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ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT
Caught on Open Microphone; Afghanistan Killings; Obamacare Controversy
Aired March 26, 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: A private conversation between world leaders caught on an open mike. Is President Obama telling the Russians one thing and the American people another?
And the latest developments in the Trayvon Martin case. Police are confirming there was a scuffle between the teen and George Zimmerman right before the shooting. Two witnesses with us tonight.
And Rick Santorum lashing out at the media. Was it for real or just for the cameras? Let's go OUTFRONT.
Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett and OUTFRONT tonight, caught red- handed on an open mike. Wrapping up a meeting with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in Seoul today, President Obama was overheard saying this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand you. I transmit this information to Vladimir and I stand with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: President Obama was asking his Russian counterpart for some space when it comes to America's hotly disputed missile defense system which would place a shield in countries neighboring Russia. Russia strongly opposes this system. So is the president saying I can't be seen as catering to Russian demands during an election year so just wait until I'm re-elected. I'll have more flexibility then? Well he may have decided though that the defense shield is a bad idea and just not be comfortable announcing it yet? But if that's true, it would still be a change. Here the president is on the missile defense system in September, 2009.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OBAMA: It deploys capabilities that are proven and cost effective and it sustains and builds upon our commitment to protect the U.S. homeland against long-range ballistic missile threats and it ensures and enhances the protection of all our NATO allies.
(END VIDEO CLIP) BURNETT: Now, even if the president's views on the missile defense shield have changed since he said that, or he thinks he can maybe give up the shield in exchange for something from the Russians, that's also possible. No matter what, though, there's an optical issue with being seen as friendly and accommodating to a country which has openly flaunted its support of Bashar Al-Assad and Iran. At this moment Russia is Syria's largest arms supplier at a time when the United States strongly condemns the atrocities committed by the Syrian government.
Look at these numbers. Between 2007 and 2010 Russia was Syria's number one arms supplier with $4.7 billion in weapons deals. On top of that Russia just signed another half a billion dollar deal to sell fighter jets to Syria, which already has 555 Russian MiG planes, which is the vast majority of its fleet. And Russia's Navy is investing in Syria's Mediterranean port. It's got a lease to dock its warships there so maybe it's no surprise that Russia opposed U.N. Security Council action calling on Syria's Assad to step down.
And then there's Iran. About half of the arm sales between 2007 and 2010 to Iran came from Russia. It and Russia also opposed new sanctions on Iran after an IAEA report in November found the country was making progress on its nuclear program. Russia finished the job of building Iran's first nuclear power plant in Bush era (ph). So, Mr. President, why are you asking a favor from a man which seems to be taking every opportunity to thwart your goals?
Fran Townsend is a former homeland security adviser and CNN national security contributor. James Rubin is a former assistant secretary of state for public affairs. Good to have both of you with us. I appreciate it. Let me put the first question to you, Jamie. Obviously the optics of this are not good. It's hard to imagine this was a purposeful thing said on an open mike.
JAMES RUBIN, FMR. ASST. SEC. OF STATE: No, certainly not. No president talks about elections having an impact on American foreign policy. You don't say you might not be able to do something now that you can do later after the election. So certainly this is an unfortunate development. But I think if you put it down to the fact the president didn't want this to be heard and look at the substance of missile defense --
RUBIN: -- I think it's fair to say if the president is re- elected, his version of what we should do in the area of missile defense is different than the Republican version. So if he wins the election, he will have in a sense a mandate to pursue his approach to missile defense, which is more flexible than the Republican version.
BURNETT: Right. And, Fran, it's interesting. Obviously we had a sound bite there of the president in 2009 when he seemed to be a little bit more of a stickler on missile defense. But is it possible that he's opening the door? I mean just play this out to maybe he gives up something on missile defense, which Russia dearly wants, and in exchange Russia starts telling the American's side of the line on something like Iran?
FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, FMR. HOMELAND SECURITY ADVISER: Well, Erin, if that were the case, if the president was talking about using this as leverage to get something, certainly you'd not want to signal that you were willing to give it up until you were sure that you were going to get something. Frankly, this is -- in sports we call this an own goal (ph). The president now has said something and scored points for another -- for the Republican side.
And Jamie says his position on missile defense is different from the Republican one. Frankly, what the comment caught on mike suggests is his position is different from what we know his stated position in 2009 to be and that's what I think the American people will find disturbing. The president is absolutely entitled to change his view, but what the American people expect is that he'll be honest and set forth the case about why his view may have changed.
