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Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien

French Police Corner "Al Qaeda Suspect"; Romney's Win in the Heartland; Manning's $95 Million Contract; Neighborhood Watch Killing Garners National Attention; Interview with Representative Corinne Brown; Obama Oklahoma-Bound; Teen Released from Syrian Jail

Aired March 21, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Looking at the track record of the shooter, and local police and a law that may have allowed him to walk.

It's Wednesday, March 21. And STARTING POINT begins right now.


O'BRIEN: Yes. That is my playlist. Dee Snider. Yes. It's Twisted Sister. "I want to Rock."


RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: You grew up on Long Island. I grew in Long Island.


BROWNSTEIN: Some things don't travel necessarily off the island.

O'BRIEN: Dee Snider is so funny. I've interviewed him several times. He's an absolute riot. I loved Twisted Sister. We should bring him in. He'd be great. So much fun to talk to.

They also had a great Christmas album. We're going to talk Christmas albums in the break.


O'BRIEN: Yes. Just because we wanted to.

John Fugelsang is with us. He's a political comedian and radio personality.

Nice to have you.


O'BRIEN: Ron Brownstein. is back. CNN senior political analyst, editorial director of "The National Journal." You're gone for a couple days and your title against long again.

BROWNSTEIN: It's good. It's good. And a few other things.

O'BRIEN: We like it. We like it.

And Will Cain is with us. CNN contributor and a contributor to

We're going to start with serious news this morning. Breaking news about those shootings in France. Three hundred police officers are now surrounding the home of a suspect. It's happening right now.

The suspect is wanted for shooting at the Jewish school that happened on Monday. You'll remember in that shooting, a rabbi was killed, his two young sons and young girl as well, who was a child of the director of the school.

France is saying that two officers were wounded in a shootout overnight and "Reuters" is now reporting that the man said that he wanted revenge for Palestinian children.

A prison official in Afghanistan tells "Reuters" the suspect was arrested for bomb-making when he visited that country two years ago and was eventually able to escape from prison. The raid happening, today's raid, happening in the southern city of Toulouse.

Diana Magnay is there for us live this morning.

Diana, tell us more about this suspect.


Well, this raid is now into its ninth hour. We hear that the suspect is very stubborn, very determined. He's had phases of talking to police. Apparently, that phase is now over. Apparently, he said he would hand himself over about an hour ago, but he has not done that.

We know that he is armed. Police is saying that he has a Kalashnikov and Uzi still with him.

And we know quite a lot about who he is. He's a 23-year-old guy called Mohammed Merah who was born in Toulouse. He is known to authorities here. Just last month, he was in court on a driving offense where he apparently caused injuries while driving without a license.

We also know from the interior minister that they have been tracking this man, French intelligence services, for quite some years. He spent time in Pakistan and Afghanistan. He's self-proclaimed jihadist and said that he's a member of al Qaeda, and that as you were saying committed that deadly attack on the Jewish school to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children.

And he also has told police that he was responsible for killing of three soldiers last week, soldiers of North African origin whose regimens recently came back from Afghanistan -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right . Well, that's the latest from there. Police continue to try to wait out this suspect.

Diana, thank you for that update.

Let's turn to politics now.

Conservative, Tea Partiers, middle income voters -- they may have been hesitant after first on Mitt Romney in other states, but they came out and helped the former governor score a decisive win in the state of Illinois -- 47 percent to Senator Rick Santorum's 35 percent. And that victory gives Mitt Romney even more momentum as the race heads to Louisiana this weekend.

Romney has a sizable lead in the delegate count as well with 562. Rick Santorum with fewer than half, 249.

And Mitt Romney is putting most of his attention toward jabs to the president. Listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We once built an interstate highway system and the Hoover Dam. Now, we can't even build a pipeline. I mean, we once led the world in manufacturing, in exports, investment. Today, we lead the world in lawsuits. You know, when we replace a law professor with a conservative businessman as president, that's going to end.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's very clear. It's a two-person race. And now, we need all conservatives behind me.


O'BRIEN: It's a two-person race. Well, maybe not at this point. We're going to be talking to Eric Fehrnstrom. He, of course, is with the Romney campaign in just a few moments.

What do you take away from Mitt Romney?

BROWNSTEIN: So far, demography has trumped momentum. Romney wins Ohio. But when he goes South, Santorum comes back. Santorum wins Mississippi and Alabama. When he goes North, Romney comes back.

I think until somebody breaks serve, somebody wins somewhere where they're not supposed to, the basic dynamic will continue. Romney has a clear edge --

O'BRIEN: When is it going to happen?

