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Snowden's International Search For Asylum; Snowden's Legal Adviser; Dow Tumbles More Than 200 Points; George Zimmerman Trial Under Way; U.S. POW's Family Watch And Wait; Flood Danger Still High In Parts Of Canada; Death-Defying Walk 1,500 Feet Above A Gorge; Supreme Court Rules On Race In Admissions

Aired June 24, 2013 - 10:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now in the NEWSROOM, where is Edward Snowden? Mr. Catch me if you can went to Russia, is his next stop Cuba or Ecuador? The U.S. government wants him back here on U.S.

Also, tennis greats exchange passing shots. Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams go head to head off the court. It's nasty, too. They're sniping about boyfriends.

And a wire 1,500 feet up in the air, daredevil Nik Wallenda walks across a gorge at the Grand Canyon. You'll hear what he was saying actually he was praying as he inched down the line. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

COSTELLO: Good morning. Thanks so much for being with me. I'm Carol Costello. Right now, the world is about to hear from Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, and a key figure in the disappearance of America's most wanted fugitive. We're listening now to Assange's teleconference and whether he will reveal the latest whereabouts of Edward Snowden.

Right now, the American who exposed a secret U.S. surveillance program is in the middle of a globetrotting search for asylum. Here's the latest twist. Snowden flew from Hongkong to Moscow yesterday, but it's not clear if he's actually left Russia as planned. Snowden is expected to head south flying through U.S. air space in route Cuba and then hoping for asylum in Ecuador.

In the meantime, Snowden at this moment is poking the U.S. government in the eye. So far the United States has charged Snowden with espionage, revoked his U.S. passport, and urged foreign countries to expel him, yet Hongkong, China, and perhaps Russia doing no such thing.

Wolf Blitzer is in Washington. Hi, Wolf.


COSTELLO: So a 30-year-old high school dropout is foiling the entire U.S. government. What's next for President Obama? BLITZER: These are tough decisions the president will have to make. For example, if he's on that Russian flight from Moscow to Havana that supposedly under normal circumstances would go over U.S. air space, would the U.S. Air Force go up there and intercept that plane and force to land in the United States. That would cause a huge diplomatic uproar with Russia. Obviously it's not an easy decision, but the kind of decision that would have to go right to the president of the United States.

We're not even 100 percent sure based on all the information I'm getting that he is definitely on that plane from Moscow to Havana. But right now under normal circumstances, the flight would bring him as you point out over the United States. And technically the U.S. Air Force could go up there and tell that pilot to bring that plane down.

Now, that flight could also avoid U.S. air space and stay in international air space then it becomes even more complicated if the U.S. would try to intercept that plane. I suspect it would not. But those are hugely critical issues and very controversial decisions the president would have to make.

COSTELLO: Already Republicans are bearing down on the president. Here is Congressman Peter King of New York. Here's what he said to "NEW DAY" just a short time ago. Let's listen.


REPRESENTATIVE PETER KING (R), NEW YORK: The president has to explain to the American people why if he believes we're back pre-9/11 we're using such post-9/11 techniques. He should be the leader. He should be out, not talking about in Berlin, speaking to the American people. Let the Chinese and Russians know how serious we are about this. So it appears, and I hate to be in the middle of a crisis second guessing the president, but where is the president, why is he not speaking to the American people? Why is he not more forceful when dealing with foreign leaders?


COSTELLO: For all we know, Wolf, that President Obama could be speaking tough behind the scenes to these countries.

BLITZER: As far as we know, I don't know if he's raised these issues directly, he did see President Putin of Russia. I don't know if he's made any phone calls to leaders in China or Hongkong or for that matter in Ecuador. I suspect he won't call President Castro in Cuba given the lack of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, but I don't know what the president is doing behind the scenes.

I know there will be a lot of second guessing on how the administration handles some of the legal issues over the past couple week. For example, why did it take so long to revoke Edward Snowden's passport? Apparently, it was only done this weekend. That could have been done right away and it would have put enormous pressure on Hongkong, for example, to go ahead and deny him ability to fly a regularly scheduled commercial flight from Hongkong to Moscow. So these are questions that are going to have to be asked and then I suspect high administration officials will have to come up with some answers because there may be some problems in how the U.S. dealt with some of these very sensitive legal issues that may or may not have had any impact when all is said and done. Clearly, there will be some second guessing.

COSTELLO: Wolf Blitzer, thanks for your insight. We appreciate it.

BLITZER: Thank you.

COSTELLO: We now know a little more about Sarah Harrison. Who is Sarah Harrison you asked? Well, she's the legal adviser who is traveling with Edward Snowden. According to her Wikileaks profile, Harrison is a British citizen who has worked as a journalist and legal researcher. She works with Wikileaks legal defense team. Her investigations have revealed abuses in human rights and global surveillance.

