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Debate Performance; No Tax Increases; U.S. Special Forces Now in Libya

Aired October 4, 2012 - 19:00   ET


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT next a flood of explanations for why the president lost the debate last night, the moderator, the lack of urgency and yes, even the thin air was cited. We'll ask his deputy campaign manager the real reason.

Plus our focus group spiked last night when Mitt Romney said he wouldn't raise taxes on the middle class, does that add up?

And the FBI finally arrives in Benghazi, more than three weeks after the attack that left four Americans dead. Tonight we'll hear from a reporter who just visited the site and found a trove of sensitive documents, including one about security requests.

Let's go OUTFRONT.

Good evening, everyone. I'm Erin Burnett. OUTFRONT tonight together again, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan taking the stage together for the first time since last night's debate. That, by most accounts, was a big win for their campaign. But was it enough to change the dynamic of the race just 33 days before the election? Let's go to Jim Acosta who is at the rally in Fishersville (ph), Virginia and obviously you've got -- I know there's going to be Trace Adkins, I guess, is going to perform there. They're getting ready for a big, big blowout.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. They are blowing this day up. You could say this is a hashtag winning day for the Romney campaign. They're feeling pretty good about last night's debate and you're right. Country music star Trace Adkins is on stage. And we saw the evidence of this all day long from the GOP nominee, when he got on board his campaign plane earlier this morning. He was already cruising at a higher altitude, Erin. He was chatting up his campaign staff. There was a smile on his face. And, honestly, Erin, I've been covering this campaign for a year and a half. This was one of the happiest days that I've seen on the part of this campaign and its staff for some time.

But you could tell that things were starting to change during the day, as the president was starting to mount that new offensive, going after Mitt Romney on his statements last night, calling into question whether or not the GOP contender was telling the truth during last night's debate and putting out that new ad that said well if we can't trust him on the debate stage, how can we trust him in the Oval Office. Erin, it's interesting to note that just as we were landing here in Virginia, two Romney senior advisers came to the back of the plane to start talking to reporters about this new narrative that was emerging from the Obama campaign, trying to go after Mitt Romney and some of his statements. And when I asked Ed Gillespie, a senior Romney adviser about that tough new ad from the president, he said it's the president's ads that can't be trusted -- Erin.

BURNETT: Yes, (INAUDIBLE) on facts both of them had some issues last night and both had some hits. But I'm curious, Jim, you know with the focus group (INAUDIBLE) the dials (ph) at the end, Mitt Romney really surged on some of those personal attributes where he has struggled, trust, sensitivity. He did very, very well. He surged on that. The president didn't plunge but Mitt Romney surged. Are you seeing a new Mitt Romney? Is this going to be enough to really invigorate the whole campaign?

ACOSTA: I think so, Erin, and you know, he was taking a lot of knocks. Not just from the press, but inside the Republican Party that he was spending too much time doing debate prep behind closed doors and not enough time campaigning in swing states like Ohio and here in Virginia. Well the Romney campaign, I can tell you, they felt vindicated by that strategy. When I was talking to Romney's sparring partner, Ohio Senator Rob Portman, he gave me no indication that they're going to be letting up in any way in terms of debate prep. He said his job is not going to be done until those debates are finished later on this month -- Erin.

BURNETT: All right, well Jim Acosta, thank you very much. And of course we're going to be going back to that event when Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney appear on the stage. But right now Stephanie Cutter joins me, the deputy campaign manager for President Obama's campaign. Good to see you, Stephanie. And I know you saw the crowd behind Jim Acosta. They're fired up. This has been a good day for the Romney campaign. The focus group I was with last night was very clear and I just mentioned this to Jim. But in case you didn't hear me, those personal attributes, likability, strength, character, Mitt Romney really surged. And once you're on that state it's just two men in this case. What could the president have done differently do you think to avoid the outcome that ended up happening?

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA'S DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Well, you know, in terms of Mitt Romney surging, just remember how much of a deficit he had to make up. I mean, he was in some cases double digits behind the president and all those attributes and the president is still leading on them. You know I think that we expected an aggressive debater to show up last night on the debate stage with Barack Obama. We didn't expect an aggressively dishonest debater to show up. And that's what we got in Mitt Romney.

And you know what could the president have done differently? You know we'll of course recalibrate and recalculate based on the Mitt Romney that showed up last night. We've got two more debates left. And now we know what we're dealing with. We know that Mitt Romney will, in a split second, just walk away from the central policy of his entire economic plan because he knows it's bad politics. You know he's been campaigning on this $5 trillion tax cut since the beginning of the primaries. And last night he tried to walk away from it, because he knows he's going to have to tell the middle class that he's going to have to raise their taxes if he wants to pay for it.

BURNETT: All right, so let's --

CUTTER: So now we know that.

