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Erin Burnett Outfront

Obama: Cliff Deal By Christmas; Cornyn "Pessimistic" On Fiscal Cliff Deal; Finding Middle Ground On The Fiscal Cliff; Romney, Obama To Meet Thursday; The Future Of The GOP; The Danger Of Tasers

Aired November 28, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: OUTFRONT next today, President Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner both hint that a deal to avoid the fiscal cliff is on the way, possibly in time for Santa. I asked Republican Senator John Cornyn if he thinks that that is a reality.

And Governor Mitt Romney is set to sit down with the president for the first time since the election, actually since the debates. Does this do either of them any good? Former presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, is OUTFRONT.

And the controversial figure behind Wikileaks, Julian Assange, is here OUTFRONT to answer critics and our questions tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight, an early Christmas miracle or at least the glimmer of one today. President Obama bringing glad tidings of great joy to the doom and gloom of the fiscal cliff.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: My hope is to get this done before Christmas and I will go anywhere and I'll do whatever it takes to get this done. It's too important for Washington to screw this up.


BURNETT: And House Speaker John Boehner, not to be outdone. You know, he wants to be a generous guy too, put a little early present under the tree too.


REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: I'm optimistic that we can continue to work together to avert this crisis and sooner rather than later.


BURNETT: I mean, you know, these are pretty glum faces though to deliver those presents. There's no smile from either one of them. But you know what investors didn't care. They're excited about the present.

The market actually quickly recovered early loses and the Dow gained more than 100 points nearly a full percent by the end of the day. Same with the Nasdaq and the S&P. As we said, every word these guys say matters.

So will we have a true Christmas miracle courtesy of those two? Let's hope that they don't wear those hats. I spoke this evening with Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. He is the incoming Republican whip, member of the Budget and Finance Committees.

And I asked him what his side is doing to actually get us to the deadline of having the fiscal cliff done and resolved, not the night before, but before Christmas.


SENATOR JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Well, what we have done and said that revenue is something that the president has said he needs, we have made the point that revenue is on the table.

Unfortunately, even if we were to conceive hypothetically, what the president has asked for, to let the tax rates go up on the top two brackets, it would generate enough revenue to run the federal government for a very short period of time.

It's roughly $85 billion. So the president really needs to tell us what his plan is. I'm increasingly pessimistic, not optimistic that a deal will be reach because the president seems to be campaigning rather than going anywhere and doing anything to try to get a deal.

We would all like a deal because if we don't get a deal, it will hurt a lot of people.

BURNETT: So you are pessimistic that we are going to get a deal? Are you saying you think the way we're going now, we could actually go off this fiscal cliff, taxes go up on everyone, spending gets cut?

CORNYN: Well, we don't know what the president has said he needs, which is revenue is not enough to solve the problem. Because as you know, we have a trillion dollar annual deficit and this would not close that gap at all.

And it wouldn't deal with Medicare and Social Security so the president needs to come up with a plan and this is for better or for worse going to require leadership.

It takes the president to provide the political cover, if you will, for Democrats to be able to fall in line. No member of the Senate or the House is going to be able to do this. This is something the president has to do by himself and he can't do it on the campaign trail.

BURNETT: But let me ask you this because you wrote an op-ed today and you wrote about divided government and about the deal. You said divided government means that neither Democrats nor Republicans will be able to pass legislation along strictly partisan lines.

It means bipartisan compromise is the only to avoid further gridlock and here are the two key lines. We cannot tax our way back to budget surpluses and economic prosperity without major spending cuts and entitlement reforms. We will continue running huge deficits regardless of what we do on the revenue side.

Now that is something that the president agrees with. In fact, he has offered, right, for every dollar of revenue that you give him, he'll give you $2.50 of spending cuts. So even using the numbers you just gave me there on revenue.

If he gave you that on spending cuts that would be $300 billion a year. It's not where we need to get, but that's a deal that could be done. Would you do that deal for every dollar you give him in revenue, he gives you $2.50 in spending cuts?

CORNYN: Well, the president has said a lot of things, but what counts is what he's willing to put on the table and so far, he hasn't put Medicare and Social Security, saving and preserving those entitlement programs on the table.

I believe that they have to be because if we're going to preserve those for future generations, we need to do something meaningful on those. The problem is, Erin, if we just do cuts in temporary spending, those can easily be undone.

And being in the minority as we are, we know there have been a lot of promises made in exchange for tax increases that never comes to pass when it comes to spending cuts.

BURNETT: Well, you know, no doubt it won't surprise you. The ABC News/"Washington Post" poll on what Americans think should happen here, most people, 60 percent say raise taxes on people who make over $250,000 a year.

