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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Bridge Collapse in Washington State; Mistrial in Jodi Arias Penalty Case; Obama Interrupted; Anthony Weiner is Back Again

Aired May 24, 2013 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some frightening images here. A bridge collapse is in Washington state. Three people plunge into the waters below. We have details of the rescue, and what may have caused this bridge to collapse?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Plus, a mistrial in the penalty phase of the Jodi Arias murder case. The jury could not unanimously decide if the woman who brutally killed her ex-boyfriend should live or die. And, what happens next?

BERMAN: President Obama renews his goal to close Guantanamo Bay as he delivers a much-anticipated speech on terror. He placed the blame squarely on Congress for keeping the detention facility open. Find out why.

ROMANS: And look at this video. A dramatic emergency landing at Heathrow Airport. We'll go -- wow -- live to London for the latest on that.

BERMAN: It is not supposed to look like that.

ROMANS: No, it's not. And those people were terrified.

Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Friday, May 24th.

ROMANS: All right. Our STARTING POINT this point: a bridge collapse on an interstate north of Seattle, sending cars and passengers plunging into the frigid river below, 40 feet below. There are injuries but miraculously, no fatalities.

And CNN has learned the bridge had been already classified as functionally obsolete by state transportation officials before it came crashing down. All of this unfolding last night in rural Mount Vernon, Washington, Interstate 5, an hour north of Seattle.

That's where we find Katharine Barrett live this morning. Katherine, what can you tell us?

KATHARINE BARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you said, there were injured in this, but very fortunately -- this bridge carries as many as 70,000 vehicles each day across this span. Only two vehicles fell into the water. And in these two vehicles, three people rescued fairly swiftly from very cold water and transported to local hospitalized where they are reported to be in stable condition with non-life-threatening injuries. Very, very glad to have survived what could have been a much, much worse situation certainly in terms of human toll.

Obviously, structurally terrible, and this is a main artery all the way from the Canadian boarder to the Oregon border through the state, much commerce passes this way. It's a busy holiday weekend coming up. So, having this artery severed is really going to have an impact on traffic.

There aren't very good road alternatives in this area. You can see on the bridge behind me, the whole superstructure, the steel superstructure collapsed and dragged with it the concrete base into the water. You can still see in the water there, the two cars that were -- that drove off the bridge.

One driver described what it felt like at that instance when he saw a puff of white smoke and suddenly was launched into the air. He said all he could do is grip the steering wheel tight, hit the water and next thing he knew, car was filling with water. Shoulder dislocated. Managed to pop his shoulder back in.

Pull his wife to his side of the car. She was unresponsive at that point. They were rescued relatively quickly. And he was well enough to talk about his ordeal with reporters later in the day.

Again, the human toll could have been much worse, but there are a lot of questions of exactly how this happened. As you said, the bridge has been -- had been declared functionally obsolete. But functionally obsolete does not actually mean structurally unsound. It just means out of date, and the state admits that many of its bridges need help.

ROMANS: All right. Thank you so much. Katharine Barrett for us.

BERMAN: Another major story, a lot of people are waking up to this morning. Jodi Arias avoids the death penalty for now. The jury that convicted Arias of murdering ex-boyfriend Travis Alexander was hopelessly deadlocked in whether her sentence should be life in prison or death. Now, a new panel will have to make that decision in a new penalty phase of this trial.

This morning, the foreman of the hung jury is speaking publicly for the first time.

And Casey Wian is following that for us. He's live in Phoenix. Good morning, Casey.

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You know, this jury deadlocked 8-4 in favor of the death penalty when that decision was announced yesterday afternoon. The jurors declined to speak with reporters, who had been covering this trial since its beginning. But the foreman of the jury did speak this morning with "Good Morning America," and began to give some insight as to why this jury was hopelessly deadlocked. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIAS JURY FOREMAN: I'm very sure in my own mind that she was mentally and verbally abused. Now, is that an excuse? Of course not. Does it factor into decisions we make? It has to.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Do you think she did herself any favors on the stand? There's been a lot of debate over whether those 18 days of testimony helped or hurt her?

ARIAS JURY FOREMAN: No, I think 18 days hurt her. I think she was not a good witness.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WIAN: Now, the big question going forward, has Jodi Arias done herself any favors in granting all of the television interviews she has granted over the last couple of weeks? Prosecutors will be able to bring those contradictory interviews into evidence in a new penalty phase which is scheduled to begin in July. We don't know if that's actually going to happen because one option is a potential negotiated settlement where prosecutors might take the death penalty off the table and exchange for Arias agreeing to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of release.