BURNETT: OK, let me ask you about --

CUTTER: And I think you'll see a difference in the next --

BURNETT: OK. The $5 trillion cut, the president obviously talked about that today. I know that was sort of the heart of when you talk about him being dishonest it comes down to the tax cuts, so here's what the president said in Denver today about that.

CUTTER: Well, there are plenty of other examples.

BURNETT: OK, let me just play this one and then get your reaction.


BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I got on to the stage, I met this very spirited fellow who claimed to be Mitt Romney.


OBAMA: But it couldn't have been Mitt Romney because the real Mitt Romney has been running around the country for the last year promising $5 trillion in tax cuts that favor the wealthy. The fellow on stage last night said he didn't know anything about that.


BURNETT: Stephanie, let me ask you about that, because here at CNN we fact checked that, that five trillion in tax cuts and we have come and said that that's not true. Mitt Romney has not promised that because he's going to also be closing loopholes and deductions, so his tax cut wouldn't be anywhere near that size.

CUTTER: So you're disputing the size of the tax cut?


CUTTER: Or are you disputing also how he's going to pay for it?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He does have a $5 trillion tax cut --


CUTTER: Erin, he has campaigned on lowering tax rates by 20 percent for everybody, including those in the top one percent. That was one of the main selling points in the Republican primary.



BURNETT: So you're saying if you lower them by 20 percent you get a $5 trillion tab, right?

CUTTER: It's a $5 trillion tab --


BURNETT: But then when you close deductions is not going to be anywhere near $5 trillion --

CUTTER: Right.

BURNETT: That's our analysis.

CUTTER: Well with, OK, stipulated, it won't be near $5 trillion, but it's also not going to be the sum of $5 trillion in the loopholes that he's going to close. So it is going to cost someone and it's going to cost the middle class. Independent economists have taken a look at this. There aren't enough deductions for those at the top to account for the number of tax cuts that they get because of Mitt Romney's policies, so you have to raise taxes on the middle class --


CUTTER: As Bill Clinton said, it's just simple math.

BURNETT: OK. They'll say, though, that you can do that. There are other studies. I know the one to which you're referring --

CUTTER: Prove it --

BURNETT: But there's also the possibility --

CUTTER: Erin, prove it.

BURNETT: Well you can't prove either side is all I'm saying --


BURNETT: But the one thing that I can say is not true is the $5 trillion tax cut --

CUTTER: I disagree with you. You can prove it. So then they just say that they're counting entirely on economic growth to pay for tax cut, which is an interesting theory because that's what George Bush did and let's look at how that turned out --


BURNETT: They're not saying entirely.


BURNETT: They're saying closing loopholes and economic growth, both. I mean I understand you disagree with it --


BURNETT: I'm just making the point of what they're saying --

CUTTER: Erin, but that still leaves you at least $1 trillion short. That's all I'm saying. The math does not work with what they're saying. And they won't name those deductions. Not a single deduction that they will close because they know it's bad for their politics. Now look, at the end of the day this is the center. This is the core of Mitt Romney's economic policy. Last night, he walked away from it, said he didn't have a $5 trillion tax cut. He does. That's what lowering the rates amounts to.




CUTTER: -- he doesn't want to say how he's going to pay for it.

BURNETT: But -- OK, all right I think both of us have made our point on this. I want to ask you something else though on this front because this whole issue of adjusting on dishonesty. Senior strategist David Plouffe has said your campaign is going to adjust because of what you've called Romney's dishonesty. So when you -- and you also just talked about recalibrating and recalculating. So, what does that mean you're going to do?

CUTTER: Well, I think that, you know -- look, you know the president came into the debate last night really wanting to have a conversation with the American people about his plans, his policies, you know and to correct Mitt Romney when he was distorting the president's record or distorting his own. It turns out that's all that Mitt Romney did. You know, on issue after issue, pre-existing conditions. Says he's going to cover people with pre-existing conditions. That's absolutely not true. It's not true. Even his staff had to correct that after.

You know, he says that he's not going to cut education. That's absolutely not true. He has endorsed a budget that would kick 200,000 kids off Head Start, would cut Pell grants for more than nine million kids. So what he is saying last night its -- you know he made some good political points, scored some good political points by saying these things. Unfortunately they're not just -- they're just not true and it will catch up with him. That's how these things go. You know, the American people haven't been tuned out over the past year and a half. They've been following this race. They've been following what Mitt Romney has said.


CUTTER: And they're tuning in to the fact that he wasn't telling the truth last night. BURNETT: Well I think -- I mean there's a conversation we had earlier -- we just had a moment ago shows I mean on some of these things there are different ways of looking at it and the point is, is who is going to make the best argument to the American people? Some things can be proven definitively right or wrong. And I want to ask you this, though, because Andrew Sullivan, obviously an influential supporter of the president and a blogger called his performance absolutely disgracefully bad. And well let me just play a sound bite of what he said and let you respond to that.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never seen a president of the United States blather, blather on like that, bore us, tell us none of his major arguments, fight back against any of the obvious distortions and lies of the other candidate and just sit there. I mean, really. I mean it's just -- I mean you know how much I love this guy.


