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Attack Ads Flying; Interview David Axelrod

Aired July 16, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

And we begin tonight "Keeping Them Honest" on the campaign trail, where attack ads are flying and so's the spin. Republican presidential nominee -- or presumptive nominee -- Mitt Romney today demanded that President Obama back off his attacks on Romney's record at Bain Capital, the private equity firm where he made his fortune.

Recently, those attacks as you know, have focused on when Romney actually left the firm. The Obama campaign claims Romney lied about his end date at Bain, even suggesting his actions could be criminal.

In a series of interviews and cable interviews on Friday, Romney accused the Obama campaign of stooping to new lows. In an interview that aired today on CBS this morning, President Obama was asked about the negative ads his campaign has been running. Here's what he said.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, we have done a whole slew of positive ads that talked exactly about how we need to change our education system, how we need to change our tax code, how we need to rebuild America, how we need to promote American energy. So those just don't get attention in the news.


COOPER: Now, the president said they have run a whole slew of ads, positive ads.

We wanted to we wanted to check and see if maybe we'd overlooked a slew of ads either candidate was running.

"Keeping Them Honest," we checked with CMAG, the consultants who track political ad spending for us. They told us that last week the Obama campaign aired negative ads more than 19,000 times and positive ads fewer than 150 times. In other words, less than 1 percent of their ads were positive.

According to other reports, since the general campaign began, as many as three in four of President Obama's campaign ads have been negative, three in four. To be sure, both campaigns are playing hardball. During the two weeks ending July 9, about 89 percent of Obama's ads carried an anti-Romney message and 94 percent of Romney's ads criticized President Obama. That's, again, according to CMAG. Those are the numbers. The Obama campaign, however, is spinning a very different narrative, where the word negative doesn't really exist. Over the weekend, Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said they wanted to have a "highbrow debate about whether Americans really care about."

But "Keeping Them Honest," all weekend long, they instead focused on attacking Romney's ties to Bain and his personal finances.


DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: He's taken advantage of every single conceivable attack shelter and loophole.

OBAMA: Mr. Romney attested to the SEC multiple times that he was the chairman, CEO and president of Bain Capital.

That company also was investing in companies that "The Washington Post" called pioneers of outsourcing.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA 2012 DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: If you're telling the SEC that you're in charge but you're telling the American people that you bear no responsibility, one of those things is not true.

RAHM EMANUEL (D), MAYOR OF CHICAGO: Stop whining. If you want to claim Bain Capital as your calling card to the White House, then defend what happened to Bain Capital and what happened those jobs that went overseas, those jobs that were actually cut and eliminated.

OBAMA: I don't want a pioneer in outsourcing. I want some in- sourcing. I want to bring companies back.


COOPER: The attacks continued on paper as well. Virtually all the press releases and statements they issued on Saturday and Sunday hammered Romney on those fronts. The Obama campaign also released a new attack ad.


OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (singing): Oh, beautiful for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain, for purple mountain majesty above the fruited plain.


COOPER: In a moment we will talk with Paul Begala and Ari Fleischer.

But, first, David Axelrod, a senior strategist for the Obama campaign, I talked to him earlier.


COOPER: David, I want to ask you about something that the president said in an interview that aired this morning on CBS. I want to play that for our viewers.


OBAMA: First of all, we have done a whole slew of positive ads that talked exactly about how we need to change our education system, how we need to change our tax code, how we need to rebuild America, how we need to promote American energy. So those just don't get attention in the news.


COOPER: The consultants who track ad spending for us tell us that last week your campaign aired negative spots more than 19,000 times and positive spots fewer than 150 times. That's less than 1 percent positive ads. Can that really be considered a slew?

AXELROD: Well, Anderson, you have got to go back to when we began our media campaign. We began our media campaign in May. The whole month of May, we ran nothing but positive ads.

Right now, we're running ads, some of which are comparative. I don't know how the tracker how the tracker characterizes them. Some were comparative on their respective records on taxes. And some are on elements of Governor Romney's record.

But we have been -- we have been very aggressive. We spent tens and tens of millions, $50 million or more on positive ads. In contrast, you look at the other side, and 90 percent of their media dollars from the very beginning have been spent on negative ads. The whole premise of the Romney campaign is a negative premise.

COOPER: Three-quarters of the ads from the beginning have been negative or characterized as negative, three-quarters of your ads.

AXELROD: Of their campaign.

COOPER: No, of your campaign.

AXELROD: Of their campaign or -- well, that's -- we can have that discussion.

I can -- we can go over that. But I also would invite you to go out -- and you guys ran some of the president's speech today. The president's campaigning all over this country talking about how we rebuild the middle class in this country, how we rebuild the economy, about education and revitalizing American manufacturing and all the things that we need to do to build to build our economy in a way that gives people a chance.

