Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Same Sex Marriage Cases; Morsi Backing Down

Aired December 8, 2012 - 16:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: It is the top of the hour and you're in the CNN NEWSROOM, thank you for joining us, I'm Joe Johns in for Fredricka Whitfield.

A suspected terrorist detained in Egypt is being closely looked at by U.S. authority to trying to determine if he played a role in the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Muhammad Jamal Abu Ahmed was detained by Egyptian authorities. He has been released from prison there after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak's regime.

Our Susan Candiotti is live in New York. Susan, what do we know right now about the arrest of this alleged terror suspect?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Joe, we're hearing that Mohammad Jamal Abu-Akmed was picked up a couple of week ago in Egypt. And U.S. authorities suspect he may have played a role in the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. That of course killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans, all of this according to a U.S. official with knowledge of the investigation. And the U.S. source tells me that the FBI, which of course, is conducting the investigation, has not yet had access to Abu Akhmed. Now the source said that following the attack Abu Akmed very quickly popped up on their radar. So they have been looking at him for some time. The official would not comment on what led them to him, Joe.

JOHNS: Now, what do we know about the guy?

CANDIOTTI: Well, not all that much, but we do know, you know, in some respects, quite a bit that he is considered a radical jihadist, 45 years old, a master's degree in Sharia law. He is also believed to be the driving force behind a brand new terror cell, a group that is seeking to align itself with Al-Qaeda, according to a U.S. and an Egyptian official. Now, the Egyptian official says that Abu Akmed has denied any connection to the attack on the U.S. consulate, or for the matter affiliation with Al-Qaeda. He is also believed to be connected to a heavily armed terror cell that was raided in October in Egypt, at that time five people were arrested, Joe.

JOHNS: He is not the only suspect in this, and the question really is whether the FBI is making progress with other suspects, as well.

CANDIOTTI: Well, according to our sources they are covering a lot of ground, but how far they are getting, of course, we still do not know. We do know this, however that the FBI hoped to question, for example, a Tunisian suspect by the name of Ali Ani Al Harsi. But after finally getting access to him, Al Harsi refused to speak. So that is just one suspect, Abu Akhmed is of course another. And we don't know the role that five others in that particular terror cell in Egypt may have played in all of this.

JOHNS: Susan Candiotti in New York, thanks, as always for great reporting.

And we should get more information about the Benghazi attack when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies at an open congressional hearing. Her testimony will follow the release of a report by the State Department's accountability review board. The State Department has been under fire for its handling of the terror attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya.

Same-sex couples are finally getting their day in court at the U.S. Supreme court. The justices have decided to hear two constitutional challenges. One case involves the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex marriages couples who are legally married in their own state. The other is a challenge to California's Proposition 8, which took away the right of same-sex marriage that had previously been approved by the courts.

The Supreme Court will also look into the constitutionality of California's controversial ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8. Striking it down could have an immediate impact on gay spouses currently denied benefits. CNN's Casey Wian introduces us to one California couple that has a lot riding on this issue.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): November 1st, 2008, was the most important day of Tracy Harris and Maggie Cooper's life. Their union, blessed by a state court ruling legalizing same-sex marriage.

(on camera): Did you think that four years later you would be fighting a legal battle for the rights that other married couples enjoy?

MAGGIE COOPER-HARRIS: On that particular day, that was not really on our mind.

WIAN (voice-over): Three days later, Californians voted to out law future same-sex marriages, their union is still recognized by the state, but not by the federal government. Tracy served as a 12-year, highly decorated army veteran.

TRACY COOPER- HARRIS (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Especially after the repeal of "Don't ask, don't tell," there are other veterans that are coming up behind us that are going to be facing, you know, the same issues.

WIAN: For them, the immediate issue was spousal disability benefits for which Maggie is ineligible.

MAGGIE COOPER-HARRIS: I look forward to the time when it is a fully recognized marriage in the eyes of the federal government, and that we don't have to worry about burdens that are going on in our daily lives.

