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Syria Continues Crackdown; Whitney Houston Remembered

Aired February 13, 2012 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. It's 10:00 here on the East Coast, a lot happening.

One of our correspondents has managed to make it inside Syria. She brings us exclusive reporting on the Assad regime's war on civilians.

Also, new signs that Mitt Romney's quest for the Republican presidential nomination could be in trouble, even in his home state.

We begin, however, special coverage, the death of singer Whitney Houston, Her body being flown east tonight, back home to New Jersey, where memorial services will be held -- "The Newark Star Ledger" reporting that her family may be considering a wake on Thursday, a funeral on Friday at Newark's 20,000-seat Prudential Center.

There's new video tonight from ABC News. It shows Whitney Houston 10 years ago envisioning a happy ending to her story, instead of the one we're watching now.


DIANE SAWYER, ABC NEWS: Ten years from now, give me the perfect life for Whitney Houston.

WHITNEY HOUSTON, MUSICIAN: Retired. Sitting, looking at my daughter grow up, become a great woman of God. Grandchildren.

BOBBI KRISTINA BROWN, DAUGHTER OF WHITNEY HOUSTON: A perfect day is like on a Sunday or something like that, when we like, like sit and, you know, we either watch TV or like listen to gospel music or have breakfast together.


COOPER: That was Whitney Houston and her daughter 10 years ago.

Instead, a long flight home after a life cut far too short. The question, of course, now is why. We don't know either precisely or even approximately how Whitney Houston died. We know she died Saturday afternoon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

A member of her entourage found her in the tub, in the bathroom of her fourth floor suite. She wasn't breathing.

An L.A. County coroner official today refusing to say whether or not she drowned or what role, if any, alcohol or drugs might have played.


ED WINTER, ASSISTANT L.A. CHIEF CORONER: You can look at a body and not know what the cause of death is. You might have a suspicion but the person could have suffered a heart attack or an embolism or something. And no matter what medications they're taking, until we run a tox and see the level and what's in the system, we're not going to speculate.


COOPER: She was found underwater in that bathtub in that hotel room. That tox that Ed Winter was talking about, the toxicology report, will not be out for as long as six to eight weeks from now, though, preliminary results could be available a lot sooner. He did say that the amount of medicine prescription drugs investigators recovered at the scene was less than usually found in most overdoses. He did not say, though, which particular drugs were found.

TMZ reports the family was told that the anti-anxiety drug, Xanax, was among them. And addiction specialist Dr. Pinsky says it only takes one anti-anxiety medication alone or in combination with alcohol to kill you. We'll talk to him shortly. He's got some very strong views tonight on this latest celebrity death.

We'll also have a lot more on Houston's battle with addiction and reports she was drinking as recently as -- Friday night and on Thursday with her friend, singer Kelly Price. I will hear from Kelly Price as well.

First, though, what we know so far about Whitney Houston's final days.


COOPER (voice-over): On Thursday night, Whitney Houston takes the stage in what would be her last public performance. Video taken at a party celebrating her friend, Kelly Price's Grammy nomination. She hugs Price on stage and launches into an impromptu performance singing "Jesus Loves Me."

Houston reportedly partied late into the night. These pictures show her looking disheveled. According to TMZ. com, Houston had a tense argument with another singer at the party. And when she left, this photo of her was taken that appeared to show something that looked like blood dripping down her legs. CNN has not independently confirmed this. But friends say Houston was in good spirits that night, dancing, celebrating and drinking.

KELLY PRICE, MUSICIAN: What I can say on Thursday night, Whitney was partying, she was happy, she was sober, maybe a little tipsy because she had some champagne. But we had a good time Thursday night. And I will not let anybody say anything else about my friend because it's not true. COOPER: Houston was in town for Clive Davis' pre-Grammy party staying at the Beverly Hilton with her daughter, Bobbi Kristina. This video from E! News shows them speaking to Davis at the hotel on Thursday.

HOUSTON: Go say hi to your godfather.

COOPER: Her behavior at the hotel was erratic, according to the "Los Angeles Times," that says Houston was seen skipping around the ballroom and doing hand stands near the hotel pool. The newspaper also reports Houston was seen in mismatched clothing with dripping wet hair. On Friday night, according to TMZ. com, Houston spent a long time at the bar of the hotel drinking with friends and being loud according to the Web site.

The next day, Houston was getting ready to attend the party. She reportedly spoke with her mother, Sissy Houston, around 3: 15 p. m. on Saturday afternoon. Less than 30 minutes later, a member of Houston's entourage found her unconscious and unresponsive inside the bathtub. Her staff members pulled her out of the tub and called for help.

