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PIERS MORGAN LIVE

Trayvon Martin Case; Tracking Extreme Weather; National Spelling Bee Has Changed Rules to Require Contestants to Define Words in Addition to Finding Correct Spelling

Aired May 28, 2013 - 21:00   ET

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


PIERS MORGAN, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. Tonight, breaking news. New tornadoes in several locations. We'll bring you news on that.

But now to the big courtroom drama of the day. A Florida judge ruled today that allegations in Trayvon Martin's marijuana use and history of fights cannot be brought up in opening arguments in George Zimmerman's murder trial which begins on June 10th.

Martin was 17 years old and unarmed when he was shot and killed by Zimmerman last year. Mark O'Mara represents George Zimmerman and he joins me now exclusively.

Mark, good to have you back.

MARK O'MARA, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Good evening. Great to see you again.

MORGAN: On the face of it it's being billed as a pretty bad day for you guys on the defense because almost all the stuff that you wanted to be admissible was ruled out. How do you see it?

O'MARA: Well, I didn't see it that way at all. I'm not just trying to look for a silver lining. My intent was that we try this case on the five or six minutes it happened way back then on February 26th, and I recall saying that to you, Piers, the first time we got together and talked.

The intent was that we want to make sure that the information that's available to us, we have, and it doesn't need to be said in opening and it shouldn't be said in opening, and only will be used if the state presents their case in such a way that we have to respond with some of that evidence. My hope is none of it gets anywhere near a courtroom but that's only if the state plays by the rules that they're supposed to play by.

MORGAN: And tell me this. I mean, what is the relevance, really, of whether Trayvon Martin had, you know, been in an aggressive mood, whether he took pot, whether he was photographed with guns on his Facebook page or whatever. What is the material relevance really to what happened as you say in the crucial six, seven minutes?

O'MARA: Well, if in fact his history is relevant, if the state makes it such that it's relevant, we have to look at the fact that he was on pot and we know that he had at least enough in his system that the state experts suggest that there could have been impairment. There are studies out there that say in young males particularly pot use or withdrawal from pot use can lead to aggression.

So these things could become relevant as far as him having a hand on a gun, that could become relevant because as we know, part of the evidence is that he may have seen the gun and even gone for it. So that could become relevant according to how the state presents the case.

Again, we are going to be reactive, not proactive. You might recall from the hearing today, I was the first one to say, Judge, let us limit ourselves in opening, because as long as the state is limited and the defense is limited in opening, then the judge gets to decide what's relevant and when it should come in. And that's got to be a dynamic decision that's made only as the evidence unfolds.

MORGAN: I mean, one of the crucial things I guess for you guys is going to be the jury selection. Because I would imagine this is going to be a hugely emotive case. We know that already. And those members of this jury are going to have huge burden on them, I think, right across America to make the right decision. How are you viewing that process?

O'MARA: Well, that's why I asked for an anonymous jury. I'm very concerned that the jury is in fact going to be impacted by the social pressures that have been placed on the case. I'm very concerned about that. Benny Crump who I know is going to be on in a minute has suggested that this is the civil rights case of the century.

I just have to disagree with him fully. This is a self-defense case that happened in a few minutes with the intersection of two people.

My fear is this. If in fact a jury looks at this case and says George Zimmerman acted appropriately in self-defense, if they make that decision, is that truly a loss of civil rights and if so, someone needs to explain to me how.

MORGAN: In terms of George Zimmerman himself, the latest pictures of him in court, he looked to have put on a huge amount of weight, he looked under great stress. Describe to me his physical and mental condition right now.

O'MARA: He is facing a prosecution where they're trying to put him in prison for life for an event that he believes he acted reasonably and in the only way that he could. And he is in hiding because he can't go out in public. He's gained an enormous amount of weight, over 120, 125 pounds, I think, because he's sitting in a house stressed trying to deal with the moniker that's been put on him that he's the most hated man in America for taking the life of somebody when he really feels that he need to.

Nobody takes the life of another lightly and neither does George. And it's obviously showing in the stress and the way he handles it with enormous amount of weight gain. MORGAN: Do you think, Mark O'Mara, that we're ever going to really know what happened, and if we don't know the answer to that question, is it likely to be a tinderbox whatever verdict comes in?

O'MARA: There is somebody I think it was on your program, Piers, who said a long time ago that no matter how this case ends up, it's not going to end well for America. He was a defense attorney out of New York. And I said to you off air that I am very concerned that that's exactly what's going to happen.

