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JOHN KING, USA

Romney on the Attack; Florida Police Chief Steps Aside

Aired March 22, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley, John King is off.

Tonight, the local and national furor over a teenager's shooting death convinces a Florida police chief to step aside. But the man who fired the fatal shot has not been charged.

Also, the bloody end of a siege leaves unanswered questions about why a self-proclaimed jihadist was allowed to roam free.

And Mitt Romney goes after Rick Santorum for saying we may as well stay with President Obama rather than take the risk of a Romney candidacy.

But, first, breaking news. We are just getting the details of what caused Whitney Houston's death. As you know, she was found last month in the bathtub of her hotel room in Beverly Hills.

Let's go straight to Kareen Wynter, who has the details from the toxicology report, and joins us live from Los Angeles.

Kareen, what can you tell us?

KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Candy.

What I can tell you, the final cause of death has been determined to be drowning from heart disease as well as cocaine. That's right. There was cocaine in Whitney Houston's system at the time she was found submerged in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton Hotel back in February the day before the Grammy's.

The toxicology report also showed while cocaine and other metabolites were found in Houston's system and contributed to her death, what's interesting is marijuana, Xanax, the drug Flexeril, Benadryl, they were also found in Houston's system. But we are told according to this toxicology report, that those weren't contributing factors as well.

There was no trauma or foul play suspected here. It is anticipated we could get a more detailed report regarding those toxicology findings in the next couple weeks. I just spoke with one of the investigators just a few minutes ago. There is a lot of talk about why alcohol isn't listed here. There were so many reports from sources that we were able to confirm with as well as hotel workers at the Beverly Hilton who saw Whitney Houston drinking heavily the days leading up to her death and even the day that she died. We are wondering why that wasn't here. An investigator said, while that detailed report will have all the drug listed and alcohol levels, they are telling us that the level of alcohol use was minimal here, that it was not -- the level was so low that it was not a contributing factor. The actual cause, again, drowning due to heart disease as well as cocaine use.

Bobbi Kristina, Whitney Houston's daughter, her only child, was a legal point of contact here in terms of the next of kin that would be notified before the media, before Beverly Hills police. She was notified regarding her mom's death. They wouldn't provide her reaction at all to that, but again Bobbi Kristina notified through a family member -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Let me just make sure I have this straight. The official cause of death is she drowned in the bathtub, is that correct?

WYNTER: Yes, and that the drowning was a result of her cocaine use. There was cocaine found in her system. And according to this toxicology report, at the time that Whitney Houston died, she had heart disease.

The first thing that I asked the investigator was, but this wasn't a drug overdose, right? It is not that she died due to a drug overdose with the cocaine level? They said no. But she died as a result of drowning from cocaine use and that she had heart issues. It is a bit confusing. Again we have so many questions that we want to clear up. They are busy inside dealing with the media. We are hoping to have some of those questions answered because, again, it doesn't seem as clear-cut as the toxicology report lists.

CROWLEY: Kareen, I know you want to go get some more answers. Thank you very much.

I want to bring in now Don Lemon, who is on the phone with us.

Don, what have you got?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I have spoken to the coroner twice, one to get the information about the cause of death and, two, to clear up information about alcohol, whether or not alcohol was found in Whitney Houston's system.

Here is what Ed Winter, the assistant chief coroner in L.A. County, says. He said that according to him, Candy, all of it was contributory. The final cause of death was drowning due to the effects of arteriosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use, which means all of them.

If you have cocaine in your body, it's not to say it was just an overdose alone that killed Whitney Houston. But it was all three of the factors that contributed to her death. There was enough cocaine in her system for it to be contributory and metabolites. She had a history -- or I guess because, in part, because of her abuse issues with cocaine and drugs or whatever it was, that gave her a bad heart. What he said to me -- I said, well, what order did it happen? He said she probably had a heart attack from taking the cocaine, Candy, and she went underwater, all of them. I said what about the levels of substances found in her system?

He said, we have the levels of substances found but we haven't had a chance to transcribe them and write them up because we wanted to get this report out as soon as possible, because everyone has been calling him every single day about Whitney Houston's toxicology reports. What he said -- while I talked to him, he said someone is calling me from the BBC, someone is calling me now from Germany. Don, I have to go.

I kept him on as long as possible to ask him more questions. But he said they wanted to get the report out as soon as possible. He said they are going to release the total report in about two weeks. Candy, it's going to have the investigation report, the full autopsy, the tox report and all of the doctor's findings. That will be released to the public.

