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Legal Team Drops Trayvon Martin Shooter; Santorum: "Race Is Over For Me"; Defiant North Korea; Marlins Manager Suspended for Castro Comments; Interview with Santorum's Press Secretary

Aired April 10, 2012 - 17:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in the SITUATION ROOM. We've been watching the dramatic development in the Trayvon Martin shooting case. You just saw the lawyers for the shooter, George Zimmerman, revealing just moments ago that they have, in fact, lost contact with George Zimmerman, so they're dropping his case.


CRAIG SONNER, FORMER ZIMMERMAN ATTORNEY: We want to announce today, as of now, we are withdrawing as counsel for Mr. Zimmerman. We've lost contact with him up to this point. We've had contact every day. He has 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 council.

If he wants us to come back as council, he will contact us. We had contact as of, I believe, Sunday. In the last couple of days, he has not returned phone calls or text messages or e-mails, leading me to believe that I can't go forward speaking to the public about George Zimmerman and this case as representing him because I've lost contact with him at this point.


BLITZER: All right. Let's bring in our legal analyst, Sunny Hostin. Sunny, a dramatic development, indeed. We were wondering why they were doing this news conference at the courthouse. I assume they went there, these two lawyers, to formally notify the authorities they were no longer the attorneys of record for George Zimmerman.

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: That's right. I mean, this is remarkable, Wolf, but what people need to know is that a client can fire an attorney at any time for any reason, not so for an attorney. It's not that easy for an attorney to withdraw from a case from representation of a client, but if your client is not communicating with you, that can be a reason that allows you to withdraw from representation and that's what we heard today.

That they last spoke to George Zimmerman on Sunday. That they haven't spoken to him for approximately two days and on top of that, Wolf, he is doing things sort of against their advice. He apparently called Sean Hannity and had a discussion with Sean Hannity.

Sean Hannity would not disclose the contents of that discussion, and also called the special prosecutor and explained to the special prosecutor that these were just his legal advisers and not George Zimmerman's legal representatives. And it is very, very rare for the target of an investigation to call a prosecutor.

That is simply just not done. So, no surprise that this legal team withdrew from George Zimmerman's representation.

BLITZER: But Sunny, these lawyers make it sound like Zimmerman is going through some sort of, in their words, posttraumatic shock syndrome, that he's losing weight, he's isolated, not by himself, maybe not thinking clearly. How does that affect the attorneys who have been representing this individual if, in fact, he's going through some mental problems right now?

HOSTIN: Right. That actually is of some concern. Ethically, some will wonder, can they withdraw? They can, especially since they aren't communicating with him. Again, a client can fire an attorney for any reason, on a whim, not so for an attorney, but they do seem to have reason to withdraw from representation.

I do think it's shocking, Wolf, that they said that he's just not doing well emotionally, that, perhaps, the pressure of this case has put him over the edge. They seem to have on their hands a runaway client.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what sort it seems like. Stand by Sunny, because Jeff Toobin is also joining us on the phone right now, our senior legal analyst. Jeff, it's not every day you see something like this develop in such a high profile case.

VOICE OF JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: That was certainly one of the wackiest news conferences I have ever seen. I think they are obviously concerned about his well-being, but they are also, I think, potentially setting him up for an earlier arrest than they might have because one of the reasons a prosecutor doesn't arrest someone right away is that the prosecutor is assured by the counsel that, look, he'll surrender.

He's not going anywhere. I know where he is, and he'll turn himself in. At this point, the lawyers don't know what he's doing, don't know where he is, and the prosecutor may say, look, I better arrest this person or he's going to be in the wind. So, I think this bizarre episode might accelerate the prosecutor's timetable if, in fact, she's going to arrest him.

BLITZER: Ashleigh Banfield is also watching what's going on. You're learning more information, Ashleigh, in what's happened in this dramatic turn of events in the Trayvon Martin shooting case, the killing case. What are you learning?

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was actually on the telephone with Hal Uhrig (ph) as he was walking up to the microphone to make this announcement, and he gave me a couple of other details about this case.

