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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

It Was All God's Plan; Three Syrian Government Officials Killed; Droughts Affecting Parts of U.S.; Interview with Jets Coach Rex Ryan; Two Quarterbacks, One Team; Solo Sail Around the World

Aired July 19, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, George Zimmerman in his own words.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: I feel that it was all God's plan. And for me to second-guess it or judge it --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: In his first television interview, George Zimmerman walks through his version of what happened the night he killed Trayvon Martin. Why he says it's all God's plan. And he gets some reaction from Trayvon Martin's parents.

Is the Syrian regime on the verge of collapse? New fighting this morning in Damascus, the day after a bombing killed at least three of President Assad's inner circle. We're going to sit down with former Syrian General Akil Hashem, who says that Assad's days are numbered.

Plus, broiling heat, wilting crops could send grocery prices skyrocketing. We're live from the drought zone in Indiana this morning.

And Jet quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow could be fighting it out at the NFL training camp. The man behind their fate this season is Jets head coach Rex Ryan. He's going to join us live, straight ahead.

It's Thursday, July 19th. And STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: It is pandering, but I like it. I like it. "Hola, Soledad." I feel like we don't play that enough. Can we make that happen every day? Hang on. The best part is coming.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: Our team this morning: Margaret Hoover, she's a former appointee in the Bush administration.

Marc Lamont Hill, professor at Columbia University.

I thought political science, but you said anthropology and education.

MARC LAMONT HILL, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: Yes, I study politics. The culture of politics.

O'BRIEN: Oh, the culture of politics.

Will Cain is columnist for TheBlaze.com.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: I study pandering. Speaking of that --

O'BRIEN: You could do more of that.

CAIN: I just noticed -- are you wearing Jets green? Purposefully?

O'BRIEN: Yes, I am. Yes, I am. I guess.

CAIN: I see.

O'BRIEN: I'm definitely wearing green, and Rex Ryan is coming in to talk to us. So sure, why not?

Our STARTING POINT this morning: did you guys watch this last night? George Zimmerman's interview, telling his side of the story to camera for the very first time since the night he shot and killed Trayvon Martin?

Interesting interview. He said what happened that night was all God's plan.

Earlier I spoke with Trayvon Martin's parents, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. They were with their attorney, Ben Crump.

Here's what they had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Sybrina, I'm going to start with you if I can. I know you had a chance to watch this interview. What did you think of what George Zimmerman was saying?

SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: My first thought was that I wish that Trayvon was here to tell his side of the story because it's just -- we're just hearing one side of what actually happened.

O'BRIEN: Tracy, what do you think -- I mean, he walked through numerous descriptions. He walked through obviously his side of the story of the pursuit, which he said he was not running after him. He walked through the struggle with the gun.

What -- if you could have asked him a question, what do you want to know? What would you have liked him to describe in more detail?

TRACY MARTIN, TRAYVON MARTIN'S FATHER: I just would like to know why did he even get out the car? Why was my son so suspicious? What made him rush to judge my son and thinking that he was a criminal or pursuing some -- a burglary?

O'BRIEN: The pursuit, I think, is going to be -- and correct me if I'm wrong, Mr. Crump, a big focus in this court case because -- and Sean Hannity asked him a detailed question about the pursuing and was he running after Trayvon. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZIMMERMAN: Maybe I said running, but he was more --

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS: You said he was running?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes, like skipping, going away quickly. But he wasn't running out of fear.

HANNITY: You can tell the difference?

ZIMMERMAN: He wasn't running. He wasn't --

HANNITY: So he wasn't actually running?

ZIMMERMAN: No, sir.

HANNITY: OK. Because that's what you said to dispatcher. You thought he was running.

Let me ask you this, at that point, we can hear the unbuckling of the seat belt. Hear you opening a car door. And the dispatch asking you at that point -- and this became a very key moment that everyone in the media focused on -- and the dispatcher asked you, "Are you following him?" And you said yes. Explain that.

ZIMMERMAN: I meant that I was going in the same direction as him to keep an eye on him so that I could tell the police where he was going. I didn't mean that I was actually pursuing him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He said he was running, but says in this interview he wasn't running. He said yes to the dispatcher when he asked about following him but now says I wasn't really following him.

When you look at a strategy, when this comes to the courtroom, and the courthouse, how do you plan on using this chunk of the interview?

BEN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN'S FAMILY: Well, Soledad, the state attorney is going to see this interview as a gift when they get ready to cross-examine George Zimmerman. We have a term in the law called "res ipsa loquitur," which is Latin for the thing speaks for itself.

