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Starting Point with Soledad O'Brien

Trayvon's Killer Loses Legal Counsel; Afghan Shooting Spree; New Documentary Examines Bullying; Earthquake Hits Indonesia; Santorum: Race Is Over for Me; RNC Supports Santorum Decision; Dying to get Married

Aired April 11, 2012 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: So today, it's game on as Mitt Romney focuses his campaign and his cash on President Obama. It is Wednesday, April 11th. STARTING POINT begins right now.

Our starting point is this massive earthquake that's hit off the coast of Indonesia. The earthquake was 8.6 magnitude quake rattled nerves certainly in Banda Aceh.

Triggered fears of another tsunami like the one that devastated Banda Aceh and in fact, the whole entire Aceh Province back in 2004. People are being evacuated to higher ground and there has been a second earthquake or an aftershock at 8.2 aftershock been reported. The president of Indonesia says at this point, there are no reports of death or even destruction.

A tsunami alert has been issued for much of the Indian Ocean area. A small tsunami hit the coast of Thailand, a small one. Maybe just inches tall -- in height, I should say.

We're continuing to monitor this breaking story. We'll bring you the latest as it comes in.

Back to our panel this morning. We're joined this morning by John Fugelsang. He's a political comedian. Will Cain is back with us. He's a columnist at Ryan Lizza is a Washington correspondent for "The New Yorker."

It's nice to have you guys to talk with to us. We appreciate it.



O'BRIEN: Big story also. Lots of news to get to. George Zimmerman's attorney with a big announcement. Quite a shocker as they basically said, very publicly we're out. Lots of questions raised by that, of course.

CAIN: Right. What does it mean? Is he changing lawyers? People have asked, is he a flight risk? I think we have to ask ourselves, why is he calling prosecutors on his own?

O'BRIEN: Did he hurt the case by talking about inside information?

CAIN: Did they hurt the case? Right.

RYAN LIZZA, THE NEW YORKER: I mean, I hate to be specious. But if you're in legal trouble, do not call the team of Sonner and Uhrig. These guys -- they did not make themselves look very professional yesterday with that.

Whatever you think of Zimmerman to have your ex-lawyers go out there and reveal this personal information about yourself, I thought they were five minutes away from giving out the guy's cell phone in that press conference.


O'BRIEN: Or even if you just thought in terms of just doing it as a press conference was odd. I mean, you can tell people were not representing him.

FUGELSANG: I don't think it's very odd at all. I think it's made very clear that these are two attorneys who are addicted to camera time. I think you'll be seeing get on cameras as often as they can, especially proven by the fact they concluded their press conference by saying they would be happy to represent the guy again.

O'BRIEN: Or maybe genuinely they'd be very happy to represent him. They are trying to figure out why they haven't heard from him.

We had chance to sit down and talk to the two attorneys. They say that George Zimmerman is not a flight risk. They also say, when all of the evidence is out that they have access to that they are not releasing, it will show that, in fact, George Zimmerman was just defending himself.



HAL UHRIG, FORMER ATTORNEY TO GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: All I was trying to represent is for those people who might be thinking about staking out family member's homes or friend's homes and either endangering them or causing them any distress, there's no point in doing that. He hasn't left the country. He's not going to go to flee. He wouldn't have called the prosecutor's office and asked to come and tell his side of the story if he was fleeing.

CRAIG SONNER, FORMER ATTORNEY TO GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: When all the evidence is brought out by the police and everyone sees the whole picture, they'll see that George Zimmerman acted in self-defense.


O'BRIEN: We could find out this week just how important all of that forensic evidence is going to be. Yesterday, Angela Corey, she's a special prosecutor who's investigating the case, she announced that she's going to hold a news conference by end of day on Friday.

Brings us all to Dr. Lawrence Kobilinsky. He is a forensic scientist. He's the chairman of the science department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice right here in New York City.

It's nice to see you. Thanks for talking to us.


O'BRIEN: So, we have a lot to get to in terms of forensic evidence. You heard some evidence and a lot of that is not by anybody presenting it, but by sort of attorneys talking around it and about it.

What's the big piece of forensic evidence that you think is critical that you'd like to see?

KOBILINSKY: Well, the missing piece here is the physical evidence and this is obviously a ballistics case. We've heard very little about this Kel Tec PF-9, a .9 millimeter semi-automatic handgun that was used in this case. We need to know a lot about the gun.

O'BRIEN: Like what?

