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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT

Whitney Houston's Death; Prescription Drug Addiction

Aired February 13, 2012 - 19:00   ET

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


ERIN BURNETT, HOST: OUTFRONT tonight, the death of Whitney Houston, the latest details from Hollywood and we speak to a woman who was her friend for more than two decades. And what killed the famed singer, was it a deadly mix of legal drugs in many of our homes? We'll find out about that.

And our other top story, we go to Homs, Syria where dozens were killed today. We go there tonight. Let's go OUTFRONT.

I'm Erin Burnett, and OUTFRONT tonight new details on the death of Whitney Houston. Her funeral will be held in New Jersey this Friday reportedly at the Prudential Center in Newark, an arena that can hold nearly 20,000 people. The venue is close to the New Hope (ph) Baptist Church where as a girl she sang in the choir.

We're going to go live to the coroner's office and get the latest on her final hour of life and the investigation into how exactly she died. Everyone admired Houston's magnificent voice. She won more awards than any other female singer. And she's the only singer ever to have had seven conservative number one hits.

For me, I idealized Houston as a teenager. "The Bodyguard" was a favorite movie of mine in high school. Whitney Houston was gorgeous. The story was a fairytale and the song went on replay on what back then were boom boxes and that movie came out in 1992, the same year she married Bobby Brown and many say that was the start of her downfall, an abusive relationship, cocaine, marijuana, alcohol, prescription drugs, rehab. A few years back she spoke about one drug she said she never actually even used.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: The drugs and lifestyle took away her glorious gift. Her voice, as you heard there, a voice that sold 170 million albums and still brings goose bumps to anyone who hears it. Everyone hoped she'd get back on track, that those comeback albums would deliver and that her voice would come back. Instead she died at age 48. And the big question is whether her addictions and demons played a part in a tragedy. Don Lemon is in Hollywood with the latest and Don has been covering this, was in this weekend covering this hour-to-hour. And Don, what can you tell us about how she died tonight?

DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I spoke with the assistant chief coroner here in Los Angeles County and he told me about how her body was found, which we have heard, in a bathroom. One of her staff members came in and found her. But the interesting thing that he talked about, Erin was prescription medication in the room that the tabloids are making so much about. What he said to me is that there were prescription medications in the room but nothing out of the ordinary.

As a matter of fact he said to me, I have more prescription drugs in my home than what was found in the room and he didn't understand why people were making such a big deal about it. He said just let the investigation play out so they can figure out exactly how she died.

BURNETT: Yes, and you're right. I mean everyone is sort of jumping to that conclusion and they have not done so from the coroner's office. But with al this talk about drugs, Don, I wanted to ask you about some of the pictures we've all seen of her where she looks sort of strung out or something doesn't look right at a nightclub. I know you've been inside the nightclub where this picture was taken.

LEMON: Yes.

BURNETT: What can you tell us about that?

LEMON: I just ran over from the nightclub just about five minutes ago before we did this -- before I did this report. And what the manager of that club or one of the managers of the club tells me, it was hot in the club, it was packed with people. She was there to support her friend Kelly Price. They were doing a tribute to R & B and she came out to support. And she didn't think she was going to be called up on stage.

Kelly Price called her up and said, hey, my little sister is here, Whitney Houston. She came up, sang the song. And she said when she -- the manager said when she left the club, she had to go out, Erin, through a sea of people and everyone was trying to touch her and it was hot and if you're in a club like that, you're going to leave hot and sweaty, as well.

BURNETT: Yes.

LEMON: And he says those pictures tell a snapshot. We don't know what she was doing, if she was strung out or disheveled or whatever. But many people, most of the people who left the club that night looked the way Whitney Houston did.

BURNETT: Which is interesting context to those pictures and it seems very fair to bring that up. I know that her estranged ex- husband Bobby Brown came to town last night. Obviously he continued with his performance on Saturday night after news of her death. Can you tell us what he's doing in L.A.?

LEMON: Well, his daughter. His daughter Bobbi Kristina right after -- Bobbi Kristina was staying at the Beverly Hilton with her mom, Erin, and she -- Bobbi Kristina was down in the lobby enjoying the festivities and when she heard about it she ran upstairs to the room to see her mom and police wouldn't let her in. She was so upset they -- a bit of an altercation and she just started screaming, and as you can imagine, an 18-year-old girl losing her mother going up to see, had to take her to the hospital after that.

Then they -- and they released her. And then the next day they had to take her to the hospital again. Again, an 18-year-old girl who just lost her mom suddenly you can understand. So Bobby came to town to pick her up and to bring her back east to be with her family.

BURNETT: All right, well Don Lemon thank you very much, with the very latest there from L.A. and having spoken to the coroner.

