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Plans for Saturday Houston Funeral Underway; Syrian Regime's "Paid Killer"; Congress Nears Deal On Payroll Tax Cut; Children Trained For Suicide Attacks; Interview With National Economic Council Director Gene Sperling; Aboard U.S. Ship at Risk of Iran Attack; Satisfaction With GOP Presidential Field Slips; Supreme Court Justices Unprotected?

Aired February 14, 2012 - 17:00   ET



Happening now, Whitney Houston's pastor shares new details about plans for her funeral and pain that her mother and loved ones are going through right now.

Plus, a child is rescued as sniper bullets fly. But many Syrians say no one is safe from the government crackdown and growing threat of full blown war.

And could America's Supreme Court justices get more federal protection?

We're investigating security questions after Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed by a man with a machete.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

Breaking news, political headlines and Jeanne Moos are straight ahead.

Wolf Blitzer is off.

I'm Jessica Yellin.


The body of legendary pop icon, Whitney Houston, back home in New Jersey this hour, where plans are underway for a private funeral at her family church on Saturday. Governor Chris Christie plans to have flags fly at half staff, calling her an important part of the state's cultural fabric, who belongs in the category of a Frank Sinatra.

Also this hour, confirmation that it was Whitney Houston's assistant, Mary Jones, who first discovered her body. It was a woman who she knew simply as "Aunt Mary."

Let's go to straight now to CNN national correspondent, Jason Carroll, who's standing by outside the funeral home -- oh, he's outside the church, I'm sorry, Jason.

And I understand you visited the church for the first time earlier and you spoke with Whitney Houston's pastor?

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. That would be Pastor Joe Carter here at the New Hope Baptist Church. And, you know, Jessica, he spoke so much about how much love there is here in the community for Whitney Houston. You can see evidence of that behind me, all of the cards, the balloon, the flowers outside the church here.

You know, as we've been standing here, cars have been driving by, they roll down their windows, they play Whitney Houston songs, they play gospel music.

Pastor Carter talked about how much Whitney Houston loved gospel. It was very close to her heart. And, in fact, there's some video that we have of Whitney actually -- actually performing as a child here at the church.

And that's what a lot of people remember here about her.

And I spoke to Pastor Carter about what he remembered about Whitney and, also, Jessica, he filled me in on what is expected at the service here on Saturday.


CARROLL: What will you say?

It's such an occasion that so many are going to be looking for comfort.

What words will you be turning to?

PASTOR JOE CARTER, NEW HOPE BAPTIST CHURCH: Well, to ignore the pain of this would be erroneous. We have to acknowledge the fact that we are all hurting. And it's -- it's -- this is a painful, painful thing that we're going through. That voice is silenced. And -- but she left us with so much. Amazingly. So how she was able to leave us with so many wonderful memories of that God-given gift. And so that's what we're celebrating on -- on Saturday.

CARROLL: Tell me about some of your fondest memories of Whitney and how you came to know her.

CARTER: Well, you know, I shared with someone earlier that everyone knows their favorite Whitney song. But Whitney would come on her high days. She never forget about her church, never disconnected from her roots.

And she would come and -- and sing a song, sometimes on Easter Sunday, "He would not come down from the cross." And that, to me, is what resonates in my heart on her faith and her convictions and her God.

The family knows that they have to share Whitney with the world. They're not -- they're not ignoring that. But at the same time, it's such a -- the shock of it. And I -- I shared with them no decision is a wrong decision at this time. It's just however they feel to do it.


CARROLL: The ceremony on Saturday, Jessica, will be a private one. It will take place at 12 noon.

That church behind us holds up to 1,500 people. The pastor was telling us, Pastor Carter was saying that he expects every seat inside that church to be filled.

Now, in terms of, you know, whether or not we will have access to that, that's what a lot of people are asking, because, Jessica, so many people want to share in this experience. And because it's a private ceremony, there's been some questions as to if cameras will be allowed inside. And the pastor is telling us that perhaps they'll provide one camera, perhaps they'll provide some segment of the ceremony to release to the rest of the public, because, in his words, he says the family knows that they want to be able to share Whitney with the world -- Jessica.

