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JOHN KING, USA

President Obama Speaks Out on Florida Shooting; Time Running Short for Gingrich and Santorum?

Aired March 23, 2012 - 18:00   ET

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


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us. I'm Candy Crowley. John King is off.

Tonight, an emotional message from President Obama to the parents of a Florida teenager whose death ignited national outrage.

Also, on the eve of Louisiana's presidential primary, a reality check for Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

Plus, a big bank has a new way to help people stay in their homes even if they're facing foreclosure.

We begin with the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and a police department's decision not to arrest the neighborhood watch volunteer who pulled the trigger. This morning at the White House President Obama had a message for Trayvon Martin's parents.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, if I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon. And, you know, I think they are right to expect that all of us, as Americans, are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves and that we're going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: CNN's John Zarrella is in Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon lived and died.

John, how are Trayvon's parents reacting to the president?

JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN MIAMI BUREAU CHIEF: You know, Candy, it was almost immediately after the president's remarks that Trayvon Martin's parent came out with a statement of their own saying in part they were deeply moved by the president's remarks and adding -- quote -- "We'd like to thank the president and the millions of people from around the world who have shown their support for Trayvon by participating in hoodie marches, rallies or through social media. We are all working together to not only get justice for Trayvon, but also to ensure that this kind of senseless tragedy doesn't happen to another child."

And, again, they expressed their deepest thanks to both the president and the American people -- Candy. CROWLEY: John, have there been any developments in the investigation?

ZARRELLA: You know, in fact, we have several new developments to report.

At this hour, right now, CNN is interviewing Craig Sonner. Sonner has surfaced as the legal, not representation, but legal adviser to George Zimmerman. Now, Sonner appeared on a local television station about an hour ago and he also said and told CNN that he has not talked directly to Zimmerman about the events of the night, but he has advised Zimmerman to stay out of the public, to take death threats against him seriously, but to cooperate with police.

He is also saying, Sonner is, that Zimmerman has talked to the police on more than one occasion about the incident. So -- and Sonner is also adding that, in fact, that Mr. Zimmerman sustained a broken nose and a cut to the back of his head, and that we knew from the police report that came out earlier this week.

Also, another development. We have Angela Corey, a special prosecutor out of Jacksonville, Florida, appointed by Governor Rick Scott late yesterday to take over the state investigation of this case. Corey's office is saying that they have two prosecutors and a homicide investigator already on the ground beginning to start to gather evidence.

They're also telling us that they might not need to go to a grand jury, that they will have the authority to either arrest or clear or to take it to a grand jury any case against George Zimmerman -- Candy.

CROWLEY: John Zarrella in Florida for us tonight. Thank you, John.

After the president made his remarks today he briefly met with pastors who were at the White House for a talk with the U.S. attorney general. We will hear from two of those pastors in a few minutes.

There are also important developments in the case against a U.S. soldier accused of massacring Afghan civilians almost two weeks ago. Military officials filed 17 counts of murder against Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. Conviction on any one of them could bring the death penalty.

CNN's Ted Rowlands is at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where Bales is being held.

What next for Sergeant Bales?

TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, at this point there are two different tracks. You have got the investigation which continues. In fact, a U.S. official with the Defense Department has told CNN that there is a possibility that Bales could face more charges as they continue to investigate.

And then you have Bales' attorney who is going to Afghanistan to conduct his own investigation. Meanwhile, we do expect that an Article 32 investigation will start out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord up in Seattle, Tacoma. They will be the lead from here on out and that basically is a preliminary hearing or what we would think of as a preliminary hearing on the civil side.

That is the pretrial before the major trial. We expect that to get under way as well. But it could take months, even years before this could get to a court-martial trial.

CROWLEY: Long, long time. Thanks, Ted Rowlands, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for us tonight.

The Taliban threatened all U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan in an e- mail sent to CNN today. It reads: "We don't believe in these American courts and reject the decision of these courts. The perpetrators of the incident are tens of American soldiers and not one person. We will take practical revenge on every single American soldier."