I think that no one who doesn't want to believe in the jury system and the criminal justice system will be happy with the results one way or the other. I think the evidence is going to be such that we will know most of what happened that night, because we have the forensic evidence, I won't go over it all, but we have a lot of forensic evidence and people seem to really want to find out some magical formula that suggests that it just wasn't Trayvon Martin's fault because they don't want to suggest that a 17-year-old could have caused his own death.

But those who want that as a result will never accept an acquittal and those who believe that George acted in absolute self-defense will never accept a conviction. My fear is that the very thing that Ben Crump says he wants which is this is a civil rights matter that we should talk about, if we're not careful, we're just going to go to opposite ends of the country and never talk about an event that we need to talk about.

MORGAN: Mark O'Mara, thank you for joining me.

O'MARA: Good to be here.

MORGAN: I want to turn to the other side of the story, Benjamin Crump, an attorney for Trayvon Martin's family.

Benjamin, welcome back to the show. You heard there what Mark O'Mara had to say. He name checked you several times. What is your reaction to George Zimmerman's attorney's comments?

BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY FOR TRAYVON MARTIN'S FAMILY: Well, first of all, I'll say Attorney O'Mara is not being intellectually honest if he doesn't denote the racial undertones in this case.

This is a civil rights/equal justice case, Piers. It is the whole world watching to see if everybody in America can get equal justice. Over two million people signed a petition that said George Zimmerman should be arrested for killing an unarmed teenager. There were protests and rallies all over the country, in fact, all over the world that said you cannot send this irresponsible message that you can shoot an unarmed teenager and not even be arrested, go home and sleep in your bed that night.

And so there's a big element of civil rights in this matter. The police didn't even do a drug and alcohol analysis on self-confessed killer of an unarmed kid. They didn't even do a background check. They took his word as the gospel. They didn't knock on doors to see if this was somebody's kid. They just assumed what George Zimmerman's stereotypical belief was that this was a criminal, these A-holes always get away.

That's the objective evidence in this case. And so we understand it's a criminal case but it's far more reaching than that. If this is just about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman and we don't have a greater battle, then we've all lost the opportunity.

MORGAN: I mean, that's certainly true but it's also true that it might be dangerous if this simply becomes a civil rights trial in the sense that it may have had in the end, and we haven't seen all the evidence, nothing to do with racial profiling by George Zimmerman and much more to do with what many believe to be the crazy "Stand Your Ground" law in Florida.

And that is why the authorities from the police onwards acted in the way that they did, not because Trayvon Martin was a young black man.

CRUMP: Well, Piers, we believe that if the shoe was on the other foot, Trayvon Martin could have said he was standing his ground, could have said self-defense, he could have said anything he wanted to say that night, the police would have arrested him. The police would have took him to jail. He would not have went home. And so that's the issue.

And I want to say one other thing. Attorney O'Mara talked about his client's state of mind and the fact that he's depressed and gaining weight. Well, imagine Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. What they have to endure. Their child is dead. He's never coming back. Sabrina has lost a tremendous amount of weight. I would submit to you that she's undergoing more emotional loss than George Zimmerman is.

MORGAN: That, I'm -- I am certain is true. That's an irrefutable fact and will of course be at the center of this trial.

Let me ask you the question I asked Mark O'Mara which is about the jury selection process. It seems to me this is going to be pretty crucial to how this trial plays out. What is your view of how this process should play out?

CRUMP: Well, I don't think Attorney O'Mara and the defense team helped the matter by releasing all those photographs and these text messages that they knew were going to be inadmissible. I think it was a strategy to pollute and persuade this jury pool and that's not right.

I think that we need this trial to be very transparent, to be very fair so everybody can accept the verdict when it's returned. Trayvon's parents have asked from the very beginning that all they wanted to do was make the killer of their unarmed son come to court and face the evidence against him so they could have their constitutional rights, and that's all they've asked for.

And when they waive their "Stand Your Ground" pretrial immunity here, then the protesters will validate it and say that it should go to court, it should be a matter that comes before a jury of George Zimmerman, Piers.

And finally what you said -- asked, Piers, we believe in the jury system. We believe that if the jury is honest with the judge and say they can be fair and base their verdict on the evidence that's presented in the court on her instructions, then they will arrive at the right verdict and everyone has to accept the rule of law.

MORGAN: Benjamin, just wait there one second because Mark O'Mara has been listening to this and actually does want to say something by way of response.

Mark, you're still with me. And you want something to say?

