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White House Says Snowden's Location Unclear; NSA Leaker Is On The Move; Justices Return Affirmation Action Case; Senate Votes On Border Amendment; Nelson Mandela In Critical Condition; Wallenda Survives High-Wire Stunt; Transgender First Grader Wins Case; Search For Teen Yields No Clues; Paula Deen Deeply Embroiled; Day One of Zimmerman Trial

Aired June 24, 2013 - 13:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: NSA leaker Edward Snowden is supposed to be on a plane heading to Cuba and then Ecuador for possible asylum. But guess what, it's not clear if he's really on that flight.

Opening statements begin in the long awaited trial of Trayvon Martin's killer, George Zimmerman. You're going to hear why the prosecutor used offensive language from the very beginning.

The U.S. Supreme court rules on affirmative action cases involving race based admission to universities. But it wasn't the sweeping decision some had expected.

This is the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

The White House says NSA leaker Edward Snowden is probably, probably in Russia right now and they are pretty irritated at Hong Kong and China for letting him go there. Snowden is wanted on espionage charges in the United States. He took off from Hong Kong after the U.S. made a move to extradite him. He's been hiding out there since leaking classified information about U.S. government surveillance programs, hiding out in Hong Kong but now apparently in Moscow. Snowden has already applied for asylum in Ecuador and WikiLeaks says he's also applied for asylum in Iceland and other countries.

Let's in our own Atika Shubert. She's following this story from London. Atika, the WikiLeaks' founder, Julian Assange, he praised Snowden a couple of hours ago. First, listen to this.


JULIAN ASSANGE, FOUNDER, WIKILEAKS: This morning the U.S. Secretary of State called Edward Snowden a traitor. Edward Snowden is not a traitor. He is not a spy. He is a whistle blower who was told the public an important truth.


BLITZER: So, Atika, what do we know about WikiLeaks's involvement in Snowden's global odyssey right now to try to avoid prosecution?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Assange wouldn't say specifically when WikiLeaks got involved but he did say that Snowden had requested WikiLeaks expertise specifically on gaining asylum and what Assange described as the persecution of him as the whistle blower. And so, Assange made it clear that WikiLeaks is providing help and that has paid for legal counsel, has put forward some of those applications to Ecuador and apparently to Iceland and possibly other countries, although WikiLeaks won't say which other countries.

And it's clear that Julian Assange also knows exactly where Julian -- where Edward Snowden is but he's not saying at this point. What he did say in that presser was that Snowden was, quote, "healthy and safe, in contact with a legal team, and in high spirits." But he didn't want to say exactly where he is and if he's still in Russia.

BLITZER: As you point out, he says he knows where Snowden is, he's not saying publicly where that might be. But how connected is Julian Assange personally to Snowden's case based on everything we're hearing, Atika?

SHUBERT: Well, his case -- Assange's case is very different but he does have experience in terms of actually getting asylum from Ecuador. And this seems to be the expertise that Snowden has approached WikiLeaks for. And what we know from Ecuador, of course, is the Ecuador foreign minister came out with a statement saying, yes, they have received Snowden's application for asylum and that they are considering it at this point. They have not granted it yet. It is something that they are simply considering. We know apparently, according to Assange, Ecuador issued some sort of a travel document to Snowden. But it's not clear whether or not this is the document instead of his U.S. passport that was revoked on Saturday.

BLITZER: Atika Shubert watching the story. We're going to have a lot more, obviously, in the coming hours. And by the way, we're going to devote the full 6:00 p.m. Eastern hour later today of "THE SITUATION ROOM" to this global odyssey, this hunt for Edward Snowden and the NSA surveillance investigation. 6:00 p.m. Eastern later today.

Other stories we're following, including the United States Supreme Court. It, today, sidestepped a major decision on whether race can be continued to be used as a factor in college admissions. Such programs are intended to ensure diversity on campuses. But Abigail Fisher sued the University of Texas at Austin after her college application was rejected back in 2008. She says because she was white, she was treated differently from some less qualified minority students who were accepted. Fisher argued the program violates the equal protection rights of some white applicants. Joe Johns is joining us now with more on what happened today. Explain what the Supreme Court justices, Joe, decided to do in this case.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is probably more than many civil rights advocates were hoping for from this court. The seven to one decision with Justice Elena Kagan recusing herself. The decision leaves affirmative action in place and intact as part of the admissions process at colleges and universities for now. The court kicked the case back down to a lower court to decide whether the University of Texas admission plan which allows consideration of race as one of many factors is narrowly tailored to meet a compelling government interest.