LT. MARK ROSEN, BEVERLY HILLS POLICE DEPARTMENT: When the officers arrived in the hotel room on the fourth floor, the fire department and hotel security were already attempting resuscitation measures. At 3: 55 p. m. this afternoon Whitney Houston was pronounced dead at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

COOPER: Investigators say there were no signs of foul play and will not comment if the prescription pills found in Houston's hotel room had anything to do with her death.

WINTER: I know there's reports that she maybe was drowned or did she overdose, but we won't make a final determination until all the tests are in.

COOPER: An autopsy and toxicology tests were completed on Sunday. The L.A. County Coroner's Office says it will be six to eight weeks before they have any answers. Houston's body has been released to her family who plan on holding a wake Wednesday and a burial in her hometown of Newark, New Jersey, on Friday.


COOPER: Now , Whitney Houston, of course, got her start singing in church, as you heard a moment ago, she sang the last time in public an impromptu short performance at a Hollywood nightclub on Thursday. She sang "Yes, Jesus Loves Me."

Her voice may not have been at its best but she was on that stage to support a friend. That's why we played you that video tonight. And that is very important to Kelly Price, her duet partner there, who I spoke with earlier tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) COOPER: Kelly, we just saw Whitney Houston singing with you in what turned out to be really her final performance on stage. How did she seem to you Thursday night?

PRICE: Excited to be there. Excited to be at the event. Happy, celebratory.

She was with me there at my pre-Grammy event and we were having a good time which is exactly why she came and took the stage. I wasn't expecting her to do it. She wasn't scheduled to perform that night. But everybody was having such a good time.

We've been laughing and singing and dancing, and she was getting into everybody else's performances, encouraging everybody along and just cheering everybody along.

And as I shared a moment with the audience about how she had been such a huge encouragement to me since we've met throughout my career, she kind of made her way to the stage and came up. It was a shock to me that she even joined me on stage. I wasn't expecting her to. But she wanted to sing.

COOPER: Did you spend time with her before being on stage after? I mean how long was she there? I mean how did the evening go for her?

PRICE: She was there actually almost an hour before I got there. She beat me to my own event. And we did, we spent a bit of time together. Only to be interrupted by her visiting with other performers that were there and talking to them and communicating with them. But we actually got a chance to spend a little time together before it was time for me to perform.

We were downstairs in my VIP area, that was more private. And we got a chance just to catch up a little bit and hug each other and kiss each other and tell each other we love each other. And she really expressed to me how proud she was of me doing this project and sticking to my guns to sing the truth.

And, you know, just as far as R&B music, which was a big part of the celebration as it goes. And she was perfectly OK. She was having a good time. She was laughing. She was greeting the other artists. And it became a big moment, I think, because like myself, other artists, when they were around Whitney Houston, recognized that she was Whitney Houston and it was an honor for any other artist, no matter who they were, to be in her presence.

COOPER: There are a lot of different reports about what may have happened that night, a report she had a run-in with another woman at the club. You know, pictures of her with what appear to be blood dripping down her leg. Do you know any of that?

PRICE: I don't know anything about any blood dripping down her leg. I know that at a point, there was some wine that spilled and glass that broke. I don't know anything about any blood. I don't know anything about argument that took place. I didn't see one. I do know that I sat at the foot of the stage all night long because I sang almost in between every performance by every other artist.

And she was right there with me with Bobby Kris, with her brother, with her sister-in-law, who was also her manager. We were all in that corner together, my husband who was my manager was there in that corner, as well as her background singers as they were entering and exiting the stage.

It was a very tight corner. She actually decided to come over there and be in that corner with me because the club itself was so crowded that you couldn't even -- the artists were having a hard time getting to the state. So it was super crowded. It was super hot almost to the point of the fire marshals shutting us down because it was so crowded.

But I don't know anything of those events. Again, I did know that there was some wine that spilled, there was a glass that broke. But it was tight. We knocked -- we were knocking glasses over on the -- on the stage that were sitting by the speakers. So I don't -- I can't account for any of that.


PRICE: What I can account for is that everybody had a great time and the Whitney that I know and the Whitney that I saw was cheering everybody on. She sang, she danced, she danced with her daughter, she danced with me. We had a great time. There was nothing wrong with her, that I saw. And she was no more than three feet from me the whole night except for when I was center stage.

COOPER: You said there was nothing wrong with her. Obviously, you know, her past battles have been very public. Did she seem in any way high to you or intoxicated? I think in the past I heard you've said she had been drinking champagne.

PRICE: Yes. Everyone pretty much had had champagne at some point in the night. They were toasting the event, toasting the Grammy nominations. That's what was going on. She was not high. I'm a girl that grew up in the projects in New York City. I know high when I see it. She was not high. We were literally just having a great time, we were having a celebratory time.

