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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Bergdahl Letter Brings Hope; Judging the Judge's Remarks; Powerball Pot of Gold Claimed; Sisters Rise; Jeep Recall Refusal; Jeep Recall Refusal; First Lady Confronts Heckler

Aired June 6, 2013 - 08:30   ET

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


BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: After being in captivity all this time. This has all emerged in the last day or so in an e- mail exchange between Bergdahl's father and a supporter in Idaho, named Dwight Murphy, who posted some details about the letter on his Facebook page. But have a listen to what Dwight Murphy, a family supporter, had to say about all of this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DWIGHT MURPHY, BERGDAHL'S FAMILY SPOKESMAN: That brings newfound hope. That's like sitting around a camp fire that's going out and all of a sudden you find that one more log to keep the fire going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Family supporter who is indicating this letter, we haven't independently confirmed it, is now giving hope. And I want to go on and read some of the additional material that Dwight posted on his Facebook page. He says, quote, we -- Mr. Bergdahl is saying this on the Facebook page. "We have received a letter from Bowe through the Red Cross. He was scripted and redacted but he was no doubt alive and his faculties fully functions as of two months ago.

They are being very careful with him. He is still highly valued at high levels. And this is really the crux of it all. Bowe Bergdahl, by many accounts, many U.S. military officials feel he is a bargaining chip in the Taliban peace talks, if you will, with the Afghan government. There is hope, they say, as the war winds down that he will be released back to his family. But it has been four years -- John.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There is hope for that family, but what an ordeal.

Barbara Starr for us in the Pentagon this morning. Thank you so much.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A judge in Texas is facing harsh criticism for a speech she gave on the death penalty. She says minorities are more likely to commit crimes and racial biases in death sentencing is a red herring.

CNN's Ed Lavandera live in Dallas with more on this judge's controversial remarks.

Good morning.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. Well, chances are you've probably never heard of Judge Edith Jones. She sits on the Fifth Court of Circuit of Appeals down in New Orleans. She comes from Texas and she has a history of at times making controversial statements and getting critics up in arms. And this latest speech leaves no doubt about that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Are some minorities more predisposed to commit violent crimes? One federal judge from Texas reportedly says yes. Appeals Court Judge Edith Jones allegedly made the comments in a February speech before the federalist society at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She is seen here speaking before the same group in 2009.

JUDGE EDITH JONES, FIFTH COURT OF CIRCUIT OF APPEALS: Thank you. It's my pleasure to moderate this excellent panel this morning.

LAVANDERA: She's now being accused of racial bias, and several civil rights organizations have filed a complaint of judicial misconduct against her, calling into question her ability to be fair. In the complaint obtained by CNN, the groups say that Judge Jones said that certain racial groups like African-Americans and Hispanics are pre- disposed to crime and prone to commit acts of violence and get involved in more violent and heinous crimes than people of other ethnicities. And that racial bias complaints were merely a red herring in death sentencing.

Judge Jones sits on the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals based in New Orleans. A representative for the judge declined CNN's request for an interview, saying, quote, "She's not making any comment regarding the matter."

Attorney Mandy Price is the president of one of the parties who filed the complaint.

ATTORNEY MANDY PRICE, PRESIDENT, J.L. TURNER LEGAL ASSOCIATION: The fact that a judge could have -- be predisposed in determining outcomes on the case is something that I don't think anyone would want. And something that, you know, we don't expect when we go to court before a judge, we expect that they're going to be fair, that they're going to be impartial, not that they're going to have already predetermined the outcome of their case.

LAVANDERA: The "Austin Chronicle" says Judge Jones was on the list as a potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee during both Bush presidencies.

The comments are igniting a firestorm of reaction online. Among the tweets, "Judge Edith Jones should resign. Bias views have no place on the bench." And, "What do you do with a federal judge, who if not crazy, is simply a rotten human being?"

PRICE: Everyone has the ability to have free speech. We also all have duties in our jobs, responsibilities and roles. And so as a judge, you still have the same duties and responsibilities as anyone else would have, you know, with their employer. And as a judge, he must abide by the judicial canons.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And, Christine, here's an interesting note to all of this. This judicial complaint now goes before the chief judge of that Fifth Circuit, which is a man by the name of Carl Stewart. Appointed by Bill Clinton back in 1994 and he's the first African-American jurist to hold that position -- Christine.

ROMANS: Interesting. All right. Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

A federal health issues launching a pre-emptive strike against the new Middle East respiratory syndrome that's killed more than half of those, and in fact did. The government has declared the MERS virus to be a potential public health emergency. The authorization allows action before the virus poses a serious health threat here in the U.S.

BERMAN: A version of the morning-after pill could soon be available to everyone. A federal appeals court has ruled that a two-pill version of the controversial drug should be sold without age restrictions or a prescription. But the judges did temporarily blocked unrestricted sales of a one-pill version, while the government appeals a lower court ruling. The Obama administration says it is reviewing the decision.

