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A.P.: Sedative Found in Jackson Home; Jackson's Ex May Seek Kids; Operation Strike of the Sword; Palin Resigning As Governor; Who Are Michael Jackson's Fans?

Aired July 3, 2009 - 17:00   ET


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Could it hold the key to unlocking the mystery of his death?

And she's the woman who could change everything in Jackson's will -- the mother of his children, Debbie Rowe, now weighing in on a possible custody battle.

Wolf Blitzer is off today.

I'm Suzanne Malveaux.


It's a powerful anesthetic rarely seen outside the operating rooms. But now, the Associated Press is reporting that the drug Diprivan was found in Michael Jackson's home. It is the same drug that a former Jackson nurse says the singer pleaded for to help him sleep.

CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joining us live -- tell us, Elizabeth, what do we know about this drug?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, what we know is that this drug is used to anesthetize people for surgical procedures and for other kinds of procedures. It is not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for -- for insomnia, for any kind of sleep disorder. And, in fact, I just got off the phone with one doctor who said if a doctor prescribes this for insomnia, that is beyond the pale -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: How dangerous is this drug?

COHEN: You know, this drug is very effective, but it can be very dangerous. And that's why only anesthesiologists are supposed to use it. And they're supposed to use it in facilities where someone can be resuscitated in case something goes wrong.

Let me read exactly what the Food and Drug Administration says. It says this right on the label of this drug.

They say: "Diprivan should be admired only by persons trained in the administration of general anesthesia."

It is, unfortunately, very easy to overdose on this drug. So it is only supposed to be given in a facility where there is equipment for ventilation, where there is equipment for cardiovascular resuscitation, where there is equipment to give someone supplemental oxygen. It is not supposed to be given in someone's home -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: And could it lead to cardiac arrest?

COHEN: Yes, it certainly could lead to cardiac arrest. What happens is that Diprivan puts certain levels of your brain to sleep, so to speak, so that you won't feel the pain of the procedure.

However, if you give someone too much, it can actually put the brain stem to sleep. And it's your brain stem that tells you to breathe. Your brain actually tells you to breathe. I know you don't think about it, but your brain tells you to breathe.

If you put your brain stem to sleep, you'll stop breathing, you'll go into cardiac arrest.

MALVEAUX: OK. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

MALVEAUX: Well, there are more unanswered questions about the custody of Jackson's children. Attorneys for their mother, Jackson's former wife, Debbie Rowe, says that she hasn't decided yet whether she'll fight to get them.

Our CNN's Mary Snow has more on the woman who could change almost everything in Jackson's will -- Mary, what are you finding out about Debbie Rowe?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Suzanne, we do know that she waived her parental rights in the past. And years ago, she said she had the children because she wanted Jackson to be a father.


SNOW (voice-over): Debbie Rowe was married to Michael Jackson between 1996 and '99. The two reportedly became friends while she was a nurse for a dermatologist where Jackson was a patient. Rowe gave birth to Jackson's two oldest children, Michael, now 12, and Paris, 11.

But as part of an $8.5 million settlement, she gave up her parental rights.

Seen here in a 2003 Fox interview, she describes what she called her nontraditional family.


DEBBIE ROWE, MICHAEL JACKSON'S EX-WIFE: My kids don't call me mom because I don't want them to. They're not -- they're Michael's children. It's not that they're not my children, but I had them because I wanted him to be a father. I believe that there are people who should be parents and he's one of them.


SNOW: Two years after that interview, Rowe was called as a prosecution witness when Michael Jackson faced charges of molestation. He was acquitted. Her testimony dealt a blow to prosecutors.

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR/INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER: She showed up and gave testimony under -- sworn testimony under the penalty of perjury that, in fact, he was a wonderful father.

SNOW: Rowe, however, cited the charges as one reason she went to court a few years ago to reopen the custody issue. In 2006, a California appeals court ruled that her parental rights had been improperly terminated, but Jackson kept custody of the children.

Now 50, Rowe lives on this horse farm in Palmdale, outside of Los Angeles. Her attorney says no final decision has been made about whether she'll challenge Michael Jackson's mother Katherine over custody.

Larry King asked Michael's brother Jermaine about the possibility she might seek custody.


JERMAINE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S BROTHER: We'll see. Larry, the will is what it is. And the will was really written well. And it was executed by the executors and they did a great job. It's what it is.



SNOW: As to the custody of Michael Jackson's children, a judge has delayed a hearing for a week, until July 13th, to decide if Katherine Jackson, Michael Jackson's mother, will remain the temporary guardian of Jackson's children -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you very much.

Mary Snow.

The U.S. Marines are in their second day of the biggest offensive in Afghanistan since the U.S. invasion of that country. Four thousand Marines are joining hundreds of Afghan soldiers to take back a volatile area long held by the Taliban.

