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THE SITUATION ROOM

U.N.: North Korea Uses Murder, Torture, Slavery; Interview With Wendy Sherman; Islamist Group Is Even Too Brutal For Al Qaeda; Four- Year-Old Refugee Crosses Desert Alone; After CNN Probe, GOP Group Change Fake Websites; George Zimmerman Speaks To CNN; U.S. Silver Medalist Adopts Family of Stray Dogs

Aired February 17, 2014 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Jake, thanks very much.

Happening now, crimes against humanity. The United Nations issuing a truly shocking report about abuses by North Korea's leaders.

And a CNN exclusive on a group in Syria that is even too brutal for al Qaeda.

And fake Web sites fixed -- after a CNN investigation, a Republican group changes its decoy Web sites that tricked Democrats into giving money to the GOP.

And George Zimmerman speaking out. CNN's Chris Cuomo is here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about his interview with the man who shot Trayvon Martin.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.

You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We begin with a horrifying report that was issued today by the United Nations. A panel there cataloguing a shocking list of abuses by North Korea's regime. The 400-page report, based on testimony from hundreds of witnesses, says North Korea's leaders use murder, torture, slavery and mass starvation to keep themselves in power. It says the brutal regime has no parallel -- no parallel in today's world.

Brian Todd has been going through the report, getting reaction.

He's here to report on what he found -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it is the detail and some of the imagery which comes with this report that is really so jarring. The U.N. says the North Koreans will really stop at nothing to repress their political prisoners.

We have to warn viewers, some people might find the drawings at the top of our story disturbing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TODD (voice-over): Images of skeletal, starving people eating snakes and rats, emaciated human remains left for rats to eat, drawings of detainees being tortured, abused. These etchings are by a former prisoner in a North Korean gulag and they're part of disturbing, exhaustive new U.N. report on human rights abuses in North Korea.

The U.N. Commission of Inquiry interviewed hundreds of former prisoners and other witnesses. Survivor Jee Heon told of a starving woman who gave birth in a camp. A prison official heard the baby's cries and repeatedly beat the mother, Jee said, eventually forcing the mother to drown the child.

JEE HEON, NORTH KOREAN PRISON CAMP SURVIVOR (through translator): With her shaking hands, she picked up the baby and she put the baby face down in the water.

NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: There's no other place on Earth today that has the level of human rights abuse that North Korea has.

TODD: In the four large North Korean prison camps housing more than 100,000 people, systematic starvation, torture, rape and execution were commonplace, witnesses told the U.N. Former detainees and prison officials described grotesque methods of killing inmates. Guards would force them to dig their own graves, they said, then hit them over the head with a hammer.

Speaking to Amnesty International, an anonymous former prison official said another method was to have an inmate come to an office and sit down. Two people would be waiting with a rubber rope.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (through translator) if you strike someone with it, it will wrap around their neck. Then kill them by pulling the rope.

TODD: North Korean defector Kwon Young Hee, who testified for the U.N., told CNN's Paula Hancocks how guards presumably killed her brother.

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They tied him to a truck, she says, and dragged him for 45 kilometers. When he fell down, they kept on driving.

TODD: American Kenneth Bae is believed to be held in one of those camps. The U.N. official who released this horrific report says this.

JUDGE MICHAEL KIRBY, U.N. COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS IN NORTH KOREA: Too many times in this building there are reports and no action. Well, this is a time for action.

TODD: A time for action, but will anything change inside North Korea?

EBERSTADT: The North Korean government wants to be recognized and to have international legitimacy. And in every venue where North Korean officials walk internationally, this is going to stalk them.

(END VIDEO TAPE)

TODD: The North Korean regime calls the U.N. report a political plot and says, quote, "The, quote, human rights violations mentioned in the so-called report do not exist in our country."

But this really could be the most detailed account ever released of human rights abuses inside that country.

Still, there's a lot of uncertainty over whether this is really going to force any international pressure on North Korea from the Chinese, from the Russians, Wolf, or really from anyone else.

BLITZER: And according to this U.N. report, if you run afoul of the North Korean regime, they don't just come after you.

