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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

Romney Fires Back; Alleged Massacre in Syria

Aired July 13, 2012 - 22:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's 10:00 here on the East Coast.

We begin with breaking news. Mitt Romney, one-on-one, speaking out on CNN. The GOP presidential candidate is on the defensive tonight. His campaign added two new senior advisers after a rough few days. And now they're hitting back, accusing the Obama campaign of stooping to new lows.

The issue, once again, Mr. Romney's involvement at Bain Capital, where he made his fortune. The focus right now centers around when he finally broke ties with that firm. The Obama camp is claiming Mr. Romney lied about his end date at Bain, even suggesting his actions could be criminal.

To counterattack, Mr. Romney went on a media blitz today, something he rarely does.

He talked with CNN's national political correspondent, Jim Acosta , this evening.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Governor, thanks for joining us.

Let's talk first about this controversy over when you left Bain Capital.

I'll put one of the documents in question up on screen, their SEC filing stating that you were CEO at Bain Capital past 1999.

When you say you left Bain to run the Olympics, why was your name still on these documents and why didn't you clear this up sooner?

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I was the owner of an entity that is filing those information -- that information, but I had no role whatsoever in the management of Bain Capital after February of 1999, not that that would have been a problem, to have said that I was with the firm beyond that, but I simply wasn't.

I left in February of 1999 to go out and run the Olympics. I went out and did that full-time, relinquished all management authority and role in Bain Capital after February of 1999.

ACOSTA: Then how do you explain that discrepancy, though, that your name is on these filings and yet you said publicly you left the firm in 1999?

Weren't you concerned, at some point, that these filings might become public and people would see that your name was still on these filings?

ROMNEY: Well, there's nothing wrong with being associated with Bain Capital, of course. But the truth is that I left any role at Bain Capital in February of '99. And -- and that's known and that's said by the people at the firm.

It's said by the documents -- offering documents that the firm made subsequently about people investing in the firm. And I think anybody who knows that I was out full-time running the Olympics would understand that's where I was. I spent three years running the Olympic Games. And after that was over, we -- we worked out our retirement program, our departure -- official program for Bain Capital and handed over the shares I had.

But there's a difference between being a shareholder, an owner, if you will, and being a person who's running an entity.

ACOSTA: But...

ROMNEY: And I had no role whatsoever in managing Bain Capital after February of 1999.

And by the way, this is all an effort on the part of the president's campaign to divert attention from the fact that the president has been a failure when it comes to reigniting America's economy.

We have had now 41 straight months with unemployment above 8 percent. And so he continues to try and find some way to attack me other than to talk about policy. And it's time to talk about what it will take to get America working again.

ACOSTA: And you mentioned the president's campaign and what they've been...

ROMNEY: Look, I...

ACOSTA: ... saying about you.

ROMNEY: ... I don't -- I don't -- yes. Yes.

ACOSTA: No...

(CROSSTALK)

ROMNEY: I know there's going to be every effort to try -- to try and find some kind of attack piece on the part of the Obama campaign.

But interestingly, every independent fact checker that's looked at this in-depth, not just taken a quick interview, but looked at in great depth, has said that the president's claims are false, misleading, wrong-headed. It got multiple Pinocchios from one reviewer.

Look, what he's doing is doing everything in his power to try and divert attention from the fact that his policies have failed the American people.

ACOSTA: Yes.

ROMNEY: And -- and this -- this -- these kinds of attacks in this campaign are simply completely out of consistent...

ACOSTA: Well...

ROMNEY: ... out of character from what we'd expect from the presidency.

ACOSTA: Let me ask you...

ROMNEY: It's beneath his dignity.

ACOSTA: Yes, and let me ask you about what the campaign has said. As you know, Obama's -- President Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, was very harsh in a conference call on Thursday.

Listen to what she said and then we'll get your response afterward.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

STEPHANIE CUTTER, OBAMA DEPUTY CAMPAIGN MANAGER: Either Mitt Romney, through his own work and his own signature, was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC, which is a felony, or he was misrepresenting his position at Bain to the American people to avoid -- responsibility for some of the consequences of his investments.

(END AUDIO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Ms. Cutter suggested you might be guilty of a felony, Governor Romney.

What is your response to that?

ROMNEY: Is that really what's expected from the campaign of the sitting president of the United States, of the Republican nominee of his party?

I mean, is this -- is this the level that the Obama campaign is willing to stoop to?

Is this -- is this up to the standards expected of the presidency of the United States?

I don't think the American people think so. I certainly don't think so. I think it's a very disappointing revelation on their parent. Let's talk about what it takes to get America working again and to help the American people in very difficult times, as opposed to have a campaign doing exactly what they said from the beginning.

ACOSTA: Do you believe that they're...