The court said that the fifth circuit did not properly apply this so- called standard of strict scrutiny in the Fisher case. So now, they have to go back and do that. It's an extremely high standard but it's a standard that the court has always applied to race based policies. So, this is nothing but they did sharpen the standard a bit. Abigail Fisher is the plaintiff in the case, Wolf, if you will, she is white, she was denied admission at the University of Texas and says it was because of her race. She's holding a news conference this afternoon. Her legal team is also seeing this as somewhat of a win because they believe the court has now laid the groundwork for striking down race- based admissions -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we'll see what happens in the coming year or years on this, obviously, very sensitive issue. The justices -- the nine justices, as you well know, Joe, and you were over at the Supreme Court all morning, they are set to make three more major case decisions this week. Some as early as tomorrow. Explain what's going on.

JOHNS: That's right. Yet to be decided among the top tier cases, as we call them, is an issue relating to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The question is whether section 5 of that act is constitutional in the way that Congress reauthorized it in 2006. And then, there are the two gay marriage cases. One relates to proposition eight in California, that was the state initiative that was passed determining that marriage is between a man and a woman. The other is about the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA as it's called and whether individuals in same sex marriage cases ought to get the same federal benefits as straight couples. Still a lot for this court to decide. Still potentially a historic end of the term -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We'll see what they decide. This is supposedly the last week so we should know tomorrow, Wednesday or Thursday how they decide these critically important issues as well. Joe, thanks very much for that.

Seventy, that's how many Senate votes for supporters of the border security amendment of the Immigration Reform Bill are hoping for today. Senators are scheduled to vote later today, probably around 5:30 p.m. Eastern or so. The Republican backed amendment would add 20,000 officers to patrol 700 miles of border fencing. Backers believe they need 70 votes tonight to pressure a yes vote on the amendment in the House of Representatives.

Let's go to South Africa right now where Nelson Mandela is listed in critical, critical condition. He's been in the hospital now for the past couple of weeks with a lung infection. His condition was downgraded from stable yesterday. Nkepile Mabuse is in Pretoria. She's following the story.

NKEPILE MABUSE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: a significant shift in former prisoner Nelson Mandela's health communicated to the public and the world by the South African presidency. Mr. Mandela was admitted to this hospital behind me in Pretoria 17 days ago with what the presidency described as a recurring lung infection. Since then, we've been told that his condition is serious but stable. But on Sunday evening, South Africans were told that the beloved international icon condition has deteriorated and it's now a critical.

President -- the current president visited former President Nelson Mandela at this hospital and he said doctors are doing every single thing they can to try to improve his condition. But we do get a sense here in South Africa that the government may be trying to prepare South Africans for the inevitable. Mahatma Harrage (ph), presidential spokesperson, a man who spent time on Robben Island with Mr. Mandela says there is a need to be somber. There is a need here in South Africa to come to terms with reality and that reality is that Nelson Mandela is 94 years old. He's been in and out of hospital four times since December and he cannot possibly live forever. I'm Nkepile Mabuse, CNN, South Africa.

BLITZER: We wish, of course, Nelson Mandela only, only the best. A great, great man indeed.

Here is what else we're working on this hour. Dare devil Nick Wallenda goes where no man has gone before and lives to tell us about it. We're going to show you his unbelievable high-wire stunt without a safety tether near the Grand Canyon.

Six women, none of them African-American, make up the jury in the George Zimmerman trial. We'll speak to our legal expert about how that could impact the outcome.

And celebrity chef Paula Deen faces more possibly fallout after admitting using the N word. You're going to hear how words are defending the southern chef.


BLITZER: Running the last few steps as you saw on a tight rope near the Grand Canyon. The dare devil, Nick Wallenda, kissed ground after becoming first person to walk across the Little Colorado River gorge. He had no tether and no protection. Wallenda prayed at one point, kneeling on the two-inch steel cable strung 1,500 feet over the gorge. The walk took almost 23 minutes. Amazing.