TODD: That's right. Not just you. They'll target your entire family. One woman testified to the U.N. that she was put in prison for gossiping about their late leader, Kim Jong-Il. Well, she says, they put her in a prison camp. They put her elderly parents in a prison camp and four of her children ages one to nine. All of them died except for her. And she says, you know, she and other witnesses say the North Koreans have this plan in place to basically exterminate three generations of a family if they run afoul of the regime.

BLITZER: Brian Todd with that report.

Thanks, Brian.

And joining us now, one of America's most senior diplomats, Wendy Sherman is the undersecretary of state for political affairs. She was the Clinton's administration point person for dealing with North Korea's nuclear program. At the time, she helped negotiate that nuclear deal with North Korea.

Now she's been deeply involved in negotiating the nuclear deal with Iran.

Ambassador Sherman, thanks so much for joining us.

I want to get to Iran in a moment. But there's this disturbing report, as we just heard, that came out from the United Nations alleging that North Korea, a country you know well, is engaged in, effectively, crimes against humanity against its own people.

I wonder if you want to react to that.

WENDY SHERMAN, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR POLITICAL AFFAIRS: Well, there can't be any reaction except one of horror. We have known for some time that there are horrible prison camps, some call them gulags, in North Korea, that many people really live on twigs and plants because there is a tremendous food shortage. We know a whole generation of children is growing up with stunted growth and stunted intellect. As I have always said, North Korea is not a place any of us would want to live in. And I give the United Nations credit for highlighting the horrible human rights abuses that are going on in North Korea, drawing the international community's attention to it, and the need to do something about it.

I'd also note that North Korea still holds Kenneth Bae, an American citizen who is not well and ought to be released and released without conditions now.

BLITZER: Is there any progress, any talks, any behind-the-scenes efforts underway to get Mr. Bae out of there?

SHERMAN: I think there have been constant efforts to get Mr. Bae home. And we will continue to do everything we possibly can to get him home as soon as we can to his family.

BLITZER: Let's hope he's released really soon.

SHERMAN: Secretary Kerry was just in China.

Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: You were going to say Secretary Kerry was just in China and he raised the issue of Kenneth Bae?

Is that what you're saying?

SHERMAN: He was just in China. And he discussed the whole situation in North Korea, the need for them to really make progress and show the world that they are going to be serious if the six party talks are reconvened, to deal with the human rights abuses in North Korea, and, of course, concern about Ken Bae, still in North Korea.

BLITZER: What's your reaction to these reports that Russia might be willing to build a nuclear reactor in Iran in exchange for oil shipments from Iran?

Is that something the U.S. would welcome?

SHERMAN: Well, I think I saw that news report. It was from Iranians speaking about an oil deal with Russia, possibly with Russian exchange, building them a second reactor. I think that we will see where we get with these negotiations in Vienna on a comprehensive agreement, which begin tomorrow with Iran. As you noted, we had a very good first step in the joint plan of action, where Iran made very serious commitments to stop the advance of their nuclear program, and, in fact, roll it back in some regards. And for that, they got very limited and targeted sanctions relief from the United States and the European Union. Everybody is needing their commitments. And tomorrow, we're going to build on that first step, because we don't want it to be the only step and we don't want it to be the last step, because the international community has a lot of concerns about Iran's nuclear program and the president is absolutely committed to making sure that Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon.

BLITZER: And so far, everything that they're supposed to do, according to this interim agreement, they have done, is that right?

SHERMAN: So far, everything that they are supposed to do in the interim agreement -- it's really a first step agreement, because it's meant to build toward the comprehensive agreement. And, in fact, the joint plan of action even lays out some of the issues that must be addressed in a comprehensive agreement.

But so far, everyone -- both Iran and all of the rest of us who provided some very limited targeted sanctions relief, have kept their commitments. That's a good sign, as we begin this comprehensive negotiation.

But we go into this negotiation very clear-eyed, very sober. It's going to be very tough. It's going to be a difficult process. And it's going to be tough to make the progress we need to.

The president has said 50-50 whether we get there. But we're going to do everything we can, because it's important to the United States. It's important to our security and to the security of the world.

BLITZER: Let me get your reaction to the ayatollah's latest comments on this deal that's been worked out, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.