COOPER: The tone of this debate has come under criticism. Jen Psaki, an Obama campaign spokeswoman, said over the weekend that the president wants a highbrow debate over -- quote -- "what the American people actually care about."

The same day, your campaign released a brutal spent featuring Mitt Romney singing "America the Beautiful" off-key. Does that qualify as highbrow or something the American people really care about?

AXELROD: I think what they do care about, Anderson, is are we going to have a tax code that encourages outsourcing? That's what Governor Romney supports. He has a history in this area.

Or are we going to support in-sourcing and end those tax breaks and reward folks for creating jobs here in America? That's what the president supports.

Are we going to spend $100 billion a year on offshore tax shelters of the sort that Governor Romney has availed himself of? Or are we going to use that for better purposes? These are the discussions we're going to have moving forward, and the perspective you bring to it is important.

COOPER: Is it just a coincidence though that these Bain attacks really came about after some very bad job numbers came out about two- and-a-half weeks ago?

AXELROD: Anderson, I actually think -- and you may have even talked about it on your show -- we have raised issues about Bain, and let me tell you -- long before these last couple of weeks, and let me tell you why.

The only credential that Governor Romney is offering for the presidency is his business experience. Never talks about the fact that he was governor of Massachusetts, and with some good reason, because that record wasn't exactly a glittering record of job creation.

So, he talks about the fact that he's a businessman and he has great insights into the economy as a result. And so of course we are going to look at what that business experience is. And we began that taking a look at that as soon as he became the nominee.

This isn't something new. It's part of the discussion. He entered it into the discussion. And now we're engaging in that discussion. He says wait a second, don't talk about my business experience. So he can talk about his business experience, but he doesn't want us to talk about his business experience.

COOPER: Your campaign has even said Romney may be guilty of a felony. He's demanded an apology for that. I know you have made it clear there's no apology coming. At this point, though, is there enough evidence out there to really make that claim?

AXELROD: And no one really made that claim, Anderson.

What Stephanie Cutter said was that if in fact you filed papers, as he did, back in '99 through 2002, saying you're the chairman, chief executive, president and sole shareholder of a company, but now you're arguing that you had nothing to do with the activities of that company, then it raises questions about that filing or it raises questions about what you're saying now.

As I said yesterday to Candy Crowley, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. I think he's misleading people now. But either way, it's not a recommendation to make a guy president of the United States.

COOPER: I want to ask you something about something that a Bush adviser, Mark McKinnon, who worked on his reelection campaign eight years ago, had to say about this race. He said: "Team Obama is doing just what we did in 2004, which is to define the opposition furiously and early. Most voters don't have a deep sense of Romney, other than that he's not Obama. And in this cycle, that may be enough, but it's a very risky approach."

He's not the only one making a comparison. Are there real parallels in your opinion between what the Bush campaign did to John Kerry and what your team is doing to Mitt Romney right now, basically trying to define him based on what is it considered by his campaign a strength?

AXELROD: No, because what was done back then was to take a guy who was a certified war hero and to suggest that somehow he wasn't. And that was grossly unfair.

The fact of the matter is that Governor Romney has a background and an approach and a set of policies that are far different than the ones the president supports. We are very much for policies that are going to boost the middle class. We believe in building this economy from the middle-class out.

He believes in a top-down approach. And it flows from his experience and the lens through which he sees this economy. And so that's very much fair game. I wouldn't say it's the same at all. But let me just add one thing, Anderson, and that is, one of the reasons why Mark notes, as Mark notes, that people don't really know Governor Romney, even though he's run for president twice, is because he's never told them who he is. He's never told them what motivates him.

He's never put his own experience into any kind of framework that people could appreciate. And the real question is to address that campaign. Why did they feel that simply running negative ads against the president from the beginning was sufficient?

COOPER: David Axelrod, I appreciate your time. Thank you.

AXELROD: OK, good to be with you.


COOPER: Here's one more number from CMAG to factor in. The Obama campaign has so far outspent the Romney campaign on television ads by at least three to one overall, just some more context for their insistence that they spent more money on positive ads than Romney has. Let's talk "Raw Politics" now with CNN political contributor and former White House press secretary for George W. Bush Ari Fleischer joins me via the phone. CNN contributor Paul Begala, who is also advising a pro-Obama super PAC, joins me as well.

Paul, you advise the super PAC which has run a lot of these negative ads many thousands of times. Negative campaigning, you're more than OK with it?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Oh, totally, absolutely.