BROWNSTEIN: We just keep going. Romney has a clear edge but not enough to drive out Santorum.

CAIN: Yes, I think Ron's sports metaphor is off. I think it's a downhill skiing event. And Mitt Romney is sailing down the court, headed towards the finish line. Santorum and other guys are stumbling up on the moguls.

BROWNSTEIN: I agree. But does Romney have the ability to drive out Santorum before June? I think he has to win some places where he's not expected to win in order to do that and avoid 10 more weeks of grueling grind.

O'BRIEN: All right. Let's check in with Eric Fehrnstrom. He, of course, is with the Romney campaign. He's a senior adviser.

Nice to see you.

How do you analyze the race yesterday? And congratulations, I should really start with.

ERIC FEHRNSTROM, ROMNEY CAMPAIGN SENIOR ADVISER: Thank you. Well, Soledad, it was a big win in a big state. It's now 21 states and territories that Mitt Romney has put into the win column. He has more than half of the delegates he needs to claim the nomination.

And if you're familiar with the delegate allocation rules and as you look at the calendar of upcoming contests, you have to wonder where his opponents feel that they can win enough delegates to overtake what is really a commanding lead in the delegate count.

Now, there's a reason why Mitt Romney has amassed so many delegates, because he has far more votes than his opponents. And the reason he has far more votes is because he has a strong pro-jobs message that is connecting with Republican primary voters.

O'BRIEN: Back in 2008, it was Mitt Romney who stepped aside for John McCain, even though it wasn't decided, he moved out of the way. What happened? I mean, obviously, I know that this has been part of the message that others should move out of the way. What happens if they don't?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I don't want to presume to speak for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich. The decision to get into a race or get out of a race is a very personal one that can only be made by the candidate.

But I can speak to what happened four years ago when Mitt Romney stepped aside for John McCain. At the time, John McCain did not have the delegates he needed to clinch the nomination but he was clearly on a path to doing that. The math was very challenging for Mitt Romney. And he made the decision that at that time, the country being at war in Iraq, it was important for John McCain to begin to rally the party behind him so he could prepare himself for the fall election campaign. Mitt Romney stepped aside.

Now, in Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, these are both decent, honorable men who have run good campaigns. They are good Americans. They are good Republicans. And ultimately, I'm confident they'll make a decision that's not only right for their party, but right for them.

CAIN: You know, Eric, as that math -- I'm sorry, this is Will Cain. As that math becomes more and more obvious to a non-biased observer, it makes you wonder then why Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich aren't dropping out and there seems to be personal animus towards Mitt Romney from these candidates.

What has Mitt Romney done to make these guys so mad?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, primary campaigns or any campaign is like that. Emotions run high. Elbows get sharp and get thrown in different directions.

But usually when the contest comes to its natural end in a primary, people get behind the inevitable nominee -- in this case, it's Mitt Romney. That's what happened four years ago by the way. John McCain and Mitt Romney had a very spirited contest but you saw Mitt leave that race, fundraise for John McCain, act as a surrogate for him on the economy.

In the fall, he appeared at all his debates. Did numerous media interviews for Senator McCain. I'm sure that in this case, this year, you'll see the same thing happen with our opponents.

FUGELSANG: Good morning, sir. It's fair to say that John McCain was considerably a more moderate candidate than the ones that Governor Romney faces now. Is there a concern that the pressure from Santorum and Gingrich might force the governor to tack so fared to right it would hurt him with moderate voters in the general election?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, I think you hit a reset button for the fall campaign. Everything changes. It's almost like an Etch a Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and we start all over again.

But I will say, if you look at the exit polling data in Illinois, you'll see that Mitt Romney is broadly acceptable to most of the factions in the party. You have to do that in order to become a major party nominee. He's winning conservatives. He's winning Tea Party voters. He's winning men, women, winning Catholics and Protestants.

There is a growing recognition within the Republican Party that Mitt Romney is going to be the nominee. And there's two reasons for that. The first is, people see in him the capacity of someone who can lead on the economy. Secondly, they see someone who can defeat Barack Obama.

There's a real sense that it the president is vulnerable this year because of the domestic problems he faces, and Mitt Romney is the person with the experience and the qualifications to take him on.

O'BRIEN: I want to ask a quick question of Ron Brownstein. Do you think it's an Etch a Sketch analogy? That, you know, listen, once the primary is done, you get to 1,144, the deal is done. Everybody forgets and you kind of reset?

BROWNSTEIN: You get a second look, there's no question about it. But it is not a complete, I think, blank slate. I mean, there are positions that Romney has taken on a variety of issues, particularly those related to Hispanics. And to some extent, the debate over contraception and its potential effect on college educated women that he is going to have to deal with going forward.