Most people do not make that amount of money. So it's easier to, you know, you want someone else to do it. When you ask about raising Medicare coverage from the age, from 65 to 67, no surprise, 67 percent of people oppose that.

That most people, you know, people end up using Medicare. So do you have the courage to say, we have to raise the Medicare age that's politically hard to do for a Democrat or a Republican. Raising taxes on the wealthy is easy.

CORNYN: Well, it is hard to do and you can't do it on a partisan basis. You know, this election did not produce a mandate for President Obama or our Democratic friends. We have got exactly the same thing we had before the election, which is divided government.

BURNETT: Well, he has more people in Congress than he had before and he did win the election. And he was clear he wanted to raise taxes on the rich.

CORNYN: Well, we have got divided government, neither party could do what they want to alone, like they could the first two years President Obama was president, we got Obamacare and the stimulus and other pieces of legislation.

I think people want well thought out negotiated bipartisan solutions to the problem. You don't get that when the president has no plan to close that hole and to deal with Medicare and Social Security.

And he spends his time not around the negotiating table talking to Speaker Boehner and others, but rather conducting rallies outside of town. I just think he's not serious about this.

BURNETT: Yes. The president has though said that he would support raising the age for Medicare coverage over a ten-year period. Maybe that's not fast enough, but he said he would do it. So he has put some cuts on the table.

CORNYN: Well, like I said, Erin, he has said a lot of things at different times, but he has not placed those on the table. We have leading Democrats like Senator Durbin who has shown the courage to acknowledge the necessity of dealing with these issues.

He was on the Simpson-Bowles Commission, which I think showed the way for how this could be done, but yet, he said that no, we can't deal with those now in dealing with the fiscal cliff. We need to put that off into the future.

Well, my experience is things you put off in the future frequently never happened here.

BURNETT: All right, Senator Cornyn, thank you very much for taking the time tonight and I hope that you start feeling more optimistic and we can get a deal.

CORNYN: Me too. Thanks, Erin.


BURNETT: John Avlon joins me now, senior columnist for "Newsweek" and the "Daily Beast" along with Daniel Altman, New York University Stern School of Business professor. Great to see both of you.

All right, John, let me start with you. Cornyn is pessimistic. The market goes up today because Boehner and Obama with the glummest faces I've ever seen. Cornyn though has said he's pessimistic. I mean, do you think -- is he being realistic or do you think we're going to get a deal?

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: No, I think he's strategically being a scrooge here. I mean, you know -- a strategic scrooge. If you listen to what he's saying, I mean, it's a lot of bumper sticker bipartisanship.

He is saying we need a balanced plan, but then he is saying, you know, that the president's not dealing with entitlement reform and cuts. Look, we all know that to get a balanced plan, the Republicans also have to give on taxes. And that's what you didn't hear him want to talk about.

BURNETT: Well, he said at the beginning, I put revenue on the table, but he wouldn't talk about the rates.

AVLON: He wouldn't talk about the rates, wouldn't talk about any specifics and also when asked about these specific entitlement reforms, he didn't exactly embraced those. We have a path here. He is using weasel words to back away from specifics. We need to see some substance behind that.

BURNETT: Daniel, when you hear what he had to say, did you hear middle ground where a deal could be forged?

DANIEL ALTMAN, ADJUNCT PROFESSOR, NYU'S STERN SCHOOL OF BUSINESS: I certainly thought I did. I mean, I'm an economics professor not an English professor so I don't know the difference between talking about stuff and putting it on the table.

It seems like Senator Cornyn sees some difference there. I don't really get it. Also, the hole is not as big as he says it is. We're not heading into a trillion dollar deficit every year because we're going to be growing a little more quickly, gathering more tax revenue.

BURNETT: There's a real optimist. Do you think we're going to grow enough -- I mean, maybe you're right. I hope you're right but --

ALTMAN: Yes, I think we're going to get a little more revenue and we also see some of these stimulus programs narrowing down a little bit so the hole is not quite as big and there seems to be quite a lot more common ground that the senator admits.

BURNETT: Well, I hope that that's right.

AVLON: We know that's true. In the previous negotiations, it's been put forward, but everyone's got to give a little bit and to dismiss the revenue part saying it's not enough. The point is it's part of the solution.


AVLON: With all the CEOs who are meeting in the White House today, they made the same point.

BURNETT: That's right. You know what? It's easy to race taxes on one group, a lot of people agree with that, everybody. But the bottom line is those entitlement cuts are going to be a lot more painful for both Democrats and Republicans, but they're going to have to do it.

