tonight, a convicted killer, whose controversial pardon by out-going Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour sent shockwaves to his state has finally been found. Joseph Ozment, who vanished shortly after his release on January, was living with his girlfriend under an assumed name in a motel in Laramie, Wyoming. Ozment was sentenced to life in prison in 1994 after he shot and killed Ricky Montgomery during a robbery. He and three other convicted killers worked at the governor's mansion. Barbour knew them personally.

State attorney general Jim Hood says Ozment and his girlfriend had apparently been together since he was an inmate.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM HOOD, MISSISSIPPI ATTORNEY GENERAL: She was an apparently engineer who's working at Northrop Grumman, who was frequent visitor at the mansion. In fact, we have their wedding invitation in which the pictures were made at the mansion. And if you'll notice, Mr. Ozment is in street clothes. He wasn't even required to wear the green and white pants that all other convicts are required to wear.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Right before the show, I spoke to CNN's Ed Lavandera, who's been covering this story and asked him if authorities were surprised that Ozment was found so far away in Wyoming.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's interesting is I think some people suspected he might not have been in Mississippi anymore. You know, he had that piece of paper that said he was a pardoned man. There was no point in sticking around in that state.

Joseph Ozment has a lot of family in the northwest corner of Mississippi, also in the Memphis area. So, a lot of people suspected -- and that's where his crime took place. So, a lot of people suspected he might have been hiding around in that area, much to the chagrin of the victim's family in that case.

But a lot of people didn't expect him to kind of stick around. So, the fact that he turns up in this hotel room in Laramie, Wyoming, living there under an assumed name, you know, probably fits the mold for some people which kind of back up the fact that they didn't think he had any plans of showing up for this hearing or becoming part of this process at all.

BURNETT: And I want to talk to you about this hearing because, obviously, it's on Friday and it could result in these men having to go back to jail, which obviously in his case would explain why he had tried to flee. What happened when authorities found him in Wyoming? Did he try to flee or could he have done something that actually could have jeopardized his position even more?

LAVANDERA: Well, according to the A.G.'s office, he tried to drive away and then they needed some help from the local police, officers. Eventually, they came back.

And all of this makes it sounds like, you know, this manhunt for this wanted criminal.

BURNETT: Yes.

LAVANDERA: But, remember, he's not a criminal, not wanted. He's got this piece of paper that says he's a pardoned man. All this was just to serve him with the paperwork to let him know that this civil process was going on, that there's a judge looking at whether or not to overturn these pardons. And for him to be an official part of that process, the A.G.'s office people needed to hand him that paperwork to let him know that that was going on.

So, that's what all of this effort was for.

BURNETT: All right. Thank you very much, Ed Lavandera, covering this for us.

LAVANDERA: You got it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: All right. Anderson is going to have more on that story on "A.C. 360."

What do you have, Anderson?

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Yes, we're digging deeper on the story. My guest tonight, the state attorney general Jim Hood -- we're going to ask him about the comments of the man who pardoned the murderers, ex-Governor Haley Barbour and his claims about crimes of passion.

The governor is saying, well, these men were convicted of crimes of passion, murderers in the heat of the moment, that therefore they won't do it again. Does that claim actually stand up to the facts? We're keeping them honest.

Also ahead, breaking news from the Gingrich campaign, which is now strongly suggesting they may not even compete in Nevada and Michigan. We'll talk to our panel Ari Fleischer and Cornell Belcher to see if they think that's a winning strategy.

Those stories and tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, looking forward to that.

Well, another shocking act of violence against a woman in Afghanistan. So, we take a look at this disturbing trend at tonight's (INAUDIBLE).

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: A 22-year-old named Ezrah (ph) was strangled to death this weekend in Afghanistan. Her murderer: apparently her husband -- angry that she gave birth to a girl instead of the son that he wanted.

Now, as shocking as this story is, this type of killing is not unique to Afghanistan. In Canada yesterday, a man named Mohammad Shafia, his wife and their son were convicted of first degree murder of three of his daughters and his other wife. Shafia was angry that his daughters were becoming too Western, calling them whores.

It's easy to get frustrated and think the Muslim faith is to blame when you hear about these stories about the human rights violations of women. But there's one basic human right people tend to forget about, education. And there is nothing against education of women in the Koran.

The Center for Global Development and the Council on Foreign Relations, they both released reports that show a significant increase in income and overall economic growth and a big drop in violence when countries educate women.

And they're not alone in approaching the problem as cultural instead of religious. Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with Deborah Scroggins, the author of the book "Wanted Women: Faith, Lies, & The War on Terror." And she said this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBORAH SCROGGINS, AUTHOR, "WANTED WOMEN": There are traditions in Islam that have, you know, veiling of seclusion that have left women subjugated. But there are also women today, thousands and thousands of women working to interpret Islam in ways that are compatible with modern ideas of human rights and democracy. So, I think, Islam is what people make it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: It's interesting. I have met many Muslim women who are professionally successful and live in the Arab world. In the United Arab of Emirates, I met a 30-year-old woman who's still single and has pursued a career of her own. During our conservation, she made fun of Saudi Arabia being so backwards because they don't allow women to drive.

Then in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, I met a man with four daughters who told me, I don't have a vote around here. It reminded me of my own father who has three daughters and certainly never had a vote. The point is that painting an entire religion as anti-female isn't fair. More needs to be done for these women and certainly, there are reforms needed in the governments of a lot of these countries.

But the first thing the U.S. could do to try to help the problem is to see the problem for what it is and not just blame it on a religious issue every single time and move on.

Tomorrow, I'm going to be joining Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper for a special coverage of the Florida primary. We are excited for that. We got some of the great numbers on super PACs for you. We promise, we're going to have those disclosures tomorrow. So, it will be a good night.

Thanks so much for watching. See you then.

"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts right now.