But there is no doubt. Bill Clinton came out of the 1992 primary bruised and battered. He got a second look, and ultimately won. You do get a second chance but it's not as though the slate is completely blank.

FUGELSANG: Bill Clinton had a third-party candidate helping him.


O'BRIEN: Let me ask the final question of Eric before we let him go.

Let's talk money. How challenging has been to really fight this battle? And I think we've had this conversation many months ago, doing a fight on two fronts, right? You're trying to give a message against President Obama and also the other guys who are still in the race. How much of a drain has that been?

FEHRNSTROM: Well, look, money is an important ingredient for a winning campaign. Mitt Romney is going to be -- is well resourced in this primary. He's going to be well-resourced in the general election.

I do think super PACs and the money that they are putting into the race has had a distortive quality because what it has done is suspend the normal rules of political physics because usually at this point, a candidate who is not winning, who doesn't look as if he can get delegates to clinch the nomination is going to see his fundraising and support dry up. But with this super PAC, you can have very wealthy benefactor who can keep the clock running beyond its usually time.

O'BRIEN: All right. I like that, suspending political physics.

Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us this morning. We appreciate it.

FEHRNSTROM: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Got to get to headlines. Christine has got a look those for us this morning.

Hey, Christine.


New developments this morning in that 7.4 magnitude earthquake in southern Mexico. Officials now say as many as 800 homes were damaged or destroyed in just one town near the quake's epicenter in Guerrero state. But only 11 people were hurt across the country, thankfully. The earthquake was felt hundreds of miles away in Mexico City.

President Obama's oldest daughter, by the way, Malia, was on a class trip in Mexico when the quake hit. The White House says she is OK. She was never in any danger.

A new witness speaking out in the controversial shooting death of a Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. Martin's girlfriend says she was on the phone with him minutes before he was killed by George Zimmerman. She says Martin told her that Zimmerman was following him. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self defense.

The FBI and Justice Department are both investigating now -- 8:30, Soledad will talk to Florida Congresswoman Corrine Brown. She's called Martin's death a hate crime.

President Obama preparing to visit the demilitarized zone that divides North Korea and South Korea on Sunday. It's part of the three-day visit to South Korea. Top officials from 54 nations participating in a nuclear security summit in Seoul.

That summit is being overshadowed right now by North Korea's announcement that it's planning to carry out a rocket powered satellite launch next month. South Korea considers that launch a nuclear weapons test.

A daily dose of aspirin might significantly reduce the risk of cancer and prevent tumors. Researchers found people who took aspirin regularly for five years reduced their risk of developing cancer by 37 percent. But experts warn the drug can cause serious side effects like stomach bleeding.

You can expect to see more junk mail in your mailbox if the post office has its way. The U.S. Postal Service pins hopes on earning millions of dollars in future years by helping small business increase their use of direct mail. The post office is about $5 billion in debt, so it's pushing this program to boost revenue. Sending those ads would cost companies about 15 cents per home -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right. Well, if it saves money, saves the post office --

BROWNSTEIN: They have a tough road with communication being done by e-mail and electronically and all the tough stuff they still have to deliver.


O'BRIEN: Five billion -- do you want $5 billion in junk mail in your mailbox?

FUGELSANG: No, but it seems like the post office is dying because more trees are living.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, right. Exactly right.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that is true.

All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: a 16- year-old American boy who was living in Damascus is now free. Remember the story? We had his brothers on the air. He spent three weeks in a jail in Syria. We'll talk again to his brother who was leading the campaign to try to get him out and the congresswoman who negotiated the teenager's release.

And what's that expression about nice guys?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tim Tebow is a great kid. I said that. I mean, he's the one guy if I wanted someone to marry my daughter, it would be him.


O'BRIEN: Yes, except he's not looking for someone to marry his daughter. He's looking for a quarterback.

Peyton Manning takes Tim Tebow's job. We're going to talk about where Tim Tebow could end up. And yes, I still like him, Will Cain.


O'BRIEN: You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: So, we're going to stop it now. It's Matt Futterman's playlist. The clash, that's our glory (ph). Matt is, of course, reporter with the "Wall Street Journal." He's here to talk about Manning and Tebow. Peyton Manning, of course, now officially with the Denver Broncos. $95 million, five-year contract, but the former MVP admits that he's got some work to do. Here's what he said.


PEYTON MANNING, NEW DENVER BRONCOS QB: I have work to do. I'm not where I want to be. I want to be where I was before I was injured.


