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Al Qaeda Infiltrates Syria; Open Revolt in Northern Syria; Underwear Bomber Gets Life in Prison; Social Security Woes; Details About Houston's Funeral

Aired February 16, 2012 - 17:00   ET


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos are straight ahead. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Candy Crowley, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The United Nations secretary-general now says the Syrian government almost certainly is guilty of crimes against humanity. A short while ago, most members of the U.N. General Assembly seemed to agree.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The result of the vote is as follows. In favor, 137, opposed, 12, abstentions, 17.


CROWLEY: That is the general assembly overwhelmingly approving a non- binding resolution condemning the Syrian regime's brutal crackdown. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. says it is a clear message to the people of Syria that the world is with them.

Every night, every day, shelling, sniper fire and more civilians dead. A top U.S. intelligence official is warning that President Bashar al- Assad will not go down without a fight in Syria, and making matters worse, a new admission that al Qaeda terrorists are within the ranks of Syrian rebels.

Here's our Pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, basically U.S. intelligence officials say that Bashar al-Assad learned everything he knows from his father who ran Syria for almost 30 years. And what he learned has taught him that the only way to deal with this opposition is to crush it.


LAWRENCE (voice-over): Dozens more Syrians were killed in another day of violence. The director the National Intelligence issued this blunt admission. Syria's president will not stop.

JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: Assad himself, probably because of his psychological need to emulate his father, sees no other option but to continue to try to crush the opposition.

LAWRENCE: But about those rebel forces, U.S. intelligence officials are publicly admitting they've been infiltrated by al Qaeda.

CLAPPER: The opposition groups, in many case, they may not be aware they are there.

LAWRENCE: So what's keeping Assad's regime together? There have been some desertions, but the military is still with him. Same with Syria's elite families. And the rebels are disorganized.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: Unless something changes as far as assistance from the outside, do you see a continued stalemate in Syria?

CLAPPER: Short of a -- of a coup or something like that, Assad will hang in there and continue to do as he's done.

MCCAIN: And the massacre continues?


LAWRENCE: But these satellite images of rocket launchers and artillery only hint at the obstacles of stepping in. Syrian's army is five times the size of Libya's and its population density is 30 times greater, increasing the risk of civilian casualties.

NATO only had to secure a few chemical weapon sites in Libya. A defense official tells CNN the cities of Hamah, Homs, Al Safir, and Latakia are all believed to house production facilities with storage sites and research center elsewhere. He says the U.S. is having specific discussions about the security of Syria's chemical weapons program and what happens to the stockpiles of sarin and mustard gas in Assad's government's collapses.

CLAPPER: So there would be kind of a vacuum, I think, that would lend itself to extremists operating in Syria, which is particularly troublesome in light of the large network of chemical warfare, CVW, weapons storage facilities and other related facilities that there are in Syria.


LAWRENCE: So you've got the government's relentless violence, militant extremists among the opposition, and chemical weapons potentially up for grabs, which could mean the only thing worse than Assad staying in power is Assad leaving -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Never any good choices. Thanks so much. Our Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon.

Now we want to go to northern Syria where resistance fighters say they're in charge. It's literally a landmine threatening to explode. We have an exclusive report from CNN's Ivan Watson on the ground in Syria.


IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The countryside here in northern Syria is in open revolt. And this is a rebellion of farmers, of carpenters, of high school teachers. Entire communities, villages and towns and stretches of northern Syria that tell us they have not seen presence of central Syrian authority in months.

They have effectively been governing themselves. And they have clearly established militias as well as pockets of what's been called the Free Syrian Army, defectors from the Syrian army who have come and joined these villages and rural communities in opposition to the Syrian government.

As we have traveled across this region we have gone from village to village, from small council to small council where young men and old sit on the ground, chain-smoking, next to Kalashnikov assault rifles, weapons, light weapons, that they say they've gotten within the last couple of months.

The residents of these communities say they haven't seen any presence of the Syrian government in months. Not since deadly incursions where made by convoys of Syrian armored vehicles. And in those cases nearly everybody you talk to can show you photos of loved ones, of neighbors, of cousins, of brothers who they say were killed in those attacks.

