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THE SITUATION ROOM
Sanford Police Chief Steps Aside; French Gunman Was On U.S. No- Fly List; Whitney Houston's Death Ruled Accidental Drowning; Tebow- Mania Hits the Big Apple
Aired March 22, 2012 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And now, Connecticut Democratic senator, Richard Blumenthal, wants a federal bill that would ban employers from asking for passwords on social media sites. He told Politico he will draft a bill that he expects to be ready in the near future -- Wolf.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, Mary. Thank you.
And you're in the SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, breaking news. We expect to hear any moment now from the parents of the Florida teenager killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer. The police chief in the case just stepped down. We're learning the shooter has a surprising past. We'll get some details for you.
Also, a U.S. connection to the French gunman killed by commandos, and new questions about whether he had any help carrying out his deadly shooting sprees.
And doctors explain the unexplainable. How a soccer player is alive and talking after technically being dead for more than an hour.
We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: But first, the breaking news out of Florida in the controversy surrounding the death of an unarmed Black teenager. Trayvon Martin's parents are expected to speak at a news conference any minute now. They've met with justice department officials just a short while ago. You're looking at live pictures outside the news conference.
The family and their supporters have been calling for the arrests of the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed Martin. The Sanford Florida police chief bowed to mounting pressure as he's stepping down, at least, temporarily from his post. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL LEE, OUTGOING SANFORD, FLORIDA, POLICE CHIEF: My role as a leader of this agency has become a distraction from the investigation. While I stand by the Sanford Police Department, its personnel, and the investigation that was conducted in regards to the Trayvon Martin case, it is apparent that my involvement in this matter is overshadowing the process.
Therefore, I have come to the decision that I must temporarily remove myself from the position as police chief for the city of Sanford. I do this in the hopes of restoring some semblance of calm to the city, which has been in turmoil for several weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're also learning more about the shooter, George Zimmerman, and his past in the Northern Virginia area just outside of Washington, D.C. Let's go there. CNNs Brian Todd has been investigating. What are you finding out, Brian?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we're here on the street where George Zimmerman grew up in Manassas, Virginia. This is the house where he grew up where we believe he lived until about 2001. And over here, neighbors we spoke to, an elderly couple, still trying to come to grips with what happened to the family they knew.
TODD (voice-over): George Hall looks at the local newspaper and still can't believe it. His former cross the street neighbor, George Zimmerman, is a front-page headline.
GEORGE HALL, FORMER NEIGHBOR OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: This thing about George just floors me. I mean, I'm shocked. I -- I didn't realize it was him at first, you know? I would have never guessed it.
TODD: George and Kay Hall lived across from Zimmerman and his family for about two decades until the Zimmermans moved after George graduated from high school. George Hall, a retired Presbyterian minister described Zimmerman and his older brother as friendly, dependable neighbors, part of a tightly neat family who had their maternal grandmother living with them.
(on-camera): I mean, what was his demeanor like as a young man in the neighborhood?
HALL: He was always polite. Both of them were always polite. They were always thoughtful.
TODD (voice-over): Helping with groceries, Hall says, helping them retrieve their dog. According to the Halls and state officials, Zimmerman's parents worked in local government. His father, Robert, as a magistrate, his mother, Gladys, as a clerk, for the Prince William County court. The pastor of All Saints Catholic Church says George Zimmerman was an altar boy here.
(on-camera) George Zimmerman graduated from Osborne High School in 2001. We were told no member of the faculty could talk to us about him. In the yearbook, there's not a lot of information about him. It does say that he was in the future business leaders of America in his junior and senior years. (voice-over) And in a section entitled planning for their future, a quote from George Zimmerman. "I'm going to Florida to work with my godfather who just bought a $1 million business, but George Zimmerman's career plans seemed to have changed.
(on-camera) A couple years back, he came to you and ask you for a recommendation?
HALL: Yes, because he wanted to go to the police academy and become a police officer.
TODD: What did you write on the recommendation?
HALL: Yes. A very positive one. I mean, I have nothing but the strongest positive feelings for the whole family, including the boys.
TODD (voice-over): I asked Kay Hall about a key implication in the Trayvon Martin shooting and Zimmerman's involvement.
(on-camera) Is he a racist from what you know?
KAY HALL FORMER NEIGHBOR OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Not from what I know of, because, basically, they were among minority themselves, you know? Twenty years ago they were Hispanic. Before, there were a lot of Hispanics around. We had Blacks in the neighborhood and Hispanics, Hungarian. There was no discrimination that I ever noticed or saw.
TODD: George Hall says if there can be no case made against George Zimmerman, he hopes that authorities in Florida will help Zimmerman through all of this. Hall says if there is a case to be made against Zimmerman, he hopes that the authorities there will put Zimmerman in jail for his own protection -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Brian, you're also hearing other stories from some of the interaction that Zimmerman had with another family in that neighborhood. Tell our viewers.
TODD: That's right. We talked to a woman down the street here, an African-American woman. She did not want to be filmed. She did not want her name used or anything regarding her family, her house, anything like that. She did say, though, that her young son had corresponded on Facebook with George Zimmerman.