BURNETT: Is that incumbent on him now, Jamie, regardless of --
BURNETT: -- say look I've got to explain why I said that.
RUBIN: They have got some explaining to do, that's for sure. And I think missile defense is now going to get some attention. What President Obama's position was in 2009, what it is now, what type of flexibility he's talking about for the future. And I certainly think in response to your question to Fran, that the whole reset that President Obama pursued with regard to Russia was premised on the idea that unlike President Bush, he was going to take somewhat a more, amenable positions on what goes on inside of Russia, in the hopes that Russia would work with us on lines of communication in Afghanistan, getting our troops support systems, logistics there, and the Russians were going to put sanctions on Iran, which they did do after the election as part of this reset. So there are horse trades that are possible, but certainly one doesn't want to signal publicly that one has a different position before and after an election.
BURNETT: They certainly have a lot of explaining to do. But let me ask you this, I'm curious how he could have done this twice because I think this -- it doesn't seem intentional, clearly. OK, the last time he did it I also don't think it was intentional.
BURNETT: I don't know if everyone remembers, but back in the G- 20, you remember when he was talking to Nicolas Sarkozy and they were talking about Benjamin Netanyahu --
BURNETT: Sarkozy said quote, "I can't stand him. He's a liar". And Obama replied "you're tired of him? What about me. I have to deal with him every day" --
RUBIN: I have to deal with him all the time, yes. Look, I think from here on in for the rest of President Obama's presidency, whether it's one or two terms, you're going to have an aide reminding him very, very clearly when the mikes are on, when they're off. There's going to be some more ruthless electronic monitoring for the president's statements.
But look, we all understand that presidents have public positions that you state, that you describe and then you have personal points that you make that you don't want the whole world to hear. Everyone has that. We all have that personally, but when it goes public and you're the president of the United States, it's a lot tougher.
BURNETT: Well and it's also, Fran, difficult optically when Syria is front and center and Russia is arming Syria and supporting Bashar Al-Assad. The U.S. is saying he's committing atrocities against his own people. No matter what you're talking about, the sort of touching of the friendliness is tough optically.
TOWNSEND: That's absolutely right. Look, we wouldn't have been surprised if what was caught on mike was him putting pressure and saying to Medvedev, look, you need to go back to Vladimir Putin. We need your support. We need your action in Syria to save the Syrian people. And so if it was that sort of comment, you wouldn't -- it wouldn't have been so offensive. Look, I think this is very, very troubling. Given the Syria dimension and Russia's support, given Iran, given the fact -- and how would you feel, Erin, if you were our NATO allies relying on the missile defense shield to hear that the president's position perhaps is going to change if he's re-elected. I mean I think there are a whole bunch of consequences to this in addition to sort of the Iran and Syria angle.
BURNETT: All right. Well, thanks very much to both of you. One thing I think we know is that this missile defense shield, which is, I don't know, when I was in Russia, certainly seemed to be issue number one with regular people and people here had no idea what it was. Now people here are going to know what it is and everyone is going to have an opinion, so that's going to affect things too.
Well ahead OUTFRONT Sergeant Robert Bales may have said something to his fellow soldiers that could have stopped part of his alleged rampage. Some very important details coming out tonight. Could some of those 17 deaths have been avoided?
And President Obama's legacy. Health care on the line. Will his health care plan survive the Supreme Court?
And the wife of an American being held in Cuba on charges of spying OUTFRONT.
BURNETT: We have breaking news tonight out of Afghanistan. CNN is learning that the sergeant accused of massacring 17 Afghan civilians was seen by fellow troops when he snuck back to the post between two rounds of killings. One official says Sergeant Bales told the soldiers that he had just killed military-aged Afghan men. Now, it's unclear at this moment whether the other troops at that time then told someone else or not, but it appears that Sergeant Bales went back again off the base and continued killing civilians. Chris Lawrence is Pentagon correspondent and Chris, what's the very latest you can suss out of what you're learning tonight?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I think the big development is the fact that now when you look at these two separate crimes, one in a village north of this combat outpost, another in a village south of that combat outpost and you look at the deaths, four men, four women, nine children murdered in their homes, you start to look at the fact that perhaps if Sergeant Bales got back to the base and what he said to people on that base, how many of those deaths could have been prevented?
