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NSA Leaker Heading To Ecuador, According To Wikileaks; Police Search NFL Player Aaron Hernandez's House In Murder Investigation; Nelson Mandela In Critical Health; George Zimmerman Trial To Start Monday

Aired June 23, 2013 - 17:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Fredericka Whitfield in Atlanta with this breaking news out of South Africa. South African officials are saying that Nelson Mandela former president of South Africa is now in critical condition. South African president Jacob Zuma says, quote, "Doctors are doing everything possible to get his condition to improve and are assuring that Madiva (ph) as they call him is well looked after and is comfortable," end quote.

Mandela has been hospitalized with a lung infection since June 8th. We are also hearing from the White House, as well. National Security Council spokesperson Caitlin Hayden saying, quote, "We have seen the latest reports from the South African government that former president Nelson Mandela is in critical condition. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and the people of South Africa." That coming from the White House, the National Security Council spokesperson.

All right. Another big story we're following for you. The man behind the NSA leaks Edward Snowden is heading for Ecuador according to Wikileaks. That organization helped Snowden get from Hong Kong to Russia earlier today. He landed in Moscow this morning. Russian news agencies reported that Snowden could stop in Cuba before making his way to Ecuador.

Phil Black joins us live from Moscow.

So Phil, last we spoke, it wasn't even clear whether he left the airport. Do we know anything more now about whether he will be overnighting somewhere outside of the airport of Moscow?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No. Still, and Fredericka, it looks likely that he is spending the night in the transit area of Moscow's (INAUDIBLE) airport. He arrived around 5:00 p.m. local time. But even before then, it was pretty clear, there were signs on the ground that the government of Ecuador was looking to influence or play some role in his fate. The ambassador's car was parked outside. Other officials and diplomats, their vehicles were seen coming and going. And we know from the Ecuadorian government itself that yes, Edward Snowden has officially asked for asylum.

Now that we know this, the speculation is, well, how is he going to he get there? And there are a lot of different theories about. But presumably, he wants to get to the region as quickly as directly as possible and the obvious choice would be a direct flight from Moscow to Havana in Cuba on Monday afternoon.

Now, it looks like if that's true, he is prepared to wait out that time in the transit area of the airport. He probably doesn't have much of a choice because he probably doesn't have a Russian visa with him.

What we don't know is how the Russian government feels about the fact he is now here, the fact that he has arrived on their doorstep. How will they respond? Will they let him fly? Will they try to extract further intelligence from him or will they assist the United States in helping to reclaim one of its most want citizens -- Fredericka.

WHITFIELD: All right. Lots of questions still unanswered. You know and I guess it is -- we would love to hear the answers from the Russian government, but it is more likely than not that they will remain tight lipped about all of those things, right?

BLACK: They have a track record for keeping secrets when they want to, yes. So certainly, not declaring the hand until it's absolutely necessary, you know. I think that is probably what's going on here. They are, no doubt, weighing up the pros and cons of the different options. They have always said all along that if he did end up on their doorstep, they would look at the presence. If he happened to make asylum claim and still some speculation he might do that, he may actually ask Russia for asylum if he has to. He is not allowed to fly out. And they look at those facts on their merits and make a decision one way or another.

But certainly, they would be aware of the fact that if they were to help him, if they were to take advantage of his presence here trying to plunder what information to get from him, there would be consequences in terms of the relationship with the United States.

WHITFIELD: All right. Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much, Phil Black.

We know that Ecuadorian officials tweeted out earlier today that a formal request was made by Edward Snowden for asylum in Ecuador. But it will be interesting to see if that kind of asylum request now comes the way of Russia, as well. Thanks so much.

All right, today, we have heard from lawmakers who say this puts a big strain on U.S. relations with Russia. I talked to Congressman Peter King earlier and he said he thinks Russian president Vladimir Putin knew Snowden was coming and he said there should be consequences.


REP. PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: Yes, absolutely diplomatic consequences. I mean, should consider trade consequences, economic consequences. This is relationship that Russia needs as much if not more than we do. And we can't allow it to go ahead business as usual when Putin allows something like this to happen. So I'm talking, again, the opportunity will come over the next several months or a year where Russia will need us on something involving trade, involving diplomacy, involving finance where the U.S. will basically say, no, and we'll make it difficult for Putin. He should know that now, not to expect any favors.