YELLIN: All right. Thank you, Jason.

And such a sad story and so many people heartbroken by this story now.

A close family friend who has asked not to be named tells CNN that he saw Whitney Houston just two weeks ago and she told him she was at a comfortable place in her life. He says she had been clean from hard drugs for three years. And her family is upset by the media coverage focused on her history of drug abuse.

He went on to say, quote, "In her life, she made some bad decisions. But let's not forget the good ones."

And turning now to a very different story, the carnage in Syria. New attacks today by government forces on the city of Homs in an opposition stronghold. Armed resistance to the Assad regime is growing.

And CNN's Arwa Damon has crossed into Syria.

She found a group of opposition activists among medical -- activists giving medical treatment to a man who described himself as a paid assassin of the government. He had been caught in an ambush.

Now, we are, understandably, not disclosing Arwa's location for her own safety.


ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- an opposition activist. He asked that we obscure his identity enough so that the government can't recognize him. But he wants friends to know that it's him and that he's a changed man.

His captors keep Sa'ed blindfolded so he can't identify them in the future.

"I can't untie your eyes because I am afraid of you," Monia (ph) says, his gun close by.

"Why are you doing this?

Why are you killing us?," he asks.

Sa'ed says he worked in a Ministry of Interior prison and was wounded when the minibus he was traveling in came under fire. He doesn't know by whom.

His story is chilling. "We would go out with the officers from the prisons," he says, "For each mission, we would get 25,000 lira, never less than 20,000."

That's $400 to $500 -- more than most Syrians make a month.

"They gave up guns with scopes. And you see the body as if you're looking at yourself in the mirror," Sa'ed tells Monia.

He could see the protesters were unarmed, but he fired anyway, claiming it was kill or be killed for not carrying out orders. Sa'ed admits he killed 50 to 70 people. Once, he says, he slit a man's throat.

Two policemen have captured another man, he recalls.

"A major put a gun to my head and said, 'Slaughter him.' He said I'm going to count to 10. He cocked the gun, fired into the air and put it to my head again. I slaughtered him."

Sa'ed claims the regime turned him and others into monsters, who would have killed their own fathers, promising them wealth if they helped fight terrorists. Now, he says, he thinks differently.

"These guys I am with, I used to see them in a different light," he admits. "But since I have been with them, I have seen only good."

He seems ready to give up the names of others involved in kidnapping opposition members. A lot of men from this area have been kidnapped by government supporters for money, Monia says.

There's no way to confirm Sa'ed's story or be sure he hasn't been coerced. But now he is a bargaining chip. His captors intend to trade him for some of those abducted. He may have killed their friends and comrades, but they vow to treat him well.


YELLIN: Arwa, it's remarkable reporting you're doing. We know you're back in Syria in an undisclosed location after you were out of the country for a number of days.

Based on what you have seen there, do you believe the crisis is getting worse? DAMON: You know, it's a very intense situation here right now. And it still continues to be incredibly difficult to try to get down to the bottom of the dynamics that are existing here.

But as we've been moving around, we've been able to gain at least something of an understanding as to what these opposition activists and members of the Free Syrian Army have been going through.

We continuously have to take dirt roads, travel through farmlands, avoid government checkpoints. You're really living on the edge of this precipice of fear that, for us, seems fairly unnatural at this stage.

But that has become the norm for those who are standing up to the regime, because they face a challenge. They risk their lives at just about every single step of the way, whether it's trying to get bread into a neighborhood that is under siege, or, more critically, trying to get medical supplies in and the wounded out.

There's also been a fair level of frustration and an anger that has been growing and brewing amongst those members of the opposition because of the what the regime is doing to them, because of what they perceive as being the international community's inability or unwillingness to unite and take some sort of definitive action.

And there is also this growing sense that this battle that is taking place here is going to last a lot longer than many of them had anticipated. And what they're hoping for, of course, is for some sort of support so that they can, at the very least, militarily begin to stand up to the Assad regime. Because they do truly believe that this is a fight to the death, it's a fight until the very end.

YELLIN: Do they believe the opposition -- does the opposition believe that there's cause for optimism at all?

