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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Zimmerman In Court Today; Dire Warning for Lady Liberty; Boston, Six Weeks Later; Obama's Best Laid Plans; What Your Pizza Guy Isn't Telling You

Aired May 28, 2013 - 05:30   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: New demands from an accused murder. Why the man accused of killing Trayvon Martin thinks his trial should be delayed and what he doesn't want the jury to hear.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Scare in the air, as a passenger plane and helicopter nearly collide.

BERMAN: Plague by controversy, President Obama's second term agenda in jeopardy. What is the White House doing behind closed doors to fend off lame duck status?

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 30 minutes past the hour.

With two weeks to go before his murder trial is set to begin, George Zimmerman will be back in a Florida courtroom today. His attorneys are expected to ask Judge Debra Nelson to delay the trial and will also request jurors be allowed to visit the scene where Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin last year.

They also want to block testimony from an audio expert who says he heard Martin begging for his life in the background of a 911 call. More now from CNN's David Mattingly.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): February 26, 2012, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin buys some Skittles and a bottle of iced tea, walks toward a condo where he's staying with his dad. That's when he catches the attention of neighborhood watch volunteer, George Zimmerman. It's not long before a wave of frantic calls to 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So, you think he's yelling help?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right. What is your --

(GUNSHOT)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just heard gunshots?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Just one.

MATTINGLY: Just one shot to the heart ending the life of Trayvon Martin. A bloodied and bruised George Zimmerman tells police it was self-defense. Zimmerman is not arrested. Florida law allows people to use force in self-defense, the stand your ground law. A fire storm of protest descends on Sanford.

(CHANTING) Justice for Trayvon! Justice for Trayvon!

MATTINGLY: Forty-four days after he shoots and kills Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder.

(on-camera): since getting out on a million dollar bond, Zimmerman's sightings have been few and far between. His attorney says that he fears for his safety and never ventures out in public without a disguise and always wears body armor.

(voice-over): Each time he shows up in court, his weight gain is astonishing. Zimmerman's attorney says he's put on 120 pounds. Prosecutors may try to portray him as a profiler and killer. Zimmerman's defense is building its own profile of Trayvon Martin as a troubled youth. No stranger to pot, guns, and fighting.

MARK O'MARA, ZIMMERMAN DEFENSE AGENCY: He's very used to fighting, that he has used some drugs in the past, and again, many 17-year-olds have, but then he has as well.

MATTINGLY: Will a jury be allowed to see the images of Trayvon Martin? Prosecutors will argue against it, one of the many pretrial issues looming in an already contentious case.

David Mattingly, CNN, Sanford, Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Our thanks to David for that.

An Arizona man who allegedly tried to open an emergency exit door during an Air Alaska flight will make his first court appearance today. Witnesses say 23-year-old Alexander Herrera (ph) he began making bizarre comments and tried to pry open an exit door as their flight approached to runway at Portland International Airport yesterday. It did not take long for passengers to spring into action.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HENRY PIGNATARO, PASSENGER: I put him in a choke hold and kind of went up over the seat a bit and brought him down to the ground. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Passengers tied Herrera with shoelaces and seatbelts. The flight landed safely. Herrera's father tells CNN affiliate, KGW, that his son has a history of mental illness.

ROMANS: This morning, new information about a scare in the air. The FAA reporting a close call between a passenger plane and a military helicopter near Reagan National Airport. We get the details this morning from CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just how close to the regional passenger plane come to hitting a military helicopter in the skies over Washington? Listen to the plane's pilot on air traffic controller's audio tape minutes after the incident.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They had a helicopter right there, and we nearly collided with it.

TODD: The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the close call which occurred this past Friday afternoon. A U.S. Airways flight operated by republic airlines with 73 people on board was approaching Reagan National Airport from the south toward runway 33. A military helicopter based at nearby Andrews Air Force Base was in the air, flying toward the incoming plane.

At one point, the two aircraft were at the same altitude about 400 feet off the ground. Air traffic controllers warned that the chopper pilot going by the handle Mussel 9 at least three times.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mussel 9, make a right 360. There's an Embraer jet on two-mile final for runway 3-3 reporting in sight. Mussel 9, you have that traffic in sight, for runway 33? Mussel 9, maintain visual separation from that traffic and pass behind that traffic.

