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All Eyes on Illinois; Gas Prices Rising; Justice Department May Get Involved in Neighborhood Watch Killing Case; New Study Shows High School Graduation Rates Higher Than in Previous Years

Aired March 19, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Also, Mitt Romney routing Rick Santorum in Puerto Rico. Why tomorrow's primary in Illinois could be the most critical of all.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: This is the nastiest I have ever seen.


O'BRIEN: Words from Senator John McCain of why he believes super PACs are destroying American politics.

And gas pump politics dominating the conversation in the battle for the White House. What will any of the promises made be a payoff for us?

It's Monday, March 19, 2012.

And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Hey, listen, if you're just waking up now with Alicia Keys, you're late! You're late! You're late. Skip the shower, just run!

Here's our panel this morning: John Fugelsang joins us. He's a political comedian and radio personality. Chrystia Freeland joins us as well. She's is the editor at "Thompson Reuters Digital." And Will Cain, CNN contributor and contributor to

Just sing it, Alicia. Keep going. Just it playing. I love it.

Yes, yes, yes. We got lots to get to, including some breaking news this morning.

Let's go right to Christine Romans who's got that for us.

Hey, Christine. Good morning.


Let's start there. We're following that breaking news. French President Nicolas Sarkozy now arriving at a Jewish school where just this morning, a gunman killed a teacher and three children, including a 3-year-old child. Authorities say the shooter was riding a motorcycle and used two different weapons. This is the third shooting by a man on a motorcycle in southwest France and officials suspect the cases may be linked.

Militants in Yemen claiming responsibility for killing an American teacher. A group linked to al Qaeda claims the teacher was killed for Christian proselytizing. Government officials say Joel Sharm who'd been working at a school in Yemen for two years was shot to death Sunday by two gunmen dressed in military uniforms.

The Army chief of staff accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians will have his first face-to-face meeting today with his attorney. Sergeant Robert Bales is being held in solitary confinement at Ft. Leavenworth prison in Kansas, while military prosecutors prepared charges against him. Meantime, Afghan officials are demanding Bales be returned to stand trial in their country and the Taliban rejects a claim by U.S. military officials that Sergeant Bales acted alone in those killings in the Afghan villages.

Nasty weather making its way across the country. Tornadoes reported in Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Look at this. Incredible video. Storm chasers caught a twister as it touched down in Willow, Oklahoma. Hails the size of tennis balls was reported, but luckily, there was no damage -- there's no report of damage there.

In Nebraska, several homes were damaged by tornadoes. Tornadoes that also derailed more than a dozen train rail cars.

And a royal milestone for the duchess of Cambridge. Catherine delivering her first public speech today during a visit to a new children's hospice facility run by one of the charities which she is a patron of. The duchess will tour that facility and meet with children and families receiving care and support from the hospice. After her speech, she'll plant a treat to commemorate the opening -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: It would be nice to watch out. Remember, it was Princess Di who really I think solidified her connection to regular people by doing things like that and her regular speeches as well.

All right. Christine, thank you.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Rick Santorum talking politics, placing a very big bet on Tuesday's GOP primary in Illinois. Listen.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If we're going to be able to come out of Illinois with a huge or surprise win, I guarantee you, I guarantee that we will win this nomination.


O'BRIEN: It's pretty bold prediction in a state where recent polling has his trailing slightly -- Mitt Romney who may have found some added momentum when he won Puerto Rico yesterday. He was able to capture 83 percent of the vote. All 20 delegates at stake.

Thanking Latino voters and emphasizing their importance in the general election. Listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The Hispanic voters are going to vote for Republicans if we stand for something, conservative principles that bring growth and good jobs and rising home values. That's why we're going to win and get Latino voters to help us out.


O'BRIEN: Governor Romney has racked up more than twice the number of delegates than any other candidate. He's on top with 518. Senator Santorum is in second place with 239, the former speaker, Newt Gingrich, has 139 delegates, and Congressman Ron Paul has 69 delegates.

Let's talk a little bit about the Santorum strategy this morning. We had Alex Stewart, spokesperson for the campaign on this morning. And she said it sounded as if she were saying, listen, the strategy is less about us winning 1,144, which is that the magic number, more about keeping Mitt Romney from winning 1,144.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, which means what are you running for? You're running president or you're running to spread a message? From a strategic standpoint, from a logical standpoint, Santorum guaranteed that if he wins Illinois, he wins the election, needs some explanation. I mean, explain --

O'BRIEN: We tried.

CAIN: -- how it plays out from a showmanship and politician standpoint, why not? We talk about this in the last hour. It's a Hail Mary pass, and what is now a Hail Mary election.