WIAN: Burdens such as Tracy's recent diagnosis, multiple sclerosis, which the Veteran's Administration has determined is related to her military service during wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They're suing the federal government.

(on camera): Tell me what you're hoping to accomplish in this lawsuit?

TRACY COOPER-HARRIS: Long story short, I just want to make sure if and when something does happen to me, if any of service connected issues get worse, I get really sick or incapacitated that Maggie is provided for.

WIAN (voice-over): Unless the federal government recognizes same-sex marriages, Maggie won't be eligible for about $1,200 in monthly survivor benefits if Tracy dies. They also can't be buried together in a military cemetery. The Justice Department would not comment on the Cooper-Harris' case, because it is in litigation.

MAGGIE COOPER-HARRIS: There is an in justice and we figured we would try to do what we can to try and fix it.

TRACY COOPER-HARRIS: You have so much love for a person, you want to build a family with them, you want to have that with them. And I can't think of anything better. So you know, this is a good civil rights fight.

WIAN: Casey Wian, CNN, Pasadena, California.


JOHNS: The Egyptian president may be ready to make some concessions. We'll have a live report from Cairo, after the break.


JOHNS: New details about those talks in Egypt that could restore peace after deadly protests. An Egyptian attorney says President Morsi is willing to "change and amend" clauses in the constitutional decree. I want to go straight now to Reza Sayah in Cairo.

Reza, many Egyptians say Morsi has given himself too much power. They want a democracy. Is he backing down?

REZA SAYAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Joe, it is much too early to figure out exactly what this statement means. But for the second night in a row, we've seen moves by President Morsi that could be viewed as concessions by the opposition, and may be signs that he is caving to pressure.

Let's give you a brief background and explain to you what happened tonight. You'll recall last month, President Morsi announced a set of decrees that gave him additional powers and made him immune from the judiciary. Those were the decrees that really set off this conflict.

Tonight according to an official who was at the palace inside some meetings, the president is now willing to amend one of those controversial decrees, and that is Article six, which essentially says the president may take necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution.

It is a seemingly vague article that essentially says the president can do whatever he wants. And now, apparently, the president is willing to amend that article. And you will recall last night the president made a statement saying he is willing to postpone the nationwide referendum on the draft constitution that is scheduled next Saturday, December 15th.

No official statement from the president's office yet. We're expecting something either tonight - it is about 11:00 local time, or tomorrow. But these are signs, Joe, that maybe the president is reaching out in an effort to make a compromise. But there is so much mistrust between these two sides, some supporters of the opposition already calling these moves by the president some sort of plot or some sort of ruse, Joe?

JOHNS: Very interesting stuff out of Cairo, Thank you so much for that, Reza Sayah.

Some of the indications are that perhaps the Egyptian president is backing away from his earlier stand.

George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin says NBC News made him look like a racist. Coming up, find out if this case is going anywhere. Our legal guys weigh in.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. This week on "The Next List," architect, designer, scientist and artist, Mary Oxman. Her muse is nature, and her medium is the 3-D printer.

MARY OXMAN, ARTIST: We are here tonight at the Centre Pompidou for the opening of a show that's called (INAUDIBLE), my contribution to the show is called "Imaginary Beings, The Mythologies of Not Yet."

So the show is really a victory of those mythical beings that are designed around the human body. (INAUDIBLE) Perhaps one day that will turn into buildings. So there is a helmet series that explores shock absorbing helmets. There is a corset that allows for you to be protected, so the stiff armor - and all of these imaginary beings were 3-D printed.

GUPTA: Mary Oxman, the artist and the architect, this Sunday on "The Next List."


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: Coming up, the man who shot and killed a teenager in Florida sues a major television network. The legal guys weigh in on George Zimmerman. Richard?

RICHARD HERMAN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Joe, when a news agency intentionally distorts the news for ratings, they're going to have the pay. See you.

JOHNS: Avery?


JOHNS: Avery?