CNN's Atia Abawi has the latest from Kabul.

ATIA ABAWI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, it's the largest U.S. military operation since Fallujah in Iraq back in 2004 -- thousands of U.S. Marines flooding Afghanistan's Helmand Province, hoping to turn the war around, win over the Afghan people and stomp out the insurgency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ABAWI (voice-over): Day two of Operation Khanjar, or Strike of the Sword, ended with at least one Marine killed and one civilian injured. But it was progress for the Marines, as they made connection with village chiefs in Helmand Province, one of Afghanistan's most dangerous regions. In much of the area, the Marines say, they're meeting little resistance. But one battalion did engage the enemy for several hours.

The offensive is focused on a district called Garmser, which borders Pakistan and produces huge amounts of opium. Distrust of foreigners runs deep.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When Americans and foreigners come, they carry out searches and they bomb us and misbehave. Whenever they come, they bomb us and kill us.

ABAWI: Locals sometimes turn to the Taliban because local officials are corrupt. At this village meeting CNN attended in February, the governor of Helmand was trying to persuade villagers to turn to the government and against the Taliban.

And that's what these Marines and coalition forces plan to do with a mission to secure and hold -- trying to regain people's trust.

They are not alone. British forces continue operations throughout the province and suffer casualties -- on Wednesday, losing the highest ranking British commander to be killed in action since 1982.

(on camera): Helmand has been one of the most challenging provinces for coalition troops and the Afghan government. But with new guidance to prevent civilian casualties and engage local communities, commanders expect this operation to change the direction of the war -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Atia.

We'll get back to our breaking news -- Governor Sarah Palin's surprise decision.

Plus, the man who helped found Iran's most elite security unit now says the Revolutionary Guard has turned into something monstrous -- he talks one-on-one with us about the government's bloody crackdown on protesters.

Also, who exactly are Michael Jackson's fans?

You may be surprised by what we're finding.

And one of those fans is former secretary of State, Colin Powell. He reveals what the king of pop meant to him.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. MALVEAUX: We are following the breaking news that is rocking the political world -- Sarah Palin announcing that she is resigning as governor of Alaska.

The best political team on television is here. CNN political editor Mark Preston is here; as well as CNN contributor, Mary Matalin; and political producer, Peter Hamby -- Mark, let's first talk about the implications of 2012.

What does this mean for her -- the potential that she may go for a presidential run for her party?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, you know, Suzanne, there's a lot of talk right now.

But why did she make this decision?

If this decision is made for her to focus on 2012, then that's probably a good thing, because she needs to come down to the lower 48, try to -- try to build her image, that was really tarnished back in the 2008 campaign.

However, it's going to cause a lot of questions about why did she do that?

And her detractors are going to say that she's bowing out too early and that she needs to stay in because of her experience.

MALVEAUX: Is it too early to know whether or not this helps or hurts her in the long run?

PRESTON: You know, I think it is still a little bit early at this point. I think for some people, again, it is going to hurt her, because they're going to say she doesn't have the experience, she should have stayed in office.

However, you know, it's not the Republican base that Sarah Palin has to worry about. She needs to try to reach out to centrist Republicans. And that's where she needs to repair the bridge. And that's why she could be using this time, to try to do so.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Peter Hamby -- and Peter, you -- you followed Sarah Palin during the campaign religiously. You saw the kind of reception that she would get when she was out on the campaign trail.

What do you make of her going back out there again and visiting folks?

Do you think this move essentially was meant to kind of drum up that kind of grassroots support and put some of the Washington naysayers in their place?

PETER HAMBY, CNN PRODUCER: Well, I talked to one of her defenders in Washington who was also on the campaign. And he said after this decision, he told me today that what -- you know, she definitely got a taste of the limelight traveling the country last year. And, you know, there's no doubt that -- that she is going to, you know, try to make an impact around the country.

They think that she can influence Alaskan issues. That was their wording today by -- you know, be a greater influence outside of the state than inside the state.

So I certainly think we'll be seeing her travel around the country very soon.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in Republican strategist and CNN political contributor, Mary Matalin -- Mary, what do you make of this?

We've been getting a lot of different feedback from Republicans, some who are scratching their heads, others who say this is going to damage the party. And -- and there are others who are a little bit more open-minded about what this means for her chances in 2012.

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think it's really brilliant, with two caveats, one being that there's nothing else, ala the Sanford fiasco. There's nothing else that we don't know. If all that's there is what we see right now, it's brilliant.

And, secondly, that she has a plan and people have a plan to put up with the conventional wisdom, chatterati (ph) and the political class saying how stupid it is, because it's brilliant.