JOHN FUGELSANG, COMEDIAN: Yes. But then you have you no business saying you're going to win the nomination although he is the eighth Republican candidate to guarantee that. You can't win this presidency without 40 percent of the Latino vote and going down to Puerto Rico and saying that I believe in liberty, freedom and no Espanol doesn't really -- totally really reinforce your credentials when it comes to --

O'BRIEN: And also, it seemed that way, in the turnout of the election. Let's bring in Republican strategist Phil Musser. He's also the president of New Frontier Strategy, served as a senior adviser to the 2008 Romney presidential campaign.

Nice to see you. Thanks for being with us. We are talking about Puerto Rico right there. What do you think Romney's victory shows there?

PHIL MUSSER, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think it's a huge win for Mitt, Soledad. I mean, at 83 percent. You got to put that in context. I mean, the highest percentage Romney has won to date was 72 percent in Massachusetts, and 83 percent victory in Puerto Rico is resounding victory.

O'BRIEN: Is it more about Santorum's misstatements or fumbles? I don't think they call them misstatements but --

MUSSER: Look. I think it's three things.

First of all, Romney went down there and really emphasized a message that was a jobs-focused, economy-driven message that connects and resonates in a state where Governor Luis Fortuno has been making really tough growth reduction measures. He's got a pro-growth tax code. He's up on the ballot. I think that was one big piece of it. He is connected on that.

And then he was tone appropriate on the issue of statehood, whereas, Santorum, really fumbled this issue in quite fundamental way both with respect to English and not focusing on kind of the plebiscite vote that's on the ballot down there this fall.

And, finally, Fortuno -- Fortuno is a lesser known Republican governor, but he's a real rising star in the Republican constellation. Frankly, his organization and his endorsement, it really mattered. His people turned out in a robust and significant way. And they gave Romney his biggest win to date, capturing all 20 delegates available.

So, I think three reasons that people should take away from this Puerto Rico result.

CHRYSTIA FREELAND, THOMPSON REUTERS DIGITAL: What we are really hearing from the Santorum campaign is a real push towards a brokered or negotiated convention. We had a lot of talk about the unbound delegates and which direction they are going to go. How likely do you think that is and how would Mitt Romney fare in that kind of environment if it comes down to that?

MUSSER: Yes, it's a great question. I think it's unlikely. I don't think it's completely out of the question but I think it's unlikely.

If you just look at the road ahead, Romney continues to do very well with the delegate accumulation. He won 20 last night. He is going to win delegates in Illinois. Remember that in Illinois, Senator Santorum isn't on the ballot in a couple of key congressional districts.

And then if you look where this race goes, it's proportional allocation of a quarter of the delegates in Louisiana and the race heads north to D.C., where Mitt is on the ballot, and Gingrich is on the ballot, Santorum is not. Maryland, Wisconsin, Connecticut, these are places where Governor Romney is favored to do well.

And one of the misnomers is that if you have an open convention, you know, all of a sudden, chaos is going to break loose and Mitt wouldn't be able to make a play at the convention. The truth is all of these people who signed up to be delegates for them, they've worked for him and going there to vote for Mitt Romney.

So, I think it's unlikely and I think Romney would be favored even in a contested convention scenario.

O'BRIEN: There's a new attack ad and no surprise it's Mitt Romney attacking Rick Santorum, as a guy who's never run anything. I'm going to play a little chunk of that for you.

MUSSER: All right.


NARRATOR: Who can turn around the economy and defeat Barack Obama? Not Rick Santorum. Santorum's real weakness is the economy. He's never run a business or a state.


O'BRIEN: Do you think that is going to stick potentially?

MUSSER: Well, I think if you look at -- let's go to Illinois, right? One of the things on voters' minds in Illinois is look at the last three governors of Illinois, a Republican George Ryan in jail. A Democrat Rod Blagojevich in jail. A Governor Pat Quinn overseeing a bond rating that is below -- almost junk status, a state that's got a busted budget and an economy stuck in a quagmire.

And so, I think part of the messaging of the Romney is hire a conservative -- fiscal conservative businessman who knows how to fix things with a conservative set of principles and that's the contrast of trying to set up with Santorum.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And Santorum's response, not to add insult, but basically, his criticism has been, listen, when you have resources and you have an advantage and you still cannot win big, maybe Puerto Rico is a big exception to that, that is indicative of a weakness.

Let's play that chunk.


SANTORUM: If Governor Romney thinks that he is the CEO of America and can run and manage the economy, he doesn't understand what conservatives believe in.


O'BRIEN: Let's play the next chunk you guys of Santorum talking about Mr. Romney's resources, please.


SANTORUM: When you have this amount of resources, this amount of advantage and you can't manage and deliver the mail and win this nomination, that shows a real weakness in his ability to be able to govern.


O'BRIEN: Does he not have a point there? We apologize for that five seconds of nothing happening on that tape.

