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George Zimmerman Trial Continues; Who Watches the Watchmen?; Interview with Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin

Aired June 28, 2013 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good afternoon, everyone. This is Jake Tapper from THE LEAD on CNN.

We have a lot of news to get to today. But right now we're watching scenes from the courtroom in the murder trial of George Zimmerman, accused of murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager.

The jury is being escorted out right now and the attorneys are speaking with the judge in a private sidebar. So we're going to review the very interesting developments today.

The murder trial has brought a renewed focus of course to issues of race and racial profiling and self-defense and captivated the country, not just because of what we know, but for all the things we don't know and possibly never will. Prosecutors are out to shatter claims that Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in self-defense, but the state's case today took a bizarre turn when one witness was asked to give testimony that seemed to back up some of Zimmerman's claims.

John Good lives in the subdivision where the deadly confrontation took place. He's one of the few people who actually saw some of what went down. Here's some of his testimony, where he seems to imply he saw Trayvon Martin on top of George Zimmerman.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In terms of describing the individuals, are you able to describe their faces or anything or just clothing descriptions?

JOHN GOOD, WITNESS: Well, going back to when they were vertical, I could tell the person on the bottom had a lighter-skinned color, correct.

MARK O'MARA, ATTORNEY FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: What you saw was the person on top in MMA-style straddle position, correct?

GOOD: Correct.

O'MARA: That was further described, was it not, as being ground and pound? Right?

GOOD: Correct.

O'MARA: Explain what ground and pound is in your mind. GOOD: The person on top being able to punch the person on the bottom.

But the person on the bottom also has a chance to get out or punch the person on top. It's back and forth.


TAPPER: Now that seemed to be damaging testimony to say the least for the state, but prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda also got Good to contradict something Zimmerman has said about that night, which is that Trayvon Martin was slamming Zimmerman's head into the ground. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My question is, did you ever see the person on top pick the person from the bottom and actually slam them into the concrete?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ever see the person on top slamming the person on the bottom's head on the concrete over and over and over?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you see at any time the person on top grab the person on the bottom's head and slam it into the concrete?



TAPPER: Also taking the stand today, Jonathan Manalo. He was also a neighbor who was the first one to talk to Zimmerman after Trayvon Martin was shot and killed. The prosecutor focused on what Zimmerman had to say and his demeanor just moments after the shooting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When you first came into contact with the defendant that evening, did he appear to be in shock, sir?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what is your opinion based on, sir?

MANALO: He wasn't act like anything different. He was coherent, he was responding to my questions like -- just like any other person.


TAPPER: Very interesting. During Manalo's cross-examination, we also saw these pictures of Zimmerman's bloody head and the witness testified that he saw blood dripping from Zimmerman's nose.

So what will the jurors make of all this?

Let's go live to investigative journalist Diane Dimond, who is in New York, and CNN's Martin Savidge outside the courtroom in Sanford, Florida. We're obviously going to continue keep an eye on the courtroom itself.

But, Diane, let's start with the first witness. Was it a strategy by the state to put a witness on the stand who actually bolsters the defense's argument?

DIANE DIMOND, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: Well, I don't think that they wanted that to happen, but I think that that's what did happen.

Look, when you're in a courtroom, you kind of know what the other side is going to do, so I'm sure the prosecutor knew if I don't call John Good, they're going to call John Good, so I might as well do it myself and get out in front of it.

The problem is when you compare John Good to other witnesses that we have heard this week, this is the end of the first week, the girlfriend, Rachel, for example, compare their demeanor and it's all about who the jury believes and who they think is trustworthy. When I watched John Good testify today, he wasn't on either side.

He wasn't on Trayvon Martin's side and he wasn't on George Zimmerman's side, but what he said I thought was much more compelling for the defense case, even though he was a prosecution witness.

TAPPER: Interesting. John Good worded his answers very carefully, fastidiously. Let's listen to some of these exchanges.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that it was the person on the bottom who was screaming for help?

GOOD: I mean, rationally thinking, I would think so.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could you say unequivocally to this jury who was saying something?

GOOD: One hundred percent? No. Like I said, when I walked out it looked like it was only one person. Then I could see a second person. And it looked more of just a tussle and that's when I thought it got serious when it moved out to the sidewalk and he was more in a straddle position and arm movements were going downward.


TAPPER: It's very interesting, Martin and Diane. He didn't say punches. He said arm movements going downward. Does one side benefit more than the other, Diane, do you think from his attention to detail?

DIMOND: Well, I still think it the defense, I have to say. Look, let's distill down what John Good said. He said the lighter-skinned man, Zimmerman, was on the bottom. He was being straddled by the darker-skinned man, Trayvon Martin.

Punches were going down or arm movements were going down. Now, because another witness said I didn't see him pounding his head into the pavement, it doesn't really matter, because we have those dramatic pictures of the blood coming off of Zimmerman's head.