Here's what military officials are telling us tonight. They are saying that based on what they know from investigators it appears that Sergeant Bales left the base, went to the first village fully armed. At that point he snuck back onto the base. We don't know how long he was there, but officials say he did see some other troops and they saw him on the base and that's when he apparently told them that he had just shot some Afghan men, men who were of age to be in the military.
Well, the officials don't know if those troops told anyone or alerted any of their superior officers, but they believe at that point Sergeant Bales left the base again, went to the second village, and then he was finally apprehended trying to sneak back onto the base a second time -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right. Chris Lawrence, thank you very much. Laying out exactly what we know right now and there is a huge question mark here. Let's bring in Paul Callan. So Paul, let me just ask you I guess the huge question we have. I would imagine that we are going to know then the soldiers that he spoke to because it's clear that they have come forward. So we're going to find out if they told someone else, i.e. someone higher up, right? Or could they themselves also in some way be held accountable?
PAUL CALLAN, CNN LEGAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well I think there are two things we want to know. Number one, what exactly did he tell them? For instance, could they have assumed that maybe he was out on a legitimate patrol and he killed military-aged Afghan men who were threatening to him? I don't know --
BURNETT: Could have just said it in passing and they wouldn't --
CALLAN: Well you'd have to know the precise thing that he said, but the second and most important thing is exactly what you referred to. Who was there, somebody higher in the chain of command, a lieutenant, somebody who -- with command authority? Now if you pushed it up higher in the chain of command there may be a problem for higher-ups.
BURNETT: And I imagine when you get to that higher level saying I assumed it was legitimate, someone else had you know was overseeing it would not be acceptable, right?
CALLAN: No, they wouldn't because they'd know what patrols were out and whether this story made any sense and they would have had an obligation to act immediately.
BURNETT: So if the other troops and the wording comes out that he mentioned he killed fighting men of age and they assumed -- they're going to say they assumed that it was part of a patrol, could they still be held accountable --
CALLAN: I don't think from a criminal standpoint they would be.
CALLAN: This may be a breach of military regulations. They may have some internal problems in the military but highly unlikely they'd be charged criminally for a failure to report.
BURNETT: Now there's something else that came out today that I want to ask you about. It's fascinating the more I look into it the more curious. As anyone who has traveled to bizarre parts of the world knows that there's a lot of malaria medicines that can cause real hallucination. One of them, Lariam (ph), is particularly bad, has been associated with suicide and homicide.
There are reports that Sergeant Bales as a Special Ops for the few weeks that he was would have been on Lariam (ph). That would have been long enough to cause this sort of a thing to occur. The U.S. military has not clarified whether he was on this drug. What do you think that if indeed that turns out to be the case, is that a good defense?
CALLAN: Well this is a fascinating development. You know this drug has been very, very controversial. There are reports that you get vivid nightmares. There have been reports of people becoming psychotic and violent on the drug. Now, although it has a legitimate purpose, of course, treating malaria. But if you combine vivid, crazy nightmares with posttraumatic stress disorder, which is the claim in this case, you're starting to develop now a type of insanity defense or maybe a defense that would throw out intent. And by the way, there are lots of reports from travelers, civilian travelers and military people that they react this way to this drug.
BURNETT: Well it's -- that's something that I found very bizarre because usually they would tell you at all costs, nobody ever wants to put you on Lariam (ph). We talked off the record to some Army doctors who said well still a lot of senior doctors put people on it. It's a lot cheaper. Special Operations Forces are on it. Generals are not. They're on the more expensive ones, so even though the military knows this drug is terrible and has tried to curb its use, it is still used.
CALLAN: And one word of caution, though. In doing some research tonight I found a federal court case where the defense was tried out. Believe it or not, a Philadelphia congressman who was accused of fraudulently embezzling large amounts of money tried to say manic depression and the use of the drug when he was traveling caused him to steal the money. A federal judge looked at the drug, had a hearing on it and said it's total nonsense that the drug would cause this sort of criminal behavior so it remains to be seen whether a judge and a court would accept this as a legitimate defense. (CROSSTALK)
BURNETT: All right. Paul Callan, thank you very much. We're going to keep looking into that just to find out if there is any more to that part of the story.
Well, the much-anticipated Supreme Court hearing on President Obama's health care law got under way in Washington today and it was a real scene. The case already one for the record books. We've got -- before it even got started there were 170 legal friend-of-the-court briefs that were filed. Oh, that's going to make some future high school constitutional law class so miserable. I'm glad it's you and not me. More than any Supreme Court case in history. Oral arguments are scheduled to last six hours over the course of three days and that is the most on a Supreme Court case in 44 years.