Now to presidential politics, which means tomorrow's Louisiana primary. A new ARG poll shows Rick Santorum with a commanding 43 percent to 27 percent lead over Mitt Romney. Newt Gingrich is third with 20 percent. Santorum already senses victory.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're excited that Louisiana's going to hit the reset button. We're looking for someone who has the courage of their convictions, who's not going to hit the reset button, pull out the Etch A Sketch, and try to remake themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Louisiana voters may hit reset tomorrow, but many other Republicans have not. Gallup's daily tracking poll, a nationwide survey of Republican voters now shows Romney with his biggest lead over Santorum in weeks, 40 percent to 26 percent. Newt Gingrich and Paul far behind.

Our CNN chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, writes in a new column for CNN.com that it's time for Romney's rivals to ask themselves an important question.

I left it to you.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: The question is how do you know when it's time to lose and how do you go about losing?

These people have worked really hard at this, and as you point out, Rick Santorum is probably going to win in Louisiana, which, of course, is a problem for Newt Gingrich, I might add, and he could win his home state of Pennsylvania eventually.

He could win in Wisconsin. I mean, who knows. But at a certain point you don't want to get blamed for helping the Republican Party to lose in the fall. It's a very difficult question you have to ask yourself because there are no more power brokers who can come in the room and say, you know what? I think it's time for you to leave.

Those people are the establishment. They're not trusted. There are new power brokers, which are the big money super PAC donors. Now, if those people stop giving you money, that may force you into a different position and you would have to get out.

But it's really up to the candidates at this point. What's the best way to lose, how do you do it so you preserve your own political career, and what's best for the party? And I think they have all got to be thinking about that right now if you're Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich.

CROWLEY: Surely they must be thinking about it, but it also strikes me that the two of them are so different personality-wise that they may have different ideas of how to exit. Newt Gingrich just shows no signs. I mean, he can -- if he can pay for a plane ticket someplace, he will go.

BORGER: Right. And there are different ways of exiting. You could suspend your campaign and not get out of the race and take it all the way to the convention or you could do what Mitt Romney did in 2008 after Super Tuesday.

He figured he didn't have much of a shot against John McCain, and he went out with a full-throated endorsement of him, supported him, and is now looking for the others to do that, although, as you know very well, Candy, it's not as if the endorsements of Mitt Romney have been so enthusiastic.

CROWLEY: Right.

BORGER: You know, Jeb Bush came out and endorsed him, but we didn't see a huge rally or anything about it.

CROWLEY: No balloons.

BORGER: No balloons. No nothing.

CROWLEY: Streamers, yes.

BORGER: It's kind of like an arranged marriage, not enthusiastic.

CROWLEY: Gloria Borger, our chief political analyst, thank you so much.

It's exactly two years since President Obama signed health care reform into law. Still ahead, we will set the stage for next week's legal showdown that could nullify it.

But next, two pastors who say they are reassured by President Obama's reaction to the Trayvon Martin shooting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. CALVIN BUTTS, ABYSSINIAN BAPTIST CHURCH: He should know, he does know that if it had been a son, it could have been the president himself.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: Moving tributes to Trayvon Martin today across the country today, from a school walkout near Miami to this photo just tweeted out by basketball superstar LeBron James surrounded by his Miami Heat teammates all wearing hoodies.

The deadly shooting of a Florida teenager was also a focus at the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OBAMA: I have got to be careful about my statements to make sure that we're not impairing any investigation that's taking place right now.

I can only imagine what these parents are going through. And when I think about this boy, I think about my own kids.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Reverend Calvin Butts and Charley Hames were among those who met with Attorney General Eric Holder and the president at the White House earlier today. I asked them about those meetings just moments ago.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: Let me put you right to Trayvon Martin and that case. I know that secretary -- or Attorney General Holder was there. Can you tell us what he told you all?

REV. CHARLEY HAMES JR., BEEBE MEMORIAL CATHEDRAL: Well, basically he didn't share anything in specific, but he told us that he was investigating and the pulse of the White House is in Florida looking at that situation, trying to assess it for what it's worth and to bring justice.

CROWLEY: Were you reassured? Did you go into this thinking where is the White House on this, we need to hear a national voice on what is going on in Florida and were you reassured by what you heard?

BUTTS: I think we are reassured by what we heard because the Justice Department is involved. We heard the attorney general speak directly to the case, if nothing else but to say they are there, they have met with the family, they are investigating.

We need to know that someone other than the Sanford police are involved.

CROWLEY: And I understand that you had a surprise, although none of us were surprised to hear that President Obama came by the meeting. What does he have to say? HAMES: He just simply talked about his own children and how about him being a father, being concerned about them, translated his soul-searching about Trayvon Martin and that particular family.