KOBILINSKY: For example, very importantly, what is the pressure required to pull the trigger. It's designed for five pounds of pressure. That means this gun won't go off if you drop it. It's not going to go if your finger is on the trigger. It's going to go off when you pull hard. So, it's a deliberate --

O'BRIEN: Meaning, it wouldn't necessarily be a scuffle and accidentally went off?

KOBILINSKY: Well, scuffles can happen and, you know, there can be two people on the trigger. But it requires severe pressure, hard pressure.

O'BRIEN: Will they be able to look at this gun and sort of take prints off of it and see direction of the prints and be able to say, listen, at the time the shot was fired, somebody's hand was here and somebody else's hand was here and this is the -- really clearly paint the picture of that last minute where nobody knows fully what happened?

KOBILINSKY: Well, it's a good point. Unfortunately, you seldom get usable fingerprints off of handguns. That's just the way it is. But you can get DNA. And if they do swab the gun down assuming there was no contamination the way it was initially handled, if they do DNA, they may find a single source. There might be a mixture of DNA. There may be Trayvon Martin's DNA on the trigger. We just don't know yet.

All we know -- all we've heard is about eyewitness testimony and we know how unreliable that is. It's the physical evidence that's critical here.

CAIN: Professor, George Zimmerman's attorneys, his former attorneys, have suggested quite openly they have some evidence, something that is quite exculpatory that when it comes out, they said, I think, it will change this case. Would you guess what they're talking about is something like you're talking about that has to do with the gun?

KOBILINSKY: It's not clear. You know, the evidence in this case is the autopsy. And we also have Zimmerman's claim that he was assaulted.

O'BRIEN: So, let's talk about two those things. Let's break down.

So, autopsy first. What would you look for in the autopsy?

KOBILINSKY: Well, the autopsy is going to reveal the trajectory of the bullet and cause of death. Cause of death is a medical explanation. Aorta was perforated, something serious of that sort.

But in terms of the trajectory, it could be front to back, upwards or downwards, left to right, or left to right.

Now, the distance is very crucial. How close was the muzzle to the target? Was there is contact? Was it a centimeter? Was it an inch? Two inches?

Was it four feet? If it was four feet, then obviously, the struggle doesn't come into play.

So, we're trying to use this evidence to either corroborate the story that Zimmerman is telling or to disprove it.

O'BRIEN: Then we, of course, all saw the video of George Zimmerman in the police station. We talked that it didn't look like he had any major gashes in his head. You could se some kind of a -- there's some kind of cut or something on his head. Not -- a grainy videotape. Clearly, he hadn't been bandaged. What kind of a role that one takes?

KOBILINSKY: Let's remember that EMS was called to the scene. They may have cleaned him up.

You know, you really need to have an investigation, not a grainy tape, to decide whether he was hit or not. I think that's very crucial, because whether you have forensics or not, we're not going to be able to get into his mind. We don't know what was in Zimmerman's mind.

If he thought he was under attack and he's claiming that is true, what is the evidence to support it? Now, if it turns out that he was assaulted and there was a broken nose, if there was injury to the back of the head, it certainly supports his story, but we just don't know.

FUGELSANG: Professor, you mention it's difficult to retrieve prints off a gun. If that's the case, would Zimmerman's father claim that Martin was grabbing for the gun not be provable?

KOBILINSKY: Well, not necessarily. Usually, the prints are unusable. They are smudged or they're partial. But DNA on the other hand should tell us if there was a struggle and Trayvon Martin actually handled the gun.

There are cells that slough off the fingertips and I've seen it many times, usually in small amounts. But using the procedures, you can bring that up. It's a very crucial piece of evidence.

LIZZA: And he was allowed to leave that day with his gun.

KOBILINSKY: That's unfortunate. They should have taken the gun immediately. They should have taken the clothing immediately.

Even if they weren't going to arrest him, that's physical evidence at the scene. It should have been done. It hasn't been done. We don't know if it's contaminated. Lots of questions.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about PTSD, because we were talking about a little bit earlier. And the attorneys, or I should say now, the former attorneys in their press conference talked a little bit about how George Zimmerman seemed to them to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

KOBILINSKY: Well, they're not psychologists, you know?

O'BRIEN: Right. So, I'm going to ask you about that. But let me just play first what they said.


UHRIG: George Zimmerman in our opinion and from information made available to us is not doing well emotionally, probably suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. We understand from others he may have lost a lot of weight.

Our concern is that for him to do this when he's got a couple professionals out there working as hard as we were for his benefit to handle it this way suggests that he may not be in complete control of what's going on. We're concerned for his emotional and physical safety.


O'BRIEN: He may not be in complete control of what's going on. They're not shrinks. They're not psychiatrists. But certainly, they're weighing as attorneys.