She was not sure if this occurred since the Trayvon Martin shootings or not, but she said that her son had on occasion, a corresponded with George Zimmerman on Facebook. So, again, a lot of diversity in this neighborhood. George Zimmerman, at least, had a relationship with people of all walks of life from this neighborhood.
BLITZER: Brian Todd in Manassas, Northern, Virginia, for us. Thanks, Brian.
CNN's special report, by the way, will break down the legal angles to the Trayvon Martin killing and the reaction in Florida across the country Saturday night, 7:00 p.m. eastern only here on CNN.
And we're standing by for a news conference in Sanford, Florida, the parents of Trayvon Martin. They'll be coming over there fairly soon. They've been meeting with justice department officials to get -- we'll get their reaction to what they heard from justice department officials where, at least, investigating, starting an investigation, potentially, into civil rights abuses if, in fact, that did occur in the shooting of Sanford, but we don't have that yet.
We did just get a statement in from the justice department. Let me read it to our viewers as you look at what's going on in Sanford, Florida right now. Earlier today, U.S. attorney for the middle district of Florida, Robert O'Neal, the deputy assistant general for the civil rights division, Roy Austin, Jr., and other department officials met with the family of Trayvon Martin, specifically his father, Mr. Tracy Martin, and his mother, Miss Sybrina Fulton along with their attorney.
First and foremost the statement from the justice department says, "We extended and continue to extend our deepest condolences to the family for their loss. During the course of this meeting, we listened carefully to the concerns of the family and the representatives."
The statement winds up by saying this. "Earlier this week, the Department of Justice announced the opening of a parallel investigation in the death of Trayvon Martin. That matter remains open at this time. The department of justice, U.S. attorneys office, and FBI are available to provide local authorities with assistance in this case where appropriate."
All right. That's the statement just released by the justice department. We'll have the news conference from the parents as soon as they show up there. There'll be a rally there later tonight as well. We're watching this story unfold.
We're also watching other important news, including more information now about the man behind the deadly shooting spree in France. The man was apparently on the U.S. no-fly list. Mohamed Merah was shot in the head by commandos earlier this morning after a 31-hour siege.
A U.S. intelligence official confirms Merah was on the radar of American law enforcement, because he had attended an al Qaeda training camp. So, why wasn't Merah stopped sooner? Did anyone help him? CNN's senior international correspondent, Dan Rivers, is in Toulouse, France.
DAN RIVERS, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this evening, President Sarkozy has described the killings of Mohamed Merah as the crimes of a monster and a fanatic, and as a result, he's proposing new anti-terrorism laws here in France, which would include banning people on visiting extremist websites on punishing people who go to foreign training camps and an investigation into French prisons into whether they are a breeding ground for ideological indoctrination. It's significant, because Mohamed Merah was arrested ten times in his youth. Of course, his killing spree here in Toulouse, resulting in one of the biggest manhunts France has ever seen -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Dan Rivers, and so right now, the investigation -- there's still a lot of unanswered questions whether or not there was an accomplice or anything like that. That still continues, is that right?
RIVERS: That's right. Yes. I mean, his brother was arrested. One of his other brothers attended a police station voluntarily. They are looking into a cache of weapons that they found in a vehicle here. One of the big questions here, Wolf, is how on earth he amassed this enormous arsenal of guns, an Uzi sub machine gun, an AK-47.
He had huge amounts of ammunition. There's tight gun controls here in France so that will clearly be an area in which they will look into this, and there are political ramifications here as well, Wolf.
We're only, what, about a month out now from the French presidential election with both sides, President Sarkozy and his main rival, Francois Hollande, trading insults over this accusing each other of campaigning over this case where they said they would suspend their campaigning. But the big news this evening is that President Sarkozy has got a bump in the polls over this. He's now two points out in front.
BLITZER: Dan Rivers on the scene for us in Toulouse, France. We'll continue to monitor this story as well. Thanks very much.
We're told that the parents of Trayvon Martin, they are now getting ready to hold this news conference down there in Sanford, Florida. We haven't seen them yet, but we're told that they're there. They're getting ready to make a statement, presumably, and answer some questions as well. Sunny Hostin, our CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor is joining us right now.
Sunny, let's set the stage for what we are about to hear. You just heard me read the statement from the justice department with the announcement on their meeting with the parents. The parents presumably are going to make a statement and answer some questions, but give our viewers a little perspective on what we are likely to hear.
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think we're likely to hear that the justice department certainly wanted to explain to this family that they are looking at this case, that they are going to be working in tandem with local law enforcement authorities, that they are not going to necessarily take over the investigation, but that they will be involved, and they'll be more involve if local law enforcement officers ask them to be.
I'm sure that they also wanted to manage their expectations in terms of a civil rights case here, Wolf, because the bottom line is in order to prove a federal civil right hate crime case, it's going to be very difficult because the government would have to prove that a person acted -- Zimmerman acted intentionally with the specific intent to do something which the law forbids.
That is the highest level of intent in our criminal law, very, very difficult to prove again, but I'm sure that the justice department wanted to make sure that this family understood what they are up against, but also understood that they are there, that they are involved, and that they are looking over the facts of this case.
BLITZER: Now, George Zimmerman, the man at the center right now who shot Trayvon Martin, he says in self-defense. He's still a free man. He has not been arrested. And I take it, he still has the right to maintain his weapon, is that right?