WHITFIELD: All right, Jill Dougherty joining me now from Washington.

Jill, we also heard from Senator Charles Schumer earlier today who said he's infuriated that Russia appears to be helping Snowden. So, how damaging could this be in your view, what relations and then the same time, should anyone be surprised?

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is something that's kind of out of the ordinary. So, I think a lot of people were caught off guard and maybe even the Russians by this. But I think to the relationship, it is bad. And it's bad on many levels because already there was so many problems, you know, over Syria, especially, and now to have this.

Yes. I just want to point out one thing though. Just a couple of seconds ago again in a very quickly changing story, Fred, State department official is saying that the United States has been reaching out to countries in the western hemisphere, which would probably Ecuador, Nicaragua and Cuba and urging them that the U.S. is advising those governments that Snowden is wanted on felony charges and, therefore, as such should not be allowed to proceed in any further international travel other than necessary to return him to the United States.

So, that is the statement that we heard a little bit a while ago. But now, we are finding out that that's specifically now they are talking to the Latin American countries and probably Ecuador, specifically for this.

But again, the relationship with Russia, and you could say the relationship with China already are pretty fraught on a number of areas and this is really going to hurt it.

WHITFIELD: And while it's too late now for the U.S. to try to figure out why Hong Kong allowed him to go in the first place, surely that's a conversation that will come down the road once they are able to, once the U.S. is able to secure perhaps apprehending Snowden?

DOUGHERTY: Yes. Well, you know, I think a lot of these -- the way it was handled in Hong Kong, the fact he didn't apparently have an active American passport that it had been annulled or -- by the United States, that revoked I should say, that the fact he got in, he got in to Russia, how did he get in to Russia, on what kind of passport, how does he expect to get out, that there is from all of his -- for both of these countries, Russia and China, there's a certain amount of deniability they can use on technicalities. You know, we couldn't hold him because and it might solve some diplomatic problems for those countries but overall it worsens the relationship.

WHITFIELD: Certainly. All right.

Thanks so much, Jill Dougherty. Appreciate it from Washington.

So, of course, President Obama is being kept abreast of all these developments and efforts to bring Edward Snowden back to face justice.

White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, joining me now.

So Dan, the president probably and the White House as a whole probably hoping to get the better results since that paper work was in the works in Hong Kong but now we understand the president's being kept abreast, to what extent?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right and you're right. I mean, they had hoped that this thing could have been resolved, certainly, not immediately when we were talking to legal experts. They said even in the best-case scenario, when you are talking about extradition, it is something that can take several months, but one person we spoke with was predicting even before Snowden left Hong Kong that in fact this could take to take many months before he would return to the United States and the hope was it would have happened quickly here from the White House.

You know, officials here are being very tight lipped object the details and the ongoing talks. We do know according to a senior administration official that the president has been getting briefed throughout the day on Snowden movements, that is he is updated by his national security team. Beyond that, what officials are saying at the state department and also from justice as Jill was pointing out, essentially a warning to countries, if Snowden is in your country, then he should be expelled back to the United States or just headed to your country then he should be blocked from getting in.

So, you know, there is obviously a lot of concern and then beyond that you have just the diplomatic situation that you have been talking so much about. It is how will all of this impact the relationship between the U.S. and China, the U.S. and Hong Kong, the U.S. and Russia and any other country that opens their arms to Snowden.

WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much to Dan Lothian at the White House.

All right, another big story following for you here in the states.

Massachusetts, police making a second search at the home of NFL player. The latest on the investigation under way at the home of Aaron Hernandez.

And with opening statements starting tomorrow in the George Zimmerman murder trial, a legal see setback for prosecutors this weekend.

And fans rally behind Paula Deen. But, another corporate partner is having second thoughts.


WHITFIELD: For the second time, investigators have searched the home of New England Patriots star, Aaron Hernandez. They are looking in to the death of Odin Lloyd, a friend of Hernandez. Lloyd's body was found less than a mile from Hernandez's house near Boston.

Susan Candiotti is watching the investigation.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez had plans for a quiet Saturday afternoon; it didn't turn out that way. For the second time in a week, investigators, this time almost twice as many as before, descended on his home in several cars and spent four hours conducting a search.