Now, the court also released audio recordings of the proceedings just hours after they concluded. Yes, you are right, it is incredibly rare to get audio out of the Supreme Court. It's only happened eight times in American history. Jeffrey Toobin joins me now. This is pretty amazing to have basically like a mega blockbuster event here when you're talking about health care.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: You know, this is really a very -- you know we in the news business sometimes over-hype stuff, but when you consider that the health insurance of 30 million people rides on the outcome of this case and perhaps the presidency of Barack Obama, this is not hype. This is a huge, huge case.
BURNETT: So there was some back and forth today which was -- is pretty interesting. Talk about word parsing, which I know is exactly what justices of the Supreme Court need to do, but the attorney --
BURNETT: -- arguing against the law said his side was challenging the health care mandate and not the penalty that you have to pay if you don't have health care insurance. The chief justice responded directly to that word parsing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN ROBERTS, CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a command. A mandate is a command.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
ROBERTS: Now, if there's nothing behind the command, it's sort of well, what happens if you don't file the mandate and the answer is nothing? It seems very artificial to separate the punishment from the crime.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: So listening to it all today, Jeff, what did the back and forth and where there was pressure tell you about how this case might go?
TOOBIN: Well, this was really kind of the appetizer today because the only issue the justices were discussing today was is this case premature because the Affordable Care Act doesn't go into full effect until 2015 and some judges who have heard it in the lower courts said, look, this shouldn't be resolved by the Supreme Court until 2015. Today we saw virtually every justice except for Clarence Thomas, who didn't say anything, eight justices were united, it seemed, in saying this case is not premature. We need to decide it on the merits. And tomorrow is really the big day, because that's the day they discuss is this law constitutional. So today was really mostly procedural in the discussion. Tomorrow they'll get to the substance and it's going to be huge.
BURNETT: And when do you think that we are going to find out the verdict?
TOOBIN: End of June.
BURNETT: End of June, no sooner.
TOOBIN: Without question that's when the big cases are decided. That's when they'll decide this one.
BURNETT: All right. Well Jeff Toobin is going to stay with us because not surprisingly the Republican candidates for president slammed the health care reform law today, all three of them speaking to our Wolf Blitzer just a few minutes ago.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm elected president, I will repeal Obamacare and I'll stop it in its tracks on day one. I believe it's unconstitutional. I believe the court will find it unconstitutional. And one more thing I'll tell you about it, we can't afford trillions of dollars of new federal spending.
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Barack Obama has to be defeated; otherwise this bill is going to be implemented. And if it's implemented, it's going to take our freedom away. It's going to destroy the economy of this country. It's going to raise unemployment rates. It's going to balloon the size of the government and it's going to dramatically increase our deficit.
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If the court holds to the strict ruling and they decide the mandate is unconstitutional with no severability clause that would make the entire bill unconstitutional. That would truly be a historic decision.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Wow, a historic instead of an historic. I wouldn't have expected that from Mr. Gingrich. Separate thing though, Republican strategist Leslie Sanchez and former Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello join us along with Jeffrey Toobin. Sorry there but let me just ask you this, though, Tom. I'm just wondering -- let me start with you, Leslie, actually. If this is ruled unconstitutional, well, what are the Republicans going to have to talk about? I mean this is their number one drum.
LESLIE SANCHEZ, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it's America's number one drum. You know the funny thing about the health care law is the more people know about it, the less they like it. This is something we're consistently when we look at the polls, including (INAUDIBLE) something we've been testing for the last couple of years is that there is a strong belief that this not only increases costs, premiums, taxes, deficits, but reduces the quality of health care significantly. That is a serious political problem and you add that up, you're seeing the resistance. And I think the Obama administration is in a very difficult situation.
BURNETT: Interesting, though, Tom, that when you poll Americans on their view of the president's health care plan, it is increasing. They are liking it more and more. Forty-three percent of them approve of it now. Sure, 50 percent disapprove, but that's much better than November when it was only 38 percent approved.
TOM PERRIELLO, FORMER CONGRESSMAN FROM VIRGINIA: Yes, it's exactly the opposite of what we just heard which is the more people hear the facts and the details, the more they like the bill. You have two and a half million young people who now have access to health care through their parents' plans. You have 32 million seniors who are getting free preventative care as well as cheaper prescription drug care. Now that it's not a hypothetical, but a real program you see tens of millions of Americans who are excited about it.
