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Private Viewing Of Whitney Houston's For Family Today; New Jersey Flags Half Staff For Whitney; New Jersey Governor Vows Gay Marriage Veto; Defying The Syrian Crackdown; Moroccan Man Arrested in Capitol Hill Sting; U.C. Riverside Students Has Idea for Paying for College; Gingrich Compares Presidential Race to Rollercoaster; Adelson to Continue to Fund Gingrich; Santorum Backer Makes Contraception Joke; Romney Support Moves to Santorum Campaign

Aired February 17, 2012 - 12:59   ET

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


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: And hello, everybody, I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's 1:00 on the East Coast, 10:00 on the West. And we've got a real busy hour ahead, so let's get you right into the zone, shall we, starting with this.

Final preparations under way at this hour for the funeral of Whitney Houston. Takes place at the church where Whitney Houston sang as a young child, the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey. And we have just learned from a source close to the Houston family that there will be a private viewing for just the family today at the funeral home. The source says that Whitney's mother, Cissy Houston, is quote, "doing well." Meantime, the investigation into Houston's shocking death last Saturday continues on several fronts and we'll have more on that in just a moment.

In the meantime, tomorrow, of course, a time for deep grieving but also a time for celebration of an incredible life and the music from one of this country's greatest singers, perhaps even one of the world's greatest singers. And as you can expect, music is going to be a real big part of Houston's funeral tomorrow. Among those invited to sing tomorrow, Aretha Franklin, Houston's godmother, Stevie Wonder, and Alicia Keys.

Also invited, actor Kevin Costner ,who's going to speak during the funeral, he started with Houston in the movie "The Bodyguard." And singer Roberta Flack is also schedule to be there, Houston's former husband, Bobby Brown. There's a big source of controversy whether he was going to be there, but in fact he's not only invited, he has confirmed that he will attend as well. And Aretha Franklin spoke about her very close relationship with Houston on the "Today" show, and here she talks about the first time that Whitney came to her studio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARETHA FRANKLIN, SINGER, SONG-WRITER: She was about nine or 10 years old. She had these little pigtails with a part in the middle of the head. Very cute little girl. And after we met, she want and sat down. She was very, very quiet for the rest of the afternoon. So -- and I think that Cissy had instructed her to be quiet so she was complying. And at that time, I did not know she wanted to be a singer.

AL ROKER, HOST, NBC "TODAY" SHOW: So, she didn't tell you?

FRANKLIN: No, Cissy had not mentioned that to me.

ROKER: When was the first time you heard her sing?

FRANKLIN: Around 1979, '78, something like that, I think. "Saving All My Love For You." And when she hit the soprano I said, oh, this little girl can sing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: OK. As most people who had close ties with Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin is still dealing with the shock of the singer's death, and here's what she said about the song that she's planning to sing tomorrow.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKLIN: It's not going to be easy. I can tell you that. It's not going to be easy. But Cissy asked me to and I'm just going to try to do my best.

ROKER: Do you know what you're going to -- what you're going to sing?

FRANKLIN: Not really sure right now. Not really sure.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And numerous singer who knew Houston personally are speaking out about their personal relationship. Here is what award singer, Deborah Cox, said earlier on CNN about some memorable moments with Whitney Houston.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBORAH COX, SINGER, SONG-WRITER, ACTRESS: For me, growing up with her music was life changing. To be in the studio with her, to sing that song, "Same Script, Different Cast" was a dream come true. Being face-to-face with her in the mic, just the two of us exchanging, was the most beautiful --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: And Cox had a duet called "Same Script, Different Cast" on Whitney Houston's greatest hits album. By the way, the family hasn't said where Houston is going to be laid to rest but if you read her death certificate, it does list the location as the Fair View Cemetery in Westfield, New Jersey, the same place where Whitney Houston's father was laid to rest.

I want to remind you that you can watch the funeral for Whitney Houston right here on CNN. You can join Soledad O'Brien, Piers Morgan, and Don Lemon for special live coverage., It begins tomorrow 11:00 in the morning Eastern time. It's been nearly a week now since Whitney Houston died in Los Angeles. Investigators are still seeking answers about just how it happened. And here's talk about that. Jane Velez-Mitchell, host of HLN's "Jane Velez Mitchell." You know, this has been one of those stories -- it's like, it reminds you of Michael Jackson, it reminds you of Anna Nicole Smith. They all have a thread, drug abuse and I know that that's a real tough nut right now for the family as they want to go into the funeral tomorrow talking legacy, not investigation.