O'BRIEN: He has some work to do. He was cut by the Colts where he played his entire 14-year career, and now, it all changes. How weird is that going to be for fans, do you think? Fourteen-year career, that's a long time at such a high level.

MATTHEW FUTTERMAN, SPORTS REPORTER, WALL STREET JOURNAL: I think it was very weird yesterday when there was a moment when they held up that orange jersey. It's a Denver Broncos jersey, and it's that bright orange crush jersey and says Manning on the back. And for a second, you stopped and said that's weird. That's strange. Where's the blue and white one?

CAIN: It's not the first time. Johnny Unitas, Emmitt Smith, Joe Montana. It's happened before.


O'BRIEN: It's hard to get through the first day.

FUTTERMAN: Look what happened right here in New York with Brett Favre a few years ago.

O'BRIEN: Give us the detail about the contract.

FUTTERMAN: That didn't work out too well.


FUTTERMAN: Essentially, it's a $96 million contract. I figure about $100 million.

O'BRIEN: You can round that right up. I'm comfortable with that, Matt.

FUTTERMAN: Right, which will set him up pretty well. And, that first year, that first $20 million, definitely guaranteed. And then, as he goes through his subsequent seasons, there's going to be a series of physicals that he'll have to pass to guarantee future years of the contract.

O'BRIEN: So, he gets through a year, and then, he does a physical and can play for the rest of the year and he has that contract for the rest of the year.

FUTTERMAN: And then, it's the following season. I mean, he is Peyton Manning. He has some leverage going into this thing.

FUGELSANG: But he might be stuck with a measly $20 million?

FUTTERMAN: I think it will probably a little more than that. There are account facilities.

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: At that level of investment, what do you think the definition of success will be in Denver for this kind of signing?

FUTTERMAN: I think it's got to go -- you got to get beyond the divisional round. Here's the thing --


FUTTERMAN: Right. I mean --

BROWNSTEIN: Beat Tom Brady.

FUTTERMAN: Certainly got to win the division. Tebow, you know, got them where they needed to be. And, you got to get beyond the divisional round. The NFL is set up so that everybody goes 8-8. Everybody is supposed to spend the same amount of money. So, what teams have to do is they have to take risks. And, sometimes, these risks pay off and sometimes they fail. O'BRIEN: How big a risk for his neck, though, right? I mean, isn't that the big issue? What's the status on his neck and isn't this sort of an injury that potentially, like, if you get hit the wrong way as a quarterback, you could die.

FUTTERMAN: And it's your neck.

O'BRIEN: Right.

FUTTERMAN: And here's what separate professional football players and professional athletes from all other human beings, which is that I'm going to make the assumption that if you or I had this injury, none of us would even think of getting on a football field.


FUTTERMAN: We might not even play tennis again.

FUGELSANG: Twenty million is more than Soledad is paid in a whole month. Keep that in mind.

FUTTERMAN: That may be true. But, it's not so much the money, because Peyton Manning, let's face it, has all the money he could ever spend in a lifetime. What it is is that it's that adulation that they feel when they walk onto the field on Sunday and to have 90,000 people screaming their name, and that's the very hard thing for --

BROWNSTEIN: His brother won more Super Bowl than he has at this point?

FUTTERMAN: Well, he actually has.


O'BRIEN: That's a very, very, very good point. And I thought what Elway said about like he could marry my daughter but not be my quarterback for Tim Tebow.



FUTTERMAN: Right. Well, if you seen him throw some of those passes, you might trust him with your daughter.


FUTTERMAN: You want to be friend of that verdict, always a pretty good judge.

O'BRIEN: Matt, thank you for coming in and talking with us about it. We appreciate it.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, President Obama might be feeling the pressure on gas prices. He's expected to make a move on the Keystone pipeline today. We'll talk about that. And then, losing control. A gas station pump explodes after -- this is caused by an impatient driver who cuts the line and causes a little inferno. It's like, hello, crazy people.


O'BRIEN: He's embarrassed. I'm going to say yes, he's embarrassed. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: This is off John's playlist.


BROWNSTEIN: I've got a few long time losers as well.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Once your song isn't getting on, you might as well move on.

FUGELSANG: I learn your way, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Yes, that's what I do. I navigate around --

FUGELSANG: While we haven't heard any country music this morning? It's Mariel's fault.

O'BRIEN: It is Mariel's fault. And yes, Mariel, get on some country music, because Will would like some. You can check all --


O'BRIEN: He's talking back to me.

O'BRIEN: You can get our playlist at if you'd like.

A story in New Hampshire where, of course, motto is live free or die with one condo association -- this about -- live free or conform with the rest of us. The board has sued a homeowner. Her name is Kimberly (INAUDIBLE), maybe, for planting flowers in her yard. And they are charging her $50 a day.

