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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN
Supreme Court Hearing Arguments on Health Care Reform Law; Police Memo Leaked about Neighborhood Watch Killing of Teenager; New York City School Bans Certain Words from Tests; Rick Santorum Urged by Some Conservatives to Drop Out of GOP Presidential Race; DSK Charged With "Aggravated Pimping"; Deadly Colorado Wildfire; "Pink Slime" Maker Closes Plants; Gingrich Charging $50 For A Photo; "Excited" Tebow Says Hello To New York; Zimmerman's Reported Account Of Killing; Differing Accounts Of Trayvon Martin; Questioning "Stand Your Ground" Law
Aired March 27, 2012 - 06:59 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right, ladies, thank you very much. Our STARTING POINT this morning is the health care law, and it is on trial today. The main event, of course, the individual mandate. It's the centerpiece of President Obama's plan for reform.
Also new, details emerging in the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin according to a leaked police report. A violent fight led George Zimmerman to pull his gun and pull the trigger. We'll speak to the shooter's friend, who insists that George Zimmerman is not a racist.
And is this thing on? Yes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. After my election, I have more flexibility.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Oooh, what does that mean, more flexibility? Hmm. Well what does that mean? Will Cain, we'll talk about that this morning. Also President Obama now is making a joke about it, held a press conference to clarify things. But Mitt Romney accuses him of telling the Russians one thing and the American people another.
And Broadway Tebow, Tim Tebow. I might be the only person really excited that he's coming. Everybody else I talk to is like "Oh, the Jets. The Jets."
JOHN FUSELGANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: They need a third quarterback.
O'BRIEN: I might be the only person excited he's coming. Everybody else is like oh, the Jets.
FUGELSANG: They need a third quarterback. O'BRIEN: He's been introduced as a New York Jet in the biggest news conference for a backup ever in the history of forever. He had a magic word that he said literally a zillion times. It is Tuesday, March 27th, and STARTING POINT begins right now.
O'BRIEN: Whose song is that?
FUGELSANG: I think that's yours.
O'BRIEN: My song would be Pink. That is not Pink.
FUGELSANG: It's Auto-tune, that's all that matters.
WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's popular music, I wouldn't know.
O'BRIEN: You stick in the mud. We have no idea who that is but we support them anyway. I'm feeling very Kumbaya this morning. John Fugelsang joins us. He's a political comedian, and Will Cain is back, a columnist at theblaze.com, and Keli Goff, contributing editor for Loop21.com, and wrote a great moment. What is it titled?
KELI GOFF, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, LOOP21.COM: "The GQ Candidate." My goodness, you just made my publisher a happy camper. If you like political novels it's a fun one.
O'BRIEN: I do.
GOFF: We've got to get to our STARTING POINT this morning, which of course focuses on the Supreme Court. The centerpiece of Obama's health care overhaul is on trial before the U.S. Supreme Court. It will happen in about three hours and going to focus on the question, can government force people to buy something they don't want? It goes back to the commerce clause in the constitution created in 1787, the Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations and among the several states and with the Indian tribes.
Supporters of the individual mandate say making people buy insurance is constitutional, because it falls under that commerce clause. Opponents say no, you cannot regulation inaction and a decision to not buy health insurance doesn't count as commerce. Supporters' answer to that, all of the uninsured people create roughly $43 billion a year in unpaid medical bills and that impacts commerce.
We've got Jeff Toobin joining us from the Supreme Court, CNN's senior legal analyst. Jeff, let's talk about how yesterday went and what we can expect for today.
JEFF TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Soledad, it is so exciting here I can't stand this.
O'BRIEN: You love this.
TOOBIN: This is like nerd heaven. You know you see behind me some of the justices have their lights on. Even at this hour, people getting in early. Yesterday was the appetizer. The only issue was really procedural. It was, is this case premature at this time, because most or much of the affordable care act doesn't go into effect until 2015, and the question was, should the justices put off this case until it's fully in effect? Well, the justices seemed united that in fact the case is not premature, that it's time to decide it now, and today is the day they're going to talk about whether the central aspect of this case is constitutional.
O'BRIEN: And that's the central thing something the individual mandate and everybody's focused on the commerce clause. You've never seen so many people looking into what the commerce clause is all about.
TOOBIN: Getting out those little pocket constitutions. It's a beautiful thing.
O'BRIEN: I gave a sort of rough draft of exactly the details of the commerce clause. Where do you think the biggest clash will come as they argue this case?