He said that they had actually given a letter to George Zimmerman to sign, essentially, a retainer letter, an agreement letter, for representation, and they said that George Zimmerman had told him he signed it, sealed it, and mailed it back to them, and they had expected to have it arrived in their offices by about today.

They haven't received that letter. So, in essence, they have never been retained yet in this case if you ask them. So, they're not even resigning from a case. In fact, they also told me that the prosecutors told them, and again, this is a little bit complex, but the prosecutors called these two attorneys to let them know that Zimmerman had reached out to them without an attorney present and recommended that he come in and speak to them alone.

They told these two attorneys that he had suggested these attorneys weren't his lawyers. That George Zimmerman told the prosecutors these two attorneys were not his lawyers and instead called them legal advisers. So, it's extraordinarily bizarre that George Zimmerman has sort of gone rogue on these two people who, as they understood, his only two legal representatives.

But at this point, all they can say is that, they've never been retained, they've never been paid, they say they aren't owed anything, they say that Zimmerman promised that he'd sign a letter to retain but that they haven't received it. It was supposed to be in the mail. It's not arrived. And he also mentioned something about PTSD.

I think they sort of alluded to it in the press conference that they're worried about his mental health. They're very concerned that he may have suffered some kind of posttraumatic stress disorder. It's just that there's so much that sort of at play here.

They also say that they are fielding hundreds and hundreds of text messages, phone calls, e-mails, and requests for commentary from the national press and from the local press, and that they just simply can't do this anymore, specifically, because they're not officially even his lawyers by his own words to the prosecutor.

One thing they will say is that the prosecutors told them they do not want to speak with George Zimmerman without an attorney present. They were very clear to these two attorneys when they reached out to these two attorneys that when Zimmerman called them to ask if he could come in to talk to them, they said no.

We'd like you to have an attorney present. Whether he's retained other counsel, though, at this point, Wolf, at least Hal Uhrig (ph) and Craig Sonner don't know if there's another lawyer in the picture.

BLITZER: Yes. It's raising all sorts of questions. I want to bring Jeff Toobin back right now. The ethical responsibility of these attorneys to represent George Zimmerman who they think, themselves, maybe going through some sort of mental depression or posttraumatic shock syndrome or whatever. What is the ethical responsibility of attorneys to stay on the job even in the face of a client who is not cooperating with them? TOOBIN: Well, this is in the realm of law school hypothetical. It's just very hard, because lawyers are obliged to stick with clients through eccentric behavior, but they are not obliged to participate with -- with clients who are actively ignoring their advice or refusing to be in contact with them, and where that line is drawn is -- it's hard to know without getting into -- without getting into the facts.

Now, what makes the situation a little different is, as we all know, George Zimmerman has not been arrested. His lawyers have not entered what's called the notice of appearance, which means officially becomes his lawyers. So, I think they have an easier time getting out of the representation at this point, because they never were formally in the representation, but the real issue, it seems, to me is, where is he?

Because that's going to be something that the prosecutor is very concerned about. She needs to know that if she wants to proceed with an arrest, she can find the guy. And the lawyers are now quite clearly making the representation that they don't know where he is. So, that's the immediate issue. Where is he?

BLITZER: Yes. And Sunny, the spectacle of these two attorneys coming out and making these statements about the man they thought used to be his client even though he was never formally, officially their clients and said he never signed that document saying that he had authorized them to be their attorneys.

I don't know if a verbal authorization is good enough in a situation like this, but certainly, it undermines George Zimmerman and his case, at least, the impression you get from these attorneys, even though they say they continue to believe he acted in self-defense.

HOSTIN: I think that's right, although Craig Sonner indicated that he agreed to represent George Zimmerman pro bono up until the time of trial, and then, they were going to sign a retainer agreement. So, in my view, Wolf, just because there wasn't a signed retainer agreement meaning money for services does not mean that this legal team did not represent George Zimmerman.