BURNETT: Stephanie, did you feel a little bit of that frustration?

CUTTER: You know, I appreciate his opinion. I disagree with it. I think the president had a good performance last night. Obviously, Mitt Romney had a good performance, but that's just what it was. It was a performance. He wasn't leveling with the American people or being honest with them about his own policies or what he was going to do for this country. The president took a different approach. He was being honest. He was laying out where he wanted to take this country. He was you know giving them a sense of what a second term Obama presidency would mean for them, mean for them personally and for the middle class. So he took a different approach. Now that we know what we're dealing with in the Mitt Romney that showed up last night -- I'm presuming he's probably going to show up at the next debate, too. You know we'll hold him accountable for the things that he's saying about the president's record and his own. You know he has a history here. He has been running for president now for six years. He's taken --

BURNETT: Stephanie --

CUTTER: He has to be responsible for those positions.

BURNETT: I'm going to give you the award for the person who is the most loyal to your guy. I have to say because you are -- you are really -- you are loyal and I'm going to play you one more sound bite only because I can't resist this one --

CUTTER: Great. Thank you.

BURNETT: -- because it made me laugh. I had a headache last night, so I'm going to say this is the preference to the sound bite. I had a headache. I didn't feel well when I landed in Denver. Here is Al Gore talking about the president's performance.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) AL GORE, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT: Obama arrived in Denver at 2:00 pm today, just a few hours before the debate started. Romney did his debate prep in Denver. When you go to 5,000 feet --


GORE: -- and you only have a few hours to adjust --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's interesting.

GORE: -- I don't know maybe --




BURNETT: All right, maybe the altitude.

CUTTER: What's that?

BURNETT: I was saying maybe the altitude. Al Gore, he was sort of being lighthearted when he said maybe that was part of the challenge --

CUTTER: Yes, the altitude.

BURNETT: -- the altitude.


CUTTER: Well maybe the altitude is what affected Mitt Romney's memory (INAUDIBLE). Maybe that was the impact on the debate.

BURNETT: You win the gold --

CUTTER: But you're right. It is light hearted.

BURNETT: You win the gold.

CUTTER: It is light hearted.

BURNETT: All right, Stephanie, it's always good to see you. I appreciate your time.

All right, OUTFRONT, next we break down what may have been Romney's key line of the night. And you just heard Stephanie impassioned about it, it came when he talked about his tax plan. So does it add up or not?

And we are learning tonight that U.S. Special Forces are on the ground, collecting intelligence in Libya. We have a report from Benghazi, coming up. And a revelation today from Facebook revealed by Mark Zuckerberg.


BURNETT: Our second story, OUTFRONT, taxes. Romney's key to victory, question mark, and it is a crucial question mark for him. We were with CNN's undecided voters last night in Colorado and about 17 minutes in, you know they had these little things where they were dialing up and down when they liked or didn't like things. And they gave a big boost of approval to Mitt Romney when he said this.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: And number three, I will not, under any circumstances raise taxes on middle income families. I will lower taxes on middle income families. Now you cite a study. There are six other studies that looked at the study you describe and say it's completely wrong.


BURNETT: Now the study that Mitt Romney is referring to and that the president referred to is from the Tax Policy Center and it looked to see whether Romney can cut individual tax rates for everyone without increasing the deficit because he has promised that his plan will be revenue neutral. So in order for his math to add up, the campaign has said they're going to close tax loopholes, particularly those affecting the wealthy. Now according to the Centers Analysis back in August, they said that by doing that, lower income families with children would pay an average $2,000 more in taxes.

But Mitt Romney is right to point out that others have poked holes in the Tax Policy Center's math, including Bloomberg, the financial news company reported -- it crunched the numbers and found middle class taxpayers would be hit with an increase of only $1,000 and not 2,000 using the same assumptions. The Tax Policy Center was told about this and according to Bloomberg, the authors changed some of their assumptions but dug in and did not change their findings on the tax increase at the end of the day.

The conservative Tax Foundation claims the center didn't account for economic growth and that Romney's plan would pay for itself. They say there would be no middle income tax increase. And Doug Holtz- Eakin, the former director of the Congressional Budget Office and Senator John McCain's former economic adviser, last month on the show came on and did the math and said if you close or cap itemized deductions and assume the economy grows at three percent, which historically would be reasonable. Obviously right now that's been a challenge -- that they'll raise $200 billion, which would mean you didn't have to raise taxes on the middle class.

So is Romney's promise for middle tax cut fair? It could add up. If he can sell it, could it be the issue that wins him the election? OUTFRONT tonight Doug Holtz-Eakin, who I just mentioned and Ethan Pollack, the senior policy analyst at the Economic Policy Institute and a former staff member for President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform. Great to see both of you. Appreciate it. And Doug, let me start with you --


BURNETT: -- because this stood out to me last night that Independent voters really liked that when he talked about cutting taxes for the middle class. Obviously the Obama administration takes issue with it and says that it isn't true. Do you think this could be enough, if Mitt Romney can make the case for him to win the election?