OUTFRONT next, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney meet at the White House. Do presidential candidates after the election always do it? These guys are going to do it.

Rick Santorum is up next to talk about whether Mitt Romney is the kind of leader the GOP actually needs.

And for the second straight day, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice met with more Republican lawmakers, one of them, the moderate and extremely influential Senator Susan Collins was not impressed.

In the past 11 years, nearly 500 people have died after being shocked by tasers, but most police departments in this country still use them. A woman who nearly died during an arrest caught on tape wants that changed.


BURNETT: Our second story OUTFRONT, the meeting of the minds. Tomorrow, President Obama is going to be meeting with Mitt Romney for the first time since they squared off in the presidential election. This is at the White House is framing the meeting.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president said that there are aspects of Governor Romney's record and Governor Romney's ideas that he believes could be very helpful.


BURNETT: Certainly, you can tell they won the election (inaudible) they talk before. Can the former foes work together? Rick Santorum challenged Romney for the Republican nomination and he joins me now. Great to see you.

So, you know, there's been so much criticism of Romney in recent weeks, from your own party. You know, when he made the comment on to the call with donors about how the president got votes because he gave groups to certain voting blocs.

Lots of people jumped up, Bobby Jindal, among them to criticize him. Today Stewart Stevens, obviously Romney's campaign chief tried to defend him in an op-ed. He wrote, one of the more troubling characteristics of the Democratic Party and the left has been a shortage of loyalty and an abundance of self loathing.

Will it be a shame if we Republicans took in a narrow presidential loss as a signal these are traits we should emulate losing is losing. So is losing just losing or are these criticisms that have come from people like Bobby Jindal fair?

RICK SANTORUM, FORMER REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I think it's important any time you lose is to do an after action review and find out what happened and why that was the case.

And I think what you've seen is a -- really a proper amount of discourse on the Republican side. I certainly weighed in on that and talked about how we needed to do more of talking to folks who we're trying to rise the economic ladder in this country. Something I did and talking about the manufacturing sector of the economy is -- that I ran on our campaign and I think that had a real touch stone with a lot of folks.

So I mean, those sorts of things I think are helpful that we bring to the table and say, you know, this might be a better way for us to move our ideas forward and win elections with them.

BURNETT: All right, but you come out with something that's proactive. I think we would do this better. That's different than what other people have been saying, which is Mitt Romney did this poorly. He is the wrong guy. He didn't have the touch. He was a snub, whatever it might have been that they sort of said. I mean, do you think there was something about Mitt specifically that was a problem?

SANTORUM: Well, look, Mitt Romney is who he is. I think everyone who's now looking back and saying, Mitt Romney was out of touch. Did they not know that Mitt Romney was a successful businessman at Bain Capital and these are issues that were raised more than four years ago?

I mean, the folks who are making those comments are the people who supported him along the way and knew that this would be a vulnerability. I think it's unfair to go after Mitt Romney on that. He ran, as far as I'm concerned, as a candidate, I saw him three days before the election and I said to him, you really did a good job.

He improved his game as he went along and I thought he did a good job. I will say, you know, I think he ran the campaign on a very narrow basis, just talking about the economy and deflecting really questions of everything else back to the economy.

But that's what he did in the primary, that's what he said he was going to do from the beginning. He just tried to execute a plan that didn't work. So, again, the very people who are criticizing him were the people who were supporting him saying that was the way we needed to win.

BURNETT: Interesting point. All right, we just heard a few moments ago, Senate Republican -- incoming Senate Republican Whip John Cornyn, he's going to get all the Republican votes for a deal on the fiscal cliff. He said he's pessimistic there's going to be a deal.

But Congressman Tom Cole said something today, urging fellow Republicans to take the Obama deal right now. I want to play that bite for you quickly. Here it is.


REPRESENTATIVE TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: My view, we all agree that we're not going to raise taxes on people that make less than $250,000. We should take them out of this discussion right now, and continue to fight against any rate increases and continue to try to work honestly for a much bigger deal.


BURNETT: All right, so that would mean -- you know, that's what the president wants, right, extend them for everyone under $250,000. They go up for everyone else and then you try to do a deal. You know, John Boehner quickly opposed what Congressman Cole had to say.

I'm curious what you think. Do you think that someone like Cornyn, someone like Boehner is the right leader for the party or someone more like what Cole is saying?

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, there is a strategy to putting together a deal and that goes for, in Washington, D.C. or, you know, in your private life. And that is you don't give the other side everything they want and then negotiate the rest of the deal.

That's sort of a problem. You have things that they want, things that you want and you have to sort of bring them together and force people to give things that they don't want in order to get the things that they do.