On the substance, there's the key economic issue -- I know everyone says -- thinks it's health care, but it's really energy. And she's the queen of energy.

And the second big issue for 2012 will be the role of government. And she has a record of reform and ethics reform and making government smaller and reigning in spending -- all those issues that are getting increasingly important as Barack Obama expands on his agenda.

So -- and her delivery was incredible -- a charis -- a less charismatic person probably couldn't pull it off. But as -- as already referenced, she will be freed up and liberated in the way Mitt Romney is here to run around and raise money and get political chips by spending it and get political capital. And she is still raising the kinds of crowds and money that she always did.

So at first blush, to people with -- tainted by the Beltway -- and I include myself. My first reaction was what?

And my second reaction -- because I'm at my farm. I guarantee you, if I go down to the Wal-Mart in the Shenandoah Valley, there will be a huge hoorah for this. And normal Americans like that message of, you know, the price of public service should not be personal destruction...

MALVEAUX: I want to...

MATALIN: ...and the costs of that. MALVEAUX: I want to bring in our Mark Preston, because, Mark, she says it's a brilliant political move. You talk to folks all the time.

A, do you agree with that?

And, B, it might be putting you on the spot a little bit, but do we know if she's clear of all kinds of ethical charges or anything?

Can we expect that there might be something that would come up that would present a problem?

PRESTON: Well, I think Mary is absolutely right to say, based upon what her analysis is, that it allows Sarah Palin to be freed up, to travel around the states, to gain some chits. It really is a brilliant political move.

However, for critics that will come out and say that as the governor, somebody, you know, who leaves midterm, who leaves in the middle of all this turmoil, some people might say she's trying to cut and run.

But, you know, Mary is absolutely right, Mitt Romney right now is not encumbered by anything. He's allowed to go around the country, to raise money, to try to get people to support him.

But I'll tell you, the people who are most focused on this, other than you and me and Mary and all our viewers, the fact is, is that Mike Huckabee -- you know, Mitt Romney, Bobby Jindal, Haley Barbour -- these are all folks who are thinking about running in 2012. And I'm guaranteeing you right now their political opponents are ginning up to really to try to figure out what she's doing.

MALVEAUX: And, Peter, how much of this is a threat to many of the other Republicans that Mark just mentioned, when they realize that now she's freed up to go travel the country, to see folks and, potentially, to raise money for the Republican Party?

HAMBY: Right. Well, speaking of money, her finance reports for her political action committee are due for the first time very -- they were due at the end of June and we'll be seeing them very soon.

But on the 2012 question, I already have e-mails from Romney staffers in my in box with point by point criticisms of Sarah Palin. So they are definitely keeping an eye on her and they know she's a power player in Republican politics.

MALVEAUX: And, Mary, I want to bring you back in.

Do we know -- is there any suspicion that there is something that she might be hiding that we don't know about, that the might be a problem for why she's stepped down out of her position early?

MATALIN: You know, we don't know. But one has to presume that -- and this is how, since she brilliantly raised this -- that these, you know, hoards, these killing locust hoards of APO (ph) research have come in there and dug through everything. And what we would presume is that if there was anything else, we -- we would know it by now.

But I just -- the more I think about this, the better I think it is. And she addressed the issue of why she's stepping down quite well by delineating the record. Again, I'm not going to go through it -- but on energy and reform and ethics and small government. She spoke right to that conservative base that wants the substantively smaller government, limited government. And she spoke of Constitutionalism.

I mean, if I were these other candidates, yes, I'd be sending out negatives on her already. But she's taken -- unlike those candidates who have -- potential candidates that are still in office, she takes that big target off her back with a good record to launch from.

Now, that presumes she's going to use this time wisely, not just getting political chips, but, you know, getting deeper -- taking a deeper dive on foreign policy and those -- and the whole panoply of issues that you have to be expected to -- one expects that their presidential aspirants can go long, hard and deep on.

MALVEAUX: Mary Matalin, Peter Hamby, Mark Preston, thank you, all of you, for contributing.

Obviously, we're going to have much, much more on this story coming up later in the -- in the broadcast.

Turning now to the Michael Jackson story -- count him among many of Michael Jackson's fans.


COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: These fresh, exciting kids with the 'fros in the -- in the early '70s and singing those wonderful songs, "A, B, C." Don't -- don't ask me to sing it.


MALVEAUX: Former secretary of State Colin Powell reminisces and reveals what Jackson meant to him.

Plus, the funeral for a small town boy who made it big with a sales pitch few will ever forget.


MALVEAUX: Mary Snow is monitoring the stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now -- and, Mary, what are you following?