JANE VELEZ MITCHELL, HOST, HLN's "JANE VELEZ MITCHELL": They are very concerned, Ashleigh, about the tone, and that's why I think they don't want this big motorcade from the funeral home to the church. There's going to be this private viewing today at the funeral home, and then at some point, we don't know when, the body will be quietly moved to the church so that there isn't this parade atmosphere. They want everything respectful.

Now, once the funeral service begins with all the big names, that is going to be a celebration of her life. That is going to be a joyful ceremony. But the family is very concerned that the controversy for tomorrow be put aside and this is a celebration of her achievements and of Whitney's place in history.

BANFIELD: They had to put this thing together so incredibly quickly. I mean, this is the kind of grand scale event that would take years to plan and instead they've had a week to plan it. I was looking at this guess list, I'll put it in front of you, too, so you can see it. Angela Bassett, Roberta Flack, Kevin Costner, and you've seen the other names as well, Brandy Clive Davis, Jesse Jackson, Bobby Brown and then I also heard Susan Candiotti reporting this morning that Oprah has been invited.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Has been invited, yes.

BANFIELD: I'm not sure if it's a full confirmation that she's attending, but --

VELEZ MITCHELL: I call it the ever-changing guest list. It is going to be a who's who of the entertainment world, that's for sure. Fifteen hundred people and all of those people will be, for the most part, recognizable faces. And again, this is all to honor her life. Yes, there's been controversy, so many questions about why she died and what she was using or taking at the time of her death, but let's not forget that she is a great artist, she will go down in history, she is right up there in the panthion with Judy Garland and Frank Sinatra. And so, there is a time -- we don't want to gloss over --

BANFIELD: Right.

VELEZ MITCHELL: -- the important questions that are important for everyone in America to know, because we do have things like a prescription drug crisis going on in the country and this has to be a wake-up call. Even in the drug czar of the United States said this is a teachable moment, but we also don't want to be disrespectful. We want to honor her life and her many, many, many incredible achievements. BANFIELD: You know, there are thousands of cases that the labs have to deal with on a regular basis. Toxicology reports are processed at pace in this country which is why a lot of people don't understand, gosh, six to eight weeks to get the toxicology reports back? But that's quick. I mean, they're actually putting a rush on this. Any idea why they're trying to push this through quicker? Is it because it's a teachable moment? Is it because we might be able to get a beneficial lesson out of it?

VELEZ MITCHELL: Yes. Well, there is a lesson here and it's because there's so much speculation because we don't know. We can't extrapolate. The first rule of journalism is never assume. So, we do not know what was in her system at the time of her death. We do know from sources that she was taking anxiety -- around the time of her death, for anxiety. We know --

BANFIELD: Xanax, right?

VELEZ MITCHELL: Xanax, yes.

BANFIELD: Xanax was (inaudible.)

VELEZ MITCHELL: Yes, that's what I meant to say, Xanax. We know that she was drinking. She was drinking Wednesday morning according to people who saw her and she was morning Thursday morning. She also went to a party Thursday night where she was drinking alcohol. That was confirmed by the people around her. Now, remember, she had been to rehab three times. Most recently, less than a year ago. I've talked to people who have mixed Xanax with alcohol and they say this is an extremely dangerous combination. You are playing with fire because it really maximizes and supercharges the high and in combination which it is used recreationally. That's why Xanax has street names, like Xanies and Planks (ph).

BANFIELD: I'm glad you brought this up. I've been watching, for the last couple nights, as Dr. Drew has been on a mission on the Anderson Cooper show saying, people, you don't get it. But this is where we are at these days. There were there rock stars that partied and were literally pickled for two to three decades but didn't die. Now, we're into prescription drugs and you die. It's simple. You can die from just a few pills and a glass of wine, et cetera. People don't get this?

VELEZ MITCHELL: Yes, it doesn't even have to be an overdose. It can be just a bad combination, a bad reaction, and sometimes if you add on a cold. There have been other stars recently that have had low levels of prescriptions drugs in their system, but they had a history of drug abuse and then they died from a cold or pneumonia and over-the-counter substances that they add on. So, it doesn't have to be your classic overdose. And we have to remember that prescription pills are even more dangerous because people feel very entitled to use them.

BANFIELD: Sure, they're legal.

VELEZ MITCHELL: They don't think they're doing anything illegal.