And probably the biggest group that's switching on that is women after the contraception debate who understand that this means that being a woman is no longer considered a pre-existing condition. Fifty percent higher premiums for women is no longer acceptable, mandated coverage for pre and postnatal care. So people are liking the facts, but this is also about this core question of what our Constitution is about. And I think here you see a real division where what the conservatives are arguing is not really about the Constitution. It's about the Articles of Confederation. It's a view of this country that was explicitly rejected by the founders --
BURNETT: Let me just get Jeff in here because I'm curious though in terms of how politics are going to play at the Supreme Court level. Now that the Supreme Court has gotten involved you know in several big political cases. Today you saw it, oh, well we already know how everyone is going to vote except for Justice Kennedy. So is it going to be political when it comes to the justices themselves?
TOOBIN: Well I don't think it's political in the sense that, oh, I want Obama to win so I'll vote the following way. These justices have ideologies. They have views about how the Constitution should be interpreted. The four Democratic appointees, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, they were appointed in part because they believe that the Constitution allows an expansive government. Certainly several of the Republican appointees were appointed because they believe in limited government. So I don't think that's some sinister political view on the part of the justices, but the justices have ideological predispositions. They have ideological views about how the Constitution should be interpreted and those come out in big cases like this one.
BURNETT: One other big thing I want to talk about in politics today has to do with Rick Santorum. Not on health care but on something else where he appeared to open a door that once you open it a crack could become all of the horses running out of the barn. Here he is on the VP slot.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he for some reason, and you might laugh this off, but if he for some reason asks you to be the vice presidential candidate on his ticket, I know after all said and done, would you even consider it? Would you consider it?
SANTORUM: Of course -- I mean -- look I would do in this race, as I always say, this is the most important race in our country's history. And so I'm going to do everything I can. I mean I'm doing everything I can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: He was on a Christian Broadcasting Network. Leslie, so is that a significant as it seems just to rhetorically acknowledge what most people already consider to be possible?
SANCHEZ: Yes, I think basically he's saying that this is going to be a ticket and a party that unites behind the nominee. And I think that's a very fair position. Many Republican candidates are going to say that. I don't think he's acquiescing in any way. I think the tone of it he could have said stronger but I'm focused on running for president right now. I think that is where maybe there are some alarm bells ringing. Is this race, the primary over. Overall most importantly it's going to be an excited engaged Republican ticket and I think that's the bottom line --
BURNETT: Thanks very much to --
BURNETT: I've got to leave it there. Thanks to all three of you though.
Next OUTFRONT, leaked details for the Trayvon Martin case. What George Zimmerman told police happened right before he killed the Florida teen and Dominique Strauss-Kahn and what has to be the most awkward phrase of the night, "aggravated pimping".
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, Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with aggravated pimping for his alleged involvement in the prostitution ring. Strauss-Kahn's arrest came right as he was questioned by French judges investigating the ring. Officials believe the high-profile prostitution network operated out of luxury hotels. Strauss-Kahn's lawyer previously acknowledged that his client attended sex parties but was not aware the women were prostitutes.
Number two, the United States suspended aid to Mali following last week's coup. The State Department said as much as $70 million a year in American aid will not go to the land-locked African country. Another $70 million in food and humanitarian aid will go to Mali.
Last week, members of the military-led coup angered the government. So, they were angry the government wasn't doing enough to combat extremist Muslim rebels.
Number three, new details emerging about what Jon Corzine may or may not have known in the final days before the collapse of MF Global. A new e-mail seen by "The New York Times" shows Corzine was told that a $175 million transaction used the firm's money. Now, the paper reports the money was in fact customer money transformed to the firm's account and then Jon Corzine approved it being moved.
(INAUDIBLE) is a criminal defense lawyer who came OUTFRONT Friday on this breaking news. He said this e-mail will not clear Corzine since all the facts clearly are not out yet.
Number four: U.S. exports to China passed $100 billion for the first time. We can report that tonight. OUTFRONT got an exclusive advance look at a report from the U.S.-China Business Council, which found the U.S. exported nearly $104 billion to China last year. That's up 540 percent, from $16 billion in the year 2000.
By comparison, U.S. imports from China have surged as well, up 300 percent from $100 billion to $400 billion. The gap is narrowing but it's still huge. California, Washington and Texas are the top American exporters to China.