One of my producers spoke to one of the assistant coroners and said, no alcohol was found in her system. He said, let me clear that up. Alcohol, as soon as your body -- this is according to him. I'm not a doctor. I'm not a medical person. As soon as you die, your body starts to produce alcohol. But the level of alcohol that was found in her system at the time of the toxicology report when that was done was not a contributing factor. That's not to say some degree of alcohol wasn't found in her system. But the level found wasn't enough to contribute to her death.

CROWLEY: All right, Don Lemon with new reporting out of the L.A. Coroner's Office, thank you so much.

We will later go to our Dr. Sanjay Gupta to look more closely at this report that again Whitney Houston died of drowning in the hotel bathtub contributing to that cocaine and heart disease.

Now to Central Florida where people are gathering for a rally demanding justice for a teenager whose death touched off a national debate over racism and justice -- 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was walking to the home of his father's fiancee last month in Sanford, Florida, near Orlando, when a neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman shot him.

Martin was unarmed, but Zimmerman said he felt threatened and fired in self-defense. Police questioned Zimmerman but haven't arrested him. This afternoon, the Sanford city police chief temporarily left his job amid outrage over his department's handling of the investigation. Martin's parents spoke out about an hour ago after meeting with U.S. Justice Department officials.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRACY MARTIN, FATHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: We want an arrest. We want a conviction and we want him sentenced for the murder of our son.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN's John Zarrella is in Sanford.

John, what do we know about what happened in that meeting?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: Candy, not a whole lot at the meeting today.

What we are being told by a family spokesman is the meeting was primarily introductory, getting to know you meeting, the family representatives, the family members, the mother and father, and with the Department of Justice representatives.

What we are told the singular word that was used during the meeting by the Department of Justice was patience. Please be patient with us because as you know, Candy, it is going to take a lot of time for the Department of Justice to dig in and sift through all of what transpired here on the night of February 26 and all the evidence that they are continuing to try and gather -- Candy.

CROWLEY: But, nonetheless, we do know the feds are at least looking at some aspects of this case. We also saw the sheriff's decision to temporarily step aside. Have you been able to gather any community reaction to that?

ZARRELLA: Yes. Everything we have heard so far here at this rally and in other parts of the city is that it is not enough.

Clearly, the city manager's job is he said to go out and find an interim chief. But for the people here, that's all to the side of what the real issue is. They want the arrest of George Zimmerman, period. Nothing short of an arrest of George Zimmerman is going to satisfy them.

The stepping down of the police chief they are telling us does not satisfy what they believe is justice. To them, what they believe is justice, Candy, will be the arrest of George Zimmerman -- Candy.

CROWLEY: John Zarrella on a very ongoing story for us tonight, thanks, John.

Now to presidential politics. President Obama is in the always important swing state of Ohio after making a big announcement earlier today in Cushing, Oklahoma.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, right now, a company called TransCanada has applied to build a new pipeline to speed more oil from Cushing to state-of-the-art refineries down on the Gulf Coast. And today, I'm directing my administration to cut through the red tape, break through the bureaucratic hurdles, and make this project a priority.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CROWLEY: Here in Washington, House Speaker John Boehner and his fellow Republicans were quick to point out the president is speeding up only the Southern half of the pipeline, but not the part from Oklahoma to Canada, leaving what they call an energy gap.

CNN White House correspondent Brianna Keilar is with the president in Columbus, Ohio.

Brianna, Republicans say the president really can't legitimately claim credit for this. Can he?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No, Candy, he really can't.

And the company today, TransCanada, saying really on the federal level, all they have are some minor details to work out with the Army Corps of Engineers. It is not really something that requires presidential intervention. But the president is trying to make a rhetorical point, and that is that he is on board with oil and gas as a form of energy development.

I think another very important aspect to this, though, is perhaps he signaling that he might flip-flop on that much more controversial northern segment that stretches up into Canada? That's the thought certainly of some of the oil industry and the fear of some environmentalists. Remember he made that decision back in January before this early spike in gas prices. He made that decision. It was heralded by environmentalists.

But as gas prices rose, it became a very big political liability for him. And I think that is even backed up this Gallup poll that we are seeing today that shows a majority of Americans think the project going through into Canada should move forward.

CROWLEY: Brianna Keilar in Columbus, Ohio, thank you.