Whether Whitney Houston was in the midst of a successful comeback, we might never know. The last images and sounds of her singing at a pre-Grammy party last Thursday may be a glimpse into her life, but they don't tell the whole story. Her good friend and Grammy nominated singer Kelly Price says that despite Whitney's past she was in a good place now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KELLY PRICE, SINGER: Whitney was partying. She was happy. She was sober, maybe a little tipsy because she had some champagne. But we had a good time Thursday night and I will not let anybody say anything else about my friend because it's not true.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: Houston's death Saturday afternoon at the Beverly Hilton hotel shocked those her knew her best. Sheryl Lee Ralph has known her for more than two decades. She's the author of "Redefining Diva: Life Lessons from the Original Dream Girl." Actually met her back, I believe, when she was 19 years old at Dream Girls. Good to see you and really appreciate your taking the time to be with us, Sheryl and let me just start off with the fact that you have known Whitney four decades. And take us back to when you first met her.

SHERYL LEE RALPH, ACTRESS & LONG TIME FRIEND OF WHITNEY HOUSTON: You know something, it was an amazing time. I mean it was the spring of '82, Dream Girls was having an incredible run, but just as we were bringing audiences to their feet each and every night we got word that there was this kid uptown at Sweetwater's (ph) that we just had to go and see. Went up there and there's a line from Dream Girls, when I first saw you I said, oh, my, this girl is the real deal and she was about 19 years old and that's when I first laid eyes on Whitney Houston with her little close crop curly afro and just a hint of teenage acne left over, a fresh face, original great new talent obviously on the rise.

BURNETT: It's amazing when you talk about her. It's a little bit of teenage acne because one of the things obviously that stands out -- you know, seeing her in the '80s and in her movies I mean just how perfect and clear her skin always was such a gorgeous person. How did you become friends with her?

RALPH: She was such a beauty. It was showbiz. You know, dueling divas in the dark, you know, singing, going up for the same job. She and I were both up for a Maybelline eyelash commercial. Maybelline was going to do this big new promo and they were going to experiment using a black face, but they wanted a new, fresh, black face. I was on Broadway doing Dream Girls and I'm telling you the buzz was around about this girl Whitney and she had been doing some modeling beforehand. Well she ended up getting the Maybelline campaign and I got the Hanes stocking campaign, so it was always you know in passing.

BURNETT: You both were winners in that. I know that you became friends over the years and you saw her about a year ago. How did she seem then? As people are trying to understand what state she was really in, whether she had issues with prescription medication or anything else when she died.

RALPH: I've got to tell you one thing. Everybody's got their issues. Some may be smaller or larger than others, but everybody's got an issue. The last time I saw her she looked like a woman who had made up her mind that she was going to rise above this. Trust me. It wasn't just yesterday that she started battling with these things. It wasn't -- you cannot blame one person for all of these things. They came when fame came to visit her, and sometimes fame comes to see you. She's a good friend and then sometimes fame comes to see you and she's a witch and we spell it with a "b" because just as quick as she builds you up, she will take you down. But when I saw her last, she looked like a woman who was making her rise again.

BURNETT: You believe -- you believe in the comeback --

RALPH: It's just so sad.

BURNETT: Let me ask you one final question. I know that you have children the same age; your daughter was friends with Bobbi Kristina.

RALPH: Yes.

BURNETT: What was Whitney like as a mom?

RALPH: They weren't friends, but they -- they weren't friend- friends but they knew each other. You know kids nowadays they have these friendships and they don't really know each other but they see each other on instant gram (ph), Facebook, this and that, so they're connected but they don't really know each other, not the way we used to know each other.

BURNETT: And maybe that's -- that's a tragedy of a broader story. All right, well thank you very much, appreciate your taking the time, Sheryl, to be with us. And now Janell Snowden joins us. She's been following Whitney Houston as a reporter for VH1 for seven years. She's hosting a special tonight, joins us from L.A. and really appreciate, Janell, your taking the time. I know that VH1 was about to do an interview with Whitney Houston just a few hours after she died. What happened when they came down and broke the news to your producer in the lobby of the hotel?

JANELL SNOWDEN, HOST, VH1 NEWS: Well, let me just say that it was VH1 behind the music crew that was stationed at the hotel at 12:00 p.m., which is six hours in advance of the interview time. It was supposed to have happened at 6:00 p.m. That's usually not the typical time span. But because she was so iconic, because she's Whitney Houston, they wanted to make sure that everything was set up just right, that the lighting was right, the chair was right.

She had to have a special chair and around 2:00 p.m. her publicist, Kristin Foster (ph), came down to make sure everything was OK. Around 5:00 p.m. she came down and told the producers that the interview wouldn't be happening, I think what you're seeing is the chair where she was supposed to have sat and the producers were like, wait what do we do? Why, why is it being canceled and she said because she's dead and became tearful and left the room. I'm shocked that she even took the time to come down and tell us.