Just objective evidence, use your own ears, America can listen to those 911 tapes on their own. And they hear him pursuing Trayvon. They hear the wind whistling. And they hear him say that he's pursuing -- he's following Trayvon Martin.

Pursuit is so crucial in this case because it kills his stand your ground defense. He profiled, confronted, and shot Trayvon Martin in the heart. And said he doesn't regret anything.

O'BRIEN: And you heard from Mark O'Mara, the attorney, I think saying a similar thing that you're saying, which is that the stand your ground defense might be something he's not focusing on, and it will actually probably be self-defense.

How do you think that changes this case?

CRUMP: Well, remember, we believe that George Zimmerman one hour after he killed Trayvon Martin had to write in that statement he was looking for street signs because he can't say he pursued Trayvon and then say stand your ground. And remember, Soledad, this is so important for America to remember, we heard that 911 tape.

I don't think he realized that we were going to hear that tape or he wouldn't have put that the only reason he got out the car was to check the street sign because we heard him say, oh, he said explicit word, he is getting away. And then you hear the wind whistling, and that's when he said he is following him. It speaks for itself.

O'BRIEN: Part of what he said was it was God's will. I'm curious, Sybrina, what's that's like to hear?

FULTON: I think it's absolutely ridiculous.

O'BRIEN: Tracy, I'm going to ask you the last question, if I can. He says that he would be willing to talk to you and to Sabrina as well. Would have you any interest in that at all?

MARTIN: Absolutely not. Not at this time.

We are talking about a man who regrets the fact that he took our child's life. My conversation for him would be very limited.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: I thought that was an interesting interview because you always have to wonder like what's the risk, right? You're going to trial. And obviously it's a friendly interview. There were not a lot of hard balls in that interview at all. But --

MARGARET HOOVER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Why are you laughing?

HILL: Because it wasn't even an interview.

O'BRIEN: I'm understating that.

HILL: Yes. It was an infomercial for George Zimmerman, and he is still bombing (ph).

O'BRIEN: You think it was a bombing?

HILL: Yes.

HOOVER: Why bombing?

HILL: Because all you walked away with was more questions and more inconsistencies that were identified based on what Zimmerman said.

HOOVER: What was his biggest flaw?

HILL: He wasn't compelling. He wasn't convincing. I walked away thinking that he saw Trayvon Martin as a threat unnecessarily. He played to the cheap seats.

HOOVER: But you told me before that you thought if you came in thinking that Trayvon Martin was an aggressor, you left still thinking Trayvon Martin was an aggressor.

HILL: That's a small number of people who aren't being driven by the facts. They're being driven by other things.

(CROSSTALK)

CAIN: One of the takeaways I had from the interview, Marc and I discussed this earlier, there seems to be remarkable consistency in George Zimmerman's demeanor. He always seems to be somewhat meek whenever he is talking to someone, whether it's Sean Hannity or the police.

Marc, you said at least you think there's a consistency in his presentation.

HILL: I still think it's a performance. In court, everyone looks meek and humble. There are people who aren't meek and humble in court.

And now he is in front of Sean Hannity, who appears to be a sympathizer in this interview. And of course he's going to keep that performance consistent. That -- to me, that doesn't say one thing or the other.

O'BRIEN: That's an interesting point too, because if you remember in court, when later he at the bond hearing, and then later he had to be returned back to jail, right, because of the taped conversation said from jail where they realized that there was money, and some of the testimony that he was giving to the judge then about the money, which was inconsistent, led him back to jail. Same demeanor. Same demeanor.

CAIN: I don't know what it tells us, but I just find it interesting. Always seems to be the same guy.

HILL: I don't think it tells you anything.

HOOVER: If you are going on the stand and you are accused of murder, don't you want to have a meek disposition in order to get sympathy?

HILL: It doesn't tell me anything.

I was disappointed with the interview. I think you have to push harder, ask the tough questions. I mean, it's clear, the inconsistency between running and not running, between following and not following. And there was no pushback.

I think, for me, again, it just raises more questions.

O'BRIEN: Well, I think we're going to have lots of time as this trial unfolds to get to some of the questions.

First, though, I want to get to Christine Romans. She's got a look at day's top stories.

Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

Breaking news from Zanzibar, Tanzania: 37 people have drowned and more than 100 more are feared dead after a ferry with nearly 300 people onboard sank. About 150 people were rescued, but police say there's not much hope for the passengers who are still missing. There were 31 children onboard. There were tourists onboard too. But it's not clear if any of them were Americans.

