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THE SITUATION ROOM
Romney Ready for Obama?; Rick Santorum Drops Out; Zimmerman Lawyers Holding News Conference; Zimmerman Lawyers Withdraw as Counsel, Have "Lost Contact" with Client
Aired April 10, 2012 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, breaking news: Rick Santorum says his run for the Republican presidential nomination is over, leaving Mitt Romney as the certain nominee and that means the general election campaign is now on.
Romney built a major lead among Republicans. The GOP infighting has been nasty and brutal. Is he ready to take on President Barack Obama? And the president already focussing in on a November matchup and his campaign is painting Mitt Romney as an out of touch millionaire. Will that strategy pay off?
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We're also learning that George Zimmerman, the shooter of Trayvon Martin, will be speaking publicly within the hour, maybe within the half-hour, we are told. He's going to be speaking. We will of course have live coverage of that, his first public comments on television. George Zimmerman will be making a statement.
We will see what he has to say. That's coming up this hour as well.
But let's get to the other breaking news we're following. Rick Santorum bows to reality and says the presidential race, as far as he's concerned, is over. With the suspension of his campaign, he leaves Mitt Romney in a clear path to the nomination and a November matchup against President Barack Obama.
Let's go straight to our national political correspondent, Jim Acosta, and he was there when he made his statement in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
I know, Jim, you have spoken to Santorum aides. What else are they saying?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, what they're telling me and I just got off the phone with Hogan Gidley, the communications director for the Santorum campaign, and this is basically how the political decision broke down.
Yes, the family's consideration dealing with their child Bella who has a genetic disorder, that was a factor in their decision to drop out of this race, but there were three political considerations. One of them was Texas, the Texas primary becoming a winner take all state. Once it became fairly certain that Texas would not become a winner take all state, meaning all of those delegates were to Santorum, were all those delegates to go in to his column they felt like there still was a path to the nomination.
If Newt Gingrich were to get out, Santorum's Hogan Gidley says if Newt Gingrich were to get out, that also would lead to some sort of path to the nomination. They felt if Newt Gingrich's delegates had come under his wing, under Santorum's wing, they felt there was still a path to the nomination and then the third factor that was in this decision was winning Pennsylvania.
And I will tell you, Wolf, I asked this question and they said flatly, no. We thought we were going to win in Pennsylvania and that was not a factor whatsoever. They feel like all of that talk that we may lose Pennsylvania so we might want to get out now, they say that was not a consideration in making this final decision to back out of this race.
But as you heard earlier this afternoon at this news conference, Rick Santorum said that family considerations, specifically his daughter Bella who was hospitalized in the last 24 to 48 hours, was a family decision that had to be factored into this decision to get out of this race. And he talked about that earlier this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We made a decision to get into this race at our kitchen table and against all the odds. And we made a decision over the weekend that while this presidential race for us is over, for me, and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting.
We are going to continue to fight for those voices. We're going to continue to fight for the Americans who stood up and gave us that -- that air under our wings that allowed us to accomplish things that no political expert would have ever expected.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
ACOSTA: Now one of the more interesting developments in that news conference, Wolf, and we all heard this -- or we did not hear it, I should say, were the words Mitt Romney.
Rick Santorum did not mention Mitt Romney. I tried to ask him as he was leaving the podium. Yes, we were told not to ask questions, but we tried anyway, will you get behind Mitt Romney? He did not answer that question.
And a few moments ago, when I was talking with Hogan Gidley with the Santorum campaign, I asked the question will Rick Santorum get behind Mitt Romney. And I asked the question will Rick Santorum get behind Mitt Romney? The answer, the response from Hogan Gidley was, I don't know.
BLITZER: What do you mean you don't know? Is there that much bad blood between the Santorum campaign and the Romney campaign, between these two individuals, the former Pennsylvania senator and the former Massachusetts governor?
They're not -- he's not ready to say he's going to endorse the almost certain -- let's say the certain Republican nominee? That seems out of the question.
ACOSTA: It seems very harsh at this point and Hogan Gidley said to me over the phone that Rick Santorum is not a person to hold grudges. So perhaps in a matter of days this thing might get patched up, but at this point there is some fence-mending to do between these two campaigns.
And I will tell you after getting off the phone with Hogan Gidley, I was surprised myself to hear that Rick Santorum was not prepared at this point to get behind Mitt Romney. Santorum has an event later on this evening with James Dobson, the noted Christian conservative leader. Perhaps we will hear more from Rick Santorum at this point, but he got out of that room, I would have to say, very quickly after he made that announcement earlier this afternoon and took no questions about this subject.
And it's obviously going to be an ongoing issue and you can make the case -- and I was talking about this with Hogan Gidley. You can make the case that at this point, Wolf, Mitt Romney needs Rick Santorum more than Rick Santorum needs Mitt Romney. Rick Santorum is out of the race. He doesn't need Mitt Romney. But Mitt Romney needs the evangelical conservative Christians to get behind his campaign and at this point they're not doing it.
If he had stayed in this race, Santorum was still going to draw those supporters, Wolf.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta on the scene for us, we will get back to you.
Let's bring in our senior political analyst Ron Brownstein of "The National Journal."
It was, as he says, thunderously silent that he didn't even mention Mitt Romney's name and his spokesman saying there's no guarantee he will endorse him. That doesn't make any sense.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No.
In the standards of primaries past, this was a rough primary. It wasn't excessively rough in any way and the reality is whatever Rick Santorum says or does, the way modern politics does, the teams line up in the end. Mitt Romney will do fine among evangelical Christian voters who are very conservative on social and role of government issues.