I -- I think we need to make that clear. It is possible and it happens often times that you begin a representation of a client without having signed a retainer agreement.

BLITZER: I think it's fair to say, Sunny, that Angela Corey, the special prosecutor, there had been speculation she was going to make a decision within the next day or two, but my own gut tells me and correct me if I'm wrong, what we've just seen, these two attorneys coming out saying they're no longer the attorneys for George Zimmerman, that has put added pressure on her to make her decision.

HOSTIN: I think that's right, but what is curious to me is that she has not spoken, and her office has not spoken to the target of the investigation, to George Zimmerman. And these attorneys have indicated that they wanted to make that happen, and that does happen very often that a prosecutor's office will get the opportunity to interview a potential defendant, a target.

And so, the fact that that hasn't happened yet, but that was, perhaps, in the works, I think, could tell us that charges may not be filed in the near future, but certainly, I agree with Jeff in that it is very -- it's a concern at this point, I think, for any prosecutor in a case like this as to where this potential defendant is.

BLITZER: And Jeff, explain to our viewers, and you're a former prosecutor yourself, so you appreciate this. Why these attorneys, these prosecutors, Angela Corey and her staff, they don't want to meet with George Zimmerman, unless, he's accompanied by an attorney?

TOOBIN: Well, because then the issue becomes what did he say and whether this was a knowing and voluntary statement by Zimmerman. Particularly, if his lawyers or whatever you want to call these two people are raising the issue that he's not fully of sound mind. At this point, in the proceedings, the prosecutors will want to know exactly what it -- that that they have permission to speak to him and the only way to do that is with the lawyer.

You know, I'd like to raise one other issue here, which I think is a little troubling is, you know, why do -- these two lawyers feel obligated to do this in public. They make their client look like a lunatic, and they could have communicated this information to the prosecutor who, after all, is the most important person here.

I mean, I really -- I don't think they did George Zimmerman a great service by spelling this out in such extraordinary detail when they could have simply just gone into the prosecutor and said hey, look, we don't represent this guy anymore. So, I think that's -- that's a troubling question of legal ethics on their part.

BLITZER: I want everybody to stand by because we're going to continue our coverage of this dramatic development out of Sanford, Florida. Stand by for more information on that.

We're also following other important news here in the SITUATION ROOM today. North Korea stepped closer to launching a long-range rocket and triggering a major new confrontation with the west. CNN is inside the country. Our officials are openly mocking warnings by the United States.

Also, much more on the breaking news on Rick Santorum dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination. Stand by. Lots of news happening right here in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: The lawyers for the shooter, George Zimmerman, revealed only moments ago that they've lost contact with him. They are dropping out of the case.


UHRIG: 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 special 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 who's 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.


BLITZER: Lots of questions being raised as the special prosecutor's investigation moves forward. We expect some sort of decision from Angela Corey, the special prosecutor fairly soon, maybe within the next day or two, whether, in fact, they're going to charge George Zimmerman in the death of Trayvon Martin.

Now, let's bring in our own David Mattingly. He's on the scene for us in Sanford, Florida right now. What a stunning set of developments today, David. You've been on the scene from the beginning.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This is extraordinary. You have two attorneys in a very high-profile case going to the media saying they've lost contact with their client, and apparently, lost control of him as well.

They were very concerned to find out that he'd been reaching out and having off-the-record conversations with national media, also, on his own, contacting the special prosecutor's office, not only that, but setting up his own website to raise money for his defense and for his living expenses while he's in hiding right now.

They said they didn't know anything about that. They haven't heard from him since Sunday. This press conference, though, is still going on, and even though they say that they are no longer representing him, they have spent most of the time at their microphones here still defending George Zimmerman, attacking the bad things that have been said about him, and talking about how the evidence that will be presented will show that he was acting in self- defense.

So, two attorneys who technically are not representing him at this point are still spending a lot of time protecting and defending George Zimmerman. Right now, the thing we can take away from this, they are saying that George Zimmerman is not in the state of Florida. He remains in hiding. They are concerned about him, and especially concern with his behavior now that he's apparently acting on his own, reaching out to the special prosecutor's office. Something they say that no defense attorney would let their client do, also, reaching out to the national media and having off-the-record conversations.