MUSSER: No problem.

O'BRIEN: Does he -- does he not have a point? Listen, at the end of the day, you're talking about someone with massive resources and massive organizational ability, and he really is still having a hard time getting the campaign to gel. It sounds like a fair criticism.

MUSSER: Well, there are a couple of things going on. I mean, there's a lot of frothy energy in the Republican Party across the spectrum. And the second thing is we changed the rules on how we do this, this time. So, the tsunami tidal wave of quick elections in the Republican Party is a thing of the past. The reality is, the way this thing is set up, it's meant to drag on for a while.

The RNC rules officials who rewrote the process wrote it so that there would be essentially the opportunity for the equivalent of a Santorum candidacy, a late surge, a second-look candidacy.

And so, with respect to Senator Santorum kind of whining about the money, that's a weak argument, with all due respect. I mean, you set up a campaign, you build an organization if you raise money. If you raise money, you have money to spend.

Santorum plays by the same rules that Romney does and I think whining about resources is a message that's off pitch and what is likely been the cause of trouble for him have been his inability to stay on message with respect to contraception and women and Puerto Rico.

O'BRIEN: Right. But he's not really whining about resources. What he is saying he has so much money and he has a well-organized campaign and he still is struggling to really get his message to resonate. I mean, he's not necessarily complaining about his own money. He is saying, why is the method not better, if in fact, he's got all the advantages in the world, right?

MUSSER: Well, first of all, you got four people in the race for president. So, you know, the concept of a coronation in the Republican Party is something that is a thing of the past, I believe, permanently. And frankly, that's a good thing.

These primaries are actually healthy for our party and our nominee. And if you look at Governor Romney, I think his message on the economy and jobs is getting stronger, crisper, clearer. You know, he's been more focused.

So, I think as we go forward, we are -- this process is making Romney stronger and because he hasn't sewn it up mathematically is not an indictment that his campaign hasn't connected. So, you know, we'll have to see what happens in Illinois. I think it's going to be a close election. But by the flip side, if Romney wins Illinois, where does that leave Santorum?

O'BRIEN: It's a good question. I know we're going to be talking about it tomorrow, I'm sure.

Phil Musser, Republican strategist, nice to see you. Thanks for being on.

MUSSER: Thank you very much for having me on, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet. You bet. Absolutely.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT: Sixteen years after JonBenet's murder, her father, John Ramsey, has written a book. He says he is not bitter about what happened at all.

Also, tired of flight attendants forcing you to turn of your phone and your iPod before the plane takes off? Pretty soon, you might not have to.

We're listening to Will Cain's playlist. This is Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band, "Hollywood Nights."

We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: It's a crime that gripped national headlines for years, and it remained unsolved to this day. On December 26, 1996, six-year-old beauty queen, JonBenet Ramsey was found murdered in her home in Boulder, Colorado. Her parents, John and Patsy Ramsey, were almost immediately treated as a prime suspect.

It would take 12 years before the Boulder District Authority cleared JonBenet's family of any involvement of her death but not before Patsy Ramsey would die of ovarian cancer in 2006. Now, John Ramsey has detailed his journey from grief to faith in his memoir, which is called "The Other Side of Suffering." Ashleigh Banfield had a chance to sit down with him, and you say he's not bitter at all.


O'BRIEN: That surprised me.

BANFIELD: Shocking -- can you believe that if she were alive today, she'd be 21, 21 years old? I can't believe we've been around that long. I did expect him to be bitter. I expected everything he had been through, especially having lost another daughter four years before JonBenet, but I found this was a person who had found a new path to recovery. More importantly, he told me that he just wants everyone to know something else about his daughter.


BANFIELD: What would you want people to know about JonBenet?

JOHN RAMSEY, JONBENET RAMSEY'S FATHER: She was so much more than a beauty queen that she's been tagged, and it really hurts when she's tagged that way because that was just a small element of her life. She was energetic. She was incredibly smart. Just an amazing, young child.

BANFIELD: You used to call her Johnny B.

RAMSEY: Yes, Johnny B. She just lit the room up and not everybody -- I remember one day, I came home from work, and I kind of was crying about something. She said, dad, I don't like that face. So, I put on a smile. She said, that's better. That is just who she was.

BANFIELD: Attitude adjustment.

RAMSEY: Yes, total.

BANFIELD: Speaking of those, you see these programs on cable, "Toddlers & Tiaras."

RAMSEY: Yes. It called a little bit of that.

BANFIELD: When you see those programs, what do you think?

RAMSEY: I don't care for them at all. And that was certainly not the world in a JonBenet and Patsy participated in back then. That was 15 years ago. When Patsy and JonBenet did it, there was always a talent component to the program. And the only people there were grandparents and moms and dads.

BANFIELD: Not coaches.