And he will probably win over 90 percent of the Republican voters in the end mostly because whatever they think about him, they know they don't want Barack Obama for another term.
BLITZER: Yes. Santorum said in recent weeks whoever the Republican nominee would be better than a second term of President Obama, but why is he being so coy on this day? He's dropping out of this race and you would think I will at least say -- without maybe mentioning Romney's name, I will at least endorse the Republican nominee?
BROWNSTEIN: I'm sure nerves are pretty raw. This has been a bruising primary and Mitt Romney has taken full advantage of the new rules that allow super PACs to spend unlimited sums pummeling candidates.
And the vast majority of that spending, as you know, Wolf, has been negative at Santorum and Gingrich before him. So I'm sure that on this day Rick Santorum is not necessarily feeling that charitable toward Mitt Romney, but in the end it's hard to imagine them not linking arms.
BLITZER: I totally agree.
Reince Priebus, the leader of the Republican Party, issued a statement. I will read one sentence from it. "Today, Senator Santorum has made a commendable decision and he's decided to put his country, party and desire to defeat President Obama ahead of any personal ambition."
That sounded like a message that Reince Priebus was sending to Newt Gingrich.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. Absolutely.
They want this field cleared and we saw in the Pew polling this week that most Republicans want this field cleared. You see evidence in the ABC/"Washington Post" poll that is out today with President Obama up by seven points of some clear damage to Mitt Romney. One thing that Rick Santorum did was greatly elevate the visibility of social issues and force Romney to emphasize socially conservative positions on those issues as well.
And one thing you see consistently in this ABC/"Post" polling, Gallup polling and state polling is the college-educated white women are the most socially liberal part of the white electorate. They have moved sharply toward President Obama so there is some imprint here of the Santorum effect.
BLITZER: Did you notice the short statement from the Romney campaign? Very terse.
"Senator Santorum is an able and worthy competitor and I congratulate him on the campaign he ran."
There wasn't much there in that statement. It was a nice little tiny statement. There was no effusive praise or anything like that.
BROWNSTEIN: You know, this Frazier -- it's not quite Frazier- Ali. That was more Obama-Clinton.
But this is a heavyweight title fight at the last round and when one person is kind of bloodied but holding up the glove that is really usually not the moment in which they're reaching out to embrace the person who has been pummeling them for the last two hours. I think that is what you're seeing tonight.
But again in the end, they will come together and whether or not they do, the coalitions on each side in modern politics do come together.
BLITZER: I assume you agree with me today the general election campaign between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama begins?
BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And it really has begun in the last couple of weeks, but absolutely.
You see where Romney begins. Romney's great strength on paper last year as a candidate was that he could because of his business background and a more problem-solving and non-ideological image, he potentially could reverse the Republican erosion in white-collar white America, those big suburban battlegrounds.
After this primary, he's in a much more equivocal position there I think largely because of the prominence on social issues that Santorum helped drive and Romney now faces the challenge of reestablishing himself as a credible alternative for the voters who economically disappointed with the president, but are certainly more socially moderate than many of the positions that they heard in the Republican primary.
BLITZER: I have been making the point for some time, if you think the Republican race for the Republican presidential nomination is tough and nasty, just wait because this race between Romney and Obama is going to be really, really, not only hard, but it's going to be ugly.
BROWNSTEIN: At a period when there's very little trust in institutions, I was happy to see Rick Santorum quoted our phrase from "National Journal." People feel they are paddling alone.
In that kind of environment and 70 percent of the country saying we're on the wrong track, a negative message is probably more effective than a positive message and it's rolling a rock downhill to convince people at this point that leaders on either side aren't really protecting their interests and I think you will hear an awful lot of that between now and November.
BLITZER: And the super PACs especially on the Republican side they are getting ready to unload hundreds of millions in negative attack ads against President Obama. It will be lively in those battleground states. Thanks very, very much.
BLITZER: The battle lines already drawn for the November election.
For a closer look at how the electoral map is likely potentially to shape up showing a very, very close race in November, let's go to CNN's John King.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the map, blue states won by Obama in 2008 and red states won by John McCain.
Just about every campaign or smart strategist will tell you they see about a dozen battlegrounds this fall and I will go through some of them and it will be pretty easy to change back. You come here. You come here, here and here.
So I just take a dozen states that Obama carried, you take them off the map and make them battleground states, what do you get? You start roughly with the Democrats above 200, about 206, 210 electoral votes and it takes 270 to win. Republicans, reliably red states about 180.
Just about everybody out there and even the Obama campaign they will contest Indiana, but they believe Indiana will go red. And there's a lot of conversation about Virginia and North Carolina, two states Barack Obama put back in the Democratic column. Let's for the sake of argument say North Carolina goes Republican and I will leave Virginia battleground for now.
This is a hypothetical. Just so you watch this play out. Republicans are confident about Colorado. The Obama is not giving it up, but I'm just doing this hypothetical. Republicans are confident about Florida. It will be a huge battleground state. If you start to assign them just like this, I will say for the sake of argument, until he proves otherwise, until Mitt Romney proves otherwise, we will give Pennsylvania back to the Democrats.
Now you look at this. What do you have, 244-226? Nevada, highest unemployment rate in the country, but Republicans have a problem with Latino votes. Say for the sake of this hypothetical, say Obama holds that one and let's say for the sake of this hypothetical he holds New Mexico as well. What do you get now, 244-237?