He said this -- and I'll read it to you and then put it up on the screen for our viewers.

"What our officials started will continue. We will not renege. I have no opposition. But I will say again, there is no use. It will not lead anywhere."

He's saying that the Iranian nuclear program, as it's been built up, will continue and it's not going to move away.

What's your reaction to these, what I would regard as pretty tense, tough words?

SHERMAN: Well, I think there are a lot of tough words about Iran and about its nuclear program. What I care about is what Iran does, much more than what Iran says.

We're at the beginning of a negotiation. Everybody is setting out their positions. Everybody is setting the table for this tough negotiation. So I'm not surprised by the rhetoric that's coming out of Iran. They're probably not surprised about what the United States is saying, as well.

What really matters is when we sit down at the negotiating table, that Iran take the concrete, verifiable steps, transparent and very real, to give the international community confidence that they will not obtain a nuclear weapon and that if they have a civil, peaceful nuclear program, it will truly be exactly that.

BLITZER: Ambassador Sherman, thanks so much for joining us.

SHERMAN: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Up next, a 4-year-old is left to make his way through the desert alone as refugees flee the horrors of Syrian's civil war.

And you saw it first right here -- the GOP's fake Web sites that tricked Democrats into donating to Republicans. Now you're going to see the changes that our CNN investigation has led to.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: CNN has obtained a remarkable collection of videos, evidence of the brutally harsh tactics used by the radical Islamist group, ISIS, to control much of northern Syria. This is a group that is so radical that even al Qaeda has distanced itself from the group. In the videos recorded by the group itself, ISIS has seen interrogating prisoners and conducting executions.

We should warn you that some of the images are quite graphic. CNNs Ben Wedeman has an exclusive report on what can be learned from the recordings.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A voice off camera asked, "how old are you?" "I was born in 1980." "Are you married?" "Yes," he responds, "I have two children." "Do you want to see them again?" "God knows I do. I have nothing to hide." A man who calls himself Basil (ph) and a doctor pauses collecting his thoughts. "So talk, answer quickly. Are you cooking up lies," shouts the other.

This video is one of eight interrogations obtained by CNN from Syrian opposition activists. The interrogators speak with distinct Iraqi accents and ask questions about what (inaudible) in the town of Al- Bab, northeast of Aleppo. From the questions, it's clear the interrogators are not with the regime of President Bashar al Assad but rather with ISIS, the Islamic state of Iraq and Syria.

It's not clear what happened to these men, but another chilling video we'll show you later may be a clue. Early last year, ISIS emerged as a major power in opposition-controlled areas of Northern Syria. Since then, the ultra-extremist group has imposed strict Islamic law, held public floggings (ph) and executions and most recently has battled other opposition groups in fighting that has left well over 2,000 dead.

Even al Qaeda's leader has demanded ISIS leave Syria. Missing in the interrogation is any mention whatsoever of the Assad regime. The only concern is the challenge posed by other opposition factions and the local populist to ISIS. "Who is erasing the slogans and symbols of ISIS on the walls," demanded the interrogator? "I swear, I don't know as God as my witness," responds this man who identifies himself as Mohamen (ph).

Another interrogation, "what were they saying about the Islamic state?" He's asked. "Say the truth. Save yourself." "I'll speak the truth even if I lose my head," responds this man, who says he's called Mustafa.

All of these clips were found in the residence of this man known by his (INAUDIBLE) el Iraqi or the Iraqi. Activists describe him as an ISIS amir (ph), a commander and an intelligence officer. They found the abandoned video in January after he fled fighting between ISIS and other factions. Some of the clips and still shots show a young woman in the company Abu Ahmed (ph) trying her hand at shooting an AK-47 assault rifle.

"Steady," he tells her, "steady." ISIS is imposing the strictest possible dress code on women in the areas at controls given that their faces uncovered. Clearly, this was for this for Abu Ahmed and this unidentified woman a private moment. So, what happened to the interrogated man? It's not clear from the videos, but one of the last recordings documents in detail ruthless ISIS-style justice execution by flashlight.