BURNETT: Right.

SNOWDEN: I'm sure we would have figured it out, but this was for an interview that Whitney had agreed to sit down to, to talk about Brandy who was a mentor to her, the singer Brandy -- was for Brandy behind the music.

BURNETT: And let me ask you, Janell, I know that you've been following her for a long time. You were at the Clive Davis party that she was going to on Saturday night. A year ago you saw her there. What can you tell us about how she seemed? Was she disheveled? Did she seem like she had issues or not?

SNOWDEN: Here's the thing with Whitney Houston. I think because she was such an amazing talent and we all have so many memories attached to her, at least I know I do, positive childhood memories, we didn't want to ever see her outside of her heyday. You know we didn't want to see her in this fall from grace that we most recently saw her.

So when she walked the red carpet last year with Clive Davis hand-in-hand to that event it was special because for many people that was the one time of the year that they would see Whitney Houston. She was not a person to be on the red carpet circuit.

BURNETT: Right.

SNOWDEN: And so when Clive Davis walked her down into the room and she actually performed, it was a bit off. I remember tweeting about it and being hesitant because I didn't want to say what I was thinking which was this is a mess, but it's Whitney Houston, so you want to be more reverent. But it really was bad. I mean she took to the mike and she sounded very unlike herself. She didn't sound good at all and Clive Davis ended up actually having to graciously take the mike out of her hand. At one point she blamed her off -- her pitch -- her lack of pitch on the band being in the wrong key, her cousin Dionne Warwick was supposed to sing with her and they both sort of wrapped their arms around her to try to in a sense shield her from herself. It was not a pretty situation. BURNETT: All right. Well Janell, thank you very much. We appreciate your taking the time to be with us.

And next, police say they found prescription drugs in Whitney Houston's hotel room. Drugs that frankly are in almost of all of our homes and that apparently seven million Americans might be abusing right now.

And later this hour, the next ruler of China, he's a very mysterious guy, but the American who knows him the best is our exclusive guest tonight.

And a U.S. Supreme Court justice robbed by a machete-yielding thief today. That story in the OUTFRONT five.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: While the exact cause of death is not yet known, it seems that Whitney Houston's life may have ended the way it feels too many talented performers have died. The L.A. County coroner says there were prescription medications found in her hotel room and they're still trying to determine what killed her. But if it turns out to be prescription drugs, Houston will be another statistic in a growing trend here in the U.S.

We're seeing some of the people who -- well all these famous people who unfortunately died due to prescription drugs. There are now more deaths from drug overdoses each year than from traffic accidents and prescription drugs are the leading cause. Think about it this way. How many people do you know who may have taken an Ambien, had a glass or two of wine, Xanax, same thing? That may not be enough to kill you, but according to the CDC, more than seven million Americans are taking prescription drugs for no medical reason at all.

Ken Seeley is an addiction expert and the founder of Intervention 911. He is OUTFRONT tonight, and let me just ask you, Ken, as to whether, given what you've been hearing about this situation, as an addiction expert, you're hearing about maybe Xanax in the hotel room and it didn't seem like it was anything like cocaine or heroin or anything like that. Is this a familiar sort of scene?

KEN SEELEY, ADDICTION EXPERT: Yes, absolutely this is familiar. And it's so heartbreaking to lose somebody like Whitney when we just lost Amy Winehouse. We just lost, you know Michael Jackson and so on and so on and so on. And you know the reality is, is we don't know what it is as of right now, but we watched her behaviors. We watched those behaviors. And, you know, it's time to take a stance and say no more.

If we see somebody with an addiction that's been diagnosed with addiction, they shouldn't have a glass of wine. They shouldn't have a glass of champagne. They shouldn't be taking a Xanax to help them sleep. These are the things that kill people with addiction. And we have to stop it. We have to stop. BURNETT: And let me ask you, Ken, I've seen recent surveys talking about the stress that most people go through. There were some surveys of women saying the average American woman takes a sleeping aid a few times a week. And I think most people can understand what that's like. But how do you know if that is a problem or if you have a problem? Because it seems that these cases, prescription drugs, it's very hard to tell.

SEELEY: Well, listen, she's already been through treatment before. She's been diagnosed. She came out and said she's an addict. But she may have a glass of wine, if you remember back on that Oprah special that she did. She may be seen out having a glass of wine. It's time for the professional people in her life, the people that love these people that are addicts to say, no, that's not OK. If you have a diagnosis with an addiction, you cannot have a glass of wine --

BURNETT: Right.

