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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Interview with Ali Asghar Soltanieh; Interview with Wesley Clark; Contraceptive Lawsuit
Aired February 24, 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: A report by the world's top nuclear inspectors is leaked today. It says Iran has dramatically increased production of enriched uranium. Tonight, we get the Iranian side of the story.
And Mitt Romney in Michigan selling America on his tax plan, we crunched the numbers. Do they add up or mean more debt? And a bizarre day at the day care murder trial -- the wife of the victim thrown out when she hugs and kisses a witness.
Let's go OUTFRONT.
I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, Iran. We begin with a new report on Iran's nuclear program. We got our hands on it today. It's an 11-page release from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the IAEA. Now the conclusions reveal the doubts and suspicions about what the Iranian government is telling the world about its nuclear efforts.
Now Iran says that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes including cancer treatment. Now we read the IAEA report and it does not say that Iran is making a bomb, but it does say that Iran is rapidly expanding its nuclear activity and we consulted experts today including nuclear scientists and former U.N. weapons inspectors and here are a few of the takeaways.
The IAEA in this 11-page report say that Iran has tripled its enrichment of uranium since late last year. The IAEA also says that Tehran continues to block inspectors from getting inside a key nuclear facility, one that the watchdog group has been trying to get into for a long time. And the report says that 19.8 kilograms of natural uranium metal is still unaccounted for.
The U.S. government responded to the IAEA report today. It was a scathing response and there is confusion. There is something really important we want to point out and we're going to get to that in a moment with General Wesley Clark, but first, the Iranian side of the story. Just a short time ago, I spoke to Ali Asghar Soltanieh, a nuclear scientist and Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA and I began by asking him about the ramped up production of enriched uranium in the report.
ALI ASGHAR SOLTANIEH, IRAN'S PERMANENT REP. TO IAEA: I'm proud to say that we will continue without any interruption. We will never, ever suspend our enrichment activities. Of course we have to make nuclear fuel for (INAUDIBLE) reactor since nobody give us the fuel and this reactor has to produce radioizer (ph) for hospitals. Millions of patients in Iran desperately need this radioizer (ph) and pharmaceuticals therefore Iranian government is obliged to fulfill the demand and expectation of its nation. This report (ph) I am proud to say is a clean bill of health of exclusively peaceful nature of nuclear activities in Iran. And of course --
BURNETT: It doesn't appear to be that though.
BURNETT: It does say that some activities may still be ongoing and of course you've seen the headlines around the world. The report also says in the section on possible military dimensions to the Iranian nuclear program this and they cite their report from November 2011. They say that there's "information available to the agency indicating that Iran has carried out activities that are relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device. They say that that information has come from a variety of independent sources and is assessed by the agency to be overall credible." Can you say categorically that Iran is not developing or is not even planning to develop a nuclear weapon?
SOLTANIEH: I categorically reject any sort of allegation. I have been involved for almost the last 10 years working with inspectors on this issue of allegations. In many cases, there have been allegations about military size. I categorically reject, therefore that we do not have any nuclear weapon program, any activities related to nuclear weapon programs.
BURNETT: Let me ask you one other question. In section K of the report, it refers to missing uranium that the IAEA says that they have been trying to account for, for quite some time, 19.8 kilograms. Where is that 19.8 kilograms of natural uranium metal?
SOLTANIEH: This is a very pity that such information in fact diverted public from the real scientific information. Twenty kilogram or 19 kilogram (ph) of natural uranium is just totally ignorable. They just want to make a noise about something.
BURNETT: This is crucial from a question of sovereignty for Iran. Even if Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons, do you believe that if Iran made that choice that that is its right that it's its right to make that choice as a sovereign and independent nation?
SOLTANIEH: I'm saying that Iran without nuclear weapon is as, as strong and powerful as nuclear weapon (INAUDIBLE). This is a tragic mistake for Iran to go to nuclear weapon, not only because of religious commitment, but strategically this is a mistake. Without nuclear weapon we are very powerful. Having resolutions (INAUDIBLE) sanctions, which you know that sanctions have had no effect on our activities for nuclear energy because we are in fact self-sufficient in producing all components of centrifuge and only the sanctions are disturbing here and there (ph) somehow the public. And I assure you that all nuclear activities are peaceful purposes. Let's wish for peace and prosperity all over the world.
BURNETT: I think we all wish for that. Ambassador Soltanieh, thank you very much again.
BURNETT: The United States government responded to the IAEA report. And the National Security Council spokesperson, Tommy Viter (ph) said this. Quote, "when combined with its continued stonewalling of international inspectors, Iran's actions demonstrate why Iran has failed to convince the international community that its nuclear program is peaceful."