They tell us that they're trying to protect their communities, their families, their villages, by laying rings of improvised landmines, but they are fully aware that they do not have weaponry to match the tanks, armored personnel carriers and airpower of Bashar al-Assad's army. The inhabitants here, they're enjoying what they say is self- rule. They are calling this pockets of liberated Syria, but they're fully aware that the bulk of the Syrian army is currently being held down in the siege of the much larger city of Homs.

They say if that siege lifts, if the Syrian government forces are victorious there, that will free them up to then attack these areas, and they warn that that would lead to a massacre.

Ivan Watson, CNN, reporting from northern Syria.


CROWLEY: The convicted terrorist widely known as the underwear bomber was sentenced a short while ago to life in prison. He had pleaded guilty to trying and failing to blow up an airliner bound for Detroit in 2009.

We just got some very dramatic video used in the court proceedings. CNN's Deborah Feyerick is in Detroit.

Deb, what's in this video?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, the FBI built and then detonated a replica of the device that were sewn into Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab's underwear. And take a look at what it could have been looked like had the 200 grams of PETN exploded. And you see that brilliant flash of light. Obviously that's a different speed. When you see it in real time, you can barely even see it, it just happens so quickly.

But that video was shown in court. And you see it there. Very dramatic video. They used a piece of aluminum. They did not use, for example, a replica of the airplane wall, so it's not exactly clear how devastating that blast would have been had it been on the airplane.

However, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had tried in court today for leniency. Even though he tried to kill 289 people, even though some of the victims who spoke in court actually say they forgive him, they pray for him. Here's one woman who gave a statement.


SHAMA CHOPRA, WITNESS ON FLIGHT: Everybody was scared, was about to die. We thought the plane is going to blow up in a few seconds, but somehow by the grace of the God, we were saved on that day. So for one month we thought that we're going to all die. And we were in tears, but thank God we're saved. We landed safely. And -- so today is a day to serve the justice.


FEYERICK: And that passenger described seeing flames just shoot up the wall after Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab actually managed to get a chemical into the device to ignite it. But fortunately for everyone, it didn't go off, and passengers reacted very, very quickly. A Delta flight attendant actually grabbing an extinguisher and putting out the flames. And he also gave an impact statement.

But the judge in sentencing him to life in prison four consecutive terms, she said this isn't just punishment. He showed no remorse, he showed no regret. In fact the only time he even said anything after giving a statement, he basically when he saw that video, Candy, he said, he said, Allah Akbar, "god is great." He said that three times while watching the video and then he said it twice more as he was led out of the court following sentencing shackled in handcuffs.

They are appealing the decision, but everybody looking at that video realized just how bad it could have been had it been executed as it was supposed to -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks so much, Deb Feyerick, following that amazing case. Life in prison as you heard, but it will be appealed.

We are learning more about who will attend Whitney Houston's funeral, including her former co-star Kevin Costner.

Plus Republican Rick Santorum's remarks about birth control are under red hot scrutiny. Our new poll suggests many voters won't like what they hear.

And General Motors posts record profits, giving thousands of workers very big checks, but the auto giant still owes a debt to taxpayers.


CROWLEY: That of course is Jack Cafferty there and he is here with the "Cafferty File" -- Jack.


If you're planning to rely on Social Security for your retirement, you may want to listen closely to this. The Social Security administration has already warned the trust fund will likely run out of money in 2036, that's just 24 years away, but now there's reason to believe it could run out of money even sooner.

The Congressional Budget Office says by 2020, the combined Social Security old age and disability trust funds will be $800 billion smaller than what the Social Security administration projected just last year. AOL's "Daily Finance" suggests when the next trustees report comes out, its own projections will probably be revised downward again.

In fact, that's been the trend over the last five years with Social Security moving up its estimated run-dry date from 2041 to 2036. When the trust fund runs out of the money, its expected benefits will fall by about 25 percent. So if you still have time to put away additional money for your own retirement -- not an easy thing to do in this economy -- probably ought to give it some consideration.

More than 54 million Americans collect Social Security for retirement, disability or survivor benefits. The average check for a retiree about $1200 a month. Meanwhile Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner says the White House and congressional Republicans talk about ways to shore up Social Security last year as part of those debt ceiling talks.