One, is that you think one of line for them to say? And, two, what do you make of their assessment?

KOBILINSKY: I think these attorneys really need to stay away from cameras. Attorneys, their work is in the courtroom and in counseling their clients and not on TV. So the more they say, the worse it is for their client.

Now, in terms of Zimmerman, he may not be as bad off as people think. He may actually be making some kind of deal with some high profile attorney that may handle his case pro bono. Who knows?

O'BRIEN: You never know what's going on behind the scenes.

LIZZA: On the gun legally, when Zimmerman left with that gun, could he have done anything he wanted with that gun?

KOBILINSKY: Sure. Of course, he could have cleaned it off. He could have cleaned the barrel out. I mean, lots of things you can do to ruin evidence.

That's why we take that evidence. We package it. We collect it, we preserve it and we document it and that becomes a piece of evidence to come to court with. Now, it's compromised.

O'BRIEN: Professor Lawrence Kobilinsky, nice to have you. Thanks. We could sit here and talk to you for another two hours straight and just dig into this case and other cases.

Absolutely, so interesting. Thank you. We appreciate your time.

Let's get right to Christine, and other headlines to get to.

Hey, Christine.


We're following more breaking news for you right now for you, Soledad. The rescue under way, workers are scrambling to get those trapped miners out in Peru. You're looking at pictures that happened just minutes ago.

Peru's president is at the mine right now. He's leading the rescue operation. And he told the miners this morning they could be free in hours.

They've been stuck under ground for seven days after a collapse at that mine. The men are reportedly in good health with access to oxygen, food and water.

We are told that rescue is now under way, getting those guys out of there.

A defiant North Korea has begun fueling a long-range rocket it plans to launch in coming days. The communist country says it's going to put a satellite in orbit and it will be completed at the -- in appropriate time, as they put it.

The planned launch has ratcheted up tensions in the region. The U.S. and South Korea believes it's a cover-up for ballistic missile test.

Scary moments for nearly 150 passengers onboard a Korean Airlines jumbo jet that had to make an emergency landing after a bomb threat. The Boeing 777 was en route from Vancouver to Seoul, South Korea. U.S. Air Force fighter jets were dispatched and diverted the plane to a nearby Canadian military base. The bomb threat came into a Korean Airlines U.S. call center in Los Angeles. Authorities searching the plane though found no explosives.

Minding your business this morning. Stock futures are up after a really tough day yesterday. Markets have been lower for the past five days. Investors are concerned about growth in Europe and in China.

Also, a fresh survey from CareerCast out this morning ranking the best and worst jobs of the year. News reporter, in case you're wondering, it turns out to be one of the worst, but not the very worst at least. Lumberjack, dairy farmer and enlisted military soldier at the bottom of this list. That's because of pay. They all just made a little over $30,000 a year. Also, safety, unemployment, job security and satisfaction.

Topping this year's list, software engineer, actuary and human resource manager make over 80 grand a year. All these jobs toward the top of the list, by the way -- important to note -- they require a degree or some sort of advanced training.

So, this is the latest ammunition in that college worth it fight.

O'BRIEN: I knew where you were going with that, right?

ROMANS: You got it.

O'BRIEN: You got to study now that the days of doing fine with a high school degree are truly over and that report sort of nails the nail in the coffin as they say. Christine, thanks. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on STARTING POINT: She was the first Western journalist to visit villages where an American soldier allegedly went on a shooting spree in Afghanistan. You can hear from the children in that village about what happened. That's coming up.

Also, the former President George W. Bush making headlines by saying he wishes the Bush tax cuts weren't named the Bush tax cuts. We'll tell you what happened there.

And a special screening of the movie "Bully." We've been talking about that movie for the last couple of weeks. It was a screening for educators. You're looking at the video from that movie. We'll tell you what teachers are learning from this movie coming up.

You're watching STARTING POINT. Short break. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: The army now putting together a sanity board to look into what happened when a U.S. soldier allegedly went on a deadly killing spree in Afghanistan. The sergeant's name is Robert Bales. He is charged with murdering 17 Afghan villagers, including nine children happened in the middle of the night about a month ago.

Yalda Hakim of Australia's SBS Network was the first western journalist to visit the villages and speak to the survivors who described in detail what happened. Listen.



YALDA HAKIM, REPORTER, SBS TELEVISION AUSTRALIA (voice-over): As eight-year-old (INAUDIBLE) watched her parents desperately trying to defend off the intruder, he turned his gun on her and shot her in the leg.