Mitt Romney was in Washington raising money and meeting with top Republicans in Congress. Among others, he spoke with Tea Party favorite Senator Jim DeMint and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. As for Romney's opponents, they still haven't put down their toys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We might as well stay with what we have, instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch A Sketch candidate for the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Team Romney hit back this afternoon with a news release quoting the former Massachusetts governor as saying, "I was disappointed to hear that Rick Santorum would rather have Barack Obama as president than a Republican."

Still ahead, we will speak with the head of the NAACP, Benjamin Jealous, one of the first to call for the resignation of Sanford, Florida's police chief because of the Trayvon Martin shooting.

And later, a self-declared terrorist tries to shoot his way out of a standoff with French police.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: There are major developments regarding today in the controversy surrounding the deadly shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin.

A short time ago, the chief of Sanford Police Department said he will step aside for now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL LEE, SANFORD, FLORIDA, POLICE CHIEF: It is apparent that my involvement in the matter is overshadowing the process. Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position as police chief for the city of Sanford.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: NAACP president Benjamin Jealous was among the first to call for the police chief to be fired. He joins me now from Sanford, Florida.

Ben, let me ask you first, I don't imagine you are satisfied with a temporary stepping aside by the police chief.

BENJAMIN JEALOUS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NAACP: We see actually great hope in this.

We think that this is the first step of a two-step dance. At first, he will step aside temporarily. Then once this investigation is done, you will see him step down. It is the only thing that really makes sense. You have seen the city council here call for him to step down. That came after weeks, really, of our volunteers here on the ground and clergy in this community and our fellow civil rights groups all pushing behind the scenes for the vote you saw last night.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you what do you think is the main problem here as you see it? We will see more information come out, we hope, and know what it is we are talking about. But right now, as you are looking at it, is this a race problem? Is this a police enforcement problem? Is this a problem with the laws in Florida? What do you think is the main problem here?

JEALOUS: I think to answer your question, this is a complex problem. But at its heart, you have two real problems here in the city of Sanford that we have heard about again and again as we have listened to people in this community.

One is racial profiling, people being suspected and engaged by the cops, searched, even locked up and sometimes thrown on the ground and beaten up because of their color, because of what they look like, rather than what they do. The second is black men's lives simply not being treated with the same level of seriousness, if you will, not the same level of importance as the rest of the community.

CROWLEY: I want to go to something that the city -- the Sanford city manager said. He is an African-American, as you know, Norton Bonaparte. This was in the frequently asked questions in the Sanford, Florida, Web site.

The question was, why was Zimmerman, the man who allegedly shot this young boy, not arrested the night of the shooting? And this is what City Manager Bonaparte said. "The Sanford Police Department has conducted a complete and fair investigation of this incident."

That seems to run at odds with everything we are hearing. Why would he say that?

JEALOUS: I think the reality here is that this chief has not served the city manager well. This chief has not served the city well. This chief has to go.

Questions like that -- answers like that really don't make any sense. The reality is that this chief had probable cause to lock up a man who shot a boy in cold blood, because he shot a boy in cold blood. He failed to do that. And then weeks went by. And this chief abdicated his power to the state's attorney, when he could have locked up Zimmerman at any point up to that point.

CROWLEY: Let me ask you a final question, a sort of 50,000-foot question, if you will. Most people, and perhaps yourself included, did not know of these problems that you are talking about that seem to be endemic in Sanford, Florida, that you believe. How many Sanfords are there out there or do you consider this sort of an odd city out, if you will?

JEALOUS: The reality is that Sanford frankly is Sanford, USA. This is a Florida issue, but this is very much a national issue.

And it's a good thing that we're finally starting to get back to a conversation we were having in '99 and 2000, when George Bush was campaigning against driving while black. We hit the pause button on the national conversation because some people wanted to embrace racial profiling after September -- the September 2011 terrorist attacks.

But the reality is that the way that we're going to win the war and the way that we're going to win the war on terror is the same. We have to focus on what people do and not on what they look like.

CROWLEY: Lots more work to be done apparently across the nation.

Ben Jealous, NAACP president, thanks so much for your time today.

JEALOUS: Thank you so much.

CROWLEY: In a few minutes, we will have more about the man who has had nothing to say in public since the shooting, George Zimmerman. His one-time neighbors say they are shocked.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) (NEWS BREAK)

CROWLEY: In just a minute, more on today's official ruling about what caused singer Whitney Houston's death.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley.