TOOBIN: I think the question is, is the law going to change or stay the same as it's been for the last 70 years. Since the New Deal and FDR, it's a commerce clause defined by the Supreme Court very broadly. Remember we have Medicare and Medicaid. Health care is one- seventh of the national economy. For decades the Supreme Court has said if it's related to economic matters -- intrastate, interstate, the federal government can regulate it.
But look, we live in a more conservative country than we used to and have a more conservative Supreme Court than we used to. They may say, look, this is too far. This is simply too much of a regulatory hand on individuals. But if they say that, they will be changing the law. There is very little doubt about it.
O'BRIEN: Will Cain is begging to disagree.
CAIN: No, Jeff knows very well what I think.
O'BRIEN: Go ahead.
CAIN: The arguments we will hear today will not necessarily be perhaps a change of those constitution over the last 80 years. This is a distinctive case and different and Jeff will hear that but an argument over whether or not activity or knack activity are a continuation are what we've seen over the last 80 years or a completely new and distinct situation for the court to consider.
O'BRIEN: To the panel, do we as Americans sit around and discuss, we're really talking about a clause that's 1780-something. Do you think people at home are watching this as closely as someone like Jeff Toobin who is a constitutional scholar?
CAIN: Not as closely as Jeff.
FUGELSANG: And 45 million uninsured Americans care a lot about this. O'BRIEN: Are all eyes on the Supreme Court for them?
FUGELSANG: They should be if they're civic-minded, because it pertains to them and their future. I think the most interesting debate is the liberals and mandates. The liberals hate it just as much as conservatives do. Candidates was against a mandate for a public option, settled on a mandate. And I know a lot of liberals who wouldn't mind seeing this case fail so that a public option or simple one-page executive order opening up Medicare to all could be implemented.
GOFF: I'm going to disagree with my new friend John in practice, if not in principle in that 45 million uninsured Americans should care. Unfortunately like a lot of issues many Americans don't. I'm afraid that health care reform has become the skinny jeans of this year in a sort of yesterday's news. It was trendy and popular to talk about in the heat of the moment shortly after President Obama got elected and people in the thick of the fight. The real point is people are focused on the economy, even though that issue is directly connected, it's really hard for Americans who aren't doing what we do and watch the super bowl, like Jeff is, to bring it back.
TOOBIN: Here I am the pathetic loser caring about the constitution and 1787 and --
O'BRIEN: Not at all, no.
TOOBIN: It's so yesterday, skinny jeans. Go ahead.
O'BRIEN: I'm not watching it like the super bowl but I am interested in your perspective on it truly. Is there any indication from what you heard yesterday that will give you some insight on how the justices could rule today? And what about the protesters behind you, are they for, against, what are they saying?
TOOBIN: In terms of yesterday not really. They were focused on this obscure, frankly, even to me, procedural issue. As for the protesters, you know, I mean this is a country of over 300 million people. There are about 50 people here protesting. I mean, they're sort of --
O'BRIEN: On what side of the issue?
TOOBIN: I would say approximately even although slight advantage to people who are in favor of health care reform. And it's important to remember, this is the Supreme Court. Every single day there are anti-abortion protesters about a dozen here. And so they'll be here as well even though it's not their case on trial today.
O'BRIEN: Jeff Toobin, we'll continue to check in with Jeff this morning. Thanks.
TOOBIN: All right, we'll be here.
O'BRIEN: I bet you will. As Zoraida Sambolin has a look at the other headlines for this morning. Hey, Zoraida.
ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi, Soledad. Thank you. Trayvon Martin's parents take their case to Capitol Hill today. They will attend a House Judiciary Committee hearing on racial profiling and hate crimes in response to the killing of their son by a neighborhood watch captain. Ahead of the hearing protesters plan a march to the White House demanding a federal investigation. Protestors in Sanford, Florida, across the country have called for George Zimmerman's arrest. But a leaked police report suggests Martin attacked and beat Zimmerman, smashing his head to the ground, and that Zimmerman fired in self-defense.
Meantime, Trayvon's mother is reportedly trying to trademark the phrases "Justice for Trayvon" and "I am Trayvon." Those phrases have become rally cries. A family attorney says it's not intended to make a profit.
And in 20 minutes, Joe Oliver, a friend of George Zimmerman, joins Soledad live. That is followed by John Timoney, former Miami police chief. And in the next hour, Angela Corey, a special prosecutor investigating the Trayvon Martin case.
And join CNN for our town hall, "Beyond Trayvon, Race and Justice in America." Soledad is hosting this is Thursday, March 29. If you want to be a part of the studio audience, sign up at our website, CNN.com/startingpoint and you can catch the special when it airs right here on CNN this Friday night at 8:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern time.
