Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
Interview With Michigan Governor Rick Snyder; Trayvon Martin's Parents Speak Out; Detroit Files for Bankruptcy
Aired July 18, 2013 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now: conflict between jurors in the George Zimmerman trial, the areas where they didn't see eye to eye. We're learning more now that an alternative -- alternate juror, I should say, is speaking out.
Plus, Trayvon Martin's parents turn up the heat on the Obama administration. They're getting ready to open up once again on CNN tonight.
Plus, Detroit files for bankruptcy. It's an historic financial crisis for one of America's most major cities. I will speak live with the governor of Michigan this hour.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: We begin with the breaking news, though, that we're following, just coming in, chilling new images just released of the Boston bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, covered in blood as he was being arrested by police.
CNN's Brian Todd has the behind-the-scenes photo for us.
Brian, what is going on here? Why are these photos now being released?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, these photos are jarring. First, we have to say this, incredible photos released by a sergeant with the Massachusetts State Police named Sean Murphy. He is a tactical photographer.
He was infuriated by the release of the "Rolling Stone" cover, by the picture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the "Rolling Stone" cover. He felt it was disrespectful and an insult to law enforcement, so he, on his own, has released these pictures to "Boston" magazine and he's given at least a short interview and some quotes to "Boston" magazine to accompany these pictures.
Here's -- you see them right here. These are images never seen before of the capture of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, from that boat that was in the backyard of that house in Watertown, Massachusetts, on April 19, the night none of us will really ever forget. These are some pictures, again, never seen before of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's capture. Sergeant Murphy said that he wanted people to see this as the face of terrorism, and not that "Rolling Stone" cover.
A couple of quotes from him, that he felt that this was insulting -- quote -- "I hope that people who see these images will know that this was real. It was as real as it gets." And he believes this is the better image of terrorism than that "Rolling Stone" cover. Wolf, again, let's look at these pictures again. You see in this one in particular, the laser scope paint of basically the targeting of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on his head. They have got the laser scope from their rifles on his head as he emerges from that boat. Very, very dramatic.
You see him pulling his shirt up, when they asked him -- they asked him to do that to make sure he had no weapons on him. So he does that with the laser scopes on his head. There's a picture of him climbing out of boat. You see him swinging his leg over the boat right there. There is another picture of him with a laser scope on it.
That's a picture of them attending to, I believe, one of his feet after his capture, again, very dramatic photos. And there's the one we were just referencing. Just as he's emerging, you see the scope right on his forehead. They were trained on him in case anything happened, and just incredibly dramatic, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very. And both of us were in Boston at the time, nights and days neither one of us will ever forget and a lot of other people as well.
BLITZER: Brian, thanks very much.
The editor of "Boston" magazine, John Wolfson, is joining us on the phone right now.
So, give us the backstory. What happened here? Was it strictly the result of that cover of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on "Rolling Stone" that prompted this police officer to release these photos to you?
JOHN WOLFSON, EDITOR, "BOSTON": Yes, there's no doubt.
He's been sitting on them, obviously, since April and I don't think he ever felt compelled to release them at all before. And I think he felt -- I think he was genuinely worried about the impact on the families of the victims and I think he was also worried that certain impressionable people might be lured to replicate that by the kind of glamorous-looking photo that is on the "Rolling Stone" cover.
BLITZER: The quote that's in your story, from this police officer: "What 'Rolling Stone' did was wrong. This guy is evil. This is the real Boston bomber, not someone fluffed and buffed for the cover of 'Rolling Stone' magazine." When you got these photos, what did the police department in Boston, other police officers say to you about releasing all these pictures?
WOLFSON: Well, this happened so fast that no one has frankly had a chance to say anything. We're in sort of uncharted waters here. And Sergeant Murphy is as aware of that as anyone.
This is a measure of how deeply he feels that -- I think he felt conflicted on some level about releasing these photos, but I also think he felt like it was something that he, frankly, had to do.
BLITZER: That red dot on his face, that's the -- that shows where the snipers were targeting him, potentially, right?
WOLFSON: That's exactly right.
BLITZER: And these other pictures are pretty amazing as well. Are these all of the pictures that the sergeant has, or are there more in the works?
WOLFSON: No, we have hundreds, and our plan at this point is to run a more traditional, sort of magazine-style photo essay in our September issue and there'll be a lot more to see of these photos. They're very, very dramatic. And also, a lot of -- I think this is important to say, but I think Sergeant Murphy also really wanted the focus in terms of the heroism here to be on the law enforcement officers.