It's being called a ground-breaking case for transgender case. The Colorado court has ruled that Coy Mathis was discriminated against by not being able to use the girls' bathroom at school. The six-year-old was born a boy but identifies as being a girl. In making the ruling, the Colorado Civil Rights Division says the child would be subject to harassment if forced to use the boys' bathroom. The first grader has been home schooled during the legal proceedings. Her mom says Coy is happy to get back to school.

Sounds like a nightmare, a family hiking on vacation and their 18- year-old son just vanishes. After a new search, there is still no sign of August Reiger. The family was hiking in a tourist area of Ecuador when he never showed up at a mountain's meeting spot. His dad says they are baffled and their son is not the kind of kid to do crazy stuff. Authorities of Ecuador are treating the case as a kidnapping. About 150 volunteers have joined the search. The family has been going from village to village to show people photos of Reiger. He's fluent in Spanish, had been named valedictorian of his graduating class. We hope they find him.

More heat for Paula Deen right now. The shopping channel, QVC, is looking whether to change its relationships with the celebrity chef. The food network is dropping her shows at the end of the month. Deen has been embroiled in scandal after admitting she used the N word and tolerated racial jokes at more. Our Pamela Brown has more


PAULA DEEN, CHEF: I want to apologize to everybody.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Paula Deen's fans are standing by the butter-loving chef and threatening to boycott the food network for sticking a fork in her shows.

DEEN: I'm going to wrap it in bacon and we're going to deep fry it.

BROWN: At her Savannah restaurant, the line was around the block this weekend as patrons showed support.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She has apologized and I think maybe she ought to take that for what it's worth.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a learning lesson for her and it's a learning lesson for the people that do forgive. So, I would forgive her.

BROWN: Deen stirred up controversy for comments she made while being questioned under oath as part of a racial and sexual harassment lawsuit against her and her brother filed by a former employee.

DEEN: Please forgive me for the mistakes that I've made.

BROWN: Friday she issued back to back video apologies online after admitting to using the N-word in the past.

DEEN: Your color of your skin, your religion, your sexual preference does not matter -- to me. I am here to say I am so sorry.

BROWN: Deen is accused in lawsuit of wanting to plan a southern plantation theme party with black waiters. Last year she spoke at a "New York Times" event about race relations in the south and her views on slavery.

DEEN: Black folks played such an integral part in our lives. They were like our family. We didn't see ourselves being prejudiced. I think we're all prejudiced against one something or another, and I think black people feel the same prejudice that white people feel.

BROWN: Shortly after her public apology The Food Network said it was not renewing her contract, putting an end to her three shows. The scandal has whipped up more than 13,000 comments on The Food Network's Facebook page.

"Food Network, I'm firing you. Good-bye," wrote one user. Others applaud The Food Network's decision to dump Deen.

"Great move Food Network, it had to be done Disrespectful slurs will not be tolerated."

And the fall out could continue. Listen to what QVC, which carries Deen's line of cookware told CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're watching those developments closely and reviewing our business relationship with Miss Dean.


BLITZER: That was CNN's Pamela Brown reporting for us. Deen, by the way, and her brother are being sued for alleged sexual and racial harassment by a former manager of Deens restaurants in Savannah, Georgia.

Police in Massachusetts have again searched the home of New England Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez, in their investigation into thekilling of one of his friends. For the second time, police were spotted leaving Hernandez's home carrying several brown bags of evidence. The body of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd was found a half a mile from Hernandez's house. Hernandez is also being sued in south Florida by a plan who said Hernandez shot him in the face after an argument in a strip club. That case is a civil suit. The man survived and lost his right eye.

The second George Zimmerman murder trial is in recess after a shocker in opening statements. Coming up, we'll have a live report from outside the courthouse.


BLITZER: George Zimmerman's murder trial is off to a shocking and graphic start. Opening statements got under way about three and a half hours ago. Prosecutor did not mince words as they spelled out what they say happened the night 29-year-old Zimmerman shot and killed the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman's parents were asked to leave the courtroom because they might be asked to testify later, but Martin's parents are there. His mom fought back tears this morning as she delivered a statement before entering the courtroom.



BLITZER: I didn't hear that. I don't know if you did. We'll try to fix that. George Howell is standing by as is CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin. They're both joining us from outside the court in Sanford, Florida. First, George, to you. The prosecution, they came out swinging today, didn't they?