Meantime, a New Orleans police officer has been suspended without pay for remarks he posted online about Trayvon Martin. Officer Jason Girard wrote on the website affiliate WWL "Act like a thug, die like one." The New Orleans police superintendent called the comments "insensitive, harmful, and insensitive," and, he added "to say I'm angry is an understatement."
The beating death of an Iraqi woman in her southern California home is being investigated by a possible hate crime. A note beside her body warned the family to go back to Iraq and referred to them as terrorists. Shaima Alawadi, 32-year-old mother of five, died of a severe head injury Saturday after she was taken off life support. The Council on American Islamic Relations says her body will be flown to Iraq for funeral and burial.
And it looks like it's open season on President Obama after his open mic moment with Russian president Medvedev. The two leaders were having what they thought was a private conversation in South Korea. They were discussing NATO's plans for a missile defense system in Europe when President Obama was caught on tape asking Medvedev not to force the issue before the November election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is my last election. After my election I have more flexibility.
DMITRY MEDVEDEV, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT: I understand you. I'll transmit this information to Vladimir and stand with you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: The president tried to make light of the open mike moment. The next morning he jokingly covered up the microphone before shaking Medvedev's hands. But his rivals are not amused.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Russia continues to support Syria, supports Iran, has fought us with the crippling sanctions. We wanted to have the world put in place against Iran. Russia is not a friendly character on the world stage, and for this president to look for greater flexibility where he doesn't have to answer to the American people in his relations with Russia is very, very troubling.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: Romney is accusing the president of pulling his punches with the American people. The White House says Romney is distorting the president's words.
Minding your business now, U.S. stock futures trading pretty flat up slightly ahead of the opening bell this morning, riding yesterday's rally off positive but cautious comments from Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke about the economy. The markets rallied strong in the S&P 500, the best indicator for your stocks and 401(k) is at a four-year high right now. That is back to pre-recession levels.
SAMBOLIN: So listen to this, eat chocolate to be skinny. A new study of more than 1,000 healthy men and women found that people who ate chocolate five times a week had a lower body mass index than those who did not eat it regularly. Everyone in the study exercised three times a week and ate a balanced nutritious diet. The body mass index is a measure of body fat based on height and weight.
O'BRIEN: Go back to the line, everybody worked out and ate a nutritious diet, yes.
SAMBOLIN: Chocolate makes you skinny.
O'BRIEN: Uh-huh, OK.
O'BRIEN: Thanks, Z, appreciate it.
SAMBOLIN: You're welcome.
O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, Rick Santorum is trying to put Mitt Romney's health care plan from Massachusetts on trial along with the federal one. We'll ask a key Romney supporter, Representative Jason Chaffetz, what happens next, Governor Romney thinks of this. Plus, first he was accused of rape, then he was being charged with aggravating pimping. New trouble for the man once in charge of the world's money.
And also one of the biggest actors of our time and one of the biggest blockbusters in history, Donald Sutherland talks "The Hunger Games" with me.
Check out our live blog CNN.com/startingpoint. Keli's playlist plays us off, "Bulletproof." You're watching STARTING POINT.
O'BRIEN: Interesting looking at the Supreme Court listening to Duran Duran.
CAIN: I love we're in and out of the breaks with the clip.
I just think Duran Duran is a juxtaposition although I had a huge crush on Simon Lebon.
GOFF: I bet it's on Scalia's iPod.
O'BRIEN: The health care mandate is in front of the Supreme Court. That's going to happen, as I mentioned, in just about three hours. And as the justices weigh in on one of the most anticipated cases of a generation, the Republican presidential candidates are trading blows over that same topic as well. Rick Santorum joined the protesters outside the court yesterday and continued his assault on the front-runner, Mitt Romney.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He's not here. He's not making the argument in his race. All he says was I'll repeal Obama care, and in the same breath he defends Obama care at the state level. It just doesn't wash and it won't wash in the general election.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Well, primary voters may not agree it's not washing. The former Massachusetts governor is leading the race with 569 delegates, and a number of top Republican lawmakers are urging the party to unite behind Mitt Romney for the nomination. One man who has already voiced his support for Mitt Romney is Republican congressman from Utah, Jason Chaffetz. He joins us this morning. I hear it's your birthday, happy birthday to you as well.
REP. JASON CHAFFETZ, (R) UTAH: Thank you. That was yesterday, yes, half way to 90. Ouch.
O'BRIEN: Don't say ouch. I'm older than you.
