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Interview With Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus; George Zimmerman Apologizes in Court; Secret Service Scandal Grows

Aired April 20, 2012 - 18:00   ET


JESSICA YELLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening. I'm Jessica Yellin in for John King.

Tonight, get ready for more Secret Service members to lose their jobs in the wake of the prostitution scandal. Our sources tell CNN's Dana Bash at least three more employees are expected to be forced out today.

The man who shot Trayvon Martin takes the stand and says he's sorry to the teenager's parents.

Plus, three decades later, the search heats up for the first missing child who appeared on the side of a milk carton.

More fallout from the Secret Service prostitution scandal. One source tells CNN more members are expected to be forced out anytime now for their part in that night of heavy drinking and escorts in Colombia.

Let's bring in White House correspondent Brianna Keilar for the latest.

Brianna, hi. What are you hearing about these upcoming dismissals?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Jessica, we're expecting that at least three Secret Service members, three more, I should say, will be pushed out today.

Now, that is in addition, as you know, to the three who already have, including two supervisors. These will come from those eight Secret Service agents who are currently on administrative leave and have been stripped of their security clearance. We also do know according to a senior White House official, Jessica, that President Obama will be briefed by the director of the Secret Service, Mark Sullivan. This is significant.

And it's been certainly the focus of a lot of questions in the White House briefings, because while the president's chief of staff and his deputy chief of staff have been in regular contact with Sullivan, the president himself hasn't spoken to Sullivan since the beginning of this scandal.

So we do understand that he will be briefed. It is also important to note that by and large right now, Jessica, Republicans have been holding their fire when it comes to calling for Mark Sullivan to go. They have been saying they support him. The White House, of course, says they support Mark Sullivan at this point.

It seems like a lot of people are holding their fire as we wait for the results of this investigation which could really prove pivotal to the director of the Secret Service, Jessica.

YELLIN: Brianna, I just want to add this, while you were reporting, if you check your BlackBerry, you will see this, too.

You and I both received multiple e-mails from multiple White House officials telling both of us the president this afternoon in fact in the Oval Office received a briefing from Secret Service Director Sullivan on the Secret Service's ongoing investigation. So multiple White House officials telling us that that update did already in fact happen in the Oval Office with the president.

And I wanted to ask you as well, this incident also involved members of the military. On that part of the story, there's been a lot less information coming out of the investigation, until now. What do we know about the latest on the military aspect of this investigation?

KEILAR: There's been less information but we do know today that this has widened just a little bit.

We were reporting before that there were 10 members of the military, Jessica, who were potentially involved in the scandal. Today, that number has grown to 11. We learned from sources that right now the way they are being treated is they have been restricted to their bases, bases in California, South Carolina, as well as in Florida.

We understand from sources that there are six members of the Army, two members of the Marines, two members of the Navy, and one member of the Air Force, Jessica.

YELLIN: All right, thanks so much, Brianna Keilar from the White House.

We're learning now about two more of the men who already lost their jobs in the scandal, including one supervisor who used Facebook to brag about checking out Sarah Palin. Hear what Palin is saying about all of it in about 30 minutes.

And he is not out of jail yet, but the man who admits to killing Trayvon Martin can be set free soon on $150,000 bail. George Zimmerman took the stand wearing a suit and shackles at a bond hearing today. He used the opportunity to apologize to the teenager's parents.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, DEFENDANT: I wanted to say I am sorry for the loss of your son. I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little younger than I am. And I did not know if he was armed or not.


YELLIN: David Mattingly is live for us in Sanford, Florida.

It was a remarkable thing to watch on television, David. How did the Martin family respond to that? You were there in the courtroom.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this was completely unexpected.

I was looking right at Trayvon Martin's mother and father as George Zimmerman was talking directly to them. I didn't see much of a reaction at all. They were very stoic. At times during the hearing, they would turn to each other and whisper something, but not much reaction at all.

As soon as this hearing was over, they got up and left the courtroom very quickly, didn't speak to anyone. And then they had their attorney come out to the cameras outside the courthouse to express their outrage.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR FAMILY OF TRAYVON MARTIN: Why today? When he made all these statements to police, why not show remorse there if he was sincerely apologetic for killing this unarmed child?


MATTINGLY: Zimmerman was also grilled by prosecutors when he mentioned this. The prosecutor questioned him about the timing of this and about why he didn't say something before. But Zimmerman said he did say that he was sorry to the police, sorry for what has happened. He also said that he was instructed not to talk to the family of Trayvon Martin. So that was his explanation for not say something sooner.