BANFIELD: Yalda Hakim joins us this morning. She's in Sydney, Australia. Nice to talk to you. Thanks for being with us. First, how difficult was it for you to negotiate to get into the villages and then even sort of have the opportunity to ask questions of the villagers?

HAKIM (on-camera): Well, I was initially denied access, Soledad, by both the U.S. military as well as the Afghan army. As you can imagine, this was an extremely dangerous area to travel into. And after the attack, the Taliban was starting to use the area as a battlefield, and they laid out booby traps, IEDs, and mines in and around the village and the crime scene.

So, it was extremely difficult to then convince the Afghan army to allow me to go in. It wasn't until we personally requested from Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, to intervene that the palace (ph) was cleared, and at that point, we were given military access and support by the Afghan national police who escorted us into the village.

Of course, because I speak the local languages, I was able to gain the trust of the local people, the witnesses who opened up and gave me very heartfelt accounts of what happened on that horrific night.

O'BRIEN: And those accounts are truly heartbreaking. So, I want to play a couple of different pieces, and I'm going to have you talk to me about them, but first is the one child that you interviewed, Sedekiyah, I think, is the name. I'll play what he said to you, and then, I'll ask you on the other side about this child. Go ahead and play that.



O'BRIEN: Oh, it's heartbreaking. He says, when my father came out," he, meaning the soldier he's talking about, "shot my father, then he entered our room. We run from room, the other room, and he came out and he shot us in that room," is what he's saying there. What was it like to interview that child who literally has almost no emotion on his face when he's talking to you?

HAKIM: Absolutely. I mean, there were some disparities between the story. A little girl that I spoke to told me that she saw numerous Americans in her home, and that young boy told me that there was one American inside his house killing his family members.

As you can imagine, it was extremely difficult to listen to these traumatic stories, and of course, the trauma that these children had suffered. You know, they're sleeping in their homes and someone entered their house and began killing their family members. It was an extremely difficult story to listen to.

O'BRIEN: Here's another child. Norbinak is the name, and I'll tell everyone first what this child is saying. "He shot my father's dog first, then shot my father in the foot, dragged my mother by the hair. My mother's screaming. He held a gun to her. My father said, "leave her alone," and he shot my father right there." Let's play a little bit of what this child has to say.




O'BRIEN: How many children, Yalda, did you have an opportunity to interview, and for the most past, would you say, were their stories consistent outside of that number of soldiers issue?

HAKIM: Yes. It was conflicted. I mean, spoke to four witnesses in total. Three of who were children. And, of course, it's always difficult to know whether a child actually saw what they did. I spoke to one adult. Her name was Aminah, and she told me about how her husband was shot in head and how she dragged him back into the house and his brains were in her hands.

She told me that 15 to 20 Americans were out in her yard. When she went outside to find out what had happened, they told her to go back inside or she would be killed, too. That's the claim that she made. And like I said, there were some disparities in the story. (INAUDIBLE) said there were several Americans in her house.

Aminah, it's not her real name. She wasn't actually allowed to speak to anyone. It was the first time that she's actually spoken to anyone, and it was only because I was able to speak the language, and I was a woman that I was able to get access to her. She told me there were several Americans in her yard. But, of course, the two young boys I spoke to, the other two witnesses, said only one American soldier entered their house and began to shoot at them.

O'BRIEN: Is this a possible that this could be a crime scene of any use? We know now that American authorities have gone in and kind of swept the area a fair amount of time had passed before they were able to get access.

But one would imagine even when you just sort of look at the circumstances and some of the videotapes that you shot that the crime scene has been damaged, I mean, in the sense of how do you gain physical evidence from it at this point

HAKIM: Absolutely. The unfortunate thing is that because of Islamic rituals, they bury the dead immediately. And when I went into the villages, the scene looked quite different to the initial few days where images had come out of those homes and villages. The blood stains had generally been removed and washed away.

General Karimi who is the chief investigator appointed by President Hamid Karzai told me the whole area had been disturbed. So many people had entered those houses since the crime itself that it was difficult to know whose boot prints were whose where there were a number of American soldiers who've entered the area or if it was one.

It was difficult to know because, as he said, the whole area had been disturbed by the time these investigators had gone in.

O'BRIEN: Yalda Hakim is the video journalist and the presenter for "Dateline" SBS Television in Australia. Thank you for your reporting, and thank you for joining us this morning. We certainly appreciate it.

HAKIM: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, a special screening of the eye-opening documentary, "Bully." We've been talking about it, really, for a couple of weeks now. It was held last night for educators. Randi Weingarten who's the president of the American Federation of Teachers joins us to talk about why she thinks it's crucial for teachers to take a look at this film.