A local lock smith was involved going in and out. So were at least two police dogs. Investigators wearing gloves carried equipment in cases. No outdoor sightings of the famous homeowner but his lawyer from firms with offices from Boston to Hong Kong arrived two hours into the search. For a flash, the football player appeared at his front door looking outside. Police are not calling Hernandez a suspect in the murder of Odin Lloyd, shot to death Monday. However, investigators are making the star football player a focus.

Lloyd's body found less than a mile from the Patriot tight end's home. And on Saturday, police continued to guard the scene. Lloyd's family describes Hernandez as a friend and says the two partied at nightclubs together. The girlfriends of both men are sisters.

Surveillance video reportedly shows the men together on the street where Lloyd lives hours before Lloyd's body was found. Authorities on Thursday also searched this Providence, Rhode Island, strip club in connection with the murder investigation. Police tell CNN detectives seized surveillance videos taken inside club desire that covered more than two days.

It's unclear whether they're trying to document whether the victim and Hernandez may have been there or for another reason.


CANDIOTTI: Now, there is absolutely no police activity on this day. However, as you can see right now, taking a look at a live report, they seem to be shuffling cars around. The one with the license plate that is hyphenated or shortened up to read Hernandez is among the three cars. But, you know, who knows what it means, of course, however.

Aaron Hernandez does remain under a microscope. We can tell you that for sure and we do know that investigators are hard at work certainly among other things analyzing what they removed from this house yesterday and all of those evidence bags -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And in terms of activity around the house or, you know, seeing Aaron Hernandez coming and going, that hasn't taken place yet either until now with the vehicles and that traffic?

CANDIOTTI: That's right. It's been quiet out here all day today. And we really didn't expect police activity. But, everyone wants to know, of course, what's the next step here? Will more search warrants be executed? Is it possible there's an arrest warrant in Aaron Hernandez's future? We don't know. Again, police did not label his a suspect but you can imagine people wonder what will happen next, especially the family of victim Odin Lloyd who certainly wants to know what's happening and in their words; all they want is justice, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Susan Candiotti, thank you so much outside Boston.

The Trayvon Martin shooting death is back in the national spotlight. George Zimmerman is accused of second degree murder. He says the shooting was self-defense. Coming up, a look at what the prosecution and defense are expected to say in tomorrow's opening statements.


WHITFIELD: All right. Jury selection is over and tomorrow opening statements begin in the George Zimmerman murder trial. He is charged with second-degree murder in the death of Trayvon Martin. Tomorrow, both sides will layout their cases.

Joining me right now are criminal defense attorney, Carrie Hackett, and Mo Ivory. She is also an attorney and host of the Moe Ivory show on radio.

So, good to see you both.


WHITFIELD: A lot to cover. We have got opening statements. We got an all-female jury and highly anticipated case. And there is also a ruling on the 911 expert testimony of those calls.

So Mo, let's begin with opening statements tomorrow. What can be the expectations? I mean, it's a lot for the jurors to hear all about once but knowing the jury is all female, are these attorneys now trying to craft a different kind or a more personalized kind of opening statement? Does it matter the makeup of the jury?

MO IVORY, HOST, THE MO IVORY SHOW: Well, sure. Actually, I mean, it does matter the makeup of the jury but a general story that they'll tell that's all the been the same, and that is Trayvon, a 17-year-old, just went out to get a drink and a snack and ended up dead. And then they expand on how all of that happened, but the real point of it and maybe exactly to the five mothers on the jury, when you let your child to go out for a snack, do you expect him to end up dead because of a neighborhood volunteer watchman? I think that is going to be very important for the opening statements to convey right from the beginning that Trayvon was just doing nothing wrong and he was pursued by, you know, a crazy man who felt that he had the authority to take things in to his own hands who ended up being a killer.

WHITFIELD: So Carrie, how succinct does that statement have to be?

CARRIE HACKETT, CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYER: It does to be succinction. I think that's the prosecution's standpoint. The defense standpoint is that yes, George Zimmerman was following Trayvon Martin around, but, that at some point George Zimmerman became the victim in this situation and need to defend himself.