YELLIN: David Mattingly, thanks so much, from Florida.

And joining me now for the legal perspective on George Zimmerman's bond hear, CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor, and Mark NeJame, a criminal defense attorney.

Thanks to both of you for being with us.

First of all, Sunny, we heard George Zimmerman say he didn't know Martin was a teenager and he didn't know whether or not Martin was armed. Why does it matter whether Zimmerman knew Martin's age or whether or not he was armed if he wasn't being attacked?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, yes, and I think that it matter, quite frankly, because what we heard today in the courtroom is very different from the evidence that we have heard. I mean, bottom line is he said in the courtroom he thought that Trayvon Martin was close to his age. Well, we know that George Zimmerman is 28 years old. On the 911 call, he describes Trayvon Martin as in his late teens.

So that's a really significant inconsistency showing perhaps he's being disingenuous. He also said today in testimony, Jessica, that, you know, he thought -- he wasn't sure if Trayvon Martin was armed. But we know he told police that he shot in self-defense because Trayvon Martin grabbed his gun.

So there are significant inconsistencies in the little bit that he said on the witness stand today from what has come out before. And I would suggest that that's going to be a problem for him in the long term.

YELLIN: Mark, there was a stunning moment during the hearing today when Zimmerman's defense attorney questioned the state's lead investigator and got what sounded to me like a very weak reply. Let's listen to this.


MARK O'MARA, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Do you have anything besides what you justified, a copy of the probable cause affidavit?


O'MARA: Did you bring any supporting documentation with you to the courtroom on his bond motion at all?

GILBREATH: No, I was not planning on testifying.


YELLIN: Mark, the entire country's watching this and yet the state seemed so unprepared. How is this possible?

MARK NEJAME, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is the way it often works.

You know, there was a lot of bravado about bringing this case out and such, and it seems like as much time as was spent with the bravado should have been spent in preparing this case. How do you have a lead investigator show up to court and say we weren't prepared to have him called?

The burden of proof, the state knew that they had to establish proof evident, presumption great, and it had to be overcome by the defense. The only evidence there was that affidavit. So they knew that that was going to be torn apart, and to leave an investigator wide open, they completely came in unprepared.

YELLIN: OK, Sunny, let's move on. At one point, the defense asked the state's investigator whether he could provide any proof that would dispute Zimmerman's claim that Trayvon Martin assaulted him first. Listen to how the investigator responded.


GILBREATH: That contention that was given to us by him, other than filling in the figures being one following or chasing the other one, as to who threw the first blow, no.


YELLIN: That's the state's case. That wasn't very powerful.

Is the state's lack of compelling evidence at the hearing today a sign that their overall case may not be very strong or is it just that they weren't very prepared?

HOSTIN: I don't think -- I think they were prepared actually, so I disagree with Mark on that, but I don't think we can read into what we saw today.

I don't think we can take away from that that this case is not a strong case or that this prosecution isn't going to be prepared at trial. The bottom line is this was a bond hearing. The burden was very, very high on the prosecution. They would have had to have proven their case beyond, beyond a reasonable doubt.

I suspect they knew that it was going to be very difficult to prevent George Zimmerman from getting a bond. And they did rely on the affidavit, but it's very clear, Jessica, in all cases that an affidavit for probable cause is not a complete recitation of the facts. It is a thumbnail sketch.

And, of course, the investigator wasn't prepared to testify because the government didn't call the investigator. The defense called the investigator, and that's something that's unusual. So I don't think the prosecution was unprepared. In fact, I think it played out the way many of us suspected it would play out, that George Zimmerman did get some sort of bond package.

I do believe the $150,000 bond was a little lower than it should have been in a second degree murder case.

YELLIN: OK. I have a feeling we will have a lot more conversations like this coming up. Thanks to both of you for being on.

NEJAME: Thank you.

YELLIN: And coming up, Mitt Romney works to cement his spot as the Republican White House contender. I will ask Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus if it's working.

Plus, new clues about a little boy who went missing 33 years ago -- why the Etan Patz case is heating up now.


YELLIN: The Republican National Committee met today in Arizona and welcomed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, who spoke privately with members, and he was later introduced by the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, the Senator John McCain.

The theme of the event, unity.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I am so gratified to see our party coming together in a solid team that is going to elect him president of the United States.