They're very concerned about this, and this is a way that they hope will bridge that communication gap with George Zimmerman, and they will soon be talking to him and officially representing him again.

But again, Wolf, they say that the door is open, and they don't believe they're doing any damage to his case by coming public like this because they say, if this does go in front of a jury, then the facts in this case will decide whether or not George Zimmerman is guilty or innocent. So, right now, they believe they're doing the best thing they can to get back in touch with the man that they want to represent -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David Mattingly on the scene for us. David, thanks very much. And we're reaching out, we're trying to get some reaction from George Zimmerman's family, George Zimmerman's friends. We'll share that with you once we get it, but a very, very dramatic development in the Trayvon Martin killing. We'll have more on that coming up.

Also, the other breaking news story we're following, a historic moment on the campaign trail today, the Republican presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, announcing he's dropping out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination.

It effectively means that Mitt Romney versus President Obama, that general election campaign all but officially starting today. We'll have the latest on what has happened on the campaign trail. Stand by.


BLITZER: A lot of Republicans are breathing a sigh of relief now that Rick Santorum says he's suspending, effectively dropping out of the presidential race. Party leaders have been itching for a full scale assault against President Obama by the all, but certain nominee, Mitt Romney. But it's not clear how much help Romney will get from the man who had become his most significant Republican rival.

Santorum never even mentioned Romney by name during his announcement in Pennsylvania just a few hours ago.


RICK SANTORUM, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Against all odds, we won 11 states. Millions of voters, millions of votes. We won more counties than all the other people in this race combined.

It was a love affair for me going from state to state and seeing the differences but seeing the wonderful, wonderful people of this country who cared deeply about where this country is going in the future, cared deeply about those who are out there paddling alone, who are feeling left behind, and in some respects, feeling hopeless and want to do something.

But ladies and gentlemen, we made the decision to get in this race at our kitchen table 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.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our chief White House correspondent, Jessica Yellin. Jessica, you're getting reaction from the Obama re- election campaign. What are they saying?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president -- the head of the president's re-election team, Jim Messina, came out swinging. No mention of Rick Santorum.

They went straight at Mitt Romney saying in a statement in part, quote, "The more the American people see of Mitt Romney, the less they like him and the less they trust him. 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 alienated women, middle class families, and Hispanic-Americans."

Wolf, now, they no longer have to pretend they don't know who they're going to run against. They can take on Mitt Romney full force.


YELLIN (voice-over): Just after Rick Santorum suspended his campaign, the president played cute.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some people who are running for a certain office right now who shall not be named --


YELLIN: But it's no secret President Obama has been preparing to face Mitt Romney in the fall. Just last week, he mocked Romney for supporting the Republican budget and for his upper-crust style.

OBAMA: He said that he's very supportive of this new budget. And he even called it marvelous, which is a word you don't often hear when it comes to describing a budget. It's a word you don't often hear generally.

YELLIN: The Democratic Party has been going after Romney for months.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mitt Romney has spent this entire primary buying the election.

YELLIN: Relentlessly calling him a flip-flopper.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was pro-choice and supported Roe vs Wade, and now, he says he's pro-life.

YELLIN: And attacking his claim that he created jobs at Bane Capital. As recently as yesterday, the Obama campaign used the push for the proposed millionaires' tax to prompt Romney on his tax returns.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Romney supports tax policies, reward people like him, and now, he's just trying to obscure just how much he would benefit by hiding his own financial records.


YELLIN (on-camera): And, Wolf, in a sign that the campaign really is on, the Romney campaign has released a statement responding to the Obama campaign saying that for Mitt Romney, this race has always been about defeating President Obama and getting Americans back to work.