So, the stories are somewhat different from the prosecution standpoint and the defense standpoint. I think what's important to know, though, about the opening statement is not supposed to be argumentative. So, each side has to be very careful to just tell the jury what they expect the evidence to show.

WHITFIELD: Would you expect it to be lengthy or would it -- does it need to be short and sweet? I mean, you have to engage the jury, but at the same time, you have to paint a picture both sides with some matter of detail.


HACKETT: That's right.

IVORY: Sure.

HACKETT: It needs to be descriptive, but at the same time, they need to basically establish their themes of the case and somehow engage the jury and get the jury to trust them and to really find -- have some faith in their telling of the story.

IVORY: With five women, I think it needs to be descriptive because we are about details, right? We like long conversations.

HACKETT: For sure.

IVORY: We like, tell me more. I didn't know that. So, I think it is going to very important for it to be descriptive and really bring -- and listen. Argumentative is just about tone, right? So, they just have to be -- not necessarily what you say but how you say it.

HACKETT: They need to be able to visualize exactly what happened from those perspective.

IVORY: I agree.

WHITFIELD: As we talk about the details and visualization, again, unless there is some kind of new bombshell, eyewitness that steps forward, we understand there to be no eyewitnesses of the actual shooting and what took place just prior to it, what took place at the moment of that shooting, et cetera. So, that's why that 911 call was going to be so crucial. But there was a ruling, Judge Nelson said, we are not going to allow the analysis of that 911 call, but it will be entered nonetheless and the judge did exactly what you all had mentioned and talked a couple weeks ago. That other witnesses who know that voice, know the voice of Martin or Zimmerman, would be permissible. So, how do you see this 911 call recording still being a crucial element of this case, Mo?

IVORY: Sure. I was so amazed how everyone said what a lost for the prosecution. You know, we talk about it all the time. That's not really a loss for the prosecution in the sense that now they have the most crucial testimony about that call from his mother. It's going to be so important, for sure -- WHITFIELD: You think for sure --

IVORY: Absolutely.

HACKETT: I think that she is going to testify. And I think she will probably either testify first or testify last because very important testimony and witnesses generally you want the jury to hear that from the outset or hear when you are leaving them, to leave that impression on them, and I think that she's really going to be a sympathetic witness.

But, I wouldn't be surprised if the defense team finds somebody from Zimmerman's past that knows him well, a family member that could testify that it's actually him on that recording and then it will be up to the jury to listen to it, listen to both sides and to determine who they think that is crying out for help.

IVORY: Although, it's a very different impact to hear a child crying out for help that is now dead than for somebody, a cousin, a brother, even George Zimmerman's mother to say that is my child's voice. Well, yes, and your child is sitting right there. Very different for a jury of five mothers which I think is a win for the prosecution.

WHITFIELD: Fascinating stuff.

All right, we are going to be on pins and needles beginning tomorrow with opening statements and everything happens after that. Mo Ivory, Carrie Hackett, thank you so much.

IVORY: Thank you.

HACKETT: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. The man behind the NSA leaks stays one step ahead of the U.S. Edward Snowden is on the run. He's in Moscow right now. We'll look at how the U.S. is responding.

Plus, an incredible scene in Canada where a town of 10,000 is nearly empty right now. Almost all of the folks there have evacuated because of some serious flooding. All right, that, straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: This news out of South Africa. Now, South African officials are saying that Nelson Mandela is in critical condition. South African President Jacob Zuma says, quote, "doctors are doing everything to get his condition to improve and are ensuring that he madiba, as they call him, is well looked after and is comfortable," end quote.

Mandela, the former South African president has been hospitalized with a lung infection since June 8th. We are also hearing from the U.S. government, the White House specifically. National Security Council spokesperson, Caitlin Hayden, saying, quote, "we have seen the latest reports from the South African government that former President Mandela is in critical condition. Our thoughts and prayers are with him, his family and the people of South Africa," end quote.

So, let's bring in Nadia Bilchik. Nadia is an editorial producer here at CNN, South African and in touch with the family. And you have had your own personal experiences with Nelson Mandela.

So, what are you hearing thus far about people who know him?