"Ready?" asks a voice off camera? Fourteen men, some apparently quite young, are shot one after the other. The scenes are too graphic for us to show. Some fall into the mass grave already dug. The new boss in this part of Syria, none unlike the old boss.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Gaziantep, Turkey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Those are the brutality, the utter brutality of what's going on in Syria right now. At the same time, listen to this. A four- year-old left to make his way through the desert alone as refugees frantically escape Syria's bloody violence. It's one of the searing images of this brutal civil war which rages on and on and on as the latest efforts to stop it get bogged down.

Let's bring in our chief national security correspondent, Jim Sciutto. A lot of folks are saying, how can this be going on in this day and age?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: I mean, we're really getting a vision inside this country as it disintegrates, and as always in this situation, it seems the most vulnerable, the ones who suffer the most. It's just sickening to watching. As a father, I think we're all having the same reaction and the sad fact is that international efforts to end or even lessen the suffering are failing.

Peace talks in Syria ended this weekend with no new talk set. And now, the two countries with arguably the most power to influence the situation on the ground, the U.S. and Russia, are pointing fingers at each other. Meanwhile, even small windows into the conflict give the bleakest picture of the suffering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (voice-over): This is one victim on one day of Syria's brutal civil war. A child crying, "They died. My siblings died. My sisters." After his home was destroyed by a barrel bomb dropped by regime forces. This is another victim, four-year-old Marwan (ph) separated from his family as they fled the fighting. And now, diplomatic efforts already crippled after peace talks in Geneva broke up with no progress are descending in the recriminations.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: The talks themselves are taking a recess --

SCIUTTO: Today, secretary of state, John Kerry, blamed Russia, until now a partner on the peace talks and the deal to destroy Syria's chemical weapons.

KERRY: Russia needs to be a part of the solution and not be distributing so many more weapons and so much more aid that they're, in fact, enabling Assad to double down.

SCIUTTO: His Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, level the very same charge right back, saying it is the U.S. betting everything on a military solution. The Obama administration, its strategy until now, largely dependent on the Geneva talks is left looking for new policy options.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: None of us want the boots on the ground, but to revisit other options which are viable, then I think is the only thing that we can do. This is shameful.

SCIUTTO: That leaves a broad range of alternatives which the White House is, so far rejected, from arming and training the opposition to covert operations to targeting regime forces with air strikes.

JON ALTERMAN, CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: If you're not willing to put any lives at risk under any circumstances, at any risk, then people think you simply don't care. And because so many others are willing to put lives at risk, they're going to be the ones to determine the outcome of the battles that unfold in Syria.

SCIUTTO: The lost refugee, Marwan (ph), was eventually reunited with his family, one small dose of relief for a country desperate for peace.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SCIUTTO (on-camera): Senior administration officials tell CNN that the U.S. is now pushing for a new U.N. Security Council resolution condemning the atrocities and also improving the humanitarian situation on the ground in part to help Syrians like Little Marwan, but that resolution will not likely include the threat of sanctions or force. And a senior administration officials also told us it is not clear whether the Russians would consider even a resolution without the threat of sanctions or force.

So, this is really the situation we're in right now. And you see the folks on the ground. They're suffering and really reaching out for a sense of who's going to help them, who's going to ride to the rescue and we just don't see that at this point.

BLITZER: And as the case on several other issues, there's a real slip between the U.S. and Russia when it comes to Syria. SCIUTTO: Absolutely. And we need them on this.

BLITZER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thanks very much.

Coming up, as a result of our own CNN investigation, a Republican group now makes changes to decoy websites that tricked Democrats into donating to the GOP. We have details. That's coming up next.

And CNN's Chris Cuomo is with us to discuss this extraordinary interview with George Zimmerman. He talks about the night he killed Trayvon Martin. Stay with us. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As a result of a CNN investigation which you saw first right here in the SITUATION ROOM, a GOP group has now changed its bogus websites. They look so much like the sites of Democratic candidates, but some people who thought they were donating to Democrats actually gave money to Republicans. Here's Drew Griffin of CNN investigations.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIONS: Wolf, you could still get tricked into landing on these websites and even tricked into reading a lot of the material, but following our report, you will no longer be so easily fooled to giving money to the wrong party. We first reported the story on these fake websites earlier this month. They look a lot like official websites of Democrat candidates running for Congress, but if you look closer, read the fine print.