SNOW: Suzanne, residents of a small Southern town are terrified now that police have relieved a serial killer is on the loose. Authorities in Gaffney, South Carolina think the same person shot four people within 10 miles of each other in less than a week. The latest was a 48-year-old man shot in a Gaffney furniture store at closing time. Violence continues on the streets of Somalia, as the injured overflow hospitals. Extremist rebels vow to continue their attack on African Union peacekeepers after 20 were killed already this week. Rebels and the government are blaming each other for the violence. The African country has been in turmoil ever since its dictatorship was overthrown in 1991.

And the man who graced last night TV ads is being remembered as a pop culture icon. Today's funeral for 50-year-old Billy Mays was held in McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania. It's a small suburb of Pittsburgh, where he grew up. Tentative results show he died of a heart attack. Mays learned his yell and sell infomercial techniques on the Atlantic City boardwalk in the 1980s.

And finally, a story you probably wouldn't expect. North Korea, a country that can barely feed its people, is promoting beer -- yes, beer -- on state television. The flashy TV ad claims a brewsky offers medical benefits as a diuretic, that it eliminates stress and contributes to a long life. Normally, there are no commercials on state TV in that communist country, but North Korean leader, Kim Jung Il, reportedly loves to tip back a couple of cold ones.

Not something you would expect.


Thank you, Mary.

SNOW: Sure.

MALVEAUX: Michael Jackson's fans are diverse, extending from the White House to quaint towns. We talk to former secretary of State Colin Powell as he reminisces about the man in the mirror.

Some budgets are being cut for some emergency services. Firefighters in some communities are complaining of not enough equipment to supply water to put out fires.


MALVEAUX: You're in "The Situation Room."

Happening now, Sarah Palin shocks political pundits and announces she is stepping down as governor of Alaska. Palin hands over the reins to the lieutenant governor, saying it's better for Alaska.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard cracked down so much that one man who founded the military unit calls it monstrous.

And the first direct flight from the U.S. to Cuba in five years lands in Havana. Now that lawmakers are allowing Cuban-Americans to visit the island, analysts say Cuba may see about 2 million new tourists in a year.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I am Suzanne Malveaux, and you are in "The Situation Room." New details of Michael Jackson's memorial are out. Organizers say people who want to attend the service at the Staples Center in Los Angeles Tuesday can register for an online drawing of more than 17,000 free tickets. Recipients will be picked by random, rather, tomorrow night, and while Jackson's death rocked the entertainment world, his appeal transcends boundaries. CNN senior political analyst Bill Schneider is taking a look. Bill?

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Suzanne, you may be surprised to hear that there was something political about Michael Jackson.


SCHNEIDER: Michael Jackson was not just an amazing talent, he was also a cultural phenomenon. More than half of all Americans describe themselves as Michael Jackson fans. Who are they? Jackson's appeal is racially ambiguous. 42 percent of whites call themselves Jackson fans, and almost three-quarters of minorities.

His appeal was gender ambiguous. Nearly half of men call themselves fans. A majority of women do.

Older Americans didn't get Michael Jackson. They were probably offended by his defiance of cultural norms. Young people got him, although the post-"Thriller" generation -- his greatest album that came out 27 years ago -- may have known him more as a curiosity than as an entertainer.

Was Jackson political? Not really. His closest known connection to politics was to accept an honor from President Reagan in 1984 for supporting the campaign against drunk drivers.

MICHAEL JACKSON: I'm very, very honored. Thank you very much, Mr. President and Mrs. Reagan.

SCHNEIDER: But here is a surprise. Jackson's fan base can be defined more than anything else by politics. 63 percent of Democrats are Jackson fans, but just 35 percent of Republicans. Of course, you might say African-Americans are overwhelming Democratic, but it is not just race. White Democrats are far more likely to be Jackson fans than white Republicans.

In his music and his behavior, Jackson pushed the boundaries of convention, and that in itself was a political statement.


SCHNEIDER: Michael Jackson was a cultural icon who defied racial and gender categories. That made him a partisan in the nation's culture wars without uttering a political word -- Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: Fascinating, thank you, Bill.

Among Jackson's many fans, former Secretary of State Colin Powell. He reminisced about the singer with CNN's John King. Back with us, the host of "State of the Union," John King. And John, you asked the question of Colin Powell that so many people want to know and have been talking about, that is Michael Jackson. What does he think of Michael Jackson?

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: I did put the question to him, and it might seem odd, but Colin Powell is a trailblazer, as you know, the first African-American national security adviser, the first African- American to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the first African-American secretary of state.

And I was watching the tributes this past week to Michael Jackson, including the big event at the Apollo Theater you were anchoring while that was going on, and that's Colin Powell's neighborhood, where he grew up as a boy. So I asked him simply his reflections on Michael Jackson.


KING: What did he mean to America?