And when you give the folks the thing that they have been wanting most out of the box, and not get anything in return, you're not leaving yourself in a very good position to get what you want in the end.

BURNETT: So do you think Boehner's doing a good job?

SANTORUM: You know, I'm not following him very closely. I'm here in Dallas. We're working on some business things down here. I think you have got to go out and articulate a vision for the country as to what you want to accomplish here.

And I'm hopeful that our leadership won't get bogged down in all the details and talk about growth, talk about making sure have an opportunity to rise, making sure we're responsible in cutting back the enormous growth in government and put Obamacare on the table.

There's one entitlement you can cut that no one is going to get hurt or helped or either because we haven't spent the money yet. It hasn't been implemented yet. It's kind of a painless way to take some money off the table. So those are the kinds of things I would talk about in more macro sense and try to bring the American public along with you.

BURNETT: That probably would happen over the president's dead body, but all right, Rick Santorum, always good to see you.

SANTORUM: Obamacare or Medicare, I'm not too sure it would be over his dead body.

BURNETT: All right, thanks very much. Good to see you.

OUTFRONT next, Julian Assange, he's posted hundreds of thousands of American military documents, videos, diplomatic cables, classified on his web site, Wikileaks. So why is he have a warning about the web tonight exclusively OUTFRONT. And almost 500 people have died in the past 11 years when law enforcement used tasers. Is it excessive force OUTFRONT next.


BURNETT: Our third story OUTFRONT, the danger of tasers. Over the past 11 years, nearly 500 people have died after being shocked by these electronic stun guns. This is according to Amnesty International.

Yet nearly 95 percent of America's police departments still use stun guns and they are fast becoming the weapon of choice for officers. One recent arrest though was caught on camera and is reigniting the debate over the use of tasers.

Miguel Marquez is OUTFRONT on this story and we want to warn you that some of the images that you're going to see here that happened are disturbing.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): How does a seemingly normal traffic stop go from this --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that your current address?


MARQUEZ: To this -- June 4 of this year around 12:30 a.m., a dark side street off a busy L.A. freeway, 50-year-old Angela Jones and actress says she lost her way and pulled over to figure out how to get home.

The police officers say Jones was trying to hide something. They conducted a sobriety test and allowed her to return to her car. Several minutes later, Jones was taken out of the car again. This time she brings her purse and begins to question why she's being held.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're getting it all wrong. I'm trying to get home.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're not acting as someone who hasn't done anything wrong.

MARQUEZ: When the patrolman tried to handcuff her so they can conduct a search, she bolts. They used a taser to subdue her, three 5-second jolts of electricity says the police report, Jones goes into cardiac arrest, her only and last response, a long and eerie moment.

Jones was charged with resisting arrest and drug possession, the marijuana found in her purse. Her lawyer says Jones remembers nothing of that night and has suffered brain damage. He says officers ignored her rights and escalated the situation.

JOHN BURTON, JONES' ATTORNEY: They detained her far too long. They scared her when she ran to the car out of fear. After 15 minutes of an unjustified stop, they tased her in the chest and caused her to go into cardiac arrest.

MARQUEZ: California Highway Patrol says the patrolman's actions both to stop and the tasering were within policy guidelines. Richard Lichten, a 30-year law enforcement veteran says it is essential for police to give suspects clear instruction and there is one thing that he doesn't understand.

RICHARD LICHTEN, POLICE PRACTICES EXPERT: It's unusual for an officer to put somebody back into a car if they feel they're still in danger. A reasonable officer wouldn't have done that.

MARQUEZ: A drug test found THC in Jones' blood, but it's not clear if she smoked pot that night. Her criminal case is expected to go to trial next year and a multimillion dollar civil suit against the California Highway Patrol is being prepared. Miguel Marquez, CNN, Los Angeles.


BURNETT: And we received this response from Taser tonight, quote, "We are concerned about this incident and eagerly await for more information as it becomes available. Since it is dangerously speculative if not impossible to make a medical diagnosis from a YouTube video in which we can't see exactly what occurred or know the condition of the suspect during the medical response." We will continue to update on this story.

OUTFRONT next, U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Susan Rice, she spent a second day answering questions from Republican senators. But the one senator she really need on her side, the moderate, influential, widely respected, Susan Collins gave a preliminary verdict and it isn't so pretty.

And a story like something out of a Hollywood horror movie, a ghost ship full of decomposing bodies and skeletons washed up on the shore.


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

We begin with the Environmental Protection Agency temporarily blocking BP from bidding on new federal government contracts. They say the company showed a, quote, lack of business integrity in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Now, while the ban is indefinite, BP says it's working to have the suspension lifted soon. Analyst from Raymond James tell us the ban can weigh on BP if they lose out in lease sales in the Gulf of Mexico.