The message from the Romney campaign is that President Obama has failed to fix the economy. We're going to be hearing a lot more of these punch counter punches between the president's campaign and the Romney campaign, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's going to get very, very fierce over the next seven months, no doubt about that. Jessica, thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper in what happened today. Joining us, the national press secretary for the Santorum campaign, Alice Stewart. Alice, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: When did you learn that Rick Santorum was suspending his campaign?

STEWART: Some of us learned about it last night. Obviously, it's been a difficult weekend for the Santorum family with their daughter, Bella, being in the hospital, but after lot of thoughtful prayer and consideration, they made a decision, and we began making plans for it last night.

But there's still some back and forth to make sure and not tip the hat until the very last minute, so Rick could have the option to change his mind if he needed to, but it was pretty much full speed ahead early this morning.

BLITZER: Was it because of a fear that Santorum might not win in his home state of Pennsylvania which would have been so humiliating?

STEWART: There were a lot of factors that went into it. First and foremost with his daughter's health, faith and family has always been important to Rick and it's time for him to focus on his family right now. Obviously we've seen the delegate math and we've been on the show talking about it before. Delegate math, you know there are certain things that needed to fall into place for it to go in our direction whether prior to the convention or on the convention floor and as we saw things progress the window began to get smaller and smaller and all of those were factors, but most importantly as Rick said today, he's suspending the campaign, while the campaign is over the job is just beginning. He's going to work hard to coalesce conservatives and rally behind whoever the nominee. Clearly it looks as though it will be Mitt Romney and job number one --

BLITZER: Why didn't he mention Mitt Romney in his 15-minute speech today?

STEWART: There was no -- it wasn't intentional by any stretch of the imagination. He was there, as you know, he doesn't speak with notes, doesn't have a prepared speech and he was thanking a lot of the people in the room and supporters and it wasn't intentional by any means. They had a nice conversation earlier this morning where he talked about the decision to suspend the campaign and they'll have another conversation in the next few days and weeks in what to do moving forward, but it wasn't anything intentional.

BLITZER: Is there any doubt that he's going to endorse Romney? Is he going to go out there and campaign for him? Any doubt about that?

STEWART: Details on what he will do moving forward will be in the next few days. They had a nice conversation. They have a mutual great respect for each other --

BLITZER: Can you say Alice that he will go out there and campaign for the Republican nominee?

STEWART: Rick made it very clear he will do, he will work hard to coalesce conservatives, bring them all together and work behind the nominee, which appears to be Mitt Romney because he knows now more than ever it's important that we rally together. We're going to have a huge uphill fight taking on the Obama campaign and the only way we're going to be able to win is if we coalesce behind the nominee presumably, Mitt Romney, and take on job number one, defeating Barack Obama.

BLITZER: How much bad blood, in other words, this is the bottom line. How much bad blood is there between Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney right now? It's been a brutal campaign.

STEWART: It's been difficult, but personally, they have a great mutual respect for each other whether it's at the debates or many of the events they have when they have conversations. They have a great mutual respect for each other. Politically they disagree on some of the key issues on obviously Obamacare and cap and trade --

BLITZER: Some of the things that were said at the height of the campaign and I don't -- just paraphrasing -- Rick Santorum saying Romney is the worst possible candidate to go up against Barack Obama because of the health care law that included the mandates which were supposedly patterned on Romney's mandates in Massachusetts.

STEWART: Right. Well I appreciate you putting it into that context. That's exactly what he was talking about. In terms of the individual mandate which Romney was the grandfather of. That issue in and of itself, he was not the best candidate to go against the president. But as I said, the two of them have a mutual respect. They like each other. They get along and now they realize it's time to coalesce, get together and defeat Barack Obama and Rick said you know quite eloquently today he's going to do whatever is necessary to get that job done.

BLITZER: When I heard that he was suspending his campaign and suspending is a technical term because he still wants to be able to raise some money to pay bills, but he is really out of the race. I began thinking ahead. This may be a graceful way to already start thinking about 2016. What do you think?