In this half-hour of JOHN KING, USA: new details about the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed a Florida teenager. George Zimmerman's one-time neighbors say he was quiet, respectful and never gave any indication he might be a racist.

Also, attempts to capture a self-proclaimed jihadist end in a bloody shoot-out.

Plus, what you might call President Obama's "don't blame high gas prices on me" tour. We will see if he is getting any traction.

First, this hour's breaking news. The Los Angeles coroner says Whitney Houston's death was an accidental drowning. The report also says Houston's cocaine use and heart disease were factors in her death.

Houston's family issued a statement saying, "We are saddened to learn of the toxicology results, although we are glad to now have closure."

We are also watching a developing story in Central Florida. People are gathering for a rally, demanding justice for 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was shot to death last month -- death last month by a neighborhood watch volunteer named George Zimmerman.

Police in Sanford, Florida, questioned Zimmerman, but, to the outrage of many, never arrested him.

CNN's attempts to reach Zimmerman and get his side of the story have been unsuccessful. He's said nothing in public and isn't answering the phone.

So CNN's Brian Todd went to his old neighborhood near Washington and spoke to the people who remember Zimmerman well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): George Hall looks at the local newspaper and still can't believe it. His former across- the-street neighbor, George Zimmerman, is a front-page headline.

GEORGE HALL, FORMER NEIGHBOR OF ZIMMERMAN: This thing about George just floors me. I mean, I'm shocked. I didn't realize it was him at first. I would have never guessed it.

TODD: On this street in Manassas, Virginia, George and Kay Hall lived across from Zimmerman and his family for two decades until the Zimmermans moved after George graduated from high school. George Hall, a retired Presbyterian minister, described Zimmerman and his older brother as friendly, dependable neighbors, part of a tightly- knit family who had their maternal grandmother living with them.

(on camera) What was his demeanor like as you'd see him around in the neighborhood?

HALL: He was always polite. Both of them were always polite; they're always thoughtful.

TODD (voice-over): Helping with groceries, Hall says, helping them retrieve their dog. According to the Halls and state officials, Zimmerman's parents worked in local government: his father, Robert, as a magistrate; his mother, Gladys, as a clerk for the Prince William County Court.

The pastor of All Saints Catholic Church says George Zimmerman was an altar boy here.

(on camera) George Zimmerman graduated from Osborn High School in 2001. We were told no member of the faculty could talk to us about him. In the yearbook, there's not a lot of information about him. It does say that he was in the Future Business Leaders of America in his junior and senior years.

(voice-over) And in a section (AUDIO/VIDEO GAP)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And in talking to George Hall, we've learned that Mr. Hall has some feelings about the case in Florida. He has said that, if there is no case to be made against George Zimmerman, he hopes that Florida authorities will help Zimmerman through all of this somehow.

He says, if there is a case to be made against Zimmerman, he hopes that Florida authorities will put Zimmerman in jail for his own protection -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Brian, I know you have picked up a couple of things about Zimmerman's inner reactions with another family in the neighborhood?

TODD: That's right. We spoke to an African-American woman. She lives just down the street here. She did not want her name out there. She did not want to be filmed, obviously.

She did tell us that her young son had corresponded with George Zimmerman via Facebook. She was not sure if that occurred before or since the Trayvon Martin shooting. But she did say that her young son, possibly about Zimmerman's age, had corresponded with him through the years via Facebook and had done so fairly recently. So he has had interaction with people from various walks of life in this neighborhood, Candy.

Thanks so much, Brian Todd. We are now learning more chilling details about the suspected al Qaeda jihadist who was killed during a 32-hour standoff with French police. Turns out the suspect was on the U.S. no-fly list after attending an al Qaeda training camp.

The 23-year-old French national was a suspected serial killer, wanted for gunning down seven people, including a rabbi and three Jewish children.

Dan Rivers retraces the hours of terror and the showdown that unraveled in Toulouse, France.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After 32 hours, they went in. 11:30 a.m., the silence was shattered by dozens of shots as police finally stormed the apartment where Mohammed Merah was hiding. The shoot-out with the self-styled al Qaeda devotee didn't last long.

CLAUDE GUFANT, FRENCH INTERIOR MINISTER (through translation): The killer came out shooting most violently. The gun shots, there were many of them, very intense. And a raid specialist, who is an expert in these, said he had never seen such a violent reaction. They tried to protect themselves, and in the end, Mohammed Merah jumped out of the window, a gun in his hand, while still shooting, and was found dead on the ground.