SEELEY: -- and if they just choose that they will --

BURNETT: But how do you know, Ken -- how do people at home know, right, whether you have one? Do you know whether you have an addiction to these things? A lot of them seem to be very commonly available drugs.

SEELEY: Yes. If you're an addict, what you need to do or you think you may be an addict --

BURNETT: Right.

SEELEY: -- you need to go in and get an assessment.

BURNETT: OK.

SEELEY: You need to get a professional to see if you've crossed the line from abuse to addiction. And if you did, you have to be abstinent from drugs and alcohol.

BURNETT: All right. And how do you know when you're at risk I guess is the final question because it seemed in this case, certainly, that it was a mistake if indeed it was even what caused Whitney Houston's death.

SEELEY: You know like they said, there was only minimal pales (ph) in there. If you're an addict, it doesn't matter if it's one or two pills, it's with the combination that kills us and shuts down our system. So it's not about the quantity. It's about if you're diagnosed with an addiction, you need to take it seriously, and if you love somebody that's diagnosed with an addiction, please stand up to them. I know it's not easy, but fight, fight while they can't and get them into recovery.

BURNETT: All right. Ken Seeley, thank you very much.

Well OUTFRONT next Whitney Houston's death may lead to a strange, an ironic coincidence involving her record sales. "The Number" is next.

And later we show you the first time the world was introduced to Whitney Houston. We found the tape.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: Michael Jackson earned $170 million last year. Elvis Presley made $55 million, and yes they are neither one of them alive. And not surprisingly Whitney Houston's music catalog has seen a huge jump just since her death on Saturday night. Fourteen of her songs are currently in the top 50 on the iTunes singles chart. That's up from zero just before she died, and tonight, seven of her albums are in the top 50 on the album chart. But these are just the latest numbers associated with Whitney Houston's career.

She was the first woman to debut at number one on the Billboard Album Chart and she holds the record for the most consecutive number one singles. Her version of "I Will Always Love You" spent 14 straight weeks at number one. That was a record at the time. And "The Bodyguard" album, the first to sell one million copies in a week is the best-selling soundtrack of all time, which brings us to tonight's number, 21.

That's the title of Adele's latest album which currently sits at number one on the Billboard Album Chart. In addition to sweeping the Grammys last night, Adele's "21" has been on top for 19 straight weeks. Should it hit a 20th that would put it in a tie with the all- time chart leader "The Bodyguard" by Whitney Houston. We'll have to wait and see if "21" can go 21 and set a new record or if Whitney's recent sale surge will keep Adele off that record, if recent sales of her "Greatest Hits" album holds Billboard expects it to enter the charts maybe in the top 10, maybe at number one.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: Still OUTFRONT the OUTFRONY 5, al Qaeda ally?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE). We don't want al Qaeda (INAUDIBLE) our country.

BURNETT: Obama defies rivals.

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The time for self-inflicted wounds to our economy has to be over.

BURNETT: All this OUTFRONT in our second half.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: We start the second half of our show with stories we care about, where we focus on our reporting, do the work, and find the "OutFront 5". Up first, we have been talking about Whitney Houston and her body is being flown back to her hometown in New Jersey tonight. Funeral services are expected to take place at the end of the week. Her family is reportedly considering a funeral at Newark's Prudential Center. The L.A. County coroner, meanwhile, still has not determined what killed the 48-year-old pop star.

Number two: CNN has learned Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed in the Caribbean at knifepoint. Our Supreme Court producer told us the robbery happened last week at Breyer's home on the island of Neve (ph). We're told a man with a machete got away with $1,000 in cash. Breyer, his wife, and two guests were not hurt during the robbery. The FBI is now involved in the investigation.

Number three, the Defense Department detailed today how it plans to cut about half a trillion dollars in spending over the next five years.

We've looked (ph) to the budget. And one of the biggest cuts comes from Afghanistan, accounting plans to cut spending there by $30 billion in 2013 is part of the forecast for cuts. Planning for the development of the Joint Strike Fighter, the fighter jet of the future as some call it also goes. The Defense Department is increasing spending, though, in some areas -- Special Operations Forces including Navy SEALs get more money, along with drones and missile defense.

Number four: Iran says it will soon make a major announcement about its nuclear program. Now, we spoke to a couple of Iranian experts who both told us the major announcement may not be that major, but they think that Iran will attempt to show the Iranian people what it can accomplish and how it has not been hurt despite severe sanctions from the United States and other countries. The U.N. report recently found Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Well, it's been 192 days since America lost the top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back?

Well, tonight, Moody's has downgraded the credit ratings of six more European countries, including Italy, Spain and Portugal, three of the most in debt. The rating agency also cut its outlook on Austria, France, and the United Kingdom to negative.