CROWLEY: I know you heard or have heard since his remarks at the White House about Trayvon Martin. Were those reassuring to you? There was a lot of chatter on the blogs, particularly from the African-American community, going where's the president of the United States on this? It's been more than a month since this teenager was shot and killed and we haven't heard a thing from the White House.

A, did that delay bother you, and, B, were you satisfied with what the president had to say?

BUTTS: The delay did not bother us.

What bothered us is that not directly that the president, but that it took almost an explosion to get the Justice Department involved. We're thankful that it is involved. But the delay is understandable. The president of the United States has to speak to a large number of issues and they have to be investigated carefully before his voice is heard.

And I think that he spoke fairly soon, if you think about it, on this case, and his remarks were absolutely appropriate, because he could know, he should know, he does know that if it had been a son -- it could have been the president himself jogging, without the Secret Service, of course.

But this is happening all over the nation. In New York, we have the Ramarley Graham case, where a police officer went into a private home and shot a man to death in his own bathroom with his grandmother there watching, and there has been nothing done by the NYPD or the district attorney in Bronx County. It's an outrage across the nation.

CROWLEY: You know, inevitably this gets into the political groundwater because it's a political year and because that's how Washington works. You heard what the president said.

I wanted to read you something from one of the candidates. "It is chilling to hear what happened, and, of course, the fact that law enforcement did not immediately go after and prosecute this case is another chilling example of horrible decisions made in this process."

That's from Rick Santorum. Similar statements were said by all the Republican candidates about this case. Do you see this as a political issue?

BUTTS: Well, I think it says something for Rick Santorum that he would make that remark. Clearly, for me, it does not overshadow some of the other things that he stands for, but I'm happy that he would make a remark like this.

And I would hope, though I'm not necessarily encouraged by some of the other things that he's done, that if, for example, he were to be elected as president of the United States, that his Justice Department would pursue these cases. But based on what we have seen from Republican administrations in the past, the Justice Department has looked beyond some of these cases.

CROWLEY: And just want to add that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich had similar things to say.

I want to thank both of you, Reverend Calvin Butts and Pastor Charley Hames. We really appreciate your coming by and sharing your experience with us.

BUTTS: It's been a pleasure being here. Thank you.

HAMES: We thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: For more developments on the investigation into Trayvon Martin's death and whether charges against the shooter will be filed, be sure to watch my exclusive interview with Florida Governor Rick Scott on "STATE OF THE UNION" Sunday at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

An important consumer story is still ahead. Facebook makes changes to your privacy settings. Find out what it wants to share about you.

And next, a couple that has been married for 79 years has some advice for the president.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(NEWS BREAK)

CROWLEY: What's likely to be one of the country's biggest legal showdowns in decades starts next week. The Supreme Court takes up President Obama's health care reform law. We will examine the stakes in a moment.

Also, Europe tells the glamorous wife of a world leader, don't bother to visit.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: I'm Candy Crowley.

In this half-hour of John King, USA: new information about the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot Trayvon Martin. George Zimmerman's legal adviser just spoke with a Florida TV station.

Also, Rick Santorum's rivals accuse him of considering something that Santorum himself calls preposterous.

And Europe tells a one-time glamour icon, we don't want you.

First, some breaking news from Florida. For the first time, we're hearing from a legal adviser to George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch guard who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month.

Craig Sonner tells Florida's WOFL that Zimmerman is -- quote -- "under a lot of stress, concerned about the grave situation he's in." Sonner also says Zimmerman suffered a broken nose and an injury to the back of his head that should have required stitches during his confrontation with Martin.

We're not likely to hear from Zimmerman any time soon. Sonner says he has advised Zimmerman to stay out of the public eye as much as he can and says he doesn't even know where Zimmerman is staying.

On Monday, the Supreme Court will begin to hear arguments challenging President Obama's landmark health care reform law. That is three days away, and there's already a line to get in.

CNN congressional correspondent Kate Bolduan lays out the tumultuous legal and political path that has led this law to the Supreme Court.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): March 23, 2010, President Obama signs in law the signature achievement of his presidency, the Affordable Care Act. The landmark and controversial health care overhaul.