DAMON: You know, that's actually a very good question. There is a sense that at some point down the road, this regime is going to fall. At some point down the road, in the future, Syria is going to be this democratic country that they're all dreaming of. Whether or not that is going to happen in their lifetime, no one really knows.

There is, of course, the hope that that is going to take place. But then there's also the realization that even when the Assad regime does fall, the country is going to face massive challenges. Already, at this stage, we're seeing the social fabric disintegrating along sectarian lines. We're seeing hatred brewing, anger, frustration, along sectarian lines, as well, because, at the end of the day, the way it's split into pro-and anti-government divisions is, effectively, along sectarian lines.

So there is the realization that the future is going to hold those great challenges, like the ones that we've been seeing in Iraq when it comes to trying to put together a fractured nation.

So there is also the sense that perhaps not their generation is going to see this free and democratic Syria, but at the very least, they say that they will continue to fight this out for their children's generation, because they do believe that it is, at this point in time, their responsibility not to allow this country to go back to the way it was. That most certainly is not an option.

And they do believe that they are in this until the very end, whether it's the activists who are ferrying around basic medical supplies, going out demonstrating every day or those who are part of the Free Syrian Army because they have defected or because they're civilians who are now increasingly beginning to take up guns, beginning to fight militarily at the best of their abilities against this regime -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Arwa, the people you talk to, what do they want the outside world to know?

DAMON: You know, they want to know how it is that for 11 months, they have been taking to the streets, uploading videos, risking their lives, broadcasting these images of what they say are the horrors and the atrocities happening here -- and you have to imagine what it is that a lot of these young activists go to just to run into the street and take that one shot of cell phone video that's showing a tank firing onto a civilian building or holding still when everyone else is running away around them, to be able to film gunfire coming in from government forces.

They want to know how it is, for 11 months, they've been risking their lives to get those images out and still, there are members of the international community who are not convinced that this is a government that has to go.

And at this stage, yes, they are reluctantly, because no one wanted to see it get to this stage, but they are now reluctantly asking for military intervention. In an ideal world, they would want to see some sort of no-fly zone put into place over a portion of the country that would then allow the Free Syrian Army to group together. It would then allow for a safe zone for civilians to gather and that they would also want to see what (AUDIO GAP) to members of the Free Syrian Army so that at least there would be something of a balanced battlefield.

But just to give you an idea, Jessica, of how frustrated (AUDIO GAP) people are, many activists who we are talking to are saying that even if it's Israel, their sworn enemy, (AUDIO GAP), they would take that aid and they would say thank you to a nation that they, at many points, (AUDIO GAP) want to defeat, because they are staying at this stage, Israel is (AUDIO GAP) the regime has been to them.

YELLIN: We're losing your audio. It's going in and out, Arwa.

But I believe at the end, you're saying that they would even accept aid from Israel, if that's where it were to come from, despite the fact that Israel is, in their view, their sworn enemy.

Arwa, you are risking your life for these remarkable reports and not just doing a great service, but doing remarkable reporting.

Thank you so much.

Stay safe.

And CNN, of course, will continue to carry your reports throughout the night and the days that you're there.

Arwa Damon reporting for us live from inside Syria.

Two children are under arrest again, accused of being prospective suicide bombers. They're probably only 10 years old.

Mitt Romney, he's accusing President Obama of a dereliction of duty in his budget. Stand by to hear a top Obama economic adviser by your back.

And we're aboard a U.S. warship that could be caught in the middle of a potential military showdown over Iran's nuclear program.


YELLIN: Cafferty is here now with the "Cafferty File." Hi, Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Hello, Jess. Mitt Romney grew up in Michigan. His father, George, was the president of American Motors, later, the governor of the state. Two weeks from today, there is a very real chance Mitt Romney could lose the Republican primary in his home state.

Now, it's one thing to lose in any of the other 49 states, but it's another thing entirely if you lose your home state where your dad was the governor. Michigan is a state especially hard-hit by the recession and chronic unemployment, higher than the national average. We came within an eyelash of losing the domestic automobile industry, which was born and almost died in Detroit.