And we have -- there's a lot of really dramatic photos of what they were up to as well.
BLITZER: And what do they show, basically? Just give us a little summary.
WOLFSON: Well, you're seeing some examples of it, but I think you see a lot of sort of the deliberations going on in the war rooms. You see some of the equipment that was used. There's a lot that we didn't know about, because no one allowed to see any of it, including how they had to forcibly ram cars out of the way in order to kind of create a crime scene or a perimeter -- excuse me -- there in Watertown.
And you really, I think, kind of see the way these events were weighing on the folks whose job it was to sort of find the guy.
BLITZER: Very different pictures of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev than the picture that was on the cover of "Rolling Stone" magazine.
And I understand why a lot of these people, especially the police, are upset about that.
Brian Todd is still with us.
You wanted to make point? TODD: Yes, Wolf, and just to reiterate what you and John were talking about, my team and I were only about a hundred yards away from this scene when these pictures were taken when all of this was unfolding.
I just give some of the quotes from the police interaction with him at these very moments when he's about to come out and when he's coming out. Just before all these events unfolded, we heard the police say -- quote -- "Come out on your own terms, we know you're in there, come out with your hands up." One of them said, "You will not be harmed."
But clearly they were ready for anything, as you can see from the training of these laser scopes. One of them said, "We know you're bleeding, we know you're tired." Those were some of the words from the police officers that accompany these pictures at those very moments.
BLITZER: I want to get some legal analysis of what is going on as well.
Let's bring in our legal analysts Jeffrey Toobin and Sunny Hostin.
Jeffrey, what do you make of this latest development, these pretty brutal, gruesome, graphic pictures of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, there's only one issue in the Tsarnaev case, is whether he's going to spend life in prison or he's going to get the death penalty. And I think this whole controversy over the "Rolling Stone" cover, which these photographs flow out of, just show how raw the emotions are about this and how, if this case goes to jury in the Boston area, you know, Tsarnaev is in a great deal of trouble.
It all suggests to me that his lawyers are going to try to delay, delay, delay as much as possible, because anything going on now would not be to his advantage.
BLITZER: You think that a plea deal, Sunny, potentially could be in the works, whereby he would plead guilty, get life in prison without the possibility of parole, but avoid potentially a federal death sentence?
SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, I think that's possible, Wolf.
It's always a possibility when you're looking at a case like this. I think before that decision will be made, though, there's no question that the government, the prosecutors will speak to the families here, will speak to those that are affected and make that determination in conjunction with them, although, of course, it is the prosecutor's decision whether or not to seek the death penalty, whether or not to offer a plea.
I suspect that that will be a decision made with the input of the families.
BLITZER: All right, guys. Stand by.
John Wolfson, are you still with us for a second?
WOLFSON: I'm here.
BLITZER: How angry are the folks in Boston over that "Rolling Stone" magazine cover?
WOLFSON: Well, they're this angry.
Yesterday, I wrote a fairly softly worded, I thought, I wouldn't call it defense in any way, but it was an understanding of the cover, and saying that I thought that some of the outrage was out of proportion to what had happened. And I heard from a lot of people who did not agree, let's put it that way. And it's very raw.
I think that -- I don't have a sense of when it's frankly going to -- things are going to begin to heal. I will say that Sergeant Murphy felt strongly that the families had just begun this process of healing, had just begun to sort of regain their privacy, and I think he felt that this cover doubly victimized them by dragging it out again at this worst possible time, just as things were starting to heal.
BLITZER: I suppose that if "Rolling Stone" had that opportunity to do a do-over, they would have used the picture on the right on their cover, if they want to put Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover, as opposed to the picture on the left part of the screen on the cover, but we will never know for sure on that.
All right, John Wolfson, the editor of "Boston" magazine, thanks very much. Sunny and Jeffrey, they're sticking around. We have got more to talk about, as is Brian Todd.
Still ahead, jurors at odds in the George Zimmerman trial, an alternate juror revealing how he differed with some of the thoughts that the women, at least one of the women, on the jury discovered in the course of this try.
And it was the backbone of American industry, but now it has officially declared bankruptcy. We will discuss Detroit's new move that just happened with the governor of Michigan.