REINCE PRIEBUS, REPUBLICAN NATIONAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: We want to welcome you in a formal way to a great family.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, it's good to see so many old friends. Thank you.



YELLIN: So Romney is the presumptive nominee, right? That may be jumping the gun a bit.

RNC Chairman Reince Priebus told "The National Journal" yesterday, "This Tuesday, I think, is probably going to be a defining moment for our decision-making as to whether or not we forward with a declaration of Mitt Romney being the presumptive nominee," he said Tuesday.

Reince Priebus joins me now from Scottsdale, Arizona.

Hi, Reince. Thanks for being with us.

Today's event was supposed to...


PRIEBUS: ... Jessica.

YELLIN: Today's event was supposed to help the Republican Party behind Mitt Romney. Why wait until Tuesday's primaries to call him the presumptive nominee?

PRIEBUS: Well, out of I think respect and deference to Congressman Paul and Speaker Gingrich.

We're still talking to all the candidates. We have a little bit of different deal here. We have got to follow some rules. And I think also just, like I said, out of respect for them, it's important for us to continue talking and just making sure that we're moving slowly.

We're communicating with all the campaigns, obviously, but I think Tuesday's important.


YELLIN: So does that mean after Tuesday you will ask Gingrich and Paul to end their campaigns?

PRIEBUS: No, I don't think I would ever do that. I would let Mr. Paul and Gingrich decide on their own what they want to do.


YELLIN: Why? You're the party leader. Isn't it your role to step in and ask these campaigns to end to help Romney seal the deal and move forward?

PRIEBUS: No, I don't think so.

I think it's up to our -- it's up to our primary voters to help them and others make the decisions as to whether or not they want to stay in or not. It's a combination of momentum. It's a combination of delegates. It's money. I mean, it's all of those things.

But, ultimately, winning and losing matter in these primary battles. And that's why Tuesday's important. So, I actually think the opposite, Jessica. I think, in this country, I think people are tired of folks in Washington telling them what they should do and what they shouldn't do.

And that's why we let this process play out. And I think actually it's been going very well. You know, I think, if you look at how the governor's doing, he's doing well. The party's getting pretty well unified. But we have got a few more days or weeks to go.

YELLIN: OK. On that, CNN is reporting that RNC members and state chairmen had to sign a form pledging to support Governor Romney at the national convention before they could attend a private event with him today.

Three Iowans apparently refused to sign that loyalty pledge. Is that concerning, that some refused to sign? And is that really the way to win over party leaders?

PRIEBUS: Well, no, I don't know a whole lot about that, actually, Jessica.

I think the Romney campaign had their own event for their own supporters, and they were doing some things there. But, actually, the folks from Iowa did actually end up taking their picture. And it wasn't a big deal.

But -- and there are some party rules actually, Jessica, that don't allow informal endorsements prior to declaration of a presumptive nominee. So that formality means something in a lot of states. And that's really the reason why some of this stuff goes on. It's not really out of, you know -- out of disloyalty or anything like that. It just has to do with party rules in different states.


Let's look ahead to the general election. You wrote an op-ed in Politico this week saying President Obama is not doing enough for Latino voters and that -- quote -- "Latinos also face an unemployment rate that is higher than the national average."

But look at this. In the latest NBC/"Wall Street Journal" poll, 69 percent of Latinos support the president, compared to 22 percent approval for Mitt Romney. That is huge ground to make up for your presumptive, likely presumptive Republican nominee.

How do you do that without major changes in policy?

PRIEBUS: Well, I mean, first of all, I wouldn't quarrel with you, Jessica. We do have a lot of work to do.

And so I think what we have is a couple things. One, top-line messaging matters. And I would say that even people who don't agree with us politically would at least agree that in regards to jobs and the economy and where we sit today, the Republican Party's in a much better place to make the appeal with Hispanic voters as to the direction of our country.

We have got better messengers, Marco Rubio, Luis Fortuno, Susana Martinez, Brian Sandoval. But I think , for the committee, what we need to do is to -- and what we're doing by rolling out Hispanic victory centers around the country, Hispanic victory directors around state parties, and what I'm telling you is that we need to communicate on the ground in Hispanic and Latino communities across America.

And we haven't -- we have not done a good enough job in doing that. And that's why we're rolling out that now. And I think you're going to see that gap shrink tremendously over the next few weeks.

YELLIN: I want to continue this conversation with you.

Unfortunately, I have to interrupt you because we have breaking news now. And we will continue it another time.