Very interesting developments, we're just going to have to see how this plays out, John.

BERMAN: Thanks so much, John. You know, one reason they may strike a deal like that is to spare the family and friends, the pain of having go through this again. We were talking to Nancy Grace, of course, about that earlier. He said if Travis Alexander's family were to plead and beg perhaps the court to say don't do this to us again, don't do this again, that might be a factor in causing them to perhaps not retry the penalty phase of this case.

BERMAN: And the issue here that's so interesting, as in so many aspects of Arizona's particular legal system, is that, you know, you have to have a unanimous decision either for life in prison or the death penalty. It must be unanimous.

So, you got these jurors in there who must come to a decision one way or the other. This particular jury just couldn't do it.

Now, the nightmare continuing for friends and family of Travis Alexander, the man Arias murdered,

Joining me now is Julie Christopher, a close friend of Travis. What do you make of this? What are friends and family saying about this new leg of this legal drama?

JULIE CHRISTOPHER, FRIEND OF TRAVIS ALEXANDER: You know, it's interesting, because, of course, I'm extremely upset. I'm absolutely very upset. There's no word for what's going on. You know, I made up a new word, this is a Travis-ty. It's a way that Jodi now has more time to think, to be more in front of the camera, and I think she's got what she wanted and that's what making me so upset is because, you know, she's playing with people's minds and she's got those jury.

And, you know, the subconscious mind can really turn on you and I call this a monkey mind, because when you leave with somebody or you sit with somebody for four months, you somehow -- your subconscious will play on you and maybe you convert to maybe have feelings for that person, and I really think she manipulated those poor people to the fact that they couldn't -- they didn't have a mind. They couldn't even think anymore.

And so that -- and that's like -- that's how she wanted it. She wanted to play people to the point where she's, again, on the spotlight and it's not over. And I thought for the longest time, I said this is not going to be over, you know?

BERMAN: Julie, given this, given that retrying the penalty phase might he give her another platform, you know, would you like to go through this all again for another penalty phase?

CHRISTOPHER: I mean, come on, this is just ridiculous, you know? It's like, OK. You know, stay tuned for the second, you know, like femme fatale is coming back. I mean, we're so tired of her and we need to be Travis, we need to see more of Travis, we need to see the life of Travis, and really put him more in the light, because to be honest, you know, everyone is so tired of Jodi and seeing her, and -- and, you know, and her lies. She keeps on going.

ROMANS: What do you make of her behavior? Some would say her performance over the past few weeks? The interviews, courtroom behavior -- I mean, what do you make of it?

CHRISTOPHER: You know, this is someone I sat and had lunch with. Realize, it's unbelievable.

What I make of is, she -- there is something in her that -- there are demons in her.

ROMANS: Did you ever see that? You met her before all of this. You sat and ha lunch with her. Jodi arias you see in court and these interviews, is that the Jodi arias you knew?

CHRISTOPHER: Absolutely. Cold and calculated and she -- she is going to give you what you want to see. And either she's a good actress -- I don't believe she is sick in her mind. I believe this is someone who absolutely knows what she's doing and she continues playing that role.

You know, she would -- she would shift to being the little, you know, cute girl, clean cut, into something more sexual. She plays with that. And she tricks people. She's very good at that.

And, you know, maybe a lot of people are not very centered and very grounded to see who she is, but come on, it's very obvious that she is, you know -- she's evil in my opinion. There is something about her that -- oh, she just needs to stay away, and my -- my concern that she does prison, she would still do the arts and crafts, and why not?

BERMAN: Julie Christopher, thank you so much for being with us this morning and sharing your views on this matter. We appreciate it.

ROMANS: All right. Brand new video this morning into CNN, of an emergency plane landing at Heathrow this morning. The British Airways flight, look at that, was headed to Oslo, Norway, the plane turned back because of a, quote, "technical fault." The airline not specifying beyond that, although, as you can see something is happening there on the engine.

BERMAN: Very, very wrong.

ROMANS: At least three were treated from minor injuries. The London airport says fully operational after experiencing some travel delays. So, if you're doing international business travel, please do check your flights.

BERMAN: Swift reaction this morning both for and against the Boy Scout's decision to allow openly gay boys to become scouts. The organization's national council voted Thursday to make that change. Gay rights groups praised the move but also said it does not go far enough. Some conservative groups immediately denounced it.

The ban on openly gay leaders will still stand, which is why gay right groups are not 100 percent in support of everything that's happened.