Rough weather and fierce waives are hampering rescue efforts and may be to blame for the tragedy.

One day after a bomber killed his top general and his defense minister and his brother in law, we still haven't seen or heard from Syrian President Bashar al Assad.

Rebel forces continuing their assault on Damascus overnight. They're vowing to liberate the capital. Meanwhile, the U.N. Security Council votes later this morning on a new Syria resolution that threatens nonmilitary sanctions against Assad's regime if he doesn't withdraw troops and heavy weapons from populated areas within 10 days.

Russia is expected to once again block the measure.

In just a few minutes, Soledad will sit down with former Syrian General Akil Hashem.

Seven Israeli tourists killed in a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria. More than 30 others were injured. The attack carried out in broad daylight yesterday.

Earlier today, an Israeli air force plane picked up injured civilians taking them to hospitals across Israel. Bulgarian officials now releasing security footage of the suspected suicide bomber an hour before the attack. They say the have the bomber's fingerprints and recovered what the FBI is calling a fake ID from the state of Michigan.

Philadelphia police searching for a predator this morning. Take a look at this surveillance video of a 10-year-old girl narrowly escaping an attempted abduction. This happened Tuesday afternoon. A man in a white car following this girl as she walks down the street with her 2-year-old little brother.

The suspect sneaks up, attempts to snatch her, but her brother's screams may have scared the attacker off. Suddenly, he drove off.

There's a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest. Mayor Nutter calls him a creep and a scum and says they will get him off Philadelphia streets.

An FBI dive team joining the investigation into the disappearance of two young girls in Iowa. Eight-year-old Elizabeth Collins and her 10-year-old cousin Lyric Cook were last seen at their grandmother's house in Evansdale last Friday. Authorities have been draining a nearby lake where the girls' bicycles were found. Search dogs picked up their scent just to that point.

One of the girls' mothers believes they may have been abducted.

A federal judge siding with Muslims in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, who have been trying for months to get a permit to use their new mosques. The judge issued a temporary restraining order, serving a county court decision and allowing the congregation to worship at the mosque in time for Ramadan. Ramadan begins tonight at sundown.

Construction of the mosque has been a real, contentious issue in Murfreesboro for the past couple of years.

I know you did a documentary on it, but they will be allowed in for the start of Ramadan.

O'BRIEN: It will be interesting to follow how that goes in the community. Obviously, it's been a big debate for a couple of years now.

Christine, thank you. Appreciate that.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT: as we have been talking about, Syria on the brink this morning, assassinations and rebels closing in, worries about loose chemical weapons. We're going to talk to a retired Syrian general who said he knew the men who were killed in the bombing yesterday.

And they are already in the get real hall of fame. Remember those viral videos from the Las Vegas conference that cost $800,000 that was the GSA spending our taxpayer money wisely? Well, guess what? Wait, there's more. We'll update you on the ridiculous stuff they are spending the money on now.

Here's Margaret's playlist (INAUDIBLE).

You can watch our entire playlist or check it out on our Web site, CNN.com/StartingPoint.

Back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. We're talking about the crisis in Syria today with some new images where rebel forces continued the assault on Damascus that happened overnight. They are vowing to liberate the capital.

It comes a day after a brazen bombing that killed several senior leaders of Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad's inside circle. And that bombing happened inside the national security building. Here is defense secretary, Leon Panetta, talking about what was going on.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LEON PANETTA, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The violence there has only gotten worse and the loss of lives has only increased, which tells us that this is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Akil Hashem is a retired Syrian brigadier general who knew some of those men who were killed yesterday. It's nice to have you, sir. Thanks for talking with us. Tell me a little bit about the three men who were killed.

AKIL HASHEM, RET. SYRIAN BRIGADIER GENERAL: First of all, the older one is Hasan Turkmani who was the deputy chairman of the joint chief of staff and then the chairman of the joint chief of staff and then the defense minister for years and years. And now, he is the head of that committee, they called it the Administration of the Crisis Committee.

O'BRIEN: So dealing very hands-on with the rebels.

HASHEM: Yes, high-ranked officials, like head of these intelligence agencies and --

O'BRIEN: Inner circle.

HASHEM: Inner circle. Very inner circle. And I know him very well. We served in the same ninth division for years and years together. And, of course, I know the rest. Defense minister who was among my students when I was a professor in the higher military academy.

And also, Assef Shawkat who is the brother-in-law of the president also was among my students. So, I know them very well. This is a big hit. This is a big blow for the regime and a big boost for the revolution.