HOSTIN: Well, that's right. I mean, he certainly lawfully had his weapon on that night in February. He had a permit to have a concealed weapon. We don't know, though, I have not confirmed, Wolf, whether or not his weapon had been taken by the police department, whether or not they are keeping it as evidence. I haven't been able to confirm that even though I have spoken with the Martin family's attorneys.
I'm told that the police department hasn't confirmed to them whether or not they still have his weapon. In fact, they told the Martin family attorneys that they couldn't share that information with them, because this is an active investigation.
BLITZER: All right. As soon as the parents come over to that news conference, we'll go there. Stand by, Sunny. I want to bring you in for your analysis as well. Obviously, a lot of anger in Sanford, Florida, indeed, around the country. We're watching this closely.
We're also watching the race for the White House and the iconic toy that's now become a symbol of Mitt Romney's campaign problems. Our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, is covering the Romney campaign for us. The Etch-A-Sketch issue not going away so quickly.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's a week of the Etch-A-Sketch, Wolf. No surprise that Mitt Romney's rivals were, again, playing with their Etch-A-Sketches today, but the GOP frontrunner maybe shaking things up again, lining up key support for his campaign on Capitol Hill.
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I carry -- I carry one of those around now.
ACOSTA (voice-over): It's the gaffe that keeps on giving. Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich can't leave home without one.
NEWT GINGRICH, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you're serious about changing Washington, D.C., you can't use an Etch-A-Sketch. You can't have a child's toy for president.
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The issues I'm running on will be exactly the same.
ACOSTA: Romney appeared to be finished Wednesday with answering questions about his aide's description of the upcoming general election campaign as an Etch-A-Sketch.
But an avail is more than just one question, governor, if you don't mind me saying.
ROMNEY: Actually, this wasn't avail. It was a chance to respond to the question I didn't get a chance to respond to.
ACOSTA: The Democrats are still toying around. One party activist created the website, EtchASketchMittRomney.com, and liberal bloggers pounced on a 2006 article from a Massachusetts newspaper which quotes Romney as saying, "I don't think that now is the time for us to encourage the use of more gasoline." Contrast that, Romney critics say, with his position now.
ROMNEY: Should we build the Keystone Pipeline? Of course, we should build the Keystone Pipeline. And we should also drill in the gulf, drill in North Dakota, drill in Alaska, and take advantage of our own energy resources.
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I'm president, I intend to keep in place the moratorium here in Florida and around the country.
ACOSTA: But Democrats have had their share of flip-flops, too. Back in 2008, then candidate Barack Obama moved to the center on oil drilling in the gulf.
OBAMA: And if we can come up with a genuine, bipartisan compromise, then that's something I'm open to.
SEN. JOHN KERRY, (D) MASSACHUSETTS: And let's keep the record absolutely clear.
ACOSTA: Then there's John Kerry in 2004.
KERRY: I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it.
ROMNEY: You guys, we have work to do.
ACOSTA: Romney tried to turn the page on Etch-a-Sketch by going behind closed doors on Capitol Hill, meeting with a very supportive sounding, Sen. Jim DeMint, a Tea Party kingmaker.
VOICE OF SEN. JIM DEMINT, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: I'm not only comfortable with Romney, I'm excited about the possibility of him possibly being our nominee.
REP. SEAN DUFFY, (R) WISCONSIN: He talks about what his, you know, what his plan is, what he thinks is his potential is for win the nomination, and why, I think, it has to be wrapped up sooner rather than later. ACOSTA: Romney also met with Wisconsin republicans including, Sean Duffy. A freshman from the upcoming primary state, Duffy is a Romney supporter that says the GOP contender does have some work to do on the Etch-A-Sketch image.
You don't think he's an Etch-A-Sketch?
DUFFY: Of course not. But I guess, you know what, the voters will make that decision. And you know, I think there has been a few concerns that have been voiced.
ACOSTA (on-camera): Now, (INAUDIBLE), Rick Santorum suggested Republicans may be better off staying with the president over as he called it an Etch-A-Sketch candidate that won't go over well in the Republican Party.
It's, sometimes, a reminder that when you milk a rivals gaffe for too long, things can get sketchy, and just wanted to point out, Mitt Romney has put out a statement on what Rick Santorum had to say earlier today saying he is disappointed that Santorum would rather have Barack Obama as president than a Republican. So, might be boomeranging back on Rick Santorum now, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta, thanks very much.
Let's go to that news conference down in Sanford, Florida, right now. You see the lawyer for the family, Benjamin Crump there. You see the Rev. Al Sharpton there, president of the National Action Network. The parents are there, as well. Sybrina Fulton is the mother, Tracy Martin is Trayvon Martin's father.
We're expecting to hear from the parents. They have emerged from a meeting. They've emerged from a meeting with the justice department. Let's listen in to the lawyer, Benjamin Crump.
BENJAMIN CRUMP, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: --involved in this tragedy, in this very unnecessary killing of this teenager who only had a bag of Skittles, while George Zimmerman had a nine millimeter gun. The investigation can go on and on. What we want is an arrest of George Zimmerman today.