Now, this statement was tough. But it seems to contradict some recent remarks from top administration officials. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, said recently on CNN quote, "The Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability."
And today, the "Los Angeles Times" wrote an article saying that U.S. intelligence officials -- now this is important to note -- at the beginning of last year believed that Iran was not trying to build a nuclear bomb. What's going on here? Our friend tonight is retired General and former NATO Commander Wesley Clark -- wonderful to see you, sir. Appreciate it.
WESLEY CLARK, FORMER NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: Thank you. Thank you very much.
BURNETT: What is your reaction to the Iranian response to the IAEA report? I mean the headlines around the world of course are all talking about the surge in enrichment activity. The report itself says that some of the nuclear activities and a weapons program may still be ongoing. What did you take away from what the Iranian ambassador had to say?
CLARK: Well I think this is a standard operating procedure of governments who want to conceal these activities. Put out someone who looks like a credible spokesman, have him deny everything and claim that he's all in interest of peace, but as you ask him, he's only interest of peace, where's the missing uranium, why aren't the inspectors permitted in there? Why aren't inspectors allowed there 24 hours a day?
If Iran were worried about as it should be, about sanctions and other options that are still on the table and they weren't after a nuclear weapons program, surely they could make a stronger effort to convince the world of their innocence. They haven't made that effort. This is part of a diplomatic stall.
And I think what you're seeing in the intelligence reports and the IAEA report shows that they're moving towards the acquisition of the capacity to develop and field a nuclear weapon. They may not have it yet and I -- sure ht when General Dempsey says they haven't made that decision, he's got the access to the intelligence. He's looking at it. But our president is looking at all this information. He's doing the best he can to avoid taking us to another military conflict. He says all options are on the table and we think the negotiations are still the way to go. The sanctions are having an impact on Iran and let's hope that we can dissuade them from moving toward a nuclear weaponization (ph).
BURNETT: And on that issue of sanctions, as I've said before, even a year ago when I was there, they were affecting regular people for sure in so far as they were affecting the government's ability to fulfill some subsidies for things like food. But obviously you just heard the ambassador there saying sanctions are not working at all. Our nuclear program, we have not stopped any of our activities with centrifuges or anything because of the sanctions. Is that all just sort of bluster?
CLARK: Well, sanctions have delayed the development of their nuclear program for years and years and years. They've had to create shadow corporations and big borrowed steal bits of technology and they've done it despite the sanctions, but it's been much shower. These sanctions are directed against the banking facilities of the Iranian government. Its Central Bank and ability to operate in international currency markets with other financial institutions and this of course strikes at their ability to export oil and that's their principle source of earnings before (ph) an exchange and that is a vital interest and that's being impacted.
BURNETT: I wanted to play for you something General Clark. Last night, Rudy Giuliani was a guest on this program. And he was saying that the president has made a mistake and he doesn't think that he's handling the Iran situation correctly. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Well you can't say the word bomb them. We need a president who can say the words bomb them and actually can do it if he has to in order to protect us from Iran becoming a nuclear power and most importantly they have to believe that our president will do that --
BURNETT: And some might say it's irresponsible to talk about bombing --
BURNETT: -- another country.
GIULIANI: I'm using -- I'm using their administration. They have this case in Washington in which the Iranian government paid money to have the Saudi Arabian ambassador killed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: General Clark, do you think Rudy Giuliani is correct in saying that by threatening to bomb you end up not having to bomb or would that be irresponsible? CLARK: Well I think when you escalate the rhetoric that's not necessarily what's required at this point. But I do hope that the Iranian leaders having seen shock and awe in Baghdad in 2003 under -- and what we did in Libya with just a small fraction of U.S. capability understand that there is a military option. They really have no defense against it. It's there. I haven't seen it.
I'm sure that when General Dempsey and our men and women prepare it, it's going to be devastating and they should understand that. But this is not the time to inflate public fears on a military option, so I wouldn't agree with Rudy Giuliani on that point. What's being conveyed to Iran is being conveyed in a variety of fact channels to them and I'm sure they understand or have been given the information at least to understand.
BURNETT: So you think the Obama administration is doing a good job.
CLARK: Yes, I do think -- I think we're on the right track right now because we don't want to have to use the military option until all other alternatives are exhausted. That's been the lesson -- that's the lesson of the last decade.
