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Speaking to George Zimmerman; Syria Extremist Atrocities; Charles Barkley Interviews President Obama

Aired February 17, 2014 - 06:30   ET


PEREIRA: The jury was hung on first-degree murder charges but did find Dunn guilty of three counts of attempted murder -- attempted second-degree murder. He now faces a minimum 60 years behind bars.

This morning, investigators are searching through the wreckage of a small passenger plane that crashed in the mountains of western Nepal, killing all 18 on board, including an infant. Officials believe poor visibility due to bad weather caused the twin otter aircraft to crash Sunday afternoon. A helicopter spotted the wreckage about 160 miles west of Kathmandu.

Secretary of State John Kerry is slamming climate change deniers and what he calls their shoddy science and flat earth thinking. Kerry made those comments to college students in Indonesia. He said dealing with climate change is the greatest challenge of our generation and called on all nations to act. Earlier, Kerry talked about the issue in China, which is the biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions.

A standing ovation for Michael Sam, a now openly gay college football star, who was attending a Missouri-Tennessee basketball game over the weekend when the crowd spotted him in the arena on the big scoreboard there, and he got a rousing reception. He shook some hands with some of his supporters, even blew them a kiss. Sam is expected to become the NFL's first openly gay player when the college draft is held in May. It's got to feel very good considering some of the backlash he's been getting. It's great to see people come out in his homestate supporting him.

BOLDUAN: A well deserved standing o, I would say.

CUOMO: Strong on the field. He's gonna have to be even stronger off for now

All right, so the man who's been described as the Loch Ness Monster, someone who makes waves wherever he pops up, that's George Zimmerman. He says he's not going away. But why?


UNIDENTIFIED POLICE OFFICER: As long as you don't have any warrants, you'll be cut loose with a warning, OK?

CUOMO (voice-over): It was a simple speeding ticket, but nothing is simple when George Zimmerman is involved. It would be the first in a string of run-ins with police that some saw coming.

(on-camera): That expectation that it's just a matter of time; he'll do it given. He'll do it again. This is what he's about. What do you make of that kind of?

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, FATALLY SHOT TRAVYON MARTIN: I don't pay it any mind. Don't pay it any attention at all.

CUOMO (voice-over): Next, Zimmerman's wife called 911, claiming he was threatening her and her father with a gun. There were no charges. Their divorce is pending.

Then, Zimmerman's girlfriend accusing him of threatening her with a shotgun. This time, Zimmerman would call 911 to get his side of the story out.

911 OPERATOR: So why are you calling? What happened?

VOICE OF ZIMMERMAN: I just want everyone to know the truth.

CUOMO: His girlfriend would later drop the charges and lift the restraining order against him. During our interview, she and her young daughter wouldn't leave his side and neither will controversy, thanks in part to his new hobby.

(on-camera): I've read what you put out there about the paintings as therapy, it's helping me. But you had to know they were going to cause attention when you put them out there, right?

ZIMMERMAN: Absolutely.

CUOMO: What did you want that attention to be about? Why are you putting these paintings out?

ZIMMERMAN: To be honest, I was hoping to be able to provide a decent lifestyle for my family.

CUOMO (voice-over): Decent, indeed. Zimmerman's first painting sold for more than $100, 000. But the next painting was priceless for a different reason.

(on-camera): Angela Corey painting, provocative. I have this much belief in the justice system. You knew that was going to be provocative.


CUOMO: Why do it?

ZIMMERMAN: It was a creative, tangible form to show my inner thoughts, my inner feelings.

CUOMO: Negative towards Angela Corey.

ZIMMERMAN: Oh, of course. I mean, it provided a tremendous release for me. So yes, it was worth it. CUOMO (voice-over): And then there was the fight, a move as confusing as it was disturbing. The man whose defense at trial was an inability to hold off a teenager was now prize fighter, willing to take on all comers for charity.

(on-camera): The idea of you fighting, you know, is just -- the image is bad, and let alone that it might be like a black rapper, like DMX, or something. I mean, just the racial overtones of it were so horrible. What were you thinking there?

ZIMMERMAN: When I signed on, it was never going to be a black rapper, white rapper, Asian, Hispanic rapper, anything like that. It was going to be an unknown person. It was going to be a smaller event.

CUOMO: The whole theory of this case is that Trayvon wound up beating this guy down, you know? And this was bad and he had the marks on the back of his head, and now he wants to fight? He's a fighter? Do you understand how that was -- there was a contradiction there for people?