ROMNEY: They announced early on, one of their insiders said that they -- their -- their campaign was going to be based upon the strategy of -- quote -- "kill Romney" -- end of quote. That's what they're doing. It's disgusting. It's demeaning. It's something which I think the president should take responsibility for and stop.

ACOSTA: And do you believe you're being swift-boated in this campaign?

ROMNEY: Boy, I hadn't heard that term, but I'll give it some thought. I -- I -- I think what the president is doing is -- is terribly destructive to the political process and be -- beneath what the people of America expected from someone who said he was going to rise above partisan politics and bring a new era of change to Washington.

We're -- we're not seeing that in this campaign so far.

ACOSTA: Because both campaigns, on Thursday, Governor Romney, were basically calling each other liars.

Is that the kind of campaign the American people should expect?

And shouldn't your campaign take some responsibility for calling the president's campaign and their people liars?

ROMNEY: You know what the president's campaign has done so far is run advertisement after advertisement which is then shown by independent fact checkers to be wrong, false, misleading. And yet they keep running them. And they hold press conferences continuing to speak about them.

And at some point, you have to respond. You can't just have the -- the airwaves covered with these ads day in and day out without saying, look, those are false.

ACOSTA: So is the president lying...

ROMNEY: And what the president's...

ACOSTA: ... about your record?

ROMNEY: ... campaign team is doing is false.

ACOSTA: Is the -- is the president lying about your records...

(CROSSTALK)

ACOSTA: ... then, Governor Romney? ROMNEY: There -- there's no question but that his campaign is putting out information which is false and deceptive and dishonest. And they know it. And they ought to stop.

ACOSTA: They've called on you to release more of your tax returns. You've released your 2010 tax return and a 2011 estimate.

Bill Clinton was on the "Today" show today saying that you should release more.

As you know, during the Republican primaries, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Rick Perry all called for you to release your taxes. Those are leader from both parties saying that you should release more of your taxes.

When are you going to release more of your taxes and how many years?

ROMNEY: I've indicated that -- well, first of all, we've complied with the law. The law requires us to put out a full -- financial disclosure. That I've done.

And then, in addition to that, I've already put out one year of tax returns. We'll put out the next year of tax returns as soon as the accountants have that ready. And that's what we're going to put out.

I know there will always be calls for more. People always want to get more. And, you know, we're putting out what is required plus more that is not required. And those are the two years that people are going to have. And that's -- that's all that's necessary for people to understand something about my finances.

And, look, if people believe this should be a campaign about attacking one another on a personal basis and go back to the kinds of attacks that were suggested in some campaigns in the past, I don't want to go there.

I -- I want this to be a campaign about the direction for America and about who can get America working again and who can rein in the excessive deficits that you're seeing in Washington.

ACOSTA: All right, Governor Romney, thanks very much for your time.

We appreciate it.

ROMNEY: Thanks, guys.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: CNN's Jim Acosta, who conducted that interview, joins me now, along with CNN's chief political analyst Gloria Borger.

Nice to see you both. Jim, we are going to start with you. There's clearly a strategy here. Your interview, other network interviews as well, part of the strategy by the Romney campaign.

Would you say the takeaway is that the campaign is very worried about this Bain story and how it's unfolding?

ACOSTA: I think so, Soledad. We got very late notice about this interview possibility. Heard about it, about 1: 00 this afternoon, and found out the governor was doing a round Robin of interviews. And so, I think because of the fact he said almost the same thing to all of us is an indication that, yes, they were working on this message and they wanted to get it out there.

O'BRIEN: Gloria, you were in Boston. You just got back from the Romney headquarters in Boston. So, give me the sense of how the campaign is handling this and what changing they're making to deal with some of this.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, I can tell you, as Jim said, that Romney was outraged, the campaign was pretty outraged. And it's clear, though, that they believe, by setting up all these interviews today, that they had not put this story to rest yesterday.

And so, you know, Bain has been an issue that dogged them in their Senate race in 1994. Again when he ran for governor in 2002. And what they're trying to do here is essentially turn the tables on the Obama campaign and say this is beneath the dignity of the president's office, to have someone in his campaign use the word "felony" and their charge is that you should understand that President Obama is willing to say or do anything to become president. And so that is a line that you're going to be hearing over and over again. And they are clearly using it in this particular case.

O'BRIEN: Would you say, Jim, that the campaign seems particularly tense? I mean, obviously you spent a lot of time covering this campaign. How would you describe it?

ACOSTA: Oh, yes. I mean, yesterday, when both campaigns were going back and forth calling each other liars, I mean, that is not something we've seen so far in the course of the general election campaign. It sort of went on during the primaries but not to this level of tension.

You know, I do think that -- and I try to ask Mitt Romney about that because he was leveling these charges against the president. I went back to Mitt Romney and I said, wait a minute, your campaign is calling the president's campaign and his people liars. What do you have to say about that? and he basically directed his comments back to the president.

