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History at the Supreme Court; President Obama in Senegal; Key Witness Testifies

Aired June 27, 2013 - 05:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: A new America for gay couples. This morning, the fresh questions, the new challenges, and the legal battles ahead for same-sex couples after the historic Supreme Court rulings.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, President Obama in Africa, a major mission of diplomacy. But how will the health of Nelson Mandela affect his visit?

BERMAN: And star witness. The friend of Trayvon Martin, on the phone with him just moments before he was killed, takes the stand. In just a few hours, after a stunning day in court, what the defense needs to do now?

ROMANS: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is Thursday, June 27th, it is 5:00 a.m. in the East.

ROMANS: Let's begin with the two legal decisions likely to change the lives of millions of Americans.

The Supreme Court saying the federal government must recognize same- sex marriages and opening the door for gay unions to resume in California. Joe Johns reports that proponents took to the streets celebrating what is being called a major victory for gay rights.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): All night and into this morning, celebrations for historic ruling.

While others denounce what they call the death of traditional values.

Emotional reactions following a pair of Supreme Court decisions giving the same-sex marriage movement its biggest victories to date.

The court striking down part of the Defense of Marriage Act that denies benefits to legally married same-sex couples and allowing same- sex marriages to resume in California.

But what now?

JOHN EASTMAN, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR MARRIAGE: We will continue to fight in the states where we won 37 times out of 40 ballot initiatives. And I think the states will continue to defend traditional marriage in overwhelming numbers.

JOHNS: One of the lawyers who led the case at the Supreme Court says bring it on.

UJNIDENTIFIED MALE: In five years, our goal is to have marriage equality throughout the country. I think that's an achievable goal.

JOHNS: Polling shows support for same-sex marriage has grown over the years. Fifty-five percent supported it in the latest CNN/ORC poll. Two years ago, that number was 51 percent. And four years ago, it was far less.

But there's still a long way to go. As of now, 12 states and the District of Columbia have voted to allow same-sex marriage, 36 states expressly forbid it.

Battleground California has voted both for it and against it. But now, the Supreme Court has declined to rule on Proposition 8, clearing the way for couples to star getting married there.

KAMALA HARRIS, CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL: There's no doubt, what so ever, the bells will ring and the marriages will begin.

JOHNS: Both sides have plenty of money and are highly motivated and they have been doing this for years. You haven't heard the last of the fight over same-sex marriage.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


BERMAN: So, President Obama applauding the Supreme Court ruling from afar, calling it a victory for couples who long fought for equal treatment under the law.

The president is in Senegal this morning, the first leg of his trip to Africa -- and so is Brianna Keilar, joining us now from that lovely city of Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

Brianna, what's on the schedule for today?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, today, John, President Obama shortly here will be meeting with the president of Senegal, Macky Sall, and then he'll be holding a press conference with him. Later in the day, this morning, he'll be going to Goree Island, which is a departure point for slaves, heading out of Africa, including to the U.S.

So, President Obama will be drawing that connection between this place here and between African-Americans who can trace their roots to this area. We are expecting obviously that to be a very emotional and meaningful visit that he pays later today.

But he's here in Senegal because this is an example of a democratic African nation. The president he's meeting with and will hold the press conference with today is one who replaced an incumbent who was trying to change the constitution to serve a third term, and facing a lot of pressure, grassroots pressure, as well as political and international pressure, including from the U.S., the president who is now in place, Macky Sall, was able to triumph.

So, this is something President Obama will be highlighting, John.

BERMAN: Brianna, right now, the president in Senegal with you. Later in the trip, he plans to visit South Africa. There had been some notion that he will meet with Nelson Mandela, while he was there. But, of course, I have to imagine that changed. CNN reporting that the former South African president on life support.

How does Nelson Mandela's health, his deteriorating health now affect this trip?

KEILAR: Well, this is something I will tell you the White House is monitoring closely. Obviously, this was the highlight of the trip would have been a visit with Nelson Mandela. President Obama is scheduled to go to Robben Island where Mandela and other political prisoners were imprisoned. So, that was also going to be a highlight of the trip.

Right now, the White House is not speculating on how the trip might be changing. But, you know, John, that they are certainly considering, as they monitor the situation, how it could affect the trip. So, officially, at this point, the itinerary has not changed.