You will figure out they're actually attack sites built by the National Republican Congressional Committee. It's part of a strategy the Republicans came up with, buying up internet domain names for what they consider weak Democrat opponents, then creating the fake websites to fool people who are looking for info on Democrats. The problem is, the sites can also fool you into giving money to the wrong person.

Randy Frails, an attorney in Augusta, Georgia, wanted to give $1,000 to his Democrat congressman, John Barrow. He handed up on this fake website for John Barrow then clicked the big donate button --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RANDY FRAILS, DEMOCRATIC DONOR: All I see is the blue. John Barrow for Congress Donate. And George Bush's picture pops up and says congratulations, something to that effect, that you donated to help to defeat John Barrow. And I tell my wife, "oh, my God!" You know, I just donated to the wrong website.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRIFFIN: Frails did get his money back, but the story generated a lot of outrage, even calls for the Federal Election Commission led to investigate whether this was even legal. And now, it is changing the way Republicans are doing business on these websites. The websites aren't going away, but when you hit that big donate button, you won't be fooled. The donate button will redirect you to what is a very obvious Republican donor page telling you exactly what you are donating to. The spokesman for the Republican says it's not really a change, just an update. "We recently updated our contribution pages as we frequently do," he told us, "to highlight our efforts to defeat House Democrats in 2014."

In any event, Wolf, these fake websites aren't going away and you could still be fooled into reading them. Republicans say after our report, you just won't be fooled into giving to them -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Drew, thanks very much for that report. Let's discuss what's going on with our chief Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, and our CNN political commentator, Ryan Lizza, the Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker" magazine. Ryan, this is why these deceptive websites so many people just hate these politicians in Washington.

RYAN LIZZA, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: I mean, this one took me by surprise. You see campaigns stealing the URLs from other candidate so that when you search a term, you'll go and get that other --

BLITZER: If it says John Smith for Congress, you think that's a Democratic candidate, you're going to give money to John Smith for Congress.

LIZZA: Yes. But what's different here is the money. They're foiling people into a donation page and trying, it seems to me, to get them to give money to someone they don't want to give the money to. The way this is traditionally done is the page just shows you a bunch of negative information about the person.

That's par for the course. A lot of people think that's, you know, that's what's wrong with politics, too, but this takes it -- took it a step further by tricking people into donating for candidates they didn't want. That is absolutely abusive.

BLITZER: But Dana, at least based on the reaction from Drew Griffin's report which we aired here, at least, they're making a change.

DANA BASH, CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are making a change. Let's face it, they got caught. They're making a change because they got caught. Look, I think it is pretty hard to imagine that people out there would be surprised by anything in Washington because the view of Washington is not very high. But this isn't the kind of thing that you really think happens in real life.

I just finished, I have to admit binged watching "House of Cards" and that is something that -- that's Washington at its worse. People think --

BLITZER: It's the second season.

BASH: The second season. That's how people think Washington really is, which, you know, nobody is out offing other people here, but this is something that really just surprised me as well. LIZZA: Look, let's be honest, if CNN hadn't done this, they would not have changed it because it took that -- a lot of fire (ph). The other day, they were defending it saying, hey, we got beat on the web and on our online strategy by the Democrats in 2012, so we're proud of this because now we think we get it. I think they took the wrong lessons for why the Obama campaign was successful in 2012 through the online strategy. It wasn't about tricking people to donate to them.

BLITZER: At least they've come around and made some changes, which is important. Glad we did that report. Dana, look at these job approval numbers for the president of the United States. Right now, his approval number based on our poll as an average of three major polls, he's at 42 percent approval, 53 percent disapproval. A year ago exactly, he was at 52 percent approval, 43 percent disapproval.

But what's interesting is if you take a look at some of those key battleground states where vulnerable Democrats in the Senate are up for re-election, you know, whether it's Louisiana or North Carolina, some of these other states, Alaska, the president's approval numbers are even lower than nationwide and that does not bode well for these Democrats if midterm elections are a referendum as they usually are -- incumbent president.