France just got the downgrade. So, that's why we felt particularly sad for them.

And now to the horrible story in Syria. Many using the word "slaughter". The opposition saying 30 people were killed today in a deadly crackdown which has reportedly claimed 7,000 lives in the past year.

At the U.N., the human rights commissioner said she was outraged about the ongoing assault on the city of Homs. There's also a call for peacekeeping force.

Syria, though, remains defiant, denouncing any move at intervention, saying it will only incite more violence from the rebels. This comes while Bashar al Assad's forces stepped up the bombing campaign on several neighborhoods in the city of Homs.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is in Beirut for the latest. I talked to him right before our program began and asked him what he is hearing from sources in Homs tonight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, the assault on Homs continued unabated into its ninth day today. One activist we spoke to this morning called Omar (ph) described his major concern as being how in the district of the north of where he is, that's Baba Amr, a place which has been the focus really of shelling in that past week or so. The district in shock into which the troops have been moving over the past five days conducting arrests, his major concern is they maybe building up there to move south into Baba Amr, clearly as a state of focus in shelling and attacks over the recent weeks, and, of course, the casualties experienced in Homs, 400, over that time could significantly rise.

Word the military could begin a prolonged assault south into that area of Baba Amr, Erin.

BURNETT: And we're going to talk to an activist in Baba Amr in just a moment.

But let me ask you, Nick, from your sources, the Arab League has come out and said, well, they want this to end, the United Nations is now involved. Do the people you're talking to put any stock in that? Think that's going to do anything?

PATON: We spoke to Omar. He basically said he considered it all to be a waste of time and was deeply rudely dismissive of the entire process. I mean, as these talks go on hundreds of miles away in Cairo, the slaughter continues in Homs and doesn't have any real impact at all.

Yet, at the U.N. today, the human rights body may talk about how they have evidence of war crimes in Homs. Russia may it would support the peacekeeping notion despite having veto condemnation of Syria at the last Security Council meeting.

But the road blocks to this peacekeeping mission keep growing, Russia saying it wants to see a ceasefire first, it doesn't want outside intervention in Syria at all, and most importantly, the Syrian government saying that even this nescient peace plan or idea from the Arab League is it considers flagrant intervention in its sovereign affairs.

BURNETT: Is your feeling, Nick, from the people you're talking to, that this really is accelerating? That it's getting worse -- that more people are being killed in a more indiscriminate fashion than they were even days ago?

WALSH: I think the violence is fluctuating, yes, certainly nine days ago, that's when it really picked up, that's when things changed, the onslaught against Homs. People are asking, what is the end game? Is this going to continue for weeks or months?

There appear to be positive times, there are reports may be that the Red Cross are allowed in certain areas and certainly separate towns el Baradane, there was a pause in fighting until last night. And the army went in and began house-to-house raids.

Yes, there appears to be a pattern certainly of more people dying over the past week and it appears to be no let up in that particular phase right now, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Nick, thank you very much, reporting to us from Beirut, Lebanon, tonight.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: The people in Homs are desperate for food, water, and medical supplies. It's been very difficult to make contact with them. But I was able to speak earlier today to an activist in Homs. His name is Abdel Rahman. He described a scene of horror, especially in the areas of the city -- those three neighborhoods that you just heard Nick mentioned were under attack today.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABDEL RAHMAN, ACTIVIST (via telephone): The situation is deteriorating for the worse. The shooting continuous again. Today, we have three persons have been killed by rockets.

BURNETT: Abdel, can you tell me, have you been able to get into any of those neighborhoods yourself and see? Or has it been impossible to do that?

RAHMAN: Actually, not possible to do anything. Not possible to move from our houses. The snipers are everywhere. If you will move to any, you would be in dangerous situation.

BURNETT: Can you talk about the women and children? Whether the government forces have fired on women and children? Has there been any of that you have seen for yourself?

RAHMAN: Yes, actually today, we lost children away at Baba Amr, from the snipers. And I can provide the full name and everyone can -- actually, this is girl. Her name Wafa al Asfar (ph), she is only 13 years old, by sniper, he directly shoot her.

This month, we lost 114 children. This month was worst month for our children.

BURNETT: I don't know if you're aware, but al Zawahiri has said that he supports your efforts, the activists.

Are you -- how does that make you feel that al Qaeda says they support your effort? Is that something you would accept?

RAHMAN: We hate al Qaeda. We dislike al Qaeda. Al Qaeda doesn't support us. We don't want al Qaeda at our country. No one likes al Qaeda.