DOUG HOLTZ-EAKIN, FORMER CBO DIRECTOR: I think it's a very important point. Remember why he wants to have the tax reform he wants. It's to make sure that the United States grows better than we've seen in the past four years. And what Mr. Romney is trying to say is, look, we have all these people out of work. We have all these people who have jobs whose incomes are not growing. Let's have some sensible tax policies. Let's lower rates, broaden the base, be respectful of the middle class and the deficit, but have a better tax policy in place.

And it's a really good positioning for him because the president can't even get the first step right. Instead of lowering rates and broadening the base, he is insisting on raising taxes. And that's a bit of a tough sell right now because it was the same president who, in 2010, said we can't afford to raise taxes on anyone. The economy is too weak. And we were growing faster then than we are now and I think that's what is going on.

BURNETT: Ethan, how big of an issue could this be for Democrats if Mitt Romney successfully makes the case?

ETHAN POLLACK, FORMER MEMBER OF OBAMA'S COMMISSION ON FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY: I -- you know, this is how I see it. I mean imagine that you're going into -- you want to buy a car, right?


POLLACK: And you go to the car dealership and the dealer comes out to you and says hey I've got this great car for you. And it goes zero to 60 in like two seconds and you know it's climate controlled, turbo charged and guess what? It's electric and it flies and it's only $10,000. And you say great. That's awesome. This sounds like a great car. And you say I would love to drive it and he says oh there's a catch, though. I can't show it to you. It's in the garage but I can't actually show it to you, but are you going to buy it?

You've got to trust me though. All those things, it's all true. And that's what you're seeing now is that Mitt Romney sold something last night that can't be true. And all of the independent analysis says -- and I take issue with some of your findings there -- all of the independent analysis says that all these things that Romney says can't all be true. And I think that as voters start to dig more into this -- you know this pitch they're going to realize that it's actually too good to be true.

BURNETT: And I mean Doug, there's a point to that. Because, you know, Mitt Romney has said he doesn't want to, for example, raise the rates on capital gains or dividends but analysis, I believe including your own, although I'm not sure if it was your own, did say that some of those rates would have to go up on the wealthy, too, in order to make this math even close to working.

HOLTZ-EAKIN: That wasn't my analysis. I think the point that has been raised by you and others is there are now plans which conservatives have put together which meet the specifications of Mr. Romney and don't raise taxes on the middle class. There are plans Democrats have obviously put together that meet some of the specifications, but do raise tax on the middle class. That says that this can be done and the issue is what will be done. And on that I would say I think the president is not in a strong position to being pointing fingers.

He has been saying he wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, but there is zero details of how he's going to do that. His response has been oh I can't put those details in, they'll be a political lighting rod for Congress and I won't be able to get the legislation done. Mr. Romney is making the same point. He is serious about tax reform.


HOLTZ-EAKIN: He's going to go and work with Congress when he gets the chance, but to put out those details now would be to harm the overall effort and so --

BURNETT: And that may be true, but Ethan --

HOLTZ-EAKIN: I think they're both in the same place.

BURNETT: OK, that may be true but Ethan, it's fair to point out that the studies that we referenced that are coming to the opposite conclusion are put out by conservative groups.

POLLACK: Yes, I mean that's absolutely true and as you said they're using different specifications than what Mitt Romney has said. For example one of the studies said well if he raises taxes on people over $100,000 instead of $200,000 then it makes the math work. In other studies, as you pointed out, says that oh well if he does increase capital gains and dividends or curtails tax preferences on saving then you can make the math work. The problem is, is that Romney has said I don't want to do any of that. So all of the studies that Doug says actually affirms Romney, they're all making assumptions that contradict what Romney is actually saying. And the reason they have to make the assumptions is because Mitt Romney won't show anyone his actual tax plan. He's not even telling --


POLLACK: -- his supporters what it is.

BURNETT: So, Doug, do you think he's going to have to get more specific because if this becomes an issue, if he can win this with the middle class -- I mean I don't know. I'm speaking from one small focus group, but they cared a lot about it. And if this becomes something that could help him move this election in swing states and he has to get more specific on loopholes and what he'll close, should he do it next time in the next debate? HOLTZ-EAKIN: He has talked about putting out more specifics and that will be a decision the campaign makes. I don't have any idea. I think the American people are going to go one level above that and they're going to ask what are we trying to accomplish here. We're trying to accomplish growth. This is a set of policies that leads to growth. They're very discontented with the record of the president. The president tries very hard not to talk about it for exactly that reason and point the finger as much as he can at Mr. Romney. And the trouble will be if he demands those details of Mr. Romney, he's going to have to then go back and explain how he fills in the gap in a budget that by its own admission leads to a death spiral. And so you know he's got a spending program that can't possibly be paid for. They're going to ask him hey, what about the studies that show your spending is inevitably going to lead to higher taxes on the middle class? And that will be a dangerous place for him to go.