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: He was a great entertainer, and he crossed so many lines with his skill and the skill of his brothers. I always remember him most vividly as a young boy with the Jackson 5, these fresh exciting kids with the fros in the early '70s and singing those wonderful songs, "ABC," don't ask me to sing it.

But that is what I remember of Michael.

During the heyday, when he was doing "Thriller" and the other things, I was either in Vietnam or Korea or somewhere. So he is not quite of my generation.

But his art spanned three generations and is worthy of all the tribute that he is receiving for his art. Yes, there were some challenges in his life, yes there was a great deal of controversy about him. But he has passed on. Let's celebrate his art.


KING: An interesting take, I thought. Number one, I loved it General Powell made the reference to the big fros of the Jackson 5.

But that was trademark Colin Powell caution there. He's a smart politician even though he's never run for public office, saying, yes, there were controversies, yes, there are some things people are going to debate for a long time to come, but he focused on the young Michael Jackson of the Jackson five, saying look, let's celebrate the contribution he made to art.

MALVEAUX: Sure. And I think you almost got him to dance too, there John. I saw a little bit move.

KING: He was under his breath, I think he can carry a tune better than he let on. MALVEAUX: Thank you so much, John. Thanks again

Our CNN Thelma Gutierrez sat down and spoke with a woman who helped write one of Michael Jackson's most famous songs.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seidah Garrett wrote "Man in the Mirror" 21 years ago.

SEIDAH GARRETT, SONGWRITER, "MAN IN THE MIRROR": Quincy Jones was trying to put together his publishing company, and he wanted a song to finish out the "Bad" album. I wanted to write a song to make him feel like he had something to say important to the world. And I think he let me know I did exactly that.

GUTIERREZ (on camera): What did he say to you?

GARRETT: He said "Man in the Mirror" is one of my favorite songs of all time.

GUTIERREZ: What was it like when you actually heard him singing your words?

GARRETT: I remember the first time I heard the song on the radio. I got goose bumps. I pulled over on the freeway and I turned up the radio as loud as it would go and just sat there with tears streaming down my face. It was such a moving, emotional moment.

GUTIERREZ: What were you struck by the most?

GARRETT: His voice, his laughter, and his sense of humor.

GUTIERREZ: What has the world lost?


GUTIERREZ (voice-over): So she sang as a tribute to her friends at the Agape Church in Los Angeles.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


MALVEAUX: A major government crackdown in Iran. One man tells CNN's Brian Todd the Revolutionary Guard has become "monstrous."

And former president George W. Bush surprises a small town in Oklahoma. What a Fourth of July it is going to be. Stay with us. You are in the "Situation Room."


MALVEAUX: We are following breaking news.

Sarah Palin resigning as governor of Alaska. In her announcement she took a swipe at the media, with whom she has had a difficult relationship, most recently in a high-profile spat with late-night comedian David Letterman.

CNN's Brian Todd is joining us with more on that -- Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Suzanne, Sarah Palin never far from the news even in those eight months since the election defeat. And as you mentioned, just last month she got into that public war with David Letterman over jokes that Letterman made on his show about Palin's daughter.

He at that time joked about one of Palin's daughters becoming impregnated by New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez. Palin and her husband quickly counterpunched, calling Letterman's remarks disgusting and inappropriate.

Palin was then asked by Wolf Blitzer on this program whether she would forgive David Letterman.


GOV. SARAH PALIN, (R-AK) FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will forgive whomever is asking for forgiveness.

It goes beyond, though, and David Letterman's crude, sexist, perverted joke about a 14-year-old girl getting being "knocked up" by Alex Rodriguez. I think he's like 30 some-year-old. I think that that's pretty perverted.

But it goes beyond that, not just that joke, but this insinuation that it is OK, it's acceptable to talk like that. And then that it's acceptable for the media to not provide the American public, the listeners, readers, the full context of that joke.

Letterman says I wasn't talking about my 14-year-old. David, my 14 year old was there with me at the game. She was the only one there with me. It wasn't my older daughter, who is in college and taking care of her own family. It was my 14-year-old.

So for the American public not to not be given the full context of what the joke was all about, I think that is quite unfortunate. And also it is that sad commentary on what Americans are fed in terms of full news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: He now says he was talking about your 18-year-old daughter, not the 14-year-old daughter.

PALIN: That's a weak, convenient excuse. And you know what, regardless of which daughter it was, inappropriate.


TODD: After Sarah Palin said that, at that point the Palins had blasted back at him and as protesters gathered outside his studio, David Letterman first admitted that his joke were in poor taste. He later issued a stronger apology, saying it was a course joke, no getting around it.

And he repeated that he had been joking only about the Palin's 18-year-old daughter Bristol, not 14-year-old Willow. But Suzanne, I see mentioned in the interview with Wolf, not good enough. Willow is one with her at the Yankee game, and regardless, she was pretty angry at David Letterman no matter what daughter he was talking about.