And I stick to it because it's the truth. And I stick to the truth because I'm so glad, if nothing more, I'm so glad that in this moment, I can say that I had the pleasure of spending time with my friend, for the last time, and she wasn't high. She was happy. And that's the way I get an opportunity to remember her.

COOPER: Did it -- did it worry you to see her drinking at all, given her past?

PRICE: Well, no, I wasn't worried about it. I didn't see where it was excessive. I didn't see -- I saw her with a couple of glasses of champagne. And then our interactions were normal. There was nothing that seemed that it was over the top. She didn't seem to be intoxicated to me. Again, I know intoxicated when I see it. And so I wasn't worried about it at all. I don't even think that for her the night was about being in a club to get drunk. That wasn't the purpose. The purpose was to come out and celebrate and because everybody was toasting and excited about the moment and excited about what was coming. We were planning on spending some time together at Clive Davis' event on Saturday. It would have been -- it would have been the most time we'd had an opportunity to spend together in one place at one time over a period of days in a couple of years.

And so I was excited about that. She was excited about that. Again, Bobby Kris was with her, my two teenage kids were with me. And I want to stress that, because it was that kind of event. It didn't lend itself to other kinds of behavior. I had my teenage daughter and my teenage son again with me at the club. They came to celebrate their mother for the Grammy nominations and for the love of R&B, which was the event.

So it was that kind of thing. I would have never wanted to bring my children into an environment where I would have felt they would have seen something that was out of the way. I'm a very cautious mother. And so I was comfortable with the environment that was there, to the point where I would have my own kids there. Her daughter was there, she was there and it was an enjoyable time.

COOPER: I'm -- as you said, I'm glad you were able to have that moment with your friend. And I'm just -- I'm sorry how everything has happened and my condolences to you and your family.

PRICE: Thank you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.


COOPER: Well, let us know what you think. We're on Facebook, Google+. You can add us to your circles. It is such a sad story. Follow me on Twitter @AndersonCooper. I will be tweeting tonight.

Up next: Whitney Houston's battles with addiction in the past. And though we don't know what killed her in these final days and in those final moments, there seems to be an epidemic of celebrity prescription drug deaths. We'll talk to Dr. Drew Pinsky about that.

And later, politics, could Mitt Romney lose the state he actually grew up in and is he losing his lead nationwide? New polling pains a pretty dark picture for his campaign tonight. See who's benefiting from his apparent decline.

Let's also check in with Isha -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, the Syrian government keeps saying the media is lying about the slaughter of civilians but they're keeping the media out. Tonight, though, one of our own reporters made it in, no thanks to the regime, and is telling us and the world what she's seeing -- that and much more when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: Well, as we said at the top of the program tonight, Whitney Houston will be buried in Newark, New Jersey, not far from the church where people first heard that incredible voice of hers. It's a long way and a far cry from where they last heard her sing, that impromptu performance Thursday night. She'd been drinking some champagne despite her recent stay in rehab. You heard Kelly Price say she was happy.

There's no denying that her last two decades, though, have been difficult to say the least. More tonight from Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Whispers about Whitney Houston's troubles began to surface shortly after she appeared in this Michael Jackson tribute concert.

Looking rail-thin, the appearance fueled rumors that her health was rapidly declining. She defiantly denied those rumors in this infamous 2002 interview with Diane Sawyer, insisting that she didn't have an eating disorder and didn't have a crack addiction.

SAWYER: Whitney dying, crack rehab fails.

HOUSTON: First of all, let's get one thing straight. Crack is cheap. I make too much money to ever smoke crack. Let's get that straight. OK? I don't do crack. I don't do that. Crack is whack.

SAWYER: This says $730,000 drug habit. This is a headline.

HOUSTON: Come on. 730? I wish. You know? I wish whoever was making that money off of me could share it with me.


HOUSTON: No way. No way.

KAYE: Still, she admitted to battling other demons.

SAWYER: Is it alcohol? Is it marijuana? Is it cocaine? Is it pills?

HOUSTON: It has been, at times.


HOUSTON: At times.

SAWYER: If you had to name the devil for you, the biggest devil among them?

HOUSTON: That would be me.

KAYE: Houston also had a turbulent marriage to singer Bobby Brown. Married in 1992, some pointed to their relationship as a primary source of Houston's troubles. Houston publicly denied that Brown abused her.

SAWYER: Has he ever hit you?

HOUSTON: No, he's never hit me, no. I hit him. In anger.

KAYE: That marriage and her erratic behavior eventually became reality show fodder on Bravo's "Being Bobby Brown." But that show did little to burnish her reputation.

HOUSTON: We've got to live with SARS. We've got to live with (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what's it, anthrax?

BOBBI BROWN, MUSICIAN: You just watch too much TV.