Al Qaeda and Iran -- these all dictatorships. And worse, they are killing civilians, they don't care about -- they don't recognize between civilians or army or -- this is not -- our revolution only peaceful for civilian country. If we want to get out from Bashar al Assad and al Qaeda to come, this will be worse than Bashar al Assad.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Abdel, thank you very much. I appreciate your taking the time and again thank you for doing this so late and for taking the risk to speak to us. We appreciate it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BURNETT: And now, let's check in with Anderson with a look at what's coming up on "A.C. 360."

Hey, Anderson.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Hey, Erin.

We have special coverage on the life and death of Whitney Houston. Obviously, tonight, the last performance -- we'll show it to you of Whitney Houston on stage with her friend Kelly Price. That happened Thursday night.

We'll also speak with Kelly Price about that song and how Houston appeared that night. Was she drinking? How did she seem? Also her thoughts on her state of mind.

Dr. Drew Pinsky also joins us to talk about Whitney Houston's death, her battle to stay clean and what may have happened to her in that bathtub in her hotel room.

Plus, the future of Whitney Houston's daughter, the daughter left behind, 18-year-old Bobbi Kristina Brown. You can only imagine what she is going through now.

Those stories, we'll also have more on the carnage in Syria from CNN's Arwa Damon, who's managed to get into that country, reporting from an undisclosed location.

All that and tonight's "Ridiculist" at the top of the hour, Erin.

BURNETT: All right. Anderson, thank you. We'll look forward to seeing in a few minutes.

Next, the rising superpower. China's next leader, his plans for -- well, what China's going to do to the United States since after all, we all like to say China owns us. Really? The man who knows him best. The American who knows him best is next.

And President Obama's fight with the Republicans takes a big turn today. Did the GOP cave?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: And now to tonight's "Outer Circle," where we reach out to our sources around the world.

And we begin tonight in India where an Israeli embassy car blew up near the country's mission in New Delhi.

Sara Sidner is there and I asked her what Indian officials knew about the responsibilities for the attack.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SARA SIDNER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erin, Indian officials believe this was a targeted attack on an Israeli embassy vehicle. They're saying this partly because a witness has come forward saying they saw a motorcyclist come up to the back of this van and place something perhaps magnetically on to the back of the vehicle. The vehicle subsequently exploded in a fire ball, injuring the two people inside, including the wife of an Israeli defense official here in New Delhi.

Now, on the same day, there was a situation in Tbilisi, Georgia, where Israel officials say they were forced to detonate a bomb that was placed inside an embassy employee's car. Israel is saying that they believe Iran is responsible for both of these attacks. Iran is flatly denying it -- Erin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURNETT: All right. Sara Sidner reporting for us from India tonight.

Well, he's about to become one of the world's most powerful men. And tonight, he's back in the United States for the first time in 25 years. His name is Xi Jinping, a name that every American will soon know because he is in all likelihood the next leader of China, currently China's vice president.

Xi will sit down with President Obama tomorrow on Valentine's Day and, yes, in the Chinese press so far I've seen, they're playing it as a sort of a little love meeting. After all, we do need to love each other, don't we? These two countries, the opposite of love is not indifference, it is hate as we all know. And that's what we want to avoid.

China is America's second largest trading partner. They own 7 percent of our debt. So, really when you look outside the U.S. Federal Reserve, it is China's next biggest holder of our debt.

As a future leader of China, there's that lot of curiosity about Xi Jinping. Who he is?

Well, here's a few things we can tell you. He's a son of a Mao era revolutionary hero, an architect of China's economic reform. He's been hitting out at a lot of corruption. And he's a former governor of Fujian Province where he was known for corruption fighting activities.

The 58-year-old is married. This is the best part as far as I'm concerned. His wife is more famous than he is. Famous Chinese folk singer is his wife, Peng Liyuan. And if I'm saying it wrong, I will be corrected by a man who knows in a moment.

It will be a big moment when Xi takes the reins from Hu Jintao next year. But what does this mean for America? Jon Huntsman knows, knows Xi Jinping. He's made him a lot of times, the former U.S. ambassador to China and, of course, a familiar face to all Americans after this election season.

Great to see you again, Ambassador. Appreciate it.

JON HUNTSMAN, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA: Hi, Erin. Great to be with you. By the way, your pronunciation was great. You're doing just fine.

BURNETT: All right. I was very worried because there were a few things and I said, well, at least Jon will politely correct me.

All right. Well, you spent a lot of time in China. You know Xi Jinping. He has praised you.

What can you tell us about him?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I can tell you that he's stepping into the forefront of China's political leadership structure at a time of enormous change. And I think it's important for people here in the United States to realize that we're seeing politics play out here in the United States while at the same time politics is playing out in China. They'll have the 18th party congress in October, later this year, during which an event you're going to probably see 70 percent of the top 200 leaders in China change, which I think is the most sweeping change I can remember in recent history.