MALVEAUX: Sure, Brian.

I want to bring in to talk about Sarah Palin and much, much more, Democratic strategists Karen Finney, former communications director for the DNC, and Republican strategist Tony Blankly, a former spokesman for Newt Gingrich, and Republican strategist and CNN political contributor Ed Rollins.

First, let me start with you, Tony. This is a bombshell. This is absolutely a bombshell. Nobody expected this coming. What does this do for her chances in 2012?

TONY BLANKLY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It is a little early to have any sense of what is going to do, and I think we're going to sleep on our judgments.

I think it is an interesting move. I think it frees her up. It is very unconventional. All the Washington polls are going nuts over it, which suggests to me, to be mentioned earlier, that maybe it is a smart move.

The normal rules don't seem to apply to her. She is a fascinating character and she's going to do things her own way. I think the key for her from here on out is she has to get a solid team of advisers that she can trust and follow.

My sense is she is bouncing around without that, and that is the next step that she needs to take.

MALVEAUX: I want to bring in another Republican strategist, Ed Rollins. Is this a smart move for her? Do you agree with Tony?

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Tony and I are old friends, and we disagree on this one.

She was a shooting star that dimmed, obviously, in the last few months, and now she crashed to earth. If nothing more than just quitting the job because it is too tough or she wants to do something else, I think, is a liability.

It was a great letter, I'm an old boxing fan, Roberto Duran, one of the greatest writers of all time. And he quit against Sugar Ray Leonard, and his term that he used was "No mas, No mas." If you don't have no mas, if you don't have the courage to fight the media, to finish the job, like every other governor in the country -- the tough test of her in Alaska. She has now walked away. How does she have credentials to go out and say --

(CROSSTALK) KAREN FINNEY, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Ed is doing my job for me. But I will come in somewhere in the middle and say I think it remains to be seen whether or not this was a good decision. It really depends how she uses the time.

If, as Tony suggests, she puts together a smart team and gets her message under control. She has had a back and forth and bizarre, she is coming or not coming to various Republican events -- may turn out to be in a good mood.

MALVEAUX: If this is a cause for celebration for Democrats as they take a look at 2012 and they say, OK, the rest we got Obama back in here, and Palin, and that's what she's doing, because she is so unpredictable?

MALVEAUX: No, because, look, she is very popular core of the Republican base. And you can't underestimate that. And now she's got more time to sort of cultivate that base.

But the problem is, you know, over the weekend there will be a lot of gossip and chatter. And the rest of us will fill in the narrative about what this really means. She should have done a little bit more to define why she is doing it.

BLANKLY: Let me suggest that Ed -- and I have such respect for Ed, because he was the master running the Reagan campaign, and that was a mid-level guys. But I think that she is not a quitter. She just doesn't look like a quitter.

For some politicians, it would look like quitting. But she is such an aggressive and assertive personality, that I don't think people will think of her as a quitter. I think they're going to see her as a fighter.

FINNEY: But it is a little bit of erratic behavior, you have to admit.

MALVEAUX: Why do you think she is a quitter? Why do you see this is quitting as opposed to moving on to something else?

ROLLINS: No. If she wanted to move on to something else, she could do that in 2010.

The problem is that the state in is terrible shape. She had lawyers. She had two years where she could give money back, big oil revenue. Now's the time that she has to prove her mettle.

And the idea you walk away from a job midterm because I have some bigger ambitions I don't think works for you.

I could tell you, as a strategist, I would beat the daylights out of her every day in Iowa, New Hampshire, anywhere else. And I think the reality -- I have great respect for, I have praised her on this show over and over again, and I feel badly about this.

But at the end of the day she is going to end up like Katherine Harris, who was also a darling of the right wing, a woman named Katherine Harris whose campaign I ran.


ROLLINS: Katherine Harris was a hero of this party. I ran her Senate campaign. By the end of the campaign she was viewed as a flake and went down to where defeat.

MALVEAUX: Ed, would you volunteer, would you go ahead and volunteer to advise Sarah Palin now? Would you say, look, I think you need some different advice here, here's what I think would help you out?

ROLLINS: I think she definitely needs some different advice.

And I think the bottom line is doing this -- a lot of people say, this is so smart, dump it on a holiday. I would argue, if you are going to do this, take a month, six weeks, eight weeks, get a story of how you're going to do this, and step aside after you put things in play.

But to step out there unprepared as she was today, stumble through a speech that leaves all of us scrambling today to have some kind of speculation on why she did it has not been --


FINNEY: And, actually, I agree with Ed on that one. I think the press conference was a little bizarre. She seemed almost nervous.