ZIMMERMAN: Yes. And again, that fraction of people who said that are the small percentage that don't realize that a boxing match with a referee in controlled conditions are significantly different than being mounted as the witness stated ground and pounded. If I went out there and I got up, the charity was still getting paid. I don't want to get beat up, but I saw it as an opportunity. I never expected it to turn out the way it did.

CUOMO (voice-over): George Zimmerman seems to feel that way about a lot of things, for example, becoming the face of white/black tensions in America.

ZIMMERAMN: I actually had two full Peruvians raising me and one American, so I felt almost like two thirds of my upbringing was the Peruvian. I have black people in my family. So it was very shocking to me that simply based off my last name people would make that presumption.

CUOMO (voice-over): Though he's at the center of a debate about self- defense law, he has little to say about them.

(on-camera): Because of what you're gone through and what your case was about, do you have feelings about the self-defense system and where the line should be and what's right and what's wrong, do you have feelings about that?

ZIMMERMAN: I'm not well versed enough to tell you. I feel until I sit down and I study the Constitution, probably 10 years' worth of legal findings, I wouldn't be able to draw a solidified conclusion. And I don't want to do what others have done to me and speak without examining information and facts.

I do, however, support our Second Amendment right.

CUOMO (voice-over): You might think Zimmerman would be riveted to the Michael Dunn trial, given its comparisons to his own situation. ZIMMERMAN: I guess I should have prefaced this interview by letting you know I don't watch news anymore. I watch comedy shows, home improvement shows. So I'm not well enough informed to give you exacts.

CUOMO: How about advocating for the stand your ground laws that many identify with him?

(on-camera): Are you comfortable being the face of stand your ground?

ZIMMERMAN: I'm not comfortable being the face of anything to be honest with you.

CUOMO (voice-over): It's what Zimmerman wants to be the face of going forward that may be the most confounding. Justice.

(on-camera): What do you want to do with your life?

ZIMMERMAN: Good. I'd like to professionally be -- continue my education and hopefully become an attorney. I think that's the best way to stop the miscarriage of justice that happened to me from happening to somebody else. I don't think it should happen to anyone ever again, not one person.

CUOMO: What was the miscarriage of justice?

ZIMMERMAN: The fact that two law enforcement entities stated that I had acted within the laws of our nation in self-defense.

CUOMO: You don't think it was about the law?

ZIMMERMAN: I know it wasn't, yes.

CUOMO: And what does that make you?

ZIMMERMAN: Like a scapegoat.

CUOMO: A scapegoat for?

ZIMMERMAN: The government, the president, the attorney general.

CUOMO: They would be scapegoating you why? Just to show that they're taking a position on something that matters to a lot of people?

ZIMMERMAN: I don't know what they're thinking or why they're thinking it. All I know is that they're doing it. I don't know what agenda they have.

CUOMO (voice-over): The case is over, but the judgment continues. While George Zimmerman may have won his freedom, he'll probably never be truly free.

ZIMMERMAN: I have a lot of people saying that, you know, they guarantee they're going to kill me and I'll never be a free man. I've realized that they don't know me. I've learned that the majority of people, when they sit down with me one-on-one or my family, they get a completely different perspective on me.

CUOMO: When you're somewhere and people recognize who you are and they're looking at you, what do you do?


CUOMO: How often do they smile back?

ZIMMERMAN: Ninety-nine percent of the time. The 1 percent that don't are the most vocal percent, definitely the most threatening percent because they are very vocal about their displeasure.

CUOMO: People are angry, George. They're angry. The case wound up being seen as a metaphor for miscarriage of justice, blacks not receiving the same justice that whites do, their lives not mattering as much. This case became a metaphor, an example, for that, your face became the face of this is the guy who gets away with killing a black kid. What do you do with that?

ZIMMERMAN: Hope that I'm dispelling those, if it takes one person a day at a time to help them realize that that's not what this case was about, then, that's what I'll do.


CUOMO: People have put a lot on this, guy. They've empowered him with ideas about what he's about and what he isn't. At least now --

BOLDUAN: And he seems a little surprised by that.

CUOMO: Well, I don't think he's surprised. I think that that's not what he is. The idea this is a guy with an agenda who worked the system, that's not what he is. He is really shallow when it comes to the law and all these issues that the rest of us are dealing with. And I think in a way it makes it even more important because it shows that this wasn't about someone who could game the system, this is what the system can allow with the laws the way they are right now.