So, Xi Jinping, who is the leader of the so-called fifth generation since Mao Zedong established the country in 1949, will be leading a young group that is forged not by the revolutionary fervor of his parents but more by the cultural revolution where he was exiled those years, and spent some very, very difficult years in the northeastern part of China.

BURNETT: Yes.

HUNTSMAN: Because of that, he's able to interact I think a lot more with the peasant class in China. We have to remember that China from a per capita income standpoint is still 99th in the world. You've got 700 million people who are living in poverty in China. I think he's got the kind of personality to relate and interact very well with all people of China.

But in the meetings I had with him, I can tell you, Erin, that he is confident, that he connects extraordinarily well with people. He is very well-briefed. He's gone out of his way in recent years to bone up on economics and trade, knowing full well these are the issues that are going to determine whether or not the United States and China are able to get through the years to come.

And what is noteworthy, I think, is he's a very, very adroit political operator. By that, I mean he's been able to check all of the boxes that one needs to check to be successful in Chinese politics. He's been able to check the People's Liberation Army box --

BURNETT: Right.

HUNTSMAN: -- because he wants to look for a senior vice premier responsible for China's military as a special assistant. So, he has some credibility there unlike Hu Jintao who's had a very I think difficult and challenging relationship with the military.

He's been able to check the party box because of his family roots. His father, as you mentioned, was a senior vice premier before he was exiled --

BURNETT: Right.

HUNTSMAN: -- by Mao Zedong.

But he's also been able to check this box called the princeling box, which is very interesting one. These are the sons and daughters of the revolutionary heroes, the party cadre, the party elite. And they have enormous clout in Chinese politics. He's been able to no doubt broker deals --

BURNETT: Yes.

HUNTSMAN: -- and carve out a kind of relationship that has allowed him to win over the affection and the trust of the princeling population.

BURNETT: I like that word as they called them the princeling. I mean, there's something about that, right, that plays he's a princeling.

What's going to happen -- what is he going to do militarily for China? He has said when he answered questions to "The Washington Post," in print, quote, "The vast Pacific Ocean has ample space for China and the United States."

Obviously, you know, I remember a year ago when then-Secretary Gates or close to that was supposed to go for a meeting, defense meeting in China and got sent away.

Is he going to stand up and build the military up even more than Hu Jintao has?

HUNTSMAN: Well, let's start with the premise that Hu Jintao has had a difficult relationship with the military, I do believe that Xi Jinping will have a better relationship with the military, that likely means that maybe he's been able to cut some deals that we see play out in the years ahead.

But here's what he's going to have fall into his lap, where Hu Jintao will lead the stage of power having fulfilled the Deng Xiaoping requirements, and that is open foreign relations, open economic relations with the rest of the world and primacy of the communist party, there'll be no other organization that is more powerful.

Now, Xi Jinping begins a new set of realities. We're starting a new Deng Xiaoping period I would argue. We're starting a new dynasty altogether.

BURNETT: Right.

HUNTSMAN: And now he has to deal with a reality of a China that has seen greater repression domestically. We're seeing a China that is engaging in more nationalistic economic behavior.

BURNETT: Yes.

HUNTSMAN: We're seeing a China that is more assertive internationally and the whole world is watching to see how they deal with these issues. Some of them are driven by domestic policymaking, how you make combinations with the reform-minded elements within China, and them are certainly foreign policy related.

So, he's got these has major issues falling on his lap. One thing is for sure, Erin, it's probably a year or two before he consolidates his power base at home before he can really do anything substantial at all.

BURNETT: All right. Well, Ambassador Jon Huntsman, thank you very much, giving us the real story of Xi Jinping. Well, we're going to be following his visit to the United States over the next couple of days.

Well, the Republican race for the White House is virtually a tie now. Two new national polls show Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum now statistically tied neck and neck.

All right. So, let's show the first one from Gallup. Among registered Republicans, it's always important to caveat, 32 percent support Mitt Romney, 30 percent support Rick Santorum. Obviously, that's within the margin of error.

In the other from Pew Research, 30 percent of Republicans support Romney and 28 percent support Santorum, again within the margin of error.

And that's not all.

OUTFRONT now, CNN contributor and former senior advisor to George W. Bush; former Clinton speechwriter Michael Waldman; and publisher of "Political Wire", Taegan Goddard.

All right. Great to see all of you. We appreciate it.

Let me start with you. That has got to be good news for the man currently in the White House.

MICHAEL WALDMAN, FMR. SPEECHWRITER FOR BILL CLINTON: Well, as President Obama lays out his budget and sort of play out his campaign in the long game, he's watching not Romney keep surging and --

BURNETT: Not Romney, right? Anybody who's not Romney.