The ads that the PAC that I advise, which is Priorities USA Action, you can see them for yourself, They have featured -- the most powerful ads and the ones we have run the most of -- the real words of real people that Mitt Romney laid off.

He came and took over these companies. He loaded them up with debt. He -- in some cases he bankrupted them, paid himself millions, and canceled the health benefits. We just sent cameras to places like Marion, Indiana, to Kansas City, and we filmed these people and their heartbreaking stories.

"The L.A. Times," "Los Angeles Times," Doyle McManus, a terrific journalist, called our ad the most effective Democratic ad this year.


COOPER: So can the president say that there's been a slew of positive ads?

BEGALA: Yes, I don't know how many is in a slew. I thought you nailed Axe pretty well on that.

My view is this. Look, first off, my job I think in this pro- Obama super PAC is simply to define Romney. If we run a single positive ad, I will be disappointed. I'm hoping to go over 100 percent, Anderson. We might run more negative ad after the election, just to get over 100 percent.

COOPER: You just said if you run a single positive ad, you will be disappointed?

BEGALA: Very, deeply. And as I say, I will try to save enough money to run one more after the election so that it will be 101 percent.

Here's why. People already know a lot about the president. They don't know much about Mitt Romney. They know that President Obama killed Osama bin Laden. They don't know that Mitt Romney killed thousands of jobs all across America.

I want to tell that piece of the story, and I think you guys ought to keep us honest. I think the press ought to fact-check our ads. But when we take real people, put them on camera and tell their stories about what happened to their lives under Mitt Romney's economic policies, it's pretty powerful stuff. COOPER: Ari, when you look at the evidence over the last few months, these attacks on Bain, focused in swing states, do you think they're working?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, because if they were working, Mitt Romney wouldn't have cut the gap against Barack Obama.

Coming out of the primaries, Mitt Romney was down by five, six, seven points in most of the averages of the polls. And right now he's running virtually neck and neck. The president not only has an economic record he can't defend. He's not really running a very good campaign. He has spent almost $100 million on ads. The amount is roughly -- but he spent a lot of money on ads, as you just (AUDIO GAP) almost entirely negative ads against Mitt Romney.

And yet Mitt Romney is running neck and neck. He's cut the gap. The reason is, in a cycle like this, 2012, where voters are so focused on who can fix the economy, who can create jobs, who can reduce the deficit and the debt, they know the president can't because he's had four years to do it and he hasn't been able to, even with an overwhelmingly, almost Watergate-sized Democratic Congress for his first two years.

And so this is one of those change elections. And the change this cycle is Mitt Romney. I also want to say the Obama campaign at the end of the day repeated the felony charge. This is Barack Obama's own birther movement against Mitt Romney.

COOPER: What do you mean by that?

FLEISCHER: I defended Obama against the whole birther allegations that he was illegitimate, that he committed a crime by not being born here and running for president.

And now they're doing the same thing that they said was despicable against Mitt Romney. Stephanie Cutter today repeated that charge in an interview with Wolf Blitzer. That's the shame of this race. The 2012 Obama would not recognize the 2008 Obama.

COOPER: Paul, is this the Obama birther movement, as Ari just said?

BEGALA: No, come on. There's some people who think...


FLEISCHER: A felony? A felony?

BEGALA: Just a second, Ari.

Some people maybe think they got over their ski tips a little too far on this. But all they actually said, if you look at what they said, is Mr. Romney and Bain Capital filed Securities and Exchange Commission documents that swore under oath that he was the president, CEO, chairman and sole owner of the company. Then in 2011, Romney signed a personal financial disclosure form also under pain of perjury that said he had nothing to do with Bain Capital during the same time that the other sworn documents said that he was CEO and president and chairman.

So one of those two documents seems to me inarguably to be wrong. And I think that that's probably where the argument should be. I don't think Mitt Romney's a felon. I don't think that at all. But actually I think both those documents may well be in error.

In other words, I don't think he was really running Bain Capital every single day while he was running the Olympics. But I also don't think he was completely, wholly and totally divorced from it. And he swore both. That's the problem he's got.

COOPER: Ari, his attorney had said that he had returned multiple times to Massachusetts to attend board meetings and the like.

FLEISCHER: That doesn't mean he's running it or making the investment decisions.

You know, when I went to the White House and when Paul went to the White House, we both had commissions, signed commissions that gave us our White House jobs. They're signed not by the president, but by the secretary of state. We didn't work for the secretary of the state. The secretary of the state wasn't our boss. But he signed our commission.


BEGALA: So did the president, Ari.


BEGALA: By the way, the president signs it too.


FLEISCHER: ... advise on how to comply with laws actually don't have a whole lot of relevance to what you might have to do in the private sector or even the public sector.