But I think what we can expect is that as President Obama goes to South Africa, you can see the tone of what he's talking about sort of change. Some of the events may be step down. Certainly just because Nelson Mandela's health is in such a critical state at this point.

But at the same time, I think the itinerary they scheduled for South Africa wasn't over the top. Again, this visit to Robben Island, he was supposed to have a visit with Nelson Mandela. And I don't think that there's a sense that right now, things may be tremendously affected and step down the tone a little bit.

BERMAN: Right. Developing clearly, Brianna, we know you will keep us posted on that. Brianna Keilar in Dakar, Senegal, traveling with the president this morning -- thanks so much.

ROMANS: OK. Now, to the latest on NSA leaker Edward Snowden. He is still holed up in a Moscow Airport today. It's unclear when or if he may be leaving.

Snowden has asked Ecuador for asylum. But that country's leadership is indicating it may not be in any rush to approve his application. Meantime, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is insisting Snowden's leaks have seriously damaged national security. He says Snowden broke the law. He wants Russia to return the former NSA contractor to this country for prosecution.

BERMAN: In the wake of the leaks, intelligence officials tell "The Associated Press" that terror groups are adapting the way they communicate, posting online instructions in one case, changing phone numbers or using software to hide information from the NSA's eyes. The spy agency is said to be scrambling to keep up with the terror groups to stop plots.

ROMANS: The CIA meantime is trying to stop its own public leaks to launch an internal campaign to keep officers from giving information to the media. A memo obtained by "The Associated Press" says the program is designed to enforce a culture of secrecy within the CIA. There have been leaks from the agency in recent years.

BERMAN: The Senate drawing closer to a final vote on immigration reform. A procedural vote is set for today and lawmakers may give a last OK to the bill by Friday. It would provide a path to citizenship for some 11 million immigrants now in the country illegally, while also boosting border security. But the bill does really face an uncertain future in the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner said he will not allow a vote unless a majority of Republicans support it.

ROMANS: Acting IRS chief Daniel Werfel goes back before Congress today. He will appear before a House committee for a hearing on the agency's targeting of certain political groups for special scrutiny. Werfel is expected to talk about what he's learned so far in the internal investigation.

A senior IRS manager Wednesday took the Fifth, refused to testify about another controversy at the agency. The awarding of half a billion dollar contract to a company allegedly manipulated the bidding process. Gregory Roseman worked in a procurement office and is said to have been friends with a man who runs the company that won the contract.

BERMAN: A major drug bust to tell you about this morning. There were dozens of arrests worldwide as authorities went after traffickers pushing bath salts and other designer drugs, seizing more than 2,000 pounds of synthetic marijuana plus other substances that mimic LSD and cocaine. Law enforcement says money from sales of those drugs flowed out of the U.S. to Panama and the Middle East as well.

ROMANS: All right. After the storm comes the clean up. Heavy rain and high winds combined to do some serious damage in parts of Ohio. Trees and power lines no match for the storm. In Canton, a tree came crashing down on a man's home, puncturing a hole in his ceiling.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The winds were so high and there was so much debris in the air. I couldn't see the tree fell in front of me as I was watching. I just heard a boom and I heard some glass.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe that happened in half an hour. I just cannot believe that. The winds had to be ridiculous.


ROMANS: That's right. Thankfully, no storm related injuries have been reported.

BERMAN: It is hot and getting hotter out west. We are talking wicked hot. The National Weather Service predicting a dangerous record breaking heat wave to engulf much of the western United States, at least until the next week. It's a long time.

Temperatures could reach 120 degrees in desert areas of Arizona and California. Heat and draught-like conditions contributed to early season wildfires and several states already.

ROMANS: Indra Petersons, yesterday, one of our loyal viewers said walking outside Phoenix was like a blow-dryer, walking out with a hair drier blowing on you. Horrible.

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: And that's scary to think because we haven't reached the high temperatures we're talking about. I mean, those are coming and not even today, yes, we are warming, but Friday, Saturday, Sunday, temperatures close to 120. Some places as hot as 130. Yes, that is way too hot.