Reince Priebus from Arizona.

Right now, we have breaking news on the Secret Service prostitution scandal.

CNN senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is on the phone with us right now.

Dana, you have been breaking news on this all day. Tell us what you have.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Secret Service is now making it official that three additional employees have chosen to resign.

So three additional employees have chosen to resign. In addition to that, Jessica, we know that 11 Secret Service members were sent home from Colombia. But now a 12th employee has been implicated. And that employee has been placed on administrative leave and his security clearance has been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

In addition to that, one of the employees who was involved has actually been cleared of misconduct. Our understanding is that five employees are on administrative leave and their security clearance remains suspended. But the headline is that three additional employees of the Secret Service have now been forced out. The way they're wording it is chosen to resign. We all know what that means.

So, all told, if you count the three earlier this week, six altogether, six agents or members of the Secret Service have now lost their jobs because of this scandal.

YELLIN: Dana, you're saying six have lost their jobs because of the scandal, one more implicated, in trouble. Now one of those we thought was in trouble is now cleared of all wrongdoing?

BASH: Exactly. One of those has been cleared of -- quote -- "serious misconduct," but apparently will face appropriate administrative action. Unclear what that means and of course who this person is.

Our understanding, kind of the background of this, as this has been going forward, as we have been talking to sources about how this has shaken out, is that at least one of these Secret Service members was pushing back pretty hard, saying that he did not do anything wrong, did not do anything to break the rules or the code of the Secret Service.

And it's unclear if this is the particular individual we're talking about or not, but it is important to note one of the 11 original members who was sent home from Colombia has been cleared, but will face what they call administrative action.

YELLIN: Wow, interesting. As we know, the investigation continues. All of those who have left also continue to remain under investigation is my understanding.

BASH: Exactly.

YELLIN: So they remain part of the ongoing inquiry. Another piece of news we have learned this hour is the president was briefed by Director Sullivan in the Oval Office on the latest developments earlier today.

Dana, you have been doing amazing reporting all day long. You have all the latest.


YELLIN: Thanks so much and keep us posted if you get more. CNN's Dana Bash reporting the latest for us.

And coming up, a prostitution scandal in Colombia, a spending scandal at the government services administration. Are they personnel issues or political ones? We're talking about how they could impact votes come November.



YELLIN: And coming up: A Secret Service agent who bragged about checking out Sarah Palin is now out of a job, caught up in the Colombian prostitution scandal.

We will have new details about some of the men involved.

And fresh clues in a decades-old kidnapping case have investigators using jackhammers in a New York City basement.

That's next.


YELLIN: This half hour, a total of six Secret Service members have now lost their jobs after a wild night with escorts in Colombia. And now, Sarah Palin has been dragged into the scandal. How she's connected and what she's saying.

And in a new lead in the disappearance of Etan Patz, 33 years after he vanished on his way to a school bus. Why investigators are digging up a Manhattan basement.

Six Secret Service members have now lost their jobs in the prostitution scandal in Colombia. CNN's Dana Bash reported just moments ago that three of those employees resigned today following a wild night with escorts in Colombia. And tonight, we're learning a whole lot more about two of the six men, including one who bragged about checking out Sarah Palin.

Here's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD: Jessica, two names have been made public. Both have supervisor positions. We've obtained more information about each man. One of them is taking serious heat for a picture and a joke he posted on Facebook.

(voice-over) On his Facebook page, he posts several pictures of himself in action on protective detail. In one, he's seen standing behind Sarah Palin, and under the photo he posts a comment, saying, quote, "I was really checking her out, if you know what I mean."

David Chaney is one of the Secret Service supervisors who lost his job because of the prostitution scandal in Colombia. That's what a source familiar with the investigation told CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend.

Palin on FOX News Channel responded to David Chaney's Facebook post.

SARAH PALIN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Check this out, bodyguard. You're fired. And I hope his wife kicks his (FOREIGN WORD) and sends him to the dog house.

TODD: David Chaney is married, has an adopted son, according to his posting on, a posting which also says his father was a Secret Service agent.

A former Secret Service official says Chaney started on the vice- presidential detail when Al Gore was running for president in 2000 and that he later protected Vice President Dick Cheney.

We tried repeatedly to speak to David Chaney through calls to his lawyer and a visit to his house in Virginia. Chaney had called sheriff's deputies to keep us from knocking on his door.

(on camera) Would you be able to act on our behalf and ask him if he can come out and talk to us?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are not talking to anybody right now and again have made it clear they want no one on the property.