CAIN: General, for the rebels to have gained access to this really important inner circle you just described, would that have required turn coats within the regime? Would that have required the rebels to have coordination within the Assad regime?

HASHEM: First of all, there is hundreds and hundreds of high- rank officers and people in the agencies, in the armed forces, who are cooperating with the revolution right now. I like, Soledad, to put all these people fighting in the regime under one name, the freedom fighters, which the FSA, you know, to Free Syrian Army is just like 25 percent of that number.

And the rest are civilians, volunteered to fight this regime. So, there is so many of people inside the inner circle, and inside all of these forces of the regime are cooperating with the freedom fighters, sending information about all movement. One of these people who was the one responsible to put that blast in that room yesterday morning.

HOOVER: Do you think that given this level of coordination that you're suggesting, there is a possibility for a military coup?

HASHEM: There is a possibility for everything. I just said it yesterday.

HOOVER: Is it a likelihood?

HASHEM: It is open to all possibilities. First of all, this president might flee the country today or tomorrow. There might be -- he might be assassinated. He might be subject to military coup even from his own brother, Maher al-Assad. It might be like a huge number of high-rank official defecting from the regime right now or in the next few days.

But, these defections from the regime I don't consider it as a politically motivated defections rather than jumping out of the sinking ship of the regime.

O'BRIEN: So, you describe it as a sinking ship, but at the same time, if we were to show a camera on Homs, you would see that the government forces are battering that city, that the people there are under siege. So, it doesn't seem as if at least immediately that there has been this pullback, but that the fight still goes on.

Many people have described this assassination as a turning point. Is it really, do you think?

HASHEM: Actually, I believe it is the beginning of the end more than a turning point. The problem is, if I have time, that we have a very stalled situation in Syria. We have a regime whom I know very well will not stop killing people forever and ever. Never stop killing people. No matter what.

And on the other side, there is the people, the Syrian people, decided to fight this regime also forever and forever, and they don't care about sacrifices. They already sacrificed hundreds of thousands of people so far in this fight. So, how can we change the situation if the regime will continue killing people, and the people will continue fighting the regime? This is what I was calling for months and months that it must have -- we need international military intervention even without the Security Council resolution. But unfortunately, unfortunately, unfortunately, this intervention cannot be happened without the participation and the leadership of the United States.

And Mr. Obama unfortunately, whom I voted for him in 2008, and I volunteered in his campaign, he doesn't care about the Syrian people. He cares right now about one thing. Re-election. That's it. So, we get people get killed every single day by the hundreds. Yesterday over 200 people. The day before more than that. And nobody is moving to intervene.

O'BRIEN: Can it be the beginning of the end if there is not intervention by the United States? You said both. So, can it happen? Can, in fact, Assad will leave or be run out or a coup without the intervention of a super power?

HASHEM: OK. Any dramatic event can change the whole situation. Like for example, as an act of revenge, if the regime committed a huge massacre like what happened in (INAUDIBLE) in Bosnia, like 2,000, 3,000, 4,000 people get killed by air bombing for example. This will move the whole international committee and force the international community to intervene in Syria.

I said it repeatedly. The international intervention will happen in Syria sooner or later, but, unfortunately, not before another 15,000 or 20,000 people get killed. I can give you numbers. I receive every single day from inside Syria over 2,500 messages and notifications and phone calls from all the factions fighting in Syria right now, civilians and military.

I know for sure these numbers. There is, so far, almost around 25,000 people. We know them by name, one by one, have been killed so far. And double this number, missing people. Most of them, we believe, already killed or maybe all of them and dumped somewhere in a mass grave. So, there is three million people refugees inside Syria and the rest outside Syria. People lsot homes, left property.

Syria is like a war zone. I see Homs and other cities in Syria very similar to the European cities during World War II. And this regime is going to continue to kill people. So, it has to be the international community has to step up to this crisis and intervene in Syria.

O'BRIEN: Akil Hashem is retired Syrian brigadier general. It's nice to have you talk to us, sir. We appreciate that.

HASHEM: You're welcome. You're welcome. Thank you.

O'BRIEN: We'll keep following this story.

We got to take a break. Ahead on STARTING POINT, who could ever forget the GSA, the government agency that spent $800,000 on that lavish Vegas conference? Now, they're racking up a tab to improve their cooking skills. It's our "Get Real," and it's up next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Our "Get Real" this morning, first, there were the viral videos from that Vegas conference that didn't bode well. $800,000 in taxpayer money for a big party, a conference, that was thrown by the GSA, the Government Services Administration. They're in charge of government spending and controlling it.