BASH: It doesn't. The sort of flip side, maybe the good news for a lot of these Democrats, is they never were planning on running on Barack Obama's coat tails. Most of the states they are talking about, he lost to Mitt Romney even though he went on to win the White House. So, they have been planning for years to run as their own people, as you hear them say over and over again.

And to not, you know, in many cases, run against the White House even though they're Democrat. So, they're planning for that and they know that he is going to potentially be a drag, not necessarily because of his poll numbers now but because he was never popular in those states.

BLITZER: -- let's say who's running for re-election in Arkansas, a Democrat, I'm sure the president's job approval numbers in the state of Arkansas --

LIZZA: Are even lower.

BLITZER: -- are even lower than they are nationally.

LIZZA: Yes. But look, there's a very tight correlation between national approval for the president and how much -- how many members of their own party in the House and Senate you lose. If you look at the graphics, almost a perfect correlation. So, it's in every Democrat's interest to have Obama's approval higher. And at certain point --

BLITZER: How do they do that? They've got until November, obviously, so how do you do that?

LIZZA: That's a great question for the White House. How do they do that when a lot of these Democrats in these states, they don't want him there, campaigning for them? They just want him to be quiet, right? They don't want him to be out in public at all.

BASH: Right. And one thing I will say is that going back to last month the state of the union address, one of the things that Democrats who I talked to who are in charge of getting their fellow Democrats elected were happy about was that the president didn't have a (INAUDIBLE) sort of partisan approach.

He gave the kind of speech that they hope will eventually change those numbers because it will remind people at least that they like him, which is half the battle for a lot of these Democrats who are running up against the president.

LIZZA: Yes, how they do that. Part of is out of his control and part of the presidential approval is based on how people are feeling about the economy.

BLITZER: And what's going on in the world at that particular moment. All right. Guys, thank very much. Dana and Ryan, good discussion.

Up next, George Zimmerman says he hoped his life would go back to normal after the trial that captured the whole nation's attention. But seven months after it ended, he's still getting death threats. I'll speak to CNN's Chris Cuomo about his revealing new interview with one of the most controversial people in the country.

Also standing by, a very different story, the former NBA superstar, Charles Berkley, will breakdown his interview one-on-one with President Obama. Sir Charles, he's standing by live to join me in the SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: George Zimmerman says he's still getting death threats seven months after he was acquitted in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The former neighborhood watchman spoke to CNNs Chris Cuomo about life after the highly publicized trial which brought the subject of race plus the controversial Florida law known as stand-your-ground into the national spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY: Do you regret that you killed Trayvon Martin?

(voice-over) It's a simple question, but one George Zimmerman can't seem to answer.

GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, ACQUITTED FROM MURDER: Unfortunately, the Department of Justice is conducting a civil rights investigation. So, those are the types of questions because of the investigation I have to tread lightly on and I can't answer them.

CUOMO: We checked, and the Department of Justice is (ph) investigating any civil rights violations but says charges aren't expected. Still, Zimmerman's reluctance seems to be about more than legalities. (on-camera) Do you regret that night? Do you have regrets about it?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly, I think about that night. I think -- my life would be tremendously easier if I had stayed home.

CUOMO: If you could go back, you would stay home that night?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly. Yes. In hindsight, absolutely.

CUOMO: And now, as a point of clarification, you said "my life would be so much easier." When you say "I wish said home that night," are you thinking about you and also Trayvon Martin?

ZIMMERMAN: Certainly, I think about him. I think about my family. All the families that have been put in any type of dangerous situation. So, yes, I think about everybody involved.

CUOMO: But safe to say, if you can change how that night came out, you would both be alive today?

ZIMMERMAN: I think that's just a different way of rephrasing it.

CUOMO: If you could go back and do it again, you said you would have stayed home that night?

ZIMMERMAN: I would have stayed home.

CUOMO: So, that both of you would still be alive today?

ZIMMERMAN: That's a presumption I can't make. I don't know what would have happened -- I could have gotten in a car accident when I left, you know --

CUOMO: And you wouldn't have wound up killing Trayvon Martin if you had your way?