PEREIRA: He really sees himself as a victim when you talk about the fact that the miscarriage of justice, they're going to be people that were probably yelling at their TVs, saying, "What about justice for Trayvon Martin's family?"

CUOMO: Oh, absolutely. In fact, here's what the problem. This is why the discussion has to go beyond these trials. The courts can't fix this. There was a real trial that many people believed was going to come out as an acquittal and did, that many people believed should have never even reached trial if not for politics. But the law's at place, why he was able to avoid prosecution are real problems.

And we saw it again with the Michael Dunn trial. The laws there allow a low bar for self-defense. And you're going to keep having these cases unless you change that dynamic and change your cultural dynamic that allows people to be so quick to violence in response to this.

PEREIRA: Yeah, that's one of the things a lot of people are saying is, why is when we feel threat we reach for a gun? Why -- what is that?

BOLDUAN: Shoot first, ask questions later.

PEREIRA: Yeah, exactly, what is that psyche?

BOLDUAN: That's part of the important discussion. We're going to continue that, obviously throughout the show and beyond.

CUOMO: Absolutely. Because people are split. A lot of people are saying don't interview George Zimmerman. He doesn't deserve the platform. That's not what journalism is about.

A lot of other people were saying, "I know what you're going to do. You're going to throw him under the bus because you want to make minorities happy. You want to run away from the law."

The country is confused about what we allow and what we don't allow. And I'll tell you, we had an acquittal in this case. The decision is not respected. When the law's not respected, you got a big problem in society. You have to address it. And the court can't fix it. What do you think? I'm sure you're already letting me know. Use the hashtag newday, and let's keep the conversation going, too important not to have the conversation.

PEREIRA: And let's keep it civil, people.

BOLDUAN: Good luck with that. We're gonna try.

Coming up next --

CUOMO: Let's start with having the conversation. Where it goes it goes.

BOLDUAN: Take a break, though.

Coming up next on a NEW DAY, a new war is being waged in Syria, just as Secretary of State John Kerry says the U.S. is reevaluating its policy there. We're going to bring you an exclusive look inside Syria at a group of Islamic extremists even more brutal than al Qaeda. That's ahead.


BOLDUAN: Welcome back to NEW DAY. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Syrian government is to blame for the stalemate at a second round of peace talks, this as Senator John McCain is slamming how the Obama administration is handling their bloody civil war, calling U.S. policy there abysmal and disgraceful.

Well, now we have a CNN exclusive on the atrocities carried out by a group of extremists even Al Qaeda has disowned. CNN's Arwa Damon, her producer Roger Rozyk (ph) and camera man Clayton Nadel (ph) traveled to Adana (ph) in Northern Syria for a first-hand look at the brutal devastation carried out by a group known as ISIS. I want to warn you, of course especially early in the morning, some of the issues in this exclusive report are very disturbing. Here is Arwa Damon's report. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This grave has been dug up before, the bodies unidentified, reburied in the same spot and video filmed at the time, gruesome images of the corpses of four men. It's among many mass graves rebel fighters unearthed after they recapture the town of Adana from radical fighters who once were their allies.

Now weeks later a family hopes for closure.

"We found a foot and a shoe and a jacket," Ayushadi (ph) says. She's with her neighbor, Mohamed Ismaid (ph). It's his two younger brothers that are missing. One might be here.

"He just went out to get tomatoes and sugar," Mohamed recalls, still disbelieving. And his wife wanted socks for their kids. "It's the same jacket," Mohamed says.

The site is next to a former prison run by ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, its walls lined with bullet holes, some from clashes; others, we are told, from executions.

Masked ISIS fighters, as seen in this rare video posted to YouTube, used fear to rule. Anyone caught filming them, killed.

DAMON: This was the main ISIS checkpoint leading into Adana. And as part of their terror tactics, eyewitnesses were telling us that they would leave some of the bodies of people they'd executed lining the checkpoint so that every single car coming through would be forced to slow down and could not ignore that brutal message.

DAMON (voice-over): ISIS is a group so merciless that even Al Qaeda has reportedly distanced itself from it.

Abu Janan (ph) is telling us that ISIS had beheaded one of the main key rebel commanders here. And they came in in the early morning when the market was really busy and placed his head on top of the garbage heap that was in that very same spot.