Mitt Romney had to sign as the CEO, as the owner of the company because he owned the shares. The way it works is he didn't make the decisions because he indeed had left, even if he owned the shares. That's the difference.

Anderson, what it really comes down to, you remember before there was an official with the Environmental Protection Agency who got fired because he spoke out and he said that their view is you take three people and you crucify the first three people in the business community that you come across, and nobody else -- you charge them with criminal charges. You in effect crucify them, was his words, and then nobody else will even think about even messing with you.

That's the type of campaign the Obama campaign wants to run against Mitt Romney. These are the tactics they're employing. The 2008 post-partisan, we need to rise above Barack Obama, he's given up looking for work like everybody else in this economy. This is such a different candidate in 2012.

He's just clinging to his job. And I don't think it's going to work.

COOPER: Ari -- sorry, Paul, do you think this is a different candidate?

BEGALA: Yes, this is a different election, absolutely.

But, you know, it amuses me -- I have to say, I'm an older man, I'm 51. When I was a kid, conservatives were tough. It was John Wayne and Ronald Reagan. And everyone said liberals were wimps. It was sort of my side was like Alan Alda and Mike Dukakis.

And I have to say I'm heartened if we have gone from toothless in Ari's eyes to ruthless. I would rather be tough. These are tough times. And this is Romney's record. His sole calling card for the presidency is, I was a businessman, I was a CEO.

And so we are taking a look at that record. And it is very good in some ways, but appalling in other ways. And Romney can't answer that. And he can't defend the things he did. That's his problem.

COOPER: We got to leave it there.

Paul Begala, Ari Fleischer, guys, thank you very much.

Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook. Follow me right now on Twitter @AndersonCooper. We're tweeting about this right now.

We're also "Keeping Them Honest" on Capitol Hill. Five members of Congress -- I don't know if you have heard about this -- five members of Congress -- we are showing the pictures right there -- have launched a campaign to -- quote -- "root out" what they call as Muslim extremists in the U.S. government. They're saying there's this massive infiltration. They're naming names, including one of Hillary Clinton's top aides.

The question is, what evidence, if any, do they actually have? And if they're really concerned about this alleged security threat, why are they making it so public?

That's next.


Tonight, "Keeping Them Honest" on a move by Representative Michele Bachmann and four other congress members that they say is a long overdue investigation of Muslim extremist infiltration of the U.S. government.

Critics say it's nothing more than a politically motivated Muslim witch-hunt, with shades of McCarthyism. Bachmann and four of her Republican colleagues are demanding an investigation into potential infiltration by Muslim Brotherhood operatives intent on destroying Western civilization into the highest levels of the United States government.

Now, Bachmann, along with Representatives Trent Franks, Louie Gohmert, Thomas Rooney, and Lynn Westmoreland, have sent letters to the inspectors general of the State Department, Justice Department, Defense Department, Homeland Security Department, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

They also made those letters very public. Now, we're going to get to some of the big claims in those letters in just a moment.

But first listen to what Bachmann said in a radio interview with the American Family Association's Sandy Rios.


REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: It appears that there has been deep penetration in the halls of our United States government by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has been found to be an unindicted co-conspirator on terrorism cases.

And yet it appears that there are individuals who are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have positions, and very sensitive positions, in our Department of Justice, our Department of Homeland Security, potentially even in the National Intelligence Agency.

And I am calling upon the Justice Department and these various departments to investigate through the inspector general to see who these people are and what access they have to our information.


COOPER: Deep penetration, those were her words.

Now, to the letters themselves, they are chockful of claims, one being that, in reaching out to the American Muslim community, the Justice Department has been meeting with groups that could be, could be, fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood -- quote -- "These groups also appear to have been afforded access to senior policy-makers in the Justice Department and thereby have been able to exercise influence in ways that align with Muslim Brotherhood agendas. And that could prove detrimental to our national and homeland security."

In another letter, Bachmann and company accuse three Department of Homeland Security advisers of having -- quote -- "extensive ties to the Muslim Brotherhood" and other Islamist organizations and says that other DHS advisers -- quote -- "appear to share their sympathy for Islamist causes."

We will tell you in a second where they get that theory from. In yet another letter, Bachmann and her colleagues claim that the State Department has taken actions that have been -- quote -- "enormously favorable to the Muslim Brotherhood and its interests." And they single out Huma Abedin, an aide to Secretary Clinton, a top aide and the wife of former Congressman Anthony Weiner. The letter states -- quote -- "The department's deputy chief of staff, Huma Abedin, has three family members, her late father, her mother and her brother, connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations. Her position affords her routine access to the secretary and to policy-making."