TODD (voice-over): Neighbor Zlatko Jovanovic says he spoke with Chaney on occasion.

(on camera) What did you guys talk about?

ZLATKO JOVANOVIC, NEIGHBOR: Just trying to get -- just trying -- just wanted to get approval for whatever he was doing in the backyard.

TODD: And how did you find him to talk to? What was his manner like?

JOVANOVIC: Very -- very personal, down-to-earth.

TODD (voice-over): Another neighbor says Chaney used to drive a long way to watch him play sports.

CHRIS WILSON, NEIGHBOR: Truly the perfect neighbors. They're fantastic people. I really like them a lot.

TODD (voice-over): One former Secret Service employee describes David Chaney as gregarious.

The other supervisor who lost his job is identified by our source as Greg Stokes. According to a radio program and a career posting on the University of Maryland's Web site, Stokes supervised the canine training unit at the Secret Service training center outside Washington.

Court documents indicate a Greg Stokes was involved in a divorce case from 2003 to 2005, a case in which there's correspondence from the Secret Service. His former wife was also a Secret Service employee.

(on camera) Attorney Lawrence Berger (ph) told CNN he's representing both Chaney and Stokes. He told us he's concerned about what he calls illegal leaks of privacy-protected information coming from, quote, "rogue elements within the Secret Service."

Berger says that's distorting the review of what happened. And he told the Reuters news agency the officers are getting a raw deal -- Jessica.


YELLIN: CNN's Brian Todd.

And for more on this, we turn to CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend. She's a member of the Department of Homeland Security external advisory board.

Fran, he does have a point. There are a lot of leaks coming out. But first, let's start by asking where do you think the investigation goes from here, what's next?

FRAN TOWNSEND, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY EXTERNAL ADVISORY BOARD: You know, it's interesting. It seems to come out in dribs and drabs. We had the supervisors dealt with first a couple days later. Now three more resigning.

The most interesting part of this is we learned tonight from Dana Bash that there's another individual who's been identified. So clearly as they interview each of the agents, source said to me they're not providing information about each other, but as they each tell their own story, they've identified at least one more important.

They've also been able to clear another individual who was in the original group of 21 of any misconduct. And so he's now going to face administrative proceedings.

So what we're seeing is progress. And unfortunately, what you'd hope is they would complete their investigation, announce the results and move on. What we're getting is a little bit at a time which keeps the story alive for them.

YELLIN: You said something important, that a source told you they're not turning on each other, providing information on each other yet. Is that the key here?

TOWNSEND: Well, it's very interesting, because you know when you run a normal criminal investigation -- I was a prosecutor for many years in New York, what you look for is you look at the group of individuals who are implicated and then you try and work their stories off one another, to get them to contradict one another, give you additional information. It's interesting, from the very begin, we heard from sources that each of the agents had a story to tell. They were not all consistent. And so we expected in the natural course of things they would begin to point the finger at one another. That's not happened. They began -- they're working through this investigation. They're working through the facts. The agents are taking personal responsibility. But they're not pointing the fingers at one another.

YELLIN: The culture of loyalty. Now, do you think that higher- ups knew that this kind of behavior was going on and chose to ignore it? Or do you think this was a total surprise to higher ups? TOWNSEND: No, everyone I've spoken to from leadership on down were really both shocked and outraged. You know, this is so inconsistent with the way they conduct themselves professionally, day to day. I -- when I traveled overseas during the Bush administration. I was a protectee. And I can't tell you the level of professionalism, the courtesy that was extended to me. Nothing of the sort -- you know, I find the comment on Facebook about Sarah Palin frankly shocking. No one ever treated me with anything but utter respect.

YELLIN: But there are a lot of other people who are not surprised by a lot of this.

TOWNSEND: That's right. When the protectee -- when the president or protectee is gone, that is either in advance of the arrival or after you've departed, is there a sense of collegiality and camaraderie among the agents, the staff, the press corps all traveling together? Sure there is. But this is really different. The notion of involving foreign service national, prostitute who could have put somebody at risk, could have been interested for their own purposes in the information you had access to is really a good deal different.

And I think that's what's so shocking about it. These people really commit themselves to take a bullet for you.

YELLIN: This has to wrap up pretty quickly. They need this -- as opposed to a little bit every day, they really need to get to the bottom of this and get it over.


YELLIN: Fran Townsend, thank you so much. We're learning a lot of info.