CLARK: That's the lesson of Iraq. Don't prematurely jump on the military option because it's easy to get into a conflict, but it's not always easy to see the end of it. And even though there is a very strong and capable military option to take out Iran's infrastructure and nuclear capabilities, you'd be left with a nation of 75 million people --
CLARK: -- which is you know a huge problem for the international community. You might be left with other regional problems, although I expect that -- I suspect that Iranian's bluster is just that. That we could handle all of its retaliatory threats, but nevertheless, you don't want to be left with the aftermath of this and you don't want a lot of innocent people to die.
CLARK: So if there are alternatives, we should ask our leadership to do everything possible to use those alternatives rather than resort to the final option.
BURNETT: General Clark, before we go, one final question. We spoke to a former weapons inspector today, David Albright, and he says that Iran doesn't have a civilian need for the uranium it's been enriching, which obviously fits with your point of view on the IAEA report as well. But he said that if Iran makes that decision, this whole issue of when they make the decision sort of -- it's highlighted as strange by this point.
That if they decide to go nuclear, they could be nuclear with weapons grade enriched uranium in six months, a dirty bomb within 12 months. Now I know there are estimates that vary from that. That was his particular point of view. But the bottom line from your perspective, as someone who has done what you've done in the U.S. military, are we obsessed over the wrong issue? Should they be allowed, that issue of sovereignty, to make their own choice in a nuclear weapon?
CLARK: Well I don't think you can permit them to make their own choice because I don't think we want a nuclear arms race in this region. The region is very central to the world economy and it's very unstable. You can look at what's going on in Syria today, for example, which is more or less in one -- at least in one dimension a proxy war against Iran. And if you look at this and you think, oh, my goodness, what if each of these states had nuclear weapons in addition.
CLARK: And that's what we're faced with, so this is a very important decision. It is not in Iran's sovereign right to make this decision. That's why they are trying to deceive the world on it.
CLARK: And I think that what the real issue here is for the leadership is they're going to continue to creep up as close as they can without having to say or indicate or let people believe that they have made a quote "decision" to get a nuclear weapon.
CLARK: So they've reduced this time from years to maybe six months --
CLARK: -- maybe 12 months. We don't know. The question will be how close can we --
CLARK: -- allow it to come before we take action and that's the subject --
CLARK: -- of I'm sure that the best minds in Washington and probably in Tel Aviv as well on this issue.
BURNETT: All right, well General Clark thank you very much for coming OUTFRONT tonight.
Well seven states have filed suit against the federal government over the president's contraception rule. The attorney general from Texas one of the men behind the suit, comes OUTFRONT. And a producer of "Amazing Race" dead in Uganda, police say it was drug overdose, his wife says murder, one of his close friends (INAUDIBLE).
BURNETT: Tonight the controversial issue of birth control splitting this country down the middle. We have a brand new poll just out on President Obama's contraception rule which requires free birth control coverage for all workers even people who are employed by religious based institutions. Now you'll recall that the administration recently announced a compromise on the rule by exempting religious affiliated institutions from offering the coverage and making the insurance companies pay instead.
But that's not been enough for the critics. Today, seven states filed a lawsuit against the federal government for the mandate, saying the rules violate freedom of religion. One attorney general behind the lawsuit is Greg Abbott of Texas. He is OUTFRONT tonight. Good to see you, sir. Thank you very much.
GREG ABBOTT, TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Thank you, Erin, great to be with you.
BURNETT: OK, so polls show that the public now is evenly divided on this issue as to whether contraception, birth control should be free. You feel you have the mandate to bring this kind of a suit forward at this point?
ABBOTT: Well first Erin, those polls really wouldn't have any consequence about whether or not a religious liberty or a constitutional principle has been at risk. If polls mattered, it would mean that the courts would base their decision on polls to strike down Obamacare as a whole because more Americans are against Obamacare than they are for it.
But secondly and very importantly to your point, Erin, and that is the issue that we are filing the lawsuit about is one that protects religious freedom and really doesn't have anything to do with regard to whether or not government can or should offer contraceptives. Erin, very importantly the government is perfectly fine in offering contraceptives to every single woman in the entire country.
The issue is not whether or not the government offers contraceptives. It's the pathway they have chosen to get there, which is trampling the conscious and the objectives of religious entities.
BURNETT: So --
ABBOTT: Going back to our general --
BURNETT: I just want to make sure I understand. So you're saying you don't have a problem --
BURNETT: -- with them having birth control offered, but if someone works for a religious affiliated institution, even if that institution is not the one paying for the birth control, but say the insurance companies are, which was the president's proposed compromise, that you're still not OK with that because of where they work that that is a violation of the religious institution's rights?
ABBOTT: Well, there are all kinds of problems with that. For one, what the president said in his compromise is not what the rule and regulations say. The president is saying something different than the final rule that is being imposed on these religious entities --
BURNETT: So would you be all right if his compromise became the law?