And again, the story that she presented about why she was doing it didn't really hold up. And again, it does make you think -- to me it seemed a little erratic, a little odd. I think it remains to be seen whether or not it's a good decision.

But she should have had more control around the narrative of why she is leaving, what does it mean.

MALVEAUX: Doesn't she gain more control of the narrative now that she is a free agent? She can go out there and --

BLANKLY: I agree that the professional analysis is exactly as Ed has said. I mean, there is no doubt that is the way you professional want to roll out an announcement like this.

But sometimes an intuitive politician, who is as singular as she is, does think in a way that we professionals don't think of as professional, but it works because of her instincts.

In some ways, Reagan was that way. He had instincts and one against what some of the professionals fought.

So I'm not ready to write it off just because it is not the way we normally do things.

MALVEAUX: Ed, I want to ask you, is this Reagan-esche of Sarah Palin? What do you think? ROLLINS: No. Reagan was governor for eight years. He had been a national figure.

Let me say this, she is unconventional. But her road back to prominence, she is not going to be the presidential candidate, I don't think, because of this. She can come back. She is young. She has name I.D. She can be a senator.

I don't think she takes on Murkowski in two years because you're going or other baby, but there is an open seat, the Stevens seat, that four years from now if she wants to become a national player again.

But she has to have a powerful dialogue in the next several weeks of why she stepped aside. That press conference isn't going to do it.

FINNEY: This definitely raises the stakes on her, no question.

MALVEAUX: And Karen, she said earlier today, this is her quote, "Only dead fish go with the flow." Is there a possibility that just everyday, ordinary Americans look at this and say I understand. This is not someone who does it in a conventional way. I respect her, I get it. This is the kind of maverick we want to lead the party?

FINNEY: I think potentially that could be true, but again, it's going to for Governor Palin or former Governor Palin and whatever team of advisers she has around here to define it in those terms, because I think, as Ed pointed out, the state is in trouble. And when you leave in a middle of a term and leave your state while it is in trouble, it does open you up to the question, why didn't you stay and finish the job? And why didn't you stay and really make sure you got the state back on a good path, a solid path before you left.

MALVEAUX: Tony, how much of this do you think is the problems that Brian Todd had mentioned, the family, that there was so much messiness out there with David Letterman and the media, the daughter, the child, and all that? Do you think that weighed really in at all?

BLANKLY: I don't know. Clearly she has a messy family situation. Interestingly --

MALVEAUX: Who doesn't?

BLANKLY: Yes. The last generation, political families have become more stories than they used to be. And you can go to all sorts of families. It used to be you didn't see the families, and all the problems were behind. This is sort of the modern paparazzi age of politics.

MALVEAUX: All right, Tony, Karen, and Ed, thank you all for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Astonishing news from the investigation into the death of Michael Jackson. The Associated Press reports a powerful sedative to knock out surgery patients was found inside the pop star's home.

You're in the "Situation Room." (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MALVEAUX: Disturbing news reports out of Iran, where a top cleric is quoted as saying some British embassy workers will be put on trial for allegedly inciting postelection violence.

Meanwhile, the man who has helped found Iran's most elite security unit has been watching the government crackdown in horror, sang the Revolutionary guard has turned into something monstrous.

He talked to CNN's Brian Todd. And Brian, what did he tell you? What did he share?

TODD: Suzanne, he gave us extraordinary detail about how he believes this force has operated on the ground during this most recent protest.

We have to mention, this gentlemen says he has not been actually part of the revolutionary guard for some 30 years. But he says he has had access to the guard through his various positions in the government since then.

So we asked him for some insight into the guard's conduct in this crisis.


TODD: An inside take on Iran's most feared military force from a man who was there from the start.

TODD (on camera): You mentioned to me on the phone, this revolutionary guard is not your revolutionary guard. Why do you feel that way?

MOHSEN SAZEGARA, CO-FOUNDER, REVOLUTIONARY GUARD: You know, because the revolutionary guard that we founded was an organization to help the people, to defend the country.

TODD: Mohsen Sazegara was an aid to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who says he threw the ayatollah from Paris to Tehran when the Shah's regime was overthrown in 1979.

Was a co-founder of the Revolutionary guard, he says, who later fell out of favor with the regime and was jailed after Khomeini died. Sazegara says the Revolutionary guard was set up to defend Iran from outside attacks and protect its leadership from coup attempts.

Now, he says, it has become what he calls "monstrous."

SAZEGARA: The Revolutionary guard is involved in lots of financial assets. It's a complex of more than 800 companies. It is like a political party.

TODD: And Sazegara says the guard has its own intelligence and paramilitary wings.

We had him sit with us and look at some of the most dramatic protest video streaming in from Iran.

SAZEGARA: I think that these guys are from police. But these are from basij.