We leave you with John's playlist. PJ Harvey, "Big Exit." You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.







O'BRIEN: That's a scene from a pretty potent and provocative movie, which is called "Bully." It's a documentary, and we've had an opportunity to speak to the director over the last couple of weeks and also that young man who you see there in the shot. His name is Alex, and we talked to Alex and his parents last week.

They did a screening, a special screening, for teachers and policy makers and others because they wanted to see how they would be able to change the culture in the school. Randi Weingarten helped put (ph) that screening together. She's the president of the American Federation of Teachers and joins this morning. It's nice to have you.


O'BRIEN: Tell me a little bit about who was in the audience and what was the goal of bringing the screening together?

WEINGARTEN: The first great thing was, you know, we wanted to do the screening in advance of Friday's opening. It was opening in 45 cities, because we need to drive people to see this movie, teachers, parents, kids, and then, to talk about it because that is the way you change culture.

So, in the audience yesterday were teachers, parents, policy makers, kids, and a whole group of organizations sponsored it. Principally, the NEA and the AFT, the two teacher unions to basically say --

O'BRIEN: National Education Association.

WEINGARTEN: National Education Association, and us, American Federation of Teachers, to say we must address this issue.

O'BRIEN: Why is it so critical for you? People might say, but you're educators. Let the people working on the bullying issue do the bullying issue. You do the education issue.

WEINGARTEN: Because, look, kids deserve a safe and secure environment in school, at home, as they walk to and from school in their communities. Kids are both resilient and fragile. And when kids get bullied, when they get taunted, when they have those kind of attacks at the age of this great fragility, middle school, for example.

O'BRIEN: They drop out.

WEINGARTEN: It is devastating to them.

O'BRIEN: They drop out?

WEINGARTEN: They drop out. They get inward. They get depressed. And you see the human toll on children. And you know, so, people will say, well, you can't teach kids if they're bullied. It's more than that. It's our obligation to make sure that people know that this is not a right of passage, and we have to turn this around.

O'BRIEN: We talked to the kid that's sort of the subject of a lot of bullying in the film. Alex and his mom joined us on the set last week. I want to play a little bit of what Alex's mom said when she went to see the assistant principal who was, in a nutshell, no help whatsoever. Listen.


ALEX LIBBY, FEATURED IN "BULLY": I said many times before that I was embarrassed that I was getting bullied, and, so, first thing to do would be to tell someone about it. And, if nothing gets done, then if it comes to the point where you had to stand up for yourself, do it. But, unless, -- try to get other people involved first to stop it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's absolutely not acceptable. I mean, they're stabbing him with pencils and choking him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Buses are notorious. Bad places for lots of kids. You know, I wish I could say I could make it stop on that, but I'm not going to lie to you.


O'BRIEN: If you think about it, that's kind of an odd thing for an assistant principal. Buses are notoriously bad places for kids. It's like, it's not prison. It's a school bus.

WEINGARTEN: We just honored one of our members, a school bus driver who was originally from West Virginia. He saw it. He stopped it. Like our little wristbands say, "see a bully, stop a bully."

FUGELSANG: Was he authorized?

WEINGARTEN: No. He could have gotten in trouble. What he saw -- look, you have to use common sense.

O'BRIEN: What's the goal with these? What do you do? You tell people, OK, one obviously awareness is part of it. What else?

WEINGARTEN: The goal of these wristbands and our campaign, everyone is doing a different campaign. The "Bully" movie is a good piece of awareness. The goal is for all of us to own a piece of this. If you're a school teacher, if you're a bus driver, if you wear a band like this, a wristband and kids see it and know it, they know that you are safe. They know you are a person they can go talk to. And it's also awareness by saying see a bully, stop a bully. If we all actually start acting like this is no longer a rite of passage and unacceptable conduct, we'll stop it and change it.

FUGELSANG: It's a pleasure to talk about this, because I really own a piece of this. When I was a kid, when I would go to administrators, I reached a point in junior high school where I stopped taking any teacher seriously if they used the word "bully." I said this before, one of the biggest problems we face is that "bully" is an outdated term that does not do justice to the kind of peer abuse and persecution these kids get. Are there any schools with zero tolerance policies against this and why can't schools crackdown much, much harder on an institutional, federally mandated level to make this happen?

WEINGARTEN: This is what's so -- it's not complicated but this is what's so hard, because sometimes -- take this movie. The kids getting bullied ended up being the ones who were penalized the most, like Alex getting off the bus.