Despite what you see now, national polls showing Obama with a healthy double-digit lead, when you go state by state, Wolf, you get the makings, it's early, of what could be a very competitive election.
What's left on the board here? Republicans are confident about Ohio and no Republican in modern times has won the presidency without carrying Ohio. And Romney would have to win that. Then you see Romney would be within striking distance. Can he win somewhere else?
Well, Michigan, he was born there, but again, prove it would be my message there. President Obama thinks the auto bailout and the differences there would put Michigan in his left column. Look what you're left with here, three states on the map, New Hampshire, Virginia and Iowa, and essentially a dead heat race here. It could come down.
Can President Obama keep Virginia in the Democratic column? If he does, you could have a race that comes down to tiny Iowa and tiny New Hampshire in terms of the Electoral College. This is just a hypothetical, Wolf. But you see this scenario here. I have it 266 to 262.
The winners of New Hampshire, that's Romney -- Romney thinks that's his stake. Let's make that red just for the sake of argument. I can give you 266 and an election night we're waiting -- maybe we have to call Carolyn Anitas (ph) in Iowa to help us out.
It's April. Right now, the polls show President Obama with a healthy lead. However, if you go state by state, you could get a map that looks like that, which is a tough battle from now until November.
BLITZER: It will be a really brutal battle, I think it's fair to say over the next seven months or so. John King, thanks very much.
More breaking news happening here in THE SITUATION ROOM this hour. George Zimmerman's legal team will be having a major news conference about the Trayvon Martin case in about 15 minutes or so. Initially we heard George Zimmerman himself would be speaking there. That is now up in the air.
It looks like it will be his legal team, but stand by, we will see if Zimmerman himself shows up for his first public statement. He issued something on a blog yesterday, but let's see if he actually shows up at this news conference. Right now it's unclear whether or not he will. We are led to believe he will, maybe not necessarily. Stand by. We do know his entire legal team will be showing up in Sanford, the Seminole County courthouse to make a statement and we will have live coverage. That's coming up in about 15 minutes or so.
Also, Jack Cafferty is standing by with "The Cafferty File."
Plus, we have reaction coming in from Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul. What does Santorum's departure mean for them?
And students jump into action -- 13-year-old kids, 13-year-old kids -- when a school bus driver passes out behind the wheel, all of it caught on tape.
BLITZER: On the Trayvon Martin story, George Zimmerman's legal team getting ready to make a statement outside the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford, Florida. We'll have live coverage. That's coming up, we think, at the bottom of the hour, in about 10 or 15 minutes or so. Stand by for that.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty, though, in the meantime. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: So now what? No surprise that Rick Santorum is hanging it up. The only person who didn't realize his campaign was over was Rick Santorum.
Newt Gingrich is toast. He even said over that Mitt Romney is now the most likely nominee and Ron Paul doesn't have enough delegates to fill a phone booth -- which means, ready? The general election game is on.
Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, they've already have taken a few shots at each other, but now, for the next seven months, it will turn into a blood sport -- unlimited PAC money for vicious attack ads, saturation and bombing of the airwaves, especially in the swing states, trying to sway the electorate that their path is the better path. They'll be robocalls and flyers and debates. And by August, you'll be begging for it all to end.
If I lived in Ohio, I'd be inclined to move out of the state just until after the election.
The truth will be stretched, and distorted and manipulated until it's no longer recognizable. All of this will happen while Romney and President Obama look us straight in the eye and solemnly swear that if we just elect them, all our problems will be solved.
The truth is neither of them can begin to solve our problems. The problems are too big, and the mechanism for solving them, the federal government, is to badly broken. But it won't matter. They'll both promise us anything if we'll just vote for them.
Here's the question: are you ready for the general election campaign to start?
Go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile, post a comment on my blog. Go to our post in THE SITUATION ROOM's Facebook page -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I'm ready, Jack, as you well know. Looking for --
CAFFERTY: You're always ready.
BLITZER: Looking forward to these next seven months. It's going to be intense and it's going to be important and it's going to be historic. So, we'll watch every step of the way. You're ready, too, right?
CAFFERTY: That's your opinion. I have other thoughts about what the next seven months will be about.
BLITZER: I'm excited about it. I'm ready for action.
Let's watch it closely as a political news junkie, that's what I like to do.
Let's bring in our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash. Right now, she's getting more reaction on the dramatic announcement from Rick Santorum, saying for him it's over -- this quest for the Republican presidential nomination.
Getting more reaction from some of the other Republican wannabes?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. I think that's important to point out. Obviously, we're talking about the front-runner Mitt Romney. But there are still two others in the race, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul.
In fact, listen to what Newt Gingrich said not too long ago on the campaign trail in North Carolina.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
NEWT GINGRICH (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It makes it clearer and simpler. There's one conservative voice in the race and then there is a moderate and it makes easier to articulate and focus on the platform issues that I want to focus on.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: So Newt Gingrich is not going anywhere and made that clear in a written statement and just now to reporters, saying that he's going to take it all of the way to Tampa.
And guess what? Ron Paul is saying pretty much the same thing. We have a graphic of what his campaign is saying. "Dr. Paul is now the last -- and real -- conservative alternative to Mitt Romney. We plan to press the fight for a limited constitutional government in Tampa."
They're vowing to stay in, but I want our viewers to take a look at CNN's latest delegate count just to give the real deal. Mitt Romney 659 and Rick Santorum 275, Newt Gingrich, 140, Ron Paul 71.