FBI investigators with jackhammers are tearing up a basement looking for new clues in the disappearance of Etan Patz. He was the first missing child who was the face that appeared on a milk cart, and he was just 6 when he vanished in 1979.

Well, now we're learning that Patz may never have made it more than a block away from his home. National correspondent Susan Candiotti is live on that very street.

Susan, I know you've been covering this for days now. What is going on right now, and what are investigators looking for?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you what's going on right now. For the second day in a row, a team of FBI agents has been tearing apart a basement in the building behind me, ripping it apart piece by piece, as you said, using jackhammers, bringing out chunks of cement on an assembly line and bringing samples of soil to the FBI lab in Quantico.

They're, of course, looking for human remains of Etan Patz. They don't know whether they'll find him, but they're digging as far as six feet below the cement floor to see whether they find any indication that any of the soil might have been moved down there.

Now, here is what the latest we're hearing about, what led them to this spot. They interviewed a former carpenter, now 75 years old, who used to work in that basement. And sources tell us that this carpenter knew the little boy and, in fact, was with him in the basement the day before he disappeared.

The FBI then brought in a cadaver dog, and they got a hit, and that's what prompted this excavation.

Now, that carpenter is not under arrest. And an attorney tells us that he is fully cooperating with the FBI and that he has nothing to do with this boy's disappearance. He is continuing to cooperate, that lawyer says.

We can also tell you, according to our sources, that is not the only man that the FBI has been interviewing. As this investigation gears up once again -- Jessica.

Just amazing, Susan, they can make this discovery, this tip discovery now and not so many years ago. Susan Candiotti, reporting from New York, thanks so much.

And coming up, a famous Republican dips his toe into the veepstakes pool, but will former Florida governor Jeb Bush really take the plunge?


YELLIN: Our breaking news this hour, a total of six Secret Service members are now out of the agency following that night with prostitutes in Colombia. Our Dana Bash reports three of them resigned today.

Former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who was protected in 2008 by one of the ousted agents, said this about the scandal and the commander in chief.


PALIN: If you consider what's going on in the state of our government, with, you know, look who's running the show, these boys not considering that there are ramifications for their actions, whether it comes to a budget, out of Congress and the White House, to GSA overspends, to the Secret Service scandals, you know, I've had enough of these men being dogs and not being responsible and not entrusting, being able to allow us to trust what these boys are doing in Washington.


YELLIN: Grr, Mama Grizzly.

OK. Joining us to discuss whether these controversies will take a toll on the president's re-election bid, Democratic pollster Margie Omero; Romney Virginia campaign co-chair Barbara Comstock; and "The New Yorker's" Washington correspondent, Ryan Lizza. Thanks to all of you for being here.

Ryan, I'll start with you. Do you think the Secret Service is going to be a political story come November? When does the White House have to really step in on this?

RYAN LIZZA, WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORKER": Well, Sarah Palin just turned it into a political story. I don't think it was a political story till she said that.

I mean, she has a right to be a little offended here. What this one agent said on his Facebook page was -- that's the most outrageous thing I've seen in the whole scandal so far. Protecting her and making a sexist comment on his Facebook page, it's pretty bad. She has a right to be mad.

But to blame it on Obama, I haven't seen any evidence yet of what's come out that this is a White House problem, a presidential problem. Mark Sullivan, the head of the Secret Service, seems to be handling this quite well. He was appointed in 2006 by Bush. He's universally respected. And so far the steps he's taken seem to be pretty good.

YELLIN: Although it's drip, drip, dripping out, which is never good for any scandal.

Let me ask you, Barbara, Mitt Romney tried to link President Obama to another D.C. scandal and link this to that. He was asked by the "National Review" about the GSA and the culture of waste in the federal government.

And he said, quote, "I think the example starts at the top. People have to see that the president is not taking elaborate vacations and spending in a way that is inconsistent with the state of the overall economy and the state of the American family."

So is it really fair to say that the GSA conduct was somehow linked to the way President Obama lives his life?

BARBARA COMSTOCK, CO-CHAIR, ROMNEY VIRGINIA CAMPAIGN: Well, I think he went on further to talk about as president what he'd like to do, if he would be on that job, and for four years he would focus on jobs and really not be as distracted on all the other things. I think that was really the bigger message.