BURNETT: All right, thanks so much to both of you. We appreciate it.


BURNETT: Taxes, we all care a lot about them.

One billion, that is how many active users Facebook now has. Company CEO Mark Zuckerberg has confirmed the number in a posting of course on Facebook today. So it's good news for the company. They're still trying to recover, of course, from that disastrous IPO, but while it's a big number for an 8-year-old company it confirms that Facebook's growth is actually slowing. Nine million fewer people registered with Facebook last quarter and 57 million fewer than the first three months of the year.

That is a huge drop-off. But Zuck is not worried because even though there are fewer users signing up, they are the right ones, he says, which brings me to tonight's number, 600 million. That's the number of Facebook's mobile users. You remember a month ago when Zuck was asked about the future of Facebook, he said it's mobile, it's mobile, it's mobile. He said it 37 times in one interview.

We looped it for you to hear all 37. And he says he knows how to make it happen now. Back in 2006, when the company passed just 25 million users in all, in addition to the U.S. most of them came from Australia, Canada, Germany and Britain. But now Facebook users are coming in from where the people are -- the future, Brazil, India, Indonesia, and those countries and China are the four most populous (ph) emerging mobile markets today -- China a different story.

They have a whole new set of competitors for Facebook. But by 2030, those four countries will represent about two-fifths of the world's GDP. That's a huge market and just one of the reasons why Facebook's mobile ads for the first time are outperforming ads on computers. All those people who hated it, the IPO hated it for mobile. Maybe Zuck will get the last word.

Well OUTFRONT next, the Super PAC, how are they doing? How are they trying to out maneuver each other? We've got the two men making those decisions up next. Last night, who was raising more money? And what's contributing to the spread of a deadly form of meningitis that's spreading in this country?


BURNETT: Welcome back to the second half of OUTFRONT. We're going to start with the stories we care about, where we focus on our reporting from the front lines. And I want to start with the Center for Disease Control which says tonight a rare type of non-contagious meningitis has killed five people and sickened 35 others in six states in this country. State and federal health officials say they expect to see more cases. They actually think that these are linked to spinal steroid injections that are most frequently given for back pain. A CDC spokesperson tells us this form of meningitis isn't what you think. He says it's fungal. It's not viral or bacterial. It's not contagious.

Well, King Abdullah of Jordan has dissolved the country's parliament ahead of a protest tomorrow. The government spokesperson said it was not a surprise decision. It had been part of the king's plan. He is he calling for new elections around the start of the New Year.

Look, this isn't the first time Abdullah has prepared for a potential Arab Spring inspired demonstration. He's fired four advisers over the past two years. The Muslim Brotherhood is organizing tomorrow's protest, calling for political reform. It's a tough situation, given that King Abdullah, of course, is seen as one of the main reformers in the Middle East.

A source in the Mexico attorney general's office tells CNN two men were being questioned in relation to the shooting death of an American border patrol agent. The two men were near the U.S. border and in position of drugs and guns when they were detained. Nicholas Ivie was killed on Tuesday. He and another agent came under fire while they were responding to a sensor that had gone off near the border. The other agent was injured but was released from the hospital yesterday.

And legendary University of Tennessee basketball coach, Pat Summitt, says she felt like she was forced out of her job after revealing she had been diagnosed with early onset dementia. Her testimony is part of a discrimination suit being brought by a media director against the university. In the affidavit which we read, Summitt says it was a very surprising and very hurtful thing to be told by the university's athletic director that she would not be returning as head coach.

She goes on to say in a subsequent meeting, the athletic director indicated she had misinterpreted what he was saying. She didn't elaborate on exactly what he said to her.

It has been 427 days since the U.S. lost its top credit. What are we doing to get our top credit rating back?

The minutes from the latest Fed meeting were released today. And among the factors Fed members were concerned about: the crisis in Europe, fiscal cliff. Of course, the fiscal cliff is a combination of -- well, spending cuts happening and the expiration of tax breaks happening at the end of the year.

And now our third story OUTFRONT: fresh off a strong debate performance, Mitt Romney's press secretary Andrea Saul today tweeted that the campaign was getting more than two donations a second.

So, just how much an impact does the debate having on the money race?

John Avlon has been looking into this.

The super PAC guys are standing by, by the way. I'm going to tell you, John, I'm looking at the Democratic one in the eye and he's already champing at a bit.

So, talk to me about the money game. Obviously, a big boost for Romney last night.

JOHN AVLON, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Absolutely. But, you know, as you know, to find out what's going on in campaigns, Erin, you've got to follow the money. And that's what we've been doing, looking in particular at super PAC spending, that tsunami of sleaze that's going through our airwaves in real time.