The big surprise here, they couldn't make a deal. Lawmakers would either have to cut benefits, raise taxes, or do a combination of the two. It's not going to happen. At least not now. There's an election, you know?

Here's the question: do you think Social Security will be there for you when you retired? Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Thanks, Jack. See you in a bit.

There are alarming new details emerging about the final days of singer, Whitney Houston's, life. According to a source close to the investigation, authorities are aware she was partying at her hotel and other venues on the night before she died. Investigators have requested surveillance video to potentially shed more light on her activities in hotel common areas.

The source is also confirming the drug, Xanax, was found in Houston's hotel room, but there's no way to know whether she took it immediately before her death. CNN national correspondent, Jason Carroll, is outside the Houston Family church in Newark, New Jersey, where a controversy is now brewing over the governor's decision to fly flags at Half-Staff in her honor. Jason, what are the arguments here?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there are a number of critics, Candy, that are coming forth at this hour. Obviously, Governor Christie is standing by that decision. In fact, he signed the executive order yesterday.

His critics are basically saying the following, that flying the flags at Half-Staff is something that should be reserved for veterans, those who have fallen in the line of duty or state dignitaries. Take a little more of a listen to what some of his critics had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was a little bit too much, because where do you draw the line then the next time somebody from New Jersey dies who's in the entertainment field.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't want to glorify everybody just because they died prematurely. You want to glorify them for the things that they did and contributed, and you know, also the way they lived their life.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to set a standard. You have to set the bar at something. I don't think she's above that bar.


CARROLL: That's one side of the argument, but just before we came out here, Candy, we stopped at a veterans hospital. You might be surprised to hear what their reaction was.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's a native of the state. And she did a few things that were great, you know, her songs and everything, and I think that would be appropriate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She's done so much good, especially here in East Orange Field, a school for children, and she's been a mentor in some ways, you know, with her music. Everyone makes mistakes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it should be done.

CARROLL: You think it should be done?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just listen to the way she sang the national anthem, I think in 1991, at one of the sporting events. That will change everybody's mind and say it's OK.


CARROLL: Governor Christie is saying that Whitney was a cultural icon. She meant a lot to this community, and that she deserves to be recognized. Flags will, indeed, fly Half-Staff on Saturday -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Jason, I know you got some new information about who will go to Saturday's funeral?

CARROLL: Oh, yes. The list just keeps growing. You've got notable such as Aretha Franklin who will be performing. Stevie Wonder will be performing as well. Kevin Costner, co-star of "The Bodyguard," turns out he will be speaking. Roberta Flack will be showing up. And a little earlier, Candy, we spoke to Kim Burrell, she's a gospel singer, friend of Whitney Houston for 13 years.

I spoke to her a little earlier this afternoon. She told me she will be singing a song called "I Believe In You and Me," and she talked a little bit about what she will be doing here on Saturday.


KIM BURRELL, SINGER/FRIEND OF WHITNEY HOUSTON: All of her songs were special to her, but I think that the family chose that, because that's a song that I dedicated to her as a tribute on a television show. But the words -- and I kind of personalize it, and I've re- recorded it. And, I'm going to just sing it as if I was singing it to her as I did that night.


CARROLL: And I think Burrell speaks for a number of people, Candy, who say that on Saturday she's finally going to have to come to terms with the fact that she is going to have to say her goodbyes to Whitney, and I think that's how a lot of people are going to be feeling when they show up here at the church on Saturday -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Jason Carroll covering the days preceding the funeral of Whitney Houston in New Jersey. Thanks, Jason.

Just one day after flaunting huge advances in his country's nuclear technology, there are new signs Iran's president is now ready to talk to the rest of the world.

Plus, the government takes its battle against distracted driving to a whole new level. Why big changes may be ahead inside your next car? You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, this looks like a pretty interesting space. I mean, what goes on in here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, this is our lab. And, really what happens here is we have intention that take things that we think might be in the magazine, and they try to re-create them. They take the author's recipe in a sense and test it. So, we're like a test kitchen for makers.


CROWLEY: Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, now is indicating he's willing to resume nuclear talks with the international community. Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring that and other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. Lisa, what do you got?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Candy. Well, CNN has obtained a letter President Ahmadinejad sent to the European Union calling for the talks as soon as possible. This just one day after he was seen on Iranian TV flaunting what appears to be sophisticated advancements in his country's nuclear capability. Iran maintains its nuclear program for civilian energy purposes only.