BLITZER: An historic turning point today in Detroit's financial crisis. The Motor City has now officially declared bankruptcy. It's the largest bankruptcy filing ever for a city in the United States. The governor of Michigan, the Republican, Rick Snyder, is joining us now.
Governor, it's pretty shocking, even though a lot of us have been reporting about this in the previous months, there was no way the state of Michigan, for example, or anyone else, could have bailed out Detroit, without making it go into bankruptcy?
GOV. RICK SNYDER (R), MICHIGAN: That wouldn't have been the right answer, Wolf. Again, this was a very difficult decision to make, but it's the right decision. If you look at it, this was 60 years in the making. And it's really a situation where Detroit's debt, $18 billion, basically, Detroit is broke.
And more importantly than the financial condition is the lack of services to citizens. Now, I'll just give you one illustration. For police response times, they're at 58 minutes now, versus the national average of 11 minutes. The citizens of Detroit deserve better.
So out of respect, I think this is the right course of action, because we can resolve both of those issues through a structured fashion, through bankruptcy.
BLITZER: How long is that going to take, in your opinion?
SNYDER: Well, my hope is we can get through it by fall of next year. I mean, it will be an extensive process, but it's a process where we'll have an opportunity to address the creditors' issues, get those resolved, and put in a plan, a place for improvement for services in the city.
Because there are a lot of great things going on in Detroit outside of city government. The private sector is doing great. Young people are moving to Detroit. And we'll solve this obstacle and then we can grow the city.
BLITZER: So what happens to all those pensions for current and former city employees?
SNYDER: Well, to the degree they're already funded, they're not part of the bankruptcy. It's really the unfunded portion, which there is an unfunded portion. And there was a lot of mismanagement and lack of funding over a number of years. And that does need to be addressed...
BLITZER: So what's going to happen to...
SNYDER: ... but what I would...
BLITZER: Governor, what's going to happen to those people?
SNYDER: Well, what I would say is, that will get addressed appropriately in this process. And, again, our hearts all go out to someone that is living their retirement on a pension. As a practical manner, the bankruptcy process is a better process in the sense that they can have more thoughtful representation.
So one of the first things they ask for is to get representation for the retirees that really wasn't possible without being in the bankruptcy situation.
BLITZER: Do you have a ballpark number? How many people, directly, are going to either lose their pensions, their medical benefits, other guarantees that they thought they had from the city of Detroit?
SNYDER: Well, again, people shouldn't speculate on simply losing things. Again, to the degree the pension plan is funded, there are resources. As a practical matter, there are about 20,000 retirees and 10,000 active employees.
But one of the things to remind people is bankruptcy is a situation that allows you to maintain current things while you work through this process. So tomorrow should be hopefully a regular day in Detroit in terms of services, in terms of employees coming to work and getting paid.
So let's continue that process, but then use the court system appropriately in a thoughtful fashion to get resolutions, so these issues can be put behind us and Detroit has a bright future.
BLITZER: But was there a role for the federal government in trying to save Detroit from going bankrupt?
SNYDER: Well, again, I didn't believe it appropriate to ask the federal government to bail out this situation. The federal government actually has been helpful on a number of fronts, particularly the blight case. We talked to the federal government, and we just got a number of dollars to deal with removing blighted structures in Detroit in partnerships of working with the federal government.
So I hope there are specific programs that the state and federal government can help to deliver better services and better results for the citizens, but it shouldn't be about writing checks. It's about showing real results and better services and outcomes for citizens.
BLITZER: Will 911 calls be responded to as efficiently, as quickly as necessary?
SNYDER: Well, the point is, tomorrow they should be the same as what they are, but what I would tell you is, they're not being responded to good enough today. And that's really part of the bankruptcy process, in addition to dealing with creditors, the city actually gets to present a plan for improvement.
And this improvement plan can be investments to make those times get better, to actually show better response times, and that's critically important, because I respect the people of Detroit, and they deserve a better answer. And they're my customers, along with the other 9 million people of Michigan.
BLITZER: And very quickly, teachers, when school resumes in the fall, are they all going to be working? Are they all going to get paid?
SNYDER: Well, with teachers are a separate system the in the city of Detroit. So they're not part of this. In fact, we've been working with the Detroit Public Schools for the last several years and we're seeing good improvement there. So education is improving.
Let's resolve the city government issue so we can have an exciting Detroit. The young people are already coming here.
BLITZER: What about police and firefighters?
SNYDER: Well, again, there has been major cutbacks. This is really about getting the stability and stopping the decline, by using bankruptcy in a thoughtful fashion, so we can grow the city of Detroit.