STEWART: Well there's a lot to be done between now and then. This was a difficult decision for him. He's going to do whatever he can to defeat Barack Obama and as he said all along is that this is a critical time. He's obviously got small children, but he took it upon himself. He and his family made the decision to get in because this is a critical time. We have to coalesce. We have to get together and defeat Barack Obama. More than likely we're going to be able to do it, but if not, you know everyone; we've got to have all men on deck for 2016.

BLITZER: What about you personally? What do you do now?

STEWART: We'll see. We'll see. Like I said, I'll do -- as with Rick, throughout this whole campaign cycle. I'm going to do whatever we can to defeat Barack Obama. We have to do something. We have to get the leader in there that will repeal Obamacare that will rein in spending. We've got to do away with this class warfare. The "Buffett Rule" is not the way to go about debt reduction, so we have to go about real debt reduction. The Ryan plan is a good plan, but I'm going to do whatever I can, whatever is needed to help conservatives win.

BLITZER: I know you'll be a frequent visitor here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: We'd love to have you back. Thanks very much, Alice.

STEWART: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're also taking you inside North Korea for some very rare access just as the country is preparing to launch a rocket as early as tomorrow. Stand by.

And some say it was a surprising decision, a Major League Baseball manager suspended for saying he loved Fidel Castro. We have details on that decision and a lot more news coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Now to North Korea where all the pieces are in place for the country's new leader to thumb his nose at the West in a very dangerous, provocative way. North Korean officials say they've finished assembling a long-range rocket and they'll be ready to launch it as soon as 24 hours from now. CNN's Stan Grant has had rare access to the launch site and to North Korea's defiance.


STAN GRANT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As strenuously as North Korea insists its rocket is to launch a satellite, the skepticism will not go away. To much of the world this is a covert missile test. The United States labeling the launch a serious provocation in violation of United Nations resolutions. Officials in Pyongyang are now openly mocking those claims.

RYU KUN CHOL, SR. N.K. SPACE OFFICIAL (through translator): If it were a ballistic missile launch site would we have built it at such an open site? Would we have built the launch control center and also a satellite control center in Pyongyang? No country in the world would want to launch a ballistic missile from such an open site. However, if anybody insists that that site is for ballistic missile test then it is very disturbing.


GRANT: To back it up, the secretive nation has thrown open its doors to the world media. Seeing is believing they say. Instead North Korea is being accused of more deception, already planning a nuclear test. South Korean intelligence even says preparations are already advanced. Missile tests and a nuclear threat, officials here claim that's an insult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): The launch of Guangdong Song 3 (ph) satellite is a gift from our people to our great leader Comrade Kim Il Sung (ph) on the occasion of his 100th birthday, so this cannot be a missile test. As for a nuclear test in the future, I am not responsible in that area so I cannot give answer to you.

GRANT: North Korea insists this is its sovereign right. Satellite officials say it's for peaceful, scientific purposes and will even help an ailing economy, but it is even more than that.


GRANT: This has been described as a spiritual quest showing the country can stand alone. Pyongyang already a show piece city is now putting on its best face. There appear to be more cars on the road and a height (ph) of building activity.

(on camera): To the outside world, North Korea is shot off, crippled by years of sanctions. Their government minder (ph) has brought us here today to try to tell us a different story, a story of self-reliance, but in the centenary of the birth of the father of the country, this is, in fact, a powerful and prosperous nation.



GRANT (voice-over): These women are rehearsing for celebrations to mark the birthday of this man declared the eternal president. New portraits and posters are being put up. The cost of this birthday celebration estimated to run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. This, from a country that relies on international food aid to help feed its people, but that contradiction is lost to this regime. The rocket launch, the celebrations, this is about power, even if the North Korean people pay the price.

Stan Grant, CNN, Pyongyang.


BLITZER: And U.S. officials are bracing not only for the launching of this rocket perhaps over the next 24 hours, but they suspect it will be followed by a nuclear test, an underground test shortly thereafter and that will ratchet up tensions between North and South Korea, between North Korea and the rest of the world dramatically. We'll have extensive coverage here on CNN and in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A week into the Major League Baseball season and one team's manager is now suspended for opening up his mouth. What he said that got him into trouble, deep trouble. That's coming up next.