RIVERS: As masked officers from France's elite raids police unit returned to barracks, they were congratulated. But two weren't here for the hand shake.

(on camera) Those officers were injured in the cross-fire as Merah fought to the death with his considerable arsenal of weapons inside this apartment block.

FRANCOIS MOULINS, PROSECUTOR (through translator): He was wearing a bullet-proof vest. Elements from Molotov cocktails -- rags and bottles -- were found on his balcony. In the apartment, we found three empty magazines for automatic pistols of 143 caliber and ammunition for various calibers. We found next to his body a Colt 45 with two bullets remaining and a bag with another magazine. We estimate in reality he fired some 30 bullets at police who were moving through his apartment.

RIVERS: The killing spree linked to Merah has gripped the world for the last week. This video, the only image of the gunman to have emerged so far, shows him showing off to friends in a BMW. He'd been convicted of motoring offenses just two weeks before his targeted killing campaign began.

(on camera) It's now emerged that Merah was on a no-fly list, according to one U.S. intelligence source, because of his time spent in an al Qaeda training camp. It will be a bitter disappointment to the French authorities that they didn't manage to take him alive. He could have provided valuable intelligence. But it was clear that he was determined to die with a gun in his hand. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, fighting for re-election in a month, confirmed it was over.

NICOLAS SARKOZY, FRENCH PRESIDENT (through translator): The person who carried out the ignoble (ph) in Toulouse, has been killed and can no longer do any harm. And for the victims, the families, the soldiers, their thoughts are all in my mind, and I would like to express the condolences of the National Assembly.

RIVERS: But there will be difficult questions about how Merah managed to get so many weapons in a country where gun control is tight. A group linked to al Qaeda claimed Merah's killings, prompting many to wonder if he really was a lone wolf or if he had accomplices.

Dan Rivers, CNN, Toulouse.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Remember the Bridge to Nowhere? Republicans are now talking about the Pipeline to Nowhere.

Coming up, why President Obama's Keystone speech ignited a GOP firestorm.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: In Oklahoma, President Obama took on Republican critics of his energy policy, speaking at what potentially will be the junction point of a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline. The president pointed out oil production has increased during his administration. He accused his opponents of misleading the public about rising gas prices.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even if we opened up every inch of the country, if I put an oil rig on the South Lawn, if we had one right next to the Washington Monument, even if we drilled every little bit of this great country of ours, we'd still have to buy the rest of our needs from someplace else, if we keep on using the same amount of energy, the same amount of oil.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Joining us to talk about politics at the pump, pro- Gingrich super PAC senior advisor Rick Tyler, Romney Virginia campaign co-chair Barbara Comstock and CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist Maria Cardona.

OK. Let me -- let me first start off and play something that Newt Gingrich had to say, responding directly to the president today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Today, the president announced he was going to open up half of the Keystone Pipeline. That's right. This is a pipeline to nowhere. Obama has now going to add to Santorum's Bridge to Nowhere with a pipeline to nowhere.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Don't they have a point. It seems to me that this is a lot of politics at play right now on both sides. Because what we're seeing is, in fact, in the latest Gallup poll, the majority of people, including the majority of Republicans, the majority of independents and most Democrats think the pipeline ought to be built.

RICK TYLER, SENIOR ADVISOR, GINGRICH SUPER PAC: Build it. What's the hold-up? The president is holding it up. All he had to do was approve it and get it done. It would create jobs. It would definitely lower the supply oil, and it would increase our national security. Why doesn't he do it?

CROWLEY: And yet Maria, he came and gave his blessing to half of it, which by the way, he didn't have to do. It was going to get built anyway without him. He doesn't need to give his permission for that half. It's not in his bailiwick. So why did he do it?

MARIA CARDONA, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, look, let's be clear. He knows that this is a critical issue for the American people. And he knows that gas prices are something that they want to hear from this president about what he is doing.

Let's also be clear that he was never against Keystone based on the merits of it. He was against the way that it was being pushed down the Americans' throats for purely political reasons when the debate was about either the tax cut or the debt deal. And so it was also about making sure that all of those...

CROWLEY: You know, if they had just sent him a pipeline deal, he would have signed that?