ABBOTT: Well, his -- the second thing is that his compromise still does require religious based organizations to provide contraceptives as well as abortion inducing drugs contrary to the religious faith. But the third thing, Erin, and that is if the government really wants to ensure that contraceptives are available to everyone the government can do that in other legal ways such as through the tax and spend clause the government can make accessible contraceptives to everyone. They don't have to force this down the throats against religious organizations, against their face -- faith- based principles.
BURNETT: I'm still not totally certain how if the compromise would violate that because the insurance company not the religious institution. I understand your point that's not yet law, but I don't understand why that would be a problem. But I also want to ask you this --
ABBOTT: Let me be clear.
BURNETT: OK, make it clear, please.
ABBOTT: OK. There are many hospitals for one right here in Austin, Texas, a Catholic hospital, that is self-insured. That Catholic hospital is going to have to provide those services for free --
ABBOTT: -- out of their own pocket or either otherwise have to come out of pocket and pay for them, point one. Point two; those that are not self-insured are still going to bear the burden of the cost of the insurance in providing that product.
BURNETT: I understand the self-insurance point. Seven attorneys general though are behind the lawsuit. They're all Republican. Is this political?
ABBOTT: It is not political at all. What we have seen is there are 26 attorneys general who've sued the administration for the Obamacare lawsuit itself. They all happen to be Republican, because I think the Democrats are afraid to step up and challenge the administration. This is about the Constitution.
It's the very reason why we have won twice in two federal courts in our Obama case so far and why the case is going to the U.S. Supreme Court next month. The same thing will happen with this lawsuit. This is all about upholding the United States Constitution against an over- reaching federal administration that is casting aside fundamental constitutional principles in order to reach certain dogmatic positions.
BURNETT: Well one final question, six of the seven attorneys general involved are men. Now I didn't look at attorneys general across the country so that may just be representative of attorneys general in America, which is a totally separate issue and something we should do something about. But in this case, are you worried that that creates an image problem? That it is men suing an issue that frankly applies to women?
ABBOTT: Right. Well the issue we're concerned about is the constitutional issue of Freedom of Religion and women can have full access to contraceptives, to health care across the board in ways that the government can provide in a legal constitutional way that doesn't trample the constitutional liberties of men and women in this country.
BURNETT: All right thank you very much Attorney General, appreciate your taking the time tonight. And now to the very strange story, an American reality show producer was in Uganda and he died, Jeff Rice, whose work included the "Amazing Race" and "Whale Wars" was found dead late last week on the balcony of his hotel room. Now Ugandan police say he died of an apparent cocaine overdose. His wife told FOX News that evidence points to him being poisoned.
Catherine -- Rice's assistant, a woman named Catherine Fuller (ph), was also found unconscious on a hotel balcony next to Rice. She's alive and recovering in a hospital, but she has not yet been able to speak, so we do not know whatever she may be able to tell us about what happened or whom was involved. Was it a drug overdose or did someone poison Jeff Rice?
Rice's friend and coworker Liz Bronstein comes OUTFRONT and Liz good to see you, appreciate you coming in and talking to us. What is your take on this story so far? This issue of a cocaine overdose. Is this something that would ever fit with the man that you knew?
LIZ BRONSTEIN, FRIEND OF REALITY PRODUCER FOUND DEAD IN UGANDA: No, not at all. I mean Jeff Rice was not a drug user. I worked with him as recently as December for 10 days. I never even saw him get drunk. He's an absolutely professional and he works hard all the time. Great family man, two beautiful kids, a lovely wife. I mean he is not a habitual drug user. He's not somebody that I've ever seen do drugs in the four years that I've known him, so none of this makes any sense to me.
BURNETT: Had you ever heard him talk about Catherine Fuller (ph), met her? Did you know anything about her?
BRONSTEIN: Yes I knew Katie. She was his production coordinator. She worked at his company. And she was terrific, really energetic, a really hard worker, I mean very straight laced, very sweet girl, yes. BURNETT: And again, the question about cocaine involvement, is that something that would also be inconsistent with Katie, as you call her?
BRONSTEIN: I didn't know Katie as well as I knew Jeff. I mean I've worked with Jeff now on two different shows, so you know I really don't want to speculate about Katie. I didn't know her well, but she had worked for Jeff for some time and Jeff would never have somebody work for him that wasn't a true professional.
BURNETT: And there's nothing strange in their relationship, right?