BLITZER: The manager of the Miami Marlins is learning the hard way that Cuban politics is a very sensitive subject in Miami. Ozzie Guillen was suspended from his job today for five games because he praised Cuba's Fidel Castro. Guillen is apologizing for what he calls the biggest mistake of his life. CNN's John Zarrella is joining us now from Miami with more. What happened here, John?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, he's been on the job literally five days. He's only managed five regular-season games and already suspended without pay as you mentioned for five games and that is because he said perhaps the worst possible thing you can say in this community.


ZARRELLA (voice-over): In front of the cameras he was a very different Ozzie Guillen than most people are used to seeing. The former Chicago White Sox manager now with the Miami Marlins was not abrasive, profane, insensitive or defiant. He stood before the cameras contrite.

OZZIE GUILLEN, MIAMI MARLINS MANAGER: I'm very, very, very sorry about the problem about what happened, and I will do everything to make it better. ZARRELLA: Sorry because he said perhaps the single most offensive thing he could in Miami. Guillen told "TIME" magazine that, quote, "I love Fidel Castro" and added that he respected Castro for surviving 60 years when a lot of people wanted to kill him. Guillen flew back from Philadelphia where his team had the off day to try to put out the fire.

GUILLEN: This has been the biggest mistake so far in my life I make, and when you make a mistake this big I can't sleep and you constantly think about for days (INAUDIBLE) I will learn from this and I will call myself (INAUDIBLE) but not yet.

ZARRELLA: As Guillen talked outside the stadium a small group of Cuban-American protesters carried signs and waved Cuban flags. Many in the crowd wanted Guillen fired.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If for any reason he continues as manager we will not come to see any games here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would like that he would be fired from the job.

ZARRELLA: While Guillen seemed genuinely sincere, whether falling on his sword would repair the damage in the community is another story.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know whether he's sorry for --

ZARRELLA: Longtime "Miami Herald" columnist and radio talk show host Dan Lebatard (ph) is Cuban American. He says that for Cuban Americans Castro is their Hitler.

DAN LEBATARD, TALK SHOW HOST, 790 "THE TICKET": I don't know how many people this guy has killed. I don't know what the numbers are. I don't want to do comparison shopping on atrocities, but I don't know how many Cubans have died in the ocean trying to get away from his tyranny.

ZARRELLA: The firestorm is particularly damaging to the Marlins. Their new stadium sits right in the heart of Miami's Little Havana paid for primarily with tax dollars from Miami and Miami Dade County residents. The team was trying to build a new fan base from that heavily Latin community and ironically, one of the main reasons for hiring Ozzie Guillen, to appeal to Latin Americans.


ZARRELLA: Baseball -- Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig came out today and supported the Marlins' decision. In part Selig said "I expect those who represent Major League Baseball to act with the kind of respect and sensitivity that the game's many cultures deserved." Interestingly enough here, Wolf, in 1999 Bud Selig himself was roundly criticized as you may recall, when he went to Cuba and sat next to Fidel Castro when the Baltimore Orioles played the Cuban National Team -- Wolf. BLITZER: Yes, they love baseball in Cuba and they've got some great ballplayers that have come out of Cuba as we all know over the years.


BLITZER: All right, we'll see what happens. Obviously, a very, very sensitive nerve that was hit in Miami and we'll see what the fallout is. John Zarrella thanks very much.

We want to get back to the other breaking news story we're following out of Sanford, Florida. We're going to have an update on what these two lawyers who have now dropped George Zimmerman as their client. They're providing new information that they say will exonerate Zimmerman in the killing of Trayvon Martin case. Stand by for that.


BLITZER: Let's get back to the breaking news in the Trayvon Martin case. We told you that the two lawyers for the shooter, George Zimmerman, have now dropped the case because they say they've lost contact with him. Those attorneys are also offering what they say are new details about the forensic evidence in the killing of the Florida teenager.