So, if there's ever a place where a wealthy Republican who seems out of touch with the common man might have a problem, it's Michigan, and Mitt Romney's got a problem there. Polls show him trailing Santorum, 33 to 27 percent. In an attempt to connect with Michigan voters, Romney's out with an op-ed piece in today's Detroit news.

In it, he calls himself a son of Detroit and says that American, quote, "got in my bones early," unquote. He also defends an op-ed piece he wrote back in 2008 called "Let Detroit Go Bankrupt," in which he suggested that managed bankruptcy would have been preferable to a government bailout of America's car companies. Maybe so.

But without the bailout, a lot of the people Romney is looking for support from today probably wouldn't even be around. Romney insists things in Detroit got worse after President Obama's intervention. He writes that the government should sell-off its auto stock and turn that money over to the taxpayers.

So, here's the question. How big a deal will it be if Mitt Romney loses his home state of Michigan? The answer is it will be a big deal. Go to and post a comment on my blog or go to our post on the SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page. Remember back in -- when was it? Al Gore lost the state of Tennessee. It's not good. You lose the home state. It's -- they put that big "L" right here on your forehead.

YELLIN: Well, if he loses Michigan, it could be a game changer. We'll see.


YELLIN: I don't know about the "L."


YELLIN: Thanks, Jack. Just saying. I know.

House and Senate negotiators are nearing a sweeping deal that includes an extension of the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits. This comes just a day after house GOP leaders dropped a demand that any extension of the tax break be offset by spending cuts. Just a short while ago, I spoke with the director of the White House economic council, Gene Sperling, about this and the president's new budget.


YELLIN: Gene, thanks for being with us. First of all, look, the Republican agreement to extend the payroll tax cut without paying for it was a huge concession on their part, but there's still a lot more that the Democrats want to get done, the extension of unemployment insurance payments, for doctors who accept Medicare. How optimistic are you that Republicans in the House will negotiate with Democrats on anything this year?

GENE SPERLING, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Well, look right now, we have a chance to get something done that would matter which, as you said, extending the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans, that as we know is an extra $40 and a paycheck for the typical family. It means a lot, particularly, in this economy.

And again, the extension of unemployment insurance where people are out pounding the pavement everyday, still looking for work. You put the two of those together. They're not only good for millions of American families. Most economists estimate that that would mean an extra 500,000 jobs for this year. That gives a lot of momentum --

YELLIN: -- are you concerned that, now, there will be so much animus nothing more will get down on unemployment insurance, for example?

SPERLING: You know, I think since the beginning of this negotiation, there's always been an understanding that we were trying to take care of three things -- extending the payroll tax cut, making sure the 2.5 million Americans did not get denied unemployment benefits in the next two months, which is what would happen if it wasn't extended, and making sure we don't undermine Medicare by cutting the payments to the doctors, the Medicare recipients rely on. It's always been the goal to fix all three of those together. And that's very much what we expect, and we think that the Republican and Democratic leaders alike understand that that has always been the goal.

YELLIN: Yes or no, are you confident all three will get done?

SPERLING: You know, I am confident. I think it just would be so difficult for anybody politically, no less economically, or values wise, to justify not extending benefits for people who are out there looking for work in what's still a tough labor market.

YELLIN: OK. Turning to the budget that the administration just released yesterday, Republicans are slamming that budget. Listen to what Mitt Romney today -- he said today.


VOICE OF MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it is an extraordinary dereliction of duty to continue to forecast and plan for trillion dollar deficits. It's inexcusable.


YELLIN: The bottom line, Gene, the president did promise to cut the deficit in half during his first term. In four years, this budget does not deliver on that. Isn't this a broken promise he'll have to defend on the campaign trail?

SPERLING: You know, I think when people look at what's happened, they see the debts are coming down. I think anybody who's being fair and objective would know that it turns out that the economic hole we were in when we first made projections is way deeply larger than we could have expected. Everyone knows there's been unexpected hits from Europe, from higher gas prices.

All that said, this president is still on track to cut the deficit in half over five years. So, one-year adjustment with all the economic circumstances this phase (ph), and most importantly, this deficit puts us back on a path to bringing the debt down. After 2014, the debt is a percentage of our economy, comes down and stabilizes.