When I look at everything we have heard this week, I would have to give it to the defense so far.

TAPPER: Martin Savidge, I want to bring you in from Sanford, Florida.

The state today, the prosecutor showed a snippet of the surveillance video from the subdivision the night that Trayvon Martin was killed, but it didn't really show much. Do you think they're holding out some other bombshell or what is the reasoning behind showing the surveillance video?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It was widely known that there were surveillance cameras that were used inside of this residence, inside of this subdivision. But we also know that there were no real mechanical eyewitnesses, if you were.

So that's the best they have got. As far as we know -- and I don't believe there are any surprises because a lot of the evidence is according to Florida law under discovery we would see and has been turned over to the defense. But it was very dark, as everybody seems to say that takes the witness stand. So, even if you did have cameras, unless they were infrared, they wouldn't have seen much at all, given the weather and the darkness.

TAPPER: And there was a focus today, Diane, on George Zimmerman's demeanor, with most of the witnesses testified that he was very, very calm after the shooting.

Diane, then Marty, what do you think jurors are likely to take away from that testimony?

DIMOND: You know, it's odd because we all pontificate ad nauseam sometimes on these cases, but I have sat in many courtrooms. And it's really up to what the jurors think.

I think that they're watching George Zimmerman in court. He is a man who does not display a lot of emotion. And who's to say how are you supposed to act after a gun of yours has been used to shoot and kill someone in front of you? I mean, is there a guidebook on how to act on that?

I think the jurors watching him in court and his usual demeanor is going to be a lot more important than that little snippet of testimony.

TAPPER: Martin?

SAVIDGE: I think that -- I didn't get to see the jurors because I wasn't in court at that particular time, especially when Good was giving that testimony. And I believe that what you heard were two men, who are really the first eyewitnesses to come forward. Other people sort of said they saw shapes and movements, but this time we have Good discerning color and he's got -- actually making identifications. He was saying that Trayvon Martin is on the top, George Zimmerman is on the bottom. He also identified the voices.

That's powerful and then on top of that, Manalo, he finished by basically recounting the words. Remember, he is the first person to walk up to the George Zimmerman seconds after the shot, the body of the young teen sprawled beside him, and he recounts George Zimmerman saying something to the effect, I had to shoot him, I had to shoot him, it was self-defense.

Boom. That was the end of it. The defense said, OK, no more questions. It was powerful.

TAPPER: And, in fact, Manalo said that Zimmerman had him call his wife after police arrived. Let's play that testimony if it is ready.

OK, it is not ready yet. But let's talk about that moment, the idea of Manalo being told by Zimmerman, call my wife, tell her that I shot someone.

Diane, what did you make of that?

DIMOND: Well, I thought it was a clear-thinking statement to have made. It didn't sound to me like a man who was gasping for breath, who had gone out on the hunt for somebody, I'm going to get this guy.

I thought that it put Zimmerman in a very clear frame of mind. And, frankly, Jake, if he indeed did turn to somebody right away and said, I had to shoot him, it was self-defense, well, bingo, that's the whole case. Was this self-defense or not? And in an extemporaneous exclamation, the defendant in this case says that it was.

TAPPER: All right, Diane and Martin, stay with us.

We're going to take a quick break as the jurors have been escorted from the courtroom. We're going to continue to watch the trial of George Zimmerman. We will go back live to the courtroom when the testimony continues.

Plus, in other news, he gave his wife a job, even had his employees do his homework, all while investigating others for ethical abuses. So who's watching the watchdog? That's coming up on THE LEAD.


TAPPER: Welcome back to the lead.

We're going to continue to keep an eye on the George Zimmerman murder trial. They are still in sidebar. But we will go back to the courtroom when there is compelling testimony to report.

But for now, we're going to go take a look at what we call the buried lead. That's what we call stories that we think aren't getting enough attention. And you might not even believe this one. Inspectors general, they root out questionable or shady or just plain illegal goings-on in the government institutions that fund with our own tax money. But what if inspector generals go rogue themselves? To steal a phrase from Alan Moore, who paraphrased the Latin phrase to begin with, who watches the watchmen?


CHARLES EDWARDS, DHS ACTING INSPECTOR GENERAL: Thank you for inviting me to testify today about ethical standards within the Department of Homeland Security.

TAPPER (voice-over): But what if the guy in charge of guarding the ethical standards of this powerful government agency was not abiding by them himself? Two U.S. senators are now demanding information from Homeland Security Department acting Inspector General Charles Edwards, because whistle-blowers in his department claim he has abused his authority.

Perhaps the most explosive charge, that Edwards played some sort of role in the scrubbing of the investigation into Secret Service agents hiring prostitutes prior to a presidential visit to Colombia.

Edwards was tasked with investigating that.