BANFIELD: Yes.

VELEZ MITCHELL: They're legal --

BANFIELD: The doctor gave them to me.

VELEZ MITCHELL: -- and the doctor is giving them to you.

BANFIELD: Yes.

VELEZ MITCHELL: So, I think the wake-up call is that, frankly, I believe the doctor that prescribes Xanax to Whitney Houston who is a known addict, everybody knew it. One Google search revealed hundreds of articles about it. That is the height of irresponsibility.

BANFIELD: That's the Anna Nicole Smith case right there, right? Remember?

VELEZ MITCHELL: Yes. And this has to be a wake-up call. I mean, really, this is a crisis. More people are dying from legal prescription drugs than they are from illegal drugs.

BANFIELD: You are the first person I turn to whenever it's a story about addiction, addiction issues, and this is clearly one that's going to develop even further, yes.

VELEZ MITCHELL: Ashleigh, thank you.

BANFIELD: Thanks, Jane, appreciate it.

Also, I want to let you know, flags in New Jersey, if you happen to be in the area are flying at half staff in that state today. That's in honor of the passing of Whitney Houston. Some people agree, some people find it very controversial. Critiques are taking aim at the move. Because it's Governor Chris Christie move saying that that's the kind of tribute that she observed to honor public officials who died, or fallen soldiers, or first responders. The governor isn't budging. He says that the state flag has always flown at half staff when a New Jersey soldier has died during his term in office. And he also went as far to say, check your facts before tweeting something like that.

Also, Chris Christie has something much more pressing on his plate right now. In fact, he could make a decision at any moment on same- sex marriage in his state of New Jersey. Both the state Senate and the assembly has passed legislation legalizing it. That happened this week, but the governor has said, when that hits his desk, he plans to veto it. So up next, I'm going to speak with the man who sponsored that bill. Reed Gusciora talked about the showdown that lies ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: The right for same-sex couples to marry in New Jersey will likely be short-lived, if it is to be at all. Governor Chris Christie has vowed to veto the bill passed by the legislature and says he could do it as early as today. The governor wants a referendum instead, saying that voters should have the final word but supporters of same- sex marriage say a referendum should not be used to decide what they say are civil rights issues.

If it does go to a vote, a recent poll shows that a narrow majority favor legalizing gay marriage in New Jersey. Washington was the seventh state to allow same-sex marriages with this law set to take effect in June, and the others are Vermont, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and New York. It's also being debated in Maryland and also being debated in Illinois.

Getting back to the battle in New Jersey, at times the issue has been pretty heated. Governor Christie has even used some colorful language to describe our next guest. Democratic state assemblyman, Reed Gusciora. Also joining us by telephone is Republican state Senator Jerry Cardinale. And first of all, I want to thank you both for being here. If Chris Christie follows through with the veto, I want to ask a couple of questions about what is the next step is actually going to be? Perhaps you could jump in on this, Reed, and tell me where it goes from here.

REED GUSCIORA, ATTORNEY: Thanks, Ashleigh. I think civil rights has always been a long-term -- long-road project, so in the very least, it advances the ball. We'd like the governor to step up, profile, encourage, he's a moderate. At the end of the day, while it may play out in the red states, the by and large majority of the people in New Jersey do support marriage equality --

BANFIELD: He's been pretty clear. He's been pretty clear. It's a veto, and then the next step is really up to you. As I understand it, and correct me if I'm wrong, because I am lousy with civics. You have two years in order to sort of muster two-thirds of the voter -- of the vote within the assembly to try to overturn what he did.

GUSCIORA: Sure.

BANFIELD: And does that make it permanent in your state?

GUSCIORA: Well, we're -- yes, it would. And we're three votes away in the Senate and a few more in the assembly. But I think, as time goes on, there are now seven states that allow full marriage equality and New Jersey should be an eighth state, it's a matter of when.

BANFIELD: All right, so you've got the votes, but why wait? Why do -- why not go ahead with what the governor's saying and just put it to a -- put it to a referendum? That's what they did in California, Prop 8. We've seen what happened there. But why wait? Why -- you could have it by November.

REED GUSCIORA (D), NEW JERSEY STATE ASSEMBLY: Well, as the U.S. court of appeals said, a civil rights issue not appropriate to be on the ballot. Back to Madisonian's Federalist Paper Number 51, majority tyranny. We should guard against majority tyranny over minority rights.