We have to actually do three things. There has to be awareness. There has to be a lot of education about this is no longer a right of as passage, awareness that stories are told so people know the human toll. But the third is the intervention strategies have to be about making sure there's a climate of safety in schools. Both for the kids who have been taunted but also for the kids who are bulliers, there's a big red flag there saying I need some help too.


O'BRIEN: The movie opens on Friday. Thanks to talking to us.

We've got to take a short break. Ahead on STARTING POINT, breaking news. The earthquake off the coast of Indonesia, same region hit hard in 2004, there are several reports of tsunami waves now hitting land. Just into CNN we're going to bring you those developing details.

Also, Rick Santorum is out of the race. But after calling Mitt Romney the worst a bunch of times, is he going to hit the campaign trail with him? We'll talk to national campaign co-chair and Governor of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty. His Tim Pawlenty's playlist. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Morning. Welcome back, everybody. We're following breaking news from Indonesia. An 8.6 magnitude earthquake has triggered fears of another devastating tsunami. People are running for higher ground in the same region hit by a deadly tsunami in 2004. Walter Braunohler is a spokesperson for the U.S. embassy in Thailand and joins us by phone. Good morning. Thanks for talking to us. Can you tell me the status of the folks in Thailand right now, sir?

WALTER BRAUNOHLER: As always our biggest priority is the safety and security of American citizens overseas. Immediately in the wake of the earthquake that happened earlier this afternoon, we sent a message out to Americans living or staying in Thailand. At this point we've had no reports of U.S. citizen casualties, which is a good thing. We're waiting to hear more from Thai authorities.

O'BRIEN: Can you tell me exactly what the strategy is and what information you are being able to give people? Are people all being moved to higher land or are you just watching the situation unfold? What do you know about the tsunami watches?

BRAUNOHLER: Well, a tsunami warning had been issued by the Thai authorities for the Indian Ocean side of Thailand's southwestern coast. That includes provinces like Phuket and other areas popular with tourist. We urge all citizens who may be traveling or living in Thailand to pay careful attention to local authorities and to monitor reliable media reports. This is the sort of thing that may vary widely from one region to the next.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely. And Phuket is where I was stationed during the 2004 tsunami and of course the aftermath of that earthquake there, and it was absolutely devastating. I have to imagine you have terrified tourists coming to you and others who are trying to get information. What are you able to tell them this time around in comparison to back in 2004?

BRAUNOHLER: Well, thankfully, we haven't seen the kind of devastation that we saw in 2004. But sadly we did learn a lot of lessons from that natural disaster. And one of the biggest ones is people should keep in touch with their embassy. I encourage everyone to go online to and let us know when you are traveling and where you are traveling and we'll send information localized information to you. The American embassy in Indonesia and American embassy in Thailand have robust presences online, so if you check us out on twitter or Facebook or our Web site, you can get a lot of information as well.

O'BRIEN: All right, thanks for the update. We appreciate it, updating tourist and Americans and everyone in that area in Thailand. Thank you.

Let's get right to headlines with Christine. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad. More breaking news for you now. Nine trapped miners rescued just minutes ago in Peru. This is new video from just moments ago. Peru's president led the rescue mission. The miners have been stuck underground for seven days after a collapse at the mine. The men are reportedly in good health. Seven days underground.

And 24 states and Washington, D.C. posting red flag warnings this morning. Dozens of wildfires are raging all along the east coast. They are scorching thousands of acres, nearly 100 fires burning in Florida alone. Firefighters put out a fire on eastern Long Island on the grounds of the Brook Haven National Lab. It's a nuclear physics facility. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declaring a state of emergency there.

Former president George W. Bush weighing in on the economics debate and defending his tax cuts at an economic conference hosted by his presidential foundation. He argued that raising taxes on the rich would deplete the economic capital on those that create jobs. But he said he said the tax cuts he approved, the Bush tax cuts, he wished they did not bear his name.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: I wish they weren't called the Bush tax cuts. They are probably less likely to be raised if they were called by someone else. If you raise taxes, you are taking money out of pockets of consumers. And it's important for policy makers to recognize that all the doubt about taxes causes capital to stay on the sidelines.


ROMANS: Bush also saying he would not publicly criticize president Obama.

The GSA is canceling an upcoming conference in Las Vegas in wake of overspending at a conference in Las Vegas. The GSA is under investigation for spending $800,000 at a prior conference in 2010. The acting administrator says GSA is working to restore trust with the public.


