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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Zimmerman Asks for Money; Marine May Be Fired Over Posting; Facebook Buys Company for $1 billion; Activist Group Targets Corporations Attached to ALEC; Back in the Saddle; One-on-One with Magic Johnson

Aired April 10, 2012 - 08:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome, everybody.

Our STARTING POINT this morning, George Zimmerman asking for money. The man who shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has a Web site now where he asks for financial support to defend himself against any charges that might be coming his way.

Plus, he called the commander-in-chief the enemy -- a STARTING POINT exclusive with the marine sergeant facing a discharge for slamming President Obama on Facebook.

A savage St. Patrick's Day beating and robbery. Man stripped of his clothes and belongings as several people stood by, recorded it and laughed.

It's Tuesday, April 10th as STARTING POINT begins right now.

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: That's Aretha. Now, Mary J. That is Aretha. She's playing "Wonderful." That's off of Daryl Parks' playlist. He's an attorney for the Trayvon Martin family. He's going to joins us in a moment or two.

First, though, I want to introduce you to the panel this morning. Roland Martin is with us. He's the host of "Washington Watch."

ROLAND MARTIN, HOST, WASHINGTON WATCH: What up?

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you.

John Fugelsang is with us as well. He's a political comedian.

And Will Cain joins us. He's a columnist for TheBlaze.com.

MARTIN: Check out that beard.

O'BRIEN: We need to talk about the beard, but this is not the right time. But we will get to the beard.

WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Do we need to?

O'BRIEN: Yes, we certainly do. Yes, we do.

But we're talking this morning about George Zimmerman, who really is breaking his silence now. He, of course, is the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin. And he's launched this Web site because he's hoping to raise funds for his legal defense.

The site includes a statement which says in part, "As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I've been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately my entire life."

At the same time, all eyes are on special prosecutor Angela Corey. She announced yesterday she's not going to go before a grand jury in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. She said this, "The decision should not be considered a factor in the final determination of the case."

So this morning, let's get right to Daryl Parks. He's an attorney for Trayvon Martin's family.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us. We appreciate it.

What do you think of George Zimmerman's Web site?

DARLY PARKS, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: Well, you know, I think Mr. Zimmerman's statement as he launched his Web site doesn't take into consideration one very, very important factor in all of this. Trayvon Martin lost his life in all of this. So, when he's talking about the minor interruptions in his life, Trayvon has paid the ultimate price.

And I think his statement doesn't give any weight or any significance to that. So, it's a little troubling. Mr. Zimmerman will have his day in court. He should have a fair day in court. But we just want simple justice right now. But we're a little disturbed by his statement in how he weighs his interruption of life compared to Trayvon's.

O'BRIEN: Well, there's no question, obviously, killing somebody is a complete interruption of their life. He's not exaggerating when he said he's had to go into hiding, when he says he can't work. He's had to leave school. He can't get a job.

I mean, I don't think that those things -- I don't think he's being overly dramatic on that front. Do you think it's a mistake to go to the web to ask for money? I think some Web sites are asking money for Trayvon Martin's family as well.

PARKS: Well, let me say this, Soledad. I'm actually the president of the National Bar Association. And we certainly believe, just like I believe in this case as a lawyer, that everyone should have their day in court. He should have good representation. So him asking for money for his defense is perfectly OK.

We want a good fair trial. In the end, we think that Trayvon's life has to be defended, and he should defend himself because he was the person that shot Trayvon on that dreadful night.

O'BRIEN: Angela Corey, the special prosecutor, decided not to hand that case off to the grand jury. And several people have called that -- framed that as being courageous. This is the word that they've used.

What's your interpretation of why she's doing that?

PARKS: Well, we all along as a legal team we've advocated that we wanted her to have the case more so than a grand jury. As you know, in Florida, grand juries are in secrecy. And with her having the case as a prosecutor, she's doing the investigation, she has investigators who are questioning witnesses, she knows their statements, and she can make the decision. So we have all the confidence in the world that after her investigation, she will charge Mr. Zimmerman.

So we're very confident it being in her hands versus being in a secret process of a grand jury.

O'BRIEN: There's been some, I guess, reports that have said that there are expectations that George Zimmerman could be arrested this week. Have you heard those reports? And what other information are you getting from the special prosecutor, if anything at this point?

PARKS: She's being very nonspecific about the actual date. We are very encouraged and hopeful that she will hopefully arrest this guy this week. The longer Mr. Zimmerman walks the street right now is very unfortunate for everyone because he has killed someone. He shot and killed Trayvon. He should have been in jail.

So, the sooner this happens, the better. Obviously, it's totally Ms. Corey's call. We hope that she moves in an efficient matter so not only arrested, but also lead to George Zimmerman's conviction.

O'BRIEN: So, when you say she's being nonspecific about the date, or are you saying that she's indicated or signaled to you there will be an arrest, she just hasn't said when?

PARKS: No, I'm not saying that. I am -- I'm hopeful. I personally am hopeful that she will and I think all the evidence is there. There's no way in my opinion that she could do anything but file charges against this guy. All the evidence is there.