You know, but I think the GSA scandal is certainly something that we're -- we're disgusted with and all. I would like to comment on the Secret Service thing, only because I used to on Capitol Hill work with so many of these Secret Service agents. I do think it is such an aberration.: Secret Service, the vast majority, every Secret Service agent I ever ran into, was lovely.

So I think we do need to point out that this is an aberration. I certainly hope it's an aberration. That's why that one is so shocking.

YELLIN: You don't say that should be linked to President Obama?

COMSTOCK: Well, no, I think it's -- but I think getting the investigation, make sure the management that is there at the Secret Service, takes it seriously. Because you can't have that kind of negligence and carelessness by Secret Service agents.

I'm surprised that they're out drinking and doing that thing in that context in a foreign country. That doesn't make sense, and it's not consistent with anything I ever saw when we were overseeing their activities. They were the best of the best...

YELLIN: Oh, so you are blaming it -- it's a President Obama thing?

COMSTOCK: No, no, I think...


COMSTOCK: What I'm saying is we need to get to the bottom of it and have a good investigation.

YELLIN: OK. Margie, on the other side of the political aisle, Joe Manchin, a Democratic senator, says that he's unsure whether he will vote for President Obama. Is that particularly bad news for the Obama campaign at a time when they need every -- he's a moderate. They need the support of every moderate they can get.

MARGIE OMERO, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: I don't think that's bad news. It's Joe Manchin's, Senator Manchin's right to say what he thinks. On the other side, you have Republicans trying to have a loyalty test, and you have delegates being asked to pledge their loyalty to Mitt Romney, and they're refusing to do so.

You have governor Mitch Daniels coming out and, you know, criticizing Mitt Romney. You have Republicans who are very tepid in their endorsement of Mitt Romney. So you have Joe Manchin -- a maybe Joe Manchin on the one side and a whole host of tepid endorsements for Mitt Romney on the other side.

YELLIN: But it does reflect that people who are in precarious political waters themselves maybe don't want to get too far out there with President Obama? No?

OMERO: I think senator Manchin, he has been a moderate. He has -- he's been that since he got elected in his campaign, and I don't think this is really a departure.

COMSTOCK: ... see more of it, though, because if you look at something like Paul in Missouri, McCaskill is running far behind her Republican opponent in swing states. YELLIN: She raises a good point with Mitch Daniels, because Mitch Daniels, a Republican, said of Mitt Romney, to "The Indianapolis Star," quote, that Mitt Romney must not spend the precious time and dollars explaining what's at stake and a constructive program to make life better. As I say, look at everything through the lens of folks who have yet to achieve. Romney doesn't talk that way."

He's criticizing the way Romney ran his primary campaign and said he should run it as if he's looking to govern.

COMSTOCK: Well, I think one of the great things now that Governor Romney is clearly going to be our nominee and everybody's coming together is you're going to get the good advice of all of the candidates across the country. Mitch Daniels is a great asset, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, and I see -- what I'm seeing in Virginia is everyone coming together.

And somebody like Joe Manchin is going to weigh into Virginia because, you know, we're right on the border there with West Virginia. And believe me, he has a big impact down in coal country and areas of Virginia where Obama has really turned off moderate Democrats. And that's why...


LIZZA: I never criticize a politician when they say something honest, because that's what we all want. And good for him. We've got all these other Republican candidates running for vice president, sucking up to Romney. It's nice to have Mitch Daniels out there, offering constructive criticism and saying what's on his mind.

YELLIN: He speaks truth to power?

LIZZA: A little bit. It's not always been his reputation, but it's hard for me to criticize someone when he's being honest.

YELLIN: OK. Let's listen to Jeb Bush who has previously said he will not accept the vice presidential slot if offered. And now he says...


JEB BUSH, FORMER GOVERNOR OF FLORIDA: Well, I would consider it, but I doubt I'll -- I doubt I'll get a call. And I don't know if it's the right thing for me to do. I think Marco would be -- among many great candidates for vice president, I think Marco's probably the best.


LIZZA: My rule on people who may or may not be vice president is ignore absolutely everything that is said by any of them between now and the day they're picked. It doesn't matter if you say absolutely I will not be your running mate, or if you say yes, I will. Whatever you say doesn't matter. When you get the call from the nominee, everything changes. OSERO: But I think that this kind of really can hurt Romney with Latinos. Because let's say he doesn't pick Marco Rubio and instead he tries to pick Jeb Bush and then he further hurts himself with Latinos...