The federal government is taking its campaign against distracted driving to the next level, proposing for the first time, that car makers install limits on in-vehicle electronic devices including navigation systems and visual/manual text messaging. More than 3,000 deaths in 2010 were blamed on distracted driving.

Two Russian cosmonauts wearing helmet cameras doing some work outside the International Space Station today. You can see them here on a NASA broadcast, helping prepare the space station for the arrival of a new laboratory and docking module next year. The walk was planned to last about six hours.

And a whole lot of folks buzzing and speculating about this next story. You won't see a new episode of "The Colbert Report" on Comedy Central tonight. The network abruptly suspended production for at least two days. Fans were reportedly starting to line up for last night's show, and they were told it was canceled. A repeat episode will air tonight due to, quote, "unforeseen circumstances."

And if that regular size candy bar isn't enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, well, you can be in just a little bit of trouble. Mars Inc., which makes M&Ms, Three Musketeers, Snickers, and Twix Bars, plans to stop shipping any chocolate product over 250 calories per portion by the end of next year. One king-size Snickers bar has a whopping 510 calories. The move is part of an agreement with First Lady Michelle Obama's partnership for a healthier America.

So, Candy, that means those gigantic size candidate bars are a thing of the past, at least, when it comes to those particular candy bars -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Wow! I mean, it's not a bad idea in principle. But just -- so they really -- you know, they have those big ones there --

SYLVESTER: Yes, the monsters ones.

CROWLEY: Those are done?

SYLVESTER: Yes. Those are -- well, they said that they're not going to ship them anymore. So, you know --

CROWLEY: Interesting. Interesting.

SYLVESTER: It's might be a thing in the past. You might have just the tiny little ones that they hand out for Halloween or something like that, Candy.

CROWLEY: Yes. Well, if you've got one, save it now, it will soon be an antique.


CROWLEY: Thanks so much.

SYLVESTER: Selling on eBay.


CROWLEY: Right. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Remarks by Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, have gone viral, and that's not necessarily a good thing. We are following the controversy over his views about birth control.

And Newt Gingrich vows he'll make another comeback. Is there any chance he'll become the frontrunner again?


CROWLEY: Rick Santorum says he's proud to be a conservative and a catholic. His politics and his religion are at the center of a controversy unfolding right now over his views on birth control. Mary Snow is looking into that for us. Hey, Mary.

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Candy. Well, these comments Rick Santorum made were six years ago and they're gaining attention. He's coming under criticism as a 2006 interview resurfaces, but he insists his personal and public policy are not one and the same.



SNOW (voice-over): As he gains momentum in polls, Republican presidential hopeful, Rick Santorum's, record comes under more scrutiny. And these remarks about contraception made in the 2006 interview have gone viral.

SANTORUM: From a governmental point of view, I support, you know, the Title X, I guess it is, and have voted for contraception. And, although, I don't think it works, I think it's harmful to women. I think it's harmful to our society.

SNOW: "Washington Post" conservative columnist Jennifer Reuben first posted the video writing, "The impression that Santorum finds the prevalent practice of birth control harmful to women is frankly mind-numbing. If he meant to focus on teen sexual promiscuity he surely could have, and thereby might have sounded less out of touch."

Santorum also brought up birth control in this interview on October with an evangelical blog site, saying he considered it an important public policy.

SANTORUM: One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is I think the dangers of contraception in this country. Our sexual libertarian idea --

Reporter: But Santorum told CNN's Piers Morgan Wednesday that despite his personal beliefs he would not support any law to restrict contraception.

SANTORUM: The issue is, you know, as a public -- as a public servant how do I feel about the issue of contraception, it should be available.

SNOW: The fact that contraception is even being raised is drawing fury among groups like Emily's List, which promoted Democratic women candidates supporting abortion rights. It asks if this is the 2012 president election or 1956, saying, "It's hard for one extremist to stand out in today's GOP."

A new CNN/ORC poll finds 81 percent of Americans disagree with the notion that birth control is wrong, 77 percent of Catholics polled feel the same way.