That is the number one thing that markets, investors look for to ensure that they feel confident in making long-term investments in the United States.


YELLIN: Gene Sperling at the White House. And GOP leaders are scheduled to meet with members at the House of Representatives at the top of the hour. My colleagues on the Hill are monitoring all the action, and we will bring you the news when it happens.

And young boys told their suicide vests would spare their lives but kill others. They were let go by the U.S. last year, but now, they're back and under arrest. And we'll go aboard a U.S. navy ship as it's trailed by Iranian boats. How Americans could get caught in the middle of a showdown over Iran's nuclear program.


YELLIN: Children trained by the Taliban to be suicide bombers. Some were pardoned by U.S. forces last year, but now, two of them are back under arrest. CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, is investigating that story. Barbara, a remarkable story. What's the reaction from military leaders there?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, this is a real tragedy for the young children of Afghanistan. We have a comment now from Gen. John Allen, the top U.S. general in Afghanistan. He has issued a scathing statement about the Taliban using young children as potential suicide bombers.

Let me just quote for a minute, General Allen saying, quote, "The cold tactic of using any human being, especially children to conduct suicide attacks is utterly despicable, and I denounce these attacks." He's saying this because of this very extraordinary situation, young children, and we have some photos to show you. We blurred their faces, arrested again, this time, by Afghan security officials for being part of a suicide bomb network.

These children are recruited by the Taliban and brought in to conduct suicide bomb attacks. They are told that they can detonate their vests, kill foreigners, and that they will still be safe, young impressionable children, and in Afghanistan, these boys, about 10 years old, these young boys are often out on the street trying to earn any money they can to support their families. This is a very dire way of doing that -- Jessica.

YELLIN: I just hate hearing stories like that. Let's stay in Afghanistan on another story. CNN was the first to report about the U.S. meeting with the Taliban. Do you have more details on that?

STARR: Jessica, indeed. Our own Nick Paton Walsh is reporting that the Taliban are acknowledging they met with U.S. officials to discuss some sort of peace, but that they don't want to meet with the government of Hamid Karzai. They don't support that government. They believe it's illegitimate.

And that might be a real show-stopper, because the U.S. is going to need the Taliban with all of their violent tactics attacking the government of Afghanistan to accept Karzai's government if U.S. troops are really going to find a peace there so that they can come home. So, still a little progress, but a long way to go if the Taliban won't work with Karzai's government -- Jessica.

YELLIN: Interesting. All right. Barbara, thank you for those updates.

STARR: Sure. YELLIN: Israel is blaming a terror cell in Iran for a series of bombings today in the capital of Thailand. The blast there hurt five people and blew off one of the legs of the alleged bomber. This comes a day after bombers targeted Israeli embassy vehicles in India and Georgia. Israel also blamed those incidents on Iran.

The Obama administration says if a link to Iran is proven, it won't be all that surprising.


VICTORIA NULAND, STATE DEPT. SPOKESPERSON: We are going to await the results of these investigations. We have offered to assist in these investigations. However, we do note that they come on the heels of other disrupted attacks that do have Iranian fingerprints on them.


YELLIN: All right. Israel has heightened its state of alert because of the recent bomb attacks.

And now we take you to the waters off Iran, where tensions with Israel could explode at any moment. A U.S. warship is there, and it could be vulnerable to attack.

CNN's Frederik Pleitgen is on board.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The USS Abraham Lincoln, one of America's main deterrents against Iran's military. On patrol in the Persian Gulf, the carrier is vital to keeping one of the world's most important shipping lanes open for traffic, the Strait of Hormuz.

Now the Nimitz-class carrier itself had to transit through the strait only a few miles from Iranian territory.

(on camera): The USS Abraham Lincoln has more than 70 aircraft on board, many of them jet fighters like the (INAUDIBLE) see behind me. Nevertheless, the U.S. Navy still says keeping a carrier on this side could be vulnerable to an attack from the Iranian nation.

About 20 percent of global oil exports go through the Strait of Hormuz. In a standoff over Iran's nuclear program, Tehran has threatened to close the strait, a move that could cause major damage to do world's economy.