ROMANS: A new Pentagon report finds the agency gave unprecedented access to the screen writer and director of the film "Zero Dark Thirty." The report says screen writer Mark Boal met several times with key members of the team that flushed out Osama bin Laden and had access to what was then considered top-secret material.

Critics have charged the Obama administration was eager to milk publicity over the killing of bin Laden ahead of the 2012 presidential election.

A 10-year-old girl celebrates after getting a new chance at a life- saving transplant.

A federal judge's ruling keeps the Department of Health and Human Services from enforcing a rule that denies Sarah Murnaghan who had cystic fibrosis access to the adult transplant list. Children under 12 are not allowed on that list.

Six people suffered minor injuries when a woman crashed her minivan through the front window of a Westchester, Ohio, Taco Bell. This happened Tuesday -- whoa. Tuesday afternoon.

BERMAN: My goodness.

ROMANS: Police say that 36-year-old woman who's driving the minivan may have experienced a medical emergency, I'll say. Look at that. Right through the front window.

BERMAN: Oh, wow. ROMANS: A star athlete and honor student from Detroit stunned his high school classmate when he took the stage at graduation just months after being shot in the head. And Balaal Hollings says there's a whole lot more he plans to do following his amazing recovery.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS (voice-over): Hard to believe that just two months ago this Michigan teenager couldn't walk, talk, or even stand. In April Balaal Hollings was shot in the head while trying to break up a fight at a party.

At Northwestern High School, Hollings was an honor student, football star, student council president and senior class president. Balaal was excelling until the bullet that struck him in the head threatened to take everything away. Instead of finishing out his senior year, Balaal spent weeks in the hospital, fighting for his life. Miraculously, he walked on stage at the graduation ceremony, surprising his classmates.

BALAAL HOLLINGS, RECOVERED FROM GUNSHOT: First of all, I want to thank God. It is so good to be alive. I got shot in the head and I am fully rehabilitated.

ROMANS: Now fully rehabilitated Balaal is working on his pitching arm. Last night, he was invited to throw out the first ceremonial pitch at Comerica Park in a stadium full of Detroit Tigers fans.

HOLLINGS: I want to show that, yes, I got shot in the head, but I'm still myself. I hope that people just get inspired by my story and just know that you can make it through anything if you just have faith in God.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: What a lucky and determined kid. I love that kid.

BERMAN: I love the tassel. That's better than any mortarboard out there.

ROMANS: I know. He had plenty of credits so he hasn't been to school for weeks because he's been recovering, right? No one expected him to be able to walk, and then he did it. He did it and he had all the credits, he's graduating. I'm really proud of him.

BERMAN: Good for him.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, we are monitoring the severe weather all around the country, especially in Florida.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we have our first tropical storm of the season, tropical storm Andrea, currently out there. Steady winds about 60 miles per hour and in fact a current tornado warning just North West of Ft. Lauderdale. You could see heavy winds of 60 miles per hour -- heavy rain, I should say. And we're expected from seven to eight inches of rain, tracking the (INAUDIBLE) curving to the northeast, heading up straight the Eastern Seaboard. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. There is now a name to go along with the $590 million Powerball ticket. A woman in Florida coming forward to claim her prize 18 days after the drawing. Who is she?

Let's get more from CNN's John Zarrella.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Speculating is over, finished. Finally we know. This woman walked out of Florida lottery headquarters in Tallahassee, so wealthy, all you can say is wow.

CYNTHIA O'CONNELL, FLORIDA LOTTERY SECRETARY: And the winner of the 5$590 million jackpot is Mrs. Gloria C. Mackenzie, 84 years of age, of Zephyrhills, Florida.

ZARRELLA: Gloria Mackenzie's pot of gold, a Powerball ticket. The lump sum payout she took before taxes, nearly $371 million. She did not appear or talk at the news conference announcing the winner. Instead the lottery secretary read a message from her.

O'CONNELL: We bought the winning ticket as a single ticket, even though we bought four other tickets before the drawing. While in line, at Publix, another lottery player was kind enough to let me go ahead of them in line to purchase the winning Quick Pick ticket.

ZARRELLA: Talk about luck. Someone lets her go first and it's a Quick Pick ticket? Not even favorite numbers? You got to think someone upstairs really likes Gloria.

She certainly appears to have lived humbly across the street from a cow pasture in a tiny duplex. The sticker on the door reads, "private, no soliciting." Her neighbors say they'd only seen her once since the May 18th drawing but she never let on.

DAWN GOURLAY, NEIGHBOR: No. And that's really smart because, you know, who are your friends? Who you're going to find out who your friends are if they think you have a lot of money. Everybody is your friend, right?

GEORGE TRAPERO, NEIGHBOR: She was here with his son.