TODD: After the republic air's collision avoidance system sounded, the passenger jet circled around and landed safely a few minutes later. The helicopter also landed safely.

(on-camera) At their closest point, the plane and the helicopter came within 940 feet of each other at the same altitude. Not far from where it happened, I'm standing a football field length away from our camera. 940 feet is more than three times the distance from me to the camera.

Steve Wallace, former director of the FAA's office of investigations is with me right now next to our camera. Steve, 940 feet to the layperson seems like plenty of space. Is it plenty of space?

STEVE WALLACE, FORMER FAA INVESTIGATOR: Well, it's natural in these situations to focus on the distance between the aircraft. What's really more important is whether the situation is being actively controlled by the air traffic control in conjunction with the pilot. That was clearly the case here. TODD (voice-over): But military, police, and other helicopters are constantly flying over the Potomac River, the same general air space as commercial jets approaching and taking off from Reagan National.

(on-camera) Is this too crowded? Are there too many helicopters flying over this river or near it for it to be safe?

WALLACE: I don't think it's too crowded. It requires precise procedures consistently followed and that's what we have.

TODD: Wallace says another key factor in this situation was whether the plane's pilot and the helicopter pilot had visual contact. Did they see each other? And FAA spokeswoman says the two pilots had each other in sight.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Coming up on EARLY START, a dire warning for Lady Liberty. Have new security plans made the Statue of Liberty a prime target for a terror attack?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. A dire warning that a new security plan for the Statue of Liberty would actually leave it vulnerable to attack. Since 9/11, visitors have gone through airport-style security checks in Manhattan or Jersey City before boarding a ferry to the statue. The new product (ph) service plan would instead screen visitors on Liberty Island or nearby Ellis Island. New York Senator Chuck Schumer says it's a bad idea.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER, (D) NEW YORK: Could you imagine if airplane passengers were not screened before they boarded a plane, and instead, they were screened after the plane landed? That makes no sense. It would be unimaginable, but that's what the park service in effect is doing here with trips to the Statue of Liberty.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Park service officials say the plane does not compromise the safety of visitors or security at the State of Liberty or Ellis Island.

ROMANS: Six weeks after the bombings at the Boston marathon, life on Boylston Street is getting back to normal. Survivors are moving ahead even though they carry reminders of the attacks with them. And investigators are working on the complicated answer to one simple vexing question, why?

Here's CNN's Jason Carroll.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Federal investigators continue to focus on Tamerlan Tsarnaev's extended visit to Dagestan last year. Tsarnaev had told friends he could not relate to American culture. Did he spend six months there to reconnect with his homeland or was he trying to make contact with the Islamic militant groups? We do know he visited this mosque so did Mahmud Mansur Nidal.

Nidal later joined a militant group and was killed in a fire fight with Russian forces. Still unknown whether Tsarnaev met Nadal or any other militant. Investigators believe he and his younger brother, Dzhokhar, who wait his next court appearance in a federal prison, may have acted as so-called lone wolves. But they are still investigating Tamerlan Tsarnaev's contacts overseas and at home.

His wife, Katherine Russell (ph), according to her attorney, continues to cooperate with investigators. He says she understands the government's position and why they want information. But the constant questioning may be taking its toll. "It's very difficult. She is a young woman trying to bring up her baby without a dad and dealing with all this. The sooner all this is over, the better."

The bombing killed three people and injured 275. One remains hospitalized. Some of those released, still in rehabilitation, challenging at times for JP Norden who we first met two weeks ago.

JP NORDEN, BOMBING VICTIM: I hate going down there. When I get down there and I'm done, I feel awesome, you know?

CARROLL: JP and his brother, Paul, both lost a leg during the bombing. Jacqui Webb's injuries would have been worse had it not been for the brothers.

JACQUI WEBB, BOMBING VICTIM: They were throwing me over the barrier when it went off ultimately saving my life.

CARROLL: Weeks into the healing, shrapnel and other debris literally starting to surface.

These dots that were seen here, those are tiny pits of metal that's still in your fingers?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hmmm. And they just, you know, pull them out.

NORDEN: Last week, I had a B.B. come out right here.