OBAMA: After all the votes have been tallied, health insurance reform becomes law in the United States of America.

BOLDUAN: Within hours, states across the country filed lawsuits challenging the law.

PAM BONDI, FLORIDA ATTORNEY GENERAL: This is about liberty. It's not just about health care.

BOLDUAN: Led by Florida, 26 states argued the law central provision is unconstitutional, the so-called individual mandate. It requires almost every American to purchase health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty.

Opponents say the Constitution's Commerce Clause does not give Congress the power to force individuals to purchase a commercial product like health insurance they may not need or want.

PAUL CLEMENT, ATTORNEY FOR STATES CHALLENGING LAW: These issues are really central to whether the federal government can really regulate anything it wants to.

BOLDUAN: The government defends the sweeping reforms, arguing medical care is not a choice, that every American will need health care at some point in their lives. They also say that tens of millions of uninsured Americans are costing everybody else more: $43 billion in uncompensated costs in 2008 alone, according to government figures.

ELIZABETH WYDRA, CONSTITUTIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY CENTER: No one is saying that there's a right to freeload off one's neighbor when you decide not to choose health insurance.

BOLDUAN: The stakes only grow larger with the Supreme Court taking the case just months before an election.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If I'm president, we're getting rid of Obama care and returning to freedom.

BOLDUAN: And the election-year blockbuster has again been turned the spotlight on the justices themselves. As with the Bush v. Gore case of 2000, will the justices be criticized for letting politics creep into the courtroom?

THOMAS GOLDSTEIN, SCOTUSBLOG.COM PUBLISHER: The legal stakes are so high I don't think they'll pay attention that much, if at all, the fact that it's occurring in an election cycle. They've just got to get the case right.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BOLDUAN: And here's what we're talking about in terms of next week. The justices are going to be looking for four separate issues to be argued for six hours over a span of three days, Candy. That really shows just how important this case is and how much importance the justices are putting on it, because that rarely happens, giving this much time to one case.

CROWLEY: One case, right. How could this all shake out?

BOLDUAN: Of course, no one knows what the justices are thinking. I mean, the big question is will they uphold the individual mandate, will they strike it down, will they do it in part?

I mean, the justices have all the options in front of them. They could rule very narrowly on the facts of the case, limiting kind of the fallout implications, or they could offer a broad, sweeping ruling that really sets a road map and precedent for just how much power Congress can have going forward. Of course, no one knows.

And still, it's important to point out even after these marathon public sessions that we're going to be in next week, we're still not going to have the final -- the final word from the justices on the outcome for probably about three months.

CROWLEY: And you get to go.

BOLDUAN: I will be there. Very excited.

CROWLEY: That's right, yes. That's great. That's going to be fun.

BOLDUAN: It's historic to which.

CROWLEY: I'm a little jealous.

Now, as you might expect, the Republican presidential candidates couldn't pass up an opportunity to slam the president on the anniversary of the passing of the health-care reform law. Mitt Romney made it the focal point, literally, of one of his stops in Louisiana.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Not only did he pass Romney care, which is a government-run health-care program that has insurance mandate, fines if you don't buy insurance, both for the employer and the employee, and, of course, has all of these bells and whistles as to what policy you can buy, how you're going to buy it, who you're going to buy it from, just like Obama care.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: That, of course, was Rick Santorum and not Mitt Romney, but I bet you knew that.

CNN senior CNN correspondent Joe Johns is in Louisiana for tomorrow's Republican presidential primary. Joe, how much play did the health-care law anniversary get on the trail today?

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Candy, you know, it was certainly one of the things driving the day, I think you can say that, for a lot of reasons.

No. 1, you already mentioned the fact this is the anniversary of the president's plan.

Also the fact that the Supreme Court is taking it up next week. Kate talked a little bit about that.

So Mitt Romney in Metairie, Louisiana, today, really kicked off the day talking about the Obama health-care plan quite a bit, calling for the repeal of the plan, the replacement of the plan. He also had an op-ed in "USA Today" this morning this morning. And he's really pushing pretty hard on this, despite the fact that a lot of people say it's his Achilles' heel.

Why? Because he had a very similar plan in some ways to what the president of the United States put in place when Romney was actually governor of Massachusetts.

So his rivals have been hitting him very hard on that, including Rick Santorum, of course, blasting away on this notion that there are a number of ways the Obama plan and the Romney plan are very similar.