O'MARA: Well, very briefly, a year ago I had a conversation with Ben Crump and I told him that he needed to be very careful putting Trayvon Martin on such a high pedestal because he's really just a 17-year-old that comes to the table with whatever he came with, and now a year later they suggest that what we did to put out the evidence that the family and Mr. Crump was aware of for the whole past year, they knew who their son is, they know who he was, they knew about the suspensions, they knew about the charges, they knew about all that.

To suggest now that it's our fault by following the discovery rules that says, if I don't do my job, as a criminal defense attorney, and present that information to the state that I can never use it. Talk about being intellectually dishonest. That's just --

CRUMP: OK.

MORGAN: OK.

O'MARA: If Mr. Crump has tried a defense case, he knows what he has to do.

MORGAN: Mark, I have to leave it there.

O'MARA: Yes.

MORGAN: But last word from you, Benjamin. Quick response, please.

CRUMP: Absolutely. One of the things when we are lawyers, we know the rules of evidence. We know what's admissible and not going to be allowed in. It was not admissible. It was irrelevant. It was not Brady rule evidence. It did nothing to support George Zimmerman's guilt or innocence. It was done solely to try to persuade the jury and influence them.

MORGAN: OK. Well, it's clearly going to be a very contentious trial.

Thank you both, gentlemen, Mark O'Mara and Benjamin Crump, for joining me. I appreciate it.

O'MARA: Thank you, Piers.

MORGAN: And now we go to our breaking news. More tornadoes across the Midwest. Joining me is storm chaser Reed Timmer. Reed, what can you tell me?

REED TIMMER, STORM CHASER: Monster tornado, I'd say at least a half mile wide and the city of Salina definitely dodged a bullet. I haven't seen this happen in a long time. This storm was moving due west, east to west. Normally they move southwest to northeast. Very violent tornado. We tried to intercept, we actually forced -- we actually were forced into an intercept position with our armored vehicle and this bike and I launched two scientific probes into the tornado that are probably about two miles down the road but we have blocked power poles.

And I haven't heard reports of damage but if anything was in the path of this tornado, it was likely not a good situation. It's one of the strongest tornadoes I've seen, probably a half mile, mile wide, and it became quickly wrapped in rain and right now we're just stuck in the mud again, just like we were yesterday out in the west -- yesterday in northern Kansas.

So tornado season is definitely in full effect. And tomorrow looks like a substantial outbreak from Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, even further north.

MORGAN: And, Reed, just tell me again exactly where you are right now.

TIMMER: Right now we are just northwest of Salina. I believe near the town of Bennington, correct? Yes. I believe that we're just -- we're actually on, I believe, State Route 18 just northwest of Salina. So we spent the night in Salina and watched this storm develop just toward southwest, quickly had a wall cloud and the storm went from just a little puffy cumulus cloud to having a massive probably half- mile wide tornado on the ground, about a half hour, 45 minutes, it was that quick.

MORGAN: And Reed, finally, I have a question. I was promoting this for later but for the "Dear Piers" section where I answer tweets from people watching the show. Someone has already tweeted in, though. I want to put this to you. I've always wanted to know, says Dan Black UK, that his Twitter handle, how do storm chasers become insured?

And that is a very good question.

TIMMER: Well, I don't even get health insurance. I have trouble with the little things, you know, like paying my bills and getting enough toilet paper and stuff for my house because I'm always on the road. And -- so yes, but we were -- we have umbrella insurance and all these armored vehicles. And we always trust in the engineering of the vehicles to keep us anchored to the ground and, you know, storm chasers are more than just -- we're trying to save lives.

That's our number one priority is to relay the ground truth, relay what's happening under the storm to keep these people safe and our second priority is for science. I've been going to school for 16 years, I'm working on my PhD. Hopefully I'm 33 years old and hopefully I'll finish it here this summer but you eventually (INAUDIBLE) right down the road here could have very valuable scientific data. We have measured pressure under radar five times a second and took us direct, hit right inside that tornado and I just hope that nobody lost their lives from this tornado because it was very violent and I really hope that it stayed in the middle of nowhere.

MORGAN: Well, Reed, I think you're completely nuts to do what you do but I admire the bravery and you do do a valuable job in providing firsthand information so keep going and stay safe.

TIMMER: If we can get out of this ditch we'll keep chasing. Thank you for having me.

MORGAN: Thanks, Reed. Reed Timmer. Brave guy.

Next, you've heard from attorneys on both sides in the Trayvon Martin case. When we come back, Gloria Allred and Alan Dershowitz give their opinions in tonight's "Law and Disorder."

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MORGAN: Now for my new regular segment, "Law and Disorder." Will the jury find George Zimmerman guilty or say the killing of Trayvon Martin was self-defense? Joining me are attorneys Gloria Allred and Alan Dershowitz. Welcome back to the pair of you.