So I think he realizes that this is how the game is played and how this election is going to play out.

O'BRIEN: So then Gloria, do you think this series of interviews that Mitt Romney has now done will end it, put the issue to rest, everybody will move on?

BORGER: No, I don't think it will. I think this is part of a real strategy by the Obama campaign to paint a portrait of Mitt Romney as somebody who's sort of a mystery, who's out of touch, who's secretive.

So, Bain fits into that narrative very well. Because he's very secretive about what happened. Was he working for Bain from 1999 on or was he really at the Olympics? Why won't he release his tax returns? This is a man of great wealth and he's not like you.

So, I think this fits into their whole strategy of the portrait they're painting of Mitt Romney. And then in the fall, they're going to start talking about Social Security and Medicare. And it's really going to get nasty, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Can't wait for that.

Jim, let me you a question which I thought was a really interesting moment in your interview. You talked to him about swift- boating, was this, you know, basically swift-boating. And he sort of stopped and said he hadn't heard that term before.

I was trying to figure out, did he mean he hadn't heard the term swift-boating, or did he mean in the context of his campaign?

ACOSTA: Yes. I think what he said was he hadn't thought about that term in the context of what's happening now in this campaign.

But Soledad, I was to bring that up after Gloria's comment because later on in the interview, he sort of went back to that train of thought and said, well, if we're going to go back to the way campaigns were waged in years past, I don't want to go there, is what Mitt Romney had to say.

And so, I think that's -- I think that is something that he does worry about and that his campaign worried about. And we're not the first ones to draw this analogy. People have been saying that this is what the Obama campaign is up to, that this is a swift-boating of Mitt Romney, not on a Vietnam war record but on a business record.

O'BRIEN: Gloria Borger, Jim Acosta. Thanks guys. Appreciate it.

BORGER: Sure.

ACOSTA: You bet.

O'BRIEN: Let us know what you think. We're on Facebook and Twitter @AC360.

Coming up next, the "Raw Politics" of Obama's offensive.

Plus, we're "Keeping Them Honest." All this talk about Bain may be much ado about nothing.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: "Keeping Them Honest" tonight. More on the battle over Bain.

Mitt Romney launching a counterattack. A full-fledged media blitz tonight trying to stop the Obama camp from controlling the message. It's been rough.

As we said, team Obama is accusing team Romney of lying. And even criminal action. It all has to do with questions about when Romney left Bain Capital. Democrats say Romney should release more of his tax records to clarify his departure. Mr. Romney figured it would get this ugly. Again, here's what he told CNN's Jim Acosta just a short time ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROMNEY: They announced early on, one of their insiders said their campaign was going to be based upon the strategy of -- quote -- "kill Romney" -- end of quote.

That's what they're doing. It's disgusting. It's demeaning. It's something which I think the president should take responsibility for and stop.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Well, insiders say don't expect that anytime soon. In just a moment, we're going to take a look at how President Obama's offensive is right out a powerful political play book.

First, "Keeping Them Honest," Obama's pushback on Bain may be all about nothing.

CNN's John King spoke with four sources, all who have firsthand knowledge of Bain's operations after February of 1999 when Romney insists he left the firm.

All four told King that Romney is telling the truth including Steve Pagliuca, a Bain executive who's also a Democrat. He says -- quote -- "Mitt Romney left Bain Capital in February 1999 to run the Olympics and has had absolutely no involvement with the management or investment of the firm or with any of its portfolio companies since the day of his departure."

Now to the "Raw Politics" of this all, the Obama offensive, the rhetoric, nothing new. It's out a familiar political playbook.

With that, there's Tom Foreman.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NARRATOR: When a president doesn't tell the truth, how can we trust him to Romney's companies were pioneers of shipping U.S. jobs overseas. TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even in the flood of negative ads pouring out of each side of this race, Democrats are hitting one target again and again and again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bain capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bain capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bain capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bain capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bain capital.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bain capital walked away with a lot of money that they made off of this plant.

FOREMAN: The White House clearly wants to portray Mitt Romney's time at the helm of Bain Capital as a weak spot. In ad after ad, Democrats are suggesting Romney is a fat cat job outsourcer, an opportunistic financial predator, and a leader's out of touch with the working class. Never mind that many of those claims appear to be backed with little or no evidence.

KEN GOLDSTEIN, PRESIDENT, CMAG-KANTAR MEDIA: The Obama campaign is absolutely doubling down on the Bain attack, no doubt about it. And if the work triple down existed, they would be doing that as well.

FOREMAN: Ken Goldstein is the political media analyst who believes President Obama was at one point looking to steal a page from Ronald Reagan's playbook, planning an optimistic, positive reelection campaign until economic troubles and weak poll numbers hit hard.