BLITZER: And all those people who invested in Detroit municipal bonds, they're going to lose a lot of money, right?
SNYDER: Well, again, there will be cutbacks to creditors in terms of this process. But realistically, there were promises that couldn't be honored, $18 billion in debt. Let's get those resolved and get them to some number that they know they're going to get paid down and then let's move forward.
BLITZER: Governor Rick Snyder, you've got a handful over there. Good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Detroit and in Michigan. Thanks very much for joining us.
SNYDER: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: Who would have thought a major American city like Detroit would have to file for bankruptcy?
Up next, it's like something out of a crime novel, a potential witness in a mob trial found dead.
Plus, Trayvon Martin's parents, they are speaking out about the controversial acquittal of George Zimmerman.
BLITZER: Happening now: Trayvon Martin's parents are making an appeal to President Obama. Is he doing enough, saying enough about their son's death?
Plus, two different takes on George Zimmerman's trial, from a juror and an alternate. They don't agree on some key points.
And a shocking discovery connected to the trial of the reputed mob boss Whitey Bulger. A man who was preparing to testify against Bulger turns up dead.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Trayvon Martin's parents say they want America to know that their son wasn't just a teenager in a hoodie and a victim; he was a fun- loving child. They're speaking out on national TV now for the first time since George Zimmerman was found not guilty in their son's death. And they're explaining why they found the jury's verdict to be so shocking and devastating.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SYBRINA FULTON, MOTHER OF TRAYVON MARTIN: I was in a bit of shock. I thought, surely, that he would be found guilty of second- degree murder, manslaughter at least, but I just knew that they would see that this was a teenager just trying to get home. This was no burglar. This was somebody, somebody's son that was trying to get home.
QUESTION: You were stunned by the verdict?
FULTON: I was stunned. Absolutely. I couldn't believe it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're going to talk more about Martin's parents in just a moment.
An alternate juror in the Zimmerman trial also now going public, saying he agrees with the not guilty verdict. He's giving us additional insight into the trial after Juror B-37's exclusive interview with our own Anderson Cooper.
Brian Todd has been comparing these two jurors for us, what they had to say.
What are you coming up with?
TODD: Wolf, this is now a crucial moment after the verdict for one particular inside angle we're now getting for the first time.
We're now hearing how some of the jurors might have seen key portions of this trial differently. And we're learning about the testimony they agreed on which could have well led to this verdict.
TODD (voice-over): They're the only two jurors we have heard from since the verdict. Juror B-37 spoke to CNN's Anderson Cooper. Alternate Juror E-54, who also wanted anonymity, spoke to TV station WOFL, FOX-35, in Orlando.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not guilty.
TODD: They both agree on the verdict. Both think it was George Zimmerman's voice calling for help in that crucial 911 call, and they both believe Zimmerman didn't racially profile Trayvon Martin.
(on camera): But the two jurors have polar opposite views on whether Zimmerman should have gotten out of his car and followed Martin that night, Juror B-37, you're going to hear from first, followed by the alternate with WOFL.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he's guilty of not using good adjustment. When he was in the car and called 911, he shouldn't have gotten out of that car.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was fine with that. You know, he was -- I think at the time, he was trying to keep an observation and communicate to the police and was not being confrontational. He had the right to be where he was.
TODD: Opposite takes on whether Zimmerman should have even been there. What do you make of it?
ANDREW FERGUSON, JURY EXPERT: Both of these focus on fault, not just legal fault, but moral fault. And underlying every jury trial are questions of moral fault that go to the underlying ways, the way jurors perceive judgment.
TODD (voice-over): We compared the two juror with law professor and jury expert Andrew Ferguson, a former public defender. Both jurors felt Rachel Jeantel's accounts of her phone calls with Trayvon Martin were important, but on whether Jeantel's testimony was credible overall:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I didn't think it was very credible, but I felt very sorry for her. I think she felt inadequate toward everyone because of her education and her communication skills.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did pick up some credible information from her. And, so, yes, I do think she was credible.
FERGUSON: Each one of us knows how to trust someone or not trust someone based on our own instincts. If those two people, the alternate and the other woman, were able to debate the issues of who was credible, you might have a different outcome. That's the beauty of the jury.
TODD (on camera): What do these interviews tell us that we didn't know before about how jurors think in these trials and the pressure that they're under?