CARDONA: Well, I don't think so, because the other thing that needed to get done was the timing of the impact studies. I mean, let's not forget, this is a president who wants to make sure that the environment is not destroyed as we do this. And now that Trans Canada has filed another root, that is something that's being looked at.

CROWLEY: Barbara, I'll just give you a shot at that.

BARBARA COMSTOCK, CO-CHAIR, ROMNEY'S VIRGINIA CAMPAIGN: Well, the country supports an all-of-the-above energy strategy, and they support the Keystone Pipeline overwhelmingly. They also support drilling in places like Virginia where I'm from, where the president has also held up us moving forward, even though our Democratic senators, Warner and Webb, and most of our delegation on a bipartisan basis supports it.

The president has had a policy of stopping production the whole time. The things that he's talking about are the things that were in place before he came. So we need to build...

CROWLEY: When he's talks about "we've produced more," there were licenses in place. Let me -- let me just say, while we're on the subject of politics and hypocrisy, that there seems to be a lot of it going around when it comes to gas prices.

I want to play you first something that President Obama, then candidate Obama, had to say during -- when there were high gas prices during the Bush administration and he was talking about the oil expertise of Bush and Cheney.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: Even with all the experience they talk about, nothing has happened. This country didn't raise fuel efficiency standards for over 30 years. So what have we got for all that experience? Gas that's approaching -- approaching $4 a gallon. Because you can fight all you want inside of Washington, but unless you change the way it works, you won't be able to make the changes America needs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Seeming to indicate that a president can do something about it.

COMSTOCK: Well, we now have gas approaching $5. We know Secretary Chu wanted to have European prices, and he gave himself an "A" on gas prices. So their policy is to increase gas prices. They've doubled them already. We're looking at possibly $5 this summer, while Secretary Chu, the energy secretary, says he's done an "A" plus, bang-up job. The American people don't agree.

CARDONA: What's interesting, though, is that Barbara talked about how the American people want an all-of-the-above approach. That's what President Obama has been talking about since the campaign.

And what he focused on during his campaign is that we also can't continue to give oil and gas companies the 30 years of subsidies without giving a chance for other alternative fuels. Because again, Americans want an all-of-the-above approach.

CROWLEY: Let me just say that you've got the one candidate that's out there saying, "I've got a way to bring gas prices down to $2.50." Whether you believe him or not, he's been really pushing that hard. But it hasn't helped him, and I wonder why.

TYLER: Well, I'm going to hand it to you. I mean, he's quoting (ph) him verbatim. Obviously, the president is responding to him. There are a couple things the president -- the president said the same thing the left has been saying for 10 years, you know, if we drill now, it still won't be enough. We'll have to buy enough. It goes on and on and on.

And yet, the president was the one who vetoed while he was a senator finding out what the inventory is. He keeps claiming we only have 2 percent of the world's gas reserves and oil reserves. That seems to be untrue. Why not find out how much oil there is?

It seems that, in the shale and other places, oil is being discovered with fracking and all. It gives us a lot more oil. He doesn't want to -- he doesn't want to support this oil. He doesn't talk about drilling.

I left my car in the sun all day, it didn't start. I still put gas in it. And he stands at, you know, solar plants and talks about the high price of gas and alternatives. Our cars don't run on -- on...

COMSTOCK: He gives 500 million to Solyndra and companies that have failed us. We need investments in private sector where people can do the all-of-the-above in the private sector, not giveaways to Solyndra or Testra (ph) or Fisker, where we're throwing away money.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CARDONA: When Governor -- when Governor Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he actually was for fuel efficiency standards, and he actually was for not taking away a gas price tax because he understood also.

CROWLEY: We have like 15 seconds. We're going to take a break and come back. Fifteen seconds. But despite all of this talk about it, nothing big will happen on any kind of energy policy this year, yes?

TYLER: No, nothing new is going to happen this year.

COMSTOCK: Not with this president. We need a new president.

CARDONA: No. Probably not, because they don't have the control for the long-term.

CROWLEY: All right. We'll be right back with all three of you.

But we want to tell our viewers. This just in: a senior U.S. official tells CNN that Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who's accused in this month's shooting rampage in Afghanistan, will be charged tomorrow with 17 counts of murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder.

The official could not explain why the murder count is now 17 when 16 people have previously been reported killed in this incident.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour. Erin, you've got more on these charges against Sergeant Bales.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. As you were saying, Candy, we have the breaking news on those charges, and we're going to try to understand exactly why, as Candy said, Sergeant Bales will be charged with 17 counts of murder when he killed 16 Afghan civilians. Is it possible that one of the people was pregnant? That is what we're going to try to find out and also talk about the next steps and what the punishment might be.