GOLDSTEIN: I think the Obama folks were hoping to run a campaign like "morning in America" in 1984. But the campaign I think they're look at is much more the George W. Bush campaign in 2004.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The accusations that John Kerry...

FOREMAN: He's talking about the swift-boat campaign, in which President Bush's challenger John Kerry was demonized over what his campaign considered an attribute. His decorated service as a soldier in Vietnam. The swift-boat ads, backed by a group of pro-Bush veterans, questioned the Democratic challenger's conduct in the war, his anti-war activities later and his patriotism.

(on camera): Kerry was slow to respond and never very effective in refuting their claims even though his critics offered little in the way of proof. He lost the election of course. And for many Democrats, swift-boating became a catch-all term for any unfair, untrue, personal assault on a candidate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney's companies...

FOREMAN (voice-over): But if the president is troubled by the comparison of his Bain attacks to Republican swift-boating, he's not showing it.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I think that when you're president, everything's call into questions. When you are president, everything is coming across you.

FOREMAN: Romney's tough responses this week appear to have been spurred by Republican calls for him to hit back fast.

GOLDSTEIN: Because as much as a presidential election is a referendum on the incumbent, the challenger still needs to reach that threshold level of credibility.

ROMNEY: I need you guys to work.

FOREMAN: And if he doesn't, some Republican analysts fear Mitt Romney could become the second politician from Massachusetts swift- boated out of the presidency.

Tom Foreman, CNN. Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Time to dig deeper.

Joining me now, two of our political contributors, Ari Fleischer is a former White House press secretary for president George W. Bush. Paul Begala is a Democratic strategist and adviser to a pro-Obama super PAC.

Gentlemen, nice to see you both.

Paul, let's begin with you. As you've heard, the Obama campaign was basically saying Mitt Romney is either a criminal or he's a liar. And Romney's campaign is calling on the Obama campaign to apologize saying, it's demeaning to the office of the president.

Do you think, in fact, an apology is necessary, Paul?

PAUL BEGALA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: No, toughen up, Mitt.

I mean, this is campaigns. This is politics. Politics isn't bean bag. You know, it's simply -- Here's what Thomas Jefferson campaign said about John Adams. They called him a hideous her hermaphroditic character which has needed a firmness and grace enforce of a man with a gentleness and sensibility were one.

Adams said worse things about Jefferson. Toughen up, Mitt. If you're not tough enough to stand up to Stephanie Cutter, how are you going to stand up to Vladimir Putin, I mean, come on.

O'BRIEN: Even if it turns out to be completely untrue, what they say.

BEGALA: No, this is completely true either. There are signed. Security Exchange Commission documents that list him as the CEO. There are other documents that he signed that are sworn that said he had nothing to do with the company at the time.

His public financial disclosure documents. One of them is wrong. Either he was the CEO and running it as the SEC documents say. Or he had nothing to do with Bain Capital, which is what his personal financial disclosures say. They both can't be true. So, I actually think Miss Cutter has sort of an inarguably good case that one of those two statements is false.

O'BRIEN: Ari, you were helping the Bush campaign in 2004. And of course you remember the swift-boat ads used the strength of John Kerry really against him, called the strength of his service in Vietnam into question. Some people have said, Mark Buchanan specifically, that this is what's happening. He's a Bush adviser, as you well know. This is what we're seeing happen right now to Mitt Romney. He's being swift-boated. Would you say that's true?

ARI FLEISCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Look, I'm sort of in Paul's camp on this except for the fact that in this instance, I think the Obama campaign went too far. It's not a surrogate. It's not a third party. It's the campaign insult.

Calling your opponent a felon crosses the line. Now, I remember the 1992 campaign. George H. W. Bush, at the end of the campaign called Barack Obama -- called Bill Clinton a bozo. And it really hurt then President Bush because people thought it did not represent the dignity that should be the office of the presidency.

Calling your opponent a felon, President Obama does need to rein in his staff when it comes to that. if I was adviser of Obama campaign, I would say, you have to go negative against Mitt Romney. There's nothing wrong with that, especially when you have the record the president has. He cannot run on his successes. So, he needs to define Mitt Romney in a negative way.

But, calling your opponent a felon. That is way beyond the boundaries of acceptable political behavior. You know, it's just that is exactly what people are so tired of and that is exactly what Barack Obama ran against in 2008.

O'BRIEN: The former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell would agree with Ari there, Paul. He was talking to MSNBC today. And he said, I'm going to quote him, "all this attack may be hurting the president's brand a little bit." Meaning, you know, you to the point of calling someone a potential felon, I think is a better way to put it. Or possibly a felon, you know, could chip away at the person or the team that's actually doing the name calling. You think that's a possibility?