FERGUSON: That pressure of deciding and judging another human being is incredible. And here you have ordinary citizens wrestling with it.
You see it on the videos. They're wrestling with it, at that moment, about how we could do it, how do we process it, and did we go a good job?
TODD: Ferguson says what adds to that pressure is the fact that jurors are not trained for this task. They're given very little preparation for it. Then they're told to decide. And for many of them, they're given more power than they ever had before. That is enormous stress and it certainly played out in the Zimmerman trial, Wolf.
BLITZER: Certainly did. All right, Brian, thanks very much. Brian Todd reporting.
Let's bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, our legal analyst, the former federal prosecutor Sunny Hostin, and defense attorney Danny Cevallos.
I learned earlier, the Department of Justice, Jeff, is now asking the Sanford Police Department to hold all of the evidence, everything they have, pending this investigation by the Justice Department on whether or not civil rights charges, if you will, hate crime charges could be filed against George Zimmerman. What do you make of this?
TOOBIN: It just shows this is a serious investigation and this is how it works. They certainly wouldn't want to give away the evidence and then have to collect it all over again to study it.
This also answers a question that I think a lot of people have, is, will George Zimmerman get his gun back? This decision by the Department of Justice guarantees that the answer to that question is no, at least for the foreseeable future.
BLITZER: Sunny, when you and I spoke earlier, and I know you're going to be speaking to Trayvon Martin's parents later, you were sort of disappointed that the jury, the juror -- that the six members of the jury, they didn't hear a whole lot about who Trayvon Martin really is, the 17-year-old kid, during the course of this trial.
You think, if they would have, it might have made a difference?
HOSTIN: I think so. I mean, it's sort of prosecutorial 101. You have to put the victim back into the courtroom, in front of the jury. You have to breathe life back into the victim. You have to humanize the victim.
And it was very clear, from Anderson's interview with B-37, that juror, that she said, I didn't know Trayvon Martin. I only knew that he was from Miami. Well, that's not enough. The jury needs to morally have a connection to the victim, usually, in order to convict. There have been just so many research studies about that.
And I think that is an area where the prosecution strategically decided not to open up the door to character, because perhaps they didn't want bad character to come in. And I think that that may have made the difference, quite frankly, with this jury.
BLITZER: Well, do you think, Danny, it's a double-edged sword? If you hear all sorts of positive things about Trayvon Martin, maybe the defense could have also brought in some negative things?
DANNY CEVALLOS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Possibly. But Sunny's absolutely right.
Trayvon Martin ultimately was not humanized. And to the extent the prosecutors tried to humanize him, that was overwhelmed by the prosecutor's decision to introduce so much testimony of George Zimmerman speaking, and then George Zimmerman, his activities in the months leading up to the incident.
As a result, the jury had copious evidence of the personality of George Zimmerman, and they could identify with him. You can hear that in the juror's voice. You can hear that in her words. So it seems that any evidence that -- that let us look into the life of Trayvon Martin, if any, was eclipsed by all the George Zimmerman evidence.
TOOBIN: Wolf, can I --
BLITZER: All this -- yes, go ahead, Jeffrey.
TOOBIN: Can I just say one thing? Remember, this isn't an abstract issue. There were significant numbers of texts with Trayvon Martin, talking about getting in fights with people. Very, frankly, unpleasant texts, and a photograph of him perhaps holding a weapon. All of that would likely have come into evidence if the prosecution had put in evidence of his good character. So I'm not so sure the prosecution made a mistake in how they went about it.
BLITZER: Sunny, do you want to weigh in on that point?
HOSTIN: Well, you know, the judge had decided that the defense couldn't properly authenticate a lot of that evidence. So I'm not so sure that it would have come in, even if the prosecution had opened up the door. I think on balance it's very clear that this jury didn't know the real Trayvon Martin, or didn't have any idea of who Trayvon Martin was. And as a prosecutor, as a former prosecutor, that just doesn't generally work.
BLITZER: What's your gut tell you, Danny? Do you think the Justice Department will launch a civil rights case against George Zimmerman?
CEVALLOS: No, the Justice Department will certainly look into it, but -- to prevail in a civil rights case, they must show that the underlying intent was tied to a racial animus. The jury down at the trial court never found that -- that necessary intent to begin with, so it seems highly unlikely that the Justice Department can build on what was not found at the trial court level, although they would get to do it brand-new.