Could this issue hurt Rick Santorum? Republican strategist Mary Matalin says no.

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: He was articulating the Catholic proposition on contraception. So that's his belief. He specifically said he would not -- his policy position is not to ban birth control, and when this plays out, that can't hurt him.


SNOW: Now this isn't the first time talk about contraception has come up in the Republican presidential campaign. You may remember a couple of months ago Mitt Romney was asked about it in a debate about whether a state has the right to ban contraception. He remarked it was an unusual topic being raised and he wound up saying in the end that contraception is working just fine and, in his words, leave it alone -- Candy.

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Mary Snow, thank you so much.

A major donor to a pro-Santorum super PAC is getting heat for making this off-the-cuff joke about contraception earlier today.


FOSTER FRIESS, RICK SANTORUM SUPPORTER: Back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptions. The gals put it between their knees, and it wasn't that costly.


CROWLEY: Joining us now the managing editor Rick Stengel of "TIME" magazine. You can see "TIME's" latest cover here. "TIME," of course, is the corporate cousin of CNN, so we're corporate cousins.

It's good to see you, Rick. Listen, I --


CROWLEY: I tend to think that donors and stuff say things all the time and that people eventually say, look, it's not what the candidate believes, not what the candidate would have said.

I think, though, that the broader issue for Rick Santorum at this time is the out-of-touch issue. It may not be so much about contraception as it is about how he feels about women in the military, how he feels about the women's movement, and now this about contraception.

Do you think he has a problem here when you put that all together?

STENGEL: Well, I guess, Candy, it's different than the Mitt Romney out-of-touch problem. I think you have your finger on something. I mean Santorum is such a paradox really because there's some things about which he's very modern and contemporary, and some things about which he seems like an amazing throwback to the 1940s and 1950s, and I think his views on contraception, as your previous story suggested, are out of touch with mainstream Republicanism, not just progressive and Democratic women.

I mean the idea, of course, you know, married couples use contraception. It's pretty much universally endorsed.

CROWLEY: Let me move you on to just another topic with Rick Santorum, and something I want to read that Mark Halperin, your colleague over "TIME" magazine had to say in this new issue of "TIME" magazine about a general election matchup between President Obama and Santorum. And he wrote, "Some muse that Santorum could be the tougher foe with his blue-collar roots, talk of manufacturing tax breaks, and what you see is what you get personality. Democrats counting electoral votes see Santorum's strength in critical Midwestern battleground states."

If -- first do you agree, but if you add on top of that that most women are comfortable with the idea of contraception, many are comfortable with the idea of women in the military in the front lines, does that balance itself out? You really can't win an election without women, can you?

STENGEL: No, and you can't win without women and you can't win without independents. I mean I think some Republicans, as you hear, Candy, that they feel that Santorum is a better matchup in the sense that they think that Mitt Romney and the president are Tweedledum and Tweedledee, they are too similar. Certainly Santorum has a real contrast -- a contrast in temperament, contrast in background.

But again, while he might get some of those old Reagan Democrats and blue-collar Democrats, you do have to win independents, you do have to win women, and he might have a harder time with them.

CROWLEY: And do you think he can, I guess is the question, in a general election? Is he a strong -- obviously he's strong in a Republican election where you're talking to a lot of conservatives. STENGEL: Right.

CROWLEY: But in a general election, does he look that good?

STENGEL: No, well, you know, Candy, remember, you know, Richard Nixon's old dictum that you run to the right in the primaries and you run to the center in the general. I mean certainly if Santorum were the nominee, he would have to become more of a general election candidate and moderate some of his views. Here he -- in these primaries he's benefiting from being -- from being far to the right on Mitt Romney particularly on social issues.

CROWLEY: And let me just sort of wrap this up with Newt Gingrich, which tends to be sometimes our favorite subject. Something he said today.


NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This thing has had a wild rhythm. It resembles riding Space Mountain at Disney. I've been frontrunner twice. I suspect I'll be the frontrunner again in a few weeks.


CROWLEY: A number of my colleagues suggested that perhaps Newt Gingrich had stopped talking about maybe he should stop talking about space, but beyond that, do you see him making a third comeback? Is that doable for him?