EDWARDS: Chairman, I want to give you my commitment that we're going to do a compromise review and an independent investigation and report back to you on the findings and recommendations as soon as possible.

TAPPER: But a new letter from these two senators claims Edwards may have succumb to political pressure, removing or changing damaging information from reports on both the private and public investigations.

Other allegations paint a picture of a watchdog who needs to be sent to the pound. Edwards allegedly used office funds to travel to South Florida to take classes for his Ph.D., but the allegations suggest he wasn't much of a student, forcing staffers to do his homework, even write his dissertation.

One employee who apparently escaped the homework, his wife, whom he allegedly hired as a supervisor, a potential violation of anti- nepotism laws. The letter from the senator says the whistleblower's claim he even then let her telecommute from India for seven months.

DAN EPSTEIN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, CAUSE OF ACTION: This is something that is incredibly ironic for someone who's supposed to be protecting our tax dollars. He's clearly wasting them and also creating a complete reversal of what someone who's dedicated their life to public service really should be doing.

TAPPER: One government accountability group is now asking President Obama to take a careful look at these allegations.

EPSTEIN: There are some serious questions to be asked as to whether because of the acting I.G.'s behavior, because of his lack of accountability, whether certain serious investigations were kind of covered up.

TAPPER: A spokesman for the inspector's general office said Edwards is currently on vacation in India and unavailable for comment, but the I.G.'s office has promised full cooperation with the senators pursuing more information on the allegations.


TAPPER: The allegations against Edwards also suggest that he retaliated against staff who brought or attempted to call attention to his misconduct.

Joining me now is one of the senators who sent that letter to Mr. Edwards, Republican Senator Ron Johnson from Wisconsin.

Senator, thanks so much for being here.

How did your subcommittee uncover these alleged abuses by Mr. Edwards? And how long have you known about them?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R), WISCONSIN: Well, first of all, thank you for highlighting this issue, which I think is pretty important.

You know, my involvement really, again, that hearing that you showed when Director Sullivan and Inspector General Edwards came before our Homeland Security Committee talking about the Cartagena.

TAPPER: The prostitution scandal.

JOHNSON: The prostitution scandal with the Secret Service.

And in the course of trying to get to the bottom of that, which we still haven't gotten to the bottom of. I mean, there's been a total cover up. We've been just, you know, hitting roadblock after roadblock, as we started trying to dig into that particular scandal, we started getting whistleblowers coming forward saying there's some real problems with this inspector general.

TAPPER: And I know you have suggested and these whistleblowers say there has been a cover-up of information about that Secret Service scandal.

What specifically is being scrubbed? What kind of information?

JOHNSON: Well, potentially White House personnel involvement in the scandal. The fact that -- certainly, the solicitation of prostitutes is far more widespread in the Secret Service and now, we're finding with the State Department, more widespread throughout the government, these security details.

Now, Jake, we're starting to see a very disturbing pattern of this White House being involved in applying political pressure in these independent inspector general's office, it start with the covering up of the -- and the changing talking points with Benghazi, you know, certainly, the scrubbing, the whitewashing of the political pressure of delaying reports about the election, secretly with the Secret Service investigation. Now, we're seeing the same thing with the State Department.

I mean, this administration was supposed to be the most transparent in history. It's not turning out to be that way.

TAPPER: I want to read part of a letter that Mr. Edwards, the inspector general, were talking about, wrote to the Senate Homeland Security Committee in September. He said, quote, "Although we found that these agents", these Secret Service agents in question, "engaged in misconduct, our investigation developed no evidence to suggest that the actions of U.S. Secret Service personnel in Cartagena compromised the safety and security of the president or any sensitive information during this trip."

Do any of the allegations against Mr. Edwards undermine that conclusion, which is, of course, the most important part of the Secret Service?

JOHNSON: It's hard to say. We've been trying for a year to give the Secret Service investigation report. We haven't done it. We've asked the current investigator, Director Pierson, for that investigation report, as well as the operating procedures at the Secret Service, we can't get that. We've reached, you know, roadblock after roadblock, which really makes me suspicious.

Now, Jake, here's one thing that really makes me suspicious. The Secret Service investigation only looked at records for April 11th. Now, the advance team was in Cartagena on April 1st, past that point in time.

TAPPER: Right.

JOHNSON: Why didn't anybody look to find hotel records prior to that? Is it because there were certain personnel down in the hotels potentially engaged in the same activity that the White House doesn't want us to know about?

Listen, the American people deserve the truth, not only here but in Benghazi, what's happened in the State Department. And the reason this is important is the Secret Service is guarding our president, they're guarding other individuals, providing security. This is national security and national secrets, national -- you know, national political figures at risk if we don't restore the credibility of the Secret Service.