Well, it's been 235 days since the U.S. lost its top credit rating. What are we doing to get it back? Well, Fed Chair Ben Bernanke said today the U.S. job market is still weak, despite recent improvement, and we learned today that pending home sales fell slightly in February by half a percent.
We have new details tonight in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. According to police, a violent fight between the Florida teenager and 28-year-old George Zimmerman led the neighborhood watchman to pull his gun and shoot the unarmed teen.
Joe Oliver is a friend of Zimmerman's, told NBC earlier today that Zimmerman didn't have a choice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOE OLIVER, FRIEND OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: From what I know, the bottom line is there was a life-and-death struggle in that instant and someone was going to die. (END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Reports also surfaced today that Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school after marijuana residue was found in his backpack. His mother spoke out saying this had nothing to do with her son's death.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SYBRINA FULTON, SLAIN TEEN'S MOTHER: The only comment that I have right now is that they have killed my son and now they're trying to kill his reputation.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: One month after the fatal shooting, the case continues to grip the country. More than a dozen rallies were held today from Philadelphia to San Francisco. Protesters are demanding the arrest of Zimmerman.
Our David Mattingly is in Sanford, Florida, tonight with the very latest.
And what can you tell us? Obviously people still there gathering yet again tonight?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Erin. We saw hundreds of people walking through the streets of Sanford today. Thousands of them gathering right here in this city park.
This originally was supposed to be the overflow crowd for an event that the city had planned at the Civic Center here where people would come up to the microphone and vent their frustration, say what they had to say, what was on their minds about this investigation.
But once that was over, everyone came here. There was a little bit of a rally that went on. That's over now. Everyone now seems to be going back home.
And we saw people from all over Florida here today as well as other states. The message here today is going very much deeper than the Trayvon Martin case. A lot of the theme here today was about racial profiling and so many people saying that they believe that they could have easily been a victim of an encounter like this just the same way that Trayvon Martin was -- Erin.
BURNETT: All right, David Mattingly, thank you very much. And, of course, as the president so poignantly said, if he had a son, he would have looked like Trayvon.
Well, a new CNN poll tonight shows 73 percent of Americans believe George Zimmerman should be arrested.
Mary Cutcher and Selma Mora Lamilla witnessed the aftermath of the shooting and feel the same way. They were OUTFRONT tonight.
And good to see both of you. Appreciate you taking the time.
Let me just ask you, first of all, I know you all have talked about how you're sure there's no way this could have been self defense when you witnessed what happened between Trayvon and George Zimmerman. What makes you so sure that's the only way to see it?
MARY CUTCHER, WITNESSED SHOOTING AFTERMATH: I guess basically from what we heard and what we saw when we were in the kitchen making coffee, Selma was closer to the window. The window was open, the blinds were pulled, and we heard a whining. Not like a crying boohoo but like a whining, someone in distress, and then the gunshot.
When we looked out the window, we didn't -- we couldn't see anything, it was a little dark. We ran out the sliding glass door, and within seconds we were out there. Zimmerman -- she was out first. Zimmerman was standing over the body with -- basically straddling the body with his hands on Trayvon's back. And it didn't seem to me that he was trying to help him in any way. It didn't seem to me -- I didn't hear any struggle prior to the gunshot.
And I feel like it was Trayvon Martin that was crying out because the minute that the gunshot went off, the whining stopped.
BURNETT: Let me ask you, Selma, about something that police revealed today. They said George Zimmerman said he was walking back to his car when Trayvon Martin came up behind him. He punched him in the face, he slammed his head against the sidewalk several times and he was battered and bruised. Multiple witnesses also seem to corroborate that version of events.
Is it possible that that happened before you saw what you saw?
SELMA MORA LAMILLA, WITNESSED SHOOTING AFTERMATH: Well, I don't have an idea, but -- because by the time that I saw Zimmerman, it was just when he was over the kid's body. And at that time, it was so dark, so I cannot tell you exactly if he was bruising, bleeding or any of the detail.
BURNETT: So, Mary, as we try to sort of -- everyone tries to piece together what happened, I guess you saw what you saw, but it's unclear how long an altercation or an interaction between the two men had gone on before you heard the shot and then were watching yourself, right?
CUTCHER: That is correct. I have no idea how long it went on prior to us hearing the gun go off. But I do know that he was not trying to help Trayvon in any way. Trayvon was face down with his face in the grass and Zimmerman was over his body with his hands on his back. And I don't -- I don't believe that it is self defense.