BLITZER: Danny Cevallos, thanks very much. Sunny Hostin and Jeffrey Toobin, we rely on all three of you all the time. You're doing great, great work for us and our viewers. Thank you.
Coming up, we're going to talk a little bit more about the pressure on the president of the United States to address the issue of racial tensions after the Zimmerman verdict.
And we'll also tell you what we're learning about a stunning twist in the trial of the reputed mob boss, Whitey Bulger. A would-be witness is now found dead and an autopsy has just been conducted.
BLITZER: Today we heard Trayvon Martin's mother urge President Obama to investigate her son's death, quote, "with a fine tooth combed." But the White House says the president won't get personally involved in the Justice Department's decision on whether or not to pursue civil right charges against George Zimmerman.
President Obama appeared before cameras today, but he still hasn't spoken publicly about Zimmerman's acquittal. Neither has the first lady, Michelle Obama, or the vice president, Joe Biden.
The White House says the president's written statement that was released on Sunday after the verdict clearly expressed his views that Martin's death was a tragedy, but that jurors have spoken with their verdict.
The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, says the president has spoken about racially charged issues like this before, and he will again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: So, you know, again, I don't know when he will next address these matters, in some regards, it's up to, you know, people who interview him, or -- but, you know, he is -- he hasn't shied away from these issues in the past and I'm sure he won't in the future.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We're joined now by two guests, David Webb is the co- founder of the New York City Tea Party, the host of "The David Webb Show" on Sirius XM Radio. And CNN political analyst, the Democratic pollster, Cornell Belcher.
Guys, thanks very much for coming in.
David, let me ask you first. Do you believe the president has shown leadership in the aftermath of this verdict?
DAVID WEBB, HOST, "THE DAVID WEBB SHOW" ON SIRIUS XM: I think it's what I expected. I didn't expect the president to weigh in. And Wolf, I'm not a big fan of White Houses, regardless of administration, weighing in, even on issues like this. There's a Department of Justice. They report to the president. I think it's appropriate. I think his statement was appropriate to put out. And maybe just to avoid more of the political fighting that goes on and what happened after he made his initial statement in 2012.
BLITZER: A lot of people, as you well know, Cornell, think as our first African-American president, he has a special responsibility to speak out on a sensitive issue like this.
CORNELL BELCHER, DEMOCRATIC POLLSTER: Well, it's tough, Wolf. I can be, first and foremost, a black man. He cannot be first and foremost a black man. He must first and foremost be the president of the United States, which means when you have a case that the Justice Department is looking into, he as the chief executive he can't get personally involved in that. It would be wrong for him to do so.
You know, but I'm heartened by what Carney said today, though, at some point the president will speak to this. Because let's understand, you know, and I worked for the president back in '08 when he made the racial -- he made the big speech on race. And it was important. And he talked about both sides and tried to bring both sides together. And the predicate of this president's race was, you know, at some point, we've got to get beyond these problems by bringing people together and not play sort of typical politics.
I think he is uniquely qualified at some point, but not until the Justice Department is done, at some point to sort of speak on this and try to bring our country together racially.
BLITZER: Was it appropriate, in your opinion, David Webb, more than a year ago, March 2012, after the whole story developed and the killing of Trayvon Martin, the president saying, publicly, and I'm paraphrasing a little bit, that if he had a son, that son would look like Trayvon Martin. Was that appropriate?
WEBB: I don't think it was appropriate, Wolf. I think that was wading into it, that as Cornell talked about, there's a Department of Justice and I think the president is the president of the United States. It polarized an already tragic situation with more of a race narrative. So I think that was a wrong thing for the president to do.
BLITZER: Do you agree, Cornell?
BELCHER: I do understand, though, the frustration among the minority community on this. Because we have a case that -- where the court came down one way, and look, we can debate whether or not they follow the law here, but we can't debate that this is not square in the court of moral justice. When you look at this morally, it does not square.
BLITZER: David, listen --
WEBB: But on justice, it's not necessarily a moral issue. I understand moral outrage, and look, disappointment, you have parents who are missing their child who was shot and killed. We have got to get towards solutions in this country.
And Cornell, this is where I think, if we have leadership, whether it's in the White House or the purported leaders out there, that they step forward and talk about what we do in the communities to address problems on both sides and on all sides, not just from a black perspective.