And Iran recently even warned the U.S. not to transit carriers through here. That's way Rear Admiral Troy Shoemaker, in charge of this carrier strike group, has prepared his crew ahead of what the military called a regular and routine transit of the strait.

REAR ADM. TROY SHOEMAKHER, U.S. NAVY: You've heard the rhetoric in the papers about potentially closing the Strait of Hormuz, and we remain vigilant as we come through. PLEITGEN: Part of that vigilance, machine gunners to fend off small boat attacks. Many of the jets were stowed on lower decks to prevent them from getting hit if the Lincoln comes under fire, and helicopters hovering overhead to detect approaching ships. It doesn't take the choppers long to find one. An Iranian patrol boat shadowing the Abraham Lincoln at times no more than half a mile away.

While a vessel like this couldn't sink a carrier, a sudden attack could do a lot of damage.

(on camera): What are the specific threats that the Iranian navy could pose to a ship like this?

CAPT. JOHN ALEXANDER, U.S. NAVY: Specific threats? Well, they have small boats, they have bigger boats. They have submarines, they have aircraft. I mean, they have pretty much the gamut of things.

PLEITGEN (voice-over): But the Iranian vessels leave the carrier alone. After several hours, the passage through the Strait of Hormuz is complete without incident and the Abraham Lincoln is off to a new task, supporting (INAUDIBLE) in Afghanistan.

Fred Pleitgen, CNN, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in the Strait of Hormuz.


YELLIN: Important report from Fred Pleitgen.

And looking ahead, new concerns about the safety of sitting Supreme Court justices after one was robbed by a robber wielding a machete. Ahead, a closer look at whether they're adequately protected.

Plus, the latest model to grace the cover of the famous "Sports Illustrated" swimsuit issue, why she's no stranger to Washington.



YELLIN: In the Republican presidential race, our brand new poll shows Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney are in a neck-and-neck fight among voters nationwide. The survey also drives home that there are problems for the top contenders.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst David Gergen.

Hi, David.


YELLIN: Good to see you again.

So, first, let's look at voter satisfaction. When we asked among Republican voters, are they satisfied with the field of candidates they have, their satisfaction has fallen 11 points since October. Is that a bad sign for the general election?

GERGEN: It sure as heck is not a good one. I think, yes, it's consistent with the turnout, which we see to be down in many states in the Republican-only primaries. It's consistent with what we call the enthusiasm gap that the Republicans seem to be facing. And what I think you're seeing now in the party is a real angst. Can anybody here win this thing in November?

YELLIN: Because some say, oh, this all turns around once it's a one- on-one match-up against President Obama.

GERGEN: They can't count on that. I think there's been damage done to all the candidates by this long negativity in the campaign.

YELLIN: Interesting.

There's another startling number in the poll, if we can put up the gender breakdown when you look at the two leading contenders on the Republican side. Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney, very different numbers among men and women.

Santorum is not doing well among women. Men, if we look at it, Santorum scores 37 percent approval with men, but 29 percent among women. And then you see Romney's numbers, a little bit the flip.

How much of a problem is this with Santorum? Does he have a woman problem?

GERGEN: Well, I don't think we know enough yet to know whether his stress on abortion and those kinds of things are really causing problems in the Republican primaries.

Among Republicans, women and men are basically both fairly conservative on these issues. So you may not yet have a gender problem with that. But if you look at the last two times he ran in Pennsylvania, he did have a gender gap, it did come back to hurt him.

But the other part of this, though, Jessica, as you pointed out, there is a flip. And that is, Santorum may have a women's problem, but does Romney have a men's problem?

YELLIN: That's interesting.

GERGEN: Yes, which is -- Newt Gingrich was consistently outscoring Romney in those early goings among men in a lot of the polls. And what we know from the general election last time when Obama ran is women -- Obama does very well among women. He did very well today in a poll that came out against all the Republican candidates. He was 12 points ahead of Romney among women.

So for Republicans to win, they've got to have a candidate who does convincingly well among men. And that -- so this cuts two ways. It's interesting, isn't it?

YELLIN: OK. We're going to have to see how this plays out. A lot more to look at, cross tabs and demographics and numbers.