NADIA BILCHIK, CNN EDITORIAL PRODUCER: Well, the family up until now hasn't been very alarmist, but when I texted them earlier is what the South African government saying today that serious? I got a simple word, yes. So we are looking at very critical condition. We know that is run to 18th day that he's been in hospital. And I'm getting various report that some of the organs have been shutting down. But I want to remind us all, why it's so secretive. It is that people don't want anyone to panic. If and when he does pass, when his body is no longer with us, they want it to be very orderly because this impacts the whole country and the whole world.

WHITFIELD: But, this has made a difference now with the president, President Zuma has come out and say it is critical condition.

BILCHIK: Very much so. Because up until this time he's saying he's OK, he is doing well. So, the fact that it sounds imminent, and I will tell you a couple of months ago Mandela's daughter texted me and said, Nadia, I'm so intrigued that everybody's taking this so seriously. I'm still staying in Argentina where she's the ambassador there. I'm not flying back.

Well, exactly two weeks ago she texted me and said, just to let you know, I'm flying back which was her way of saying it's very serious. But today, we know it is very serious. The fact he said it.

And again, last week or so, (INAUDIBLE), a very close friend of Mandela's said, let Madiba go. And what he really meant is spiritually. Can the family let him go so that we can release him physically?

WHITFIELD: And there's several references -- there are several references to President Mandela, Mandiba is one of them.

BILCHIK: Mandiba is the clan name. Tatay is father. (INAUDIBLE) means one who shakes the tree. And he certainly has shaken the tree and very positively impacted many people's lives.

WHITFIELD: All right, well, keep us posted. Of course, prayers are going out for the former President Nelson Mandela. Everyone is hoping that he does well or at least recovers, but this information certainly very serious. Appreciate it.

All right. Now our other breaking news that we are following, all eyes are on Moscow where Edward Snowden and may be spending the night after arriving there earlier today. The Wikileaks group helped him get there and it says Snowden is heading to Ecuador. Russian news agencies report that he may first stop in Cuba.

Law professor, Jonathan Turley from George Washington University is joining me right now. He has defended espionage cases before.

Professor, we just spoke, you know, yesterday talking about the espionage charge and how that may complicate things. Why not the U.S. have not instead imposed a theft of government property? But now we're talking about something very different. So much for the red flags that would be issued across the world, the globe, at all airports that because of these charges, Edward Snowden wouldn't be able to travel so effortlessly, but it happened. How do you suppose that is?

JONATHAN TURLEY, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, because ultimately Interpol as well as extradition treaties are read differently by countries in different circumstances. These treaties, particularly for extradition, have plenty of outs for countries to use. Interpol read notices if they did go out. I remained (ph) not mandatory in the sense that they can be enforced against a country like Russia. So what's clear is in my view is that Russia signaled his team that they could use the transit through Moscow.

Now, how they did that still remains to be seen. Whether he actually passed through the doors of Russia or whether he was held before that type of processing. It's also not clear whether the Ecuadorian ambassador met him and gave him any type of diplomatic protection, even a passport.

WHITFIELD: Earlier I was talking to our State Department correspondent, Jill Dougherty, who says she received some information from a source within the State Department who said that countries should hand him over because of the felony charges, the pending felony charges. But the word should, is that much more of a cooperation, or is there like a written agreement between countries that they're supposed to recognize those charges and hand him over and Russia doesn't necessarily have that playbook, nor does China?

TURLEY: Well, Fredricka, I think in fairness to how this is viewed around the world to many people, the United States itself has a rather checkered history of observing international treaties. We have been accused in the drone attacks of violating national sovereignty. We were accused of violating the treaties governing torture and not prosecuting American officials responsible for the so-called torture program. So, the United States has many critics in terms of how we enforce ourselves, international law, international obligations.

The fact is these are very political issues. But what you have to keep in mind is for extradition, there's an overriding question of whether a charged crime was a political act. Most extradition, if not all extradition, demands come with claims that someone committed a crime. But the country - the host country is allowed to look at that charge and consider whether it's political. And doesn't help to have all these senators and members of Congress calling for this guy's head and saying they want to catch this traitor and he should face the possible death penalty. All this hue and cry adds to this sort of political perspective of the case that is not going to help the United States, State Department or Justice Department.