TAPPER: And obviously, one of the people tasked with getting to the bottom of this is the acting inspector general --

JOHNSON: Inspector general, that is the individual we tasked in that May -- it was May 23rd hearing in 2012, to look over the Secret Service's shoulder in terms of their investigation. I was surprised during that hearing what the lack curiosity was of the Secret Service in terms of what actually was happening in its own organization there. TAPPER: I have to bid you adieu, but I just want to ask you one last question, which is -- obviously you and Senator McCaskill wouldn't write a letter like this and wouldn't make it public if you did not think that these allegations were with some credibility, or at least worth asking about.

JOHNSON: We already have plenty of information. We have whistleblowers. We are giving the inspector general a chance to answer some of these allegations, maybe he has an explanation, I doubt it. And since we issued that letter yesterday, more whistleblowers are coming forward.

TAPPER: It's an astounding story because we expect these inspectors general to let us know what's going on. We saw the inspector general in the IRS case, you know, do a very complicated job and bring it forward and it's caused quite a kerfuffle.

JOHNSON: And, by the way, there's an inspector general that is doing his job. But you've got five departments that had been missing inspector generals for, you know, at least three of them, almost the entire Obama administration.


JOHNSON: This administration did not seem particularly interested in really having that independent oversight in its own agencies.

TAPPER: All right. Senator Ron Johnson, thank you so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

TAPPER: We'll have you back to talk more about this issue. Good luck getting back to Wisconsin in this weather.

JOHNSON: Appreciate it.

TAPPER: Coming up on THE LEAD: we're continuing to watch the trial of George Zimmerman. More riveting testimony today, and we will take you back inside the courtroom live.

Plus, her family fought to change the law and get her one set of lungs. Now, we're learning that little Sarah Murnaghan had a second lung transplant. What went wrong with the first one? How is she doing now? We'll get a live update on her condition, coming up next.


TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We're continuing to monitor the event in the George Zimmerman murder trial. He's, of course, accused of murdering Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, although the case has been very complicated.

We'll continue to monitor. As you can see, the lawyers are in a side bar with the judge right now. And we have other dramatic news, specifically a dramatic update on Sarah Murnaghan. She's the 10-year-old Philadelphia girl who received a lung transplant earlier this month. Her family released a statement today and revealed that Sarah's new lungs failed hours after the transplant on June 12th and she was put on a machine that functioned as her heart and lungs. Sarah was able to receive a second lung transplant a few days later. And she's now recovering.

CNN national correspondent Jason Carroll has the latest from the Murnaghan family.

Jason, an incredible development. Sarah's mother Janet just held a press conference minutes ago. What did she say?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. The press conference is still taking place. It's really an incredible story when you think about what happened here. Back on June 12th, as you know, Sarah Murnaghan received that lung transplant and all things seemed fine. She seemed to be doing well at first.

But now we're learning that very same evening, things started to decline very rapidly. Janet Murnaghan saying during the press conference that later that evening, doctors declared a code blue. This is critical when a patient is declared code blue, this happening when they thought Sarah was going to end up being transitioned back into her room.

And for the next day or two, things were very critical for her. Doctors basically telling her -- one doctor saying it was the fastest decline he had seen in 23 years. She was not going to survive with the first set of lungs that she had. The lungs did not work. It was a donor issue.

She needed a new set of lungs. So she was immediately placed back on the lung donor list. She did receive three days later a second pair of lungs, not the best pair that they had wanted simply because those lungs -- that patient had been suffering from pneumonia. But it was -- so those lungs were in a compromised position, but she was told one thing.

She was told she had a 50 percent chance she would die in surgery, this is for the second lung transplant. But she had a 1 in a million chance she would survive with the first set that she had. So they went on ahead with this second lung transplant.

The big question after being so public, why did they decide to keep this part so private? And Janet Murnaghan spoke to that issue just a few moments ago. Take a listen.


JANET MURNAGHAN, MOTHER OF SARAH MURNAGHAN: Well, this all happened very fast. We weren't expecting it and frankly we were told in those three days that she was going to die. And so, it was never something that we wanted to keep a secret for any period of time, but it was something that we felt like in that moment we weren't prepared to live out her dying in public.


CARROLL: And the doctors basically saying to the family that they've never seen anything like this. They say it's really been a miracle that Sarah Murnaghan, this 10-year-old little girl, again, who had been suffering from cystic fibrosis, seemed to survive that, survived one lung transplant. Now, she has survived a second lung transplant.

She has another surgery scheduled for Monday, to try to fix her diaphragm, to try and fix that. She still can't speak, but she is communicating. She is awake. She's aware that she's had not one but two transplants. And, you know, parents basically saying at this point it's still touch and go, but at this point, she seems to be breathing but she still has a long road ahead of her.

TAPPER: All right. Jason Carroll, thank you so much for the update.

Testimony has just resumed in the trial of George Zimmerman. We will take you right back to the courtroom after this very quick break.