GERGEN: Yes, absolutely.

YELLIN: Good to see you. Thank you.

GERGEN: Thank you. Good to see you.

YELLIN: And how big would it be if Mitt Romney lost his home state of Michigan? That, just ahead.

Plus, threats, muggings, even a robbery at machete point. Just how safe are sitting Supreme Court justices?


YELLIN: The FBI Says it's helping Caribbean police investigate the robbery of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer by a man with a machete. The story broke right here in THE SITUATION ROOM yesterday, and it got us to thinking about security, or the lack of it, for members of America's highest court.

Brian Todd is here. And he's been looking into that.

Brian, what did you find?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jessica, there are some measures of protection for justices that are not discussed publicly, but there are also vulnerabilities exposed when Justice Breyer came face to face with his assailant.


TODD (voice-over): A law enforcement officials tells CNN there's nothing so far to indicate that Supreme Court Justice Breyer was specifically targeted when an assailant entered his home on the island of Nevis recently and robbed him at the point of a machete. But the incident raises a serious question: Are America's top judicial figures adequately protected?

(on camera): The Supreme Court won't talk publicly about specific security arrangements for the justices, but here in the Washington area, where they live, justices often move around without visible security and protection. Justice Breyer's home is on this street in Washington. There's nothing in front of his house.

And two Supreme Court justices live on this street in suburban Virginia. We looked for visible signs of protection -- nothing.

(voice-over): That's where we met Ralph Basham, former director of the Secret Service. That agency works with the Supreme Court Police to investigate threats to the justices. But like many top government officials, there's no extended protection when they're at home.

(on camera): Shouldn't they have some level of personal protection with them at all times? W. RALPH BASHAM, FMR. SECRET SERVICE DIRECTOR: I don't believe that they necessarily need protection 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And if you're going to do protection, you have to do it totally, because if people are in fact watching to see where you may be vulnerable, they're just going to wait until that protection goes away.

TODD: Basham says 24/7 protection is very expensive and invasive to privacy. The U.S. Marshals Service protects the justices when they travel domestically. A Marshals spokesman would only say that agency is aware of the incident involving Justice Breyer and assisting in the investigation.

Basham points out one effective form of protection for the justices is their relative anonymity. But there have been close calls.

Justin David Souter was once mugged in Washington, though there's no indication he was targeted. Justice Clarence Thomas was the target of a racially-motivated threat. And someone once fired a bullet through the living room of Justice Harry Blackmun, who wrote the court's opinion legalizing abortion nationwide.

BASHAM: Some motivated individual that is determined, he or she, they have -- there is a potential that they could get to one of our public figures, yes.


TODD: Basham and other experts say justices at the federal district court level often face greater threats to their security than Supreme Court justices because they deal first hand with the criminal element. They point to that case of district judge Joan Lefkow, who found her husband and her mother shot to death inside her home in Chicago in 2005. The assailant was believed to have been someone who'd had a lawsuit dismissed by Judge Lefkow.

So it all boils down to questions still being asked, are top judicial figures being adequately protected? Jessica, we may not know the answer to that tonight.

YELLIN: In the wake of this incident you just talked about in Chicago, are federal judges getting more protection?

TODD: That did not change after that incident. But it's a balancing act. If a federal judge feels some kind of a threat, and they want more protection, they will get it from the Marshals. But as for 24/7 guard, no.

YELLIN: Wow. Interesting report. And good piece of trivia you delivered for us. Two Supreme Court justices live on the same street. Didn't know that.

TODD: That's right. Comparing real estate notes, I guess.

YELLIN: Thank you, Brian.

Brian Todd.

And now back to Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

Hi, Jack.

CAFFERTY: Hi, Jessica.

The question this hour is: How big a deal would it be if Mitt Romney loses his home state of Michigan two weeks from today? He's currently trailing Rick Santorum in the polls there.

Sylvia in San Diego says, "It would be as big a deal as when Ted Kennedy's seat went to a Republican."

Karl writes from Flint, Michigan, "I guess historically it's psychologically important for a candidate to win his home state, but since no one so far has won the majority of primaries, it's not a real indicator of much of anything."