STENGEL: Well, I've decided to stop making predictions myself, Candy, so --


CROWLEY: You're no fun.

STENGEL: Well -- but I do think, look, I mean, Super Tuesday, when -- when we've been looking at it, all of us realize that there are certain parts of Super Tuesday, Georgia, the southern states, that do benefit Newt, and I think it's perfectly possible that he would have another, you know, swing up the space ladder.


CROWLEY: Rick Stengel, managing editor of "TIME" magazine, thank you so much. It's really good to see you.

STENGEL: Candy, nice to see you.

CROWLEY: Your tax dollars bailed out General Motors. And now the company is posting billions in profits. But should they be using it to pay bonuses or pay their debt back?

And the Mormon church is under fire after a controversial practice comes to light. What has one holocaust survivor -- what has one holocaust survivor outraged, next.


CROWLEY: Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is being asked to take a stand on a new embarrassment for the Mormon church. We told you yesterday the church apologized for breaking a promise to stop baptizing Jews after they died in the holocaust.

Brian Todd is following up on this story -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Candy, this is somewhat of a tradition than a faith. Mormons have regular baptized deceased relatives who were not of the faith, so their ancestors can have salvation and so that they can see them in the afterlife. But its their efforts to baptize people outside their own bloodlines that's now drawing heavy criticism.


TODD (voice-over): He was known as the Nazi hunter who helped track down more than 1,000 war criminals. A hero in Jewish history. Simon Wiesenthal who died in 2005 might be surprised to find out his parents were recently baptized as Mormons. Also a member of the church apparently submitted the name of holocaust survivor of Elie Wiesel and his relatives for baptism. Those submissions were not processed, but the Nobel Laureate shares the outrage of the Wiesenthal Center and other Jewish leaders.

ELIE WIESEL, HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR: When man or the person or the woman is dead, leave him alone, leave him in peace.

TODD: The discovery was made by researcher Helen Radkey, a former Mormon who's tracked Mormon genealogy records which is the basis for baptisms.

HELEN RADKEY, RESEARCHER, FORMER MORMON: It has been an irritation to people like myself who know that Jewish holocaust names are regularly going into the Mormon database.

TODD: It was supposed to stop. In 1995, the church agreed to stop baptizing Jewish holocaust victims after it was discovered that hundreds of thousands of them had been entered into Mormon records. Now church members are only supposed to request these posthumous baptism by proxy for their own ancestors who are not of the faith. Why do they do this?

DAN GILGOFF, CNN.COM RELIGION EDITOR: What Mormons say is that these baptisms for the dead give everybody a chance to achieve salvation, whether they had a chance to know Jesus Christ, whether they were born before Jesus Christ ever walked the earth, they can still salvation this way. So for Mormons, this is the most generous, kind of universal expression of faith possible.

TODD (on camera): But the process has been at the very least flawed. Helen Radkey tells us she's seen the names of Mickey Mouse, Fred Flintstone, the 9/11 hijackers all submitted for baptism. Mormon officials we contacted said those submissions are not taken seriously. They wouldn't go on camera with us but they apologized for the Wiesenthal baptisms and said they're doing everything they can to correct the problem.

(Voice-over): Mormon scholar Richard Bushman, a church member, says this.

PROF. RICHARD BUSHMAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: I don't think anyone in the church wants to offend people. All this has done with perfect goodwill. They're trying to make available to people things that we value and are precious.


TODD: Represent presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney has been drawn into this controversy. Romney said four years ago that he had participated in baptisms for the dead but not recently. Elie Wiesel has just called for Romney to call on his own church to stop proxy baptisms on Jews. We contacted the Romney campaign to address this. A spokeswoman for the campaign referred us back to the church -- Candy.

CROWLEY: So -- but as you said at the very beginning, this goes against a promise that the Mormon church made.

TODD: That's correct.

CROWLEY: So when they said they wouldn't -- so has anyone been called on the carpet, punished?

TODD: Well, regarding the person involved in the Weisenthal baptisms, the church has said that it has suspended indefinitely that person's ability to access the genealogy records. Helen Radkey says that's not enough, they're not doing nearly enough to discipline the people who are still doing this. But again as the one Mormon leader we talked to said that they're doing this out of -- you know, what is in their minds, a noble effort so, you know, how much you want to discipline them, that's kind of up to you.