Moving on, let's start with Senator Santorum, who to my knowledge seems to be having a rough week. First comments about Governor Romney, and then he found himself yelling at a "New York Times" reporter, and said maybe I would be Governor Romney's running mate. Here's kind of how it went down.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama. Why would Wisconsin want to vote for someone like that?
Quit distorting my words. If I see it, it's bull --. Come on, man. What are you doing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If he for some reason asks to you be the vice presidential candidate on his ticket, would you even consider it?
SANTORUM: Of course. Look, I would do in this race as I always say this is the most important race in our country's history, so I'm going to do everything I can. I'm doing everything I can.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: He's going to do everything he can. Is this just a long slog and campaigning are grueling and at some point everybody's nerves start fraying a little bit or what?
CHAFFETZ: He's coming unhinged. When you start swearing on camera is shows a lack of discipline there.
Look, he's very frustrated. We understand that. I think Mitt Romney is well on his way to becoming not only the nominee but the next president of the United States as people focus on the economy and really have a referendum on what Barack Obama has done. So Rick Santorum is trying hard, but look, Mitt Romney has more than 1 million popular votes than Rick Santorum, got more than double the delegates. There's no way Rick Santorum is getting more than 70 percent of the remaining delegates. It's time for this party to coalesce and rally behind Mitt Romney.
FUGELSANG: But is it not correct, sir, and good morning, that senator Santorum was correct "The New York Times" reporter did distort what he said. He said Romney was the worst candidate on this single issue of the affordable care act. Santorum makes a very good point it's a wedge issue with no wedge much like the anti-war John Kerry who had voted for the war. That was really what he was responding to. Does senator Santorum not have a fair point in the argument?
CHAFFETZ: Part of the point is the fact that he became unhinged and started swearing at the reporter. Presidents go back and forth with the media every day. There's a right way to do it and a way that changes the story and gets you off message, which I think he did in this case.
If you think it's tough now, wait until somebody is running against Barack Obama. I think Mitt Romney has been crystal clear about repealing Obama care and giving every state a waiver. Remember Nancy Pelosi said we have to pass this bill in order to find out what's in it. Still people don't understand what's in this. So Mitt Romney has a great record and crystal clear, and the idea we should repeal Obama care if the justice is don't take care of that and offer states waivers at the very least.
O'BRIEN: Lenny Curry was on our show, the chairman of the Florida Republican Party, and he was telling me in opposition to what you said in the past that he thinks this dragged out race he thinks is problematic, not a good thing, hurting the party. Here's what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LENNY CURRY, CHAIRMAN, FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PARTY: Some have suggested this isn't hurting us because Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama drug their election out to June. The difference is there was no incumbent then. We have an incumbent president now that's raising money and sitting on money which puts him in a powerful position.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: So what do you think about that? Agree? Disagree?
CHAFFETZ: I think it has made the candidates stronger, but sooner rather than later we got to coalesce. I'd love nothing more than for Rick Santorum to read the writing on the wall, do what's best for party and what's best for Republicans and this country rather than what's best for Rick Santorum. And I think that's the choice he's faced with, because most everybody understands at this point that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee and the sooner we rally behind him the stronger we'll be in November.
O'BRIEN: It doesn't sound that to me listening to Santorum talking to Wolf Blitzer about the math. Here's what he said on Wolf Blitzer.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SANTORUM: With all due respect we don't agree with your numbers. We think they're wrong.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": You think you can realistically get to 1,144 before the convention?
SANTORUM: We think we can get there, and the likelihood -- I agree that neither of cuss get there, but I think we can still get there.
(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: So apparently Rick Santorum is going to challenge sort of the winner-take-all states that most of them went for Romney that those would be apportioned that Romney's count would go down because of that. That's what he seems to be laying out as a strategy at that point. What do you think of that?
CHAFFETZ: Well, I don't think he's probably the most objective person looking at that, but the reality is, when you have more than a million people vote in favor of Mitt Romney than Rick Santorum, that's a pretty strong case. Rick Santorum I think is grasping at straws. He's desperate at this point, becoming unhinged, swearing at reporters.
O'BRIEN: Reporter -- there was one.
CHAFFETZ: But there's an old saying in politics, presidential campaigns never end, they just run out of money. And I think that will probably happen sooner rather than later. Super PACs have certainly extended things, but I think most people understand reasonable people that Mitt Romney is well on his way to becoming the nominee.
O'BRIEN: Jason Chaffetz joining us this morning, Republican from Utah, nice to see you.
Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a friend of George Zimmerman's says the shooting of Trayvon Martin was in self-defense and it was not racially motivated. We're going to talk to Joe Oliver straight ahead this morning
Plus, our "Get Real," New York City schools are banning any mention of birthdays, of dinosaurs, hard word for me to say, Halloween, and literally dozens of other things on standardized tests. It might be hard to come up with a question if you don't have all those words.
We leave with you my playlist, Los Hombres Caliente, "Cardinal de Funk." You're watching STARTING POINT.
O'BRIEN: I like that song. Young the giant "My Body."
FUGELSANG: Out of irvine, California.
O'BRIEN: How do you please everybody? Ban pretty much everything. New York City schools have banned -- I haven't done the story Will Cain is shaking his head, no, no -- 50 controversial and unpleasant topics not being mentioned on standardized tests, things like dinosaurs, sometimes I say dinosaur because of my accent, because people may not believe in evolution and that might make them uncomfortable. Aliens, birthdays, because gentlemen Jehovah's witnesses do not celebrate birthdays. Halloween is banned because it suggests paganism. Dancing is banned, also celebrities, animals, and inanimate with human characteristics.
FUGELSANG: The Amish are mocking us.
O'BRIEN: I don't know whose mocking us. Critics say it's a form of censorship. The department of education disagrees and allows students to complete practice exams without distraction. Professors of Columbia's college disagrees with the disagreement and says controversial topics, the ones that spark political debate are exactly what students should be talking about and being exposed to.
CAIN: It's not just religious sensitivity. You can't talk about homes with swimming pools and computers because it might touch on economic sensitivities and make some kids jealous. You can't mention poverty.
O'BRIEN: I would be very jealous. I would have been distracted during my SATs thinking of all I lacked in my middle class upbringing. I want a pool!
CAIN: How do you make everyone happy? You don't.
FUGELSANG: You have a TV network or politician that tries to rule by public opinion you don't go too far. The evolution issue is exactly what kids should be talking about in school.
O'BRIEN: I'm only going to use uncomfortable words. We go to break with dinosaur.
CAIN: Such a hard word.
GOFF: That's why they took it off the test, because it's a tough word.
O'BRIEN: Absolutely, I think that's crazy.
Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a friend of George Zimmerman is coming to his defense. He says he is not a racist. We'll talk to Joe Oliver in just a few minutes.
Plus Newt Gingrich is now charging for a picture with him on the campaign trail, just about how much it costs to fill up a gas tank, $2.50 a gallon?
I'm kidding about that. Also, how does Tim Tebow feel about being a Jet?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TIM TEBOW, NEW YORK JETS: So excited about being a jet. I'm so excited about meeting my teammates. I was really excited about it. I'm excited to be a Jet.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: I'm excited about that man. I love that man. He goes on and on with that one word I think literally 46 times in his press conference. I love him. I can't say anything bad about him. We are going to leave you with Will Cain's playlist, Pat Green "Three Days." You're watching STARTING POINT. We got a short break. We're back in a moment.
O'BRIEN: That's off of Zoraida's playlist, Shakira "Give It Up To Me." Zoraida's got a look at the headlines for us this morning. Hi, Z. Good morning.
ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, ANCHOR, CNN'S EARLY START: Good morning to you. Thanks, Soledad.
Former IMF Chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn has been charged with aggravated pimping in France for allegedly participating in a prostitution ring. He has been released on $130,000 bail.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn says he was forced to step down from the International Monetary Fund after a New York hotel maid accused him of sexual assault and attempted rape last May.
And a French female writer has accused Strauss-Kahn of attempted rape that was in 2003.
New developments and out of control wildfire in Colorado is blamed for at least one death. Wind gusts above 60 miles per hour fanned all of those flames over 3,000 acres and that all happened in just a matter of hours. Several homes in Jefferson County were destroyed and evacuations were ordered for nearly 1,000 other homes.
It's a tough time to be in the pink slime business. Beef Products Incorporated, the maker of the meat filler announced it has suspended operations at all, but one plant because of outrage over the product.
It's costing the company business now, but they won't say how much. Two hundred people will lose their jobs at three different plants. McDonald's and Burger King swore off using it in January.
Pink slime is made of ground up beef scraps, connective tissue and other trimmings that are treated with ammonium hydroxide to kill the germs. That is a compound that's been used to make homemade bums. It is FDA approved, folks.
A photo with Newt Gingrich will cost you 50 bucks these days. That's what the former House speaker is charging supporters now. His campaign is in the red and donations are down so team Gingrich is also offering hats, shirts, bandanas for dogs in their online store.