CRUMP: OK. Now -- now -- now -- now, one second, one second. Chief Lee had an opportunity to do the right thing. Now, all the eyes of the world are watching the state attorney. Is he going to arrest George Zimmerman or is he going to keep passing the buck? Now -- now, tell them very clearly, state attorney, Norm Wolfinger, you have to arrest George Zimmerman.
We don't want to hear nothing else. Right now, right now, I want to get to you a true leader in the stands for right. When I called him, he didn't waiver nor vacillate. He didn't have to hesitate. He got involved day one when we called him. You all know who I'm talking about, the greatest leader, Reverend Al Sharpton.
REVEREND AL SHARPTON, NATIONAL ACTION NETWORK: We will start the rally at 7:00, but we wanted to come out and answer that we did not come here for a temporary leave of absence. We came --
BLITZER: All right. We're going to monitor this news conference. We're waiting to hear from the parents. Sunny Hostin is still with us, our legal analyst and former federal prosecutor. It looks like that crowd over there, Sunny, is very, very angry, but you heard the lawyer for the family say they want the state attorney, I take it, to get involved and to arrest George Zimmerman, the shooter in this particular case.
He said he shot Trayvon Martin in self-defense. Walk us through the legal aspects. Can the Florida state attorney now take charge of this specific case and remove the Sanford Police Department, if you will, from it?
HOSTIN: Well, that has already happened. We know that the police department, Wolf, investigated this and turned over its investigation to the state's attorneys office, but the state attorneys' office has now said that this will go before the grand jury on April 10th, and so, it seems to me then that this is really going to be in the hands of the grand jury in terms of determining whether or not George Zimmerman will be indicted on any charges.
Now, if he is indicted, that is really akin to an arrest warrant, and he would be then arrested and charged with whatever charges the indictment would come down on. So, the state's attorney's office is certainly still involved in this.
They're still investigating it, I'm sure, but I think what's very telling about what Ben Crump is saying after his meeting with the justice department, I think what it means is that the justice department again has indicated that they're going to work in tandem, that they are involved, but this is still very much a local law enforcement investigation.
BLITZER: All right. I think the mother now is speaking, the mother of Trayvon Martin, Sybrina Fulton. I just want to hear what she has to say. They met with justice department officials.
SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: I thank God for being here, and I thank God for you being here.
FULTON: Since the chief has stepped down, it's a temporary -- we need a permanent release (ph). (INAUDIBLE)
CRUMP: And I want to share with you last night, even though we're here in Sanford, Florida, we were in Reverend Sharpton's backyard in New York City, and I want you to know that the people of New York let Tracy and Sybrina know that Martin -- that the Trayvon Martin movement for justice is just not here in Florida, it is in New York City.
CRUMP: It is in Southern California, it is in London, England, and it's going to keep growing until they arrest, prosecute, and convict George Zimmerman!
TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: We would like to thank everybody for coming out supporting us. We want you all to know that we love you. We want you to know that we love Trayvon. We would like -- that the temporary step down of Bill Lee is nothing. We want an arrest, we want a conviction, and we want an arrest of the murderer of our son.
BLITZER: That's Tracy Martin, that's the father of Trayvon Martin. We heard Sybrina Fulton, the mother, they want the state to arrest George Zimmerman, the shooter, in this particular case. He says he shot Trayvon Martin, the teenager, unarmed because it was in self-defense.
Stand by. We'll have more on this story coming up, but there's another important story breaking right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
BLITZER: I want to go right to Kareen Wynter. She's in Los Angeles. She's got a developing story, breaking news on the death of Whitney Houston. Kareen, what are you learning?
KAREEN WYNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the Los Angeles coroner's office, Wolf, just gave us what they said was the first official copy of the toxicology report for Whitney Houston who died back in February the day before the Grammys. And Wolf, I can tell you the final cause of death has been determined. It's been ruled drowning.
We also know that at the time of her death, Whitney Houston, had heart disease. There was also cocaine, Wolf, found in her system. She was found submerged in a bathtub at the Beverly Hilton hotel again just the day before the Grammys.
There was cocaine in her system, as well. What's also interesting, Wolf, in terms of the toxicology here, in addition to cocaine there were other metabolites that were identified and were contributory to her death, marijuana, the drug Xanax, however, Flexeril, and Benadryl were identified, but they did not -- did not contribute to her death. We're just told here, cocaine and other metabolites. Finally, no foul play or trauma is suspected, even though this report lists the cause of death and some other details, we're told. Another detailed report that outlines basically more factors that resulted in this toxicology report, all of the findings in the last several weeks, that will be released some time next week.
But again, Whitney Houston, her cause of death being ruled accidental -- Wolf.
BLITZER: So, no foul play, but heart disease and cocaine directly related to the drowning. Is that the bottom line we're seeing in this formal, official report?
WYNTER: That's the bottom line here, drowning and the affects of cocaine. Cocaine was found in her system. She also had heart disease at the time. This whole thing, you know, it's been a long process for the family as well, Wolf, and I know that Bobbi Kristina was at the center of this investigation. Investigators here that say she was crucial to this investigation in terms of closing out this toxicology.
They weren't able to interview Bobbi Kristina, but she was the primary point of contact for the toxicology findings, the primary family contact, and so, they were able to reach her. We're hoping to get more information from Ed Winter (ph) with the coroner's office in terms of how exactly she was notified.