WHITFIELD: All right. Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University, appreciate your time. Thank you.

TURLEY: Thanks, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: As we have been reporting, Edward Snowden is on the run. This scandal has sparked a whole lot of debate over national security and personal privacy/ I'll talk to former congresswoman Jane Harmon about why she says there's room for debate.

Plus, Paula Deen's unraveling empire. One cable network dumps her cooking show. Another one is rethinking its ties to her products.


WHITFIELD: Edward Snowden is sitting tight in Moscow as we understand it, at least for now as U.S. officials scramble to try to bring him home to face espionage charges among other things. The scandal has sparked a lot of debate over national security and personal privacy. Former congresswoman Jane Harmon doesn't condone what Snowden did, but she does say that the current system needs some tweaking? Is that right, Congresswoman?

JANE HARMON, FORMER CALIFORINA CONGRESSWOMAN: That's right. First of all, all this chatter about this balance between security and liberty I think misses the point. We either get more security and liberty or we get less. And a good news story is the fact that finally let's see now, nine years after the intelligence reform law passed, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Commission that is required under that law is functioning, and President Obama met with them last Friday. That should give a lot of assurance to Americans that a careful review of our policies is underway.

I also hope that in light of these unauthorized leaks -- I deplore the unauthorized leaks, but given the fact that that's happened, I think more information should be declassified and is being declassified by the White House, which will enable the public to be more informed and for us to have a more robust debate and perhaps for Congress to revisit these statutes and tweak them. That would mean possibly narrow them a bit to ensure better oversight or better disclosure.

WHITFIELD: So what do you say to Snowden sympathizers who say bravo to him that he essentially declassified information, that he revealed that people's privacy being infringed upon, that their phones were being listened to, that their e-mailed reviewed without their consent and that he is doing a good thing, that he has done a good thing by revealing that intelligence gathering has gone too far?

HARMON: I say that whistle-blowers should be protected. There were channels, authorized channels, where he could have made his case. I applaud the way Ron Wyden and Mark Udall have made their case in the Senate through authorized channels.

But what he did was not -- first of all, a lot of the information about the programs is out there for years and there was congressional debate when FISA was amended at the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act in 2008. And when the Patriot Act has been renewed over the years, there is an a provision there for business records that applies here. And so people generally knew about this. But by disclosing not just these programs but who knows, hundreds of pages of unauthorized classified information, I think he's damaged U.S. national security and surely he's been --

WHITFIELD: To what extent do you think he's damaged national security?

HARMON: Well, he's being charged under the Espionage Act. Now, that's pretty serious. And he may face long jail terms for willfully disclosing classified information. We'll see, eventually I hope we'll learn all the things he disclosed, but it is reported he used thumb drives to suck information out of government computers. It may go far beyond these programs.

And as I said, I support a public debate about these programs. I think the public will be reassured and I think they'll be further reassured now that they know there's a Privacy and Civil Liberties Commission that's functioning inside the executive branch.

WHITFIELD: And who should lead that debate? Should that be the president?

HARMON: Well, the president could lead that debate. He's defended these programs. Congress can lead that debate. Senator Feinstein, the Democratic chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and Mike Rogers, the Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee, have stepped up and talked about this. The Senate Intelligence Committee made sure that all senators are briefed, information now about the so- called FISA court, which is a rotating court of 11 federal judges. It was in "The Washington Post" this morning and maybe some of their decisions will be declassified or partially declassified.

But if we don't operate within the rules, it seems to me we seriously risk compromising sources and methods, and you better believe it that bad guys out there are learning everything they can about these programs and figuring work arounds so that their e-mails and phone calls will not be discovered. And that is a bad thing for the homeland security of the United States.

WHITFIELD: All right. Former Congresswoman Jane Harmon, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it.

HARMON: Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, cooking queen Paula Deen may have to take a big bite out of humble pie. Controversy over her use of a racial slur growing. Up next, how one critic compares to an assault suspect.