Anyway, more questionable spending to talk about this morning. CNN's special investigation uncovered federal employees at the Kansas City office took more than $20,000 worth of cooking classes. It was team building. You know, all the team building stuff we do here at CNN is nothing like that.

Nothing -- I don't learn to cook at the end. They hired an etiquette instructor to teach them how to eat properly what they made. They learned the place settings, learned how to deal with courses when they're served. How do you eat soup and salad? That can be tricky at time. What to do with your napkin when it's not on your lap. Where it should be? How to butter your roll? These are the things --

CAIN: How to butter your roll?

O'BRIEN: Yes.

HILL: How can you do serious government business if you don't know which fork to use?

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: I mean, really. I actually don't think this is a big. I actually don't think this is a big of a deal. Honestly, I don't. I tried to be outraged by this. I love to be outraged by this stuff, but this didn't do it for me. It's $20,000 over a four-year period. That's $5,000 a year. That's not a lot of money for --

O'BRIEN: I know, but cooking classes as a team building exercise?

HILL: Absolutely. If you got all four of us together once a week and we took cooking classes -- this is just a suggestion.

(LAUGHTER)

HILL: We all got together and learned how to cook, learned etiquette, that would be an important team building --

O'BRIEN: Wait, did you just say if we got all four of us together and we learned how to cook and we learned etiquette --

HILL: Yes.

O'BRIEN: That that would be worth the $4,000 per session?

HILL: No, no, no. But it wasn't just four people. There were 50 people there, sometimes.

O'BRIEN: Thirty-seven.

HILL: Thirty-seven people, excuse me. So, you divide that per person, that's not a lot of money.

O'BRIEN: Roughly a 100 bucks a person.

(CROSSTALK)

HOOVER: Pay your own money for your team building cooking classes, not taxpayer dollars.

HILL: But team building allows us to administer programs in the institution, itself, better. I think it's a bog deal.

HOOVER: You really think GSA is a better organization for having had those cooking classes?

HILL: I think of the list of things that GSA did wrong, this isn't on it. I mean --

(CROSSTALK)

HILL: GSA is dysfunctional unavoidably. So, this is -- that's neither here nor there.

HOOVER: But this is not yet another manifestation on their dysfunctionality?

HILL: I don't think so.

O'BRIEN: I'm with you, Margaret. It may not be one on the list, but it's certainly number 14.

CAIN: I'm with Marc to make it girls against boys.

O'BRIEN: Well, guess what? Girls are going to commercial break.

Coming up on STARTING POINT, Ann Romney talks about her husband's tax returns. We'll tell you why she says he has nothing to hide.

And New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan joins us. Is he ready for Tebow mania this season? I am. We're back in a moment. STARTING POINT will continue.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT. The jobless numbers are just in to CNN. Let's get the details. Christine Romans has that. Good morning.

ROMANS: Hi, Soledad. And 386,000 new unemployment claims filed. That's much more than expected, 386,000 people, that means going and applying for unemployment benefits for the first time last week. And then the prior week was revised higher. Not a big surprise, because that showed claims at a four-year low. Those numbers were affected by some seasonal distortions. It was the Fourth of July week.

All right, more than 60 percent of the U.S. now suffering from heavy drought conditions that are showing no signs of letting up. Officials say close to a third of the counties in the United States are now listed as disaster areas, threatening to drive up food and fuel prices. Rob Marciano is live in Indianapolis, right there in the heart of the drought. Hi, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Christine, you mentioned food prices. Of course, corn and beans that goes on your table. But that also goes to feed livestock, cattle, pigs, dairy farms. And that's where we are right now, a huge dairy farm, 500 heads of cattle here just south of Indianapolis. A couple of them down there feeding. This is the pen that they are in before they go to milk. You might see some of that video there, high-tech stuff. There's no hand milking anymore. They can pump out about 20, 30 pounds of milk in as little as five minutes. And they do that three times a day, unbelievable.

But they don't like heat. So they've got sprinkler systems and fans in this pen to try to keep them cool. Ideal temperature is actually 50 degrees. Production goes way down when temperatures hit 90 or 100 degrees like they have the past couple of days.

On top of that, the feed that they eat, the quality of that goes down, with the heat and the drought. So two-fold problem here across the dairy country of central Indiana. A little bit of rain coming later on today, but it may be at least for the corn crop a little bit too little, too late. But they'll take anything they can get as this historic drought continues across the corn belt. Christine?