So, the suggestion is that Abedin's loyalty should be called into question. They wonder how she even got a security clearance.

Now, at this point, you may be asking where this group of representatives is actually getting its information. Well, "Keeping Them Honest," time and time again, the letters cite the work of a group called the Center for Security Policy. Its Web site is

Now, that group's head is someone we have had on the program before, a man named Frank Gaffney, who says the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating every aspect of American life in order to impose Sharia law. Some, his critics, call him a conspiracy theorist. The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Gaffney -- quote -- "the anti-Muslim movement's most paranoid propagandist."

Bachmann's fellow representative from Minnesota, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison, wants some answers too. In a letter to Baghdad and her colleagues, Ellison notes that Gaffney's views have been widely discredited and says he wants to see credible evidence for the allegations made in the letters.

In response to Ellison, Bachmann defends the letters and repeats her view that a multi-department investigation into potential Muslim Brotherhood infiltration into the U.S. government is not only necessary, but -- quote -- "beyond timely."

We of course invited Representative Bachmann and the other four congressmen who have signed the letters to come on the program tonight. They all either declined or did not respond to our request. Our invitation stands.

Joining me now are James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute author of "Our Voices," and Alex Seitz-Wald, staff writer for

Alex, Michele Bachmann's response to Keith Ellison, I read it, and I got to say the things she cites as evidence to support her claim seem so tenuous or tangential that it doesn't really make -- to me, there's not really much evidence there at all. I know you have been digging into this. Do you see validity to the claims that she's making about this deep penetration?

ALEX SEITZ-WALD, SALON.COM: No, absolutely not.

This letter was supposed to spell out the evidence that she had. And it leaves us with more questions than the original claims make. For example, against Huma Abedin, the deputy chief of staff to Hillary Clinton, in order to connect her to the Muslim Brotherhood, you have to go through her dead father to an organization he started in Saudi Arabia, to a guy who supposedly supported him, to the organization that that guy was the head of, to Europe in the 1970s, when his organization was supposedly connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.

So these claims are just completely outrageous and there's absolutely nothing to back them up. On the Abedin case, she's basically having you -- in order to believe her, you have to expect that she knows more than, say, the CIA or the FBI, who approved Huma Abedin's security clearance, not to mention that Huma Abedin is married to one of the most pro-Israel former lawmakers around.

So, I mean, you know, the leaps that you would have to get to here probably wouldn't even fit on Glenn Beck's blackboard.

COOPER: And, Alex, the thing I also don't understand is if you really believe that there is a massive security threat in the highest reaches of government, you don't make that public.

There are ways for people in Congress to launch investigations or ask security agencies to launch investigations without going on some radio show. I mean, is this about politics or is this really you think a concern about security?

SEITZ-WALD: Yes, I mean, the fact that we're even talking about it right now should underscore how ridiculous this witch-hunt is.

And that's exactly what it is. She wrote these letters and she immediately put them on her Web site. You can go right now and see them. They're completely public. She sent them to the local newspapers. And then she went on this right-wing radio show.

You would think if you're trying to root out secret infiltrators, you are not going to tip them off by telling the entire world that you're after them. Anybody who knows anything would see that. So, this is clearly just a basic media ploy. This is exactly what she does.

Her presidential campaign has failed. It's the doldrums of the summer. And she's trying to grab some headlines. This is classic Michele Bachmann. But unlike a lot of other claims, unlike saying that the census data will be used to create internment camps, this has real consequences.

I mean, she's going after real people here whose lives and careers could be potentially ruined or damaged because she's trying to get -- stay relevant for her political career.

COOPER: Jim, it's also painting with a very broad brush hundreds of millions of people, billions of people around the world as potential threats to the United States.

I mean, it's -- it's going against the very, you know, security interests of the United States. We're fighting wars in support of some Muslim governments against extremism.

JAMES ZOGBY, PRESIDENT, ARAB AMERICAN INSTITUTE: More than that, Anderson, it's a threat to the millions of American Muslims.

Look, I have been through this myself in my own life, and my family's been through it, when we have been attacked unfairly by some of the very same cast of characters. It hurts.

And so I'm thinking right now of those young Muslims working in the State Department or working at the Justice Department or, you know, getting out of college and wanting a career serving their country, and being told by these members of Congress that you're a threat and we will keep our eyes on you.

And so the damage this does is not only to America abroad, but it does profound damage to the notion of America as an inclusive and absorptive society that becomes one with many people from all over the world sharing an identity and sharing a set of goals. That's what this president has tried to do.

That's what Michele Bachmann and company are trying to tear down. And don't mistake it for one minute. This has a lot to do with Barack Obama. This campaign is an effort to paint Muslims and, by implication, Barack Obama, who they still believe is a closet Muslim, somehow with suspicion.