CROWLEY: Right. Right. Thank you so much, Brian Todd, really interesting story.

General Motors still owes taxpayers for its multibillion bailout, so some people are a little outraged by the way GM is spending its record-profits.

And stand by for your answers to this question. Do you think Social Security will be there for you when you retire?


CROWLEY: New evidence that General Motors has made a big financial comeback after taxpayers bailed out the auto giant a few years ago. The company proudly announced it has posted record profits, but critics aren't happy about the way GM is spending that money. Here's our Lisa Sylvester.


Well, all three U.S. automakers are back from the brink. GM had a very profitable year in 2011 with its North American operations. Now the question is, though, should those profits be shared with the workers, even though U.S. taxpayers are still on the hook for the company?


SYLVESTER (voice-over): November 2008, the CEOs of the big three auto companies came to Washington to ask taxpayers for a multibillion dollar bailout. They flew to the capital on private jets sparking the ire of some members of Congress who accuse them of being tone-deaf.

REP. GARY ACKERMAN (D), NEW YORK: It's almost like seeing a guy show up at the soup kitchen in high hat and tuxedo.

SYLVESTER: GM eventually received $49.5 billions from the government. Chrysler $12.5 billion. That helped keep the car companies afloat. Fast forward to today GM has announced it has posted a record annual profit, $7.6 billion, last year. GM's 47,000 union workers will each get a $7,000 profit-sharing bonus check.

But keep in mind GM hasn't fully paid back the taxpayers. The U.S. government still owns about a quarter of the company with 500 million shares. The National Legal Policy Center is a nonpartisan ethics watchdog group. Their director says it's a great deal for the United Autoworkers Union, lousy deal for taxpayers.

PETER FLAHERTY, NATIONAL LEGAL AND POLICY CENTER: I think these bonuses add insult to injury. The United Autoworkers have already received equity in the course of the bailout and structured bankruptcy. And now it's just gravy. It does nothing for taxpayers who are still in the hole on this deal.

SYLVESTER: General Motors justifies the bonuses saying they have replaced automatic pay increases. A spokeswoman for GM saying, quote, "What we're trying to do is align compensation with how the company performs, as the company improves and delivers on its goals, that's reflected in our compensation." The UAW also says workers should get a small cut of the profits.

JOE ASHTON, UAW VICE PRESIDENT: We haven't had a pay increase since 2003. And there's no pay increases in this contract. No pay increases whatsoever. There was no pension increases and no pay increases. Everything that we will get will be based on profit sharing.

SYLVESTER: But GM is not out of the woods yet. GM's European and South American operations are still losing money. And its fourth quarter profits missed Wall Street's expectations.

(END VIDEOTAPE) SYLVESTER: And for taxpayers to recoup the government money from GM, shares of the company would have to double from about $26, $27 a share to about $52 or $53 a share. And Candy, that is not likely to happen anytime soon.

CROWLEY: You know, this is one of those issues I think we'll be talking about for awhile. Because it's really interesting and you can kind of see both sides.

SYLVESTER: Well, I -- exactly. And I think we're going to own this company at least a quarter of a share of this company for awhile as taxpayers so.

CROWLEY: I feel better already, owning a share. Thanks, Lisa.

It is time now to check back with Jack Cafferty -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: The question this hour is, do you think Social Security is going to be there for you when you retire?

Sam in Kentucky writes, "I absolutely do not expect Social Security to be here when I retire. I'm 29 now. I'm not planning on the government to figure out how to cut spending at any point before the entire house of cards comes tumbling down. I pretend the money I'm paying into it now goes to my grandparents, and that at least lessens my anger that I'm forced to pay into a system that's a complete disaster."

"Social Security," according to Ann, "needs to be restructured. The system should be like a savings account. When you retire a lump sum should be given to you and this should be invested in an annuity. That way the government right away is out of the picture. The lump sum must be invested, that would create financial jobs and then the retiree would get a monthly payment."