BANFIELD: This is why you are elected and you know your civics and I'm sitting here as an anchor person. But let me get to you, state senator. Why should this be a vote? Do you not see this as a civil rights issue, sir? GERRY CARDINALE (R), NEW JERSEY STATE SENATE (via telephone): No, it's not a civil rights issue at all. It's an issue with respect to the nature of the human condition. For thousands of years of civilized history, marriage has always been a relationship between people of different genders. And you can no more, by legislation, change human nature than you can change the sky being up and the earth be down.

BANFIELD: I think there are a lot of people who would probably disagree with you. And I actually just want to zip you back to about 1915 where I think --

CARDINALE: Well, of course, there's people who will agree with and disagree with everything.

BANFIELD: No, no, no, let me finish. Let me finish. Sir, I think the last time the state put a question of civil rights on the ballot it was 1915 and it was male voters of New Jersey who decided that women shouldn't vote. I still see that you don't see this as a civil rights issue, but do you see where other people do?

CARDINALE: As a historical fact, in New Jersey, women had the right to vote very, very early on, but that got changed --

GUSCIORA: And then we (ph) changed the constitution (ph).

CARDINALE: According to the historians -- I wasn't around then. I'm a pretty old guy, but I wasn't around then. Women were not interested in the right to vote. And when they became interested in the right to vote, there were certainly given the right to vote. But there is nothing inherent in human nature that dictates one should or should not vote. This is simply a question of how our society wants to do things.

Now, I don't believe our society in New Jersey wants same-sex marriage. I do not believe that. But the governor has often --

BANFIELD: Well, according to the voters, it's a narrow majority of where --

CARDINALE: The governor's offered a test. If the people want it, let them vote.

BANFIELD: Sir, sir, so far the polls are suggesting -- and I'm not going to suggest that polls are always accurate, but right now it does suggest there's a narrow majority.

And I just want to bring you back -- not to sort of hammer you over the head with the civil rights issue, but whenever I hear this, I'm always harkening back to 1963, the inaugural address of George Wallace (ph) in Alabama, where he was famously quoted as saying, "segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever." And then he went down in history as saying it was the greatest mistake of his life. And I often wonder, and I'm going to ask you and I'm going to ask you about your colleagues as well on the same side of this issue, do you think that perhaps in 10, 15, 20, 30 years you may regret what you're saying to me? CARDINALE: No.

GUSCIORA: I think what he will regret is his floor speech that he fears that fathers will marry their sons and that dogs will be able to marry. The fact remains is that it's been 24 hours and none of that has happened, nor has the sky fallen on New Jersey. This is just --

BANFIELD: Well, Reed, let me ask you this. You know, this is such a tender topic for a lot of people. And there are some people who say, look, don't force this on all of us. It's been this way forever. Why turn these tables? Why force people who are uncomfortable with this to have this as part of their code?

GUSCIORA: Well, the fact remains, is marriage has evolved. We don't -- no longer consider women as property. We allow interracial marriages. So the institution of marriage has evolved. This is just one more recognition. There are plenty of same-sex couples that have been together 10, 20 years. They've raised families. They pay taxes in our state. So this is just adding ourselves, modernizing the institution of marriage, making it better.

BANFIELD: State Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, appreciate your time. And Gerry Cardinale, state senator from New Jersey. Thank you to both of you. We'll be following what happens in your great state of New Jersey. Thanks to both of you.

A story that is becoming all too familiar. Heavy, heavy shelling. More civilian deaths. Blood in the streets of Syria. And CNN has two reporters on the ground who are looking at it firsthand and are defying the evidence that the president says (INAUDIBLE) in that country. We'll get you into the thick of it in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: Defiant Syrians filled the streets of major cities by the thousands today, ignoring deadly new attacks by government forces. Have a look.

Syrian President's Bashar al Assad's troops bombarded the city of Homs for the 14th consecutive day. Two straight weeks. Major protests were reported in four other cities, including suburban Damascus, the capital of Syria. Opposition leaders say at least 56 people were killed today, including 12 military defectors who were executed.

Also today we've learned that a two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist has died while covering the Syrian uprising. "New York Times" reporter Anthony Shadid apparently suffering a severe asthma attack while on assignment in northern Syria. A "Times" photographer carried his body over the border into neighboring Turkey. Anthony Shadid was just 43 years old.