BEGALA: Yes. I have been in campaigning with and against Ed Rendell and he said a lot worse than that so spare me Ed's sanctimony on this. I mean, he's a good -- well, he's not that good a Democrat. But he's a Democrat and he ran a big state and he ran it well. But, come on. Give me a break Eddie.

This is politics. And this is the problem. None of this who have happened if Governor Romney had simply told the truth. I don't know what the truth is, either he was part time at Bain Capital while he was running the Olympics which is no crime, or he was gone completely. He was clearly not full time at Bain Capital. He did run the Olympics. We know that.

So, I don't know why he can't get his story straight. But I think it's because the record is conflicted. He had these Securities Exchange Commission documents on the one hand. HE has this financial disclosure. And by the way, this is what the press is reporting at the time.

I looked so and "The Boston Herald," when he left in 1999 to run the Olympics, they ran a story that said this. Romney says he will stay on as a part timer with Bain, providing input on key investment and personnel decisions. So, this is the problem. The guy can't get his story straight and you overlay that with the really enormous problem he's got in not wanting to release his tax returns.

He told our Jim Acosta that again in earlier this evening that he will not release one more year, this year. He released 2011, but that's it, which will be the lowest standard of disclosure in modern time. And this really causes I think a problem with Romney in the eyes a lot of middle-class voters.

O'BRIEN: That brings of an interesting question, Ari, that turn off from over you are talking about. But do you think that is problematic? If Mitt Romney is not going to release his taxes, do you think that more that, you know, his answer is, I have done what I have to do under the law which sounds I think to anyone hearing it like a bit of a dodge. Problematic?

FLEISCHER: You know, Soledad, I think everybody sees through this tactic. If he released five years, they would say, why didn't you release six?

If he releases seven year, they will say, why didn't you release eight? If he releases nine, they will say, why didn't you release 10? There's no end in sight.

And what the Obama campaign needs to do is invent a new excuse every day for voters not to focus on how high unemployment is, or high the data is, and how much debt deficit with the president is running off.

Every other topic under the political sun, they will try to invent and get the press to run and cover. But they will not run on the economy. They will not run on his record. They know what the Obama campaign if the issues focus on the things that matter most to the voters, the president cannot win re-election.

So, they will invent new excuse every day. It's just going to be a shifting series of things. And Mitt Romney, as you see, is working his hardest to keep the focus on unemployment, on the economy, on job creation. That's where this election is going to be won and lost. Unless Mitt Romney is foolish enough to take the bait and chase the Democrat attacks. He shouldn't do that. he should keep the focus on the economy. O'BRIEN: Obviously, keep watching it. Ari Fleischer and Paul Begala.

Thanks, gentlemen. Appreciate your time tonight.

BEGALA: Thanks, Soledad.

FLEISCHER: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Some new details tonight about the latest alleged massacre by Bashar Al-Assad's forces in Syria. What we're learning is simply horrifying, more than 200 people reportedly killed, hundreds more wounded in a single village.

That's coming up next on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: A teenager's terrifying underwater battle with a 10- foot alligator -- what he did to save himself will amaze you. That's ahead on 360.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Tonight, some horrifying details about the reported massacre in the Syrian village of Tremsa. We warn you, the images are very disturbing, and as always, CNN cannot independently verify them.

Witnesses say President Bashar al-Assad's forces launched a full- scale attack against the opposition Syrian army inside the town of Tremsa. It's believed that more than 200 people were killed. Hundreds more are said to be wounded.

Activists told CNN that Assad's forces shelled the village nonstop from 5 in the morning until noon yesterday. Many people who fled their houses were reportedly shot to death by pro-regime militias.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations special envoy to Syria, said he was shocked and appalled by the slaughter. But to be frank, we've heard those very same words before.

Just three days before the attack, Annan met with al-Assad and afterward called their talks "positive" and "constructive." Those are quotes.

Today, the U.N. organization that coordinates aide to Syria said they have run out of language to describe how bad things are. What's left to say, it wondered, after "appalling," "desperate" and "deplorable."

Two hundred eight-seven people in all were killed in Syria yesterday. Possibly the deadliest day since the uprising began. At least 80 more deaths were reported today. I spoke earlier today with the Syrian activist Zaidoun.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Zaidoun, we're seeing reports that the massacre yesterday was the worse since the fighting began. Is that what you would say? What are you hearing about what happened there?

ZAIDOUN, SYRIAN ACTIVIST: This was the worst massacre since the start of the revolution in terms of the number of casualties. We lost yesterday 200 people. Over 200 people, in fact. Our links tell us about 220 people were killed using knives as well as shelling, and, of course, bullets.

This was a very typical one, because we are now used to the regime's massacres. Slaughtering kids. Shooting people. Entire families killed. What can I tell you? I mean...