We are going to show you that. But, first, I'm going to talk about Ohio. Notice that this morning, you are waking up with heavy thunderstorms in the area, that same area that same storm that is pushing to the east. We are talking about some heavy rain. We are dealing with is that moist, gulf air this time of year. We get the winds from the south and we get all that humid air out there. But that cold front that's producing the storms in Ohio is going to be pushing to the east. So, you get the combination there of the two. We'll be talking about some heavy rain unfortunately as we go to the weekend.

Now, with that, we're talking about areas of slight risk, so we're looking for the threats of some of those heavier thunderstorms. But, really, what everyone is talking about what a gorgeous weekend it was -- last weekend and this weekend, yes, not so much. Three to five inches of rain pushing through the mid-Atlantic.

You know what? It's not just us in the Northeast, all the down to the Southeast. We are going to be talking about rain. They are going to get the typical afternoon thunderstorms. Of course, we were talking about that heat for these temperatures again, I'll show you just real quick. We are talking as high as 120 and 130. Places like Havasu and Vegas, it's going to be real tough.

BERMAN: Crazy. All right. Thanks, Indra.

ROMANS: Stay inside.

BERMAN: No thanks.

All right. Later this morning, a final farewell to James Gandolfini. There will be a public service for the actor. It will be held in New York.

Last night, Broadway paid its final respects to the actor, dimming the lights in honor of his work on the stage. This morning, service will be held at the church of St. John the Divine.

Gandolfini died last week of a heart attack, of course, on a working vacation in Rome.

ROMANS: Coming up, minutes before he was shot to death, unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin calls his friend. What he told her about the neighborhood watchman who was following him.

BERMAN: And a rare sight off the coast of California. Mega pod. Dolphins, a lot of them. We will tell you what they are doing there and why, when we come back.

Mega pod.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

In Florida, it was an explosive day of testimony and confrontation and it could even hotter in a just a few hours. The so-called star witness in the trial of George Zimmerman, she was on the other end of the phone with Trayvon Martin before his death. When court convenes, she could face some tough new questions.

CNN's George Howell reports from Sanford, Florida.


GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She's the last to have spoken to Trayvon Martin on his cell phone the night he was fatally shot and killed, a key witness to the prosecution whose testimony took various turns throughout the day.

At first, Rachel Jeantel became emotional when questioned about why she lied, saying she was in the hospital and couldn't go to her friend's funeral.

RACHEL JEANTEL, FRIEND OF TRAYVON MARTIN: I didn't want to see the body.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't want to see the body?


HOWELL: She told prosecutors Martin used racial slurs like the N-word to describe the man following him.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You said the man looked creepy.

JEANTEL: Creepy white, two of my neighbors (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

HOWELL: Jeantel says she told Martin to run, but the phone went dead. When she called him back, she says Martin told her he was still being watched, then confronted. JEANTEL: He said, "Why are you following me for?" I heard a hard breathed man say, "What are you doing around here?" I was calling, "Trayvon, Trayvon." And then I started to hear a little bit of Trayvon saying, "Get off, get off."

HOWELL: Then the tone of her testimony changed when cross examined by Zimmerman's team. At times appearing to have an attitude when questioned by attorney Don West.

JEANTEL: I had told you -- you listening?

HOWELL: The 19-year-old admitted she lied about her age, claiming to be 16 at the time of the shooting because she didn't want to be questioned. She says she didn't call police to tell her account because she expected police to contact her like they do on TV shows.

Then, there's the issue of the audio recording the witness made with attorney Ben Crump, who represents Trayvon Martin's family. A recording Crump played publicly to draw attention to the case.

Jeantel admitted she made the recording hastily and didn't really want to do it.

JEANTEL: Crump doesn't mean nothing to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You didn't take it seriously?


HOWELL: George Howell, CNN, Sanford, Florida.


ROMANS: All right. The former -- the now former Patriots tight end, Aaron Hernandez, is held without bail this morning in Massachusetts. The 23-year-old is facing a murder charge for the shooting death of semi pro player Odin Lloyd.

Hernandez appeared in court for his arraignment Wednesday. Prosecutors alleged he orchestrated the crime. A defense attorney claims the evidence is circumstantial. Just a couple of hours after Hernandez's arrest, the Patriots released him. The team signed the tight end to a $40 million contract just last summer.