That fine has now reached close to $6,000 plus the board's legal fees. Kimberly says the builder told her she had permission to do a little bit of planting. The condo board says, no, that is not correct. The bylaws do not forbid flowers, but a board member say all the homes are supposed to, you know, conform and just look exactly the same and by planting flowers, she's kind of messing that up.

FUGELSANG: Wow! No hydrangeas, no peace.


O'BRIEN: Could you imagine that March? No hydrangeas, no peace.


BROWNSTEIN: I think the story confounds the assumption that you're supposed to have an opinion on everything that happens.


O'BRIEN: You don't care?

BROWNSTEIN: Not so much.



O'BRIEN: Come on. Come on. Bring this back to the constitution for me, Will.

BROWNSTEIN: This should be a libertarian cause.


O'BRIEN: Yes. I like that story, but you know what, though? She's up to $6,000. Like, if they don't resolve this soon, she could be facing some, you know, serious money.

CAIN: I'm keeping these flowers. Keep that fine coming.

FUGELSANG: I thought medical marijuana was controversial to plant.

O'BRIEN: Apparently, it's not just that.

All right. Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk about the death of Trayvon Martin. It's now sparked a national debate about race and justice, and also, Florida's controversial self- defense law.

And then, remember the Datsun?


O'BRIEN: Did you have one of those? It's coming back.


O'BRIEN: We'll tell you why. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back right after this.


O'BRIEN: A walk down memory lane. That is Congresswoman Brown's playlist. She's going to talk to us in just a moment about the Trayvon Martin case. First, though, we've got to get to headlines, and Christine Romans has those for us. Hey, Christine.

ROMANS: Good morning, Soledad. Let's start in France where we have new information on the suspect who is surrounded by police right now. He's wanted in connection with several deadly shootings over the past week, including one at a Jewish school where three kids were killed. According to Reuters, a prison director in Afghanistan says the gunman escaped a Kandahar jail in 2008 during an Afghan insurgent attack. His lawyer says he was arrested in France last month and then released back to the streets.

Homicide charges could be filed tomorrow of the army sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians. The attorney for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales expects other charges to be filed too, and expects the case to take two years to prosecute. Lawyer John Henry Browne telling reporters he doesn't see much of a case against bales right now.


JOHN HENRY BROWNE, ATTORNEY FOR SGT. BALES: I don't know what the evidence is. We all heard what the allegations are, right? I'm a defense lawyer. I deal with the evidence and I don't know about the evidence in this case. I don't know that the government is going to prove much. There's no forensic evidence. There's no confessions.


ROMANS: Sergeant Bales is being held in a military prison in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.

A rush to get gas nearly caused a tragedy at a gas station in Miami. Witnesses say a jeep tried to cut in front of a Hummer but the driver lost control and slammed into the gas pump causing that fiery explosion. The driver somehow managed to escape unharmed. She wasn't charged, but her jeep was destroyed.

Israel has passed a new law banning underweight models from runways and commercials. Lawmakers hope this measure will help reduce eating disorders. The new law says male and female models must have a body mass index of 18.5 or higher. The law also bans advertisers from airbrushing photos to make models look ultrathin.

And a lot of studies have been done examining sibling rivalries in children, but now experts say adult sibling rivalries are one of the harmful and least addressed issues plaguing families. Several research studies indicate up to 45 percent of all adults have a rivalry that is straining a relationship with a sibling. Brothers rivalries focus on things like athletic prowess, career success, money. Sister rivalries tend to less overt and more passive- aggressive, focusing on things like who mom likes best and who is a better mother now.

The old Datsun brand is being resurrected by Nissan. The sporty low-cost car will be introduced in Indonesia, India, and Russia in 2014. Nissan is also planning a green line of Datsuns. For the record, Soledad, I love all of my siblings.

O'BRIEN: For the record, I'm the better mother and move loves me best. (LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: In case any of my siblings are watching.

FUGELSANG: My brother believes that theory, but he's always undermining me, anyway.


O'BRIEN: All right, we're going to talk about the Trayvon Martin story which is something we've been talking about for a while now on this show. Outrage continues over the shooting death of this unarmed black teenager in Florida. Now the Justice Department is investigate what happened the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

NAACP president Ben Jealous says the call to action on Facebook and Twitter is showing the power of the people to make sure that justice is heard for this young man. He was shot to death in the Florida district of Representative Corrine Brown, and she says it's a hate crime. Representative Brown joins us this morning. It's nice to see you. Thank you for being with us. We appreciate your time. You've been one of the early and loud voices outraged about the shooting of this teenage boy. Some of the details about the shooter, George Zimmerman, are pretty amazing. Today he hasn't been arrested. He still has a permit for his gun. He still is armed. What would you like to see at this moment happen to George Zimmerman?