CARROLL: So, this was a B.B.?

NORDEN: Yes. Right here. And you can see that this one is trying to force its way out. This one in my elbow is trying to force its way out.

CARROLL: The brothers honored at a Bruins playoff game Saturday. As for the city, Boylston Street looks normal again. But to some Bostonians, it will never be.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't feel right. I don't know. It doesn't seem real. It feels weird that it's so normal again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a place that I think will always kind of hold a special place in my heart, and it's somewhere that I think I will never forget.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, Boston.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: If you would like to contribute to the Norden Brothers' recovery, you can go to the website on your screen. It's amazing to see those BB just coming right up to the surface of your skin.

BERMAN: Literally have is your body pushes the metal (ph) overtime. It's just crazy.

Forty-three minutes after the hour right now. Ahead on EARLY START, so you've heard of air guitar, but what about brain surgery guitar. Why doctors asked this patient to solo with his head wide open? Unbelievable.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. So, grilling apparently not an option for people in Kansas City on Memorial Day. Torrential rains left cars and trucks stranded in high water. Look at that. More than an inch of rain fell in the area in less than an hour. Several thousand homes are still without power this morning, and the storm system also spawned several tornadoes in nearby Kansas.

ROMANS: Let's check in with Indra Petersons right now to see how this back to workday is shaping up, at least. Good morning.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. Yes. We're still talking about the Midwest. We've been talking about it day after day, and there's a reason for that. It is still raining in the Midwest. Take a look at the rain totals in last 48 hours. Eight to ten inches of rain. Keeping in mind that we're talking about another one to two even (Ph) as highest four into the rain today.

You can imagine the area completely inundated with rain. Definitely saturated. So, the flood watches will be up and even some flood warnings in the area with those rivers high. Another thing we're going to be talking about, speaking of rain, a warm front now pulling into the northeast. It was gorgeous yesterday and day of sunshine, but it looks like wet weather now on the way, of course, with this warm front moving in.

We're going to be talking about temperatures jumping up. Behind this warm front, we could see temperatures going up even 25 degrees higher than what we're seeing today. So, 60s today, even some 80s, low 90s, not going to be ruled out. Unfortunately, the big story remains. We keep talking about this. All this moisture is going to be pooling out of the gulf today. We're going to see that low make its way right toward the plains. And with that, look at the severe weather threat. A slight risk today, but nonetheless, look how far it extends. We're talking about 50 million of you again today looking at the severe weather threat extending anywhere from Philly all the way across the plains and even down through Texas. Now, the difference between today and tomorrow where the threat will be higher.

Today, the jet stream is not lining up perfectly, but by tomorrow, we're going to enhance that threat, unfortunately, right around the Wichita area again -- Christine and John.

ROMANS: All right --

BERMAN: Not just moisture, but ample moisture a lot of part of the east. Thanks, Indra. Appreciate it.

It is 48 minutes after the hour right now. And the best laid plans for the second term, immigration reform, the economy, gun violence. Three major issues that president intended to focus on, instead, his administration has been sidetracked by controversy. CNN White House correspondent Brianna Keilar has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Benghazi, the justice department surveillance of journalists, and the IRS. Controversies are swirling at the White House and Republicans smell blood.

REP. JOHN BOEHNER, (R) HOUSE SPEAKER: What we're seeing from this administration is an arrogance of power.

KEILAR: Three congressional hearings, so far, on the IRS targeting conservative groups seeking tax exempt status, condemnation from the president.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's inexcusable, and Americans are right to be angry about it, and I am angry about it.

KEILAR: The head of the IRS' tax exempt unit was placed on administrative leave last week.

LOIS LERNER, IRS: I have not done anything wrong.

KEILAR: After invoking her Fifth Amendment rights before Congress, the justice department launched a criminal investigation, but it's the justice department at the center of another controversy, seizing phone records from journalists at the Associated Press and phone records as well as personal e-mails from Fox News reporter, James Rosen, even though attorney general, Eric Holder, told Congress this.

ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I have ever been involved and heard of or would think would be a wise policy. KEILAR: Holder okayed justice officials seeking a search warrant to get Rosen's private e-mails, a warrant that alleged Rosen could be a possible co-conspirator. Now, the president has ordered Holder to review guidelines for investigations involving reporters and to consult with media organizations.