So, Rick Santorum just dropped out of the race, with 275, yet Newt Gingrich who has half the number says he's staying in and going on to Tampa and Ron Paul, half of that, staying in and going to Tampa.
As you were talking about earlier in the program, Republican leaders, particularly even the RNC chairman made it clear today in the statement he wishes that that would stop so they could unify and move forward even though they're not major factors delegate-wise, but they are in the tone of the race.
BLITZER: Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican Party, is making it clear in the statement, for the good of the party, for the good of the country, he says, you know, rally around -- he didn't say in so many words -- but rally around the Republican nominee who was going to be Mitt Romney and forget about this.
But Gingrich in that statement, you pointed out, I was reading it. "I am committed to stay in this race all of the way to Tampa. That's where the republican convention will be at the end of August, so that conservative movement has a real choice. I humbly ask Senator Santorum's supporters to visit Newt.org to review my conservative record and join us as we bring these values to Tampa."
BASH: And, by the way, just to add to that, Newt Gingrich just sent out a tweet asking people for money. Conservatives, who may have supported Rick Santorum, please donate to my campaign.
So, he's clearly trying to say that he is -- he's going to stay in. You know, he hasn't been actively campaigning. He's had some campaign events like today. But not a real --
BLITZER: But he has no money. He's in huge debt already.
BASH: Huge debt. He has huge debt. I mean, Rick Santorum, ironically, I just got off the phone with a Santorum adviser who said money was I factor and that was the primary factor when people drop out of the races. And he said, no, we were actually OK to go forward. There were other factors meaning the math and the delegate math and also, of course, the health of his daughter that were the primary ones.
BLITZER: Yes. All right. Dana, thanks very much.
We are standing by, by the way, for a news conference in the Trayvon Martin shooting. Lawyers for George Zimmerman, the shooter, will be speaking shortly. We're going to have live coverage of that. Stand by. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Also, more on the breaking news and Rick Santorum bowing out of the Republican presidential race. James Carville, he'll be joining us in our strategy situation. He's got a lot of thoughts on what's going on.
Plus, some quick-thinking students avoid school bus disaster, 13 year olds, when their driver passes out behind the wheel. You're going to see what they did.
BLITZER: We'll get to our strategy session in a moment. I just want to remind our viewers we're standing by for a news conference. The George Zimmerman legal team is getting ready to speak to reporters outside the Seminole County courthouse in Sanford, Florida.
Earlier, we have been led to believe that George Zimmerman himself would make a public appearance, that doesn't look like it's going to necessarily happen right now. But we'll stand by. We'll see if he does show up.
We're getting conflicting information about George Zimmerman actually appearing with his various attorneys out there in Sanford, Florida. But we'll know soon enough whether or not he actually shows up, or just the legal team. Supposedly, they have some sort of announcement to make.
So, we'll stand by. We'll get analysis from our analyst -- David Mattingly is on the scene, and much more on the Trayvon Martin story coming up this hour. We'll see what George Zimmerman, the shooter, what the lawyers have to say.
We're getting the first reaction from the Obama re-election campaign to the announcement today from Rick Santorum that he's dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. I'll read you a statement from Jim Messina, he's the campaign manager.
"It is no surprise that Mitt Romney was finally able to grind down his opponents under an avalanche of negative ads, but neither he nor his special interest allies will be able to buy the presidency with their negative attacks. The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him and the less they trust him."
Messina goes on to say, "While calling himself the ideal candidate for the Tea Party, he has promised to return to the same policies that created the economic crisis and has alienated women, middle-class families and Hispanic-Americans. Americans value a president who will fight every day to rebuild an economy in which hard work will pay, responsibility is rewarded and everyone plays by the same rules and that President Obama -- and that president is Barack Obama."
Jim Messina speaking for the Obama for America campaign. He is the manager.
Let's talk about what's going on in our strategy session with our CNN contributor, the Democratic strategist James Carville, along with former Republican senator from Minnesota, Norm Coleman.
He's a supporter of Mitt Romney. He's also chairman of the American Action Network. James, first to you. Is it time now, now that this general election campaign.
I think really begins for Mitt Romney to pivot away from the right towards the center to try to get more independent votes, more moderate Republican votes and more moderate Democratic votes, shall we say? Is it time for them to pivot or wait a little bit longer?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, I think he would like to, but, you know, the etch a sketch comment and the general distrust of Romney on the right will make that kind of difficult because remember, you have to go from moderate to right and back to moderate.
And that's a free rail shot that he's got to make and it will make it difficult for him, and I'm sure the Democrats are ready to pounce every time he moves a position. So we'll have to see, but I respect that by the time he leaves Tampa he'll have some adjusting to do and today gives him a little more freedom a little earlier.
Santorum would never be the nominee and it happened that if he decided to get out today it was understandable under the circumstances.
BLITZER: As you well know, Senator Coleman, Republicans over the years when they run for their party's presidential nomination they've gone to the right and then after they capture the nomination they make a quick turn to the center.
Democrats do the same thing and they run to the left and after the nomination they go to the center. Is it time now for Romney to pivot?
NORM COLEMAN, FORMER SENATOR, MINNESOTA: I don't think the issue is about pivoting left or right. I think it's a pivoting of the conversation to focus on the two questions that Americans will be asking.
Are you better off today than you are four years ago and will you be better off four years from now when Barack Obama is still the president? After 38 straight months of unemployment above 8 percent, we want the election to focus on those issues.