Also at the top of the hour, in Melon Park, Florida, Candy, the Trayvon Martin rally is starting. Hundreds and hundreds of people there. We're going to go there live as that story continues to captivate the nation. So a lot of breaking news. Top of the hour. Until then back to you.

CROWLEY: About 12 minutes till the top of the hour. We'll be there with "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT."

Up next, more with our panel.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with Rick Tyler, a pro-Gingrich supporter and a senior adviser to one of the super PACs for Gingrich; Barbara Comstock, a Romney supporter, as well as the Virginia co-chair; and Maria Cardona, CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist.

I want to play -- Mitt Romney was in town today, he went up on the Hill. One of the people he met with is Jim DeMint, who's a big Tea Party guy. DeMint did not come out and give his blessing to the Romney candidacy, but I want you to hear what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JIM DEMINT (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: At some point these candidates have to determine for themselves is there a chance to win or could they do more by getting out? And I can't tell them when that is and I can't tell them who they are. But the sooner we can come around to a nominee, I think the better we are as a party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: So the sooner we can come around a nominee, I think the better we are as a party. Do you agree?

TYLER: No. Jim DeMint recruited these great candidates for Senate who are Tea Party candidates, most notably Marco Rubio. I know that's what he was going to talk about. I'm not sure. But in my opinion if we get Mitt Romney, then we have not advanced the party at all. The worst thing for the party was to return it to the moderates.

I think the Tea Party got us all the advantages in 2010. And it was the same thing back when Newt was speaker. And now we're going to go back to the moderate middle, and we're going to lose.

CROWLEY: I'm going to let you defend Mitt Romney in a minute, but I want you to hear something that Rick Santorum had to say with Mitt Romney in mind today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we're going to be a little different, we might as well stay with what we have instead of taking a risk of what may be the Etch-A-Sketch candidate for the future.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Basically he says, listen, if Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee, we might as well stay with President Obama.

COMSTOCK: I think that was unfortunate. But the fact is you saw Jeb Bush yesterday. You saw Jim DeMint today talk about -- he talked about the leadership skills of Mitt Romney. He talked about how impressed he was with Mitt Romney. And that was as close as it can get to an endorsement.

But then you also have leaders like Governor McDonald in Virginia, who led the comeback in 2009. Governor Romney was there helping us when I was elected, when Governor McDonnell was elected, when the whole team was in Virginia.

So he's bringing together all aspects of the party and has a strong mainstream conservative message that's about jobs. He's been talking about jobs and the economy. And he's the one person of all the candidates who can take it to Barack Obama on reviving the private sector, because he's lived in it. And that's been his experience in creating jobs and having a successful record as a leader.

CROWLEY: Maria, I'm going to take a guess, you would love for Newt Gingrich to stay in this race. You want Rick Santorum up there every day.

(CROSSTALK)

CARDONA: I completely agree with everything -- with everything that Rick said.

Look, I think what's going on with the Republican Party completely underscores why a lot of Republican voters are just not that enthusiastic about any of their candidates.

Look, if President Obama was so vulnerable, why didn't the "A" team come out? A lot of Republican strategists have said the reason why there's not a whole lot of enthusiasm on the Republican side is because not even their "B" team but their "C" team is out there. Mitt Romney might be the front -- the frontrunner but he's a weak frontrunner in an even weaker still field of candidates.

(CROSSTALK)

COMSTOCK: Back in 2008 when this was...

TYLER: "The A-Team," I remember that (ph).

COMSTOCK: Back in 2008 when this was going on, you had the same thing on the Democrats side. I think it's making our candidate stronger. Mitt Romney has continued to bring people...

CROWLEY: There's not a lot of poll evidence, though, that they're making it stronger. I mean, because his -- the independent support for all of them continues to go down.

Let me -- let me ask you, Rick, do you see -- as a super PAC, you get money from people who support Mitt Romney and put ads up for him. How long do you think those folks are going to still put money into ads for Newt Gingrich?

TYLER: Well, you know, look, we've got a small donor base. Newt has a very large donor base in this campaign, about 200,000. We've had some very large donors, and we're grateful to those. But...

CROWLEY: Hard for them to see reason to keep doing it?