HOUSTON: Kiss my ass!

KAYE (on camera): In her later years, Houston attempted something of a comeback. She divorced Bobby Brown and released an album in 2009, that debuted at number on the Billboard charts. But her tour was reportedly plagued with vocal difficulties and in 2011, her publicist admitted Houston was seeking help for addiction.

(voice-over): Before her death Houston was still trying to rehabilitate her image. She completed another movie, "Sparkle," speaking about it with the TV show "Extra."

HOUSTON: I think over the years being a mother and married -- being married, a mother, the whole thing, you know what I'm saying, I have matured in so many ways. And my daughter is my greatest inspiration. She has trained me for this role. She has trained me. She trained me good.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: Again, officials have yet to pinpoint a cause of death or even rule anything out.

When a celebrity, though, with a history of substance abuse is found dead long before her time, suspicions obviously turn to drugs and increasingly to prescription drugs. I spoke about it tonight with addiction specialist and HLN host, Dr. Drew Pinsky.


COOPER: Dr. Drew, as you hear the details now that have slowly begun to come out about Whitney Houston's final hours, what do you make of this?

DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: I mean, think about this, Anderson. There are leagues of rock stars that poured terrible amount of drugs into their system, they're still with us because they didn't get into the pharmaceutical spectrum. But these days, drug addicts eventually find their way to benzodiazepines, the oral opiates, the things that doctor prescribed, they feel justified and take them because after all a doctor prescribed them. And they're all dead.


COOPER: What does that mean, benzodiazepines and oral opiates? What is that?

PINSKY: Benzodiazepines would be that the Valium, Ativan, Xanax, which -- the kinds of drugs or the medications you're hearing about now having been found at her bedside. Again, these are all -- we don't have this yet confirmed but it's going to be what would this turns out to be. And the oral opiates are painkillers like Vicodin and Codeine. That combination, you throw in alcohol, it suppresses respiration and people stop breathing.

And by the way, what's happening in celebrity, what's happening in Hollywood is merely a reflection of what's going on in our country. That same day that Whitney died, thousands of other people with addiction died prescription related death.

COOPER: There really is this idea that because these are prescription drugs, because a doctor -- you know, you need a doctor's prescription.


COOPER: That they're somehow not as dangerous.

PINSKY: That's right. People don't perceive the harm. Everyone has been exposed to these things. Everyone has them in their medicine cabinet and the doctor gave it to me, it must be safe. That's how people are dying today. And frankly, you asked -- you opened this conversation by saying, what do I think about this? I think I'm outraged by this. I'm sick of it.

And think about it, Anderson. Think how many people we have to hear about ain't with us, Amy Winehouse, whatever it is, these are substance prescription related deaths. Every single one.

COOPER: The -- we heard from Kelly Price earlier, who said that on Thursday night, you know, Whitney was singing on stage with her, champagne was flowing, that there -- people said her voice was raspy.


COOPER: There's a photo of her looking, you know, kind of haggard leaving this club although it was, you know, late in the -- or early in the morning. So I guess one is going to look haggard if you've been out, you know, in a club.

PINSKY: But, Anderson -- Anderson -- Anderson, I have got to stop you.

I got to tell you. When I hear that people around her are saying this woman with a long history of addiction and multiple courses of rehab is doing fine, she's toasting champagne, that's so sad that the people around her didn't recognize that merely by the fact that she's continuing to drink tells them she was treated just last May as an outpatient when I guarantee you abstinence was the goal and here she is with her friends toasting? That's sad.

COOPER: Is it everybody? Is it just celebrities that have people in their life who -- you know, they're happy Whitney Houston has shown up at an event and therefore aren't going to comment or try to step in?

PINSKY: Yes. That's the issue with celebrities. It's not the celebrity, the stress of celebrity makes somebody a more severe addict, it's that they don't have the same consequence that the rest of us do. They don't -- some pulling them in and say, hey, dude, come on, let's take care of this, or an employer that says you've got to take care of this right now.

The other thing, Anderson, is insofar as this particular population, it's not just the people around them. How about the physician that prescribed this to them?

COOPER: There are also reports that Whitney Houston was already back working on another film project. She, you know, tried to have a comeback. Could that have contributed to it?

PINSKY: Anderson, I have got -- yes. The fact that this was a woman with chronic addictive pathology, who was treated as recently as May of last year, and then somebody thinks it's a good idea for her to be back at a movie in the fall or the winter? Absolutely outrageous. This is a woman that should be taking at least 12 months to focus on her recovery. This is a -- this is the other liability with being a celebrity, aside from the sicko fans that's surround them, it's the people for whom they make money that push them back to work.