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, absolutely. Prosecutor John Guy compared to Don West, two different attorneys, two very different styles. Talking about Mr. Guy, first of all he took 30 minutes. It was forceful. It was direct. He took time to knock down and really challenge a lot of what George Zimmerman says happened on the night of February 26th. I want you to listen to exactly how he opened with these statements. I want you to listen to the first words he told the jury. Let's listen.


JOHN GUY, PROSECUTOR: "(BLEEP) punks. These (BLEEP). They always get away." Those were the words in that man's chest when he got out of his car armed with a fully loaded semiautomatic pistol and two flashlights to follow on foot Trayvon Benjamin Martin who was walking home from a 7-Eleven armed with 23 ounces of Arizona brand fruit juice and a small bag of Skittles candies.


HOWELL: His counterpart, his challenger Don West, had a different style. He took more than an hour. We're expecting his opening statements to take yet another hour. He's basically going from start to finish, showing these jurors every detail, explaining every detail, and he opened in a different way with a knock-knock joke. Listen.


DON WEST, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Knock-knock. Who's there? George Zimmerman. George Zimmerman who? All right. Good. You're on the jury. Nothing?



HOWELL: So, how the jury interpreted that knock-knock joke is anybody's guess. Fair to say that Don West is taking his time going detail by detail explaining as much as he can to show his claim that George Zimmerman was confronted and then attacked by an aggressive Trayvon Martin and again we're expecting to hear more of his testimony here over the next hour.

BLITZER: Sunny, you had chance to watch and listen to these opening statements. Who do you think was more effective?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I think there's no question in anyone's view and in mine in particular that the state won that battle this morning, Wolf. It was a textbook opening statement given by a very sharp prosecutor, John Guy. He's also very attractive. He sort of reminds me of a young Kevin Costner. Remember, this is a six all female jury. They were riveted by him. They did not look away. They could not look away.

I used to teach law school. I still do on occasion. I would take that opening statement, show it to the students, and say this is how it's done. It was that good. In contrast, I have to tell you, I think the defense has so much to work with and didn't work with any of it. It has been in my view just a complete disaster. He started with an inappropriate knock-knock joke. It fell flat, and now continues to almost bore the jury. Remember the opening statement by the defense was only 32 minutes. It was so impactful, as George said. We're going on maybe two hours now for the defense and I still don't get it.

BLITZER: This is a serious matter and to open up with a knock-knock joke, as an outsider, sounded ridiculous. Let's talk about, Sunny, the make-up of the jury, all women as you point out. Five white women, one black/Hispanic woman a member of the jury. What do you make of this jury?

HOSTIN: I've never seen an all female panel. I've tried a few cases in my time and covered many more. I've never seen anything like that. I thought that perhaps this would be a good thing for the state as opposed to the prosecution, because what's very important is out of those six women five are mothers. The one black Hispanic woman, in particular, has I believe eight children. Today just this morning Sybrina Fulton, when the defense was playing the tape with the screams in the background that she maintains are her sons screams, she got up and left the scream and each one of those women followed her out of courtroom. I think while many people were saying this is a defense jury because they are women, I'm not so sure about that.

BLITZER: Pretty extraordinary that all the members of this jury, there's only six members of the jury, but all of them are women. How unusual is this?

HOSTIN: I have never seen it. I don't know if you have.


HOSTIN: I've never seen it. This is a non-capital case and we're in Florida there's only six jurors on the panel. Perhaps if there were 12, you'd have more of a mix but it's quite rare.

HOWELL: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Do we have any idea how long this will go on? Has the judge given any indication?

HOWELL: We've heard estimates this could go anywhere from two to three weeks. There's also a question as to whether there will be Saturday court. That's still unclear. Two to three weeks from what we hear, and clearly when you see how this judge moves things along it's moving at a pretty rapid pace.

BLITZER: Looks like the judge has the situation under control. Thanks very much.George Howell and Sunny Hoston on the scene for us. We'll have much more on this story throughout the day. Later tonight, 10:00 p.m. eastern Anderson Cooper will host a special on Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial. That's tonight on "AC360."

The man who exposed the NSA surveillance program is on the run and seeming asylum apparently in several places. Up next, why the U.S. feels slighted by some of those countries.