BELCHER: And I couldn't agree with you more. And quite frankly, I think there's something to be said about taking what your organization, the Tea Party has done, over the last couple of years, and taken their protests into -- into organizing and challenging people in primaries. And for better or worse, I would argue worse, I bet David would argue for better, that the Tea Party movement has defined a lot of the policy agenda in this country.
It would be interesting to see, you know, hoodie registration drives. You know, the year of the Trayvon voter. Organize, put political pressure on our leaders, make -- hold them accountable. If they don't change some of these laws that they want changed, challenge them in primaries.
BLITZER: Go ahead, David.
WEBB: Well, why don't we work on addressing the laws? And look, I'm a fan of reviewing sunset. I wish we had it in our system. Review the laws. I have problems with the Florida Stand Your Ground law, where it's being applied and used by gangs when gangs interact with each other. So there are things we need to look at. Those, I think, are rational steps we should take.
BLITZER: You've said, and correct me if I'm wrong, in the past that Trayvon is dead because we haven't had enough of a national conversation about race, is that right?
BELCHER: I think that -- I think this is part of the problem of kicking the can down the road. And again, part of it is, we all want to turn the heat down immediately, but what suffers is the conversation gets cut off. The conversation that says, you know what, regardless of what the law says, there is something fundamentally not right about this child who was just headed home, armed with nothing more than candy, you know, confronted by a man who thought he was suspicious, when, again, he was just a child heading home with candy and he ended up dead.
You know, and you can have whatever argument you want, but there's a racial element to that, and we can't debate that racial argument because we're always -- we're always sort of try to bring it down. But at some point, we've got to have this conversation and breech this because people are dying because of this.
BLITZER: Let's continue this national conversation --
WEBB: But I want to have it honestly, and when you have Jesse Jackson calling Florida an apartheid state, when the numbers of blacks and whites or others that have used Stand Your Ground are relatively even, and not what's being pushed, we don't need that kind of rhetoric. That doesn't help us move that very conversation that you're talking about.
BLITZER: David Webb, Cornell Belcher, let's the three of us continue this conversation in the days and weeks to come. Thanks to both of you for coming in.
WEBB: Thank, you, Wolf.
BLITZER: A potential witness dies unexpectedly. Is it tied to a high-profile mob trial? We're going live to Boston.
BLITZER: A potential witness in the trial of accused Boston mob boss, James Whitey Bulger, has been found dead two days after prosecutors dropped him from their witness list. He was prepared to testify that Bulger forced him to sell his business under threat for his life three decades ago.
Our national correspondent Susan Candiotti is in Boston. She's been following the story for us.
What are you learning, Susan? SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. Well, you know, the unexpected death of Steven Rakes didn't come up in court today, but it was all that anyone was -- was talking about. Rakes had been dropped from the government's witness list on Tuesday and today we found out that a jogger found his body about 30 miles away from his home, alongside a roadway. And everyone, of course, is wondering, was this a hit? Did he die of natural causes? Was suicide involved?
Well, a huge investigation, of course, is underway, and the preliminary autopsy shows that there were no obvious signs of trauma, so they're waiting for toxicology results right now.
Rakes, as you indicated, was prepared to testify for the government that he was the victim of extortion, that Whitey Bulger forced him to sell his liquor store. However, they had earlier testimony from another star government witness, that might have contradicted that. If, in fact, rakes had testified, it might have undermined the government's case.
We don't know for sure, but certainly a very interesting twist today. And yet there was another. At the very end of the day in court, the government's star witness, Steve Flemmi, took the stand. He was a partner of Whitey Bulger, but he was only on the stand for about 10 minutes. As he was leaving, there was a very tense exchange between Whitey Bulger and Steve Flemmi.
And they exchanged some expletives, a word that we cannot say on the air, but it begins with the word "mother." And then the day ended. So it's probably going to be a good indication that we're going to have a very interesting and possibly heated day tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Well, as we get more on the cause of his death, this potential witness, let us know. All right, Susan, thanks very much.
Coming up, a massive mountain fire threatening thousands of homes. Right now, we're going live to the fire zone.
BLITZER: Right now in California, crews are desperately working to contain a wildfire in mountains east of Los Angeles. It's forced thousands of people from their homes.
CNN's Casey Wian is near the front line. He's joining us now with a live report.
What's the latest, Casey?
CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, just about a minute ago, a large C-130 tanker flew over our heads to drop fire retardant on this flame, which is over this ridge, over my right shoulder. You can see some of the heavy smoke that has developed over the last couple of hours.