Wikileaks says she's now accompanying Snowden in pursuit of asylum. We'll keep you posted because as I said, Julian Assange is now speaking at a teleconference and we're monitoring that. We'll pass along what he says once we get it all straight.

Breaking news now, the Dow is tumbling this morning. It's down more than 200 points. Two big concerns weigh on investors. Alison Kosik is at the New York Stock Exchange and you predicted it earlier it was going to be an ugly, ugly day.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I did. If you haven't fastened your seat belt yet, as you're watching this market movement you may want to because investors are still rattled after Fed Chief Ben Bernanke said the fed could start scaling back the amount of money, the stimulus that has been pumping into the financial system. What that was meant to do was make it cheap to borrow money. It was meant to encourage people in businesses to invest, spend and to hire.

And what it essentially did is it pushed interest rates lower, it created this wealth effect in the stock market. So with these words from the fed last week that the gravy train could come to an end, investors today, as they have been over the past couple of sessions they are running for the exits.

Also in play today, China. The People's Bank of China, that is the equivalent of the Federal Reserve here, it's told the country's biggest banks there to reign in risky loans and get their balance sheets under control and the big fear there is a cash crunch could hurt the world's second biggest economy and wind up taking a big bite out of global economic growth. So you roll all the worries together, it's enough to give Wall Street a case of the Mondays -- Carol.

COSTELLO: A big case of heartburn for the rest of us. Alison Kosik, thanks so much.

The shooting death of Trayvon Martin opened up a new wound regarding race relations. And now nearly 16 months later, George Zimmerman, the man accused of pulling the trigger finally goes on trial. As you can see, opening statements getting under way right now in a Sanford, Florida courtroom, attending the beginning of the trial, Trayvon Martin's parents.


SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: I ask that you pray for me and my family because I don't want any other mother to have to experience what I'm going through now.


COSTELLO: CNN's George Howell is live outside the courthouse. And George, I understand in the courtroom, the f-bombs were flying?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fair to say that happened and looking inside that courtroom, Martin's family tearful as they listened to Prosecutor John Guy in a very direct and very jarring style talk directly to the jury. His first words, Carol, to the jury were these, expletive punks, these expletives always get away.

And those words that I'm not saying are just as bad as you would imagine. But basically he says that these are the words that George Zimmerman said on that 911 call when he called to report a person that he described as real suspicious and up to no good. That's what John Guy told the jury. And then Guy picked apart George Zimmerman's account of what happened.

He basically said that the statement that martin said you're going to die tonight. Guy says no one heard that. Also Zimmerman's claim that he got on top of Trayvon Martin and spread out his hands, Guy says that didn't happen. In fact Martin's hands were under his chest. And also this concept that Zimmerman grabbed the gun, Guy says there was no DNA, rather that Martin grabbed the gun.

Guy says there was no DNA from Martin on it that gun. And he painted a picture, really tried to paint the scene of that night. Take a listen to what he said.


JOHN GUY, PROSECUTOR: As the smoke and the smell of that fatal gunshot rose into a rainy Sunday Sanford night, Trayvon Martin, 21 days removed from his 16th year, was face down in wet grass laboring through his final breaths on this earth. And that defendant at that same time was upright walking around preparing. Preparing to tell law enforcement why it was he had just profiled, followed and murdered an unarmed teenager.


HOWELL: It was a very direct. It was a very graphic description according to the prosecution of what happened on the night of February 26th, 2012. But again, keep in mind we're only hearing right now from the prosecution. We have not yet heard from the defense team and George Zimmerman's account of what happened that night. Attorney Don West is expected to open for the defense and Carol, we know that his opening statements could take up to two hours. So we're still watching and waiting. Right now it seems the court is in a 15- minute recess, but we do expect to hear more, get more insight, according to the prosecution of what they say happened.

COSTELLO: George Howell reporting live from Sanford, Florida this morning. Thanks.

Held captive for four long years, this morning the family of an American POW, Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanisatan is praying talks will move forward between the United States and the Taliban. Right now, an American diplomat is in Kabul to meet with the Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Ed Lavandera's reports Sergeant Bergdahl's family is hoping talks about a prisoner exchange will bring their son home.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Peace talks that could help bring Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl home appeared to be crumbling. The Taliban has said it's willing to exchange the only known captive American soldier for five of its imprisoned leaders. But the Afghan government's anger over the Taliban's newly opened office in the country of Qatar threatens to derail the talks.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: You know, it's sort of been step back from, now we need to see if we can get back on track. I don't know whether that's possible or not.

LAVANDERA: Half a world away at a weekend rally in Bowe Bergdahl's honor, his father is making a passionate plea for all sides to talk.

ROBERT BERGDAHL, BOWE BERGDAHL'S FATHER: To the people of Afghanistan (inaudible) may the peace of God and the blessings that come from God be upon you, may we somehow after 12 long years find peace in Afghanistan so that our soldiers and our American personnel can come home.