RAMSEY: No coaches.

BANFIELD: Costume designers.

RAMSEY: No. No. And, but now that they put it -- made a television show out of it, it's pretty questionable. That's a good idea? I don't think it is.


O'BRIEN: Where does the case stand now?

BANFIELD: Cold. I mean, it's cold. What's fascinating, though, is that they do have a DNA profile of the killer. That's the same thing, by the way, that cleared the Ramsey family 100 percent of this crime, which by the way, I'm not sure everybody knows that. We went to town on this story. I actually asked him about that. I said you must hate us for what, you know, we did to you, and he said, no, not at all. I understand it. And I said, do you think we did a good a job of clearing your name as we did bringing you into this?

I think he really blames the Boulder police for what they did and for how they may have botched some things and how they allowed it to become a circus and that kind of thing. But you know what's amazing is that he doesn't have that same anger of wanting to tear the killer limb from limb that he used to have. He now just wants to know why. It's amazing.

O'BRIEN: That must be a terrible thing to be a parent and have such a tragedy and unsolved, too. I just don't think you could, as a parent, live with that. I mean, how do you go through looking at every child's face and wondering, you know, like that would be my kid today and that would be my kid today and that 21-year-old would be my kid today and that 21 -- I mean, that would just be --

BANFIELD: He met her friend. He met her little childhood friend not long ago. She's 21. She's getting married.

O'BRIEN: Brutal.

BANFIELD: I asked him, do you imagine JonBenet at age 21? Like, have you extrapolated what she would be, and he said, absolutely not. She is frozen in time at age --


BANFIELD: She's frozen in time of that little girl and can't imagine anything other than that.

O'BRIEN: Oh, so brutal. All right. Ashleigh, thank you for that interview. We appreciate it.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, gas prices up again this morning coming a big blame game on the campaign trail. Could the price of the pump decide the presidency? We'll take a look at that.

Plus, chilling 911 tapes have finally been released in the shooting death of a Florida teenager. Trayvon Martin's family is calling for the justice department to now step in. You're watching STARTING POINT. We've got a short break and we're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: That's K.D. Lang, "Miss Chatelaine," and that's off to Chrystia's playlist this morning. You can check out our playlist every morning on our website,

We are talking gas prices, what goes up and go higher. In fact, it looks like that. It can keep going higher. The national average price of gas is up again this morning, the tenth straight day. That's according to AAA. A gallon of regular average is $3.84 a gallon right now. And the GOP is seizing on these price hikes to attack President Obama. They're telling him to fire some people. Listen.


ROMNEY: Given the fact he now wants lower gasoline prices, I think it's time for him to fire his gas hike trio. It's time for those three to be let go and to return to policies and get us the energy we need.


O'BRIEN: And here's the president's chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, fighting back.


DAVID AXELROD, CHIEF CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST, PRESIDENT OBAMA: The notion that we can simply drill our way out of this, or somehow, that if we say that that the gas prices will go down magically now, Newt Gingrich's $2.50 a gallon and so, that's not oil talk. That is snake oil talk, and the American people know the difference.


O'BRIEN: That's not oil talk, that's snake oil talk. That's another line that someone made up, and then, they're going to try to work it into any kind of conversation.


O'BRIEN: Yes. They're trying to get that to stick, and it's really not, I don't think, working particularly well. Although, I do think gas prices are things that people are willing to elect or throw people out of office on.

FUGELSANG: Absolutely. Mitt Romney maybe not able to beat the president, but five bucks a gallon gas could. However, I didn't hear Mitt Romney claiming that George Bush had fired anybody when gas prices reached record high as under the previous president.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but you're not surprised about that?

FUGELSANG: I'm not surprised one bit, but we all know this is determined on the world market. So, saying that drilling now for oil will lead to lower gas prices now is like saying plant an apple seed to have an apple pie tomorrow.

O'BRIEN: The Democrats did the same thing.

FUGELSANG: Well, no, but they didn't. They really didn't.

O'BRIEN: Hillary Clinton did.

FUGELSANG: OK. But most Democrats didn't blame Bush. They --

O'BRIEN: She's a big one, though.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: She doesn't count?

FUGELSANG: Well, no, but I'm saying a lot of liberals didn't blame, but they scorned bush, because Bush was an oil shill (ph) in their opinion who is a guy who ran in 2000 and saying if gas prices went high, in his exact words were, I'll get on the phone with OPEC and (INAUDIBLE) to get the prices down. Well, that happened, and Bush didn't do a thing about it.

So, we're seeing a bit of hypocrisy here. I think the one smart thing the Obama administration is doing is going on the road and trying to shift the tone to talking about oil company subsidies by telling taxpayers, you're getting $400 billion a dollars a year to oil companies in corporate welfare. That's --

O'BRIEN: Can that work when you get (INAUDIBLE) --


FUGELSANG: No, but it's the only populism he has and he's quiver right now until the gas prices go down, but she has no control of it.