We're about two miles away from the fire line, but there's ash and heavy smoke in the air here. You may wonder why this town of Idyllwild, population about 4,000, is under mandatory evacuation order because the fire line is about two miles away from here. Well, officials say the real problem, this is really the only road in and out of this town. You can go one way, you can go the other way, and that's it.
So they're very concerned, if the fire jumps that ridge, that they would not be able to get all of the people out of this town safely. They say they are really making progress, fighting hard against this fire. The good news is the wind has not been too bad. The difficult challenge the firefighters are facing is the temperatures are up around 100 degrees on those fire lines. The humidity here between 5 and 10 percent.
Also, these crews are camping out in those mountains fighting that fires. It's 100 during the day. It's getting down to 38 degrees at night. So they're really battling some difficult conditions.
So far, though, no major loss of structures. Only about six residences in remote areas have been lost, one commercial building, and thankfully, no loss of life -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But the fire has not yet been contained, is that right?
WIAN: Absolutely not. The latest number on containment we're expecting to get an update in a couple hours, but as of right now, they're still saying only 15 percent contained, 23,000 acres, thereabouts, have burned. They say that that's not an unusual size for a wildfire in southern California. What is unusual is that it's happening in July, not in late September or October -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very high temperatures as well not making it easier for all those firefighters.
All right. Casey, thanks very much. We'll stay in close touch with you.
Reality TV that's unreal. Guess what? CNN's Jeanne Moos, she's standing by next.
BLITZER: Reality shows that aren't all that real.
CNN's Jeanne Moos reports.
JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Which of the following is not really a real reality show?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Clam Kings." "Duck Dynasty". "Meet the Tanners". "The Real Housewives of New Jersey". "Long Island Landscapers."
MOOS: Well, actually, there were three imposters. "Meet the Tanners" is seemingly about a family obsessed with tanning.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where's my oil? It is empty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoa, young lady.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Your vitamin C levels are spiking. Just calm down.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have rules in this house. If you sass me, you go to the shade.
MOOS: Meet the tanners got burned in reviews.
(On camera): What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ridiculous.
MOOS: What do you think? Tell me you'd watch?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wouldn't watch it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think I'm related to some people like that.
MOOS (voice-over): But it turns out there's nothing to not watch.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: "Meet the Tanners," Sunday at 8:00 p.m.
MOOS: The fact that you thought this was a real show says a lot about the state of TV. This is an ad for public broadcasting's New York affiliate, Channel 13, a campaign called "TV Gone Wrong."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was real.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought it was real, absolutely.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it couldn't get worse than the Kardashians.
MOOS: There's also something fishy about "Clam Kings."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What business you got talking about my family's clams?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And when it comes to being the best, these two aren't shucking around.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You want a little ground to pound?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would definitely watch this.
MOOS: And there's one more unreal reality show.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This Thursday on the season premiere of "Long Island Landscapers."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let's do flamingos. This one.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Flamingos. Elegant birds.
MOOS: The spoofs were dreamed up by ad agency CHI and Partners New York. They create, sat around dreaming up over-the-top fake reality shows.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's one of the things where all we try to do is make each other laugh.
MOOS: They tried to strike a balance between too over-the-top and believable. Some ideas were rejects.
RONNIE LEE, CHI AND PARTNERS, NEW YORK: Like the one called redneck rabbis, and the tag line was they're quite unorthodox.
MOOS: This bunch of kids had a definite favorite. "Meet the Tanners."
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would watch it definitely.
MOOS: But "Long Island Landscapers" didn't make the cut.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No.
MOOS: The fake reality shows are meant to make the real ones seem like more boo-boo, less honey.
Jeanne Moos, CNN.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here comes Honey Boo Boo. Clam Kings.
MOOS: New York.
BLITZER: Jeanne moos, for that kind of reporting.
By the way, while the TV spots are set to air on networks like USA and TV Land, it appears they won't be seen on TLC or Bravo, the homes of many of television's biggest reality shows.
Tomorrow here in THE SITUATION ROOM, among my guests tomorrow, we're going to speak to the jury consultant who helped the defense team come up with the six women in the jury. First interview on television with that jury consultant. We're going to have a lot more coming up on that tomorrow.
Remember you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM on Twitter, tweet me @Wolfblitzer. You can tweet the show @CNNsitroom. Anxious, always, to hear from you.
Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "ERIN BURNETT OUT FRONT" starts right now.