And in New Jersey, superstorm Sandy caused nearly $37 billion in damage, of that 7.4 billion reflects the cost of preparing for future disasters, according to Governor Chris Christie, who says more than 32,000 businesses and homes were destroyed or partially destroyed.

And a mysterious and gruesome discovery, we want to show you this, because a boat containing several decomposing bodies washed up on the coast of Japan. Some were so badly decayed that all that was left of them were skeletons. Now, there are few details of the origin of this ship. This is a truly bizarre incident.

But a local police chief tells us that the small wooden boat had feint characters on the side that he believes are Korean. So, authorities think the people on board possibly could have been North Korean fishermen or defectors who met a tragic end.

Well, the M23 rebels in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are now saying they will withdraw from the city of Goma. That's in line with demands with regional leaders who insisted on withdrawal as a condition of beginning negotiations to end fighting.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton weighed in on the conflict today, calling on all African leaders to halt any and all support for the M23 rebels. Of course, it is Rwanda, which has been accused of doing so.

It has been 482 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Well, the Federal Reserve today released its latest Beige Book. That's basically a bunch of anecdotes on how the economy is doing and they say the economy's actually expanding, but they're still really worried about, you know, the fiscal cliff.

And now our fourth story OUTFRONT: More questions for Susan Rice.

For the second day in a row, she and the president -- who is a possible pick by the president for secretary of state, met with Republican senators. Some of whom obviously have sharply criticized her description of the attack on the American consulate in Benghazi.

One Republican whose support Rice desperately needed, the moderate, influential Susan Collins was not impressed.


SEN. SUSAN COLLINS (R), MAINE: I still have many questions that remained unanswered. I continue to be troubled by the fact that the U.N. ambassador decided to play what was essentially a political role at the height of a contentious presidential election campaign.


BURNETT: Yet the president continues to stand by Susan Rice.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Susan Rice is extraordinary. I couldn't be prouder of the job that she's done as U.N. ambassador. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: OUTFRONT tonight, Reihan Salam, writer for "The National Review," and Tim Punke, Democratic strategist.

All right. Tim, when you hear Senator Collins, you know, she is influential, she is moderate, come out and say, "Look, I'm not satisfied," sort of turning her back on Susan Rice. She had the moment in front of the microphone to endorse, she did not.

Should the administration cut its losses and just say this might not be the right nominee? Yes, the president thinks she's ordinary, but maybe not for secretary of state?

TIM PUNKE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I don't think so at all. I think the president won the election. And I think the American people expect to him not only stand up to the idea that he campaigned on, but also to stand up for the people who worked hard for him everyday.

And, you know, with respect to Susan Collins' comments, I think a couple of things there. First of all, she's obviously very influential and her support is important. But one of the things that she did say is that she wouldn't necessarily support her colleagues in blocking Ambassador Rice.

The other thing that she said that I guess I'd have to take a little bit of exception with is that these comments were political. I think it's important that, you know, we have to look at this, every comment, one before an election is political. We do have to give administration officials the space to do their jobs and in this case, Ambassador Rice was doing her job in talking about the attacks.

BURNETT: Let me ask you, Reihan, about something that Tim just said, though. What she said -- that Senator Collins did not come out and actually say, I'm going to block Susan Rice's nomination.


BURNETT: She did, though, go ahead to say she thought John Kerry would be an excellent appointment and would be easily confirmed. Tell us why that might not quite be what Republicans think it is.

SALAM: Well, one issue is that if Senator John Kerry becomes Secretary of State John Kerry and then suddenly there's a special election in Massachusetts and I think there are a lot of folks who are thinking about that as a potential opportunity for Republicans. So I think that that's probably --

BURNETT: Scott Brown, still popular.

SALAM: Scott Brown is very popular and I think that that's certainly one angle.

But I think that there's also a deeper issue here which is this -- you know, conservatives also have policy priorities, and one thing we have noticed is that while Senator Collins has gone one way, criticizing Susan Rice. You also have Senator McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham who are backing away from some of their sharper criticism of Susan Rice. And these are folks who are very committed to a very forward leaning American foreign policy.

And I suspect that there are also people who are skeptical that Senator Kerry shares that vision and they might think that Susan Rice --

BURNETT: You're saying he's more dovish. More dovish than Susan Rice.

SALAM: Exactly. And they might think that Susan Rice exactly is a little bit more hawkish and a little bit more open to a forward- leaning foreign policy.