BRONSTEIN: I mean not that I saw. Like I said, as early as -- as recently as December, I spent 10 days in South Africa working with him on a show and he was somebody that -- I mean I could say -- I said, Jeff, I think it would be really cool if we had a shark expert and in 24 hours, he could find me the best shark expert in the area to put on camera. I mean he was really knowledgeable and really professional. He's the guy that would show you pictures of his kids not do drugs. I mean I've never even seen him drink too much.
BURNETT: And on these trips I know, I mean you do interact with a lot of local people, right? I mean I'm not sure exactly what the full nature of the project he was on might have been, right, but there could have been something else I suppose that would have been involved.
BRONSTEIN: Yes, absolutely. I mean what I'd like to see is an independent investigation. You know all week long we've gotten these bits and pieces of reports from the government over there and the authorities and first it's poison, then cocaine in his stomach, now heroin is found. I mean every day it kind of gets more ridiculous and more extreme. And I'm sure there -- the authorities over there are good at what they do, but I would like to see somebody come in and investigate this who has you know who's completely objective.
BURNETT: All right. Well thank you very much.
BURNETT: Yes. Thank you, Liz. Appreciate your coming OUTFRONT tonight. Well we'll keep following that story. It's very, very strange.
Gas prices in the meantime are rising. Iran is part of the reason. So how much is it actually costing us at the pump?
And Mitt Romney, his tax plan was a lot shorter than the 500 pages of his actual tax return, but we ran all the numbers. And the question is do they add up or mean more debt and we have an answer.
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 five.
First tonight, Iran. The IAEA report released today says that Iranians won't let inspectors look at a key nuclear facility, the 19.8 kilograms of uranium is missing, and that Iran is ramping up production of enriched uranium.
Iran's permanent representative to the IAEA tonight told me very clearly that it is for peaceful and medicinal purposes, and that Iran has nothing to hide.
Retired General Wesley Clark also came OUTFRONT with a different take, he doesn't buy Iran's story.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WESLEY CLARK, FMR. NATO SUPREME ALLIED COMMANDER: I think this is a standard operating procedure of governments that want to conceal these activities, put out someone who looks like a credible spokesman, have him deny everything and claim he's all in the interest of peace. But as you ask him, he's all in the interest of peace, where's the missing uranium? Why aren't inspectors permitted in there? Why aren't inspectors allowed there 24 hours a day?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Number two, the problems Iran and the debate and rhetoric has caused oil prices to rise to $109.70 a barrel. Now, the last time oil traded that high was May 2008. The last time the market was as high as it is overall.
Rising oil prices have meant higher prices at the pump. According to AAA, gas prices rise 3.5 cents overnight. That was yesterday versus the day before. National average per gallon of regular gasoline now is $3.65.
Number three: sources tell CNN that billionaire Sheldon Adelson has made another, quote, "sizable donation" to pro-Newt Gingrich super PAC Winning Our Future. Now, we do not know exactly the size of the donation yet, but the sources did say it was made recently. Sheldon Adelson and his wife have already donated $10 million to Newt Gingrich's super PAC.
Number four: federal prosecutors subpoenaed information from Penn State in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. They requested hard drives and financial information dating back to January 1998. We looked at the subpoena and found federal prosecutor also requested all out of court settlements Penn State made relating to Sandusky.
Penn State spokeswoman tells us that they are fully cooperating with the authorities, saying, quote, "The victims, the Penn State community, and the public deserve to know the facts and see that justice is done."
Well, it has been 203 days since America lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back? Well, getting over the 13,000 hump would help for the Dow. It crossed the line but unable to close above that key psychologically level.
Well, Mitt Romney has been hawking his tax plan in Michigan. The plan will lower individual marginal tax rates by 20 percent and lower the corporate rate to 25 percent. Here's what Mitt Romney had to say when giving details about the plan in Michigan today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: These changes I will not allow to raise the deficit. Stronger economic growth, spending cuts and broadening the base will offset the reductions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNET: Is he right? Will his plan avoid categorically adding to the deficit?
Well, all right, this is going to be really, really hard. We've been looking at these numbers and this is going to be a problem here.
Now, part of -- to be fair, it's going to cost a lot of money. But Mitt Romney has not really gone into the spending side of his plan. He wants entitlement reform. Of course, he wants to repeal President Obama's health care plan. But a lot of money is going to have to come from economic growth, plain and simple.
Now, according to an analysis down for OUTFRONT by Martin Sullivan, a tax analyst, the plan, when you include the Bush tax cuts being extended and then the Romney cuts will cost -- prepare yourself for sticker shock here, this is no new car -- $8.2 trillion over the next 10 years.
Now, economic growth for at least a few of those years would have to average -- get ready for this one -- 5.4 percent. Just for those of you out there who don't track this all the time, I mean, we didn't get that kind of growth in the late 1990s during the Internet boom and last year, just for comparison, 1.7 percent was the U.S. economic growth.