TODD (on camera): The ones in the fatigues?


TODD (voice-over): Sazegara says some of the guard's forces wear civilian clothes, blend in with protesters, sometimes stand behind riot police with walkie-talkies.

TODD (on camera): What are they saying to each other behind the scenes, the commanders, as how to react in these situations?

SAZEGARA: They use walkie-talkies. They are connected to the central bureau that is controlled by the camera (ph). And they give the orders to give anti-riot police or Basij who are here.

And besides that, they try to recognize the activists.

TODD: Sazegara says the Basij militia, controlled by the guard, isn't even its most notorious force. That distinction, he says, belongs to a group called the "white shirts." They are civilians, he says, shop keepers and businessmen. They don't wear white or any special outfit. They also blend in, he says, and shriek havoc.

SAZEGARA: These white shirts sometimes kill the people. Sometimes burn the buildings. And nobody takes the responsibility.


TODD: Now, we contacted an Iranian official who we dealt with during this crisis to respond to Sazegara's comment. The official says these are old claims from someone no longer in a position to make them. He calls Sazegara's accounts, quote, "baseless accusations" -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: And Brian, do you think that this gentleman, does he believe that the guard would ever turn on the regime?

TODD: He says that if they face more protests like these in the future and they respond even more forcefully, potentially more forcefully, the guard could turn. It would have to be a position where they refuse to fire on their own countrymen anymore.

He says they didn't get to that point during these protests. What may come down the road if the regime may falter a little bit further, it could get to that that point.

MALVEAUX: Volatile situation.

TODD: Right.

MALVEAUX: Thank you very much, Brian. Did a sedative normally used in surgery play a role in Michael Jackson's death? New reports about what was found in the singer's home.

Plus, those budget cuts we are seeing could dry up an important service. The threat at your doorstep. You're in the "Situation Room." 


MALVEAUX: Across the country, local governments are squeezed for cash. The cuts could come with a risky side effect that could put your home at risk. Homeland Security Correspondent Jeanne Meserve is following the story -- Jeanne?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT, CNN: Suzanne, firefighters are among those feeling the pinch in these tough times. But are cuts in fire services putting lives at risk?


MESERVE: A 47-year-old man died in this Flint, Michigan fire in April. The first firefighters on scene attempted a rescue, but because of recent cutbacks didn't immediately have a pumper truck to douse the flames.

MARK KOVACH, FLINT, MICHIGAN FIRE DEPARTMENT: If we had the water, potentially we could have made it up the stairs on the first trip.

MESERVE: Last most, in Alameda, California, guard was injured, his colleagues say, because cutbacks slowed the response.

Officials in both length and Alameda dispute that budget decisions had a significant impact on these tragic events. But the firefighter's union maintains that communities all across the country are playing Russian roulette by cutting fire services.

JEFF ZACK, INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF FIREFIGHTERS: We're seeing firefighters furloughed, laid off, taking cuts in pay, cuts in benefits, stations are being closed, stations are being browned out.

MESERVE: In Atlanta, Georgia, this fire house is one of five that have been shuttered. The firefighters union says the city has half the fire personnel it should.

JIM DAVIS, ATLANTA FIRE DEPARTMENT UNION: On any given day, we will only have 140 firefighters on duty in the city of Atlanta to protect a city with a daytime population well over 1.5 million, which is a national scandal.

MESERVE: A survey in January indicated 6 percent of cities had cut emergency services. Though the number has almost certainly grown, experts say emergency services are almost always the last thing on the chopping block. CHRIS HOENE, NATIONAL LEAGUE OF CITIES: The fact that you are seeing cities around the country making cuts to the services is evidence of the depth of the current recession.

MESERVE: Take Prince George's County, Maryland.

MARK BRADY, PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY FIRE EMS: We have to be fiscally responsible to the citizens and residents and do the job and provide the services that we need to provide the best we can with the resources that we are provided with.

MESERVE: County officials say public safety is not being jeopardized.

DOUG BARTHOLOMEW, IAFE LOCAL: Currently there is no stabbing at the station today.

MESERVE: But firefighters and says job in overtime cuts, or lows, and rotating station closures are increasing the risks to firefighters and the communities they serve.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody is home. Turn out the lights.


MESERVE: The Obama administration has proposed increasing grant money to pay for firefighting positions. But as community's budgets get tighter and tighter, more are expected to cut emergency services, which really can make the difference between life and death -- Suzanne?

MALVEAUX: Thank you, Jeanne.

Happening now, Sarah Palin's stunning announcement. She is stepping down as Alaska's governor this month. But why? The best local team on television is out in force, working their sources on this breaking story.

Plus, did a powerful sedative contribute to Michael Jackson's death? We are digging deeper into a new report about medications found in Jackson's home.