So, a lot of folks, including Bill Kristol of the "Weekly Standard", who really actually care about that issue, are saying, wait a second, Republicans. Susan Rice might be a better pick from the perspective of U.S. foreign policy than John Kerry.

BURNETT: Tim, we also heard from Senator Bob Corker on this issue and he's been very outspoken on Benghazi on this show and others. He's in line to become the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Now, he was very careful and he's been careful with us to not say he's for or against Susan Rice, but he did have a warning for the president. And here he is.


SEN. BOB CORKER (R) ,TENNESSEE: I would just ask that the president step away from all the buzz around this particular situation and take a deep breath and decide who is the best secretary of state for our country, at this time when we have so many issues to deal with.


BURNETT: I don't know whether that was a veiled reference to pick someone else or not. But the question, Tim, is: does the administration need to have a fight about this right now?

PUNKE: Well, look, you know, I think Senator Corker was exactly right that the president should step back from the buzz and pick exactly who he wants. But I also think that there's a more important issue here, which is they should be focusing on different things on Benghazi and I think they are. And that is, one, let's make sure we bring those who were responsible for the Benghazi attack to justice. And two, let's make sure that something like this never happens again.

But, again, I think the president having won the election is going to pick the person who he thinks is going to do the best job, regardless of the politics, regardless of Massachusetts special election. He's going to pick the best person.

BURNETT: Reihan, can Republicans block the nomination of Susan Rice?

She's a very accomplished diplomat, as you've said, by all those measure. She's also a woman. She's also African-American.

A lot of people think she's done absolutely nothing wrong. She's come out and made her case.

How do they block her?

SALAM: I think it's very tricky. You know, certainly, they can try to sustain a filibuster. But I think you're going to people defect from that. That's one piece of it.

Another of it is this regarding what Tim has said a moment ago. I think it actually makes sense for President Obama to pick a fight on behalf of Susan Rice in part because it demonstrates to his base that he's not going to roll over and play dead. And I think that that's part of what Senator Corker might even try to get across.

You know, you might want to do this to make a point, but then, you know, is that necessarily the best thing to do, yada, yada, yada. I think that that's a deeper question, because I think President Obama is in the mood to flex some of his muscles, because he did win a convincing victory. So, I think that that's part of what's going on here as well.

BURNETT: Maybe if he picks a fight over Susan Rice, he'll compromise on the fiscal cliff. Who knows?

SALAM: A very interesting point you raised.

BURNETT: Who knows? He's a smart man. He's got a lot of thoughts going on his head.

Thanks very much to Reihan and Tim. Appreciate both your time.

SALAM: Thank you.

BURNETT: One of the most controversial people on the planet, Julian Assange, has applauded hundreds of thousands of classified military and government documents to his Web site WikiLeaks. Next, he is OUTFRONT.


BURNETT: Our fifth story OUTFRONT: the man behind WikiLeaks.

Julian Assange is one of the world's most controversial people. The 41-year-old Australian has posted hundreds of thousands of U.S. military documents, videos, and diplomatic cables on his Web site. The U.S. government is scrambling to find out where he got them. Now, the government right now believes his source is Army Private Bradley Manning who stands accused of stealing classified documents and giving them to WikiLeaks.

The former intelligence analyst in Iraq is facing 22 charges, including aiding the enemy. He could spend life in jail.

Assange will not reveal his sources and has not been charged with the United States. For the past five months, he's been living in the Ecuadoran embassy in London. Ecuador has granted him asylum as he tries to avoid extradition to Sweden, where he faces allegations of sexual assault, allegations that he denies.

Now, Julian Assange is OUTFRONT tonight from the embassy. He's just written a new book called "Cyber Punks: Freedom and the Future of the Internet."

And it's great to see you, Mr. Assange. I appreciate it.

I wanted to start by asking you something at the very beginning of your book that really shocked me. You said, the internet is a threat to human civilization. And I saw that and I thought, but the Internet is a tool by which you, Julian Assange, have become one of the world's most controversial people, where you published all this information.

Why is the Internet bad?

JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: Well, here's the book here as well. It's on the back as well, that quote.

But -- the Internet has become integral to our human civilization. It is the device by which we all communicate, by which we formulate laws, by which we engage in trade deals, by which communicate the very core -- you know, our personal lives to one another.

So the Internet and civilization has merged. And that's a new phenomenon. It's not just that this is affecting one country, but rather global civilization has merging, has merged arguably with the Internet.

So anything that is -- affects the Internet in a serious way affects civilization in a serious way. The big problem we have now is the control and mass buying that is occurring on the Internet. And that is something that has really shifted and changes in the past 10 years, mainly because the technology to do it has become cheaper.