REP. CORRINE BROWN, (D) FLORIDA: Personally, you know, I want a thorough investigation and that's exactly what the Justice Department is going to do and we need an independent investigation but personally I would like to have seen him arrested and at least he will not have a permit to carry a gun and have a gun on him as we speak while the investigation is going on.

Any law enforcement agency where there is a shooting, that person gets a desk job. He's not carrying a gun while the investigation is going on. I mean, why was at the time that you questioned him he was not drug tested? You drug tested Mr. Martin and you tested him for alcohol. All of this wasn't done. So how can we correct it and make sure that the system is fair? I mean, one of the outrages, people don't feel that the system is fair to Mr. Martin.

O'BRIEN: So the hate crime focus, which is what the Department of Justice civil rights division is going to focus on, it is said to be a very challenging thing to convict on. What many people are listening to is a certain portion of the call that George Zimmerman made to the dispatch when he said I believe there's someone who is coming in and he was calling in to try to, I guess, call the police, the 911 call. I'm going play a little bit of that call and then we'll talk about it on the other side.


GEORGE ZIMMERMAN, NEIGHBORHOOD WATCH: We've had some break-ins in my neighborhood. That's a suspicious guy. He looks like his on drugs or something. It's raining. He's just walking around looking about.


O'BRIEN: So this call continues. About two minutes and 21 seconds into this phone call with the dispatcher, he then sort of curses under his breath and he says a curse and he says a racial slur that I will not and cannot repeat on the air. Do you think that what he said -- anybody can listen to it. You can find it online and play it. It's very quiet. I could hear it very clearly. Do you think that in and of itself is indicative of grounds for hate crime?

BROWN: I mean, that's one of the elements. But keep in mind, it was many comments. And the police officer or the dispatcher asked him to stand down. Do not confront him. Do not follow him. We're on the way. Now, keep in mind he was a self-appointed person that was policing the area. And if you're a community watch, they ask you to follow the directions of the police or of the dispatcher. He did not do this.

What was this young man doing walking on the sidewalk that you felt that you had to engage him and you couldn't wait the five minutes before the police got there.

BROWNSTEIN: Representative Brown, good morning. Ron Brownstein from "National Journal." Beyond the specifics of this individual case, do you believe there's an issue with the Florida stand-your- ground law or not?

BROWNSTEIN: Without a question it needs to be reviewed. And the legislators in Florida are looking at it. I've talked to several. In fact, I talked to my senator, senator hill last night, who was involved in crafting the law. And it originally started if someone was breaking into your home. Now they've expanded it. And really Florida is one of the number one tourist states in the entire country if not in the world, and clearly we've had at least 10 deaths similar and six of them the people did not have guns. You know, it definitely warrants review.

O'BRIEN: The law's co-sponsor said that this is a completely separate issue here and nothing in stand-your-ground authorizes a person to pursue and confront. This makes it entirely different.

BROWN: But this is the way the police department is interpreting it, which is, you know, deserve review, not just from the legislature but from the Justice Department, because I feel that it's not only a hate crime but civil rights violation.

BROWNSTEIN: Congresswoman, one of the most remarkable aspects of this tragedy is the universal outrage that we've seen through social media from Americans of all walks of life. You can never see Americans don't care about their fellow citizens after a case like this. Do you and your time in Congress notice a universal outrage amongst conservatives and progressive members?

BROWN: I have never -- and people have come to me on the floor, what can they do? What can we do? It has nothing to do with party lines or racial lines. There is a real concern. I think people view it -- I'm a parent. I have a son or I have a nephew and they just see this could have happened to anyone. And America is better than this. It is no question. We are better people than this. And we have to take this as a teaching moment and figure out what we can do to correct this. It's something wrong with this picture.

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman Brown, thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT, a 16-year-old American boy who was living in Damascus is now free. He spent three weeks in a Syrian jail. We'll talk to his brother who led the campaign to get him released.

Also, President Obama gives go-ahead on a portion of the Keystone pipeline. What will that do to bottom line at the gas pump? Probably nothing. We'll talk about that. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: After originally denying the permit, President Obama is set to give the go ahead on the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline stretching from Cushing, Oklahoma, into the Gulf of Mexico. Christine Romans is here to explain what exactly does it means, and the timing is interesting.

ROMANS: Yes, well, it's an election year, right? What it means is that the GOP has a little less firepower against the President for standing in the way of diversifying American sources for energy.