And that's one more sign that the Gingrich campaign is fading. The last two print reporters that are covering the candidate full time have been pulled from their assignment.
Tim Tebow officially introduced as a New York Jet yesterday. Tebow acquired last week in a trade with the Denver Broncos says he is very excited about becoming a Jet.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TEBOW: I'm so excited about being a Jet. I'm so excited about meeting my teammates. I was really excited about that. I was excited about it. I'm excited to be a Jet. I'm excited to be a Jet. The exciting thing is that me and Mark have a great relationship. I'm excited about working with him.
I'm excited about that opportunity. I'm excited about working with Coach Cavanagh. There are lot of pros and not very many cons. I'm excited about that. I'm excited about my role here and my opportunity to compete and I'm excited about the opportunity, I'm excited about my future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SAMBOLIN: Well, for the record he said the word "excited" or "exciting" 45 times during his press conference.
O'BRIEN: Good for him. There's nothing wrong with that. He's happy to be a Jet and we're excited for his excitement of coming to New York.
SAMBOLIN: I love his enthusiasm.
O'BRIEN: Absolutely, yes. That is pretty much defines enthusiasm, doesn't it? He's very clearly very excited. All right, Z, thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, if Rick Santorum stayed on message that much he might have a chance in this presidential race. I mean, that's staying on message.
O'BRIEN: That is for sure, absolutely. So one of our top story this is morning is the question of what exactly happened the night that Trayvon Martin was shot and killed.
There's new information that paints two very different pictures of the confrontation and the men involved. CNN learning that Trayvon Martin had been suspended from school after marijuana residue was found in a baggie inside his book bag.
We're also getting George Zimmerman's account of what happened that night. According to the "Orlando Sentinel," which cited a leaked police report Zimmerman told police that he lost sight of Martin was returning to his SUV when Martin approached him.
The two exchanged words. That Martin is accused of punching and climbing on top of Zimmerman's, slammed his head into the ground, that account in addition to what neighbors report happening is complicating the case.
Because there are two different eyewitness accounts, first from the man who said he didn't want to be identified. He said Zimmerman who was wearing red that night was the one who was yelling for help. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The guy on the bottom who I believe had a red sweater on was yelling to me, help, help, I told him to stop and I was calling 911. And when I got upstairs and looked down, the person that was on top beating up the other guy was the one laying in the grass and I believe he was dead at that point.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Another neighbor says something that sounds somewhat contradictory. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY CUTCHER, WITNESSED AFTERMATH OF SHOOTING: Within seconds we were out there, and Zimmerman, she was out first, Zimmerman was standing over the body with basically straddling the body with his hands on Trayvon's back. I didn't hear any struggle prior to the gunshot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: Joe Oliver is George Zimmerman's friend and he joins us this morning. Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate your time.4n
Tell me, Joe, when did you last speak to George and what did he tell you about the night of the shooting?
JOE OLIVER, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S FRIEND: Well, I spoke with George yesterday as a matter of fact and was able to get some more details about what happened.
The report that was released yesterday is what George told me, what happened, where the report stops he filled in the blanks for me as well.
And unfortunately at this time I'm not able to discuss that, but basically it fills in the gap between what happened when Trayvon and George came face-to-face and by the time the gun went off.
O'BRIEN: So according to "The Orlando Sentinel" says this from apparently a leaked report that George was following Trayvon, lost him, they had an exchange of words. He's claimed that Trayvon hit him and then Trayvon smashed his head into the sidewalk numerous times. Is that roughly what he's told you?
O'BRIEN: So did you want to add something? FUGELSANG: Yes, sir, did Mr. Zimmerman explain to you why he did not choose to seek medical care until the next day for a broken nose?
OLIVER: Well, with a broken nose, it's something that you know unless it's on the side of your face you don't really know. I mean, George was cleaned up and treated at the scene.
And I would think that after all of the adrenalin empties his body and he realizes that he may have some other issues that's why he went to get treated for the broken nose.
There were other gashes on the back of his head as well from that incident and he was treated there on the scene.
O'BRIEN: How is he doing in addition to that injury and the injuries on the back of his head? He's in hiding obviously. How worried is he that someone is going to try to track him down and find him?
OLIVER: Well, I mean, that's why he's in hiding basically. He hasn't been back to his apartment, which is in that complex, ever since that happened.
And he's being treated for post traumatic stress disorder, for depression, for insomnia. He cried for days after this happened. The George Zimmerman I know is not here anymore because he knows that he took someone else's life. And he's extremely remorseful.