And let me start with you, Alan. We just had the two attorneys going at it quite heavily now in the buildup to this trial. It will be a hugely contentious trial, whatever happens, isn't it? What do you make of the argument so far?

ALAN DERSHOWITZ, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, I think we have to keep the evidence relevant to the law of self-defense. This can't be turned into a civil rights case because if it's a civil rights case, then you're rooting for an outcome. You know what the result has to be. We have to see where the evidence fits.

Now, one of the hardest questions in the law of self-defense is whether evidence that shows a propensity to violence on the part of the person who was killed is admissible if the person who killed him didn't know about it at the time. The judge in this case so far ruled it can't come in in the opening argument. But we haven't yet learned whether she'll admit the evidence if the state puts his state of mind at issue, if the state says look, he's a peaceful kid, he didn't do anything wrong, he has a wonderful life. Will the defense then be able to raise in rebuttal the fact no, he's been on marijuana, he's had previous brushes with the law. That's going to be a very interesting and difficult issue.

MORGAN: Gloria, it seems to me that far from being a civil rights case, it's more a trial about the Stand Your Ground law, because so many states now have adopted this. And it's basically a recipe for anyone who wants to do bad things -- and I'm not saying George Zimmerman did this deliberately -- but anyone who wants to do this kind of thing to other gang members or whatever, can just use Stand Your Ground as a defense unless somebody says this isn't right. GLORIA ALLRED, ATTORNEY: Well, I mean, the way the hearing on the Stand Your Ground, but I do think that it is a criminal case, it is not necessarily a civil rights case and shouldn't be viewed that way. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the history of discrimination and violence against young black men sometimes because of their race. I'm not saying that that's what exists in this case -- but sometimes because of their race in this country. That's always part of the conversation, whether it's part of this case is another issue.

And I do agree that it may be that the marijuana use, the THC in his system, may come in. The judge is essentially saying that if the defense experts also raise this issue of marijuana in his system, that she may then feel that it's relevant and therefore, admissible again also if the prosecution does what we call open the door to certain evidence, then the defense may bring it in.

MORGAN: Right, but Alan, I mean, call me naive here, but how many times has marijuana been used as evidence that somebody's been murderously violent?

DERSHOWITZ: Well, it wouldn't be very relevant evidence. It would be marginally relevant.

But let me show you why this is not a civil rights case. Let's hypothesize George Zimmerman was completely wrong, that he was a racist, that he stopped this young man for all the wrong reasons. Let's assume that for a moment. But then let's assume the young man got on top of Zimmerman and started banging his head at a point where he could kill him. At that point, was George Zimmerman entitled to save his own life, even if he was the wrongdoer initially by using lethal force?

The law says yes, even without Stand Your Ground. So even though George Zimmerman, might -- I'm not saying he was -- might have been a racist who was at fault and who started this, he might still have the right of self-defense under Florida law.

MORGAN: Let's turn to Jodi Arias. Gloria, I suppose it was a bit of a shock in the end that the jury couldn't reach a verdict in terms of whether to give her the death penalty or not. We are now going to wait another few weeks to see what happens there. It may be of course the prosecution just don't push for it again. What did you make of what happened last Thursday?

ALLRED: Yes. I think it was a lot more difficult to decide in the words of the defense to kill her than it was to convict her of premeditated murder, which they did, and they did unanimously. After all, they did hear arguments that perhaps it would be painful to her family to kill her, they may be seen as innocent victims in all this. There may be other reasons some people may feel that even though they were death qualified jurors and would have to say that they could vote for the death penalty if they thought that it was appropriate to do so, some of them may still secretly feel that life in prison without the possibility of parole is, in fact, a more cruel sentence, more of a punishment, than in fact putting her to death. There are all kinds of reasons the jurors may have had. So, really it wasn't a surprise. MORGAN: Right. Let's take a look at just two clips from an interview with GMA that three of the jurors did. So, the first one is where they apologize in not reaching a verdict.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I felt like we had failed the system.

MARILOU ALLEN-COOGAN, JUROR NO. 16: As I walked out, I remember looking towards the prosecution table. I thought they won't even look at us. Immediately, as I was stepping down, told them I'm sorry, and it was something that was heartfelt because I was. Because I was. I was very sorry.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: And the second clip I want to show is just for you, Alan, to ponder. It's where they all raise their hands, all three of these jurors wanted her to have the death penalty. Let's see this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: By a show of hands, who voted to give Jodi Arias the death penalty? All three of you. Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because the state proved their case. It was premeditated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MORGAN: Alan, is there an argument that this should be unanimous or nothing in these things?