Eleven minutes after the hour. And ahead on STARTING POINT, the president renews his promise to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay and points the finger squarely at Congress for holding up the closure. So, how soon until this base, this prison, may be closed?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: President Obama has vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp during a major speech on terrorism, not exactly getting the reception he'd hoped for. Protesters repeatedly interrupted his speech.

CNN White House correspondent Dan Lothian has that story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The pressure to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay didn't let up even when President Obama was delivering his highly anticipated speech on national security.

MEDEA BENJAMIN, CO-FOUNDER, CODE PINK: You are commander in chief. You can close Guantanamo today.

LOTHIAN: Heckler Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the anti-war group, Code Pink, interrupted the president repeatedly.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Once again -- today. I'm about to address it, Ma'am, but you got to let me speak.

LOTHIAN: The president said the issues she raised are worth paying attention to, but made sure to point the finger at Congress for creating hurdles.

OBAMA: I have tried to close Gitmo. I transferred 67 detainees to other countries before Congress imposed restrictions to effectively prevent us from either transferring detainees to other countries or imprisoning them here in the United States.

LOTHIAN: The president first pledged to close Gitmo during his 2008 campaign. And again, when took office in 2009.

But it remains open, and the situation is more urgent than ever as detainees continue a hunger strike. To ease the way to closing the facility, President Obama announced he is lifting a band on detainee transfers to Yemen.

OBAMA: I know the politics are hard, but history will cast a harsh judgment on this aspect of our fight against terrorism and those of us who failed to end it.

LOTHIAN: But Republican Senator John McCain, as the president likes to remind Americans, he also supported closing Gitmo, suggested there's a lot more to it than just shutting the door.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: The administration never came up with a coherent or cohesive plan to close Guantanamo Bay. That's why it is still open. Other top Republicans labeled the administration's detainee policy a failure.

The heckler whose organization praised her in the tweet for, quote, "speaking the truth to Barack Obama", seems to want the same thing as the president, but has apparently grown tired of waiting.

BENJAMIN: I love my country. I love the rule of law.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (on-camera): Top Republicans say that they're willing to work with the president to close Gitmo, but that he needs to have a plan to make sure that detainees are kept off the battlefield once the release -- Christine.

ROMANS: Dan Lothian in Washington, this is something, of course, that has vex) this administration from the very, very beginning, from the very beginning when he promised during his first campaign that he would close it.

BERMAN: We want to bring in Candy Crowley, host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION."

And Candy, as Christine just said right there. This was not a small promise broke from President Obama or then Senator Obama. This was a big part of his 2007-2008 campaign. It didn't happen. He blamed Congress for getting in the way. What will make it easier now closing Guantanamo?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Nothing will make it easier now, except, that there is a general feeling that, at some point, they have to do something, and it isn't just the president promised in the campaign. Remember, he signed that directive within one or two days in his first term that said we're going to close Guantanamo Bay.

The problem was, nobody was in charge of doing this. It's kind of language after Congress said you can't move them to the U.S. We don't want them tried in civil court. So, there are so many different kinds of prisoners at Guantanamo. It's a small group. But some of them have been cleared to go home, but the president, himself, put a block on sending them back to Yemen, where many of them are from, because they were worried they would go back on the battlefield.

Well, now, he's lifted that. But then, there are other prisoners that have been adjudicated or the need to be adjudicated, that they do think they can take to court, and then there's third set of prisoners that they think they can't release, because they're so dangerous, but they don't have enough evidence to take to the court, either because it would compromise sources or because they got the evidence through torture.

So, you know, there are so many moving parts here. You have on top of this, this dreadful hunger strike going on. Now, they're force feeding these prisoners. So, this is kind of hit critical mass here and what Congress is saying is, what's the plan? How do you keep them off the battlefield? Tell us that. What are you going to do with the prisoners that we can't release or try?

So, they want something more specific based on what the president said yesterday.

BERMAN: You know, it's not just Congress who's saying things right now. It also appears to be the American people. You know, we polled this question. Do Americans support closing or keeping open the base in Guantanamo? And I think it's 70 percent of Americans say they approve having the prison in Cuba in Guantanamo Bay for suspected terrorists. So, the president will have to convince the American people as well.

CROWLEY: Well, and remember, George Bush, at the end of his second term, wanted to close Guantanamo Bay. This is just -- this is one of those things where the cliche works. It is so much easier said than done.