And of course they love their work, it's gratifying for them. But it always -- think of the -- the sort of paradigm story is Robert Downey. He kept going back to work. And it wasn't until he stopped working, did not contemplate returning to work, focused on his recovery, that Robert is a solid and sober person and now can pursue a glorious career.

COOPER: When you're taking all these pills or even if it's just a few combinations, do you feel like you're in trouble? I mean, what does it actually --


COOPER: Do you feel like you're high?

PINSKY: You feel like you need more. There's two processes going on, which is one is expecting a pill to solve your problems and to regulate your emotions. That only works so long before the pills start causing withdrawal.

Emotionally she's become actually worse than they there were before you started taking the pills. Then there's the drive of addiction, which is the brain literally confuses the drug with survival itself, that's a positive drive you must use, it becomes a priority that things -- usurps all the other brain functions, so you have the withdrawal, you have the drive to use, and that becomes the priority in one's life.

COOPER: How can someone drown in a bathtub? I mean, if you pass out, doesn't at some point your body make you wake up?

PINSKY: Remember, Anderson, these medications make you stop breathing. And of course, if they can make you stop breathing and not realize you've stopped breathing, they can also make you not realize that you are drowning. It's the same phenomena. You're just not breathing either way.

Now I suspect she stopped breathing before the drowning, though what I'm hearing from the coroner's reports is that it's -- it kind of fits that because your body relaxes so much when you pass that you will slump in something like a bathtub. And that's usually the way this goes. People stop breathing. That's how -- what this combination of substances does.

COOPER: Dr. Drew, appreciate it. Thanks.

PINSKY: Thanks, Anderson. Please be sure to tune in to our HLN program at 9:00 p.m. We'll be discussing this in great detail.

Thanks again.


COOPER: Well, Whitney Houston's 18-year-old daughter, can you imagine what this is all like for her? Bobbi Kristina, she's said to be overwhelmed, as anyone would expect.

A source close to the family says she was hospitalized twice over the weekend because of anxiety over her mom's death. We'll have more on Bobbi Kristina's life in the public eye next.

Also ahead tonight, "Raw Politics": Is Mitt Romney in danger of getting swept away by the Santorum surge? I will talk to Romney senior adviser Bay Buchanan and CNN contributor David Frum.


COOPER: A source close to Whitney Houston's family says the singer's 18-year-old daughter, Bobbi Kristina Brown, was taken to a Los Angeles hospital twice this weekend after her mom's death. Once Saturday night, again on Sunday, to be treated for stress and anxiety.

Just like her famous parents, Bobbi has made headlines over the years. For an up close look right now, here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Snapped outside of a Hollywood restaurant just last week, these are among the last photos ever taken last week of Whitney Houston, her former husband Bobby Brown, and their only child, Bobbi Kristina Brown, together sharing a dinner like old times.

Just 18, a family friend says the young woman has been overwhelmed by her mother's death. A sharp contrast to the smiling teen who appeared with her mom on "Good Morning America" a few years back.

Last fall, she created a small sensation when she posted this video of herself on YouTube.


FOREMAN: But if Bobbi Kristina has shown hints of her musical pedigree, she's also displayed some of the family knack for controversy.

WHITNEY HOUSTON, SINGER: I can figure for you to take me out.

FREEMAN: Bobbi Kristina was born in early 1993 while her mother was still riding a wave of media excitement over her role in "The Bodyguard" and her marriage to R&B star Bobby Brown seven months earlier.

But within a few years, her parents were openly battling addiction problems; frequently battling each other. And audiences were watching Bobbi Kristina's struggles on the Bravo channel reality show "Being Bobby Brown," first aired in 2005. The program ended after one season; however, the problems went on. The couple divorced in 2007. Whitney took custody of their child and once again it lit up the tabloids.

Since then, Bobbi Kristina had made headlines of her own. She's been cited by police for underage drinking. A celebrity Web site, posted a picture allegedly showing her with an assault rifle.

And just last year, she defended herself against accusations against the "National Enquirer" she was using cocaine, tweeting, "It's really not what it looks like."

(on camera) She went on to wage a public war of words on the Internet with a former friend whom she said orchestrated the whole thing.

Through it all, Whitney Houston made it clear how much she admired her daughter.

(voice-over) Just a few months ago promoting a film on "Extra," she said this.

HOUSTON: My daughter is my greatest inspiration. She has trained me for this role.

FOREMAN: A source close to this family says Bobbi Kristina may now spend time with her grandmother in New Jersey.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington. (END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: There's a lot more news we're following tonight. Isha is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Isha.

ISHA SESAY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, President Obama has unveiled a $3.8 trillion budget request that calls for new spending to education and infrastructure. To pay for, the president proposes tax increases on the rich and defense cuts, but Medicare and Medicaid are hardly touched.