ROMANS: Thank you, Rob.

Meantime, President Obama hitting the campaign trail for a two- day road trip that kicks off this afternoon in Jacksonville and west palm beach, Florida. Mitt Romney is in Boston for a fundraiser. And the latest CBS News-"New York Times" poll shows that the race for the White House couldn't be closer. Romney with 47 percent of the vote, the president one point back, a statistical dead heat. And one in five voters saying they could change their mind before November.

Romney's money and his days at Bain Capital are not a problem for a majority of voters as 73 percent say his wealth is not a factor, and 60 percent say his days at Bain will not change their vote.

John Boehner raising his volume on the attacks on President Obama, the House speaker appearing angry when asked about the need for Mitt Romney to release more tax records. Boehner calls the issue a side show orchestrated by Democrats.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: And I think the president's attack on the private sector in America is exactly what's wrong with this administration. He doesn't give a damn about middle class Americans who are out there looking for work. What he's trying to do is distract the American people in order to win the re-election.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Ann Romney saying her husband Mitt has nothing to hide. She addressed the controversy over releasing more tax returns in an interview with ABC news.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ANN ROMNEY, WIFE OF MITT ROMNEY: You know, you should really look at where Mitt has led his life and where he's been financially. He is a very generous person. We give 10 percent of our income to our church every year. Do you think that is the kind of person that is trying to hide things or do things? No. He is so good about it. Then when he was governor of Massachusetts, he didn't take a salary.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Ann Romney also talked about a potential VP pick, saying we're not quite there but will be soon.

If you live in Washington state and have not registered to vote, you can log onto Facebook to do it starting next week. Washington state, the first to team up with the social networking site to launch a new app to let you register via Facebook. It's expected to go live sometime next week. Soledad?

O'BRIEN: All right, Christine. Thank you.

We are arguing over one of your stories talking about Mitt Romney and the taxes, as you can see a heated debate right here on the panel. STARTING POINT this morning, the lean, mean head coach of gangrene, Rex Ryan, he is 105 pounds lighter to jets training camp this year. He is walking in to talk to us. Nice to see him. Here is his playlist. And he likes a little Jimmy buffet. Nice to see you. Welcome, welcome. Pencil thin mustache. You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: That song, "Last Tango in Paris," is off of New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan's play list. Rex Ryan with us this morning. We've been talking about your weight all morning, but can we start with what I love, Tim Tebow?

REX RYAN, NEW YORK JETS HEAD COACH: Tim Tebow.

O'BRIEN: And 105-pound weight loss, eight-eight last season.

RYAN: Right. That was a little disappointing, that eight-eight season.

O'BRIEN: And you had promised you were going to win.

RYAN: I always make that promise because I believe it.

CAIN: Are you making it again?

RYAN: You know what, it's funny because I just thought that the pressure if anything was always going to be on me. It wasn't going to on our players and things. But when I made that prediction, I guarantee that I think it came on more than just me. It came on our players as well. And that wasn't what I wanted to do.

HILL: Are you going to do it began this year?

RYAN: I'm staying away from the prediction business.

HILL: Coach, listen, when you were coming on, I think I had 15 questions submitted from all of these guys just around here working. And here's one of them. So you said in December when you played the giants whoever wins gets brags rights for four years. Giants won. They have bragging rights for four years?

RYAN: They do. We don't have a chance to play them again, and they beat us, so absolutely. The fact that they won the super bowl would give them bragging rights.

CAIN: Four years is a long time.

RYAN: Well, it is. But they earned that victory, so absolutely.

O'BRIEN: How is Tim Tebow doing?

I'm going to make a drinking game. Whenever you bring up Tim Tebow, take a shot.

O'BRIEN: Raise your hand if you want to know about Tim Tebow. Thank you. If it fits, I'll bring it up, yes. So how is that going?

RYAN: I think he's going to be great.

O'BRIEN: Really?

RYAN: Absolutely. Obviously, mark is our starting quarterback without question. We feel great about him. We drafted mark. You know, we came in together. And he's won a lot of games. When you look at it, you know, 28-20, I think, regular season record, four and two in the playoffs. We added Tim Tebow to our football team. You know, Tim was eight and three as a starter in the regular season, one and one in the playoffs. Anytime you get two young quarterbacks with those kinds of resumes, that helps you. But we have a clear starting quarterback in Mark Sanchez. We also have a great player, I don't care what you want to give him, number two quarterbacks, number 15, whatever you want to call him.