AVERY FRIEDMAN, : Look, the bottom line here is defamation actions against media. Very difficult to prove. I think the answer is going to be a real surprise coming up.

JOHNS: All right. Guys, back in less than two minutes.


JOHNS: George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin back in February in Sanford, Florida, is suing NBC Universal over an edited 911 call he claims made him sound racist. Here's what Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara had to say.


MARK O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: And I think what they tried to do was to get ahead of the curve coverage, thinking that they had themselves a person who was a racist. And they were wrong. But I think what they did was they cut a lot of corners, to try and beat the rest of the media to it. And maybe had they been right they would have gotten away with it. But they were wrong.


JOHNS: Our legal guys are back now, Avery Friedman in Cleveland, and Richard Herman, in Las Vegas, Richard, I want to start with you. So what kind of problem does NBC Universal have here? Is this what they call false light?

HERMAN: Well, I tell you, when a news agency intentionally distorts news for ratings, they have got a problem. And I believe in this particular instance, it is crystal clear that NBC distorted the news package on Zimmerman. They took snippets of a recordings and made - just used those pieces to make him look like a racist. Because again, the ratings were falling in the garbage, they wanted to get ratings. They wanted to come out with this racist argument here. They got caught with their hands in the cookie jar. The right thing was to bring a defamation case against them and I think they're going to pay. They already fired two of their local news reporters because of this and it's not going to end there. They are going to pay him big bucks for this, a big mistake. JOHNS: Avery, the one question I have in all of this is this has been out there for a while. And you would think there would have been efforts to settle before they even filed a lawsuit. Do you think there is somebody on one side or the other just saying "I am not going to settle"?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know what> It may be a cardinal journalistic sin, Joe, but when it comes to issues of defamation and news media and first amendment, I think these are nuance and complicated cases. I mean it is very troubling to see that when a journalist asks someone or was Trayvon Martin, black or white, and then he says, well he was black and they knock out the question, clearly, there is a false light style issue.

HERMAN: Exactly.

FRIEDMAN: And that rings defamation but the bottom line is that I think there are other issues that factor into it. I think NBC Universal Media has a problem with this. They did the right thing of getting rid of the editors, but I'm not convinced that they're going to prevail on defamation.

JOHNS: One of the questions I had here when I looked at this thing pretty closely, is whether or not Zimmerman is essentially a public figure or not, do you think that plays into it? Do we have a question as to whether he's a public figure or whether there was a question of an absence of malice that could make a difference in this kind of case? Richard?

HERMAN: Yes, look, that is a very astute observation, and let's face it, Joe, as Avery will agree, defamation cases are very, very difficult to prove in the United States. However, in this instance, if he is deemed a public figure, you can still go to the next level and claim there was malice here. They had the facts in front of them, they intentionally broke it down to make him look like a racist. This is horrible what they did. And you know, and we see news agencies that are supposed to be objective. Subjective. That distorts the news and here they took it a step further and tried to do it for ratings and they got caught. I'm telling you they have to settle this case.

JOHNS: Avery get in there.

FRIEDMAN: Yes, very quickly, if it were Judge Joe Johns, I think he nailed the issue. The fact is that George Zimmerman is a public figure, the fact is they have to show beyond malice here. And the bottom line is that a great deal of information was out there anyhow. I think it is a tough case to prevail in. I think George Zimmerman is going to have a very difficult time winning this case.

JOHNS: Avery Friedman and Richard Herman, thanks so much. Always good to see you guys.

We're just learning that Dallas Cowboy's lineman Jerry Brown has been killed in a single car accident involving a teammate. Police say Brown was in the passenger seat of a car that hit a curb and flipped over in the Dallas area this morning.

Police have arrested the driver, Cowboys player, Joshua Brent on suspicion of intoxication, manslaughter. Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones says "the organization is deeply saddened by this news of this accident and the passing of Jerry Brown. At this time, our hearts and prayers and deepest sympathies are with the members of Jerry's family and all of those who knew him and loved him."