In Athens, Greece, anger in the streets. Tens of thousands of protesters clashing with police over the weekend and again this morning. Today's riot came after the Greek parliament approved new measures in exchange for a new debt bailout from the euro zone.

Inspections are under way at Apple supply factories in China. That's according to the independent labor rights organization the tech firm joined last month. The tech firm plans to interview thousands of workers at the Foxcomm plant and at other locations where there are accusations of harsh working conditions.

And the singer Adele at last night's Grammy Awards. Her performance of "Rolling in the Deep" proved her voice was back after undergoing surgery in the fall. Listen.




SESAY: A great performance. Adele took home six Grammys, including album of the year. And Coop, nice work with the interview on "60 Minutes."

COOPER: Yes, thank you. In fact, she sang "Rolling in the Deep" a cappella for me...

SESAY: She did.

COOPER: ... which was very cool. So she sang, actually, on "60 minutes" before she sang on the Grammys.

SESAY: You got your own little exclusive.


SESAY: And I you were down in the kitchen, at least being an assistant.

COOPER: Yes, on "60 Minutes" overtime, but she's great. She's super nice and just really fun to hang out with. And six awards, just an incredible night for her.

SESAY: Yes. And great interview. COOPER: Great to see her back.

Isha, we're going to check in with you again in just a moment.

Still to come, one of our correspondents just made it inside Syria bringing us exclusive reporting on the fighting there. Assad's regime insists they're not killing civilians. We'll show you what our reporter has seen on the ground.

But first, "Raw Politics" tonight, a virtual tie between Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum in two national polls. Why a third poll out of Michigan, which is, of course, Romney's home state, should make him and his campaign very nervous tonight. We'll be right back.


COOPER: "Raw Politics" tonight. Despite Mitt Romney's win in the Maine caucuses and the CPAC straw poll over the weekend, the Massachusetts governor has some reasons to worry. The battle for the GOP presidential nomination appears to be tied right now between him and former Pennsylvania senator, Rick Santorum, in two national polls.

The Pew Research Center survey suggests 30 percent of Republican voters nationwide are backing Santorum. Romney at 28 percent. Former House speaker Newt Gingrich follows at 17 percent. Congressman Ron Paul at 12.

While Gallup's daily tracking poll shows 32 percent of Republicans support Romney. Close behind him at 30 percent is Santorum. Gingrich at 16 percent. Paul at 8.

Also, a new poll out of Michigan, which holds the next primary on the 28th, where Romney was born, obviously, and his father was governor. But the American Research poll suggests Santorum has the lead there, with 33 percent of likely Republican primary voters. Romney follows at 27 percent; Gingrich, 21 percent; and Ron Paul at 12 percent.

Now, keep in mind, the results in all three polls are within the sampling error. So let's talk it over with CNN contributor David Frum, a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush, and Bay Buchanan, a Republican strategist and senior advisor to Mitt Romney.

So David, in your column today, you say Mitt Romney had a severely bad week. It was -- sort of had a rocky start. But some would say, look, he just won the Maine caucuses. He won the CPAC straw poll. How does that make for a severely bad week?

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: He had a severely bad week ending in a good weekend. But he paid a heavy price for that good weekend. Didn't do well in Maine, and CPAC may be even more significant because that was an organizational triumph.

But to score those wins, Mitt Romney has postponed again his move to the center. He has now crowded to the right in a new way. In December, when Gingrich surged, Romney endorsed the Ryan plan. He had been looking for months to avoid doing that. This is a plan that removes the Medicare guarantee for people under 55.

Now, this past week, confronted with Santorum's surge, he has been backed into endorsing the Santorum view that contraception is some kind of moral problem, and it's something that insurance shouldn't cover. This is not something about churches. This is about a whole range of employers that the Republican Party has introduced a bill to Congress saying shouldn't have to cover contraception. Why Mitt Romney wants to be there I don't know, but there he is, and that's the price he paid for a good weekend.

COOPER: You're saying a bad place to be in the general election, not necessarily bad for this to be right now in a primary, though.

FRUM: But he -- it's -- the point to the primary is to position you for the general election. I mean, you don't want to be -- say, "Hey, I came in second in the general election. That's pretty good. I got the Republican nomination. That's pretty good." You want to be president. And that means you have to be president of this whole country. And that means you cannot allow your party to push you into a corner in the way that the Republican Party has been pushing and pushing Mitt Romney into a corner.

COOPER: Bay, what about that, David's point? Has your candidate been pushed into a corner now, increasingly on the right?

BAY BUCHANAN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: No. It's silly to even suggest it. First of all, if you look at the bus the man's been driving around for what, eight, 10 months now, big word, "conservative" straight across it. He, debate after debate and speeches, town halls, he's taken a very strong social conservative position.