Since they had so many problems getting in touch with her in the past several weeks, I believe that they had to locate her through her attorney. So, again, we're waiting for more details right now, but as it stands, drowning as well as heart disease and cocaine found in Whitney Houston's system -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I want you to read that report. I want to get back to you, Kareen, specifically, the nature of the heart disease, how much cocaine was found in her system, and the result, obviously, being drowning, a very tragic story, indeed. Kareen Wynter on the scene for us with the latest on Whitney Houston's death. The official report out.
We'll also try speak with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, get his medical expertise on what we've just learned.
We're also following other news, including President Obama. He's trying to disarm critics right now who blame him directly for all the high gasoline prices. Republicans say he's claiming credit for doing nothing. We're taking a closer, harder look at his new announcement about a controversial oil pipeline as well.
And teammates were stunned, stunned, when a soccer player suddenly collapsed on the field. They're even more shocked that he's alive right now after technically being dead for more than an hour.
BLITZER: We now have the coroner's report here from Los Angeles, California, on the death of Whitney Houston. She died on February 12th at the age of 48. I want to bring in our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent.
Sanjay, let me read to you from the report. She was found submerged in a bathtub filled with water. There was cocaine intake. It says -- it says in addition to cocaine, other drugs that were identified including marijuana, Xanax, Flexeril, Benadryl, but those drugs did not necessarily contribute to the death. No trauma or foul play is suspected.
It is anticipated the final coroner report will be available for release within two weeks. But the headline here is that they did find that there was heart disease. There was cocaine use, but she actually drowned in that bathtub.
What do you make of this report?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, you know, if someone has cocaine use in their body and has a history of heart disease which is what they're saying here in the first couple of lines in this report, the cocaine can actually exacerbate or worsen someone's heart disease. It really constricts blood vessels, can cut off blood flow to the heart itself, and you're sort of setting someone up for having a heart attack or some sort of heart failure.
And it sounds like reading between the lines of what happened is you have someone who has a history of heart disease, takes cocaine, has a heart attack while is in the bathtub and accidentally drowns. Now they made specific note as you mentioned, Wolf, because there was a lot of speculation about those other pill bottles, but I think they -- while they're saying there was, you know, some of those medications found in her system, there certainly weren't that high enough doses, even in combination with each other, to cause this problem.
BLITZER: Because, you know, you hear about cocaine, obviously, someone with heart disease, but then you start finding all these other drugs in her system. What you're saying is the other drug like marijuana or Xanax, or Flexeril or Benadryl, they didn't necessarily contribute to the death. But is that normal?
GUPTA: Well, you know, the -- when you talk about these medications, even an isolation, in high enough doses, you wonder, can they -- can they actually hinder someone's ability to breathe on their own or hinder their reflexes in terms of protecting their airway and then certainly in combination you worry about that even more so, but there are, you know, toxicology reports that can sort of shed some light on that specifically in the concentrations with these medications and including the marijuana and cocaine are found in her blood.
But the idea that someone, you know, had taken cocaine and subsequently had some sort of catastrophic heart event, you know, whether their heart -- they either have a attack because their heart stopped beating, even for a period of time, and she also happened to be in the bathtub at that time so it may have lapsed into a period of unconsciousness and subsequently drowned.
It seems -- you know, again, they say more details are going to come in the next couple of weeks but it really seems like that's what they're pointing their finger at here in terms of cause of death. So whether or not she actually had -- they had evidence of drowning and then sort of worked backwards to the heart disease and the cocaine, not exactly sure how they arrived at that conclusion, but it sounds like that's what they're saying -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, they're saying the final cause of death has been determined to be drowning and then the effects of the heart disease and the cocaine use. Does the cocaine use cause the heart disease or if you have heart disease and you use cocaine it exacerbates the potential for having some sort of heart issue and potentially drowning?
GUPTA: Yes, I think -- I think it's more so the latter in terms of this particular situation. So they described and they commented on arteriosclerotic disease specifically.
BLITZER: What does that mean exactly? What does that mean?
GUPTA: That's sort of a hardening of the arteries. That -- you know, we talk about that. That's not the -- specifically to cocaine use, that's more due to lifestyle, you know, just the sorts of thing that, you know, we talk about all the time, you know, just people developing heart problems or coronary vessel disease as a result of diet, exercise -- lack of exercise and things like that, but what happens with cocaine is, if someone who already has that degree of disease it can make it -- it can make a situation worse because it constricts the blood vessels.
So the blood vessels are already kind of hardened and narrowed as a result of the disease, you add cocaine into the -- into the equation and it makes the situation worse, someone may go through a period of time when they're just not getting enough blood flow as a result of that constriction of the blood vessels and that caused a heart attack.
And again, being that she was in the bathtub, that may have been, you know, she'd lapsed into a period of unconsciousness, that would explain the drowning.
BLITZER: Yes, except it doesn't say here, Sanjay -- I'm reading this, maybe I'm not reading it properly. It doesn't say she had a heart attack. It just says she had the effects of arteriosclerotic disease and cocaine use. Does that mean she had a heart attack before she drowned?