O'BRIEN: And the PTSD treatment that he's --
OLIVER: Even though he took someone else's life at -- he's extremely remorseful, even though he took someone else's life in order to save his. And that's what his story is all about and I want to make something clear.
I understand completely the fear and anger that he's out there over this case. If I didn't know George Zimmerman, I'd be right out there, too, but I do know George and I do know the portrayal that young black men have had.
I've experienced that growing up. I get that. I understand that, but in this one spark incident, that wasn't the case. Race had nothing to do with it.
O'BRIEN: Have you guys had conversations, I mean, you're African-American. George is Peruvian descent. Have you had conversations about race?
OLIVER: No. I mean, George, whenever I saw George, it was in a social atmosphere among friends and family, and so we talked what everybody else talked about, you know, there were no pressing issues. Most of the time over the past few years, it was about the latest on the Casey Anthony case because it was such a hot topic here, and that's another part of the problem, and how this story is unfolding.
All of this information that came out yesterday, why didn't they've come out in the beginning? I mean, would it have made a difference? I think it would have made a huge difference.
Would we still have the cries for justice that we're seeing today? Yes, we still would have because it involves a young black male who died a violent death.
O'BRIEN: Let me play for you --
OLIVER: Thousands of young black males are dying violent deaths and that's why people are outraged.
O'BRIEN: I will agree with you on that. A 911 call, we've enhanced the audio and when I heard it, it sounded the part about 2 minutes and 20 seconds in sounded like an expletive, a curse and then a racial slur from George Zimmerman. I'm going to play a little chunk of it and I want you to tell me what you heard when you heard this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ZIMMERMAN: Down toward the other entrance of the neighborhood.
911: OK. Which entrance is that that he is heading towards?
ZIMMERMAN: The back entrance. (Inaudible).
(END VIDEO CLIP)
O'BRIEN: We obviously bleeped out the curse, but I'm sure you and literally millions of other people have listened to that. What do you think he's saying in that?
OLIVER: Well, I didn't hear the part that you're referring to in the clip that you just played, but what I have heard I can hear how some people hear a hard "G" or a hard "C" and I can also understand how they hear it, depends a lot on perspective of the whole situation.
In my experience with George it's something that I would be shocked and surprised to hear if it indeed was a racial epithet, but again, a lot of it depends on your perspective.
It could be a hard "G" or it could be a hard "C." My daughter has played it over and over again because she knows and loves George. She told me one minute she hears a hard "C" and the next she hears a hard "G."
O'BRIEN: And she plays it over and over again because why, she wants to understand what happened?
OLIVER: Like I said she loves George and she knows George. And she herself has had to deal with repercussions at school because of her relationship with him.
O'BRIEN: You don't think race was a factor in all of this shooting?
OLIVER: In the shooting and in George coming up with Trayvon had nothing to do with it. What it had to do was George living in a community that had been victimized by a number of burglaries and on his way home from the grocery store, he saw a suspicious individual.
And as someone who has taken the responsibility and volunteered to keep an eye out for his neighbors, he made a call to a non-emergency phone line and did what he thought was right and it turned out horribly wrong.
O'BRIEN: And in that call the dispatcher told him, do not chase him, do not follow him. Stand down and he didn't.
OLIVER: No, he did not. He said, see that's just it and that's all part of it, because it's being reported one way and heard another way.
But when you listen to the tape, the dispatcher said, no, you don't have to do that, after he asked him if he was following him and George responded, OK.
So what happened after George said OK? Well, according to the police report and according to George, he started heading back to his vehicle.
O'BRIEN: He said, are you following him and he said yes. That's the transcript of that tape. Are you following him? He said yes.
OLIVER: And then the dispatcher -- and he said yes and then the dispatcher said you don't have to do that. We don't need you to do and George responded, OK. Go listen to it.
KELI GOFF, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, LOOP21.COM: Yes, I want to start by saying that if I were in trouble, I think we'd all want a friend like you defending us. But I have to say having heard this time and time again.
When people often get in trouble when it comes to race one of the if, things you hear is I have a black friend so my first question is do you feel as though that is your role. Were you asked to speak on his behalf to represent that?
And my second question is do you think it is impossible for someone to know someone who is black and to have a friendly relationship with them, and yet to not also display racially insensitive characteristics towards black strangers? Because plenty of studies show that can happen and be the case.
OLIVER: I'm sure that could happen and be the case, but I've not had that experience. As far as being George's only black friend, you know, the friends of George's that I know are my friends. So and you know I would have to search through them to find out how many black ones there are, but the point is, I'm here not because -- I volunteered, because I know George.