That's what Americans are concerned about. John King and his analysis of those battleground states and you look at the third wave that just came out today and those battleground states and they're concerned about the economy.
They're concerned about the economic future, and so we've got a candidate and Mitt Romney brings 24 years of experience in the private sector. I think when Americans answer that question and it's a question that Mitt Romney will have the answer.
BLITZER: He's going to be a formidable challenger to the president as everyone suspects certainly on the Democratic side. They know this is going to be a tight, bitterly-fought campaign right now.
Is Mitt Romney in your analysis, James, a stronger, more credible and better candidate given the practice that he's had with this Republican nomination?
CARVILLE: No. This process has been brutal on Mitt Romney. You just have to look at these polls and this poll that came out today is the "Washington Post" and ABC poll, but it confirms what everybody else has.
This has caused real damage to Romney. He's had any number of gaffes and it's just hard to spend this as being good for Romney. Can he come out of this? Of course, he can. Are there things he can do? Sure.
Is the president vulnerable and the economy not as strong as people would like? Of course, but it's no way that any objective person can look at this and not say there's substantial damage done to the image of Mitt Romney as a result of the race.
BLITZER: That new ABC/"Washington Post" poll, Senator, it has Obama at 51 percent and Romney 44 percent. This is national right now. He's got a long way to go. And as James points out, he's been badly battered over these past several months.
COLEMAN: What that same poll says on the economy, on the number one issue, Mitt Romney is going to beat Barack Obama, 46 percent of the American public doesn't trust Obama on the handling of the economy.
On the handling of deficit, Romney has a double digit lead over Obama. Again, as John King pointed out in the earlier segment in the battleground states among independents, Romney does extraordinarily well.
So if the issue is about the economy, this president -- that's not his strong suit. He doesn't have a record that he can run on. He doesn't have a record that will inspire hope and confidence. So if that's the issue, which it is the issue then Mitt Romney is in a pretty good position right now.
BLITZER: All right, guys, I want both of you to stand by and we will continue this conversation, but I want to go to the other story we're following right now.
The breaking news out of Sanford, Florida, that George Zimmerman's attorneys are about to speak outside of the Seminole County Courthouse.
Our legal analyst, Sunny Hostin who contributes to "In Session," our sister network TruTV is standing by. Sunny, do you have any clue what these lawyers for George Zimmerman, the shooter of Trayvon Martin, what they're about to announce?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, we know that Angela Corey, the special prosecutor in the case, Wolf, has indicated that she would not be presenting this case to a grand jury and that she would be filing charges is she were to file charges on her own.
The way Angela Corey would do that would be to file an information with the court. An information is an official document that accuses him of a charge or charges. She would have to present that package, that probable cause package to a judge.
And then if Zimmerman is arrested he would have a first appearance before a judge. All of that could be happening in the courthouse which would make sense if Zimmerman's lawyers were at the courthouse and perhaps holding this press conference.
So we're sort all reading tea leaves right now, trying to figure out why they are speaking in front of the courthouse for the first time, but that could be an indication as to why they're holding any kind of press conference.
BLITZER: Because there has been all sort and we reported it earlier. Some folks were suggesting George Zimmerman himself would show up at that courthouse together with his attorneys and make his first public appearance, shall we say.
We're getting conflicting information whether or not that's going to happen and not going to happen. We'll stand by and know in the next few minutes. If in fact we do see George Zimmerman, what will that say to you?
HOSTIN: That would say to me that the criminal process has begun and that perhaps criminal charges have been filed and that the process begins.
Of course, I don't think he would say anything. That would be ill-advised, but if he were at the courthouse, Seminole Courthouse with his attorneys, that could mean that this process and the Trayvon Martin case has begun.
BLITZER: If the -- if the prosecutor decides to charge him and arrest him, would they send police to his home, for example, and arrest him there, serve him with the papers and then bring him to the police station, the courthouse or whatever? Or will they tell the lawyers bring him in for some sort of arrest procedure? How does that work in Florida?
HOSTIN: I think the latter. It depends on the case, of course, Wolf, but oftentimes as a courtesy especially in a high-profile case like this where someone's safety is perhaps an issue, the prosecutor would call his defense attorneys and make arrangements for him to turn himself in rather than having police officers or investigators arrest him at home.
We do know that Zimmerman's lawyers have been in contact with their client, and I think in a case like this, a high-profile case like this that really would be the more appropriate about going an arrest.
BLITZER: As soon as the lawyers were holding a news conference at the courthouse as opposed to another location in Sanford, that immediately suggested to me and I'm sure to you, as well, that there has been a major legal development in this case and that's why they're at the Seminole County Courthouse.
HOSTIN: That's right. That was my sense. Why else would his attorneys be giving a press conference in front of the courthouse? It's too soon to tell, but that would give me the indication that charges have been filed by the special prosecutor.
BLITZER: If Angela Corey, the prosecutor, if she does announce that they are arresting George Zimmerman, is it likely that on a case like this he'd be out on bail or hold him? I guess, it depends on the charges they serve him with.
HOSTIN: That's right. It would certainly depend on the charges once he is arrested if he is arrested he would have the first appearance before a judge and the judge would set bond. Of course, the judge is going to consider a couple of factors.
BLITZER: Hold on, Sunny. The lawyers for George Zimmerman are at the microphones. Let's listen in.
(BEGIN LIVE FEED)
HAL UHRIG, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S ATTORNEY: Good afternoon. Does everyone have their microphone where it will probably work? It looks like everyone is all right with that.