David, you don't get through the Republican primary without talking about these issues, addressing it. And as he said many times now, he governed in Massachusetts as a pro-life, pro-family governor and as president, he will be the same. He has not changed that at all. So there's been no lurch whatsoever by the...

COOPER: But hadn't he said he was pro-choice back in Massachusetts?

BUCHANAN: ... Romney -- he has been consistent throughout. And that's where he remains now.

COOPER: Hadn't he said he was pro-choice at one point in Massachusetts?

BUCHANAN: I'm sorry?

COOPER: Bay, hadn't he said he was pro-choice at one point back in Massachusetts?

BUCHANAN: He did. He's admitted that, as a candidate, he was pro-choice. He went in as a pro-choice governor, and he had a conversion, very much like Ronald Reagan. He was governor, signed to one of the largest abortion bills in history, looked into the issue a little closer, and became pro-life.

Mitt Romney has had this conversion. Since the day he had that conversion, he has been a champion of pro-life, pro-family issues up there in Massachusetts.


BUCHANAN: As the leaders of that movement up there in Massachusetts have indicated.

COOPER: David, but even with all the problems, I mean, is there any question in your mind that Mitt Romney is the strongest Republican in the race right now?

FRUM: Look, he's got the money advantage. I think he will be the nominee. And I think of the people the party could have chosen, he would be the strongest president, and I think he'd be a fine president.

I think he -- but I think the reason he could be a good president is because, at bottom, he's not a culture warrior. He is a pragmatic problem solver. That's the way he governed Massachusetts.

Since 2006, he has, in conformity with what he thinks his party expects of him, he has taken on a much more strident tone. We saw that in 2008.

Intelligently in 2011 and 2012, he backed away from that. He talked about economic issues. He did not do the focus on -- one the social issues. But now it's back, and there he is at CPAC, announcing -- announcing both Las Vegas and same-sex marriage. There he is this week, allowing himself to be pushed into supporting the Rubio bill on contraception which would say no employer of any kind needs to cover contraception in their health insurance plan, as if contraception is some kind of dangerous substance that people should be preventing from having.

COOPER: I've got to -- 30 seconds and I've got to go.

BUCHANAN: This is religious freedom, and that is what he is defending, religious freedom, which goes across party lines, including independents will respond to that, David. You know that. He is -- he wasn't forced to take that position by anybody, not Santorum, certainly, but by the president, who decided to declare war on the Catholic Church. So there he is.

And being a social conservative in the general election has never hurt. Didn't hurt Reagan; didn't hurt the Bushes, and it's certainly not going to hurt Mitt Romney.

COOPER: Bay Buchanan, thank you.

David Frum, appreciate it, as well.

Still ahead, an exclusive report from inside Syria. Arwa Damon was able to get inside the country. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Tonight a 360 exclusive from inside Syria. CNN's Arwa Damon managed to get inside the country to see the chaos firsthand. We're going to hear from her in a moment. At least 30 people have been killed just today in the unrelenting violence. And it's been focused particularly harshly on Homs, which is becoming an opposition stronghold. Eleven people were killed there today, according to activists.

Arwa has crossed into Syria. We're not going to say exactly where she is for her safety and the safety of her team. I spoke with her just a short time ago.


COOPER: Arwa, opposition groups are reporting that at least 30 people have been killed today in Syria. What are you seeing on the ground?

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're basically in a safe house, a location we cannot disclose. And there has been a nonstop flow of traffic here from members of the Free Syrian Army who have just defected. There are also, in this location, I have seen what is a medical clinic. However, because the area that we're in is effectively under siege, as are many of the other areas around it, a lot of those in need of medical treatment have not been able to reach this particular location.

COOPER: What's the level of organization that you're seeing in -- among opposition forces?

DAMON: There is a fairly impressive amount of organization. At this level, the Free Syrian Army units on the village-to-village, town-to-town level, appear to be fairly well organized. They are, of course, locking in weapons. They can't really conduct offensive operations.

And then the activists themselves are incredibly organized. Whether it's trying to disseminate information, get information around, there's a constant flow of information.

COOPER: There have been increasing reports of weapons being sent into Syria from a lot of different groups, a lot of different countries. Allegations by the regime that al Qaeda is behind some of the suicide bombings. Is there any truth to that?

DAMON: You do see weapons. And the largest weapon we've seen, frankly, has been an AK-47. And after that, a rocket-propelled grenade. Really no match for what the government has at its disposal.

Yes, people say there's been a very slow trickle of weapons coming across various borders, but it really isn't going to be putting the opposition fighters in a sort of military stance.

And what we keep hearing reiterated to us time and time again is that the opposition, the fighters even themselves do not want to and did not want to have to pick up weapons. But it has been the regime's brutality that has forced them into those conditions.