DERSHOWITZ: Absolutely. The state had its shot, it could not persuade 12 jurors. They should not get a second chance to execute somebody. It should have to be unanimous.

In fact, if they now have a second jury and the second jury votes unanimously to give her the death penalty, I think she has a plausible constitutional argument that the Supreme Court might even accept, saying even a second jury after a hung jury can't constitutional impose the death penalty.

This case should be over. They had their chance. She should get life imprisonment. We should forget about Arias. She should go spend the rest of her life in jail, and we should have the right not to think about her anymore.

MORGAN: Alan Dershowitz, Gloria Allred, thank you both as always. Hope you come back soon for "Law and Disorder."

Now to a story that's really quite shocking. The Arizona mother of seven being held in a Mexican jail tonight, accused of trying to smuggle 12 pounds of marijuana back into the U.S. Yanira Maldonado was arrested last week as she and her husband were back from a family funeral. Authorities stopped the bus the Maldonados were riding in and say they found 5.7 kilos of what appeared to be marijuana under her seat. The family vehemently denied the charges. The husband, Gary, says he thinks soldiers wanted a bribe. Meanwhile, Yanira remains behind bars.

Joining me live is her daughter, Anna Soto. Anna, thank you for joining me. This is a shocking case in many ways. How are you feeling about the fact your mother tonight is in a Mexican jail and facing very serious charges?

ANNA SOTO, YANIRA MALDONADO'S DAUGHTER: Well, it's something horrible, definitely. I don't feel any good about where she's at. I miss her dearly. She doesn't want to be there. She's an honest woman. She's innocent. It's not a place for someone of her kind. It hurts just to know that she's there, to have seen her there. It's not fair.

MORGAN: Have you been able to speak to her?

SOTO: Yes, I saw her -- I went to visit her on Saturday, and that was one of the hardest things I think I've ever had to do. I wasn't able to hold my mom, and that's something I've never been, you know, not able to do. So it was hard. I was in tears most of the time. But I saw her and that put me at ease, just to see her.

MORGAN: I mean, has your mother, Anna, ever been involved in any way with drugs in her life?

SOTO: Never. No, no, no, no. She is not that kind of person. She would never -- I don't think she has ever even tried a cigarette in her life or even drink a beer, tried it at all. She's -- you know, she's one of those people that tries to stay away from those kind of people or those kind of things, definitely. Not even close to ever have done that.

MORGAN: To make it even worse, she's on the way back from a family funeral. It really is the cruelest development here for you and your family. What is the immediate plan? She's in court tomorrow, but do you have any help from senior politicians in America? Is there anyone trying to help you?

SOTO: I believe -- I mean, I've heard things that Senator Flake is helping and some other people are involved, which makes me feel good about, you know, being a citizen and the place we live and my mom being a citizen as well. We feel confident that she will -- well, I feel confident that she will be released because she's an honest person.

MORGAN: What is your belief, Anna, about what has happened here?

SOTO: You know, all I can say is there was a misunderstanding. That's all I really know. I know that my mom's innocent. She would never, ever do that. It's just -- I can't explain to you. All I know is that she's innocent.

MORGAN: Do you think she's been set up?

SOTO: I don't know. I just want her home. I don't know. MORGAN: How is the family all coping without her, knowing where she is?

SOTO: You know, I come from a strong family from my mother. I think we have all learned that. But me personally, being her daughter, I don't even know how I'm coping. But I think it has to do with the people that are involved. Gary's family, they have been such good support. You know, my family, my friends. It's a little bit easier when you have good people around you helping you and you know, being -- being there.

MORGAN: Well, on the face of it, Anna, it seems an outrageous miscarriage of justice. I hope that any politicians who are watching who have any involvement in that area can get on to this quickly and try and get your mother home for you.

SOTO: Yeah. You know, that's what we're hoping for, too. I'm actually hoping that they do something, that they help us out in this case. I mean, it's not right. It's not right for her to be in such a horrible place. I don't think it's right for any American citizen to be there. I hope the government sees that and they can, you know, step in and do something.

MORGAN: Anna, I know it's very upsetting for you to talk about this. I appreciate you coming on the show tonight. Thank you very much.

SOTO: Thank you.

MORGAN: Coming up next, Jersey Shore reunion. The bromance begins again for the president and Chris Christie. Does the governor know something that the conservatives don't? I am going to put that and more to Ben Ferguson, who is on the Grill tonight. I am going to be lighting it in the commercial break.