Also, Mitt was born here, but never held office here like the others have in their home states. I'd say his winning or losing Massachusetts would be more telling than Michigan."

Andre writes, "It would mean that people have somehow woken up and asked themselves, where did the money go? He may have been a kid here with us while we were kids, but now we're adults and he's an adult, and he's got money and we don't. I have got the wrinkles, calluses and fatigue, and he's going to parties every night wearing some pretty fancy clothes."

Gigi in Oregon writes, "I'm more worried if Rick Santorum can win Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania voted him out of the Senate."

Tanner writes from Arizona, "I think that it would be a big blow to his campaign, but he would be recover if he wins Arizona. If he loses both, it will be very hard for him to regain momentum."

Steve in New York, "The liberals are foaming at the mouth to see this happen. It would guarantee Obama's re-election. But I think once Mitt Romney wins the nomination, it's all the way to the White House for him. Obama is very afraid of Romney."

And Ralph in Chicago, "If Romney lost Michigan, it would be like Obama losing Illinois. I live in Chicago, where we vote early and often, and sometimes in alphabetical order. Obama would never lose Chicago or Cook County. In fact, when I die I want to be buried in Cook County so I can stay active in politics."

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

That's actually a very old joke, Jessica, but funny nevertheless.

YELLIN: Very clever. Thank you, Jack. And Happy Valentine's Day.

CAFFERTY: You too, dear.

YELLIN: Thanks.

Well, some dogs have a new bone to pick with Mitt Romney. Jeanne Moos is next.


YELLIN: It seems some dogs now have a bone to pick with Mitt Romney, and that canine movement may be catching on.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Inside Madison Square Garden think of them as the hoity-toity one percent, show dogs getting groomed for Westminster, America's most prestigious dog show. And outside the garden, the 99 percent, the rabble, doggie protesters.

(on camera): So how do you feel about Mitt?

(voice-over): They may turn their backs on the press, but a Dogs Against Romney protest outside Westminster was a treat we in the media couldn't resist.

(on camera): Do you have a problem riding on the roof?

(voice-over): It's that old story again about the time back in 1983 when Mitt Romney took his family on vacation with his Irish setter, Seamus, in a dog carrier tied to the car roof.

(on camera): He made a windshield for the dog.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, did he really? He made a windshield for the dog?

MOOS: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's very nice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your dog is your family member. I mean, I don't think he would have taken one of his children and put them on the roof. But maybe he would have. Who knows?

MOOS (voice-over): Socky (ph) the pug came to the protest in a backpack.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's like riding on a human roof rack there.

MOOS: But the human roof rack says --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't go 65 miles an hour down the highway.

MOOS: For 12 hours.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He climbed up there regularly, enjoyed himself.

MOOS: Comedians won't let go of the story. On SNL --


MOOS: -- a Romney impersonator threatened his dog when he wouldn't stop barking.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want to go back to that roof?



MOOS: One of President Obama's advisers tweeted out this photo with the caption, "How loving owners transport their dogs."

Protesters keep dogging Romney with stuffed animals fastened to their roofs.

In Littleton, Colorado, this car actually got pulled over by police.

(on camera): Police say a motorist called 911 to say that she saw the door open on the kennel on top of the roof and that there was a big white dog inside. Not this dog.

(voice-over): Show dogs don't ride on the roof, but then neither do 99 percenters.

(on camera): How does Pety (ph) travel?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pety (ph) always traveled inside. He gets the whole back seat.

MOOS (voice-over): Otherwise, he plays with the gear shift.

True, there were only a very few dog protesters. But every vote counties.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is a dog who will not vote for Romney.

MOOS (on camera): How do you know?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because his owner won't either.

MOOS (voice-over): The 99 percent outside aren't so different from the one percent inside. It's just another dog and pony show.

DAVID LETTERMAN, "LATE NIGHT WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Who ties his dog to the roof of his car?

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN --

ROMNEY: -- Americans out of work --


YELLIN: Thanks for joining us. I'm Jessica Yellin, in for Wolf Blitzer today in THE SITUATION ROOM.

The news continues next on CNN.