ZIMMERMAN: He wouldn't probably have ended up attacking me either if I would have stayed home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And Chris Cuomo is joining us now. Chris, excellent work, as usual. Let's get it to some of the substance of the interview. George Zimmerman wouldn't say he actually regretted killing Trayvon Martin. He says he's not haunted by the memories of that night. So, what do you make of that?

CUOMO: I think that he doesn't regret killing Trayvon Martin. I'm not being simplistic. I think he feels he was a victim. He had to do this to save his life. And it is almost impossible for him to even do what seems appropriate, which is to at least express remorse that you had to take a life to save your own. He's unwilling to go there, but I think it's very intentional.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: He said he was a scapegoat for President Obama and the attorney General Eric Holder. Why do you think he feels that way?

CUOMO: Because there are two very distinct narratives here, OK? There is the more obvious one which is this guy killed a black kid and got away with it. There are people who are angry. It shows a miscarriage of justice. It shows that there is not equality for blacks under law. But there is a parallel narrative, which is, well, the police and a state investigative authority both thought there wasn't a crime, that he only got prosecuted because of politics, he was made a scapegoat by politicians and still beat the case.

This is about the righteousness of stand your ground and the extension of guns rights there. There are two narratives. He buys into the second one and that is what his reality is, that he's a victim, he did the right thing and he did the right thing under the law and that's why he was acquitted.

BLITZER: And he says he's still accused of being a racist, says he still gets death threats. I guess, his life will never be the same.

CUOMO: Well, and it gets tricky, right? I think there's a substantial basis to the threats. He does wear bulletproof vests. He does have a lot of security, but what's the balance? The balance is, well, but he's alive. And Trayvon Martin lost his life. And George Zimmerman, if he were in any other state, maybe he'd be rotting away in jail.

I say maybe because his case, the facts of his case, to me, Wolf, I wasn't surprised that he was acquitted during the trial. I think in just about any state, the facts of his case may have made self-defense an option for him with a jury anywhere.

BLITZER: So, the interview has created a lot of reaction, a lot of buzz out there and I'm anxious to get your sense to this reaction since the interview aired this morning on "NEW DAY." CUOMO: Well, look, how can you not feel outraged if you are sympathetic or a member of the African-American community when it seems that at least in Florida, if not other places in the country, kids keep getting killed and there is no punishment.

Stand Your Ground is no question a problem. It's not something that grew out of the natural development of law as self-defense law did. It's political. It was passed in the mid-2000s, 2005. And it's a problem.

Here's why I thought interviewing George Zimmerman was important, Wolf. You don't do it to hype him. You don't do it to celebrate him. He is not a celebrity. You do it for the counter of those things. He's given credit for being this calculated zealot who knew how to work the system and got away with killing Trayvon Martin because he knew the law and how it worked.

I don't believe that's true at all. I think he's something much less. I think he's unsophisticated when it comes to the law and how it works, and I know that because I asked him and he knew nothing. He didn't even watch the Michael Dunn trial. So it's not that he's this calculating person.

It's that, this is what happens when you have such a low bar for self- defense as you have in Florida, that somebody can make a string of bad decisions and literally get away with murder, literally get bailed out of a killing. That's why it's a low bar. That's why it's such a concern and it has to be addressed.

BLITZER: It's always an important interview and thanks to you for doing it, Chris. We really appreciate it.

CUOMO: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate the time.

BLITZER: Be sure to catch Chris along with Kate Bolduan and Michaela Pereira on CNN's "NEW DAY" every weekday morning from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Eastern, the most news in the morning, only here on CNN.

Just ahead, Charles Barkley goes one-on-one with the president of the United States. But not on the basketball court. In a rare sit-down interview at the White House. The former NBA star will now take his turn in the hot seat. He's getting ready to join me live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll discuss the president and a lot more. That's coming up in a few moments.

But first, a U.S. Olympian who is making a difference both on and off the slopes. We're going to tell you how he's saving stray puppies in Sochi, Russia. It's a story you don't want to miss.

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BLITZER: Let's get to some other stories coming to THE SITUATION ROOM.