The problem here is not that little part that we showed on the map. It's the part further up which is in Nebraska called Sand Hills of Nebraska over in Western Nebraska.

I was there a couple of years ago for a different story. I'm telling you it's beautiful and desolate land. We can show you some of those pictures. And underneath that land is this big aquifer that environmentalists and many lawmakers in Nebraska are concerned about putting a pipeline through there. There are ranchers that we've talked who graze their cattle on that land also concerned about the Keystone pipeline.

So look that has to be worked out, that has to be worked out where will it's going to go and what's the route going to be of the pipeline? In the meantime, TransCanada is already working on the parts of the pipeline that it can. And the President wants to fast track that -- that part of the southern part of the United States.

O'BRIEN: This has no correlation to what is going to happen to my gas prices; not the announcement nor the building of the pipeline.

ROMANS: Not today.

(CROSSTALK) ROMANS: All of these things are settled long-term when you talk about diversifying our access to oil. But also it allows the White House I think to kind of crow about what they say is record production, not record but the best domestic production of oil we had in like ten years. They want to get that oil we're producing in the U.S. and -- and from the oil sands of Canada where -- which will connect to all of this down to the refineries on the Gulf Coast.

FUGELSANG: And more drilling than when Bush left office.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes, isn't the conundrum for environmentalists here that what has officially held this up is the environmental impact in Nebraska but they don't like the concept to begin with? They don't want this heavy tar sand oil brought into -- into the mix because they believe it's the most dirty and the most contributing to global warming.


ROMANS: Right. They say the only -- the only thing that we're diversifying is what kind of dead dinosaurs we're burning right? I mean, they say that's not really diversification. So some environmentalist are concerned about yes that kind of very labor intensive and messy oil production.

And others are saying look, we don't want all these pipe -- we already have a lot of pipelines in the country. And TransCanada one of their arguments is they say we don't have leaks on our pipelines. Because then we lose money, right? So we're very, very good about preventing leaks. They're not worried about that.

CAIN: This does not water down any substantive criticism from either on the left or the right that President Obama has played politics with an infrastructure project that has to do with our long- term energy future.

From the beginning this was designed to appease first the environmental groups and now back into appeasing people who are paying high gas prices. Well, we all know it's not connected. Some in the public will connect it and he's playing politics with a very important project.

O'BRIEN: But I'm shocked that you're shocked. I mean, like yes, right. And not just --


CAIN: So I don't know if I'm saying shock Soledad, what I'm saying is people ought to know this and this is inappropriate.

BROWNSTEIN: In terms of the long-term politics here the Energy Information Administration says historically gas prices peak in May or June --

ROMANS: Right.

BROWNSTEIN: Not later as people often assume. If that holds up, does this issue lose some of its edge by November?

ROMANS: I think it does. But I think that -- you know I think we could have oil prices and gas prices coming down later in the year, right?


ROMANS: And we see this -- you know we see this trend over and over and over again. So this big concern right now for the Administration is probably going to fade. But the pipeline controversy itself, I mean, the Canadians want it. A lot of -- you know a lot of people in this country want it. TransCanada wants it, so you know the pipeline --

BROWNSTEIN: The Saudi Arabian oil minister said today oil prices are too high. They have record levels of production going on there. That could have a thumb on the scale in terms of how this issue plays out in our politics as well.

ROMANS: We've got Iran got to stay under control too, that's the other big wild card here is Iran.

O'BRIEN: A big one. All right, Christine thank you.

Coming up next on STARTING POINT, we're going to talk to the American -- the family of the American boy who is freed in Syria. He was allegedly abducted just about a month ago. He spent three weeks in jail there. We're going to talk to his brother coming up next.

You're watching STARTING POINT.


O'BRIEN: A 16-year-old American boy living in Damascus is now free after he spent apparently three weeks in a Syrian jail. Photos on Facebook show Hadi al-Shammaa after his arrival home in Damascus; he's lived there with his mother since he was three years old.

We told you first about this story when Hadi's half brother is in the United States found out that their younger brother was missing. They said he was kidnapped by Syrian intelligence officers.

Joining us this morning is Hadi's brother, Adnan al-Shammaa and also the Congresswoman he contacted for help in the case, Marcy Kaptur of Ohio. Nice to have you both.


O'BRIEN: Adnan, I'm going to start with you.


O'BRIEN: He's been released, which is great news. You and I spoke just a few weeks ago to talk about what had happened. Where is he now and what has he told you about what happened? AL-SHAMMAA: Well, he's currently still in Damascus and --

O'BRIEN: At home with your mom.