BERMAN: Tragedy averted in Arizona. Two Air Force fighter pilots safely ejecting before their jet crashed last night. Officials say it went down in a desert area near Luke Air Force Base in the Phoenix suburbs. No word yet on what might have caused the F-16 to crash.

ROMANS: Protesters back on the streets in Egypt angry at their president. Hundreds gathered in Tahrir Square as Mohamed Morsi promised more changes to Constitution and pledged to correct past mistakes. One person was killed, hundreds injured in violent clashes Wednesday between protesters and Morsi supporters north of Cairo.

More demonstrations planned for Sunday. BERMAN: Demonstrations continue in Brazil where some 40,000 people took to the streets. They are upset over corruption and the millions spent ahead of the World Cup for the Olympics. Wednesday's protest took place near a stadium, posting a huge soccer match between the national team in Uruguay. Brazil won, by the way. Brazil's president is promising to --

ROMANS: Secretary of State Kerry is in the Middle East where he's trying to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. He'll begin the day in Jordan, meeting with King Abdullah, key U.S. ally, on to Jerusalem for a meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu.

ROMANS: All right. Dolphins, dolphins everywhere, a rare --

BERMAN: Mega pod!

ROMANS: Spotted a few miles off the coast of San Diego. We are talking more than 1,000 dolphins swimming together in a mega-feeding frenzy.

BERMAN: Mega pod!

ROMANS: Dolphins usually travel in schools of, I don't know, 15 to maybe 200.

BERMAN: Those are pods.

ROMANS: Right. This is way more than that. We hope there's enough fish to go around.

BERMAN: To feed the mega pod.

ROMANS: Speaking of food, coming up: good-bye coffee, hello Coke. The world's number one soft drink's new push to be your breakfast beverage of choice.


BERMAN: Look at that mist. Mist over the Hudson River here in New York City. Beautiful look at New York this morning.

ROMANS: Good morning. Wake up. Get on the treadmill.

BERMAN: Wake up now!

ROMANS: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's money time.

We have two straight wins. Stock futures are stronger this morning. The Dow jumped 150 points yesterday. The NASDAQ and S&P 500 have solid gains as well. This after a weak GDP report had investors thinking the Federal Reserve wouldn't need to taper its stimulus program anytime soon. So, bad news became good news on Wall Street. That's the age we're living in.

The Supreme Court decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act is a huge financial win for many same-sex couples. They will be able to take advantage of one more than 1,000 benefits that have been off limits. Same sex couples will be able to file federal income taxes jointly. That could put some couples in a lower tax bracket if one person makes a lot more than the other one.

The ruling enables same-sex couples to transfer assets to one another without getting hit by a gift tax. Very important. For health insurance, federal employees are granted spousal benefits and if one person passes away, the surviving spouse will now be able to get Social Security survivor's benefits.

There are some gray areas. It's unclear if these benefits apply to couples who are married but live in one of the 38 states where same- sex marriage isn't legal. So, I expect more court challenges.

BERMAN: Oh, yes.

ROMANS: But clearly, clearly for thousands and thousands of same-sex couples, you know, talk to your accountant. Things just changed --

BERMAN: Big time.

ROMANS: Things really just changed. A lot of money on the table here.

All right. Ever think about having a Coke with your breakfast serial? That's one of the bottlers is looking into. Coca-Cola Enterprises Europe issued a report last week identifying possible growth areas. It asks, how do we motivate people to make soft drinks like smoothies, juices and other on-the-go products. Part of their morning ritual in the same way as to your coffee.

Coke sees a big market in breakfast. It says a quarter of all drinks are consumed before 10:00 a.m.

BERMAN: You like creams and sugar in your Coke?

ROMANS: Just Coke.

BERMAN: Two creams, three sugars and my Coke.

ROMANS: My husband has a big Coke and ice every morning. He doesn't drink coffee or tea. You have that audience. Can you expand it? That's the question.

BERMAN: Beyond your husband?

ROMANS: I'm going to keep my coffee and tea.

BERMAN: Twenty-five minutes after the hour.

Coming up, the son of Michael Jackson taking the stand in his father's wrongful death case. What Prince Jackson says concert giant AEG Live was doing to his father, when we come back.