HAL UHRIG, FORMER LAWYER FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: There are all kinds of evidence that they may have forensically that we don't have access to. We're not entitled to it. You're not entitled to it, but all the evidence that has come out is consistent with the story that George Zimmerman has told. It is --


BLITZER: Another key nugget in this story Zimmerman may not, repeat, not be in Florida anymore. Again listen to his former lawyer.


UHRIG: I will not tell you where George Zimmerman is because I don't know, but for those who are engaged in the late Easter egg hunt looking for him you can stop looking in Florida. Look much further away than that, which is also a reason why we didn't meet with him.


BLITZER: That's a nice bombshell right there as well. Zimmerman, by the way, updated his Web site this afternoon. His latest posting says and I'll read it to you, "I am attempting to respond to each and every one of my supporters personally. The support has been overwhelming in volume and strength. I thank you all and ask that you permit me the time to respond to each one of you personally. Once again thank you. Sincerely, George Zimmerman." We'll stay on top of the story for our viewers. Meanwhile, there are all sorts of super heroes out there. Some have super strength. Some have super speed and some have the power of potato chips -- potato chips. The amazing "Snackman", Jeanne Moos coming up next.


BLITZER: Here is a look at this hour's "Hotshots". In India, firefighters struggled to extinguish a textile factory engulfed in flames. In Bangladesh, an elderly man pulls a Rick Shaw (ph). In Singapore, 2,000 lanterns are placed outside a museum to mark the 100th anniversary of the "Titanic" sinking and in Afghanistan a boy walks with his cow at sunset. "Hotshots", pictures coming in from around the world.

Finally this hour, we are calling him "Snackman", as a fight breaks out at a New York subway, another rider steps in to stop it. But it is his calm and crunchy peacekeeping technique that is now the talk of the Web. Here is CNN's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In other places, citizens may dress up like Batman or a kid might save the day by taking over the wheel when a bus driver becomes incapacitated, but in New York City, we have "Snackman". That's right, "Snackman" to the rescue. Man breaks up subway fight by fearlessly eating potato chips.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Whoa.

MOOS: A man and a woman were fighting on the subway. She said he had been following her. Enter "Snackman".



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Had his hand up, inserted himself, continues to eat his chips.

MOOS: Security expert Steve Kardian was impressed and New Yorkers were smitten, giving "Snackman" a red cape and all "Snackman" did was masticate.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He changed the context. He changed the dynamic and he deescalated the incident.

MOOS: Steve Kardian says most people don't really want to fight if they have an excuse to disengage.

STEVE KARDIAN, SELF DEFENSE EXPERT: It's like kind of the kid that, come on, I'm going to beat you up, I'm going to beat you up, and Johnny come home, oh I would have beat you up if my mother didn't call me.

MOOS: The only thing he says "Snackman" did wrong was to leave himself vulnerable by completely turning his back to the guy. New Yorkers appreciate a cool cucumber like the man with the book who refused to be drawn into a fight after he accidentally bumped a guy.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. Thank you for caring.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, look at me in my (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Bloody (EXPLETIVE DELETED) notebook. Remember that (EXPLETIVE DELETED). You ain't never (EXPLETIVE DELETED).



MOOS: But "Snackman" was so cool, one fan posted that guy for president. His potato chip plan will bring peace to the Middle East.

(on camera): Soon, the speculation turned to which snacks "Snackman" was snacking on.


MOOS: It's Doritos.


MOOS: It's Pringles.


MOOS: The chip crusader.

(voice-over): The Web site NYULOCAL tracked down "Snackman" and identified him as Charles Saunders (ph) on his way uptown to have drinks, chomping on cheddar Pringles, he said he had to do something. As someone posted, "Saving the world, one snack at a time".

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bend steel in his bare hands.

MOOS: Or at least bend chips.

Jeanne Moos, CNN. New York.


BLITZER: Love that Jeanne Moos. Always, always got a great story. That's it for me. Thanks very much for joining us. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. The news continues next on CNN.