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MORGAN: Bromance is blooming between President Obama and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. The president visited the Jersey Shore today, seven months after Hurricane Sandy. And just as they did last fall, the two stood shoulder to shoulder giving each other a public boost, especially if Governor Christie has his sights, as many believe, on the White House in 2016.

But is this a good thing for the GOP? On the Grill tonight, conservative radio host Ben Ferguson. Ben, how are you?

BEN FERGUSON, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: I'm doing well. I never thought I would have a night where Chris Christie is actually needed by Barack Obama to help him look better in life. I mean, the Rapture could be happening pretty soon.

MORGAN: Well, I think it works both ways, doesn't it? I think that Christie basks in the glory of having the president all over him in his backyard and vice versa.

FERGUSON: It depends. If Chris Christie is truly looking at the White House -- and I think obviously, he is. You see the way he's acting. You see the weight issue. You see the surgery he's had. He's certainly at least giving himself the option to run. This is one of those relationships that I think could hurt him in a primary, but in many ways help him in a general election if he can get through it.

The question is, do you really want pictures with Barack Obama putting his arm around you after you win him a Teddy Bear that is a Chicago Bears? I don't know if I want that picture on the Internet.

MORGAN: Hang on. He actually won the Teddy Bear with a bit of athletic prowess. Who would have put money on Chris Christie beating President Obama at any form of sport?

FERGUSON: Hey, don't mess with the big guys. I'm just saying. We know how to throw down. Remember, Barack Obama went I think it was zero for five today. I mean, Michelle, your husband, you need to get him fit on throwing the football. That's all I'm saying.

MORGAN: Why do we care about Chris Christie's weight?

FERGUSON: You know what, I asked that today. And people -- it was amazing. They go to me, well, I want to know that if the commander in chief is in charge, I don't have to worry about him having a heart attack because he's so big. I think it's one of those things where we obsess about it in the tabloid world. You see every paper or magazine, when you are going to the checkout, about who's fat as a celebrity, who looks ugly in a swimsuit this summer, who's hot and sexy. And I think that ties into it in a weird way, where people say well, I want to know my commander in chief is in great, tip-top shape.

Look, the president smokes. And he certainly smoked a lot during the campaign. And that really didn't seem to be that big of an issue. And I'm not sure, to be honest with you, that Chris Christie's weight is really as big of a deal as some have made it out to be.

MORGAN: President Taft --

FERGUSON: Couldn't get out of the bathroom.

MORGAN: You've got to put it in perspective.

(LAUGHTER)

FERGUSON: Hey, that's when we didn't have tabloids, right? No one got that picture. Honestly, thank goodness no one got that picture.

MORGAN: But actually, I think you have a point there. And I hate to give you any kudos on this segment, as you know. But I do think this celebrification of politicians means that we are now judging them on their ability to look good in a swimsuit, for argument's sake, which is a bit facile when you're talking about someone like Chris Christie, who is incredibly charismatic, very dynamic, seems to exude ferocious energy, and declares himself pretty fit other than the fact he's overweight.

FERGUSON: Well, here's the other thing. You remember when Barack Obama was running for president the first time and there was the pictures that showed him jumping through a wave. I think it was in Hawaii. And everybody was like, look how fit the president is. I don't give a rat's rear end about if the president has a six-pack or a keg belly, in my opinion, as long as he knows how to run the country. Because the last I checked, someone that's all fit, you know, is not exactly the exact person that's going to know about foreign policy, about the war on terror, about the economy, about the housing market, about the financial crisis with the banks, about guns in America, for that matter.

And that's where I think the sad thing is. It has become too much of a popularity contest. And Chris Christie's a guy, if there's anybody that I think can actually say, stop obsessing about my weight and look at my policies, I think if people actually listen to him and say, probably more than any other politician out there.

MORGAN: Well, I pitted my six-pack against your keg belly. And to my astonishment, I have agreed with almost everything you said tonight, which is bitterly disappointing.

FERGUSON: You're jet lagged. It's OK.

MORGAN: Good to talk to you again.

FERGUSON: As always.

MORGAN: Coming up next, Senator John McCain meets face-to-face with rebels in Syria. Will the U.S. intervene in that deadly civil war? That's coming up.

And later, the National Spelling Bee gets even more stressful with one big new rule. I'll talk live to two former champs. That's coming up.

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BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Over the last decade, our nation has spent well over a trillion dollars on war, helping to explode our deficits and constraining our ability to nation build here at home.

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MORGAN: President Obama in his sweeping address on the War on Terror, making it clear what the battles are doing to America. Many believe the White House is spending too much time and attention on war. With me now in the chair is Richard Haass. He's the president of the Council on Foreign Affairs and author of "Foreign Policy Begins at Home." Welcome to you, Richard.