TYLER: It will be -- it will be more challenging. Newt says we're going to be in it until the end, so we're going to support him to the end. But then he's going to go onto the main campaign where (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

CROWLEY: Listen, I at this point, have to thank all of you, Rick Tyler, Barbara Comstock, Maria Cardona, thank you for being here.

COMSTOCK: Thank you.

CROWLEY: Here's Kate Bolduan with the latest news you need to know right now.

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Candy. Thank you.

Heavy shelling in the Syrian city of Hama (ph) a day after a U.N. Security Council statement calling for an end to the violence. Activists say at least 83 people were killed around the country today. Among the dead were soldiers who refused to shoot at civilians, according to opposition groups. The U.N. says more than 8,000 people have been killed in the year-long revolt.

Back here in the U.S., members of Congress may soon be banned explicitly from insider trading. Congress passed the Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge or STOCK Act, as it's known. The insider trading bill is now headed for the president's desk, but the version that was approved is seen by critics as a weaker, watered-down version. President Obama has promised to sign the measure into law quickly.

The former Rutgers student convicted just last week of a hate crime for spying on his roommate is breaking his silence. In an exclusive interview with "The New York Star-Ledger," Dharun Ravi says he didn't act out of hate.

His roommate, Tyler Clementi, jumped off a bridge after learning Ravi had spied on him with a date over a Web cam.

Ravi says he got, quote, "caught up in what I thought was funny." And he says, quote, he's "very sorry -- sorry about Tyler."

Ravi faces ten years in prison for his convictions.

And attention parents. Nearly a million child safety locks imported from China are being recalled because children as young as 9 months old can unlock them. That's not supposed to happen. The push -- the push and snap cabinet safety locks were sold by, among others, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Amazon.com between 2004 and this past February, so you'll want to check those. And do you hate missing calls when your phone is on silent? Don't we all? What if your tattoo let you know your phone is ringing? That's the idea behind a new patent filed by Nokia. The tattoo uses magnetic ink that vibrates when you get a phone call or text message.

For those seeking something a little less permanent, the company will offer bandages that say stick onto the skin, as well.

Candy, I know you're about to head to the tattoo parlor. Can you believe that?

CROWLEY: I don't think I actually get that.

BOLDUAN: I read up on it, and they will actually -- it's embedded in your skin. And the ink reacts with the electromagnetic waves or something or other when a phone vibrates, and it will vibrate your skin.

CROWLEY: So you could -- I mean, essentially you can just sew the phone to your ear. I mean...

BOLDUAN: Also probably a patent pending.

CROWLEY: So -- and then the other alternative that they'll do?

BOLDUAN: Just put a bandage -- it's some sort of a bandage. Put it on your skin, and it will probably do the same thing, probably without the wow factor. But it's -- I don't know, there you have it.

CROWLEY: OK.

BOLDUAN: I know.

CROWLEY: I'm not sure I ever actually want, in fact, to have...

BOLDUAN: Your phone ringing under your skin.

CROWLEY: My phone ringing under my skin. It already gets under my skin. I think that is, you know, sufficient.

BOLDUAN: There you go.

CROWLEY: Kate Bolduan, thank you very much.

And now a fashionable "Moment You May Have Missed." The Summer Olympics and Paralympics will be held in London this year, and Great Britain secured a top designer to dress their athletes. The uniforms have been kept under wraps until today. Team Great Britain debuted their U.K.-flag-inspired new look, created by Adidas and fashion designer Stella McCartney, daughter of Beatle Paul McCartney.

And if you have a little British envy, please rest assured. Some members of team USA will be dressed by designer Ralph Lauren. That's all -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. CROWLEY: OK. So...

BOLDUAN: What do you think?

CROWLEY: I'm not sure. I mean, Ralph Lauren actually has a lot of flags, right, on his stuff anyway?

BOLDUAN: There's a lot of flags. And I believe -- and I think -- I could be wrong, but I believe that he did -- did the uniforms for the U.S. team in the past.

But I'm more impressed with the pure presentation of the U.K. uniforms. It's like a Cirque du Soleil show just to unveil the uniforms.

CROWLEY: I mean, I like them. It just seems like a lot of fanfare.

BOLDUAN: Always a lot of fanfare when it comes to the Olympics, but you know what? I'm one of those people. I'm always into it.

CROWLEY: Kate, thanks for being here tonight. I appreciate it.

That is all from us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.