AL-SHAMMAA: Well with his mother. Yes.

He basically gave us small details on what had happened; who he is with. And basically informed us that he was ok and healthy, which was our main concern.

O'BRIEN: Of course.

AL-SHAMMAA: Now what we're looking for is to basically bring him back home so basically now we're just figuring out minor details.

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about some of those details. He says he was held in a jail for about three weeks. What did he tell you about the conditions and -- and -- and the kinds of questions he was asked and -- and the process for him. He's a teenager.

AL-SHAMMAA: Well, yes exactly. He is a teenager. He was quite frightened after he was released. He basically gave us an idea of the food that he was offered; the bathing conditions; the sleeping conditions. And he said it was all horrible. He said he was the only minor in the group and there was between 20 to 30 inmates in the cell. However, they all ranged in age from their 20s to their 60s.

O'BRIEN: Did he give you any -- did he shed any light on why they nabbed him in the first place?

AL-SHAMMAA: Unfortunately he did not. They -- he seemed very frightened. So he didn't really give us as much details as we would have liked to receive. So I mean, now the best thing we can do is just bring him back and then discuss the details.

O'BRIEN: Congresswoman Kaptur, what has been the role of the government in getting this young man released?

KAPTUR: Well, there are many people to thank, Soledad. We worked very hard with our State Department, with U.S. Ambassador to Syria who has been called home, Ambassador Ford, who is based in Washington now as you might know.

Also the Syrian Charge d' Affairs in Washington who was very helpful and even former ambassador from Syria to the United States, we made efforts to work through him. I think the family's Facebook site contributed to greater public recognition of what was happening. And frankly Soledad your story that drew attention to this, global attention.

I think all of this helped working together to get Hadi released. He's a U.S. citizen. His passport is his most valuable document. And this was a win-win-win for all of us.

O'BRIEN: So clearly Adnan, Hadi is a U.S. citizen. So he can come back to the United States. What about his -- his mother? Do they want to come back? I mean, he was living in Damascus and could have come back certainly alone at any time. Do they want to leave Damascus now?

AL-SHAMMAA: Yes, he does.

Originally he just wanted to finish his high school there. Now that's really not an option so now we're trying to figure out what we want to do as far as his schooling goes, as far as receiving the transcripts, setting up appointments for him to move back and live with my father in D.C.

As far as his mother goes, I'm not quite sure whether or not she will be coming.

O'BRIEN: Adnan al-Shammaa and Representative Marcy Kaptur, thanks for talking with us. Congratulations. It must be a tremendous relief for your family and certainly, Congresswoman, from your perspective as well, to have this young man safe and sound.

KAPTUR: Yes, it is.

AL-SHAMMAA: Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

AL-SHAMMAA: And I'd like to show our gratitude on behalf of my family and I towards the U.S. State Department, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur and her office, the local news agencies and CNN, of course. We really do appreciate all your guys' help and support.

O'BRIEN: If we can help in any way, we're glad to do so. Thank you.

KAPTUR: Thank you.

AL-SHAMMAA: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: "End Point" is up next with our panelists.

But first, here's a sneak peek at this weekend's "NEXT LIST".


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just in love with and enamored with the design of the human body and its elegance. Nature has these -- often these very powerful principles if captured in a technology, in a device can be very, very extraordinary in their capacity to help people move again.

So that's the basic thesis of our work. We steal from the cookie jar of nature. We apply that and we build synthetic constructs that emulates that functionality.



O'BRIEN: All right. In our last few seconds, let's get right to "End Point". Who wants to start? John, will you start with us?

FUGELSANG: Well, I'm celebrating Mitt Romney's win by buying a pair of khakis without pleats. But I do want to say, I enjoyed all the football talk. I represent heterosexual males who don't care about --


FUGELSANG: -- women call us unicorns.

BROWNSTEIN: The bipartisan policy center where my iridescent wife, Aileen, is the vice president, tonight honors two of its founders Bob Dole and Howard Baker for a century of service. It will be a great event for two great men.

O'BRIEN: All right, pitching some friends. I like that.

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. I don't know.

O'BRIEN: All right. Will Cain, pressure is on.

CAIN: NFL one of the businesses most susceptible to group think. We'll see if winning is a big deal. Will Tim Tebow get another job? Hey, I'm not saying he's the best quarterback in the world but he won. Isn't that the purpose?

O'BRIEN: I bet you -- I bet you he gets another job.


CAIN: He's going to sell a lot of tickets.

O'BRIEN: Oh definitely. I can --

CAIN: Starting job -- starting job.

O'BRIEN: I don't know about that.

All right. "CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. We'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. Hey Carol, good morning.