RICHARD HAASS, COUNCIL ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS PRESIDENT: Thank you.

MORGAN: It's an interesting book, very timely obviously, particularly with a lot of people looking at John McCain, who was in Syria today, looking at what's happening in Syria and saying, post-Iraq, Afghanistan, the different tone that President Obama took in Libya, what is the right thing to do now in these tinderbox countries when they kick off?

HAASS: You've always got to ask yourself what could you accomplish even if you were to do a lot. And then secondly, you've got to ask yourself what else do you need to worry about. Syria's not alone. It's not the only square, if you will, on the chess board. I would simply say in places like Syria, it's not clear, even if we were to do a lot, we would have a lot to show for it. That's one of the lessons of Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam.

Secondly, we've got lots else to worry about, whether it's Iran in the region, whether it's what's going on in Asia, say between China and Japan, South Korea, or obviously the challenges here at home domestically. So I would say all of that suggests we put a ceiling on what it is we're prepared to do in Syria.

MORGAN: I mean, the problem has been, I think, for America that it's almost had to be the global policemen for so long, because there was no other superpower. But that is changing. There are genuine emerging super powers: China, India, Brazil, even, countries of this type. Should they be taking more of the global policeman responsibility, letting America perhaps focus on what it needs to do, as many argue, back here on domestic turf?

HAASS: In principle, they should be. In reality, they won't. They're not prepared to step up to it. So the alternative to a U.S.- led world, quite honestly, for the foreseeable future, is a world that isn't led, which is a world that is likely to be more chaotic than not. So my argument is the United States still needs to take the lead, but we've got to be selective in what we do and how we do it and where we do it. And we've got to, again, put foreign policy in some perspective. It's not the only national security threat we face.

What's happening or not happening here at home also affects our long term national security.

MORGAN: We've seen two examples in America and Britain recently of home-grown radicalized terrorists. Very different types, but certainly the same theme, if you like. Of course, there are two schools of argument. One is that this is a direct result of intervention in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, that it has inspired more reaction against Britain, against America. The other one is that it actually -- those interventions have stopped more of this kind of home-grown terrorism. Where do you sit?

HAASS: I think on balance, these interventions have probably set back terrorism. Clearly what we did in Afghanistan disrupting al Qaeda, their ability to use Afghanistan helped. But people get radicalized. Some extent, you're right. They do get radicalized on the battlefield. People are getting radicalized in Syria now. They did in Libya over the last few years. They clearly did in Iraq.

But also, you don't have to go anywhere anymore to get radicalized. Thanks to the Internet, you can get inspired and radicalized online. You can learn techniques online. And that's effectively what happened in Boston, even though one of the brothers did travel over to the former Soviet Union. But increasingly, you can stay, if you will, within your four walls and come out a very different person.

MORGAN: Talking of online, the "Washington Post" has been reporting that Chinese hackers have gained access to maybe two dozen major U.S. weapons systems. A lot of stories about China and hacking at the moment. What should America be doing about that?

HAASS: Well, we ought to obviously push back. I think the Chinese have had something of a free ride in this area. American companies were often frightened to push back too hard on the Chinese for fear they'd pay a price and lose markets. They have to understand, and I think they do, that this can't go on. We can't continue to make profits and do business this way.

So China has to understand that there will be economic sanctions or worse. The United States has ways of disrupting Chinese military operations. So I think the day, if you will, of the Chinese free ride is over. More broadly, there's also something going on here. The world has no rules for cyberspace. If you think about it, it's almost like nuclear weapons were 50, 60 years ago. A new technology comes on the scene, how do we manage it? How do we regulate it?

It's one of the many areas where international relations is not even close to the technology.

MORGAN: When history judges the last 50 years, can you point to any conflict that American military has been sent into that has been a great success? Or has it all just been a bit of a mess, but a mess that had to happen?

HAASS: I think the clearest success over the last 50 or 25 years was the First Iraq War, the Gulf War, where the United States went in with great international support, with limited goals, clearly --

MORGAN: With a clear objective?

HAASS: Absolutely, to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty, to get the Iraqis out, to cut the Iraqis down to size. What the United States did was resist the temptation to try to remake Iraq. One of the problems I think of the last 10, 15 years in both Iraq and Afghanistan is the United States got ambitious. We spent an awful lot of life. Over 6,500 Americans were lost in the two wars; 40,000 were injured; 1.5 trillion dollars. And we simply don't have results that are commensurate with what it was we spent.