GUPTA: Yes, it's -- I think that what they're basically saying is that probably the cocaine use contributed to some sort of heart event where her heart probably wasn't getting enough blood flow. You know, when you're actually describing heart attack, that's a very specific thing where you look for evidence of heart muscle actually having, you know, died. The muscle tissue not surviving. In this case it may happened so quickly that she -- subsequently she, you know, was drowned or, you know -- you know, because of falling into the bathtub or lapsing into unconsciousness in the bathtub that it was the cocaine and arteriosclerotic disease, one on top of the other that sort of made that happened.
The heart muscle dying sometimes can take a little while so we may not have evidence of that, but again the cocaine use on top of arteriosclerotic disease is -- you know, it seems like they're making that pretty clear in terms of what caused this whole event.
BLITZER: Yes, you shouldn't be taking cocaine under any circumstances, but certainly not if you have this kind of heart disease. How unusual is it for a 48-year-old woman who is obviously not overweight or anything like that to have this kind of disease? Is that just a genetic issue or is that the result of lifestyle?
GUPTA: You know, Wolf, it's interesting. You can -- you can see a lot of people who appear thin, you know, you think -- you think to yourself, they don't seem like somebody who would have heart disease but that's not always a good indicator of what's going on inside their heart.
Now people can be thin, they can even appear fit, but in fact has significant heart disease. And by the way, the -- the opposite of that is true as well, you have people who don't appear as fit, whose hearts are actually OK. So I don't think you can read too much into her -- you know, recent appearance where she was thin. This is almost always -- you know, people all developed some degree of arteriolosclerosis or a hardening of the arteries as we age. And some people are worse than others. And a lot of times that's because of lifestyle decisions over their life.
BLITZER: They conducted the autopsy on February 12th, 2012, the day after she died in Los Angeles in Beverly Hills. Does it normally, what, take five, six weeks to complete an autopsy of this nature?
GUPTA: Well, you know, that's a good question. I think a lot of times the big sort of questions are sort of figured out earlier than that, but I think the time lapse is usually because you're trying to put all the pieces together. So if the cause of death was drowning, why would a 48-year-old woman taking a bath drown? Did she have some sort of event and if so, what was that event?
So if there's no indication of trauma or foul play, as was also indicated in the report, then you start looking at other things that would cause someone to perhaps lapse into consciousness -- unconsciousness, rather, lose their airway, whatever may be. And I think, you know, sometimes you're working backward a little bit. They probably found evidence of the -- of the cocaine and other medications and drugs you mentioned in the blood stream, but then putting it all together, realizing she had arteriosclerotic disease, and trying to offer the best explanation.
It's not perfect and it takes this long just to come up with the most likely scenario -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Sanjay, if you can hold for a moment, our own Don Lemon has just spoken directly with the coroner. Don, you're on the phone as well. Tell us what he told you -- or she told you.
DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR/CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Just a minute or two ago, Wolf, I spoke with Ed Winter and I heard you and Sanjay on the air, and I called him up because I wanted to clear it up immediately. And here's what he said to me, he said the cause of death, Don, was due to drowning and the effects of arteriosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use.
And I said, well, what does that mean? Does it mean she had a heart attack? Does it mean she drowned? Which one happened first? He said she probably had a heart attack because of using cocaine at the time and went under water. And I said, you know, Mr. Coroner, exactly what does that mean? Which one precipitated the other?
He said, it was probably all of them, taking a bath, a bad heart, taking cocaine, went under the water and she died, and he said the final tox reports won't due -- won't be listed with the levels of everything that was in her body for another two weeks now. But all of those drugs that they mentioned, the cocaine and metabolite, the marijuana, all of it -- appeared to be Xanax -- contributing factors, so he did say the cause of death, it was accidental but cocaine did contribute to her death, having a bad heart --
LEMON: All of it.
BLITZER: Cocaine, they did say that.
LEMON: Yes. Because --
BLITZER: Yes, because in the toxicology report, Don -- and Sanjay is still with us as well -- it specifically says that cocaine was identified, obviously, contributory to the death but it then goes on to say that the other drugs that they found in her body, including marijuana, Xanax, Flexeril, Benadryl, did not contribute to the death.
Sanjay, how do they know that? How can they be so firm? I'm seeing these drugs. And tell our viewers what Xanax ,and Flexeril, Benadryl -- Benadryl is obviously something that's sold over the counter, but Xanax is a major drug.
GUPTA: Yes, it is. It's an anti-anxiety medication, and the Flexeril is a muscle relaxant. Benadryl is a an antihistamine, as you mentioned, sold over the counter. Well, you're asking a good question, Wolf, and again part of this is determining the level of these medications or the active ingredients of these medications in the blood, and trying to figure out, were the levels high enough to possibly cause death either in isolation or in combination one with the other?
And they -- you know, they've reached the determination that -- at least as I'm reading it as you are, Wolf, but that was not a contributing factor, these other medications. It's not to say that the medications, you know, in combination were not at all harmful, but I think what they're saying here is that if you are specifically asking what was the cause of death here? The picture that they're really seeming to draw is that this is a woman who had heart disease, she took cocaine, the cocaine caused a -- an event within her heart, a heart attack, call it, and that heart attack caused her to -- you know, she's taking a bath, she slipped into the bathtub and drowned.
So, it's not to say that those other medications possibly couldn't have been problematic, but she died as a result of drowning because of the cocaine on top of the heart disease.