BURNETT: How did George react when you approached him and he said to call police?
CUTCHER: Well, Selma asked him three times what's going on over there? He looks back and doesn't say anything. She asks him again, everything OK? What's going on? Same thing -- looked at us, looked back. Finally, the third time, he said just call the police.
And then it wasn't like he was upset, hurt. He didn't seem like he was, you know, clearing any blood, he wasn't wiping himself, he just was pacing along the sidewalk after he got off the body.
BURNETT: How close were you, Selma, when that conversation happened?
LAMILLA: Maybe 10 feet from where the body was laying on the ground.
BURNETT: So I know it was dark, but you would have -- you would have, do you think, have had the opportunity to se if he was bruised as he says he was? And did -- would you have been able to see that if it were so and did you see that?
LAMILLA: No. As what I say, I mean that night was -- it was at night, it was too dark, and the back of our houses, there is no much light over there. So, no, I just can see the bodies, the movements, but other than that, no. No.
BURNETT: Mary, have you had a chance to talk to any of the other witnesses?
CUTCHER: I have not.
BURNETT: And -- go ahead.
CUTCHER: Well, I did speak with the boy, the 14-year-old boy that I think has been interviewed quite a few times that was walking his dog and saw the fight. Very short conversation. His mother is very much in support of him speaking to media and telling his story.
BURNETT: Well, thanks very much to both of you for telling your story and answering all of our questions. I know you've had to do a lot it and everyone who is watching really appreciates it. Thanks again.
Well, an American held in Cuba since 2009 on charges of spying is still there tonight. His wife OUTFRONT with a desperate plea for his release.
And Rick Santorum got angry.
BURNETT: Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Santiago, Cuba, today for a three-day visit. President Raul Castro met the pope when he touched down and the two are scheduled to have official talks tomorrow.
Judy Gross hopes her husband, Alan, will be the topic of conversation. You're looking at him there. He was an American who was arrested in Cuba in 2009 with communications equipment, then accused of spying for the United States and sentenced to 15 years in jail. He's still there.
I spoke with Judy earlier and asked her how likely she thought it was that the pope would appeal for her husband's release.
JUDY GROSS, WIFE OF ALAN GROSS: I hope it's very likely. We haven't been told anything, but we've been working with the highest authorities of the church for quite a while now and we're very hopeful that he will intervene on Alan's behalf.
BURNETT: We've been talking a little bit about Rene Gonzalez, the accused Cuban spy who served time in the United States. He's on parole. But the U.S. has just let him go back to Cuba to visit his sick brother for two weeks.
I'm assuming you sympathize with him. And do you hope that perhaps there could be reciprocity here?
GROSS: I do sympathize with him. He's a human who's got a brother who is terminally ill. And I think it's the right thing to do. I think anybody in his situation would want to see his loved one.
Alan's situation, unfortunately, is very similar. He has a mother who's battling lung cancer. He does not know when he's going to see her again, if ever.
And she's very upset. I talk to her weekly, more than weekly, and she just bursts into tears every time she talks about him. And she is so afraid. She's turning 90 in April. She is so afraid that she's going to die before she sees her son again.
BURNETT: How often do you get to talk to Alan?
GROSS: Right now, we've been able to talk weekly.
BURNETT: How hard has it been without him for the past two years?
GROSS: It's kind of like a living nightmare. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I think of is Alan and I go to bed at night thinking of him. My daughters are very, very emotionally upset about the situation. So, I feel like I'm taking care of myself and everyday needs and my family. It's been really a strain.
BURNETT: And it's your husband, but you have to be the rock for everyone else.
GROSS: Right. I work for him. I come home from work and this is my second job. I'm constantly working on getting him home.
BURNETT: I know Senators Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Richard Shelby were down in Cuba. They talked to Raul Castro.
What did -- what did he tell them? Have you -- I mean, I know you must be afraid to hope, but do you feel now that it's really building to a point where this could happen very quickly?
GROSS: Erin, I think you're right. I am afraid to hope. I feel like I've been burned a couple times. But President Castro told Senator Leahy that he knew that Alan wasn't a spy. So hearing those words gave me a little hope that there will be some room for negotiations.
BURNETT: What emotion is the one that you feel the most? Is it frustration, sadness, loneliness, or anger?
GROSS: I'm very lonely. I miss Alan's companionship so much. I also -- I have never been an angry person before, but now I am. I have a lot of anger, which is very difficult for me.