That's why Huma, that's why Rashad Hussain, a wonderful young man, an attorney who's our special envoy to the organization of Islamic countries, are being portrayed individually.

These are two fine, upstanding people, but they're being discredited.


COOPER: Even George W. Bush is kind of...

ZOGBY: Sure.

COOPER: Aspersions are cast on him for appointing somebody to -- to an Islamic organization, as if that is somehow, in itself, you know, questionable. And at a time when this government is trying to get more Arab speakers to work in security agencies, it just seems like this goes against the best interests of the security of the United States.

ZOGBY: Sure it does. And look, I was in Washington during that period, and I know the Bush administration made a real effort to do it. But these guys did not attack it then. They're attacking it now because of Barack Obama. And now it's become a political wedge issue.

That's why we had the mosque issue in 2010.

COOPER: Right.

ZOGBY: That's why we had the birther movement. And that's why we've got the loyalty oath and this stuff going on now.

It's sad. It's dangerous. But it's also very hurtful to a lot of American Muslims.

COOPER: We -- obviously the invitation stands to have any of these Congress people on. We had Louie Gohmert on during his whole terror baby conspiracy theory. And he basically ended up just screaming at me. So -- but we'd welcome him to come on again.

James Zogby, appreciate it. Alex Seitz-Wald, got to leave it there. Thank you.

A new mom gives birth to twins but then spends months in the hospital batting flesh-eating bacteria. The story's extraordinary. She's about to go home for the first time since her ordeal began. Our interview with her is next.


COOPER: Welcome back. A new mom, Lana Kuykendall of South Carolina, is preparing for a homecoming that some feared would never happen. Days after she gave birth to twins, she received a terrifying diagnosis: her body was under attack by what's known as flesh-eating bacteria. It started a medical ordeal that forced her to undergo more than 20 operations, spend weeks in rehab and leave her newborns, Ian and Abigail, in the care of family and friends.

Now her doctors say she's finally ready to go home. It's an extraordinary story. CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is live in Greenville, South Carolina. She spoke with Lana Kuykendall.

Elizabeth, this story is just remarkable. Take me through what happened to Lana. Just home from giving birth. Noticed a spot on the back of her leg. Then what?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. She noticed a spot. And the way she described it, Anderson, is that it was actually more of a line. Like a strip is how she described it.

Now, Lana is a nurse. And she's also a paramedic. She knew something strange was going on. She showed it to her husband, Darren, who actually is also an EMT. I spoke with Darren yesterday, and here's what he had to say.


DARREN KUYKENDALL, LANA'S HUSBAND: I was terrified, first of all. And I couldn't get my thoughts together. Tried to figure out what to do next. And I just knew it was going to be -- I knew from our friend, from the past, that it was, you know, some bad stuff. Just really bad. It moves very quickly.

And, you know, time is of the essence. And you have to -- the surgeons have to be able to recognize it and take care of it. There's no sitting around and reading books and trying to figure out what it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COHEN: Darren said that the surgeons actually outlined the blue marks on his wife's skin, and he watched it grow. It grew about a quarter of an inch in 20 minutes -- Anderson.

COOPER: Wow. That's extraordinary, 20 minutes. She likely would not be here if she and her husband hadn't acted so quickly, right? I mean, why was it so critical that she get medical attention right away?

COHEN: Right, because it moves so quickly, what it does is, it produces toxins in the body, and the kidneys and other organs cannot deal with those toxins. So if they had waited maybe even a matter of hours or certainly days, you know, she might not be here.

And the doctors today, Anderson, at the press conference were so clear. They said the reason she's here today is because she and her husband are smart.

COHEN: Man. Smart indeed. What have the last two months been like for her? You talked to her?

COHEN: That's right, I did talk to her. And I was so inspired by her. I mean, she really has been actually so positive about the experience. But she did tell me that there have been some tough moments.


LANA KUYKENDALL, INFECTED WITH FLESH-EATING BACTERIA: Sometimes I cry over, you know, the fact that I'm sick. Sometimes I cry over missing the babies. Sometimes I've cried over knowing that life will never be like, I guess, I'd always thought it would be. But it will still be a good life.


COHEN: You know, Lana and her doctors told us that, you know what? They'll probably never know what caused the infection. But she could have had just some tiny cut in her leg, and the bacteria could have gotten in that way -- Anderson.

COOPER: So scary. Elizabeth Cohen, appreciate it, thanks.

We're following a number of other stories right now. Susan Hendricks is here with a "360 Bulletin" -- Susan.