My name is Hal Uhrig. Craig Sonner is here with me. To this point in time, I guess, most of you recognize us as the attorneys for George Zimmerman. For those of you waiting here only in the event that he will show up and that's why you're here, slip on out because that's not happening.
We do have what we think is a reasonably important announcement to make. I'm going to let Mr. Sonner start first and then I'll do clean up and then we'll be happy to entertain some of your questions, OK. CRAIG SONNER, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S ATTORNEY: We want to announce today, as of now we're withdrawing as counsel for Mr. Zimmerman. We've lost contact with him. Up to this point, we've had contact every day. He's gone on his own.
I'm not sure what he's doing or who he's talking to, but at this point we're withdrawing as counsel. If he wants us to come back as counsel, he will contact us. We had contact as of, I believe Sunday, in the last couple of days, we've lost -- he has not returned phone calls, text messages or e-mails.
Leading me to believe that I can't go forward speaking to the public about George Zimmerman in this case as representing him because I've lost contact with him that the point. I still believe that he was acting in self-defense that night.
Nothing that I've said about him or this case has changed in any way. I just can't proceed to represent a client who doesn't stay in contact with me.
UHRIG: Let me provide a little bit more detail in context for that. Last Thursday, before Mr. Sonner and I went to New York to meet on Mr. Zimmerman's behalf with a number of national media organizations, Mr. Sonner was accompanied to the bank by Mr. Zimmerman's father for the purpose of setting up a website by which people might make donations in order to help support him and hopefully pay for a defense.
We went to great lengths to make sure that that web site was set up in a way that the Paypal account paid directly into an account on which his father had the control and signature rights, not us. So there would be no possibility of anybody claiming that we were doing something untoward about that.
Mr. Zimmerman was aware that we were doing that. His father signed the cards. We left with the expectation of getting that site up in time to announce it for the national media. We did, in fact, make that site's name known to the national media and it was publicized to some extent.
Although for technical reason, it didn't get posted up in time. On Sunday, we lost track of George in that he would not return our calls and we couldn't get a hold of him. We had no reason at that time to believe there was anything suspect.
But on Monday we began fueling questions about did we know about I'm the real George Zimmerman or the georgezimmerman.com website and our initial response was that's probably bogus. George hasn't talked to us about that.
We don't know about it. So we started making inquiries and frankly confirmed that he, through friends or family, had in fact, set that site up and it was legitimate. We immediately began telling the media, disregard the earlier website we gave you that we had set up.
Go with the one that we now know that he set up. Cleaner for us, we were happy enough with that, but disturbed that he had not communicated with us. We started reaching out in every way that we knew how to get him.
Eventually, the two newest developments are that we learned that he had called Sean Hannity of Fox News directly, and not through us, and we believe, we can't confirm this. We believe that he spoke directly with Sean, off the record and he's not even willing to tell us what our client told him.
The final straw, if you will, or the final decision making point was today we spoke with the special prosecutor's office out of Jacksonville. We have been working over the weekend and diligently trying to set up a meeting between Mr. Zimmerman and the prosecutor's office.
Because quite frankly, we continue to believe that once that part of the puzzle is completed, given the evidence as we understand it to exist and given the rest of the facts and the law as we know it exists that this prosecutor has elected not to go with the grand jury would, in fact, make a decision.
We were hopeful that decision would be to not inform against him and not to seek an indictment. That was our intention all along. We heard today that George had contacted the prosecutor's office directly. One of the things every defense attorney tells his client is don't talk to the prosecutors. Don't talk to the cops.
Frankly, don't talk to anybody until we get control of the situation and do it through counsel. We were a bit astonished and had some conversation back and forth with the special prosecutor's office. They are professionals as well.
We are impressed with the professionalism of the Duval County State Attorney's Office, Angela Corey's office, Bernie, and the others involved in the office up there, and they told us what they expected is we're not going to talk to a criminal potential defendant or suspect or target of an investigation without counsel.
We're just not going to do it, and they told him that. He then called back after some conversation with us and said that's not a problem. I don't really have any attorneys anymore. Those guys were just my legal advisers, and not sure what the distinction is, but in his mind there is a distinction.
And at that point in time with him not communicating with the client and with him not to take the advice of not to talk to other people. It's his right to choose whatever counsel he wants to choose. And if in the future, George were to come back to us and say, look, big misunderstanding, I was under such incredible pressure, you can't imagine what it's like hiding in a room trying to save your life.
Treated like a mushroom for those of you know the second half of that joke and not being able to communicate with friends and family openly. I can't go to the grocery store, perhaps the pressure of that pushed him a little over the edge and he reached the point where he said I'll just take care of this myself.
Whatever his thought process was, he may explain at some later time. Our thought process is we're professionals, Craig Sonner, Craig Sonner P.A. and Hal Uhrig, the defense group, we do this for a living and we are not going put ourselves out for the public as continuing representatives for the client unless he make it clear that he wants us to be his representatives.
So for that reason, it's not so much that we're resigning. We are just announcing to you that we can no longer represent him until such time as he may come forward ask for that help more formally and in a different context than we've had so far.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think he could be into hiding --
UHRIG: Just a minute. Who is here from Fox 35? Valerie?
OK, number one, we have a pretty good idea of where he is although we didn't want to know the exact location. Number two, we know his phone number. We know whenever that we call it that phone number goes to voice mail.
We know that's the phone number by which he contacted the prosecutor's office in Jacksonville and that's the number by which they contacted him back. We are comfortable that the information we've gotten. Both with regard to Fox News national and with regard to the special prosecutor's office accurately is information attributed to George.