O'BRIEN: So there are reports on Syrian state media saying that the people in the town begged the army to intervene after they came under attack by what they called a terrorist gang. What do you say about that?

ZAIDOUN: The only terrorist gang in this country is the regime itself. These lies continue from the regime. These lies never change. They have become so dull, so ugly. Is there anybody who can believe these lies? Of course not. This is just -- I mean, just full lies. Nothing, nothing like that at all.

O'BRIEN: I know the demonstrations have slogans. And today there was a demonstration with the slogan "Topple Annan, the servant of Assad and Iran." Is there faith in what Kofi Annan is doing? Is there faith in his peace plan ever potentially working?

ZAIDOUN: Well, the demonstrations, in fact, against Annan. This is just symbolic. Because the chants are, in fact, against the international community, who is keeping silent, watching us, pretending to meet and having conferences out of which nothing has come. Now, there is no faith, unfortunately, in any of Kofi Annan's initiatives.

O'BRIEN: I know you feel abandoned by the international community. What do you want them to know?

ZAIDOUN: Just listen to this. Who is supporting our regime? Iran? North Korea? China and Russia? Only dictatorship. And the rest of the world -- are not just doing enough. If you don't want to help us more, send us at least -- in the community people are hungry. People are dying because of shortage in medical support. Is that possible? I mean, is this humanity? Is that possible? Fifteen or 16 months, being killed, and nothing can be done?

Just -- the regime has committed this massacre only a few hours before the Security Council summit. Simply because it knows that there is a veto from Russia. And this is -- OK, fine, we can just survive with this massacre. Kill 250 Syrian people. Who would care?

O'BRIEN: Zaidoun, I appreciate your updates. And hopefully, we can get that message out to people. We thank you for talking with us. Zaidoun is a Syrian opposition activist, talking by phone today.

ZAIDOUN: Thank you very much, and I'm sorry if I was a bit angry, but the situation here is really awful.

O'BRIEN: I fully understand your anger. Thank you for talking with us.

ZAIDOUN: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Well, as we said, just three days before the massacre in Tremsa, Kofi Annan met with the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad in Damascus to discuss how to end the conflict. Annan has admitted that the six-point peace plan that he brokered back in April has failed.

Photojournalist Robert King has been covering the killing in Syria for months. He's seen up close how the Assad regime has violated the peace plan's conditions. Anderson had a chance to talk to him recently.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COOPER: Assad says he still supports the -- the six-point plan. I mean, do you buy any of that? Does it seem real to you at all?

ROBERT KING, PHOTOJOURNALIST: No, he didn't even support it while it was supposed to take hold in the country. I don't know why he would even come back to the table and try to convince Kofi Annan that he would continue.

COOPER: And you saw that with your own eyes, I mean, his violations of the ceasefire?

KING: Repeatedly. Yes. Indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Massacres in Tafanas (ph). The Tafanas (ph) massacre was before the six-point peace plan was initiated.

But in the Homs region while I was there for 58 days, just continual shelling. Lots of wounded civilians. Children.

COOPER: Have you ever seen so many children be targeted? Be casualties in a war?

KING: No, never. You know, Rwanda was -- there were a lot of non-accompanied children. A lot of children were slaughtered in Rwanda. But for me, I wasn't there at that time.

My time was in Alkasar (ph) where I just saw numerous children constantly being brought in with horrific wounds. Whether their, you know, intestines were hanging out. Whether their arms were dangling on their -- you know, off their shoulder. To mothers crying out for where their children are. To babies crying for their mothers.

It was -- I don't know how to explain, you know, other than try to visually illustrate that type of indiscriminate shelling that was taking place while I was there. It's still going on.

COOPER: And the makeshift clinic where you are, they actually got hit, as well, while you were there.

KING: Yes, they were hit by two rockets. Not direct hits. It wounded two or three of the medical personnel and killed two or three patients that were out in the courtyard.

COOPER: I'm just looking at this picture that you took. I mean, you've spent a lot of time in war zones for a long, long time. What sticks with you? What -- you know, it's been -- you've been out now. You're back home. What...

KING: I think it's the conviction that the doctor had for the Hippocratic oath. And his willingness to, despite the dangers that he and other people are having to avoid in order to continue doing their work, it's their commitment and their courage that stuck with me the most.

COOPER: You're hoping to go back.

KING: Yes.

COOPER: And you're -- you're trying to raise money on Kickstarter?

KING: Yes, Kickstarter. I've started a project. It's titled "Witness to the Suffering of Ordinary Syrians." It's a bit long- winded. You can just Google my name, and in the Kickstarter search engine, and it will pull up that...

COOPER: So it's Kickstarter.com?

KING: Kickstarter.com.