Do we have that sound bite? Can we listen to it? We don't have it.

Well, but generally, though, Candy, you can say that this is the kind of thing here in Louisiana that the candidates believe people are paying a lot of attention to, because in so many ways, health care is a very personal thing to the voters out there. A lot of people expect it to -- to sort of drive the election as we move toward November, Candy.

CROWLEY: The gremlins are getting both you and me here today, Joe, but we'll carry on. How prominently has health care played on the campaign trail before we reached this anniversary moment?

JOHNS: Well, it's fascinating how much Rick Santorum has really been pushing this as an issue, not just for all the reasons you typically hear, but he makes the case that the Obama health-care plan is a symbol of freedom taken away from Americans. He's been trying to sort of drive that message home.

Obviously, Romney has been trying to figure out how he's going to talk about it.

But it's pretty clear from just the primary exercise that we've been going through from state to state, this is something that everybody expects to go head to head with the president of the United States, whoever turns out to be the nominee.

So it's a huge issue, as I said, a very personal issue. People see this as a question of who do you trust: the government to take care of you or private companies? And there's also that question of big government versus small government.

All these things sort of encapsulate themselves around health care, and that's why people pay so much attention to it.

CROWLEY: Yes. Sounds a lot like the arguments we heard on Capitol Hill before they passed it.

JOHNS: That's right.

CROWLEY: So it continues. Now onto the Supreme Court. Joe Johns down there in Louisiana. A big primary down there tomorrow. Thanks, Joe.

Syria's first lady now banned from traveling to Europe. Asma al- Assad's accounts are also frozen as the E.U. shuts out the Syrian president's inner circle. She'll still be allowed into Britain where she was born, but the message is clear: the E.U. condemns Syria's bloodshed of its own people.

Mrs. Assad met this week with families of those killed by the opposition, showing her support for the Syrian regime. And in leaked e-mails she jokingly calls herself the real dictator.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her name means "supreme" in Arabic. In the past, Syrians called her their Princess Diana. The European Union now calls her under sanction. It's banning Asma al-Assad, the glamorous wife of Syria's president, from traveling to E.U. countries, freezing her accounts in the E.U.

CATHERINE ASHTON, E.U. HIGH REPRESENTATIVE FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS: I cannot say to you in strong enough terms how much we are concerned about what's going on in Syria.

TODD: It's to put more pressure on Bashar al-Assad's regime to stop its vicious crackdown on the opposition.

But Andrew Tabler, an analyst who once worked with Asma al-Assad on her charities, believe the sanctions stem partly from a recent release of private hacked e-mails between the Assads and their inner circle. CNN and other media organizations have obtained many of those e-mails.

ANDREW TABLER, WORKED WITH ASMA AL-ASSAD: Very clearly, it outlines what many people behind the scenes knew. That is that Asma al-Assad, during one year of the uprising while Syrians were being brutalized, was completely standing by her man, and not only standing by her man, the president, Bashar al-Assad; also spending a lot of time buying things online and other kinds of things.

TODD: Ordering $16,000 worth of candlesticks, tables and chandeliers from Paris, according to "The Guardian" newspaper, doing this while her hometown, Homs, was being pummeled.

In one e-mail she boasts she is the, quote, "real dictator" in her marriage, a different side of Asma al-Assad than she'd displayed in earlier years.

Born in Britain, educated at the best schools there, she was a social superstar, spearheading charities that sought to improve conditions for women and the poor, deftly balancing that with her role as a first lady with three children.

Now, Tabler say she's an enabler of her husband's atrocities, corrupted by the system, the people around her. How'd that happen?

TABLER: In order to carry out this well-intentioned project, you have to carry it out through these corrupt people, and then that in itself corrupts what you're doing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: We tried repeatedly to get response from Syrian officials in the U.S. to the sanctions and to the reporting on Mrs. Assad. We've gotten no response -- Candy.

CROWLEY: Fascinating, Brian. You were telling me this analyst that appears in your piece says that, when he was working with Mrs. Assad, she tried to corrupt him.

TODD: That's right. Andrew Tabler says when he was working with her charity in Syria at one point, someone who was with that charity tried to get him to take a bagful of money, $125,000, left it right in his office. He never heard what it was for, let alone why it was left in his office. He thought it might have been for a project, that they were trying to pay him in advance. But he never knew what it was for.