A co-pilot for Ethiopian Airlines is in custody after hijacking a Rome-bound plane and flying it to Switzerland looking for asylum. The man who's in early 30s was arrested when the plane landed in Geneva. Swiss Police took -- say he took control of the plane when the pilot went to the rest room. The 200 people on board were not harmed.

A elementary school in Charleston, West Virginia, closed early today due to, quote, odor in the water. That's according to an announcement in the school's Web site. Last week there were reports the water near Charleston smelled like licorice while others have complained of dizziness and nausea. It's been over a month since chemicals leaked into the area's water supply.

Turning now to the Winter Olympic Games where an American snowboarder is making the United States proud with both his hardware and his heart.

CNN's Rachel Nichols spoke with Gus Kenworthy who won a silver medal in the men's freestyle skiing and is now grabbing headlines for what he's doing off the slopes.

RACHEL NICHOLS, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Wolf, you've heard, of course, about the stray dog problem here in Sochi, how the police have been authorized to shoot the dogs with poison darts as opposed to more humane animal control measures. That has upset a lot of people including Gus Kenworthy.

And when he heard about a family of dogs living under a tent near the athletes village, he decided instead of just leaving them to the powers that be, he was going to try to make arrangements to bring them back to the States and adopt them.

Gus took me to visit the puppies. We had a lot of fun playing with them. And also of course talking about the silver medal he won here as part of that historic American one, two, three sweep of the podium just a few days ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICHOLS (on camera): So how much has your life changed since you stepped off that medal stand?

GUNS KENWORTHY, OLYMPIC SILVER MEDALIST: I don't know if I know how much has changed. But it's just been insane. It's just kind of like a whirlwind of excitement and just so much going on.

NICHOLS: You tweeted a picture of yourself on a corn flakes box.

KENWORTHY: Yes, I mean, we won and like 12 hours later we were on a cereal box. So that -- it was crazy but I mean it's a huge dream come true to feel like a lot of the biggest sports icons in the world have been featured on cereal boxes. So to get to be one of those, it's insane.

NICHOLS: Well, we want to see the dogs. Can we go see the dogs?

KENWORTHY: Yes, let's do it.

NICHOLS: All right. KENWORTHY: For sure.

Hi, mom. Somebody wants sausage?

NICHOLS: You've heard that there were stray dogs around here.

KENWORTHY: Yes.

NICHOLS: And you heard what they were doing. What was that like when you started to hear the stories?

KENWORTHY: I mean, it just sucked for sure. I felt for the animals. I heard that they were just rounding them up and exterminating them, and trying to keep them out of the public view. So I felt really bad. But I mean I definitely wasn't like planning on trying to come here and be some animal activist or like --

NICHOLS: Right.

KENWORTHY: -- spokesperson for humanity, for the dogs or anything. I just -- this particular family just really kind of touched me and I just think they are so cute and that they need some help. And so I'm just going to try and bring this family home.

Hi. You're OK. Look. Come here.

NICHOLS: Well, you're going to have to give this one a Russian name.

KENWORTHY: I don't know.

NICHOLS: Right?

KENWORTHY: I mean I was thinking like Sochi is kind of nice --

NICHOLS: Well, that's good.

KENWORTHY: Or like Kator (ph), Rosa, Silver, I don't know. Something --

NICHOLS: Silver is pretty good.

KENWORTHY: Something for the event.

NICHOLS: Right?

KENWORTHY: Yes.

NICHOLS: Right. Are you going to show her your medal here? Does she like it?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NICHOLS: Gus has a bunch of family and friends lined up to adopt those dogs. And he's getting some help from a local Russian billionaire of all people with the paperwork necessary to get them out of the country. This guy is a dog lover who heard what Gus was doing and like so many people who have heard Gus's story, he got inspired.

Wolf, I guess a love of dogs transcends all nationalities, politics, income brackets, all of it.

BLITZER: Rachel Nichols, absolutely right as usual. Thank you very much.

Coming up, he's an 11-time all-star, he won an Olympic gold medal, and he beat out Michael Jordan for a Most Valuable Player award. But Charles Barkley says interviewing the president of the United States was probably the coolest thing he's ever done.

Sir Charles, there he is. He's standing by live. We're going to talk about the interview at the White House and a lot more, that's coming up next.

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