BURNETT: So, let me just ask you a little bit about -- I mean, you talk about cables that obviously are at the center of this entire case in the U.S., in the book. And Bradley Manning, obviously, he's the one who had them, according to the United States. He's in a pretrial hearing. He's trying to get the charges for him -- against him for aiding the enemy thrown out of court. But, obviously, as I said, he could end up spending the rest of his life in jail.

Do you feel any guilt about that since the information the U.S. government says that he stole was published by you? No matter where he got it, you published it.

ASSANGE: Bradley Manning is in court today in the United States and throughout this week. The case is not whether Bradley Manning allegedly sold the cables. The case is about the abuse of Bradley Manning. Over a nine-month period Bradley Manning was abused. In fact, the United Nations has investigated this, a special rapporteur for torture, Juan Mendez, found formally against the United States, saying his treatment was akin to torture.

Why was he treated that way? His lawyer argues and many others before the case argue it was order to coerce into a confession that would bring down me or bring down WikiLeaks. Now, as far as we know, there has been no such confession. But that's the case that's going on now.

And that case is a reflection in the decay of the rule of law. The secretary -- Hillary Clinton's spokesperson resigned over the issue. The entire Quantico prisoner base in Virginia was closed over this issue. It's a serious issue and it reflects serious problems within the military system. It has a feeling about accountability and unaccountability is flowing into other parts of our life.

BURNETT: Now I don't want to get into detail, I know you have a strong point of view, obviously on how Bradley Manning has been treated. But I didn't want to go down that path.

I wanted to ask a question about something else you thought about him. When you said that you thought that part of the reason they were doing what they were doing was to coerce him perhaps into getting you involved in all of this. He could make a deal to serve limited time. And to make that deal, you could be the guy who loses out.

I mean, are you worried that that could be the deal? He says, this is what Julian Assange did to help me get the information to leak it?

ASSANGE: Well, I don't want to comment on the legal specifics. That would, obviously, be unwise in the view of what is happening. There's a concurrent process which is occurring for the last two years, an ongoing grand jury who has sucked in a vast number of people, to compel them to testify, pulling all sorts of records, pulling our Twitter records in relation to information about me, pulling information from Gmail, pulling information from American service providers, et cetera, et cetera.

So, part of the reason that this book has been written, is because we have become very aware of what all these mechanisms are, as a result of being embroiled in that process. One of the co-workers, Jacob Appelbaum, just filled in with me once a talk in New York. And as a result, he is being subject to this process as well. He's being detained at airports and so on. You can read about those details in the book.

Let's go back to -- you know, this is just a small symptom, in a way what's happening to Julian Assange is not particularly important, except that it is part of a much wider process.

Now, it's not just the process that I'm talking about. It's a process which all the top national security journalists in the United States are talking about. Jane Mayer, (INAUDIBLE), "New Yorker" says the same thing. Donna Priest from "The Washington Post," in her book "|Top Secret America," where she likens what's going on to literally a metastasizing cancer, where we now have 5 million people in the national security clearance system in the United States, a state within a state.

Now, it's not just the United States. This is a worldwide phenomenon. And you can look at the spy files, which were published by WikiLeaks, just Google "WikiLeaks spy files".

BURNETT: Yes, it's on your Web site.

ASSANGE: And you see details of over 175 companies around the world that sell this mass surveillance technology.

We're not talking anymore about picking on particular activist, going, oh, look, we just spoke to Julian Assange. That's interesting. Now, maybe we'll spy on you.

Rather, the new game in two is strategic surveillance. It is cheaper now to intercept all communications in and out of a country. Store it permanently than it is to simply go after one particular person. And there are companies in South Africa that were selling that into Libya. The French made a system, AMESYS, that we exposed, that was a nationwide interception system, advertised as a nationwide interception system.

BURNETT: Look --

ASSANGE: This is not a matter of speculation. These are documents from these companies that are secret prospectuses that are sold. Here, strategic mass infection system, FinFisher. You will see it.

Plenty of good work is being done on this, by a whole bunch of journalists.

BURNETT: I'm curious, though, about this, because again, this -- you know, you raised a point. A lot of people share this fear about under surveillance, right? I mean, I don't -- you know, some people might say you go too far on it. But people do share your fear.

But you also are someone out there trying to champion and like I said benefiting by the Internet by putting out information that the governments don't want people to have. I wanted to ask in particular where you are tonight.

First, just one question I wanted to ask you because people ask me about this today and I have you here and I want to ask you. Officials from Ecuador say that you have had a lung infection and that you have been sick since you have had to stay there. Is that true?