Syria's capital is bracing for battle. There are reports of clashes in Damascus. Activists posted videos that appears to show vehicles burning there. The Syrian government moved tanks onto the streets of the capital. All this comes as the Red Cross declares Syria in a state of civil war.

In the U.S., the National Climatic Data Center says the drought gripping more than half the country is now the largest since the '50s. The southern and central Rockies, along with much of the plain states and the Ohio Valley are seeing the worst of that drought.

In Canada, the problem is too much water. Authorities believe a backed-up creek in British Columbia caused this mudslide. Take a look. It sent a wall of debris and water just flowing. No reports, though, Anderson, of any injuries.

COOPER: That's really good news there. Susan, thanks.

A desperate search going on right now in Iowa for days now. Two young cousins disappeared while out on a bike ride. Nearly 1,000 volunteers helped look for clues over the weekend. We're going to hear from the mother of one of the missing girls next on 360.


COOPER: Sewing needles found in sandwiches aboard four separate Delta Airlines flights. We have details on that coming up.


COOPER: Well, now to the latest on a massive search for two missing girls in Iowa. Eight-year-old Elizabeth Collins and 10-year- old Lyric Cook disappeared on Friday. The two are cousins. They were last seen riding their bicycles by their grandmother. The bikes turned up hours later, but there are still no signs of the girls.

Nearly 1,000 volunteers joined local police and FBI over the weekend in the search. Police have called off the volunteer effort for now but say law enforcement is working to bring the girls home.


CHIEF DEPUTY RICHARD ABBEN, BLACK HAWK COUNTY, IOWA, SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT: The focus today is to get these two girls back. That's what we want. We just want these girls back. And so that's what the focus is. To get them back safe and sound.


COOPER: Joining me now, Lyric's mom, Misty Cook Morrissey, and Tammy Brousseau, who's the aunt of both girls.

Misty, how did you find out that your daughter and your niece were missing?

MISTY COOK MORRISSEY, LYRIC'S MOTHER: I was getting off work at 2 p.m. My mom gave a call on the cell phone to let me know, "Hey, the girls haven't been back from their bike ride. Why don't you, you know, drive right over here, and we'll continue to look for them?" My mom had some plans for the night.

So I drove over. We looked for them, couldn't find them. Went to the police station. And when the police found the bikes, that's kind of when it got serious, and we realized that it was more than just them off playing.

COOPER: The girls' bikes were found down by a lake. Was that an area that they went to a lot? Did they know the area?

MORRISSEY: From my understanding, they do not know that area. Maybe Elizabeth and some friends had ridden down there at one time...


MORRISSEY: But no, it's not an area that they frequented. They didn't go far from home, either of the girls. They mainly stayed around the Evansdale area that my sister lives in. So it's just -- it's just not, kind of, like them to go that far.

BROUSSEAU: Definitely out of their character.

MORRISSEY: Again, they're -- again, they're 10 and 8. So I don't put it past them to have chosen to maybe go a little further as, you know, they're children so -- but not in our estimate did we think that they would go that far.


COOPER: And obviously we're putting their picture up, and I guess...

BROUSSEAU: This is not in their character to go that far.

COOPER: We're putting their pictures up as much as possible. Just so hopefully somebody will have seen them or spotted them.

Tammy, you told reporters earlier that you taught your niece about staying away from strangers.

BROUSSEAU: Absolutely. I taught both Elizabeth and my daughter. I have a daughter, Kaylee (ph), 11, who's very close to Elizabeth and Lyric. I've taught them, you know, if you're approached and somebody actually grabs hold of you, drop your body to the ground. Scream, kick, fight. Gouge eyes. Do whatever you have to do. Don't let them get you to a vehicle. You know, I told the girls, you know, once you're in a vehicle, the chances decrease of your survival.

And so I have a feeling whoever approached them had some type of weapon, something that scared them very, very badly, that made them get into a vehicle. Yes.

COOPER: And the police gave you both polygraphs, is that correct? What was that process like to have to go through that?

BROUSSEAU: I have not done a polygraph yet. I am more than willing to. I don't believe Misty has.

MORRISSEY: No, no, I did my polygraph this morning.

BROUSSEAU: Misty did do hers.

MORRISSEY: The process was long. In a very small room. So it was kind of claustrophobic. But it was a very necessary measure to eliminate and rule out family members. I'm not familiar with the polygraph, so it was a very new process for me. But, you know, it went fine. It went smoothly. We're done with it. I'm glad to be done with it. I'm glad to be outside, being back involved with looking and taking steps to, you know, helping.

It's kind of hard to be closed up in a room where you feel like you're not being part of the search. So the polygraph went fine.