LAVANDERA: Yellow ribbons still line the streets of Bowe Bergdahl's hometown of Haley, Idaho and bring Bowe home banners hanging from store fronts show four years of weathered strain.

(on camera): There is reason for hope here in Haley. There has been very little new information of Bowe Bergdahl's condition until a few weeks ago when Bergdahl's parents received what they believe is a handwritten letter from their son delivered to them through the Red Cross from the Taliban.

(voice-over): Robert Bergdahl is on a passionate mission to get his son home. He's grown out his beard as a symbol of solidarity and immersed himself in Afghan culture and rituals, even teaching himself the language of his son's captors (inaudible).

At this weekend's rally, could you sense his parents' anguish.

BERGDAHL: A father does not leave his son alone on the battlefield. I do not live here. I live in Afghanistan. My cell phone is set on Afghan time. I will not leave you on the battlefield, Bowe. These people here are not leave you on the battlefield. Your country will not believe leave you on the battlefield.

LAVANDERA: The Bergdahls sense this is the best chance they have had to bring Bowe home. They pray this moment doesn't slip away. Ed Lavendera, CNN, Haley, Idaho.


COSTELLO: We'll keep you posted. Wow.

Other stories we're watching today at 13 minutes past, Nelson Mandela remains in critical condition at a South African hospital. The former South African president has been hospitalized since June 8 for a recurring lung infection. He's 94.

The 65,000 residents of Calgary can return home, but other areas of Alberta are still watching for raging floodwaters. A river is expected to reach record flood stage in the city of Medicine Hat today. At least three deaths have been blamed on the flooding in Canada.

Taking bravery or insanity to a new level, daredevil Nik Wallenda successfully walks across the Grand Canyon on a two-inch thick metal wire 1,500 feet up in the air. The agonizing and anxiety-filled 23 minute Discovery Channel stunt did not start well. Wallenda had a couple of close calls.


NICK WALLENDA, HIGH WIRE WALKER: Shoes feel slippery. There is dust on this cable. Lord, help the cable to calm down.


COSTELLO: Well, he did. Winds were worse than Wallenda anticipated and the 7th generation daredevil had to stop twice to regain his composure.


WALLENDA: Way more windy and the movement of the cable, and the side walls as I was walking were confusing me. So I tried to react and when I react, I kick that had rhythm into the cable. And it took every bit of me to stay focused that entire time. My arms are aching like you wouldn't believe.


COSTELLO: At the end, Wallenda hugged his wife and kids and said he would celebrate by eat great big old steak. When NEWSROOM continues, the big fight at Wimbledon and it's not on the court. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COSTELLO: There has been a major ruling at the U.S. Supreme Court. Let's head to Washington and Wolf Blitzer. Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. The decision is a very important decision and we're still waiting the decision, but we do know the case it involves. It's a case called Fisher versus the University of Texas at Austin and it involves the question of affirmative action. Can race be used for admissions purposes to have diversity on U.S. campuses?

It's a very sensitive subject and the ramifications of this decision by these nine justices could be enormous for not only state universities, but private universities all over the country. John King is standing by at the magic wall with background. John, set the scene for us. We're about to get the decision.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know this is one of the big ones we've been waiting for as the Supreme Court winds down its term. Two cases about affirmative action, about voting rights, about race-based relations in the United States, and we're waiting for this as you noted, Fisher versus the University of Texas at Austin.

At issue, race-based university admissions. Can a state university -- can a university use race as an issue in a state? Here is the argument in this case. Abigail Fisher sued the state saying she was denied admission because she's white and she claims that violates her 14th amendment right to equal protection so Abigail Fisher is the petitioner here. She is suing the state I should have gotten into the school, but I'm white and I was denied over African-Americans and other minorities who she says was less qualified.

Now the university says its policy is in line it believes with existing Supreme Court precedent when it comes to affirmative action issues. That's why this decision is so important. So will the court draw a new line on state based and perhaps even more broadly affirmative action questions? And the school is making the case that race is viable as one factor as long as you have several factors in trying to develop a diverse student body.

That is the big case there. What do the American people think about this issue? Let's take a look. This is being done by the nine justices, but in the court of public opinion, you see nearly 7 in 10 Americans think this is wrong. That state based schools should not be able to use race as a factor in admissions policies. That's a pretty striking number.

But remember that's the court of public opinion not the Supreme Court and there is a breakdown probably not surprising to many of you here, whites are overwhelmingly against this, race being used a factor in admissions policy. Among non-whites majority approve of this affirmative action. As you see it's more narrow divide right there.

The impact is the big question mark because there is a case just a few years ago with Supreme Court ruled on this. There is a Michigan case it in the pipeline for next year's agenda. So here is the big question. Is it a narrow ruling, is it broad sweeping, how will this decision impact an issue as you well know, it's a huge legal issue politically it can become very divisive issue.