ASSANGE: Julian Assange is not very important, you know? I'm in an extraordinary situation, being in an extraordinary situation for over two years now. But that is not important is this development that is affecting all of that.

BURNETT: I know --

ASSANGE: Democracies die behind closed doors. That's the reality.

BURNETT: Can you answer the question about whether you're sick or do you not want to talk about it?

ASSANGE: I don't think it is important.

BURNETT: OK, let me ask you this.

ASSANGE: We're in an extremely situation now.

BURNETT: I understand. Let me ask you this, though, about Ecuador, because -- you know, look, as you say, you have been there and it's an extraordinary situation, four or five months, they've provided you asylum, they've been trying to get you out of the country that you are in right now to avoid facing charges in Sweden or the U.S.

But, you know, when you talk about this, you know governments clamping down on the right to speak, Ecuador is an unlikely champion of your call for free speech and I wanted to lay this out for you, because just this month, Human Rights Ecuador reports that the president of Ecuador, President Correa proposed --

ASSANGE: Look, look, look, seriously --

BURNETT: Let me finish for my viewers here, though, and then you can go ahead and rip it apart. He said freedom of expression should be a function of the state, where information --

ASSANGE: Look, look, I'm not here -- I'm not here to talk about -- all governments have their problems.


ASSANGE: I'm not here to talk about -- I heard it.


ASSANGE: I'm not here to talk about these little things about Ecuador or whatever. Come on. Let's be realistic.

BURNETT: It's not a little thing. Suppressing journalists is not a little thing for someone who says that their job is to put out information that governments try to suppress.

ASSANGE: It is a big problem, the suppression of the freedom of speech all over the world, an extremely big problem. And so is the collapse in the rule of law.

And you should be well aware that al Jazeera journalists spent six years in Guantanamo Bay, they are cases all across the U.S. that the Pentagon is now taking a position where it is saying, arbitrarily, completely invented, that the act of receiving information by any journalist anywhere in the world that the Pentagon says is classified and publishing some portion of it, or quotes from it, is espionage.

BURNETT: OK, but --

ASSANGE: And saying that that is something that applies to journalists --


ASSANGE: -- and it also applies to government within government.


BURNETT: I understand your point. But the Committee to Protect Journalists say about Ecuador, about Ecuador -- hold on.

ASSANGE: Extremely serious business.

BURNETT: Let me ask you the question, about Ecuador, in less than five years, President Correa has turned Ecuador into one of the hemisphere's restrictive notions for the press.


ASSANGE: Look, as we agreed for this program the issue is the surveillance state. We are in a situation --

BURNETT: I didn't agree to talk about the surveillance state.

ASSANGE: We're in situation -- I'm sorry. Look, do you want to bring my P.A.'s on? Please, please.

So look, let's be honest. We have a serious situation here. Whatever little things are occurring in small countries are not of our concern.

BURNETT: OK, the country that is Ecuador is the country that is preventing you from being arrested the moment you walk outside the door.


ASSANGE: Including the United States, including Western Europe, including France, including what was happening in former Libya.

We are experts in this. We have lived through it. We have researched it. We have documented it.

BURNETT: Then why will you not talk about Ecuador?

ASSANGE: We are part of the community of national security journalists who are involved in this sort of thing. Because Ecuador is insignificant. It's extremely important to me --

BURNETT: But it is the country that is enabling you to not be arrested.


ASSANGE: It's people have been generous to me, et cetera.


ASSANGE: But it is not a significant world player. South America and the developments that are happening in South America are interesting and significant and it's growing and emerging independence. But they are not the topic of what we are doing here.

The topic of this book is what is happening to all of us and the threats that all of us face. You know, in the 1930s, certain people saw what was going on and they saw the general trends. I'm telling you there is a general trend.

I am an expert and I've lived through it. Other experts have also live through different facets of this, an American, a German, and a Frenchman, all experts on different parts of what is happening legislatively and what is happening in terms of the technology.

Now, we are all being intercepted permanently.

BURNETT: All right.

ASSANGE: This is a state change. This is not a matter of simply a small change in individual. It is a sea change in politics.


ASSANGE: And we are going to have to do something about it. If we don't do something about it, we all run the risk of losing the democracy that we treasured for so long.

BURNETT: We will leave it on that note and thank you very much for taking the time, Julian Assange.

We'll be right back.


BURNETT: Tomorrow on OUTFRONT, we'll have both Republicans and Democrats on to talk about the fiscal cliff, including Congressman Peter DeFazio, who says we just go over the cliff. It's going to be an interesting show with some fireworks. We'll hope to see you back here then.

In the meantime, "A.C. 360" starts now. Wolf Blitzer is in today for Anderson Cooper.