WHITFIELD: A lot of Paula Deen's fans are standing by her. The celebrity chef admitted to using the n word, but supporters say what she said years ago is over and done with and that the Food Network should not have canceled her contract. But now, other corporate partners are reconsidering their ties with her.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP) PAUL CAPELLI, V.P. CORPORATE COMMUNICATIONS, QVC INC. (on the phone): We share the concerns that are being raised about the unfortunate Paula Deen situation. QVC does not tolerate discriminatory behavior. We're aware that there's ongoing litigation examining the situation. We're watching those developments closely and reviewing our business relationship with Miss Deen.


WHITFIELD: Deen and her brother are being sued for alleged sexual and racial harassment by a former manager at their restaurant. I spoke to James Poniewozik, "Time" magazine's TV critic, and Keli Goff, special correspondent for the online magazine "The Root," and they have a lot to say about what she said.


KELI GOFF, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, THE ROOT: First of all, the fact, first of all, she waited three days. I mean, that's problem number one. No good ever comes from -- look. Often, it's not the crime but the cover-up. We all hear that saying. And there's a sense when someone does something that is widely considered egregious or offensive, and take their time A, owning up to it but B, Fredricka, actually owning it and taking full responsibility. And I hate to draw parallels here because we know that she's not accused of physically assaulting someone. Maybe verbally assaulting someone.

But there are shades of the Chris Brown saga, right? What ultimately hurt Chris Brown's image and has hurt his record sales and been hard to come back from is you had people like me who supported his albums. And then we see the photos of Rihanna. He never actually said that he beat her, that he assaulted her until about a year-and-a half later. It was all I'm sorry for what had happened, I'm sorry for what occurred, I'm sorry for what transpired. She hid for three days and then when she finally -- the first apology comes out, it's I'm sorry for hurtful language.

Well that leaves the question: what exactly did you say that you're sorry for, and why are you sorry for it? And that's what I think they really dropped the ball on.

WHITFIELD: James, you almost get in to the psychology of what you believe the psychology is behind the words, the history, that Deen has here and what she represents today. You stating this in the article and I'll just pull a portion of it. "Deen made a pile of money off a certain idea of old-school Southern culture. In return, she had an obligation to that culture, an obligation not to embody its worst, most shameful history and attitudes. Instead, in one swoop, fairly or not, she single-handedly affirmed people's worst suspicions of people who talk and eat like her, along with glibly insulting minorities. She slurred many of the very fans who made her successful. She made it that much harder to say that Confederate bean soup is just a recipe."

So, you've gone on very strong here. You think at the root of this is some real insincerity in her statement? JAMES PONIEWOZIK, TIME MAGAZINE TV CRITIC (on the phone): I think getting to the quote you said there, obviously, the greater injury when someone commits a racial slur is to the race they're slurring. But in a way, I think there's also an insult to Paula Deen's fans here. One thing, you know, that sort of inspired me to write that, one comment I was seeing immediately after this news broke was people saying, is anybody surprised? You know, look at her. She's an older woman from the South. She, you know, you know - the references of down-home culture and of course, she would do this, etc.

And you know, and in a way, she sort of embodying people's worst suspicions of somebody like her. You know, sort of bringing her fans in to this, people who, you know, appreciate her food and, you know, want to, you know -- enjoyed that without necessarily linking themselves to, you know, the less happy aspects of old Southern culture.


PONIEWOZIK: And, you know -- but by doing this, she really sort of created an injury there, as well.


WHITFIELD: That was James Poniewozik and Keli Goff. Thanks so much to both.

All right. He is the daredevil who walked across Niagara Falls on a high wire. Now you won't believe what jaw dropping stunt Nik Wallenda is doing tonight. He'll explain to us, next.


WHITFIELD: Nik Wallenda holds seven world records for his daring exploits on the high wire. Tonight, millions of people will watch on live television as he tries something that's never done before. He will walk on a wire stretched across the Grand Canyon.


WHITFIELD (voice-over): Remember this? Last year Nik Wallenda high above Niagara Falls. He becomes the first to cross from the U.S. to Canada on a high wire, and he does it live on national television. Now he wants to top that with a walk over the Grand Canyon.

NIK WALLENDA, HIGH-WIRE WALKER: And no one in the world has ever done that. I try to find a unique twist on everything that I do and try to find places that no one in the world has ever walked before. And this is truly a dream come true.

WHITFIELD: He'll be 1500 feet high, higher than the Empire State Building with nothing but a wire between him and the ground far below. No net, no tether.