ZARRELLA (on camera): Yes.

TRAPERO: And I asked, Gloria, I don't see you, what's going on with you? And his son told me, oh, she was sick, a little bit sick, and she's at home with me, and that's what they told me.

ZARRELLA (voice-over): Right. Can you say smoke screen? But you know, winning that kind of cash is enough to make anyone dizzy.

Now the folks in Zephyrhills couldn't settle down and exhale. Quit looking at each other wondering, is it you?

John Zarrella, CNN, Zephyrhills, Florida. .

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Can we talk? Can we talk for a minute about the person in line who let this woman go first and buy the winning ticket? Here's like giant karma on that person's account right now. If there's any such thing as Karma, the person who gave up $590 million.

ROMANS: I just hope that person doesn't realize it. Because every day you'd wake up and cry. And just cry.

BERMAN: Makes you think twice about being polite. Doesn't it?

(LAUGHTER)

Just saying.

ROMANS: John, you're always polite.

Now to another --

BERMAN: Not for $590 million.

ROMANS: I know. $590 million. It's just unbelievable. She deserves it. 84-year-old granny deserves it.

BERMAN: I'm happy for her.

ROMANS: Two girls, sisters from Cambodia went from scavenging in the dump to college. CNN celebrates extraordinary girls from around the world and the power of education in our upcoming documentary "GIRL RISING".

Fredricka Whitfield has these sisters' story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SMITH, HELPS CAMBODIAN GIRLS GO TO SCHOOL: We were just horrified. I mean there were hundreds of people on this giant garbage dump.

LAUREN SMITH, HELPS CAMBODIAN GIRLS GO TO SCHOOL: The smell was horrible.

FREDERICKA WHITFIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It was 2002, when Bill and Lauren Smith ended up at this garbage dump outside Phnom Penh. They were sightseeing when their driver asked if they wanted to see the children.

B. SMITH: They were just like starving and picking through garbage for a few cents a day.

WHITFIELD: So the Smiths decided to help one person. L. SMITH: I remember seeing this little girl with the red hat. And I don't know if it was the red hat or if it was her eyes -- but just looked kind of hopeless.

SREYNA, SCAVENGED AT DUMP AS A CHILD: The moto guy that he came up to me and says hey you know this foreigner want to talk to you, they want to help you go take you go to school.

WHITFIELD: They took 10-year-old Sreyna home to talk to her mother and met 12-year-old Salim.

L. SMITH: We're like, well. we've got to help the sister too.

WHITFIELD: The couple agreed to pay the girl's mother what the children earned at the dump -- about $10 a month each.

B. SMITH: The deal was that they could never go back to the dump again and we would put them in -- in school. We would pay for everything.

WHITFIELD: Over the years the girls became close to the Smiths.

SALIM: We feel like we're like second family. I get emotional it's like because I don't have like a feeling with my family that much.

WHITFIELD: Now the two young women are attending college in Chicago.

SREYNA: Education to me is like a second life.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROMANS: It gives me goose bumps.

BERMAN: Good for them.

ROMANS: Yes.

BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT. The TSA pressured to do an about- face on plans to allow passengers to bring some long banned items aboard planes. Find out which items are affected, what you can bring.

You're watching STARTING POINT.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: New this morning, investigators may have found the cause of a deadly fire on a San Francisco area bridge. KGOTV reporting investigators believe air springs in the back of this Limo ruptured that's been in a chain reaction that led to the fire. Five women died in the fire en route to a bridal shower.

ROMANS: Small knives still on the no-fly list. The TSA has now backtracked on its plan to let passengers bring some long-banned items on the planes, like small knives, golf clubs, some souvenir baseball bats. The agency said those items don't pose a threat. But you know what; lawmaker, airlines groups representing the pilots, flight attendants and airport screeners they all said that move would jeopardize safety. TSA screeners confiscate some 2,000 small folding knives every single day.

BERMAN: Chrysler is refusing to recall millions of Jeeps but the government says a risk of fire is sparking some real concern among owners of the popular SUVs.

CNN's Stephanie Elam has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a death machine.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's what Kelly Cowan a North Carolina mother of two now calls her 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee.

KELLY COWAN, JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE OWNER: When is somebody is coming up too fast behind me, I kind of get a little panicked and start thinking about exit scenarios. So, most of my commuting, if possible, is done on bicycle because I don't want to risk getting rear-ended.

ELAM: A dispute between Chrysler the maker of Jeep and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is making headlines. In a rare act of defiance Chrysler refuses to follow the agency's guidance and recall the more than 2.7 million Jeep models the government says have a faulty gas tank design. The recall would target 1993 to 2004 Jeep Grand Cherokee models and the 2002 to 2007 Jeep Liberty.

Jonathan Theriault drives a 1997 Jeep Grand Cherokee. Like everyone else we asked, he had no idea there is even talk of a recall until we told him.