FREELAND: But he does have some control. I mean, the truth is -- and people don't like to connect these conversations. The one way that the White House right now can have a real impact on the price of oil is how it deals with Iran.

If you want to look at, you know, what is driving this spike, it's not global demand. Global demand is not yet that strong. It is tensions with Iran.

CAIN: I want to give Chrystia a lot credit for that. We had this conversation on your show sometime back and she brought that up. I went back and double checked her on that.

FREELAND: Thanks. You didn't trust me!

O'BRIEN: Showing the lack of trust?

CAIN: No, global demand had its peak a couple years back, which driving the price now as Iran and security. There are short-term criticisms in President Obama's gas policies which really aren't legitimate, and he doesn't have control over gas prices. The long term ones are much more legitimate.

Mitt Romney is talking somewhat about those, the effects of Steven Chu, Keystone Pipeline, alternative energy subsidies. These things can affect long-term prices of oil, and he deserves credit.

FUGELSANG: So, that has nothing to do with gas prices now. I'll reiterate.


O'BRIEN: We all agree to that.

FUGELSANG: And you know what, if you're angry about high gas prices, blame the guys on that other news network (INAUDIBLE) we bomb Iran, because that's causing the instability.

O'BRIEN: There's more to the instability than people on TV calling --

FUGELSANG: Well, of course, there is. The weather has something to do with it.


FUGELSANG: Ron Paul -- this is a point that Ron Paul is right about. And the demand to bomb Iran and have war with Iran is contributing to the instability that's leading to these gas prices.

O'BRIEN: There are number of factors that are contributing to the instability, I would say.

FREELAND: That's the big one.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I agree. All right. Wow! You guys wear me out today.


O'BRIEN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, the family of that Florida teenager who was shot and killed by the neighborhood watch captain is now asking the justice department to investigate. Self-defense claim is being called into question with the release of those new 911 tapes. We'll play some for you.

Also, if you're tired of being told to turn off all your electronics as you get on board the plane, you might not have to any more. I want to fly that airline. That would be nice. We'll tell you what's happening there. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: OK, a great way to start your day. We got to get to the show. We've got to get the headlines. Christine Romans has those for you. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: We continue to following this breaking news after school shooting overseas. A Jewish community reeling over a school shooting in France that killed a teacher and three children in the southwest part of the country. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is arriving to the school this morning. Authorities say the gunman was riding on a motorcycle and opened fire on a place where you drop off children. They say he may be responsible for two previous shootings in the area.

While most states are getting a sneak peek at springtime weather this weekend with rare high temperatures, the southwest is getting slammed with snow. Parts of Arizona buried in up to 14 inches of snow and Lake Tahoe was hit with three feet of snow in just 24 hours. That made for perfect ski conditions, allowing Tahoe ski resorts to open up more slopes and get more business. (WEATHER BREAK)

ROMANS: And 74 people arrested in New York City during an occupy Wall Street protest marking the six months since that movement began. Demonstrators tried to take over Zuccotti Park. The police drove them out. Protesters say police abused several people while making arrests. There's no response yet to those allegations officially from the police.

Federal officials are reportedly reconsidering the rule banning plane passengers from using electronic devices during takeoff and landing. "The New York Times" says FAA will explore testing e-Readers and other gadgets on plane but not testing smart phones. The initiative still in the early stages and any conclusions could be a long time coming.

O'BRIEN: Wouldn't that be a great day, though? No one will listen to the instructions at all ever again because they will be reading their e-Reader. Let's talk about Apple. That stock, wow.

ROMANS: I know, $600 it hit last week, and it's up again this morning. We will get big news in about 30 minutes. The company is expected to say what it's going to do with the $98 billion in cash. Here is what it could do with it. It could give it to shareholders that most people are expecting it to do and dividend. Buy back its own stock or it could buy companies or leave it in the bank and get virtually nothing on it.

I want to show you this chart. A lot of people asking me, is Apple stock worth it? It's been up $486 percent over the past five years. It's $585 a share. Here is why. It sold 16,000 iPhones every hour last quarter. It sold almost 7,000 iPads every hour. Look at this -- unbelievable, 40 percent to 50 percent revenue growth every single year. The question is, is it overvalued? And when you look at what is called the price-to-earnings ratio, it's only 16.8 and 16.9 and exactly what the S&P 500 is. Some saying this is not an overvalued stock at $600 if, if, it can continue to change the world. We will see.

O'BRIEN: Everybody is asking that question, is the stock worth it? It's gone up 486 percent!

ROMANS: It's worth it if you bought it five years ago.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is.