OSERO: Because a pick -- because he's ignoring the strong advocate from a leader in the party who says pick this -- this popular Latino. He would bypass that, go to Jeb Bush and just further alienate Mitt Romney from the Latinos. He's doing terrible with Latino voters. He releases an info graphic. That's the extent...

YELLIN: You really think he can lose with Jeb Bush?

COMSTOCK: We're getting away from the whole issue. He has a lot of great candidates for vice president who I'm sure Governor Romney will be looking at. And I think we have an embarrassment of riches, and Marco Rubio is among them.

So I just want to jump in. Paul Ryan, obviously, has gotten a lot of attention. He's someone who's seriously looking at the budget. And I think taken on the president very seriously on the health-care bill and the budget problems in a way that has been great.

So we're going to have a lot of good candidates, and they're all going to be out there campaigning across the country, no matter who's the...

LIZZA: The question on Rubio is he came out with a very interesting immigration proposal this week, and the great question, is will Romney embrace this or not?

YELLIN: Thanks to all of you for being here on a Friday evening. Have a great weekend.

OSERO: Thank you.

YELLIN: Good to see you.

And "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the hour.

Hi, Erin. We heard from George Zimmerman, the man who got -- who shot and killed Florida teenager Trayvon Martin today. What's ahead for you tonight?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, that was pretty interesting to hear him, and obviously, he was trying to be emotional. But a lot of people say, well, why hadn't he reached out to the family before?

We talked to -- a friend of George Zimmerman's is going to be joining us, and he's going to be talking about where George Zimmerman actually got the money for his bail. A lot of people are saying, well, where did he get the $15,000 apparently he has to put down. Well, we're going to get some answers on that, plus the very latest on the breaking news in the Secret Service scandal. I know, Jessica, you've been doing a lot of reporting on that.

We have some more information tonight, new resignations and people being fired tonight, but also, of course, some details on the names and what men these were.

Back to you.

YELLIN: Busy news night. Thanks, Erin, we'll be watching you coming up.

BURNETT: Thanks.

YELLIN: And a heads up for fliers. U.S. Airways and American Airlines are closing in on a merger.

And what's the deal with pot smokers and the number 420? Why today is the unofficial holiday for those who love to toke up.


YELLIN: Here's Alison Kosik with the latest news you need to know right now.

Hey, Alison.


Explosions in the Syrian city of Homs. Today alone, at least 57 people were killed across the country. Protesters gathered in a number of areas, but government forces reportedly confronted them with armed resistance. Demonstrators want to bring an end to President Bashar al-Assad's 12-year rule.

Now, this was some of the most chilling testimony you're probably ever going to hear. Anders Breivik giving graphic details about how he slaughtered 77 people in a shooting and bombing rampage in Norway last summer. Breivik described how he systematically killed 69 people at a youth camp. If he saw someone wounded, Breivik says he fired more bullets into them. He also gladly takes credit for a bombing in Oslo that killed eight people the same day.

A vote of confidence for a plan that could save American Airlines. Workers for three American Airlines unions are throwing their support behind a plan to merge with U.S. Airways group. But to make it happen, U.S. Airways still has to negotiate with American's managers and creditors.

American Airlines needs help. Its parent company, AMR, filed for bankruptcy protection in November.

And take a look at this school art project. The self-portraits of more than 200,000 children are being projected right onto the front of Buckingham Palace, combining to make a giant image of the queen. It's part of the Face Britain project, aiming to celebrate children leading up to this year's Diamond Jubilee and Olympics. Nice and creative, right, Jessica? YELLIN: That's gorgeous.

KOSIK: It is.

YELLIN: And now for the "Moment that No Herb Lover would Miss." Today is April 20, 4/20, a day for celebration for Maui Wowie enthusiasts. That's marijuana for those of you too young to know.

A brief history lesson: 4-20 was coined in 1971 by a group of California high school students who met after school one day at 4:20 p.m. They were searching for some abandoned marijuana plants.

There's also a weird convoluted connection to the Grateful Dead, but we digress.

Now to mark the occasion, Willie Nelson was in Austin today to check out the unveiling of his brand-new bronze statue, of course. Now, for those of you who also aren't Willie Nelson fans, let's just say Texas police are well aware of the singer's penchant for weed as much as those famous braids. The date of this unveiling was intentional.

KOSIK: Something tells me -- something tells me they don't need a date to tell them they can do this. They can just sort of do it any date, don't you think?

YELLIN: I think you're right, Alison, and we shouldn't say any more for fear of getting in trouble.

That's all from us. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.