And when it comes to the issue of al Qaeda, look, even the U.S. has said that they believe that some sort of al Qaeda-linked group is perhaps behind the mass bombings in Damascus, behind the bombing that just took place in Aleppo, but they also do believe that this is simply because al Qaeda, being the network that it is, is one that is fully capable of exploiting the kind of security vacuum that exists here. But it is, in no way, shape or form, directly tied to the opposition itself, which does remain, by and large, a peaceful movement.

COOPER: Arwa Damon, stay safe, thank you.


COOPER: Well, Isha's back with another bulletin -- Isha.

SESAY: Anderson, Robert Champion's family has filed a lawsuit against a bus company. Champion is the Florida A&M University band member who died allegedly following a beating from a hazing incident on board a bus. The lawsuit accuses the company and the bus driver of negligence.

A break for Jerry Sandusky from a Pennsylvania judge. The former Penn State assistant football coach is now allowed to visit with some of his grandchildren. The judge also denied a prosecution request that sought to bar Sandusky from his back porch because it overlooks an elementary school. Sandusky is under house arrest, accused of sexually abusing boys.

A scare for Supreme Court Justice Steven Breyer. He was robbed of $1,000 last week by an intruder armed with a machete. It happened at his vacation home in the Caribbean. Luckily, no one was hurt.

And someone bought a winning Powerball ticket worth $336 million at a Stop-n-Shop in Newport, Rhode Island. The drawing was Saturday. So far, the winner has not come forward.

Now back to Anderson.

COOPER: Isha, thanks.

A programming note, tomorrow on "STARTING POINT," pop star Gloria Estefan reflects on the life of Whitney Houston and her contributions to music. That's tomorrow, "STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN," 7 p.m. to 9 a.m. Eastern.

Coming up, the city of Chicago made a 15-year-old boy break down. The story is a heartbreaker. "The RidicuList" is next.


COOPER: Time now for "The RidicuList," and tonight we're adding the city of Chicago sticker controversy. So the city had a contest for high school students to design a new vehicle registration sticker. They announced the winner, 15-year- old Herbie Pulgar. He was elated. Herbie became a local celebrity and rightly so.

On a local Chicago talk show, he explained that his winning design was a tribute to the people who saved his life when he was burned in a fire when he was just 4 years old.


HERBIE PULGAR, WINNER OF STICKER CONTEST: I drew this, you know, honoring the police department, the paramedic and the fire department and the helping hands of Chicago, because obviously they helped me.


COOPER: What a great kid, right? Chicago's city -- city clerk, Susana Mendoza, had this to say at the time.


SUSANA MENDOZA, CHICAGO CITY CLERK: One point three million cars in the city of Chicago will have your art work, Herbert. That's so exciting.


COOPER: It is exciting. But hold the phone. Because here's what the Chicago city clerk, Susana Mendoza, says now.


MENDOZA: And I cannot in good consciousness ask any Chicagoan to put a sticker on their car if there's even remotely suspicion that it could be construed as looking like it's related to a gang.


COOPER: That's right. Herbie has been stripped of his award, and they're not going to use his sticker after all, because someone looked at the design he worked on for months honoring the first responders of Chicago and thought that the outstretched hands he drew just maybe, possibly looked like they could potentially be throwing gang signs.

Here's how Herbie reacted when he found out.


PULGAR: I don't think that's fair. I tried the best I can. And I don't have nothing -- our design has nothing to do with no gangs. Nothing. It has nothing to do with no gangs. No nothing. And it's a picture that someone worked hard for and did the best they can.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Yes, and they're taking away his prize, too, a $1,000 savings bond.

Herbie's art teacher helped him work on his design. Here's what he has to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I have peace of mind, there is no gang sign here.


COOPER: The art teacher says she showed him some examples of hands to help draw them, examples like this, one on the right, you see there. His design is on the left.

See, I think the city of Chicago needs to look into that "Teaching Children How to Succeed Pamphlet" for possible gang signs, as well. It's pretty similar.

The city clerk says it's nothing personal. She's going to give Herbie a savings bond out of her own pocket, which is nice, I guess. Not sure it's going to make up for it, though. Because once again, here's Herbie before.


PULGAR: And when I do make money and I am able to settle in a place where I can do good, I'm going to help people that are in situation where is they don't have no food and no water. Like, you know, Japan, what happened over there. And in Haiti and everywhere else on the globe.


COOPER: And here's Herbie after.


PULGAR: I'm not no gangster. I'm not no thug person. I'm 15 years old, and I live with my mom.


COOPER: Herbie, take heart. As far as we're concerned, you are a winner and we're not going to take that back ever.

That does it for us. Thanks for watching. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts now.