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) JOHNS: Coming up in less than five minutes, "Sanjay Gupta MD," here is a sneak peek of what he is working on for his show.

GUPTA: Thanks.

I am going to be talking to actor, Frankie Muniz. He just had a stroke. He is only 27 years old.

Also, there's this new psychiatric diagnosis, just came out, hoarding. Those people who find themselves overwhelmed by clutter. All that's coming up at 4:30 Eastern.

JOHNS: What are you? It's a question many people answer many ways. But for some who are mixed race heritage, the answer almost always comes down to race and skin color. Soledad O'Brien brings us a story of a couple of girls whose racial ambiguity causes others to constantly question their race and who they are.



NAYO JONES, HIGH SCHOOL SENIOR: If I had like a word to describe me, it would most likely be quirky. I am in a band. We do like progressive alternative rock, kind of. At first, when people meet me, they don't really know what I am. People will ask me like, what are you?

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Seventeen-year-old Nayo Jones is a singer, a talented poet, a high school senior. But that is not what people want to know.

JONES: Recently after I had one of those experience, I just started like writing things. And then I was like, you know thought this deals with the same things, let's make it a group piece.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What is it you want to do?

I don't know, pick a book, and pick a poem.

O'BRIEN: (INAUDIBLE) is Nayo's best friend. They do spoken word poetry together.

JONES: It starts off, girl, you are so pretty, what are you. The quintessential question for a girl with soft, kinky curls and a frizz that doesn't seem to quit because answering human simply isn't enough for them. They can't handle my racially ambiguous figure. They itch to know just what I am. It helps them sleep at night if they can just pin down the reason for my (INAUDIBLE) gold, burned-potato skin.

O'BRIEN: The young women are being asked to categorize themselves racially.


O'BRIEN: In a country that historically puts people in one of two boxes. Black or white.

(on camera); Can you decide if you're black or white?

BECCA KHALIL, PHILADELPHIA YOUTH POETRY MOVEMENT: I don't think anybody else gets to pick for me.

JONES: When it comes down to it, it is what I say about myself that is the most important.


JONES: CNN's Soledad O'Brien examines provocative questions about skin color, discrimination and race. "Who is Black in America"? The documentary premiers tomorrow, Sunday, December 9t, at 8:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Now, here is what is trending on line, Newark, New Jersey Mayor Cory Booker thought by many to be a U.S. Senate candidate in 2014 is now living off of food stamps. He told Piers Morgan that his living by example is causing some major hunger pangs.


CORY BOOKER, NEWARK, NEW JERSEY MAYOR: It is a little more difficult than I would imagine, I thought I would be good on eating on a budget, so I started out not really marshalling my food well so I'm really cutting back now. The biggest thing for me is people have to understand, this going out and getting this cup of coffee at Starbucks will wipe out your entire allowance for a day. And as a guy who has admittedly caffeine addicted as I'm not going through a bit of a withdrawal, that's one of the bigger challenges I'm facing right now.

PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: You having no caffeine at all?

BOOKER: No, because I can't afford it on a budget.


JOHNS: The best selling "50 Shades of Grey," has turned into green for the publisher's employees. Random House says workers will get an extra money $5,000 in their check next week. The bonus was announced this week at the company's corporate Christmas party. The "50 Shades" series has topped the best seller's list for weeks and that's what's trending on the web right now. And we're learning that Dallas Cowboys lineman Jerry Brown has been killed in a single car accident involving a teammate. Police say Brown was in the passenger seat of a vehicle that hit a curb and flipped over in the Dallas area early this morning. Police have arrested the driver, Cowboys player, Joshua Brent, on suspicion of intoxication manslaughter. More on this developing story with Don Lemon at the top of the hour.

That will do it for me, CNN NEWSROOM continues at the top of the hour with Don Lemon. First, Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at the issue of hoarding. This problem is now considered a specific mental illness, "SANJAY GUPTA MD" starts right now.