He turned it down and tried to get some additional funding, outside funding for his own project. He said from then on they basically cut off contact between him and Asma al-Assad. He's out.

CROWLEY: I bet there are lots of little stories like that we'll end up hearing about. Thanks so much, Brian Todd.

Coming up President Obama and his Republican opponents weigh in on the tragic death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: President Obama had a moving message for Trayvon Martin's parents this morning, telling them if he had a son, he'd look like Trayvon.

The Republican presidential candidates also talked very carefully about the shooting and its implications.

Joining us now, Republican strategist Rich Galen, Democratic strategist Penny Lee, and CNN senior political analyst, and "National Journal" editorial director, Ron Brownstein. Got all that.

He wins in the title department. I want to start out. I think that the president's words about Trayvon Martin were very carefully crafted to avoid the Boston experience. Would you go along with that?

RICH GALEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: You know, he's been very good. But the last time I was as proud of my president before today was when he went down to -- to Phoenix for Gabby Giffords. I happened to be in Africa at the time, but I happened to catch it. It's what I want my president to look like, to act like, to sound like at moments like this. I thought he was great.

CROWLEY: And will you give the Republicans a little credit? I thought they were also measured, and while this is tragic, we need to find out what happened. I thought everyone behaved like complete grown-ups and national leaders.

PENNY LEE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: It's a sad occasion. It's something you don't celebrate, and it's something that you don't want to politicize either. And so I think that they were all respectful of the real tragedy of what it was. And so applaud everybody for kind of lifting the tone and not putting it down into a political sense.

CROWLEY: Something this tragic could possibly happen, and there's no politics in it?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, you know, the last time, as Rich alluded to, the president got involved in a case like this, there was pushback: with the Boston case, with the Harvard professor.

This time his tone, I think, was pitch perfect, and it was striking. The Republican candidates did not try to go -- you know, create a contrast with him. I think everybody understands that this is a tragic case and also that we have to let the investigation play out and see where it leads. CROWLEY: And in the case of Boston, with the professor and the policeman, the president kind of came out and went -- seemed to blame the policeman, and it started this sort of uproar.

GALEN: He did really well.

CROWLEY: This, you know, today was -- I think you're right.

BROWNSTEIN: Everything was more powerful.

CROWLEY: Absolutely.

Let me talk to you a little bit about Louisiana coming up. We have a Louisiana poll -- this is ARG -- showing Rick Santorum, 43 percent; Romney, 27 percent; Gingrich, 20 percent; Paul, 6 percent. I guess my question is does -- how much does this one matter?

BROWNSTEIN: Look. Demography trumps momentum in this Republican race, as it did in the 2008 Democratic race. Both candidates, in effect, are holding surf (ph). We talked about this before.

Mitt Romney wins in Illinois, a state where 58 percent of the vote is not evangelical. Louisiana is a state that is dominated by evangelical Christians, social conservatives. Rick Santorum in all likelihood is going to win. It doesn't change the basic dynamic. Mitt Romney is ahead. He will likely stay ahead, as long as Santorum only wins states that have evangelicals.

On the other hand Mitt Romney is not strong enough to drive him from the race, and if Santorum can stay in this thing until May, there are a whole bunch of states on the calendar that are going to be kind of a bloody nose and a black eye for Romney.

GALEN: I went through the list of -- of winner-take-all states and proportional states. And this could go on. This could be till June.

BROWNSTEIN: I'm sorry.

LEE: No, no.

CROWLEY: She's just over there doing this. Go as long as you can.

(CROSSTALK)

BROWNSTEIN: There's an interesting sequencing issue. Pretty much after Louisiana, everything that comes up through late April are states that are more secular, more coastal, more affluent. The managerial of the party. They're Romney states.

But when you get to May, if Santorum has not lost his credibility by then, you're back to places like Arkansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Texas, where it's going to be very difficult for him. The demography is cut pretty deep on this. Santorum has not won where there are 31 percent of non-evangelicals in any state. He's also won evangelicals in, I believe, all but one of the states that have voted since February 7, when he revived his campaign.

So we've got a pretty clear divide in the Republican electorate at this point.

CROWLEY: And you're loving it.