We're not divulging attorney-client privilege because he didn't say that to us. We're getting it from what we believe is the most -- credible source and that's the special prosecutor's office. I'm sorry. What was that?
I don't believe he's told them anything except that he wants to meet and because both of us have been prosecutors I would be shocked if they meet with him without some attorney, whether it's us or somewhere else. Craig, you pick it up.
SONNER: What was the question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How comfortable is the family with --
SONNER: Up until Sunday or Monday, very helpful. We had a good working relationship and it's just been the last couple of days that we lost contact. When I was not able to make contact with him today and he's not returning phone calls.
That's when we -- I can't keep going out and meeting with the media and giving interviews saying that I'm talking with George every day because now, as of Sunday, I'm not talking to him every day.
Well, yes. I'm concerned with what's going to happen with him because I do believe that he was acting in self-defense that night, and I hope that he -- if he wants me to represent him, of course.
Well -- to the point I don't have contact and I can't ethically go forward and say I'm representing George Zimmerman when I haven't talked to him in a couple of days.
And he's giving interviews and that's just the rumors I'm getting and there are a lot of things going on that I don't know about. So I need to --
I don't know -- those are going to -- from my communications with George, it is going to George Zimmerman.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Not the one that you set up with his father?
SONNER: No. On Thursday, I met up with his father and we set upon a bank account and I can't do it for George because George wasn't there, and we did it for his father and a Paypal was linked to that and that didn't happen.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think he's gone into hiding because of prosecution could be imminent?
SONNER: No. I don't think that's what's happened.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is he still in the area?
SONNER: We have no idea.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think he's still in the country?
SONNER: What's your question?
No. I'm doing it out of an ethical obligation. I can't keep talking to the media saying, yes, I'm representing George Zimmerman when he's given me the indications that I'm not representing him. He's not communicating back with me.
He's going and doing things without consulting me, and, you know, him setting up his own web site, that was fine. I wish he would have told me. In fact, I prefer it that way because that money is for George and not for me, and I don't want my hands on it.
One at a time, right here.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you actually had a face-to-face conversation with George Zimmerman? You said you reasonably know where he is. Have you ever met him face-to-face?
SONNER: No. I've not met him face to face. It's all been through phone calls and meetings with family members.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you confirm that he's in the country? Can you confirm he's in the area?
SONNER: Because I'm still concerned about his safety, I'm not going to get into detail. He's in the United States.
UHRIG: I'll take this one. No. I don't know. Is there another question?
Let me take this. Yes. Our fear is, frankly, not so much about the money. We were initially concerned when we heard about a website that we had not known about before that somebody else had set this up and was taking advantage of the situation.
It appears pretty clear now that the web site really is George Zimmerman's. Therefore whether it's in his sister's name, father's name, his name, whatever, we believe those funds are going to him.
Our concern is deeper than that. This has been a terribly corrosive process, George Zimmerman in our opinion and from information made available to us is not doing well emotionally, probably suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome and we understand from others that he may have lost a lot of weight.
Our concern is that for him to do this when you have professionals out there working as hard as we were for his benefit to handle it this way suggests that he may not be in complete control of what's going on.
We're concerned for his emotional and physical safety. By the way, let me repeat what Craig said earlier. We absolutely still stand by everything that we've said in this case from every outlet that we've been on with regards to what we believe the facts and the law are.
We hope for the best for George Zimmerman. We hope for the best for the Martin family as well. When this case is eventually over and just like Casey Anthony, it will eventually be over, it's our hope that the Martin family can begin completing the grieving process for their son and that George can get his life reinstated a little bit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why leave you now when he needs you most?
UHRIG: We're not taking the position that we're leaving him. We are open to George Zimmerman, but he has to reach out to us. The communication cannot be one way. For us to legitimately tell you or anybody else we are his legal representatives. He's got to affirm that. If he does that, we'll help him.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can you back up for a second?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When did you speak to him and was it the special prosecutor himself? Did he actually ever contact you guys to begin with and did he hire you?
SONNER: He contacted me by phone, and the initial agreement was that I would handle the case pro bono up until charges were filed. So -- I don't know how he got my name.
UHRIG: His father knew our name.
SONNER: He called the special prosecutor's office, but the prosecutor wouldn't speak to him because he had representation. Today.
UHRIG: Nothing that we're saying here today will change the evidence. Nothing we're saying here today will change the law. If we are correct and we believe we are as to what we've said so far, the evidence that you have seen.
And the evidence that we have reason to believe exists is in the possession of the prosecutor and law enforcement taken together and applied into law, we frankly believe that the correct decision would be to not charge him and nothing we're saying here today should have any effect on that opinion.
Let me let Craig do this.
SONNER: I'm not going to say anything about where George Zimmerman is and his location.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does his father know where he is?
SONNER: I think it's been kept a secret from a lot of people and I'm not going to reveal that now. This is not -- at this point people are coming to me as the attorney of record to answer questions.
And after two days of no contact and him reaching out and doing things that I didn't know about I can't hold myself out as attorney of record at this point. Absolutely everything I have said up to this point about the case and believing it's a case of self-defense and not a racial issue, I absolutely stand by.
Everything up to this point, however, it wouldn't be ethical for me to continue to hold myself out as his attorney when I haven't spoken to him in two days and know his phone works and I know he's not returning my messages and he's not returning my texts and e-mails. He won't even give me a collect call.