So it seems to me logically he has to be arrested.

O'BRIEN: What about a civil case moving forward? Because obviously she would be in charge of the criminal case if there were to be one. Would you have a civil case as well?

PARKS: Well, obviously, we would. Bu, however, our major focus right now, Soledad, is the arrest of George Zimmerman. Once we get through that and get the criminal process goes into play, then our legal team will kick into action to address the civil matter.

O'BRIEN: Daryl Parks is the attorney for the Trayvon Martin family -- nice to see you, sir. Thanks for your time. We appreciate it.

PARKS: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

Time to get to some of the other stories that are making news this morning. And Christine has a look at those headlines.

Hey, Christine. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

People in Baltimore this morning expressing disgust and outrage in response to that viral video. We warn it's disturbing to watch. It shows a tourist being beaten, robbed and stripped naked on St. Patrick's Day last month. Onlookers just stood by, watching and laughing. Police have identified one suspect although he's not in custody yet we're told. They are now asking for the public's help to ID the other attackers.

A new report released this morning claiming Norwegian mass murder suspect Anders Breivik was not insane at the time of the murders. Breivik confessed to killing 77 people in a bomb and shooting rampage last July. The report also claims there's a high risk Breivik could commit more violent acts. The findings contradict an earlier exam that described Breivik as psychotic.

The brother of one of the Tulsa shooting suspects is speaking out, saying his brother is not racist. Thirty-three-year-old Alvin Watts and 19-year-old Jake England are accused of killing three black people and wounding two others. Now, prosecutors are deciding whether to file hate crime charges. But Alvin Watts' brother said he's not a racist and reveals Watts called him the night of his arrest.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MICHAEL WATTS, ALVIN WATTS' BROTHER: My brother was raised in the middle of what you would call the hood. He was raised in the middle of black schools. He went to black schools. I did too. He went to Cherokee, Monroe, McLean. I have black brothers, black sisters. He did too. He was raised with them.

He said, brother, I need an alibi. I said -- he didn't say hi, hello, nothing. I mean, that was the first words. Brother, I need an alibi.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Wow.

England posted a Facebook message a day before the shooting that used a racial slur to describe a black man who killed his father.

A good news from Rick Santorum. His daughter Bella is home from the hospital this morning. She was released last night. A spokesman says Santorum and his wife are truly overwhelmed by the prayers and support they've received.

The campaign cancelled his first two events scheduled for today to allow Santorum family to settle in at home.

President Obama travels to Florida today to campaign for the Buffett Rule, his tax proposal targeting millionaires and billionaires. It would require that the wealthiest earners to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. The president will make his case in a speech this afternoon at Florida Atlantic University.

Speaking of money, you're looking live in Maryland where lottery officials are announcing three winners are claiming a share of the $656 million jackpot. They say it's three co-workers who pooled their money spending $20 each. They bought 60 tickets in three different locations. The winners are choosing to remain anonymous. They are so smart.

But we do know this. They are a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s. All work in the public school system in Maryland.

This is the second out of three Mega Million prizes claimed. The final winner in Illinois, Soledad, has not come forward yet. I'm pretty sure this is the first time these three people were in an office pool.

O'BRIEN: First time they ever went in together. They all say that they want to invest. They all plan to buy new homes. And they also said, you know, every single one of the three who worked together buying that one ticket said that they all work multiple jobs so they'll be able to cut down, and they also claim that they're going to keep teaching.

JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: Or they can salvage the entire Baltimore school system.

MARTIN: Or build their own school.

O'BRIEN: Good for them. When they were doing the press conference, they said, listen, if you can't win the lottery, these are exactly the people you would like to win.

FUGELSANG: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: They're so great.

FUGELSANG: I just hope the McDonald's lady is OK who said she won.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that apparently was not.

All right. Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT -- STARTING POINT exclusive for you: the marine sergeant who is now facing dishonorable discharge for slamming the president on Facebook, calling him an economic and domestic enemy. Well, he says, hey, that's free speech. We're going to talk to him straight ahead this morning.

Our new segment called "SOB" or Soledad O'Brien, of course. A fugitive who found time to update his Facebook status because it's important for you to do that while you're on the lam, when people chasing you. We're going to tell you what happened in that story. This is Christine's playlist, Smashing Pumpkins, "1979".

You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll be back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. STARTING POINT exclusive this morning. Should members of the armed forces be allowed to use social media to voice their political opinions? That answer could decide the fate of marine sergeant Gary Stein this week who is facing a less than honorable discharge for comments that he made on Facebook where he criticized President Obama.

Despite repeated attempts by Sergeant Stein to try to halt the process, a panel voted three to zero last week to recommend that he'd be discharged from the military, a move that would render him ineligible for his veteran's benefits. Marine Sergeant Gary Stein joins me this morning. He's here with his attorney, Gary Kreep. He's the executive director for the United States Justice Foundation.