DAN TANGHERLINI, GSA ACTING ADMINISTRATOR: We initiated a complete agency-wide review of all conferences and events. We're evaluating the way in which we use our resources and identifying ways to be more efficient and effective stewards of taxpayer dollars.


ROMANS: The GSA office is suspending an awards program. Employees were given iPods, digital cameras, and other electronics. Congressional investigators say it violates the employee gift limit.

O'BRIEN: And violates common sense completely. All right, Christine, thank you.

Still ahead on this morning STARTING POINT, game on for Mitt Romney as Rick Santorum is dropping out. Up next we will talk to the former governor of Minnesota and Romney supporter Tim Pawlenty. He's going to join us live. Stay with us.



SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Well, politically speaking and then there were well, still three. Rick Santorum is the only candidate even close to Mitt Romney in the delegate count and he has suspended his campaign. Listen.


RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We -- we made the decision to get into this race at our kitchen table against all the odds and we made a decision over the weekend that while this presidential race for us is over for me and we will suspend our campaign effective today, we are not done fighting.

(END VIDEO CLIP) O'BRIEN: The question now is he going to put his support behind Mitt Romney? A candidate that he's repeatedly and pretty viciously attacked during the campaign. The former Republican Governor of Minnesota is Tim Pawlenty. He joins us this morning. He is Mitt Romney's national campaign co-chair.

Nice to see you sir. Thanks for talking with us once again.

This morning I was talking to Alice Stewart of the Santorum campaign and this is what she had to say about sort how it went down between Rick Santorum and Governor Romney's conversation of yesterday. Listen.


ALICE STEWART, NATIONAL PRESS SECRETARY, SANTORUM 2012 PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN: He had a nice conversation with Governor Romney yesterday and vowed to do what he could to help to help coalesce conservatives, the social and fiscal conservatives, to rally behind the presumptive nominee which more than likely appears to be Governor Romney because job number one is to defeat Barack Obama and his big government ways.


O'BRIEN: What exactly do you see as a role for Rick Santorum in the Mitt Romney campaign, sir?

TIM PAWLENTY (R), FORMER MINNESOTA GOVERNOR: Well, Soledad, Rick ran a hard fought campaign. He was an effective competitor. And obviously we want him and need him to be part of the conservative coalition and what's going to be the effort by Mitt Romney to become the next President of the United States and highlight the flaws of President Obama's time in office including this awful Obama economy.

But we would welcome his support and his endorsement and we anticipate and hope that he'll be onboard fully and I believe he will be.

O'BRIEN: He had said he will be but of course you have the whole track record, the transcript, the videotape of the last number of months where literally he has been attacking and undermining Governor Romney.

I'll play you a little clip of a -- of what you know a small number of things that he said. Listen.


SANTORUM: I would love to be able to get one-on-one with Governor Romney and expose the record that would be the weakest record we could possibly be put up against Barack Obama.

Governor Romney is on the same page as Barack Obama on all of these issues. Not only did he recommend the wrong policy for the country, then he didn't tell the truth about what he did. Do you really believe this country wants to elect a Wall Street financier as President of the United States?

He is the worst Republican in the country to put up against Barack Obama.


O'BRIEN: He's talking about health care on that last part. So how do you take all of those -- and by way I know you know that there are like 200 more clips that we could have run and -- and have now Senator Santorum be the face of the campaign for Mitt Romney? Isn't that problematic sir?

PAWLENTY: Well the face of the campaign for Mitt Romney is going to be Mitt Romney. And of course the Republican and Conservative Coalition is a coalition. And we need all of the pieces to come together to make this a successful campaign. but look there's a grand tradition of people competing hard for party nominations.

You look at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama going after each other hard all of the way into June and then of course they become colleagues and working close together in the current administration successfully I might add.

So people understand that you're going to have a competition. There's going to be some differences within a party nomination process. But when you compare that to the awful record of President Obama, the high unemployment, the terrible gas prices, his weakness in foreign policy, his misdirection and misguided approach to health care, Rick Santorum and all conservatives should enthusiastically get behind Mitt Romney as the most important goal here is to defeat Barack Obama and get Mitt Romney to be the next President and get this country headed in a better direction.

LIZZA: Governor Pawlenty, hey it's Ryan Lizza with "The New Yorker". One question on bringing the party together. Would you recommend to Mitt Romney that he seriously consider making Rick Santorum his running mate? Would you put him on that list of top contenders for that?

PAWLENTY: Well, I think there's going to be a big list of people to consider for vice president. There's going to be a lot of great people to pick from and Governor Romney I'm sure will make a great choice. And I think it would be premature to say anybody should be excluded from that list. And I'm sure in many people's minds, the minds of the pundits, Rick Santorum will be on the list; whether he would be ultimately selected or not, who knows.