BURNETT: Well, we will keep you updated on that and whether there could be some sort of a breakthrough tomorrow.
Well, now, let's check in with Anderson.
Anderson, what's up on "A.C. 360"?
ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "A.C. 360": Hey, Erin. Yes. We're keeping them honest tonight, all of the angles on the Trayvon Martin death investigation. Fascinating, an interview of a friend of George Zimmerman, who shares the shooter's version of what happened the night Trayvon Martin was shot dead.
He just spoke to George Zimmerman today, questioned George Zimmerman about his account of what happened. He'll tell us a little bit about what George Zimmerman said, claiming that George Zimmerman feared for his own life and made a decision to save himself. That's according to the friend. He says Zimmerman is now suffering from PTSD, depression and insomnia.
Also ahead, racial tensions ignited by the shooting. A bounty for Zimmerman's arrest started at $10,000 by a group called the New Black Panther Party. I talked to one of the spokespeople for the group and why they are calling for an eye for an eye when the Martin family says they only want justice and don't believe in an eye for an eye. Those stories.
Also tonight's "Ridiculist" and the latest in the world of politics, Erin.
BURNETT: All right, Anderson, we're looking forward to seeing that. I'm very curious about the Black Panthers.
Well, this weekend, Rick Santorum picked up some delegates and then dropped a bomb.
And Donald Trump's Miss Universe pageant finds itself the middle of a rather major controversy.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: So Rick Santorum won the Louisiana primary this week. And after his victory speech, he was asked a question by a "New York Times" reporter about comments he had made about Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum didn't like the question and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's bull (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Come on, man.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BURNETT: Wow. Lot of people were shocked about that. And they've been saying it's proof of how divided America is.
But I have to admit there is one little silver lining here. At least we finally found something Democrats and Republicans can agree on because cursing appears to be something everybody likes to do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIPS)
GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: The irony is what they need to do is stop doing this (EXPLETIVE DELETED) and it's over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why would he do that?
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He's a jackass.
BUSH: There's Adam Clymer, major league (EXPLETIVE DELETED) hole.
JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a big (EXPLETIVE DELETED) deal.
(END VIDEO CLIPS)
BURNETT: Which brings us to tonight's number: 39. That's how many minutes Tim Tebow, a professional athlete, spoke today without cursing. And I watched this live because yes, it was broadcast in its entirety on major broadcast networks and it was very, very, very long. Maybe swearing would have spiced it up.
But Tebow talked about his new team, his old team, rivalries, and religion. And that devout Christian who doesn't smoke, drink, or apparently curse kept his cool the whole time. In closing, he even said, "God bless" -- rather presidential.
It says something about this country that are pro-athletes keep it clean even when our politicians don't.
All right. Still OUTFRONT, a beauty pageant battle is brewing. And we wonder. Is Donald Trump man enough to settle this dispute?
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: A beauty pageant battle is brewing tonight. It has to do with the Miss Universe pageant and its patron, Donald Trump.
Jenna Talackova of Vancouver, British Columbia, is one of the 65 finalists of this year's 2012 Miss Universe Canada competition. She's been disqualified because she, quote, "did not meet requirements".
According to the rules of the Miss Universe pageant, contestants must be female, a Canadian citizen, not married, not pregnant and between the ages of 18 and 27.
And Jenna met all of those requirements. So, why was she booted? Well, because she was technically born male. Now, she's also been a woman for quite some time.
Jenna says she's known she was a woman since she was four and began taking hormone therapy at age 14. She had gender reassignment surgery two years ago. Now, there's no rules regarding sex changes or plastic surgery in the bylaws of the Miss Universe candidate pageant. But Jenna's still out.
Now, so far, both sides are being respectful of each other. The pageant says it respects Jenna's goals. Jenna refuses to comment until she speaks with a lawyer, a Canadian.
But it raises a couple of interesting questions like why does she want to compete in the pageant in the first place? Because sure, in recent years pageants have made things about empowering women. And they offer scholarships and they've tried to cut down on the cheese and bathing suit factor. But they're frankly still a little bit silly.
So, let us know what you think of beauty pageants and whether Jenna should be allowed to compete. We talk to such about women issues and transgender, well, this is a really interesting one that might affect a lot more people.
Let us know on Twitter @ErinBurnett and, of course, at our blog, CNN.com/OutFront at any time.
Thanks so much as always for watching.
"ANDERSON COOPER 360" starts now.