I can't hold myself out at this point as being his attorney and truthfully tell you anything. That's why I'm stepping back, but up to that point, everything I've said about the case and that being an issue of self-defense and that the media has put the wrong spin on everything out there.
And trying to convict the wrong person on this that George Zimmerman was acting in self-defense I stand by, and I urge all of the media to look at what's there. Go based on the evidence that's out there. Make your decisions based on that and not just raw emotion.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Give us those facts --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Has George ever seen a therapist? Has he been seeing anyone to talk to them about his problems?
SONNER: He's been in hiding so I'm not sure how much he's been able to get therapy for that while he's been in hiding.
I think at different points he's been alone. I can't speak as to the last couple of days if he's been alone or not.
UHRIG: Here's the logistical problem for George. George can't get in a car and drive down to some office center to go in and see a psychologist. George can't go to the 7-11 and buy a diet coke.
There is a bounty on his head, whether it is believed to be real or not, it's out there. He watches more of this every day than he should. He's absolutely alone, and he is emotionally alone and emotionally crippled by virtue of the pressure of this case.
Whereas you or I and get in the car and have a loved one drive us to the medical center no one notices us and he'll come out to a view that looks like this.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With all due respect, are you concerned and are you so afraid that he can injure himself -- I know you're saying he's in the U.S. right now.
SONNER: Based on what I know of him to this point, he's not going to flee the country.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What about the point of him doing some harm to himself?
SONNER: I don't believe so at this point.
SONNER: Correct. Well, we had conversations -- multiple conversations. We would talk every day and communicate through text messages and e-mail and that way, so the communication was there, and at that point he did want me to be his counsel.
He has a sixth amendment right to the counsel of his choice and at any point he doesn't want he as counsel that's his absolute right and I can't stand in his way of making that choice.
I took his case and everything up to the day of filing and if there were -- media issues, which I didn't think I'd ever expect that this much you would do that pro bono to the point of filing and then work something out.
I really believed in his case and believed in his innocence and believe that he acted in self-defense and that's what my interest was in the case. Now if he doesn't want me to represent him anymore, I can't on eye on and I can't ethically go forward. George Zimmerman owes me no money.
Let me get your question and then I'll get you.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Whose decision was it to not meet face-to-face?
SONNER: That was logistic and he was in hiding and it was better for him to stay in hiding and stay safe than to come to my office where there are lots of people watching him and sending him death threat.
My concern was that he was safe. Preferably, we'd meet face- to-face, but it's not absolutely necessary and I think we've been able to handle the case by phone at this point, but there were face-to-face meetings scheduled.
UHRIG: Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Time out. Let me supplement that a little bit. Probably in 99.44, 100 percent of the cases you meet with a client and sign a representation agreement and you represent him after that.
However, with attorneys in Central Florida with 54 million tourists a year coming to Disney and Universal and often times getting arrested and flying home and hiring us from Minnesota or California or from Europe it is not totally unusual to not meet with your client personally.
We do it all of the time. In this case, I will not tell you where George Zimmerman is because I don't know, but for those in the late Easter Egg hunt looking for him. Stop looking in Florida, look much further away which is also the reason why we didn't meet with him because our hands were busy.
With the law practices this we have and B, with doing everything that we could for his benefit in meeting with the press and talking with the prosecutor and so forth so while it may be unusual, there's nothing much to be read into the fact that we had not yet had the opportunity to sit down and look him in the eye.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying he's not in town?
UHRIG: I've said that.
SONNER: What's your question?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When was the last communication either of you had with him?
SONNER: I'm not going to tell you what the subject of it was, but I believe that we -- I think it was -- I communicated with him Sunday, and I believe it was a text message.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: With all of the verbal conversations and the text messages that you guys have had with him was there anything that would indicate this happening?
SONNER: No. This was a surprise to me.
No. I'm not on the case now. So if there is a capeius issue it would be up to law enforcement and for George to do that. Up to this point, I would have, you know, made that -- made that happen.
I always -- any client that I have, if there is a warrant issued for their arrest, we make arrangements for them to turn themselves in. I don't aid and abet people.
I know 100 percent what his phone number is.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you were going to rely on him to respond to you?
SONNER: Yes. Yes. When I deal with -- with clients, and there has to be a certain amount of trust and honesty, you know, you will take when I tell you that you need to turn yourself in, you'll turn yourself in. We did agree on that.
I mean, I wouldn't represent anybody who would tell me, well, I'm going to run if they issued a warrant for my arrest. I wouldn't be their attorney because I'd be here doing what I'm doing today again
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In hindsight now, you're saying that your client is not returning your calls, is having conversations (ph) with news media, doing things that (INAUDIBLE). Are you now confident now that he would turn himself in and do that? Are you now confident?
SONNER: I think he would. He's in contact with law enforcement. He's calling the prosecutor's office. So, I'm guessing that if he's going to call the prosecutor's office, if they said come turn yourself in, and he wanted to give his statement, I'm assuming that if they said, well, we need you to come and turn yourself in, that he will do that.
HAL UHRIG, FORMER ZIMMERMAN ATTORNEY: He indicated to the prosecutor's office that it was his intention and goal if they would let him to quote, unquote, "come in" to the prosecutor's office and to answer their questions there. If he was anticipating an arrest, they wouldn't have to run very far to catch him.
UHRIG: When was the last time you talked to Robert?
SONNER: About 20 minutes ago.
UHRIG: We're not going tell you --
SONNER: I'm not going to tell you --
(END LIVE FEED)