BLITZER: Because the cocaine, even if she -- and Don, I just want to get back to you. Ed Winter, the coroner, the man you spoke to -- did he or did he not say that these other drugs contributed to the death?
LEMON: Well, I think Sanjay's explanation is pretty -- is pretty correct. That's -- and that's what he said. I don't think that they alone, any of the other drugs, would have caused her to die, but I think in combination with taking cocaine as Sanjay said in combination with having a heart disease, and I would imagine that because of that, because she took these things, and possibly her muscles were, you know, gave out, or, you know, when you take Xanax and any number of these things you get drowsy, you're weaker or what have you.
So I would imagine that alone she wouldn't have died from those, but when you put them all together, I think that that's what it means. But I think the major contributing factors, the major contributing factors, and you see the toxicology, you see the press release there, Wolf. I'm looking at it in my hand, the first thing that is mentioned is cocaine and then the second thing are metabolytes.
And -- so I think with the heart disease, with the cocaine, she just slipped under water. As he said, she probably had a heart attack first, she probably became weak maybe because of the other drugs. She had a heart attack. She slipped under the water and she drowned.
BLITZER: What does that mean, Sanjay, metabolytes? Because in this toxicology report it says cocaine and metabolytes were identified and were contributory to the death.
GUPTA: What they're usually referring to in a situation like this, and I think when they're referring to metabolytes, I think they're saying cocaine and metabolytes. It means that, you know, you find -- when cocaine is in the body, it starts to break down after a period of time into some -- it's more basic ingredients.
So when you see that in a report like this, it gives you some sense of timing. If you haven't found actual cocaine in the bloodstream and it was not fully broken down, yet you also found metabolytes, you can -- again, and this is -- this is trying to put pieces of the puzzle together. We don't know for sure, but when you see cocaine and metabolytes, both (INAUDIBLE) that there have been some cocaine that had been taken at some point, it had already been there long enough to break down into its metabolytes. And there was more recent cocaine in the bloodstream at the time of death that was taken that had not broken down yet either because not enough time had passed or because she had died and when the person dies they're not metabolizing as fast or as much anymore.
BLITZER: How long do these drugs stay in the system? In other words, if she had taken these drugs weeks earlier, would there still be evidence of that? The Xanax, the Flexeril, the Benadryl, the cocaine, and all of these other drugs, the marijuana? Or would they just be last 24, 48 hours that they would be -- there would be evidence in such a toxicology report?
GUPTA: They vary in terms of what is known as half life. You know, you measure drugs breakdown and you find half the amount of the concentration and at another point it breaks down again. Some medication or some drugs, I should say, like marijuana have a much longer -- you can find evidence of them in the body much longer. Medication or drugs like cocaine will break down more quickly.
I don't know the (INAUDIBLE) and all the other medications, but this isn't something that -- especially with regard to the cocaine, especially if they're finding cocaine in its unmetabolized form, that is something that would have been taken weeks before. This was -- really -- it seemed to be indicating in this report it was a much more recent thing.
BLITZER: And, Don, you've covered the story, you know, from day one, you were out in Los Angeles, did an excellent job reporting on it. What's going to be the likely reaction to this coroner's report?
LEMON: Well, it's funny that you just said that, because I was going jump in and say, you know, when Sanjay and I were both covering the story, I think the consensus was that it would not be surprising if it was -- if drug use contributed to her death because she was an admitted addict.
I think the reaction is going to be, you know, people knew -- Wolf, people knew Whitney Houston was an addict. I think there's going to be sadness, obviously, because everyone had hoped that it would be something else that possibly she just, you know, was sick and died, maybe of a heart attack and they were hoping she had gotten it together and she wasn't using cocaine anymore.
But what I think the overall reaction should be to this is a wake-up call among America, among the world, and especially among the black community, and I'm just being honest, that people have addictions in your family and you have to admit it. You have to talk about it. You can't sweep it under the rug and say, hey, this doesn't exist because you don't want your problems to be aired publicly.
So I think the -- but I think the reaction is going to be one of sadness, obviously, and I think people are going to realize, you know what, Whitney Houston sadly was an addict and she died partially because of cocaine use and -- hang on one second, we're getting -- I just got some new information.
I had one of my producers, Wolf, call the coroner's office to find out about alcohol.
LEMON: And the coroner is saying there's no alcohol in the system that was found. No alcohol. The chief operating officer, the PIO, the chief of operations of the PIO at the coroner's office said to his knowledge at this point there was no alcohol found which was interesting because days before people talked about her heavy drinking.
LEMON: But anyway, going back to that, I think -- I think it's going to be sadness, but again, it's a wake-up call that people do have addictions and they shouldn't be stigmatized. One addiction is no different than the other.
LEMON: Having an addiction to food is no different to having an addiction to alcohol which is no different than having an addiction to sex which is no different than having addiction to drugs or cocaine. An addiction is an addiction is an addiction.
BLITZER: And, Sanjay, I want to go to a quick break, but before I do, Don makes an excellent point, but I just have to add, you know, white people, black people, a lot of people have problems with drug addiction, and give us a final thought on a lesson we should all learn from this tragic death of a woman who literally had it all.