COOPER: OK. Well, I hope you're able to continue the work. It's really been extraordinary to -- to witness.

KING: Thank you so much for all your support and willingness to keep this story alive on your show.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: And we're following several other stories tonight. Isha Sesay has a "360 Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNNI ANCHOR: Hi there, Soledad.

The U.S. Olympic Committee is defending Ralph Lauren's uniforms for Team USA. At the opening ceremonies on the London games U.S. athletes will be wearing clothing made in China.

The Ralph Lauren corporation released a statement tonight saying it's committed to making the uniforms in the U.S. for the 2014 winter games. Three Americans died today in a plane crash in France. They were crew members aboard a private jet which crashed at the end of a runway at a small airport in southern France. No other people were on board. The crash is under investigation.

Egyptian officials said two American tourists and their guide were kidnapped Friday in the Sinai (ph) region of Egypt. They were taken hostage by Bedouins who want authorities to release a relative being held on drug charges.

Where's the rain? Twenty-six states are experiencing drought conditions this year. Farmers across the country are losing crops due to the lack of water, and pool (ph) businesses are hurting, as well.

And Soledad, two guns that once belonged to infamous gangsters Bonnie and Clyde are going up for auction in September. One gun was found in Clyde Barrow's waistband. The other strapped to Bonnie Parker's leg when the bank robbers were gunned down by police in 1934.

Each weapon is expected to be sold for more than $100,000. Some people say this is the best Bonnie and Clyde collection you will ever see.

O'BRIEN: Wow, wow. All right, Isha, thanks.

Well, a summer swim on a sweltering day turns into a nightmare for a Florida teenager after an alligator attacks him and he's forced to make a horrifying choice. Could you do what he did?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KALEB LANGDALE, SURVIVED ALLIGATOR ATTACK: I got a breath of air and he drug me back down. He done a death roll and broke all the bones in my arm. So then I took my feet and put it on his mouth to try and break my arm off because I knew it's either going to be my arm or my life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This video has gone viral for a reason. A suspected drunk driver blows a red light, flips an oncoming car, slams into the median and then -- see that -- it went airborne. Why police put the video on the Net, ahead on 350.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: It is certainly not the "how I spent my summer vacation story" anybody would choose if they had a choice, but 17-year-old Kaleb Langdale didn't. The alligator that almost killed him four days ago wasn't asking for any opinions.

The Florida teenager lost the lower half of his right arm but survived the attack thanks to his own quick thinking and a 911 call by a friend just moments after Kaleb was attacked. Listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 911, what's your emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, this is 911. Is there an emergency?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, ma'am. A gator just got my friend. He's in the water.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: While 911 was sending help, Kaleb gave himself first aid to try to stop his bleeding. He was eventually airlifted to a hospital.

Authorities later caught and killed the alligator. They were able to retrieve Kaleb's arm, but by then, it was too late to try to reattach it.

This isn't how Kaleb planned on starting his senior year of high school in the fall, but considering what happened in those terrifying moments underwater, it's remarkable that he's even alive. We had a chance to speak earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: So, Fred, it's been a week, pretty amazing week for you. How you feeling right now, how are you doing?

LANGDALE: Pretty good.

O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. Are you in a lot of pain? What kind of -- what kind of things have you been doing to try to deal with now what's a massive loss, your arm?

LANGDALE: Just texting people. That's all I can do in this hospital bed.

O'BRIEN: Yes. You're kind of stuck in bed for a little bit. What have the doctors told you about your prognosis?

LANGDALE: They said I should be able to go home in the next week or two. And that, whenever they first brought me in, that my arm was pretty clean, and whenever they went to clean it again, there wasn't that much to clean. So all they had to do is close it up.

O'BRIEN: I know you told a bunch of people this story a bunch of times. But it's just crazy. So I want you to walk me through one more time what happened. I know you were racing, swimming across the river with your friends.

LANGDALE: Yes, ma'am. And I was about maybe 30 feet away from the side of the bank. Abraham started yelling "gator." I was like, really, now, you're going to try and fool me like that, just to slow me down? I looked and lo and behold there's a gator there.

So I stopped and tried to get eye level with the water. I was hoping that maybe he would lose track of me. But he just kept on coming at me, full plane (ph). And whenever he got about a foot away from me, I grabbed the bottom skin -- or the -- yes, the bottom skin under his jaw, trying to lead him away but it didn't work. So I wrapped my legs around him. And he dove. And I had him pretty good. Until he death rolled and knock me off.

So I kicked off with my feet, trying to make a break for the bank. I was trying to swim. And I threw my right arm back. Trying to come back again to catch another thing of water. That's when he got my arm. And I got a breath of air. And he drug me back down. And he done a death roll and broke all the bones in my arm.