JONATHAN THERIAULT, JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE OWNER: I didn't have a problem yet but if it's true what they said that -- I mean there is damage or it can catch on fire if I get rear ended yes, it should be recalled and yes, it does kind of freak me out a little.

ELAM: Others are taking a different stance, like this driver who posted on Twitter, "Sorry, but I'm not handing over my fiery death trap for such miniscule repairs. Hold strong, Chrysler."

(on camera): So what are these Jeep owners to do until the dispute is resolved? Well car sales experts say selling is not an option right now.

JESSICA CALDWELL, SENIOR ANAYLYST, EDMUNDS.COM: People don't want a car that can catch on fire. I mean that's just something that you know people aren't looking for out there no matter what the price is.

ELAM: Chrysler believes these cars are safe and one expert says the stats are on the company's side.

RICK NEWMAN, COLUMNIST, YAHOO! FINANCES: If you drove one of these jeeps for ten years, the odds of this happening to you would still be something like in one in 100,000. ELAM: But that's little comfort to Cowan who is so concerned that she's even created a Facebook page about the issue and is saving up for a new car.

COWAN: When I have long trips and I know that I'm going to be on the highway, I rent a car because I don't want to put my family in jeopardy.

ELAM: Stephanie Elam, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. Coming up, it's a CNN exclusive. The First Lady head to head with a heckler and stands her ground. We have the video next.

BERMAN: Guess who wins?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: You are about to see a side of the First Lady you really haven't seen before. Michelle Obama was speaking at a fund-raiser Tuesday night when she was interrupted by a heckler. What happened next has everyone buzzing in Washington. Here is Erin McPike.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ERIN MCPIKE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: These are exclusive images of Michelle Obama Tuesday night. Speaking at an exclusive fund-raiser hosted by a lesbian couple at their Toney Washington, D.C. home. She was giving an impassioned speech on one of her favorite topics -- children.

MICHELLE OBAMA, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: They are counting on us to give them the chances they need for the future they deserve.

MCPIKE: One woman in the crowd wanted to talk about something else. Gay rights.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I need your husband --

MCPIKE: It's hard to hear, but that's Ellen Sturtz. Sturtz is from the activist group Get Equal. She interrupts the First Lady ask her why the President hasn't signed an executive order that would bar a company that does business with the federal government from discriminating for sexual orientation or gender equity.

It didn't go over well with Mrs. Obama or the crowd.

OBAMA: I don't care what you believe in -- we don't -- wait, wait, wait.

(CROSSTALK)

OBAMA: One of the things I don't do well is this. Do you understand me. ELLEN STURTZ, ACTIVIST: I can take the mic?

OBAMA: But I'm leaving. So you all decide.

STURTZ: I need your husband --

OBAMA: You have one choice.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No please don't leave. No.

MCPIKE: She made her way back to the podium to make hewr point.

OBAMA: I just want to make the point that I was making before. We are here for our kids.

LYNN SWEET, "CHICAGO SUN TIMES": Someone in a sense verbally got in her face and she didn't like it.

MCPIKE: Lynn Sweet is the Washington bureau chief of the "Chicago Sun Times" and she's covered the Obamas for years.

SWEET: I think Mrs. Obama is very disciplined. She rarely goes off script. She rarely puts herself in a position where she could have something happen unexpected.

MCPIKE: The First Lady's unscripted response was different than how her more practiced husband tends to handle hecklers like he did just two weeks ago during a major foreign policy speech at National Defense University.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now this is part of free speech is you being able to speak, but also you listening and me being able to speak. All right?

MCPIKE: A softer touch maybe than Michelle's tough talk. But today the White House gave her performance a rave review.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: It's my personal opinion that she handled it brilliantly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCPIKE: President Obama has been saying for years that Michelle Obama is one tough cookie. But this fund-raiser was one of the first times that Americans really got to see it. Erin McPike, CNN, Washington.

ROMANS: All right. We've got two big exciting announcements to tell you about here on CNN. This Sunday is the season finale of "ANTHONY BOURDAIN: PARTS UNKNOWN" at 9:00 Eastern. He's going on an incredible adventure on the Congo River. And right after that is the premier of George Stroumboulopoulos' new show. In fact his name is so long it doesn't even fit on one line on the teleprompter. It gets broken apart. "STROUMBOULOPOULOS" kicks off Sunday night at 10:00 Eastern only on CNN.

BERMAN: You have to have a new wide screen TV to fit all that. ROMANS: Enough letters to fit how cool it is and how fun he is.

That's it for STARTING POINT. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Christi Paul begins right now.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks guys.

Happening now in the NEWSROOM it sounds like one of George Orwell's worst nightmares, right, a U.S. spy agency tracking phone calls of millions of Americans.

Well, it may all be legal under the Patriot Act.