OBAMA: And I'm troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.

KEILAR: A conflict of interest, Republicans say.

SEN. TOM COBURN, (R) OKLAHOMA: But allowing the very person that authorized the two things that we are very aware of today, to investigate whether or not he did that appropriately is inappropriate.

KEILAR: And then, there's Benghazi. Did the administration downplay the role of terrorism in the attack in Libya that killed four people, including U.S. ambassador, Chris Stevens. Questions continue as several suspects have been identified, though, not arrested in Libya. U.S. ambassador, Thomas Pickering, co-author of an internal state department review, has agreed to brief members of Congress.

(on-camera) So, how is President Obama weathering all of this? Quite well, so far, anyway. His approval rating has held steady, likely buoyed by the improved economy. Unemployment is down to 7.5 percent, and one-third of Americans polled in a recent CNN/ORC survey said economic conditions are good, up for March and December.

Brianna Keilar, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: It's not brain surgery. Actually, it is brain surgery. A team of UCLA doctors implanting a pacemaker in Brad Carter's brain to treat hand tremors, but check this out. During the operation, the actor/musician was awake and he was playing the guitar. Strumming the chords actually helped guide the surgeons as they placed an electrode in his brain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD CARTER, PLAYED GUITAR DURING BRAIN OPERATION: My music is really important to me. So, I am hoping that this will allow me to do that, to play guitar. I'm a finger picker. I want to record. I want to perform live, again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: It's the 500th time the UCLA surgical team has performed this procedure. It's the first time that they've tweeted it and had a live stream.

BERMAN: That is so cool.

ROMANS: Isn't it? All right. Later on "Starting Point" at 8:50 eastern, we're going to talk with the UCLA neurosurgeon who led Brad Carter's operation team.

BERMAN: You hear (ph) a much different view of the whole --

(CROSSTALK)

BERMAN: All right. Fifty-two minutes after the hour, still ahead, pizza so good even the delivery guy could not resist sampling some toppings.

ROMANS: What?

BERMAN: We will show you more of this. You might not want to see it. Yikes! You're watching EARLY START.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. So, thinks your pizza delivery guy will not tell you. At the top of that list, that he's chowing on your toppings on the way over. Here's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's bad enough when you pick off the toppings from your own pizza, but when the delivery guy helps himself to your toppings using his fingers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ew! Gross!

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS: This special delivery was captured by an elevator security camera in St. Petersburg, Russia. The delivery guy took a total of eight bites, then closed up the box, straightened his outfit, and presumably made his delivery.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh! He's licking it, too.

MOOS: Viewers recognize the box as being from a chain called 2 Coast. And the chain fessed up saying, "Friends, we realize that our pizza is so tasty that even couriers cannot resist. But all the same, we decided that it was necessary to protect our clients from glutinous staff. They (ph) show to mockup of a locked up pizza that said from now on, the boxes will come seal.

(on-camera): And we're trying to figure out a better way to permanently seal their boxes. Pizza chain says it's resorting to scotch tape.

(voice-over): Some jokingly suggested a more innocent version of events.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they order no pepperoni and he was trying to quality control?

(LAUGHTER)

MOOS: The chain's idea of quality control was to fire the delivery guy. And if it isn't pizza, it's snow cones. Video of a snow cone vendor in a men's room stall at the stadium where the Houston Astros play is all over the web. The vendor was seated in a stall when a fan captured this image of his snow cones resting on the floor next to his feet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No! That's disgusting.

MOOS: Jay Leno called it, health code violation of the day. Like the pizza guy, the snow cone vendor was fired.

(on-camera): If you had to eat one or the other?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I'll have the pizza.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. I will have the pizza for sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I'd eat the snow cone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ew!

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because he had his hands in the pizza.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, but the snow cones in the bathroom.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: But it's in the Styrofoam.

MOOS: And what was the pizza guy eating? Olives? Sausage? It gives a whole new meaning to hold the peperoni. Who knew it would be a delivery guy holding it?

Jeanne Moos, CNN --

New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: And we hope you're enjoying your breakfast this morning.

(LAUGHTER)

ROMANS: EARLY START continues right now.