BROUSSEAU: And Anderson, just so you know, all family members on, you know, Misty's side and the Collins' side, Elizabeth's parents, family members, everybody is willing to do a polygraph test, you know. We just want our girls home. You know?

COOPER: Yes, well, you've had...

BROUSSEAU: We're cooperating -- to the fullest.

COOPER: You've had an outpouring of support. I know more than 1,000 people took part in searches over the weekend.

BROUSSEAU: That's right.

COOPER: Misty, what do you want people to know about your daughter, about your niece? What do you want people to know about them?

MORRISSEY: I want people to know that Lyric and Elizabeth are beautiful. We are a God-centered family. So my niece is -- my niece and my daughter are...

BROUSSEAU: They're very fun loving.

MORRISSEY: They're spiritually-filled girls who love the Lord. They...

BROUSSEAU: They're very outgoing.

MORRISSEY: Very outgoing.

BROUSSEAU: Talkative.

MORRISSEY: They're very sweet. They're fun. They smile a lot. They're pretty persistent in the things that they want. They're great. They're really great. You know what I mean?

BROUSSEAU: Yes, they are.

MORRISSEY: And we really looked forward to what they had to offer in their future. And the life that God had for them. And we still are looking forward to something like that. Yes.

COOPER: Well, Misty and Tammy...

BROUSSEAU: We're bracing for the worst but hoping for the best.

COOPER: Yes. Well, you know, there's always hope, and Misty and Tammy, I wish you -- I wish you all the best. We'll continue praying for you and thinking about you, as I know many people around the country and the world are right now. So thank you very much for being with us.

BROUSSEAU: Anderson, thank you. Thank you so much.


COOPER: So strong.

Something dangerous found inside sandwiches served on four separate Delta Airlines flights.

Plus, how a Texas man found his car more than four decades after it was stolen. Next.


HENDRICKS: I'm Susan Hendricks with a "360 News & Business Bulletin."

Breaking news tonight, the Ambassador Bridge between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, has been shut down because of a bomb threat. Apparently, a threatening phone call came in from the U.S. side of the bridge, saying that bridge could blow up at any time. The Coast Guard has stopped all traffic under the bridge, as well, while police investigate the threat.

Delta Airlines says that sewing needles were found inside four sandwiches on four separate flights from Amsterdam to the U.S. All of the sandwiches were made at the same facility in Amsterdam. Now Delta says that it's cooperating with the FBI and local Dutch authorities, as well.

How about this? A Texas man whose car was stolen 42 years ago finally has it back. It's a 1967 Austin Healey sports car. And over the years, Robert Russell would scour the Internet to see if anyone tried to sell that car. He finally -- finally -- traced it to a dealership in Los Angeles.

Anderson, back to you.

COOPER: Susan, thanks.

Coming up, who would dare to pull the plug on a jam session between the Boss and a Beatle? "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList," and tonight we're adding curfews. Now, I don't mean all curfews. Some of them are perfectly acceptable, like -- like, for instance, the curfews that keep teenagers from ruling the night in marauding gangs, like those kids in "Children of the Corn." Those are perfectly acceptable curfews.

But then there are others, like the ones that literally pull the plug on rock history. That's exactly what happened over the weekend at London's Hyde Park.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band were headlining a rock festival. The Boss did one of his legendary three-hour sets, and then a guest came on the stage. Perhaps you've heard of him. One Sir Paul McCartney. A little band called the Beatles.

Springsteen and McCartney jamming together on stage. Two rock icons. And it seemed like there was going to be an extended medley of Beatles songs. Then suddenly the promoter pulled the plug. Why? Because it was ten minutes after the 10:30 p.m., noise curfew in Hyde Park.


(MUSIC: "Twist and Shout")


COOPER: Springsteen -- Springsteen tries to say something to the crowd, but the mikes were cut off.

Now, look, I get people that live around Hyde Park and the city council, they'd have to take them into account. But come on, it's not like it's a neighborhood garage band doing some 2 a.m., out-of-tune jam session at 120 decibels. We're talking about Springsteen and McCartney at 10:30 p.m. on a Saturday night.

Furthermore, if anyone within with earshot was so desperate to get to sleep, need I remind you that a Springsteen concert can actually be quite soothing and relaxing. Just ask New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Someone took this picture of him at a Springsteen concert at Madison Square Garden. He reportedly said he was grooving, not sleeping. But still, does that look like a man with a noise complaint?

In fact, London's "Evening Standard" reports that the local council only received one noise complaint during Springsteen's set. One. I think Springsteen guitarist Steve Van Zandt said it best. He really got to the bottom line. Quote, "When I'm jamming with McCartney, don't bug me."

Words to live by on "The RidicuList."

Hey, that's it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.