ROMANS: It was definitely worth it.

O'BRIEN: It surely is. Christine, thank you.

A big development on a story we have been following out of Florida, The 17-year-old's family who was killed by a neighborhood watch captain asking the Justice Department to step in, that as the full 911 tapes have been released. Trayvon Martin was shot last month by a 28-year-old George Zimmerman. The family are pressing police to record all of the recordings. Seven calls were made by neighbors, the first one by Zimmerman himself who claimed that he shot the teen in self-defense. Here's the call.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: Something is wrong with him. Yep. He's coming to check me out. He's got something in his hands. I don't know what his deal is. They always get away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you following him?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We don't need you to do that.



O'BRIEN: So that is just one of the numerous 911 tapes that have been released. Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's senior analyst, is back with us this morning. Clearly, are you following him is the question asked and he says, yes. He says we don't need you to do. Not only does he ignore what the dispatcher is telling him he clearly says he is now in pursuit of the teenager. How does this legally contradict any claims of self-defense?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it suggests that it was not self-defense. It suggests that Zimmerman was somehow the aggressor here. Now, there are a lot of other pieces of evidence in the case and it makes sense for the police to evaluate all of them, but certainly this tape alone is very damaging for Zimmerman because it suggests that he was the one pursuing Trayvon Martin, not that Martin was somehow the aggressor in the confrontation.

O'BRIEN: Listen to the 911 call from one of the many neighbors who called in. Here it is.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So you think he's yelling help?



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's gunshots.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You just heard gunshots?




(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: My gosh, it's so shocking what you hear the gunshot over the call. And there are many disputes or questions about who was the one who was screaming although as people pointed out the minute a shot is fired, the screaming ceases.

TOOBIN: Right, which would suggest it was Trayvon Martin who was screaming, not Zimmerman. But Florida has this peculiar law which we have discussed before, the so-called stand your ground law and gives expended self-defense rights to people, which may be one reason George Zimmerman hasn't been charged yet. It sort of allows someone who is attacked to escalate a confrontation. If you're hit with a fist, you can reply with a gun. That's what is the law says. You know, it hasn't been tested very often. You don't know how a jury would react to that, but, I mean, this makes a case potentially somewhat harder.

O'BRIEN: A neighborhood watch have any special rights, to have any special authority?

TOOBIN: They are not. They are citizens. They are not police. It's very different. Certainly this guy's record, he has been arrested once. He is told to stand down here. So that is, obviously, not in his favor.

CAIN: Would the Florida self-defense law benefit Trayvon Martin? It seems he was stalked by someone else and he would justify self- defense under that law.

TOOBIN: Theoretically, but Trayvon Martin is obviously not going to be the defendant in any case here. The only person charged is Zimmerman and he may use the law. Again, a lot of facts here we don't know. We haven't heard eyewitness testimony. We haven't heard Zimmerman's full account of what is going to go on --

O'BRIEN: The police have never given him -- it appears there is evidence they have not given him a drug test on the scene. They didn't test to see if he had been drinking on the scene. Anybody involved in a homicide at all, even if you claim self-defense and maybe if it looks at the beginning like it's a clear case of self- defense, it seems strange to me they wouldn't do that, right?

TOOBIN: Well, that train has left the station. They can't give him a drug test now and can't give him an alcohol test now. Too much time has passed. And that's one of the real criticisms of the police not having done that right away. We will never know if he was under the influence.

O'BRIEN: They want to bring in the Justice Department.

TOOBIN: In racially charged cases like this is, this is for the Justice Department to get involved. The local police have had some issues over race. It seems like a very appropriate case to have the FBI investigate, U.S. attorney get involved.

O'BRIEN: I think we are going to be hearing from them. In fact, they will. Jeff Toobin, thank you. This is a sad story, and we will update it and let everybody knows what we know about this case as it proceeds along. Thank you.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT, more than a million high school students drop out of high school each year. Some good news, though, to talk about our schools this morning.

And Senator John McCain sounding fed up, really, with the GOP race. We will tell you why he is calling it the nastiest campaign ever. You're watching STARTING POINT. We will take a break and be back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: And good morning, everybody. More than a million high school students will drop out of high school this year. That's one in four. The rate is much higher among African-American students and Hispanic students. But there is some good news, and that there are fewer so-called dropout factories, that's schools where 60 percent or fewer kids will make it from their freshman year into their senior year. A new reports show in 2010 there were 1,550 schools like that, dropout factory type schools. That number is down 23 percent since 2008. So over eight years they have actually been able to drop that number to 23 percent.

The programs are trying to keep the trend going, and later today, the Building a Grad Nation summit in Washington, D.C. is going to be held. AT&T is going to announce a massive $250 million investment in preventing dropout programs.