All right. Can Mitt Romney pull this off?
Reihan Salam, David Frum, and Doug Thornell, Democratic strategist.
Thank to all of you for being with us.
Reihan Salam, you have been writing about this, working on this all week. Even if he has significant cuts, he is betting on epic economic growth.
REIHAN SALAM, THE DAILY COLUMNIST: That is absolutely. And a lot of the cuts that he's talking about were cuts to tax expenditures that are very politically popular, as well as spending cuts that are going to be a real red flag to a lot of voters.
So, this is a plan that is a real Hail Mary pass, I think.
BURNETT: And because suspending cuts are coming on entitlements, so he doesn't want to get specific because he's going to alienate voters.
SALAM: Absolutely. I think a lot of those entitlement proposals that he has are actually very sound, very smart. But the thing is that they don't necessarily deliver if you were looking at a CBO analysis, those savings that he's going to need to balance this very deep tax cuts.
BURNETT: David Frum, what's your take on the plan and on the speech where he promised it will not affect the deficit?
DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Mitt Romney in September released a 59-point plan that you can download on to your Kindle. It's available on his Web site. It's extremely detailed, carefully considered, a preface written by renowned economists. It was a careful piece of work.
What he's just ruled out here, as Reihan said, it's a Hail Mary pass. I mean, there are no details. It's now got a big additional tax cut beyond the one he proposed in September. It's impossible to avoid thinking that this is about Republican primary season politics.
And since Romney also since September, he locked himself in December into an endorsement of the Ryan plan, which basically says we're going to have big cuts in Medicare beginning 10 years from now, but we're going to hold harmless the Medicare population for the next 10 years. That means all of the cuts are going to have to come from programs like food stamps and unemployment insurance at a time when the recovery remains very, very fragile.
So not only is this not a carefully considered piece of work, no real numbers, but it's a plan of a big tax cut, additional tax cut with most of the off-setting savings coming from not the wasteful Medicare program, but programs for the neediest as we recover from a recession.
BURNETT: And that, Doug, is not something that will go over with a lot of Americans, regardless of your political affiliation I would imagine.
DOUG THORNELL, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No, Erin. You know, I would agree with everything your two panelists have said. I mean, there are two takeaways for me from this plan.
The first one is that Mitt Romney meant it when he said he didn't really care about the very poor, because as David mentioned, a lot of the spending cuts are to programs that help those who are struggling. Two, it doesn't really look like he cares about the middle class because a disproportionate about of tax cuts will go to benefit the top 1 percent. And three, it doesn't look like he cares about the deficit. So, you know, this really is about winning Michigan. It's about winning the Republican nomination. Nothing more.
But in the end, it's going to cause him some real problems with independent voters if he's lucky to be the nominee in the general.
SALAM: I have to say -- I don't necessarily agree with all the details of the tax plan, but here's the thing -- a president does not unilaterally decide what the tax code looks like.
SALAM: What you do is you draw out what are your broad areas, you know, what are the things you want to do. And a lot of the broad principles behind his tax plan are pretty reasonable.
But one thing I also want to push back on, is David had said that he endorsed the Ryan plan. He actually offered his own Medicare plan that says, here's the thing, we are going to preserve the basic Medicare benefit for seniors that you have today, but we're going to allow private firms actually to compete to offer that benefit at lower cost.
Now, the good thing there is that you're unleashing the private firms so that they can actually offer new more innovative ways to delivering care. The problem is it doesn't deliver guaranteed savings. And when you're offering a plan like this, in this kind of political fray, you have to offer guaranteed savings. And sometimes, those are going to be a loser.
So, I think that that's the attention he has. He actually has a really good plan that could deliver big savings, but there's no guarantee. Whereas when you're having a big tax cut, that's a guarantee revenue loss and you might get growth, you might get something else, but that's not guaranteed.
BURNETT: Cutting health care costs is something that -- well, you know what? If anyone can find a way to do it, please, come forward.
Thanks to all three of you.
Well, bizarre testimony during the day care murder trial today. The defendant claims he was told to kill by a demon that looked like Barry White.
And also today, violence in Afghanistan. A journalist embedded with soldiers in the region OUTFRONT. That's next.
BURNETT: Now turning to a bizarre and dramatic murder trial going on in Georgia. A 49-year-old Hemy Neuman is accused of shooting his alleged mistresses husband as he was dropping off his kids at day care. That's why it's called the day care murder. A surprising twist in court today, Andrea Sneiderman, Neuman's alleged mistress and the wife of the victim, Rusty Sneiderman was thrown out of court.