It's fascinating. Wesleyan Media Project released its numbers for the last three weeks of September. Here's what they're seeing.

President Obama's campaign outspending Mitt Romney's campaign almost 2-1 in the last three weeks of September. But take a look at the next level. On the super PAC level, Republican, conservative super PACs outspending Democratic super PACs almost 5-1. In fact, Republican super PACs outspending the Romney campaign.

In some Senate races, it shows more than 50 percent of the ads on air in swing states are coming from these super PACs.

So, it's a fascinating measure of just how much super PACs are having an effect and, in some cases, propping up campaigns.

BURNETT: When you look at the two biggest of the super PACs out there, obviously the ones dedicated to the president and Romney, Restore Our Future and Priorities USA, they're obviously the chief of each of those is about to come on the show. How are they doing specifically?

AVLON: In terms of money raised to date, unless at the end of the August, which is the most current year-to-date totals we have, again, the general ratio shows Restore Our Future, the Romney- associated super PAC outraising the Democratic super PAC associated with President Obama, 3-1, $96 million to $35 million. Now, that's pretty extraordinary.

But, again, we begin toe see a sea change. In the month of August, Erin, for the first time, liberal super PACs outraised conservative super PACs.

And here's an extraordinary fact that the folks at the Center of Responsive Politics told us. The Restore Our Future super PAC aired no ads from a period of August 21st to September 19th. They were dark. Now, that's an extraordinary thing and it raises a lot of questions. Are they saving up their cash, considering they raised so much for an October push, or is it an indication that the money hadn't been coming in as much as they expected?

So, it's fascinating dynamic we're going to see play out. But this is real time, paying attention to the money in politics. That's the inside of what's going on beneath the spin.

BURNETT: We're going to get some answers right now on why dark and how much money.

Charlie Spies is the man behind that super PAC supporting Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future. And Bill Burton is senior strategist for Priorities USA Action, which supports President Obama.

Good to see both of you. I wish you were side by side.


BURNETT: I wish you were in gym clothes, because I'm hoping I can get fist fight going on.

OK, Charlie, let me start with you, though, on this tweet I was referring to. Andrea Saul, after the debate last night, Mitt Romney received more than two donations every second.

Can you tell me about what you saw and tell me about size, if you could?

CHARLIE SPIES, FOUNDER, RESTORE OUR FUTURE: Well, in terms of the super PAC, our voters were energized, thrilled to see governor Romney talk about his plans for the future but also about how President Obama has had his chance and hasn't been successful and doing a point-by-point response to governor -- to the president's argument.

So, everybody was energized and they felt great about the debate. And I think that today will probably be the best fund-raising day we've had, if not one of the top two fund-raising days we've had with the super PAC.

So, people are fired up, they're energized and very excited.

BURNETT: Charlie, what does that mean? Can you give me more specifics? We were looking at your money, $96.7 million raised through August 31st. Your second best day ever, how much would that be, ballpark?

SPIES: I'm not going to go into exact numbers and give a competitive advantage over to Bill. But I do think an important point we heard earlier is your previous guest talked about Restore Our Future going dark for a few weeks.


SPIES: Our strategy was in the month of August to respond to the Obama team's attacks. In the month of August, President Obama's campaign itself spent almost $200 million running attack ads against Mitt Romney.


SPIES: And we saw our role at restore our future to spend as much money as possible in the month of August when the Romney campaign was -- had shortage of primary election money. And wasn't able to spend a lot of the money they had. So we spent money responding to the Obama attacks in the months of August.

BURNETT: And then decided not to spend in September is what you're saying?

SPIES: And now we're moving into our general election strategy and I think we'll be very active.

BURNETT: All right. Bill, so let me bring you in here. Bill Maher, you know about the Bill Maher tweet? I don't know if our viewers do.

OK. He was not impressed. And, you know, Bill Maher, he likes to say what he thinks. Sometimes, you know, maybe he should keep what he thinks to himself.

OK. But this one -- he sends a lot of tweets. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but Obama looks like he does, in capital letters, need a teleprompter."

Now, I'm mentioning Bill Maher because he's giving your super PAC $1 million. He's an important guy to you. Are you worried that what happened last night could affect fund-raising?

BILL BURTON, PRIORITIES USA ACTION: No, absolutely not. I think a lot of Democrats look at what happened last night. They were proud of how President Obama performed. And they think the president has an advantage. He's a little bit ahead, but it's time to close the deal.

And that's actually why our fundraising has picked so much. So, just for a little bit of context on those numbers you rolled out there.


BURTON: So, Restore Our Future did raise money over the course of the last two years. Most of that was in the primary. But actually, if you look at the month of August, we outraised Restore Our Future by a considerable sum.

So, you know, I know, there's probably a reason they're advertising right now and only in one state, Wisconsin, which basically everyone else has given up on. I'm not sure what that reason is. But I think that their donors are probably wondering, well, what's the strategy to spend in Wisconsin and also to have spent something like $9.6 million in Michigan and Pennsylvania that they've all but abandoned.