The Syrian government shows no sign of backing off its brutal crackdown on protesters, but people continue to fill the streets day after day, week after week anyway. CNN's Ivan Watson reports from a town in northern Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: A freezing winter rain hasn't stopped hundreds of people from gathering here in the town square for a weekly show of defiance against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. This is the ritual that is performed week after week for months in this opposition-controlled town. This is one of the opposition activists.

Why do you do this every Friday?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have on Friday -- every Friday I do this in this town, OK, to send message. Bashar al-Assad (INAUDIBLE) the building every day in Homs (INAUDIBLE) Syria. (INAUDIBLE) by U.N. (ph) General. Please, please, help us. Please stop the killing and please (INAUDIBLE) and stop killing us (ph).

WATSON: The weekly protest ritual here begins with Friday prayers in a nearby mosque. And on this Friday, there was a special funeral prayer for one young man from this town who we are told died of a sniper bullet in the nearby city of Idlib (ph).

Then the crowd emerged chanting "Allahu akbar," "God is great."

It's important to note that the Syrian army has a base just a five minute drive from here and activists tell us that they have brought in additional tanks to that base within just the last 24 hours. Some of the people here welcome the United Nations General Assembly's decision to condemn the Syrian government crackdown on its own citizens.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) real action from the United Nations. (INAUDIBLE). They are just (INAUDIBLE).

WATSON: But they added that that will do little to protect them should the Syrian military decide to attack this opposition-held town within the days and weeks to come.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BANFIELD: And I just want to remind you, that's Ivan Watson reporting live inside northern Syria. He and our CNN colleague Arwa Damon have been able to sneak into Syria to do this reporting for us, and it bears repeating, under immense threat to their personal security. So we thank them immensely for their work. And we should say also the latest violence comes just a day after the United Nations approved a nonbinding resolution endorsing an Arab League plan that calls for Syria's president to step down. It's not clear what effect this largely symbolic resolution actually might have on the crisis in Syria.

And still ahead today, getting accepted into college may be the easier part these days. Paying for it, not so much. So one California student has come up with a pretty bright idea. How about pay the tuition once you land a job? Does it work? Can it work? Is it feasible? That college kid who came up with the idea is going to join me next. I'm going to ask him all about it in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: So, one of the biggest questions that students ask themselves when applying for college is, how am I going to pay for all of this, especially at schools like University of California, where the price tag just gets higher and higher every year. So, a junior at UC Riverside has come up with a pretty clever plan. What if students were allowed to go to college for free, no money upfront, but pay for it once they get a job, graduate and start working. How does the plan work and is it practical and could it actually work long term?

Chris Locascio put this plan together. It's called the Fix U.C. Proposal. He joins us now from riverside, California. On the right side of your screen, Pedro Noguera, is a professor of education at NYU in New York.

Chris, let me start with you. Sounds like it could work. Sounds pretty cleaver. Can you give me the nuts and bolts on how to pay for this 101?

CHRIS LOCASCIO, U.C. RIVERSIDE UNIVERSITY STUDENT: I can give you a basic overview of the plan. We would essentially completely get rid of the current tuition model where students pay an upfront, lump sum, for their education. Instead, every student would attend with no upfront costs, not having to put the burden on their families or themselves with interest-accruing loans, but instead through a 5 percent or roughly 5 percent contribution that they would be paying once they enter a career after they graduate.

BANFIELD: So let's just guess for a moment -- and this might be a bit gracious -- but let's just say you graduate and get a $100,000 job on the first year out. That would mean you would pay $5,000 that year back to the college and you would do that for 20 years. Essentially, you would pay the college, if you stayed at that salary, about $100,000 over 20 years, right?

LOCASCIO: That's right. It sounds like a lot, especially right now when the cost to attend the University of California is around $50,000 for four years. But the way things are going in the state of California, especially for the University of California, 10 years from now, we don't know how much it's going to cost to attend U.C. We roughly estimate it will be near where private schools are right now, which is about $160,000 a year -- $160,000 for four years. That's still quite a bargain when you think about it.

BANFIELD: Yes and no. To me, $100,000 is a lot of money over 20years.

Let me ask you, Professor Noguera, Dr. Noguera, it sounded really smart and then I see it kind of looks like a second mortgage.

(LAUGHTER)

DR. PEDRO NOGUERA, URBAN SOCIOLOGIST, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Actually, no. There were other countries that use plans like this to finance higher education. Australia uses it. It's 9 percent in Australia, not 5 percent. BANFIELD: For 20 years?