The judge tossed her out after she publicly hugged and kissed a witness who had just testified that Sneiderman was having an affair with the alleged gunman and killer.
Hemy Neuman actually admits to the murder, but this is also very strange. He said he did it because he had gone insane, that he was visited by an angel resembling Olivia Newton John, and a demon resembling Barry White, they instructed him to kill.
Here now, Seema Iyer, former prosecutor, and Midwin Charles, criminal defense attorney.
OK. Let me just asked you a question here. I'm a little confused. Does this, is this -- is this -- do you get a sense, how do you know if someone's insane or not? This is almost so insane as to be sort of fake insane.
SEEMA IYER, FMR. PROSECUTOR: Exactly and that's my thoughts. I don't know how Midwin felt about this.
But in Georgia now, they're standard is could this person differentiate between right and wrong. So, the mental illness portion is kind of separate. Whether the person is mentally ill and in this case, they're saying he's bipolar and has delusional disorders.
You can be bipolar and you can have delusions, but still may know what you were doing is right or wrong.
Does that make sense?
MIDWIN CHARLES, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I mean, it makes sense. But I understand what you're saying. But one of the problems, too, that I think the defense has with that argument, that this guy, you know, was guilty by reason of insanity --
CHARLES: -- is that this was a man operating at a high level. He was, you know, a high level operations manager at General Electric. He managed about 5,000 engineers and managed a budget of $800 million. So, it's very difficult to have someone come from that background, no history of mental illness. And then say that you are insane.
BURNETT: How do they test you? When you've gone through this before, how do they test someone to be insane? I mean, could you fake it? I mean, are there ways that they can just tell whether you're --
IYER: Well, I'll tell you how I can tell. Don't you have those clients that come to you and say, oh, I see little green men, then you know they're lying. That's the test right there.
No. In all seriousness, what we have gone through as prosecutors and defense attorneys is that if the defense puts forth the insanity defense, then the defense attorney will have the client interviewed by a psychologist and/or a psychiatrist. Then the prosecutor gets a chance to have the person interviewed by a psychiatrist and/or psychologist.
CHARLES: But, Erin, also, what makes these cases so difficult is that typically, the prosecutors have the burden of proof in cases like, you know, criminal trials.
CHARLES: But in a case where you're pleading guilty by reason of insanity, it's almost a burden shifting and now, the defense has to prove that the person was insane at that moment. And that definition is not knowing the difference between right or wrong.
But when you look at the fact of this case where this guy fled from the scene, those are things that point to him knowing that what he did was wrong.
BURNETT: What about the role of the mistress? When people have said, you know, she didn't have, show remorse when her husband died and people can have all kind of reasons and shock at that moment. But is this something they're going to be pursuing whether she was involved?
IYER: Well, I think at this point, it's all about the mistress because so much focus is on her. She's been banished from the courtroom.
BURNETT: Yes, because he's hugging the witness.
IYER: Right. It's when Midwin was saying. When you put forth an affirmative defense like insanity, the trial becomes all about the insanity plea and that's it, because then, the defense puts on their experts for the insanity plea and then the prosecution has to rebut with the prosecution experts, and they're going to forget about the mistress by then.
CHARLES: I don't know. I mean, the mistress is what makes this case -- I mean, of course, someone died and what-have-you. But the mistress in this case, the relationship she had with the man who died is what makes this case so interesting and what keeps everybody watching and makes somewhat --
CHARLES: I was going to say sexy, but I didn't want to, because someone died. You see what I'm saying?
But I think that's what draws attention to this case is the mistress and I think her lack of emotion that she displayed when he died is doing to be something that people are going to be watching throughout the duration of the trial.
BURNETT: All right. Well, this is going to be a fascinating one. But, hey, look, there's insane people that do a lot of things, including $800 million revenue, they can manage whole count countries. You know what I mean? All right. Thanks to both of you.
All right. Now, let's check in with Anderson Cooper with a look at what's ahead on "A.C. 360".
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Hey, Erin.
We're keeping them honest tonight on "360", on Syria. Can the slaughter there be stopped? America and more than 60 other countries met today to discuss options. We're also going to show why help is so desperately needed in places like Homs -- really stunning video, perhaps the most dramatic we've yet seen of the fighting there, the daily fighting, the daily suffering in that besieged city.
Also ahead tonight, a "360" follow-up -- a medical mystery in Upstate New York. Dozens of high school girl developed strange ticks, uncontrollable twitches. A 36-year-old woman was also affected. Now, it seems many of them are back to normal or getting back to normal. We'll speak with Dr. Drew Pinsky about the diagnosis. It's called a conversion disorder, and how the women got their lives back.