HILL: Does he have any shot at winning the starting spot? Can he outplay Mark Sanchez in camp and win the starting role?

RYAN: Well, Mark Sanchez is our starting quarterback, and that's a given. When you look at how he's played, he deserves to be our starting quarterback. Did he have a great season last year? No. None of us did. You know, we talked about it, the eight and eight record. The way people talk about us you would think we won two games.

HILL: Does he have any shot at winning the starting spot? Is it possible that can he outplay Mark Sanchez in training camp and win the spot?

RYAN: Well, I would say that you know Mark Sanchez is our starting quarterback, and I think that's -- that's a given. And when you look at how Mark's played and all of that he deserves to be our starting quarterback.

Did he have a great season last year? No. None of us did. You know, it wasn't -- we talked about it, the 8-8 record. That was -- the way people talk about us you would think we won two games.

But the fact that we were one game away --

O'BRIEN: Well --

RYAN: Well, that's true. And you know what our expectations should be set that way. We're the ones who set our expectations. Has that changed since I got here? I think so. We expect to win. And -- and that's the way it is.

But Tim Tebow is going to be a huge part of what we do.

O'BRIEN: New York is excited to have him, I'll tell you that.

RYAN: Yes. They should be.

O'BRIEN: Yes, we are.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: So -- so before we talk about your weight loss which has been amazing, I want to talk about Darrelle Revis. What happens with him moneywise?

RYAN: Oh yes you know the great thing about being the head coach, and the head coach only --

O'BRIEN: A non-answer is about to follow.

RYAN: I just get to coach the team. And I just get to coach the players. Luckily, we have a general manager that worries about all of that stuff.

O'BRIEN: If he goes --

HOOVER: So you had lap band surgery and lost 105 pounds.

RYAN: Right.

HOOVER: You were telling us about it before you got on the set. You actually went to Italy. You knew you were going to eat a little bit more. The doctors loosened the band, and when you got back tightened the band. So this helps you control your weight over a long period of time depending on what you project your eating habits are going to be.

RYAN: Well, like if you do go to Italy or something and I actually went to Paris, but they have like 11-course meals or whatever that thing is. But literally, that's how easy this band is. Like you can -- it's as simple as go and take and eat a low, the more liquid you put in, the tighter the band. The more they take out the looser the band. The thing works -- it's been terrific.

O'BRIEN: How much did you weigh at your highest?

RYAN: My highest, I weighed 348 pounds.

O'BRIEN: Wow. So what was a typical meal for you?

RYAN: Well, I would probably go fast food.

O'BRIEN: Ok.

RYAN: And if I went to a fast food restaurant, let's just say this is no lie. I would go for like two burgers, the French fries, you know, the pop or soda, whatever to drink. The 20 little chicken things.

HOOVER: Wow.

RYAN: And then maybe on top of that a little cheeseburger just to whet the palate. But that would be it.

And now if I go and have one cheeseburger, that's saying something.

O'BRIEN: Wow, so it's changed your eating habits. It's not just the lap band. It made you totally change.

RYAN: Oh absolutely.

HILL: And you exercise too, though, right?

RYAN: Well, I do exercise. But initially at first, I was so heavy, I never felt like doing anything. And so I didn't. I basically just let the lap band do its thing and let it work. And -- and basically, the lap band teaches you to eat like a human. And that's really what I did. And then it was just as simple as starting to walk.

And that's -- that was basically it. And it just started out that way slowly and all that. The more weight you lose, the better you feel. Obviously, right now, you drop 100 pounds off anybody.

O'BRIEN: Right.

RYAN: I think you're going to feel like you can go. And like you can run. And that's basically how I feel now. Like I'm at that stage where I'm going to get back to running and all those things.

You know, I'm not killing it in the weight room. That's humbling. Like I used to do this. Now I'm doing this.

But you know, just -- I am feeling so good about where I'm at, and how I feel, that, yes, I will increase the, you know, my exercise. But I think it -- when I hit kind of a plateau, that was basically what was missing. I needed to start to exercise, and I -- I started to do that. And all of a sudden, the bottom fell out.

But this lap band, for anybody, you know, macho guy, I'm not going to do anything like this, I'll do it the right way through diet and exercise, that's great. I mean, fantastic. You know, knock yourself out.

I did that 100 times. That I would lose the weight. Gain it back. And for some reason, I don't know why, but you always gain more than that. And it just happened over and over. And it's just -- it's a common cycle that happens to more really obese people. And that's what happens.