GUPTA: Well, you know, you talk about someone who had had a history of addictions, who've been treated for addiction. And it's a -- it's an incredibly, incredibly difficult disease from which to recover, but just about anything, as we talked about, can unfortunately put you back on the path of addiction. She -- you know, cocaine is going to be, obviously, the focus because of what the coroner reports have said, but she did have these other substances in her body and many of those substances, if you're an addict as someone who's -- you know, had a history of addiction, been treated for addiction, any of those substances can put you back on the path to addiction again.
But just -- what may have happened here, I mean, it may have started simple for some of the drugs that we think of as more innocuous, but obviously graduated up to, as you saw there in the report, marijuana and also cocaine.
BLITZER: Yes. A sad, sad story, indeed. Don Lemon, thanks very much for your excellent reporting.
Sanjay, as usual, thanks to you, as well.
We'll take a quick break. A lot of news happening here in THE SITUATION ROOM today. We'll update you on all the news when we come back.
BLITZER: We have a statement that we just received from Whitney Houston's family. I'll read it to you. "We are saddened to learn of the toxicology reports although we are glad to now have closure."
The toxicology reports says that Whitney Houston died of heart disease, drowning, aggravated by cocaine use. She says they were using -- she was using cocaine. Other drugs were found in her system, including Xanax, Flexeril, Benadryl but they did not contribute to the death. What did contribute was cocaine use and the effects of heart disease. We will stay on top of this story and bring you more as we get it. But other news we're following.
Mary Snow has got some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now, including a new satellite imagery of a launch pad in North Korea.
Mary, what happened?
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the images may reveal North Korea's plans. Analysts at Digitalglobe.org say a rail line could be seen running to a missile assembly building that allows missiles to move from a factory near Pyongyang to the launch pad for assembly. An expected satellite launch by North Korea would violate a deal to suspend missile launchers and nuclear activity in exchange for food aid.
Actor Robert De Niro is taking heat from both parties for a joke he made about America not being, quote, "ready for a white first lady." Newt Gingrich says it was inexcusable and the Obama campaign calls it inappropriate. But is De Niro sorry for it?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT DE NIRO, ACTOR/DIRECTOR: I apologize. No, I don't apologize. I think it was silly. And I'm sorry that it had to go that way. It's ridiculous. And everybody knows that. So that's all I have to say about it. Nonsense.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SNOW: Ann Romney told CNN's Piers Morgan, she thought it was a joke -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Mary, thank you.
News of the trade shocked the sports world. Tim Tebow to the Jets. But will his squeaky clean image survive in Gotham? Stand by.
BLITZER: He is certainly one of the most popular players in the NFL especially among Christians but can Tim Tebow keep his faith in the city that never sleeps? Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): America's most Christian quarterback headed for Sodom and Gomorrah?
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Tebow in New York City? Talk about throwing a Christian to the lions. Oh my god.
MOOS: Amen. The tabloids are already making god-puns. "God- him." And just when New Yorkers thought the whole pun thing with the Knicks Jeremy Lin had been exhausted --
KELLY RIPKA, TV HOST: Lin-explicable.
WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Lin-sanity.
MOOS: Now it's Tim-sanity. Tim Tebow facing so much Tim-tation in sin city.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not a sin city. We got a lot of Christian people here.
MOOS (on camera): So am I talking to one of them?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, you are.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he's going to get adjusted to all these beautiful women out here.
MOOS (voice-over): It sort of reminds us of Buck in "Midnight Cowboy."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am heading on to New York City, ma'am.
MOOS: Except instead of taking a bus, Tebow flew in on a private jet. Instead of a hustler, Tebow has said he's saving himself. That didn't stop TMZ from asking, who would you rather, Tebow or the Jet's first-string quarterback, Mark Sanchez? Tebow won. But he's not winning with former Jets quarterback, Joe Namoth, who said of the Jets --
JOE NAMOTH, FORMER QUARTERBACK: I don't think they know what they're doing over there right now.
MOOS: Sports commentator Stephen Smith called Tebow the worst quarterback in the NFL.
STEPHEN SMITH, SPORTS COMMENTATOR: Not only that, he has a low football IQ.
MOOS: But fans tend to be more forgiving.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm glad he's here. He is positive. We need positive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's not cocky.
MOOS (on camera): He's humble, he's nice and New Yorkers can go for that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I think so. They have a choice?
MOOS (voice-over): One fan chose this, suggesting it be the Jets new logo, while another tweeted, "MetLife stadium is now prolife stadium."
Tebow will be working under a coach known for salty language and a fetish for feet. A year or so ago intimate videos surfaced --
REX RYAN, JETS COACH: Wow, they're like really soft.
MOOS: But at least they were Coach Ryan's wife's feet. Remember, Tebow is saving himself for marriage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He is pretty cute. I think there is something wrong with him. But he's cute.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, that's what I don't like about it. You know?
MOOS (on camera): Why, that he is a virgin?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who really knows that's true.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Only God knows, Tebow.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He does it like this.
MOOS (voice-over): Meanwhile, New Yorkers who don't usually get on their knees for anybody, prepare to dip for late-night comics to cartoonists taking liberties with Lady Liberty. These Denver fans want Tebow back.
Jeanne Moos, CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Here's to you, Tebow.
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: Tim Tebow, only, only the best in New York. Good luck, Tim Tebow with the new New York Jets.
That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.