BURNETT: All right. I'm going to get Charlie's response to that, but tell me how your fund-raising was today.

BURTON: Pretty good.

BURNETT: Pretty good?

BURTON: Yes. Today was a pretty good day for us.

BURNETT: Not top one or two, though, but pretty good?

BURTON: It was definitely a top five. But I don't know about one or two.

BURNETT: All right. That sounds like it would be about fair.

Charlie, can you answer the question that Bill put out there, Charlie, about why the money is still -- he's saying right now your only in one state, Wisconsin?

SPIES: Well, we have been on the air both in Wisconsin and Michigan. And if Bill doesn't think Wisconsin is competitive, I would ask why President Obama and Joe -- the vice president have been visiting Wisconsin, and why the Obama campaign is on the air in Wisconsin? It is absolutely competitive. And I'd say the same thing about Michigan where you see Vice President Biden visited just a few weeks ago.

So, our ads have been effective. And I think you'll see more of them going forward.

But big picture, I don't have any doubt that Bill Burton and his allies will have plenty of resources. In 2008, John McCain got outspent by $250 million. In 2004, George W. Bush got outspent by $100 million.

So the unions and the super PACs on the left and George Soros funded super PACs, congratulations, Bill, on getting George Soros back in the game -- you're going to have plenty of money. I'm not worried about that. What I'm very excited about is having the resources to respond to your attacks.

BURTON: This is actually an important point. Dan Eggen at "The Washington Post" has a terrific piece that folks ought to take a look at, because the Republicans have had a lot of money between Charlie and all the other groups out there.


BURTON: The question is whether or not that money has been strategically spent. We feel like we've focused like a laser on the middle class and Mitt Romney's business experience and what he wants to do for the middle class if he's president.

You know, there's a week in August where Restore had an ad up about jobs, Crossroads had an ad up about the debt. Americans for Prosperity was advertising on Solyndra.

BURNETT: Those are three Republican-oriented super PACs.

BURTON: Romney was advertising on welfare reform. You know, if you're a voter in Toledo looking at your TV, you're thinking, OK, so what is the story that they're trying to tell about President Obama? I get that they don't like him but is there any kind of the strategy here?

So, I think that, probably, on the Republican side, a reason that the money has slowed down a little bit is that people are disappointed with the overall big picture, strategic --

BURNETT: I'm sure you don't mean to imply that there's more coordination between your super PAC and the campaign than they have.

BURTON: I'm definitely trying to imply there's a lot more common sense we've been advertising on our side than they have been doing on their side.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much, Bill and Charlie. Appreciate it.

Obviously, when I just made that comment to Bill, in a lighthearted way because obviously super PACs are not allowed by law to coordinate with the campaigns.

Still to come, today, the FBI visited the site of a terrorist attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya. But the visit comes three weeks after the attack, and the day after a newspaper reporter found sensitive documents laying around the site, including one talking about needs for increased security two days before the attack.

The reporter and the document OUTFRONT next.

Plus, Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are about to appear live for the first time since last night's debate. Once they take the stage, we'll go there live.


BURNETT: Our fifth story OUTFRONT: we have breaking news at this hour. CNN's Barbara Starr has just learned that U.S. Special Forces are in Libya tonight and some neighboring countries, to try to gather intelligence on the Libyan militia responsible for killing Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

Now, this comes as the FBI begins searching the U.S. consulate in Benghazi today, more than three weeks after the September 11th terrorist attack. Now, the FBI had chosen not to go to Benghazi until now due to security concerns, raising questions about the integrity of the investigation. "Washington Post" reporter Michael Birnbaum is in Benghazi. And right before the show, I spoke to him by phone and asked him what he's learned.


MICHAEL BIRNBAUM, WASHINGTON POST REPORTER (via telephone): The Libyans said that the FBI had visited the U.S. mission compound here, taking a look around for a little more than an hour, and then had gone to a market in town to look for potentially stolen goods.

BURNETT: You've been in the consulate. What did you find?

BIRNBAUM: Well, I found a gutted and looted series of buildings. It's burned out. It's empty now. It's not being overrun bystanders. The gates are locked, but the owners let me in yesterday when I went to visit.

And there are documents scattered all around. There are documents in the bedroom where Ambassador Stevens was staying. There are lots of documents and files in what appears to have been the security office for the mission. And among those files are records, sensitive records of administrative files, personnel files of Libyans who were working with the Americans, records of security protocols for what to do in case of emergency and even a very detailed itinerary of Ambassador Stevens' five-day trip here, along with cell phone numbers and names for a lot of the Libyans he was trying to meet.

BURNETT: I'm curious about one other thing, Michael, that I know that you found. A document that indicated that Americans at that mission in Benghazi were discussing the possibility of an attack in early September.