LEE: Oh, absolutely. Keep it going on as long as you possibly can. Because what you are seeing is that you have this contested primary going on. You're not seeing the enthusiasm level going on.

What we just saw in Illinois, it was the lowest voter turnout in 70 years. And so that really has to wonder -- has to worry the Republicans that are out there, if this does go longer, is the enthusiasm going to wane, or are they actually going to be able to build bridges? I don't know.

GALEN: Well, we know that one of the side effects of negative advertising is vote suppression. And I think all of the negative advertising is having a depressive effect.

CROWLEY: We'll give you another word when we come back.

First I want to go. Erin Brown -- "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" is coming up at the top of the house. Erin, more breaking news tonight in the MF Global scandal with former New Jersey senator Jon Corzine. What's the latest?

ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Well, it looks like -- I have a memo here from the committee on -- House Committee on Financial Services, Candy, and they say that they have proof back when, in the final days of MF Global, which was the biggest bankruptcy in this country since Lehman Brothers, that $200 million in customer money in a segregated account was moved into another account.

Now, that could be -- depends on the exact specifics here -- but very much against the law. And they have an e-mail saying that this was per J.C.'s direct instructions, J.C. of course being Jon Corzine.

Candy, you know, we've talked a lot about this MF Global situation. and about the fact that nobody linked to the financial crisis has yet gone to jail. Does this mean that John Corzine could go to jail? We're going to talk with an expert on that tonight, because this could be a very, very huge development in the case against Jon Corzine.

CROWLEY: And correct me...

BURNETT: Breaking news, of course, in the case of Trayvon Martin -- yes, go ahead.

CROWLEY: I was just going to say. I may be wrong, but didn't Jon Corzine deny this repeatedly when talking to Congress, that he ever took segregated funds, that is, funds that belonged to the stockholders and moved them anywhere.

BURNETT: That's right. He said that he had never done any such thing. So again, this e-mail is from his treasurer, saying, quote, "Per J.C.'s directions -- instructions." It's not perhaps the same as an e-mail from him. Or is it? And what exactly happened? So we're going to find out, because as I said, this really could be very significant for the former New Jersey senator and governor, Jon Corzine.

CROWLEY: And I know you're covering the Trayvon Martin story, as well. We will see you at the top of the hour. Thanks very much, Erin.

More with our panel after the break. And then, things could get a whole lot more exciting at the World Bank. We'll explain in our "Moment You Missed."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CROWLEY: We are back with Rich Galen, Penny Lee and Ron Brownstein.

I want to -- Rick Santorum just did a phone interview with FOX. I just want to set this up a little bit for our viewers. And that is that he made this statement yesterday, I guess, or 48 hours ago, sometime within the past couple of days, that essentially said if we nominate Romney, -- trying to make the point that Romney is way too moderate -- if we nominate Romney, we might as well just keep President Obama.

Well, as you know, this has been going on now for two days. And my question was, somebody asked, how much will this hurt him? I said, I don't know. And then -- then he had this response on FOX just a little bit ago. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM (via phone): I've always said I'd never vote for Barack Obama. Are you kidding me? What do you think I'm doing this for? Do you think because I like Barack Obama? Because I mean, it's so absurd it's not even worth printing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: I think somebody just struck a chord somewhere.

GALEN: Yikes!

BROWNSTEIN: You know, I mean, it's equally absurd on the other hand to say that there's no difference between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, who wants a 20 percent reduction in marginal tax rates to avert (ph) Medicare and the Supreme Court system? To move Medicare into a block grant?

The idea that these are the same people with the same priorities is equally ludicrous out of Santorum's mouth as the suggestion that what he said meant that he would vote for Barack Obama.

CROWLEY: We also had your old boss, his chief of staff, writing, Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee saying, you should just be telling everyone that's running for president that they should publicly support whoever the Republican is. So clearly, there must be some traction here in some way?

GALEN: Oh, I don't think there's any question. It's one of those things that candidates say when they're tired and frustrated. Things have been going on forever. For a while, he thought he was going to win. Talking about the fact it's going to go on for a whole nother forever.

LEE: It's only March. It's only March.

GALEN: Woody Allen said, eternity is a long time, especially when you get towards the end. This is -- I mean, that's what happens in this kind of thing.

CROWLEY: Yes. And Penny, just your...