WALDMAN: You know, it's a strong candidacy. The bottom line is this Michigan primary is fraught with all kinds of psychodrama because, of course, that's where Governor Romney's father was Governor Romney. And if he wins, it will be as much because of the super PACs allowed by the Supreme Court as voters, it seems to me. That's the real question mark.

BURNETT: David Frum, what do you think about this? What does it say for Mitt Romney, especially in light of the fact that now in the general election, when you poll independents, he would get 42 percent of the independents, Mitt Romney, versus President Obama getting 51. That's a pretty damning statistic.

DAVID FRUM, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's agonizing and depressing. In December --

BURNETT: It all depends where you're sitting, buddy, right?

FRUM: Maybe.

BURNETT: In December when Newt Gingrich had the first of his two surges, Mitt Romney responded to the Gingrich surge by surrendering to the Ryan plan. He's spending months and months trying not to endorse the Ryan plan. In December, he endorsed it, he put that around his neck.

Now, there's now another not Mitt surge and this time, Mitt Romney has been pressed back into this contraception fight, something I'm sure he wanted to have no part of. And yet, he has now been pushed toward not quite the full Santorum but a semi-Santorum on the contraception issue.

BURNETT: Something sounds very wrong about the full Santorum, sorry.

(LAUGHTER)

FRUM: The longer that this kind -- the more pressure that is placed on him, this is the an eternal problem inside the Republican Party, that it puts more and more pressure on Romney to do things that make him, as you said in your introduction, less and less electable with the broad middle of American politics.

BURNETT: What do you think this means?

TAEGAN GODDARD, PUBLISHER, POLITICAL WIRE: If you look back over the last three or four month, Obama's re-election campaign and DNC made a concerted effort to bring down Mitt Romney.

BURNETT: Yes.

GODDARD: And if you look at the swing of independent numbers you just showed, a swing of 19 points in three months among independent voters. I mean, it's devastating. What the Obama re-election campaign did not foresee, though, was Republicans would help them in taking down Mitt Romney. That's precisely what they've done.

BURNETT: Because he's had to go right every time to win over these more conservative groups.

GODDARD: He's moving further and further to the right. And as David mentioned, he's really stepped into a trap now. The longer this primary season goes on, the more wounded he'll be in the general election, it's really quite remarkable.

WALDMAN: And what's interesting is, in 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, he ran and Democrats ran lots of ads trying to tarnish Bob Dole, who was going to be the Republican nominee. This has happened without Democrats actually spending money and really not having to do much other than reposition President Obama, get him on the right side of the tax issue and sort of lay out his message.

So, it has been a good month for them.

BURNETT: David, I have to say one thing that I keep hearing, though, is from people, they say, oh, well, you know, we'll have a brokered convention or something. Is that just wishful thinking?

FRUM: I think there's a certain amount of wishful thinking among journalists. But let's unpack it. When people say a brokered convention, how do you have a brokered convention when there are no more brokers? You could have a non-majority convention.

But the days when the governor of California sat down with New York and each controlled the delegations. If we have a non-majority convention, it's going to be a free-for-all. And the people who will be making decisions are super PACs and FOX News. The days in which party brokers made rational deals with a view toward general electability -- those days are gone.

BURNETT: All right. Thanks very much to all three of you. We appreciate it.

Well, OUTFRONT next, as the world says good-bye to Whitney Houston, we show you the first time we discovered this talent, literally her first video. We have it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BURNETT: So, with the rise of iTunes and reality shows like "American Idol" and "The Voice," popular music is now more accessible than ever. And yet, sometimes it doesn't seem as exciting as it was when many of us were younger. It seems sort of like a business now and less of an event.

We were talking about it today in our show and the truth is, the MTV generation might be over. Outside, you see kids with iPads and iPods instead of boom boxes. There are no John Cusack moments and say anything that was every girl's dream and lucky for you, you missed us singing it during the commercial.

Now, you'd be hard-pressed to find music videos playing on TV, even on MTV. All these stations have added from '80s to their rotation. The death of Whitney Houston is another reminder of that. In a world that seems so preoccupied with fame, Whitney Houston made it the old-fashioned way. Like Michael Jackson before her, she grew up singing. There was no YouTube, no reality shows, no shortcuts. She was a really little girl with a really big voice.

And we thought it would be fitting to end tonight's show celebrating that voice. In 1983, Whitney was discovered by Clive Davis while performing with her mother in a New York City nightclub. Later that year, she made her nationally televised debut alongside David on "The Merv Griffin Show." She was 19 years old and performed a cover of the song "Home" from "The Wiz."

This is the performance that launched her career.

(VIDEO CLIP PLAYS)

BURNETT: Whitney Houston was a huge talent.

"A.C. 360" starts now.