Again, to me, the lesson is not -- it's not isolationism. It's not withdrawal. But we've just got to be smart about what it is we're prepared to do, but also where we put the limits, be it on Syria or any other place. Again, never forget that our long-term ability to act and lead in the world depends upon restoring the foundations of our economy and our society here at home.

MORGAN: Richard Haass, it's called "Foreign Policy Begins at Home, the Case For Putting America's House in Order." A very interesting and timely book, as I said. Good to see you. HAASS: Thanks for having me.

MORGAN: Coming up next, good spelling isn't enough anymore. Two former Spelling Bee champs tell me what they think of the dramatic new rule that is going to change everything.

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NUPUR LALA, 1999 SCRIPPS NATL. SPELLING BEE CHAMPION: Logorrhea, L-O- G-O-R-R-H-E-A.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is correct.

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MORGAN: A moment of great excitement. That's Nupur Lala winning the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Her victory was the subject of the Oscar-nominated documentary "Spell Bound."

The preliminaries started again today with a wicked new twist. The young competitors don't just have to spell some of the most difficult words in the English language. Now they have to define them, too. I want to know what some champion spellers think of that.

Joining me now is Snigdha Nandipati, the reigning champion, and Nupur Lala from "Spell Bound." Welcome to you both, ladies.

LALA: Hello.

SNIGDHA NANDIPATI, 2012 SRIPPS NATIONAL SPELLING BEE CHAMPION: Thanks so much for having me.

MORGAN: Well, I'm very excited to have you both. I can tell you're both massively more versed in the English language than I am. So let's start with you, Nupur, if I may, about this dramatic new twist to the spelling bee, that you now, as contestants, have to know what the words mean, as well. What difference will that make, do you think?

LALA: Actually I think that it sort of think it furthers the spelling bee. And I think it's a nice implementation. The only thing that they have to be careful is that they pick words that, you know, kids can maybe use in 10-15 years.

MORGAN: How would you have got on with the words that you had to deal with if you also had to explain what they meant? Be honest.

LALA: You know, that's a great question. And I think that I probably would not have won. Let's put it that way. There are some words where -- yeah, I think inevitably within the bee, there's going to be at least one word that ever competitor sees that they will not know. So it will be interesting to see how this choice plays out competitively.

MORGAN: Now, Snigdha, your word that won last year, I've never heard of. It was Guetapens. Let's check it out. Let's watch a clip of you winning here.

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MORGAN: G-U-E-T-A-P-N-E-S.

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MORGAN: Now, do you know what that word means?

NANDIPATI: Yes, I do. So guetapnes means an ambush or a trap.

MORGAN: How would you know that? How would anybody know that? I've never even heard of this word. I'm English. The language is from my own country and I've never heard this.

NANDIPATI: I actually didn't know what it meant until much after the bee. Well, it comes from French. And it has some French origin to it. So from what I've researched, it comes from guet, meaning, I think like a snare or something. And then apnes meaning, like, to trap or to hunt or something. So, yeah, it's French origin.

MORGAN: Now, I'm never going to get a chance to do this. I'm going to put this on to you, Nupur, just for a laugh. The longest word in the English language is antidisestablishmentatrianism. Off you go. Spell it.

LALA: Oh my gosh, OK. Let's see how I do. I think Snigdha would field this one better than me.

A-N-T-I-D-I-S-E-S-T-A-B-L-I-S-H-M-E-N-T-A-R-I-A-N-I-S-M.

MORGAN: I think that is probably right, but I'm going to ask Snigdha is she right?

NANDIPATI: OK, antidisestablishmentatrianism: A-N-T-I-D-I-S-E-S-T-A- B-L-I-S-H-M-E-N-T-A-R-I-A-N-I-S-M

MORGAN: And do either of you have a clue what it means?

LALA: I could take a guess?

MORGAN: Go on, have a guess.

LALA: Basically, against establishment? I don't know.

MORGAN: Snigdha, do you know?

NANDIPATI: Well, I guess if you break it down, it's anti- disestablishment. So I guess, against non establishment? I'm not sure. MORGAN: The correct answer is it's a political position in 19th century Britain, which I haven't got a clue what that means, anyway. So I don't even understand what the definition is. But, ladies, it's been a pleasure talking too you. Congratulations again on your great triumphs. I think what we have established, it's going to be a lot harder for the next contestants I think to win than it was before. But thank you for joining me.

LALA: Thank you. It was my pleasure.

MORGAN: That's all for us tonight. A very brainy evening it has been. Wolf Blitzer is in for Anderson Cooper, and starts in a few moments.

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