So then I took my feet. And put it on his mouth to try and break my arm off. Because I knew it's either going to be the arm or my life. So I was like, eh, forget the arm. So...

O'BRIEN: Oh, my gosh.

LANGDALE: ... as soon as I...

O'BRIEN: So the death roll is when they start doing that sort of spin and you know that that's when they're -- the gator's trying to take you under? That's really where they kill their prey?

LANGDALE: Yes, ma'am, that's when they normally drown them.

O'BRIEN: So you decided if it was between your life and your arm, you were going to give up your arm and not your life?

LANGDALE: Yes, ma'am.

O'BRIEN: Were you panicking? You sound so calm now when you describe it.

LANGDALE: I panicked. That's like -- that's all I'd always heard, if you're being attacked, son, do not panic, because it's just going to make matters worse. And my adrenaline was running so fast, I didn't have time to panic or get scared or anything like that.

O'BRIEN: So the gator got your arm. And you were able to make it to shore. What happened then?

LANGDALE: I started climbing up the bank. And fell into some cacti. And I still got them in my legs. I can't get them all out. And I was coming up. There was a tree that had a whole bunch of spider webs on it. So I grabbed the spider webs and started putting them on my arm. Because whenever I was in the wood, my mom or dad were like, if you ever get a bad cut, put spider webs on it. It stops the bleeding. There's something in there.

So I grabbed that and put it on my arm. And I sat down by the road. And I put my arm between my legs and squeezed to keep pressure on it to stop the blood. And it worked. O'BRIEN: Wow. So I've heard you have a policy for anybody who visits you at the hospital?

LANGDALE: Yes.

O'BRIEN: What's the policy?

LANGDALE: Don't come in here if you're going to cry. Just go ahead and walk on out until you get yourself together.

O'BRIEN: You're not taking anybody who's crying.

LANGDALE: No, but I have to make an exception for my art teacher, Ms. Rimes, because she sent me a thing on Facebook, "Make an exception." So you can come in here crying. I'll put up with you like you have to put up with me in class.

O'BRIEN: One exception, but that's it. Well, Kaleb, it's so great to hear you sounding so well and hearing that you're going to get out of the hospital pretty soon. That's an amazing story. I know you've told it to lots of folks. But it is just an incredible story.

Thank you for being with us this evening. We certainly appreciate it.

LANGDALE: All right, anytime.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Kaleb, I should mention, goes by the nickname Fred.

His family has set up a fund-raising Web site so they can get him a prosthetic arm. And if you want to help, you can go to www.GoFundMe.com.

Coming up next, from drought to deluge. Houston's being inundated with rain one year after its hottest, driest summer on record. Today, we saw flash floods and some dramatic rescues. We've got the latest just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SESAY: Soledad will be back in a moment. First, a "360 News Bulletin."

An Obama staffer collapsed at the campaign Chicago headquarters and later died at a hospital. Alex Okrent worked on Obama's 2008 presidential campaign and his 2004 Senate bid. He was 29.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney acknowledged his death in a tweet, writing, "Ann and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Alex Okrent. Prayers are with Alex's loved ones and the entire Obama campaign team."

David Axelrod, senior advisor to the Obama campaign, responded with this tweet, "Thank you, Governor. Alex was a beloved member of our team. It's been a very emotional day.:

In Houston, severe thunderstorms dumped at least three inches of rain in just an hour today, amid days of heavy rain. Flash flooding left drivers stranded, and several neighborhoods are completely cut off.

George Zimmerman, charged with second-degree murder in the shooting of Florida teen Trayvon Martin, wants the second judge assigned to his case to recuse himself. Zimmerman's defense team says he can't get a fair trial, because the judge is biased against him.

A New Jersey town released this red-light camera footage to show what happens when a speeding car blows through an intersection. The driver, accused of driving under the influence, suffered only minor injuries, and amazingly no one else was hurt.

Jennifer Lopez says she is leaving "American Idol." The 42-year- old actress, singer and mom of twins told host Ryan Seacrest that she had to take something off her plate. Judge Steven Tyler announced he was leaving yesterday -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Time now for tonight's "Shot" and the next generation of American service dogs. Look at these adorable Golden Retriever puppies. They're three weeks old. Already helping recovering service members at Walter Reid National Military Medical Center through the Warrior-Canine Connection.

Wounded troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will help socialize and then train the dogs, who will one day serve disabled veterans.

You can watch these little puppies grow up on Service Puppy Live Cam. Of course, there's a service puppy live cam.

SESAY: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: At Explore.org (ph). They're so cute. I would actually do that.

SESAY: I'm sure they'll be an app for that soon, as well.

O'BRIEN: But of course. If there's not one already.

SESAY: If there isn't one already.

O'BRIEN: That's right. We'll be back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: That does it for this edition of 360. Thank you for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.