Joining us this morning to talk about that is Charlene Lake is AT&T's chief sustainability officer, and Tyra Leaton participated in the Jobs for America's Grads program supported by AT&T, and CNN's education contributor Steve Perry joins us. Steve, I will begin with you, if I can. So that new study has some pretty good news about the national graduation rate, which is inching up. It was 72 percent and now it's up to 75.5 percent, a long way from where the president and the administration says they would like to be. Still very, you know, lower. 65.9 percent Hispanic students, 63.5 percent graduation rate for black students. What is the cause for people to drop out still today?

STEVE PERRY, CNN EDUCATION CONTRIBUTOR: There are lots of reasons why kids drop out. But one of the main reasons is that they just don't fit in the school that they are in. Meaning that, they may not feel academically compelled to participate. Likewise, they may not feel that they see an end in sight meaning that they are going to get the education that they want, they're going to go on to college and they see it really used for education.

So a lot of times it's the fit that the kid has with the school. Some people talk about other factors like socio economics and having to quit school and work. That's a very small group of children who do that. In many cases they just academically in many cases do not connect to the experience of their school.

O'BRIEN: All right, let's get to Charlene then because this announcement is -- is massive; $250 million. And it's really funneling the bulk of the money or a lot of the money that AT&T gives anyway over the next five years to focus on dropouts. Where specifically is it going and why are you focusing on dropouts?

CHARLENE LAKE, AT&T CHIEF SUSTAINING OFFICER: Thank you for having me here today. It's specifically going on -- going to programs that support high school success and work force readiness. AT&T provides about a quarter of a million jobs in this country. And what that means is that even in the worst of economic times, we are hiring thousands and thousands of employees.

So in a talent pipeline, it shows signs that maybe it's not going to be able to deliver what our future needs are going to be, then business needs to step up and step up its commitment and that's what we're doing today with our announcement.

O'BRIEN: All right, then let's turn to Tyra, because she graduated from Balou Senior High School in Washington. Tyra, how did the program help you? Were you -- were you on the verge of dropping out?

TYRA GLEATON, PARTICIPANT IN, "JOBS FOR AMERICA'S GRADUATES": When I first started at Balou Senior High School, I was shaky, because of the history of my school, but it was -- I was tempted, but then I got in JAG and JAG was the -- an amazing program and it helped me see things that I thought I would never see.

I've been on amazing college tours with this school. And I appreciate JAG so much for letting me see that and I'm a sophomore in college and I'm glad that I'm alumni of JAG and I'm so excited.

O'BRIEN: Congratulations to you for making it to your sophomore year. Listen so do you think obviously, with this -- with this sort of commitment of $250,000 million, did you look around and see other students like yourself who were not in the JAG program or other programs that were trying to keep they engaged in school and did you think wow if the program was bigger maybe we could take more people? Did you see it like that?

GLEATON: Yes. I mean, I had fellow classmates that wasn't in the class with me, but I drag them with me to class even though my teacher is like, where are these students coming from? I was like no, they need to be in here and see what I see and get the opportunity that I have to see what they are not seeing because other programs that the school didn't have, either the money to fund students to go to other -- like college tours and see other universities around D.C. around the East Coast.

So yes, I wish JAG was a bigger class and that people can see -- even though I didn't have but only a semester. Now the class is longer now you're in there for a year now, compared for my -- when I went to Balou. But I'm kind of mad that it wasn't a year.


O'BRIEN: You wouldn't want to go back to high school. It's fun, but move on. GLEATON: I know.

O'BRIEN: Move on. But I like the way that you're expanding the program single-handedly. Let's bring it back to Steve Perry.

You got to love a girl, who's like, listen I'm going to expand this program. The goal, of course, is to increase the national graduation rate to 90 percent by 2020. That is -- an important goal but maybe a massive goal. Maybe too -- too big. How likely do you think that could be?

PERRY: Well, you know, I'm hopeful that it will -- it will get there because it's not just the quantity of kids that graduate. It's the quality of their academic experience that also needs to be considered because we have kids who are graduating who simply can't do high school level work.

So is it -- it's ambitious -- let's just say that. I don't want to discourage these folks from putting their money and their efforts in the same place.

O'BRIEN: Ok but it's going to be a bit of a hill to climb. Charlene, I'm going to give you the last word.

PERRY: It is.

O'BRIEN: You have said that this is not traditional philanthropy. What do you mean by that?

LAKE: What I mean by that is that this is a business issue and -- and it is a massive problem. It's a tragedy that we are losing a million kids from our system every year but as a nation, I think we have a choice. We can have a -- we can choose to be discouraged by that, we can choose to be overwhelmed by the tragedy of a million students dropping out from our system, or we can choose to be inspired by the evidence of success.