I volunteered because I know George was going to be in a maelstrom because he had no idea on how to deal with it. I volunteered because of my experience with the media and understanding what he was going to have to deal with. I volunteered because I'm a black man and I understand what is happening because of this story. Like I said, if I didn't know George and if I didn't know what I know, I'd have been in downtown Sanford last night with everyone else.
I would have been here the night before with everyone else. I understand why we're having this conversation, because I grew up with it. I lived it. I've had those conversations with my own son on what it's like to be a black man in this country. I get that.
But what I also get is this was not a racial incident. This was an incident of a good man trying to do the right thing, who, like he had countless times before, called for help because his neighborhood had been victimized by crime.
He didn't know who Trayvon was. He did not recognize who it was and he was doing what he had always done and what every other watch captain would do in their neighborhood. They would call for help.
And again, when you go back and listen to the conversation with the dispatcher, his response when they told him that he didn't have to follow him was, OK. Which fits right into what happened and what was testified to have happened later, that he was heading back to his vehicle.
O'BRIEN: Joe Oliver, we appreciate your time this morning, a fascinating insight. We're really grateful you came in and spoke to us about George Zimmerman. Thank you.
Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to continue this conversation with the focus on Florida's stand your ground law. We're talking to the former Miami police chief, John Timoney, who called that law a recipe for disaster. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.
O'BRIEN: Right before the break, we were talking to Joe Oliver, a friend of George Zimmerman's. We're going to bring in John Timoney now. He's the former Miami chief of police. It's nice to see you, sir. We appreciate your time. When this law, the Florida stand your ground law --
JOHN TIMONEY, FORMER MIAMI POLICE CHIEF: Good to see you, Soledad.
O'BRIEN: Thank you very much. Back in 2005, you were vehemently against it. Why were you so against it? TIMONEY: Well, it was not just me. It was the Florida Chiefs Association because we could see the potential problems. There were two parts. One, your home is your castle doctrine, which codified the notion you can defend your home. There are no problems up to that point.
The second part was more problematic because it took the doctrine of self-defense in your home and put it out on the public streets if you will and created a new document that you could stand your ground.
Prior to that in all 50 states, the requirements for a civilian is if you can retreat safely in a situation, that you're required to retreat. Police officers don't have to retreat.
All of a sudden this law not only said you could meet force with force, but that you would be protected. That gave civilians, if you will, almost the same rights as police officers in that situation who didn't have to retreat.
But a police officer, you know, takes a test, goes to the academy, becomes proficient in the use of a pistol, has to pass certain exams and then is held criminally liable for any shot he or she fires.
And then even if they clear the criminal hurdle, they can be held at an administrative hearing if you will and lots of police officers have been fired and terminated as a result of shootings that were legal, but violated police department guidelines. Stand your ground law, there is no accountability really with civilians.
O'BRIEN: So for police officers, are neighborhood watches where someone is armed, are they helpful to the police or not helpful to the police?
TIMONEY: Neighborhood watches throughout the country are very helpful. When we create those and they are usually created by the local police department, they had some training and they are advised to be the eyes and ears of the police.
That they'll get license plate numbers, descriptions of the suspicious individuals, but are always encouraged to not take action. You're not a police officer. Get the information.
There is usually a special number you'll call or they'll call the local precinct and give the information there. They are eyes and ears. They're not an appendage to the patrol force.
O'BRIEN: So do you think police in this case have acted appropriately? George Zimmerman was not arrested. Young man killed lying dead in the street. Did the police do the right thing?
TIMONEY: I have no idea. I'm 7,000 miles away and as you are well aware, this happened over a month ago. It really exploded in the last week. So I have no idea at what point the police department was in its investigation. When I wrote the piece in "The New York Times," it really wasn't specific to this case. That case will be judged on its own. It really was towards the law that had been passed back in 2005 because this is one case that has hit the headlines.
But there are dozens of other cases over the last six or eight years where this law has been applied and whether it's a drug dealer or somebody who committed a killing in road rage are now free.
And so the law predictably has been abused and misused over the last six years. I'm not talking about this case specifically. I wouldn't want to comment on it. I am ignorant of most of the facts. I'm speaking about the law itself and how ill conceived that law was.
O'BRIEN: John Timoney is a former Miami police chief. It's nice to see you, sir. Thank you for your time this morning. We got to take a short break. We're back in just a moment.
O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a legal showdown over the health care mandate at the Supreme Court. It is one of the most anticipated cases of our generation. We'll tell you what's happening there.
And deejay bashes Madonna for not acting her age. What? You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.