O'BRIEN: Well, you look amazing. And we're really glad for you. And we're looking forward to Tim Tebow and the Jets. I am. Rex Ryan.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Rex Ryan it's nice to have you sir. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate it.

RYAN: There you go. All right my pleasure.

O'BRIEN: If you need people to cheer lead for Tim Tebow, we are here to help you out.

RYAN: Yes. There you go.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT. One determined sailor -- meet the man who is racing a 60-feet speed yacht all across the world, entirely on his own, for weeks at a time, no kitchen, no sleeping quarters, no bathroom. John Berman, we'll look at how he does it. That's up next on STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

John Berman is the new anchor of "EARLY START". His first assignment, very, very tough, extreme sailing.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN HOST, "EARLY START": Yes you know it was hard. It was harder than walking the halls here, extreme hall walking here. But seriously imagine not having any human contact for three whole months. Imagine having to sail a 60-foot yacht all by yourself, not sleep more than 20 minutes, 40 minutes. The bathroom is a bucket. You can't eat any real food.

It's amazing, this man, Alex Thompson, one of the most daring and I might say dashing men I have ever met. You have to take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN (voice-over): It takes an unusual sort of person to stand all alone on the teetering keel of a giant yacht racing through the open seas. But then Alex Thompson is admittedly an unusual sort of guy.

ALEX THOMPSON, SAILOR: I'm a single-handed round the world sailor.

BERMAN (on camera): What does that mean?

THOMPSON: It means that I take a boat like this, and I start races which start somewhere in Europe, generally in France, and you come out of France, you hang a left, down the bottom left to Africa, around Antarctica, left at America, and back to France again, no stopping.

When you put it in perspective, something like 3,000 people have now climbed Mt. Everest. More than 500 people have been in outer space. But less than 100 people have sailed single-handed nonstop around the world.

BERMAN: The keel walking and YouTube sensation is just a hobby for Alex. The 38-year-old Brit is gearing up for the Von De Globe the premiere solo round the world yacht race which takes place every four years. It's his third try. The first two, he didn't finish.

THOMPSON: I think you have to be a certain type of person. You know, when you're out there on your own, in the ocean, where I'm going to spend five weeks in probably wind-chill factors of minus 20 on my own, there's no one to help you, and your brain is telling you you're going to die. And you've got to be able to control that emotion. You've got to be able to sleep, you've got to be able to eat, you've got to be able to do your jobs and sail the boat. And that takes some mental strength or some mental instability.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: You know and it is so hard to pilot one of these boats all by yourself. But -- but Alex says the hardest part is mental. He sees a sports psychologist whenever he's on land to help him get through this incredibly difficult times all alone in that boat.

O'BRIEN: Wow, what motivates him? I mean, why would he want to do that? And by the way, he is very dashing.

BERMAN: I told you, I promised you dashing. I delivered.

O'BRIEN: You promised dashing and you did deliver, yes.

BERMAN: You know he said he didn't try sailing until relatively late in life. He wasn't racing until he was 21 years old, but as soon as he started he would run to the boat every day. He just loves it.

O'BRIEN: Wow, that's amazing. So what are his chances in winning this? BERMAN: No Brit has ever won it. It's always a Frenchman who'd win this. He's tried twice already and failed. One time came very close to death. His keel broke and he was rescued by one of his competitors.

You are live blogging. And everybody can ask you any question they want.

BERMAN: Anything -- ask me anything. CNN.com/EarlyStart --

O'BRIEN: I'm going to get on that.

BERMAN: I know. I expect some good questions Will Cain. So we'll be there to do that at noon.

O'BRIEN: John Berman, thank you. That is an interesting piece there.

All right. "End Point" is next. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Time for "End Point". We only have time for one. Who wants to take it.

HILL: I will take it on behalf of Trayvon Martin. Do not let the Trayvon Martin -- excuse me, the George Zimmerman infomercial from last night, that ridiculously softball interview, convince us that George Zimmerman might be a person worthy of our sympathy.

He lied. You mentioned earlier about his humility. He lied with humility. He talked about not having any money with humility. He sat in the courtroom and said that he didn't have any source of income with humility. I don't care that he's quiet. I don't care that he's docile. To me, he's a killer.

O'BRIEN: The bigger question is what's the impact of this kind of a comment -- I mean later on the trial, what happens? We have to take a break.

(inaudible) up tomorrow on STARTING POINT, CNN exclusive. We're going to talk to three Olympic stars who are chasing the gold in London this summer. Maya Moore, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony. That's tomorrow.

Time for "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello right now.