BIRNBAUM: That's right. Well, they were discussing the possibility of an attack as part of general security planning and precautions. But in a memo dated September 9th, which is two days before the attacks, they were working on a new security arrangement or a newly defined security arrangement with the militia that provided armed guards for the mission compound.

And in that document, they say that the militia members on duty should, in the event of an attack on the mission, request additional support from their nearby brigade compound. That suggests that Americans were acknowledging that the guards that they had on hand weren't necessarily enough to take care of the compound in the event of an attack.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Michael, thank you very much. We appreciate your taking the time to join us. Michael Birnbaum joining us from Benghazi.


BURNETT: Next, Turkey approves military acts against Syria. It's a big question to the U.S. and the world of whether those two countries could be on the verge of war. Special report, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We're back with tonight's "Outer Circle", where we reach out to our sources around the world.

And tonight, we go to Istanbul where the Turkish parliament has given permission to attack Syria outside of its borders. Now, this comes after Turkey fired at Syrian targets in retaliation for a mortar attack that struck a Turkish town, killing five civilians.

Ivan Watson is in Istanbul. And I asked him about the number of casualties in what seems to be an escalating clash.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, conflicting reports about the number of casualties caused by two days of Turkish artillery strikes across the border into Syria in retaliation for five Turkish civilians killed by Syrian artillery strikes in a flashpoint border town in Turkey on Wednesday. Syrian rebels telling us at least 13 Syrian troops were killed by the Turkish artillery. The Syrian ambassador to the U.N. saying two Syrian military officers were wounded.

Meanwhile, the Turkish parliament has voted in favor of a new resolution that would authorize the Turkish government to carry cross- border operations, military operations, into Syria. Meanwhile, some sectors of Turkish society have been organizing anti-war protests in the square behind me, definitely concerned about the possible outbreak of war between these two neighbors -- Erin.


BURNETT: Thanks very much to Ivan.

And now to Yemen where five al Qaeda militants were killed in a U.S. drone attack. At least that's what two local security officials tell CNN today. The militants were heavily armed. They were carrying explosives.

Nic Robertson obviously knows the area very well. And I asked him if the militants killed were high level targets.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Erin, according to Yemeni security sources, three U.S. drone strikes have killed five suspected al Qaeda militants in the Shabwa province, an area known as an al Qaeda stronghold. Al Qaeda made gains in Yemen last year. They have been rolled back to some degree by government backed by tribal militias in recent months but they still present a big problem in Yemen.

Indeed, they are viewed as the most operationally active branch of al Qaeda, if you will, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. We don't know who the targets were this time, but very likely high on the target list would Ibrahim al-Asiri, top al Qaeda bomb maker. He made the underpants bomb, if you remember that a few years ago, put aboard an aircraft just around Christmas time. He made the printer bombs. He's made other bombs. He is a very feared al Qaeda member.

So at this stage, five killed, five suspected al Qaeda members killed. Exactly who they are, we don't know yet -- Erin.


BURNETT: Thanks very much to Nick.

And now let's check in with Anderson Cooper. He has a look at what's coming up on "A.C. 360." Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, Erin. Yes, we're keeping them honest tonight in "360."

The spin is in full effect, has been all day, one day after Mitt Romney and President Obama went head-to-head in the first debate. Team Obama trying to sell their boss as the winner but analysts on the left and the right and center, even our own polling, paint a very different picture. Obviously, we're keeping them honest.

Nearly as important as what the candidates are saying is how they say it and how they looked doing it could make or break a candidate. We're going to decipher the gestures, the hand shakes, smirks, with a body language expert. I'm usually kind of dubious about this stuff, but really some fascinating things to point out from last night.

Plus, a new chapter in the Syrian conflict. Tensions escalating with neighboring Turkey after a deadly attack on a Turkish border town. Now, Turkey's parliament, they have authorized cross-border military operations. We'll take a look at what that might mean for escalation in the region with CNN's Ivan Watson.

Those stories and, of course, the "Ridiculist," all at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. See you in just a few minutes, Anderson. I'm curious about those gestures, too. Facial smirks, all of it.

All right. Legalization, sorry, of marijuana is on the ballot in a number of states this year. And you know what? Some of you have some truly high expectations. Mile high ones.

We'll be back.


BURNETT: So one of our fun parts of the show is when we're able to give you a chance to be heard during a segment which we're called "OUTFRONT Online". Now, on Monday, John Avlon traveled to Denver to talk to voters about legalizing marijuana. Colorado's a swing state and it's an issue there.

A number of responses were posted on our blog. You know, the number actually was rather high. One of our viewers, Ron, wrote, "Got freedom? I don't smoke but totally support it. It doesn't harm others, and this is the land of the free, right?"

I think I agree with you although there are studies about pot being a gateway drug which could be concerning. But, you know, I have never smoked pot either but it seems like, hey, could be the time to make some money of this cash crop, pay for schools, whatever it might be, and you can go ahead and smoke away.

Thanks for joining me. "A.C." starts now.