Evidence in -- and the numbers that are being released today that shows there is progress. Evidence by people like Tyra who are in programs like JAG that are really making a difference and for us as a company, it's a pretty easy choice.

We are investing $20 billion in our telecommunications network this year and we have to invest in the people who are going to be running that in the future and that's exactly what we are doing.

O'BRIEN: Well Charlene, great work. Tyra, thank you for talking with us and Steve Perry, always good to see you.

GLEATON: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate all of you this morning. Thank you.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT Senator John McCain calls the GOP campaign the nastiest ever. We'll tell you why he says the blame falls on Super PACs. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this short break.


O'BRIEN: "Hanging out in the bars". It's a drunk situation.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That is greatness.

O'BRIEN: It's greatness, yes I agree. A little slow, though, Will Cain. I love it.

CAIN: Half of my stuff is, you say.

O'BRIEN: I know, I know, I always tell you that. And still yet, you keep coming back with it. Jamey Johnson between Jennings and Jones.

As we have seen the GOP campaign has been, I think it's fair to describe it as a slug fest and it's only March. In fact Arizona Senator John McCain says this campaign season is the worst that he's ever seen. Here is what he said.


MCCAIN: This is the nastiest I have ever seen. And again, when you have a Las Vegas casino mogul, by the way, who gets part of his money from Macau, pouring $20 million into one campaign and most of those are negative ads, obviously, that drives up people's unfavorables.


O'BRIEN: He would know because, of course, it got pretty ugly when he was campaigning and do you think that's true that people's unfavorables have been driven up and there's a long-term implication?

CAIN: I think it doesn't matter. I think he pointed out right there that he went to a very nasty campaign back in 2000 when he was accused of having an illegitimate child right? Was there super PACs at that time? Money is an inanimate object, messages frankly --


O'BRIEN: But they are two separate things. There is the costs that super PACs which is what he's claiming but there's also nasty campaign means you won't get elected.

CAIN: Well, here is my legitimate question for everyone. Do you really think what we're hearing right now --


O'BRIEN: Do you ask illegitimate questions also?

CAIN: Sometimes -- sometimes, be careful for those. That negative, this is the most negative and nastiest campaign we've ever seen. That point is true, it's not about favorability. That doesn't matter the point is truth. Now if these are substantive critiques then they're worthwhile. If it's truth it's worthwhile.


O'BRIEN: Well you know when you --

FREELAND: What I think is -- what I think is interesting is it about the Super PACs or is it about something else? And I think it is about something else. And your point about truth gets to that Will.

I think the Republican Party is having an existential crisis right now. It is torn as we in our lifetimes have never seen it before between the establishment fiscal conservative being represented by Mitt Romney and between the very hard-core social conservative wing which basically, wants a replay of the 1960s. And that is a very profound tension and I think that's why the fighting, it's such a hard knuckle bust up.

It's different from Hillary and Barack Obama --

FUGELSANG: Completely.

FREELAND: when they essentially shared a world view and it was who is the best candidate? This is about what is Republicans --


O'BRIEN: The bigger question: is that tension driving people away or could it potentially energize a base come November?

FUGELSANG: A lot of liberals are praying that there will be some sort of brokered convention which I think it could be a liberal's nightmare. If all these candidates are cast aside for a fresh new popular face. Hearing John McCain call this the most ugly campaign ever is like hearing Tina Turner saying you got a bad relationship.

But it does speak to the fact that campaign finance is more important now than ever. The irony may be that Newt Gingrich possibly being a spoiler in this campaign will get conservatives on the side of campaign finance reform more than Occupy Wall Street could in their dreams.

O'BRIEN: Well, "End Point" is up next with our panel.

We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. It's time for "End Point". John, you're going to start for us.

FUGELSANG: I would like to congratulate Bob Dylan. Today is the 50-year anniversary of his first album being released. I'd like to congratulate St. Patrick for being a Welsh guy who inspired a whole generation of Americans guys to celebrate their Irish heritage by wearing Scottish kilts made in China. And finally I'd like to congratulate the U.S. military, the Army for dropping their ads from the Rush Limbaugh radio show. He dodged the service and now the service is dodging him.

O'BRIEN: And we want to congratulate you on that new baby.

FUGELSANG: Thank you so much.

O'BRIEN: That your wife had.

FUGELSANG: That my wife had.

O'BRIEN: Last week. One-week-old baby.

All right. We have 20 seconds left, Chrystia.

FREELAND: I'm going to be less upbeat than John. I'd just like to go back to the Trayvon Martin story. It's a huge tragedy. I think it's really, really important. I would like to congratulate his family and supporters who got the story out there. That shows the power of social media.


O'BRIEN: Will Cain, we are out of time for you. We're going to give you double time tomorrow.

CAIN: Goodbye everyone.


CAIN: "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Take it Carol. Good morning.