NOGUERA: Well, it's about that. And so I would say it should not be dismissed out of hand. The problem is this. The University of California is not getting enough money from the state to cover the costs of an education there. So in the short term, this does not solve the problem of how do we pay for world-class education at a public university.

BANFIELD: Now. Right now. Because you would have to wait for this plan for four years, before you get your first graduate starting to pay out. And they'd be paying out only 5 percent.

NOGUERA: That's right. I think what we need to look at is what the percentage should be, could be, how you pay over time, and it's usually worthy of a conversation. We have a major problem throughout the country. We have people paying 25, 30 percent of the income right now on college loans. So we'd actually pay more than that now. It's a burden that many of people can't afford.

BANFIELD: Chris, what about the problem of baby boomers. All of a sudden, you don't have an equal set of generations. Have you factored that in or is it a blip where you think, oops?

LOCASCIO: No, we made sure -- we worked on this for nine months, now 10 months. We made sure that we covered all of the bases. In response to earlier, the way that it's phased in has been completely worked out. U.C. has the money that it would need to institute this program. It's through the financial aid money that U.C. already has, through the Blue and Gold Program, which accounts for a third of the tuition that students they pay for. That would be paid in the program. That would take roughly 10 years to actually implement the program. With four years for the first-class to go through and six years for U.C. to start making a profit and every U.C. student on the plan. So we completely worked that out.

BANFIELD: I have -- I have one more glitch that I can foresee, and that's because I was once a college kid and I also knew that some of my fellow college kids were naughty and used to cheat. So I wonder, Dr. Noguera, is there a concern that if you implement this plan, they may amscra (ph). You can't track these students. They've got free college for four years and headed off to France and they're not going to repay it.

NOGUERA: We have that problem now, people not paying back their college loans. So I do think you can devise systems, you can track the students and find ways to hold on to them. But I think we have a much bigger problem. The University of California is the preeminent public university system in the country, probably the world. And it's in crisis. And we're seeing this system fall apart and we need to figure out how to support it. Increasingly, it's dependent upon student tuition.

BANFIELD: Well, there's no system that's going to be perfect but it sounds like a great idea.

Chris, thank you for coming in.

Also, Dr. Noguera, thanks for coming in.

NOGUERA: Thank you.

BANFIELD: Thanks so much.

Fascinating. He's only a junior. Go figure.

Have you heard about these controversial comments that were made? A major backer of former Senator Rick Santorum went on TV and cracked a joke. Now, he may have been trying to make a cut joke but it was about contraception. And a lot of people are real offended by it. You'll hear those comments. You will also hear Senator Santorum's response. It's all "Fair Game," up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: We've got breaking news just in to CNN. It involves an FBI sting in Washington.

My colleague, Kate Bolduan joins me now.

What is happening?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Ashleigh. Some really wild information coming in from a couple of different sources. Let me first bring you some great reporting from producer, Carol Pratty (ph), who learned from a federal law enforcement official that a Moroccan man, a short time ago, arrested. It was shortly after 12:30 here on the east coast. According to this source, this federal law enforcement official, this man was on an attempted suicide operation with the target being the capitol. Now, also according to this source, the person had been part of an undercover operation. This person had been watched for some time and they are stressing that the public was never in any danger. And here's why. The man, apparently according to this source, thought he was heading towards the capitol with a suicide vest. But the materials had been rendered inoperable, as it was put to Carol Pratty (ph). And according to a press release that was just put out moments ago by the U.S. Capitol Police, "The arrest was a culmination of a lengthy and extensive operation in which the individual was monitored closely and carefully monitored." Apparently, according to this one source, this operation had gone back to at least December. This person was being closely watched. And the source stresses that the public was never in danger. But some very scary details coming out. And Producer Carol Pratty (ph) was also told that the person was acting alone, was not connected, has not been connected to any terrorist organization.

We're reaching out to all of our sources up here on Capitol Hill, but from the early kind of survey that we've taken, it seems that aides as well as members of Congress were really unaware that this was going on. I ran into a senior Democratic Senator on my way over here and he says he was just now starting to learn of some of the details coming in. That's what my colleague, Producer Ted Barrett (ph), are also hearing the same. It seems that while this -- very fascinating and astounding details of this arrest are just now coming to light, possibly happening just steps away from Capitol Hill, it certainly has not stopped operations within the capitol -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: It's a remarkable story. Just seeing he was wearing this vest that was deemed or rendered inoperable.

(CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: He thought it was a real deal.

BANFIELD: Yes. And all of this happening one day after the life sentence handed down from the underwear terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab.

BOLDUAN: Good point.

BANFIELD: So keep an eye on that for us.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

BANFIELD: Thank you for bringing that to us.

BOLDUAN: No problem.

BANFIELD: In the meantime, there's a lot at stake on the politics front. It is all "Fair Game." And guess what? It's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BANFIELD: All right. We are always checking on the campaign trail and today we're finding a candidate is comparing the Republican race for the White House to a rollercoaster. Once again, I think you know who I'm talking about. The Republican campaign is always "Fair Game."

Democratic strategist, Maria Cardona, is in Chicago to talk politics today, and Republican strategist, Ana Navarro, is in Miami to do the same.

Ladies, I love me a Newt Gingrich sound bite that invokes not only faith but being on the leader board at the top once again. Let me let him tell you and we'll talk on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Insert space pun. Maria Cardona, go.

(LAUGHTER) MARIA CARDONA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Newt Gingrich's moon colony?

BANFIELD: Yes.

CARDONA: Look, this has certainly been what I like to call the whack a mole contest when it comes to politics because the only constant in this has been the changing of the front-runner consistently throughout and I think what it underscores, Ashleigh, is that the majority of Republican voters -- and this has been born out in polls -- are not satisfied with this crop of Republican candidates. Many Republican strategists have said privately and publicly, and I don't know if my friend, Ana, will agree with this, but they don't have their A-team out there. They have their B-team and some have called it the C-team. The enthusiasm gap is growing for Republicans and that's going to be a big problem for them come November.

BANFIELD: The whack a mole -- Ana, jump in on this. This whack a mole has been --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: You know something? Listen, to that end, something may whack that mole right up to the top again.

(LAUGHTER)

Newt Gingrich may have another shot because Sheldon Adelson said he's going to throw more money at him. It's been proven that those ads work.

ANA NAVARRO, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's a lot of dough for most everybody. But $30 million for Sheldon Adelson is almost play money. It's monopoly money. It's not a big deal for him. He can continue doing this and I do think that Newt Gingrich's metaphor of Space Mountain was terrific. We've had twists, turns. It's been scary at times. It's been entertaining. It's beginning to feel like the roller coaster from hell, that it's dysfunctional and we can't find the off switch. It's entertaining and a good thing that it happened.

BANFIELD: I think we have short memories and it happens in every primary, Republican and Democratic alike. We hear all the mud. We complain about the slinging. In the end, we love our democracy because we get to hear it all and it's all transparent.

Let me switch gears, guys. There was stuff that played out on MSNBC. Foster Friess is one of the major donors for Rick Santorum. I watched a very long interview here on CNN with Erin Burnett here on CNN. He seems like an adorable man. He really does seem like an adorable man. But he did put out this perhaps inappropriate joke with regard to contraception. I want to play it and have you guys react on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FOSTER FRIESS, RICK SANTORUM DONOR: And this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so inexpensive. Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirins for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees. And it wasn't that costly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Ouch.

NAVARRO: Well, I can tell you, I tried holding an Advil between my knees and it's a very hard thing to do.

(LAUGHTER)

BANFIELD: That's a good point.

(LAUGHTER)

NAVARRO: Look, if he was being serious -- it's crazy. If he was making a joke. He's got to accept he ain't that funny.

BANFIELD: You know, he was making a joke and he apologized. He said, I understand how I offended people and didn't mean to do it. And Rick Santorum also responded. Let me read it for you. "I understand I confused people with the way I worded the joke and their taken offense is very understandable. I do apologize and seek your forgiveness."

Like I said, I like this guy. He is sort of the other generation. But perhaps it can be attributed to that. But Rick Santorum had it put to him, look, he's your backer, don't you have to accommodate for that? And here's his response this morning on CBS. Have a listen, you guys.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM, (R), FORMER PENNSYLVANIA SENATOR & PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: When you call a supporter of mine who tells a bad off- color joke and somehow I'm responsible for that, that's gotcha --

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED CBS ANCHOR: But nobody said you were responsible, Senator.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED CBS ANCHOR: Nobody said you were responsible. They said, how would you characterize it and what have you said to him, not that you were responsible. It's to understand how you differ from what this person said.