Wallenda has been training for years at his home in Sarasota, Florida. Not even tropical storm Andrea kept him off the wire in early June. Why does he do it?

WALLENDA: This is something I've done since I was 2 years old. And it truly is my passion.

WHITFIELD: He's the seventh generation of the famous Wallenda family to do high-wire stunts. The family was known for its seven-person pyramid. But in 1962 in Detroit something went horribly wrong. Two members of the family fell to their death and a third was paralyzed.

When Nik Wallenda was a teenager, he helped the family re-create the same stunt at the same Detroit arena. This time success.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The flying Wallendas.

WHITFIELD: Nik is dedicating his upcoming walk across the Grand Canyon do his great grandfather, Carl Wallenda. I asked him about what's driving him to do this.

(On camera): It seems as though you probably have, you know, divide -- far extended all expectations of your family. You said your great grandfather is one that you are honoring, Carl Wallenda. But do you think your family thought that you would take it to these heights, so to speak?

WALLENDA: I don't know if they thought that I would or not. It is just the way that I've thought since I was a child. I believe that no matter what you do, you should do it to the best of your ability. I believe in doing things big. I am doing everything I can to honor my great grandfather, Carl Wallenda, and really put our name back on the map.

WHITFIELD: Why is this something you're looking forward to?

WALLENDA: Well, because my family has done this for seven generations and 200 years. I'm carrying on a legacy. Hard for you to relate to. But my great grandfather Carl said it best, he said life is on the wire, everything else is just waiting. And for our family that's true.

WHITFIELD: How do you prepare yourself -- you know, days prior to the walk?

WALLENDA: Well, you know, it's a lot of mental prep. I've also trained very hard in my hometown in Sarasota, Florida, where we put up a cable that was about 1,000 feet long, but it was rigged identical to the way that it would be rigged -- that it's rigged over the canyon. When you're walking at a height greater than the Empire State Building, it can play tricks on your mind. So it's important that I'm always in control of those thoughts.

And one of the challenges leading up to a big walk like this is all the media that wants to talk about the doom and gloom. This is real. This is untethered. So this is life or death, this crossing. And it's important that I'm mentally in control of everything. And as the media wants to play up, well, it's so dangerous and you can lose your life, and what about your family, I have to be able to filter all those thoughts out and continue to focus on the positive.

WHITFIELD: Right. So you're not thinking about -- don't want to think about the doom and gloom, as you put it, so what are you thinking about when you are walking?

WALLENDA: I'm really just putting myself back in the training grounds. As I was training last week in Sarasota, I actually trained with wind gusts of 45 to 50 miles an hour. And I also stayed on the wire with wind speeds of 92 miles an hour. And all of that is mental prep.

WHITFIELD (voice-over): Mental preparation for the huge challenge. What does he do in the moments just before a big high-wire walk?

WALLENDA: You know what, I say a prayer with my family and give them a hug and a kiss, and tell them I'll see them in a few minutes. That's it.


WHITFIELD: That's a lot. All right, we'll all be watching Wallenda's Grand Canyon crossing attempt. You can see it live tonight in a special called "Sky Wire Live With Nik Wallenda" on the Discovery Channel, 8:00 p.m. Eastern time, 5:00 p.m. Pacific.

All right, what do NASA, Starbucks and Beyonce all have in common? They're all part of "The Week Ahead," next.


WHITFIELD: All right, here's a look at what to expect in the week ahead. Hold the whipped cream and swap for skim. On Tuesday, Starbucks will unveil calorie counts on menu boards for all coffee and food items. The Food and Drug Administration plans to mandate calorie posting nationwide by the end of next year.

On Wednesday, we'll be watching NASA as it launches a satellite into orbit to collect data on the sun. It should send back the most detailed information ever collected on the sun's lower atmosphere.

Family and friends will gather on Thursday for the funeral of Sopranos actor James Gandolfini. It will be at the Cathedral of St. John The Devine in New York City. Gandolfini died of a heart attack last week in Italy at the age of 51.

And on Friday, singer Beyonce kicks off the North American leg of her world tour in Los Angeles.

That's going to do it for me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Much more of the CNN NEWSROOM straight ahead with my colleague, Don Lemon.