LEE: Well, what you're seeing, and when I worked for Governor Rendell we had to deal with Senator Santorum quite a bit. What you're seeing is vintage Rick right there, which is, you know, he does get very sanctimonious, and he does get very whiney. And it is, why isn't it about me anymore?

And so I think the thing that Mitt Romney has to worry about or is concerned about, his advisers, are how far to the right is Rick Santorum staying in this race, going to continue to pull him, as he's still trying to figure out what exactly his message is and what he is for, eye to the general. Mitt Romney has the eye to the general. But he is having to really slog through some pretty hard primaries right now, and Rick Santorum is going to continue to pull him further to the right.

BROWNSTEIN: And Rick Santorum could win more states than any Republican loser ever. What will he leverage -- what will he leverage that into when this is all over?

LEE: More than a speech on the convention floor.

CROWLEY: Come back. I have a feeling. Republican strategist Rich Galen; Democratic strategist Penny Lee. And -- let me just read this -- CNN political analyst and "National Review" editorial director Ron Brownstein. Thank you all.

GALEN: You need an acronym.

CROWLEY: Now here's -- here's Kate Bolduan with the latest news you need to know right now.

BOLDUAN: My title's a bit shorter.

But we do have some breaking news to bring to you from Florida. For the first time, we're hearing from a legal adviser to George Zimmerman, the Neighborhood Watch guard who shot and killed 17-year- old Trayvon Martin last month.

Here's what Craig Sonner, his legal counsel, tells Florida's WOFL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRAIG SONNER, LEGAL COUNSEL FOR GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: He's under a lot of stress from the situation. Being very concerned about the grave situation that he's in. And -- and, you know, there's a young man who's now deceased, in this situation. So he's very concerned about that.

He has, by my counsel, been very cooperative with all the investigations done by the Sanford police.

I've advised him to stay out of the public eye as much as he can. I don't -- I can't say as to where he is, because I don't know and I don't need to know.

SONNI ABATTA, WOFL: There's been some question as to who initiated the conflict that ultimately led to Trayvon Martin's death. Are you comfortable? Are you able to say what George's version of events is, or if he perhaps sustained some injuries that would tip the scales in one direction or another?

SONNER: I do know that he did suffer a broken nose, and he's got an injury to the back of his head, which should have required stitches. I think that he was delayed getting to the doctor, and he didn't actually have stitches put in, but he did sustain, you know, injuries to his head.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Other headlines, the U.S. plans to hand over $1.3 billion, resuming military aid to Egypt. It's pouring into Egypt. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will waive the conditions Egypt was supposed to meet as it transitions to democracy.

These are testy waters. The debate on whether to resume aid has been intense on Capitol Hill, but the State Department says that Egypt has made more progress in the last, quote, "16 months, than it has in the last 60 years."

The pope is in Mexico. You can see him here arriving just minutes ago. He'll be meeting with President Felipe Calderon and presiding over a mass this weekend. Next the pope will head off to Cuba. He's there to bring hope to the communist nation, which was once officially atheist.

And finally, the long-awaited film "The Hunger Games" is off to a pretty impressive start. "Entertainment Weekly" reports the film took in almost $20 million during midnight showings across the country this morning. That's the seventh highest midnight total ever, behind three of the "Harry Potter" films and the three "Twilights."

I will admit, Candy, that's a book series that I have yet to read. I'm going to have to read it before I see it. That's always my rule.

CROWLEY: Me, too. So we might be seeing it, actually, on videotapes. Or CD or DVD or whatever.

BOLDUAN: Whatever they are.

CROWLEY: Right. And now the "Moment You Missed." Today President Obama announced his nominee to head the World Bank, Dartmouth College president Jim Yong Kim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today after a careful and thorough search, I'm nominating Dr. Jim Kim to be the next president of the World Bank.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: Kim has quite the resume. He was a senior official at the World Health Organization, a trained physician and apparently a break dancer.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JIM YONG KIM, WORLD BANK PRESIDENT APPOINTEE (singing): I've had the time of my life, and I never felt this way before.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CROWLEY: This video needs context. He's performing at "Dartmouth Idol," an annual singing and performing competition held on campus. His dance moves were meant to entertain his students, not earn him street cred.

Kim didn't take any questions at the presser today. It is unclear if he plans to bring his song and dance routine to the World Bank, but, Kate, I hope he does.

That is all from both of us tonight. "ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.

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