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: -- have to respond to every -- every support who says something, I'm going to have to respond. Look, this is what you guys do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BANFIELD: Maria Cardona, jump in here. You know what, it's coming your way, my friend. The Democrats are thick in the general election campaign. President Obama is going to have supporters that say stupid things, too.

CARDONA: And it's already happened. Rick understands this. Santorum needs to put on his big-boy pants and understand that this is what politics is about. The problem with the Republican Party is that he had nowhere to pivot because this was a comment that underscores a hardening perception of a party who is hostile to women's issues. This comes on the heels of a hearing that the senate had yesterday on contraception issues. And there were no women on the panel. It comes on the heels of Santorum's own comments that women shouldn't be in combat. This seals a perception that's dangerous for the Republican Party when they talk about --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: You know what, Ana, I want you to respond to that but --

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: I'm pretty sure Mr. Friess understood there was that house panel going on. This is just a very wealthy guy who tried to make a joke on TV and it backfired on him. And I think Rick Santorum shouldn't be that defensive. If it was --

BANFIELD: How about this --

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: -- treated as such, a bad joke.

BANFIELD: I have 15 seconds left. But in 2006, Rick Santorum did say this, "I have voted for contraception although I don't think it works. It's harmful to women. It's harmful to our society." Is that a problem?

NAVARRO: He's entitled to his views, his very strong, religious, moral views. But at the same time, it doesn't seem to be an issue with how he's voted. I don't see that as a problem at all. It's the law of the land. He voted for it.

BANFIELD: All right.

Listen, that's where I have to leave it --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: I knew you were going to do that to me.

(LAUGHTER)

Maria Cardona, Ana Navarro, thanks to you both.

It's good to play "Fair Game" with you. Appreciate it.

CARDONA: Thanks, Ashleigh. BANFIELD: And just -- you're welcome.

And just days before the Arizona primary election, the GOP contenders debate the issues again. Be sure to watch the Arizona Republican Presidential Debate on CNN. That's right here next Wednesday 8:00 eastern time.

And some pretty big news in the medical world today. Doctors could soon be able to detect autism in children as young as 6 months old. So what does it mean? Coming up.

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BANFIELD: Major medical news to tell you about today. A new brain imaging study shows signs autism can be detected in babies as young as 6 months old. Researchers screened kids with an MRI at 6 months, a year and 2 years old and their findings are a pretty big deal because they could lead to early intervening strategies. Brain connectivity plays a central role in autism.

A former Romney supporter now pulling for Rick Santorum instead. Let's check in with CNN's Peter Hamby, live on the story.

This is all about Ohio, and Ohio is a big deal, isn't it?

PETER HAMBY, CNN POLITICAL PRODUCER: Yes, it really is. The March 6th primary on Super Tuesday is going to be big, not just because of delegate's state, but Ohio is bellwether, and bellwether for Republicans. Rick Santorum will announce a big announcement from Mike DeWine. Keep in mind, DeWine was a Romney supporter who's flipping his support to Rick Santorum. This undercuts the Romney inevitability --

(CROSSTALK)

BANFIELD: Why is he doing that?

HAMBY: We don't know yet. The announcement is later this afternoon at 3:00 p.m. There's a news conference in Columbus scheduled, where presumably he'll talk about that. But, you know, DeWine is a -- is probably not a huge deal but in the state, this is going to get Rick Santorum in every newspaper around the state. A statewide official, DeWine name, known for a long time in Ohio. This is very good for Rick Santorum. Romney's response will be this is Santorum's colleague from back in the day, two Washington insiders bandied together. We can expect to hear that from the Romney campaign for certain. But good news for Rick Santorum in Ohio actually.

BANFIELD: I hear you when the endorsement question comes up. It's always exciting to get one and then you hear the Tim Pawlenty, Minnesota, endorsement didn't go so well for Romney. Romney, not that great of day because the DNC is coming after him with an ad that takes aim at him from the Olympics.

HAMBY: They're taking aim as Romney tries to position himself as a Washington outsider attacking earmarks and bailouts. They're taking him at his tenure at the Olympics in Salt Lake City saying he took a $1.3 billion federal bailout from government to fund Olympic Games. Look at the web video the DNC put out.

BANFIELD: Peter Hamby, keep your eye on that. Make the news (ph) a little later when Mike DeWine actually claims his reason for endorsing his endorsement.

That's it for me. Thank you so much for watching today. It's Friday. Have a great weekend.

CNN NEWSROOM continues next Brooke Baldwin. Take care.

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