Those stories and tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour, Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Anderson, looking forward to that. Well, those Korans that were burned in Afghanistan have caused a lot of anger. There had been riots. There had been deaths, and two American soldiers have been killed in retaliation.
Alex Berenson is a journalist embedded with soldiers in western Kandahar. He comes OUTFRONT next.
BURNETT: Tonight, violence in Afghanistan. The fourth day of protest in response to the burning of Korans by NATO troops. The Afghanistan government says at least eight people were killed in riots today. President Obama has apologized to the Afghan people.
Alex Berenson is no stranger to Afghanistan. He was embedded with soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division. He's also the author of "The Shadow Patrol" and he's OUTFRONT tonight.
ALEX BERENSON, JOURNALIST: Unfortunately, occupations have an expiration date and 10 years is a long time. You know, this happened because we accidentally burned these Korans. But there would have been some reason that this happened.
BURNETT: And what about this issue of accidentally? I mean, there's a lot of people in Afghanistan who don't believe that. There are people in the United States who are skeptical of that. What do you think? BERENSON: What would we gain by intentionally burning this sacred book? I think what people don't recognize is these books are almost always in Arabic. And the soldiers who are doing this almost certainly don't read Arabic. And so, it just looks like another book that a detainee had that they weren't supposed to have.
BURNETT: You obviously spent a lot of time in Afghanistan. You were embedded with troops in Afghanistan. In your most recent book, you talk about the difficulty for the U.S. troops and trying to live in the villages, some of the frustrations that a lot of them feel.
BERENSON: Yes. I mean, in "The Shadow Patrol," I tried to embed, or did embed, I really try to get a sense of what was going on over there. And there's no question that our guys have an incredibly difficult job because what we're trying to do is convince these villages you shouldn't side with the Taliban. You should at least remain neutral if not friendly to us.
The problem is we are leaving. They know we are leaving whether it's next year or three years or five years. The Taliban are staying.
BERENSON: They're Afghans. So it's hard for us to win that battle.
BURNETT: And you talk about in the book, it's a fascinating, the guy in the CIA who is coordinating with a couple of soldiers, a sniper, to basically do heroin deals with the Afghanis, make a lot of money by selling it into Europe.
BURNETT: Would it surprise you if something like that were not just fiction?
BERENSON: It would not. There have been small drug rings that had been uncovered. And in fact, the British, I think it is, started searching their returning soldiers' stuff more carefully because they were concerned about this.
The fact that we haven't found a major drug ring doesn't mean there isn't one. It just may mean that the people running it are doing a good job of it.
BURNETT: You said something about occupations having an end date, having an expiration date. And you think that we're really there in Afghanistan right now.
BERENSON: I think after 10 years, you should be able to pose -- you've probably done all you can, let me put it that way. It's also pretty clear that if Obama wins, we're going to be out, aside from the Special Forces and probably the CIA. We'll probably keep those programs, Special Forces and drones. But the guys on the ground will be gone. BURNETT: What's going to happen, though, when you look at the situation with the Korans? I'm just curious. As someone said to me the other day casually, something like this happens, the burning of the Koran, accidental or not, it sets us back 10 years. I think it's a throwaway kind of a comment.
But I'm curious as to your perception of how much of an event like that really does hurt the view of the United States?
BERENSON: It certainly hurts us. Does it set us back 10 years? No. Does it undo some of -- we can build a hundred schools, when one Koran gets burned, it undoes that. It certainly undoes the soft efforts to build goodwill that we spend a lot of time and money on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: All right. Well, global steel production is way, way down. But you know what? That is good news for the rebel alliance. Tonight's number is next.
BURNETT: So, the world's steel production fell about 8 percent in January. Hardest hit: China and Japan. Output in each of those countries fell by more than 10 percent.
But not hurting? The United States of America. Still production was up 6 percent which is a good piece of news for this country's economy and apparently for our defense, which brings us to tonight's number: 1 quadrillion. Yes, a one and 15 zeros.
That's how many tons of steel it would require to build a death star. This is true apparently, according to a Lehigh University student. The Star Wars super weapon is 87 miles in diameter and has the same steel density as a modern warship. Now, this sounds like a lot of steel -- until you realize there's enough steel in the earth' core to build 2 billion death stars.
Before you get worried that one of the world empires might start building it before we do, you should know it would take 830,000 years and $852 quadrillion dollars to begin construction on even one death star.
That's more quantitative easing than Ben Bernanke can handle.
All right. Thanks for watching. "Anderson 360" starts now.