And they turned around and told everybody that that would be the fate of anyone who dared speak out against them.

DAMON (voice-over): Their harsh, intolerable rule caused other Islamist and moderate rebel groups to launch an offensive against them earlier this year.

"So we had the leave the fronts with the regime," Abu Janan (ph) says, "and fall back to fight ISIS to liberate the already liberated areas another time."

But ISIS still looms large in Syria, consolidating its forces, imposing its reign of terror. In this video filmed the day after we met Mohamed (ph), he realizes it's not two but three of his brothers that were murdered by ISIS. He thought one of them was in jail.


BOLDUAN: So difficult to watch. Let's bring in Arwa Damon live from Beirut for us this morning.

Arwa, your report brings into sharp focus how difficult the question is of a solution in Syria, how difficult that question is now.

How many fighters do you know, in your best estimate, how many ISIS fighters are there in the country? What are they dealing with in terms of this threat?

DAMON: Well, the estimates do vary, Kate, between 7,000 and 11,000. So they're not the largest group that exists in Syria, but they are the most hard-line. Many of them are not Syrians and have experienced fighting in Iraq. There are also Europeans amongst their ranks, even Americans.

So great concerns not just about the chaos that they're causing on the Syrian battlefield but that these hardened jihadi Islamic ideologues could then go back to Europe, back to the United States and carry out attacks there as well in the future -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: So difficult to watch, but such an important story to bring to our viewers and to tell that story for everyone around the world.

Arwa, your reporting amazing as always. Thank you so much. It's great to see you.

DAMON: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

Amazing reporting Arwa continues to do for us over there.

Let's take another break. Coming up next on NEW DAY, President Obama is a big fan of his hometown Chicago Bulls, of course. But how does he think LeBron James stacks up against the great Air Jordan? What he said before last night's All-Star game. That's next.




In a wide-ranging exclusive interview with TNT's Charles Barkley, President Obama touched on everything from health care to Michael Sam, whom he praised for revealing he's gay before the NFL draft.

But the real star of the evening was of course hoops. The president compared LeBron James to Michael Jordan, saying even though Michael will always be his guy, he thinks LeBron has what it takes to be a legend in his own right.

Take a listen.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know LeBron, I know LeBron. When you're standing next to him and then you watch him close up, I've never seen somebody that size that fast who can jump that high, who is that strong, who has that much basketball savvy all in one package.


CUOMO: You know what Sir Charles was thinking? Me! I was that guy.

BOLDUAN: Exactly.

CUOMO: It was really interesting -- Michaela and I were laughing -- so interesting to see the president cut across it. It's Charles Barkley.

BOLDUAN: You can see the thought bubbles going through his head.

CUOMO: I don't care about all this. It was funny, though. Really, the whole interview aired before the NBA All-Star game. So hope you got to see it. If not, go online. You'll find it. Really good stuff.

BOLDUAN: Let's take another break.

Coming up next on NEW DAY, a passenger plane carrying hundreds, hijacked by the co-pilot. You'll never believe how the tense situation ended and what drove him to seize the plane. We'll have details after the break.


CUOMO: Good morning. Welcome back to NEW DAY. It's Monday, February 17th, 7 o'clock in the east. We'll start with our new blast, that is the most news you can get anywhere. Let's go.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I will declare that mistried.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Following the verdict, outrage and disappointment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He must be remorseful for killing my son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): Millions brace for another snowy blast heading straight toward New England.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's snow on steroids.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (voice-over): The crisis in Syria reaching new lows.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZ.: This is shameful. This is shameful what's going on. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The victim was Trayvon Martin. You know that.

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, FORMER NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH OFFICER: No, I certainly was a victim when I was having my head bashed into the concrete.


CUOMO: We do begin with breaking news this morning, an Ethiopian Airlines jet headed for Rome hijacked by the flight's co-pilot. Authorities say he's now in custody after he commandeered the plane to Geneva with nearly 200 people aboard.

Rene Marsh has the very latest.

RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Chris, with police tell CNN while in flight the pilot of Ethiopian Airlines Flight 702 left the cockpit to use the restroom. That's when the co-pilot locked the protected door and hijacked the plane early this morning.

The hijacker in his 30s is from Ethiopia. Investigators said he hijacked the plane because he feels threatened in his country and wants asylum in Switzerland.