But I think a lot of people would say he's somebody who should be considered. But I know Governor Romney hasn't even started to put a list like that together in any formal way. So it would be premature to even speculate about it.

FUGELSANG: Good morning, Senator. President Bush was here speaking in New York yesterday. I'd like to ask can you tell me one or two ways that Mitt Romney's economic agenda is any way different than President Bush's besides Medicare part B and not invading Iraq.

PAWLENTY: Well he's got to a number of differences. If you look at Governor Romney's many, many chapter proposal on economic reform and enhancement.

For example, look at his reforms for entitlements. What he wants to do to try to make Medicaid and Medicare more solvent and more viable going forward. Those are significantly different than President Bush and have a lot to do with the economy.

Number two, Mitt Romney has spoken strongly and directly about confronting China as a currency manipulator potentially as well as bringing more sanctions in behalf of the United States government in trade relations and export relations and import relations with China. He has a different view as it relates to the future of health care reform.

And he's got a very significant tax policy to reduce the corporate tax to take a 20 percent reduction of all of the income tax brackets. He's also got a different or more forward leaning labor policy.


PAWLENTY: So there's a -- there's directionally it's a conservative direction but there's a lot of noteworthy differences between President Bush's policies and Governor Romney's policies.

O'BRIEN: Governor Tim Pawlenty joining us this morning. It's nice to see you sir. Thanks to talking with us.

PAWLENTY: Thanks for having me on.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Still ahead on STARTING POINT today's "SOB" as in Soledad O'Brien award goes to the bride who allegedly accepted donations because people thought she had a month to live. She got her wedding of her dreams and then it all fell apart.

We leave you with Will's playlist. Dwight Yoakam "Suspicious Minds".

STARTING POINT is back in a moment.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT. Today's "SOB" Soledad O'Brien is Jessica Vega. She has been arrested for allegedly claiming that she had cancer so she can get donations to pay for a fabulous -- actually -- look at that dress. That was her dress for her wedding, her honeymoon.

She had a fake cancer scheme that lasted six months and then got thousands of dollars including an all-expense paid trip to Aruba with her new husband. She had told people that she was diagnosed with leukemia and wanted to marry the father of her young daughter before she died which is going to be in a month.

LIZZA: Oh how moving.

O'BRIEN: It turns out the father was duped as well. Once he realized several months in that she had lied, he filed for divorce and then helped the Attorney General investigate her. She faces 24 years behind bars if she's convicted on all of the counts.

But the nicest thing is one of the women who really helped her with the dress and money and gave her cash sometimes and was a true supporter said I would do it again. Even though she was duped, she said I would pay.

CAIN: Think about the emotional U-turn that husband went through. He just married the woman of his dreams and then he turns to the attorney general --

O'BRIEN: Well I'm not sure if you read more of the story. Because they got back together and had another kid.

LIZZA: I'll say it has a happy ending.

FUGELSANG: Oh I'm going to say, I would only -- I would ever fake illness to get out of a wedding and not to have one. So it's very important thing.

O'BRIEN: ""End Point"" with our panel is up next. That's a good point John.

We're back in a moment.

FUGELSANG: I'm here to help.


O'BRIEN: 40 seconds left until the end of the show. Who has an "End Point" for me? Ryan, do you want to start?

LIZZA: Santorum out of the race, there'll be a lot of talk about how Mitt Romney has a lot of trouble on the right. I don't buy it. A party can be closely divided but not deeply divided. This Republican Party is not that deeply divided. His issue is in the middle and not on the right.

CAIN: We can have a debate about what the fair amount of taxes is for people who yes. You ask 100 people you get 100 different answers. But you can't tell the untruth that millionaires pay less than their secretaries. Effective learn effective tax rate of millionaires is 18 percent. Of middle class it's 7 percent.

FUGELSANG: And every time George W. Bush says his tax cuts created jobs an angel whispers in Asia.

O'BRIEN: All right. Wow, that was -- first of all I have 30 seconds left.

CAIN: I thought for sure we went over. There are some more points to make.

O'BRIEN: They were very deep. But now, I'm stopping you there.

FUGELSANG: We usually last much longer than this.


O'BRIEN: I know marginal rate is -- ok. We're moving on. Thank you. I appreciate it to our panel.

"CNN NEWSROOM" with Carol Costello begins right now. I'll see everybody else back here at 7:00 tomorrow morning. Have a great day.

Hey Carol, good morning.