Jack in Virginia writes, "Of course Social Security is going to be there in the future. Despite fear mongering and myths, it's never missed a check. Still intensely popular across all political parties. The only way it won't be there is if we let Congress cut our hard- earned benefits. The long-term funding gap is completely fixable. The extra revenue needed to fix the funding gap in 2036 can be achieved by raising the FICA tax cap on those that make more than $110,000 a year."

Joe writes, "I want to be able to opt out of this sinking ship right now. I think I can better save from my own retirement".

Robert writes, "Well, I'm going to retire within the next 10 years or so. That shouldn't be enough time to screw up or renege on the promise that was implied as I paid into the system for all these years. But hey, you never know."

And Nate in North Carolina, "Social Security? What's that? A card with a nine-digit number? I've heard older people talk about it, when I asked them about what it is, they say don't worry about it. I'm still in college. I'm more concerned about getting a job in this economy. Never mind retiring."

If you want to read more on this go to my blog, or through our post on THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page.

Candy, have a good weekend.

CROWLEY: Jack, you too. Thanks so much.

We've got some news just into THE SITUATION ROOM on the death of a baseball hall of famer.

Let's go to Lisa Sylvester. Lisa.

SYLVESTER: Hi there, Candy. That's right. We are hearing that baseball hall of famer Gary Carter that he has died of brain cancer. He played in the big leagues for 19 years as a catcher for the Expos, Mets, Giants, the Dodgers. He was just 57 years old. He had been battling brain cancer -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Yes, 57. Way too young. Thanks so much, Lisa, for that breaking news.

It is known for its triple and quadruple bypass burgers. Ahead we will take you to the fast food grill that prides itself on serving food, quote, "worth dying for."


CROWLEY: Here's a look at this hour's "Hot Shots."

In Lithuania the Polish president honors Poles and Jews killed in a massacre during World War II.

In France President Nicolas Sarkozy makes a campaign stop at a cheese factory in the French alps.

In Scotland a man is arrested outside the hotel where British Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech opposing Scottish independence.

And in Germany, men known as bell shakers ring in the carnival season.

"Hot Shots," pictures coming in from around the world.

Now we all have our favorite to-die-for foods but one restaurant is giving new meaning to that concept.

Here's our Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Irony at an eatery in Las Vegas. Apparent heart attack at a place called the Heart Attack Grill. JON BASSO, HEART ATTACK GRILL OWNER: One of the nurses came back to me and said, you know, Dr. Jon, we've got a patient who's in trouble.

MOOS: But Dr. Jon isn't really a doctor. He's just the owner wielding a stethoscope. But the nurses are just waitresses dressed up like nurses. So all they could do was call 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was having sweats and shaking.

MOOS: Changing colors, owner Jon Basso told us, frothing at the mouth. Amateur video of the man being wheeled out went viral. Basso told us the man had been eating what's called a triple bypass burger.

BASSO: I actually felt horrible for the gentleman because the tourists were taking photos of him as if it were some type of a stunt. And even with our own morbid sense of humor we would never pull a stunt like that.

MOOS: It was not a stunt. And paramedics told CBS that the man would probably be OK. As for the morbid sense of humor, it's on display in the Heart Attack Grill's promotional videos. Customers wear hospital gowns. The grill's motto? Taste -- the grill was once profiled on travel channel's "Extreme Pigouts."

BASSO: This is a shrine to junk food. We're going to give you what you want.

MOOS: Basso says he's a former nutritionist who used to own Jenny Craig Diet franchises. Now he's famous for his quadruple bypass, four beef patties, cheese, you can get it with 20 strips of bacon.

(On camera): But there is one thing they don't put on their burgers, lettuce.

(Voice-over): The last time the Grill was in the news involved its 570-pound spokesperson, Blair River.

BLAIR RIVER, HEART ATTACK GRILL SPOKESPERSON: I've made incredible progress on the Heart Attack Grill diet. A couple of months ago I was wearing these.

MOOS: At the age of 29, River died of pneumonia.

The restaurant has a policy. Customers over 350 pounds can eat for free. Free if you don't count the cost of all those calories, an estimated 8,000 for the quadruple bypass. But even after the apparent heart attack, some customers aren't fazed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It says right on the door, hazardous to your health.

MOOS: Better to be wheeled around by the fake nurses and by real paramedics.

Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.


CROWLEY: And with that, thank you for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley in for Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.