BERMAN: A lot of else in this speech. This was a major policy speech by the president. He really laid a lot out there and talked about a broad range of subjects, including drones. Really trying to put some meat on the bones and tell the American people what his drone policy really is.

CROWLEY: He did, although when -- it seemed to me there was a lot less there than met the ear. I mean, he said we're now going to -- sort of preparing for the end of the war on terror, which this administration seems to define as 2014. And that, of course, is when they expect troops -- U.S. troops to be out of Afghanistan. So then, how do you deal with these sort of associated al Qaeda groups?

The president and the White House feels that by the time the troops are pulled from Afghanistan, pretty much al Qaeda as we knew it, 11, 12 years ago, has been decimated, pretty much doesn't have the capacity to reach the U.S. So, what the president said was, listen, now we're looking at these lone wolfs. He made the statement and this upset some Republicans, that now we're back to what the terror threat was pre-9/11.

We're not looking at this large-scale hit the World Trade Center, hit the Pentagon, you know, crash a plane in Pennsylvania. We're not looking at those kinds of massive attacks. We're looking at these hard to track lone wolfs. So, he's talking about both domestic terror, but in the use of drones. He said, listen, we have to make sure almost zero percent that any civilians are killed in a drone attack, that there is some sort of imminent threat and that there's no way to go get the person.

No feasible way to get the person, which, in fact, is pretty much what they've been doing. So, in the end, this was a speech that kind of set the table, but it certainly didn't serve up a lot of specifics and I think that's now where the administration needs to go.

BERMAN: I'm sure this will be just one or several of the hot topics you will be discussing this Sunday. Do not miss "STATE OF THE UNION" this Sunday, CNN, 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time with Candy Crowley. Thanks so much, Candy, for being with us.

CROWLEY: Thanks, John.

ROMANS: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, former New York congressman, Anthony Weiner attempting a political comeback following that Twitter scandal, but his staff may need some help figuring out exactly where Weiner is running for mayor. We're going to show you a little marketing mistake, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROMANS: In this country, it seems disgraced politicians don't ride off into the sunset. They just go away for a while and they resurface and run for office again. The latest case, disgraced former New York congressman, Anthony Weiner, he's on the political comeback trail, making a bid to become the next mayor of New York two years after self-destructing. Here's CNNs Jason Carroll.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(APPLAUSE)

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thursday night's forum called meet the next mayor gave the audience a chance to see where the Democratic candidates stand on the issues. Former congressman Anthony Weiner was looking for a chance, too. A second chance at a political career.

ANTHONY WEINER, FORMER NEW YORK CONGRESSMAN: I want to look forward. And I want to make this city great and greater every single day.

CARROLL: His first day of campaigning began early Thursday in Harlem, met by a crush of media.

WEINER: I'm not blocking it, they are.

(CROSSTALK)

CARROLL: And supporters.

WEINER: Give me a hug.

CARROLL: Weiner not deterred by headlines such as this or missteps such as Pittsburgh used as a back drop on his website, later fixed. Instead, he shook every hand possible.

How do you think it went today so far?

WEINER: Well, I mean, I have a chance to tell everyone, I think it went well.

CARROLL: So far, no major endorsements for Weiner, not from any unions, not from the Clintons. Weiner's wife worked for Hillary Clinton when she was secretary of state and certainly not from fellow Democrat, New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, who slammed Weiner in front of a group of newspaper editors saying, quote, "shame on us if voters elect him."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Democratic leaders are not going to risk anything by supporting Weiner. It's not as though they don't have other very acceptable candidates.

CARROLL: A poll conducted last week shows 49 percent of New Yorkers do not want Weiner to run for mayor versus 38 percent who do. He fared worse among women, 52 percent polled saying they would not support him.

How do you overcome numbers like that as you begin your campaign?

WEINER: I, frankly, have been given the courage by so many people say they're prepared to give me a second chance.

This was my neighborhood growing up.

CARROLL: Weiner posted a video declaring his mayoral overnight Tuesday. It features his wife, Huma, and shows Weiner as the family man who cares about the middle class. No direct mention of the sexting scandal that led to his resignation, but there was this.

WEINER: Look, I made some big mistakes, and I know I let a lot of people down. But I've also learned some tough lessons.

CARROLL (on-camera): Despite the lack of endorsements, Weiner has still managed to raise some $5 million for his campaign, and, a recent poll also shows him placing second in the eight-candidate field for mayor.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: All right. Ahead on STARTING POINT, just days after that tornado killed seven students, a touching reunion at Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Oklahoma. We're going to show you what happened.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)