BLITZER: And this is an issue that involves a public university, the University of Texas at Austin. But private universities will be watching it very closely because so many of those private universities get federal funding one way or another. Tom Foreman is watching what's going on. We're awaiting the decision, Tom, but you have more background.

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. You know, we can't take you inside the Supreme Court right now, but we can virtually give you a scene setter there. There are about 300 people gathered in the room right now. It looks like this and they're waiting to hear what the justices are saying in their completion about this case of fisher versus the University of Texas at Austin.

This case was argued in oral arguments here way back in October. What that means is that at that time attorneys for each side came and each side had about 30 minutes at this podium on to answer questions from the justices. That does not sound like a lot of time, but that's because each side has submitted extensive briefs, the justices are well read even before they reach this point and most of them in fact have opinions about it even before they hear the final word on it.

Shortly after everyone clears out traditionally the justices go behind that red curtain to another room where they actually have a vote right then on the case. So they know where they stand. If there is a minority and majority opinion or majority and dissenting opinion, justices are assigned to write those and they can trade notes and possibly change those opinions, all that is done in private. All we can base our thoughts on ahead of a decision like this is what we saw in court.

So what did we see here? First of all, Justice Kagan was out on this one, not taking part because she worked on the case back when she was with the Justice Department. What did Justice Roberts say? He seemed very concerned about the idea that this has a practical application. How do you do it?

One of the things he said to the attorneys is should someone who is one quarter Hispanic check the Hispanic box or some different box? And when the attorney said it would be the Hispanic box, he said what about somebody who is one-eighth? Justice Sotomayor pushed equally hard against the Fisher side because she basically said race can be a factor. The courts have decided that before.

And she said you want to tell universities that once you reach a certain number, a certain percentage of minority students then you can't use race anymore? And of course the final word on all of this really that will be watched very closely is Justice Kennedy. He's considered a likely swing vote in all of this.

And one of the things he was troubled by apparently was this idea that maybe race even the factor was being considered too much over test grades and over GPAs and other honors. He said so what you're saying is that race counts above all. That's what they said back in the oral arguments way back in October. We're waiting now, Wolf for the final word on what they are saying now.

BLITZER: All right, as we await the decision by the United States Supreme Court, let's bring in two legal experts with different perspectives on what's going on. Carrie Severino is joining us from New York. She is a former clerk to Clarence Thomas and now a chief counsel and policy director over at the Judicial Crisis Network.

And also joining is Leah Pearson, associate professor of law at American University Washington College of Law here in the nation's capital, a nationally recognized expert in the area of civil rights. What's wrong, Carrie, with allowing race to be used as one of several factors to guarantee diversity in classrooms at public universities?

CARRIE SEVERINO, CHIEF COUNSEL AND POLICY DIRECTOR, JUDICIAL CRISIS NETWORK: Well, as Justice Kennedy pointed out during the arguments, whenever race is used and you don't look at the person as an individual, that's a problem. As Chief Justice Roberts put it in other case, the best way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race. It's one thing the Supreme Court has said in the past. If it's part of a coherent thing where you're looking at the individual still, but as long as we're getting to a certain quota or number, then looking at the person as racial cipher overlooks the individual and that is not what our constitution requires.

BLITZER: Lee, I suspect you disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do respectfully disagree. On the contrary, our constitution has long held that race can be considered as one of many factors. In fact the 14th amendment, which is the issue in this case was developed in direct response to a history of slavery and discrimination. It was an effort to ensure African-Americans could have a place. So it can be used and in this instance, it's really about expanding opportunity. It's merely one factor of a number of factors for qualified individuals. So it's by no means the primary consideration.

BLITZER: All right, Leah, Carrie, both stand by. We're awaiting the decision from the U.S. Supreme Court. Gloria Borger is here with us, our senior political analyst. Gloria, the ramifications if they decide to strike down this affirmative action, if they do that, that will be significant.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: I think it will be significant. It would be significant largely for law schools, for public universities, and also as you pointed out earlier, it would affect private universities, as well, who get federal funding. What we heard from the justices when they were arguing this case is the question of how much diversity is enough.

When do you know that you don't need affirmative action anymore to ensure diversity and that's the question they took up in 2003 and they're revisiting again. And in 2003, they came to the decision that public universities have to take account of race as part of what they called a holistic view in terms of general admissions to universities. So we'll have to wait and see whether that still stands. At that point when they decided that case, they said it should last for about 25 years. Well, it's only been about nine years.

BLITZER: Stand by for a moment. We'll go to the Supreme Court. Jake Tapper is standing by up there with Joe Johns. Can race be used as a legitimate factor for admission into universities in the ramifications will be enormous? Our special coverage continues in a minute.