Gentlemen, I appreciate your time this morning. Thank you for being with me. Sergeant, why don't we start with you? You were ruled unanimously in this administration separation board that you be discharged. Why do you disagree with what they decided three to zero?

SGT. GARY STEIN, U.S. MARINE CORPS: I believe it was more based on personal opinion of the three members than it was based on the legalities of the case. They denied four expert witnesses that were there to talk about the legalities. They didn't even want to hear them or take written testimony from them, and they've based this on personal opinion, nothing about the legal aspects.

O'BRIEN: So, I'm going to read a little bit of some of the things that you posted to your Facebook page, because you have a personal page that you posted to. One, you called President Obama a domestic enemy. We have that up there. Another one where you wrote, I'm not going to read this whole thing, because there's a word that I wouldn't use in it, but you said this.

"As an active duty marine, I say, that word, Obama." And they say that the post specifically violated the uniform code of military justice, article 134, which basically says you neglect the prejudice of good order and discipline in the arm forces. Are they wrong about that? I mean, you're a Marine. Are you supposed to be writing those kinds of things and much, much more, by the way, about the person who's your commander-in-chief, sir?

STEIN: Well, first of all, let's talk about those comments. Those comments were made on a closed forum. They were up for five minutes, which we found out through testimony at the hearing and only three people saw them.

In fact, the only reason that anybody has a picture of those posts or knows what those posts are it's because a marine master sergeant decided he was going to take a screen capture and send it out to God knows who. Everybody he could. That's the reason it's out there. Like I said, it was on a closed forum. Three people saw it. It was up for less than five minutes.

O'BRIEN: Or you could argue that the reason it's out there is because you wrote it. I mean, you're not denying that you wrote it. So, I guess, ultimately, my question is -- right. So, are you arguing that it's your free speech right to be able to write something about that, about the commander-in-chief when you're an active duty marine?

STEIN: No. I do believe that my words were somewhat tasteless, and I could have used better words. And I agree with that. But the same point the principle behind it or the thoughts behind it thinking that the policies that the president has put forth in the last three and a half years have been crippling our economy, that's my personal opinion as Gary Stein. And it's my every right to say that.

O'BRIEN: So, let's turn to your attorney for a moment, because, obviously, your goal is going to be the next hearing in which you're going to try to argue that your client's, Sergeant Stein's First Amendment rights have been violated. What are you going to argue?

He says he wrote it. It probably was tasteless. He could have used better words. And he's an active duty member of the Marine Corps. How are you going to argue this?

GARY KREEP, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, U.S. JUSTICE FOUNDATION: Well, first of all, contrary to popular belief marines, members of the army, all members of the armed forces do not give up their First Amendment rights. But let's look at this from a slightly different point of view. This is not just a First Amendment case.

According to the manual, the Marine Corps punishment manual, Sergeant Stein cannot be discharged for what he did. And that's part of the evidence that we tried to submit to the tribunal. We had retired Brigadier General Brahms from U.S. Marine Corps. He was the top judge advocate. He was the judge advocate to the commandant of the Marines Corps.

And he came to testify that under the code sections they were charging him with, they had no power to discharge him. And that appears to be undisputed. What they did is they took a rule that applies only to officers, not to noncommissioned officers, but only to commissioned officers and said, well, this rule applies. And so, we think it should apply to noncommissioned officers as well even though it doesn't. So, we're going to kick him out for that. So, they violated their own rules. They violated their own procedures.

O'BRIEN: So, there's another rule, though -- there's another rule. Let's talk about this one. It's called directive 1344.10, and I'm sure you know it far better than I do. But it says that a member of the armed forces on active duty shall not allow or cause to be published partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate or cause.

This is referring to the armed forces Tea Party that your client is an administrator of, correct? So, wouldn't that be a direct violation? So, that would be a second thing. Personal Facebook page forum and then this one as well.

KREEP: Well, no, because that was reviewed by attorneys for the Marine Corps a couple of years ago, and they told him it was fine. All they said is he had to put up a disclaimer which he did immediately which said this was not a part of the Marine Corps. He was not representing the Marine Corps in a statement, and it was his own personal statements. That was fine.

O'BRIEN: Let me ask a question of Sergeant Stein which doesn't go knee deep in the law, but just goes knee deep in your job as a marine. I thought that members of the military are supposed to protect and serve no matter who is the commander-in-chief.

Or supposed to do their jobs and take orders from the commander- in-chief and do it with honor regardless of their political beliefs in that commander-in-chief. Am I wrong about that? That as a marine, you're there to protect America. Is that wrong?

STEIN: No. I'm here to protect the constitution. I'm here to uphold and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. And I never disobeyed an order. I was never told to take down armed forces Tea Party. I was never told not to do any media interviews. I was never told not to write on RedState.com. I was never told not to do my -- I was never told that.

O'BRIEN: When you call the president an enemy of the state -- I mean that seems to me to go over the line. You don't think so?

KREEP: Soledad, if I can just interject. I think what it comes down to is, for instance, one of the witnesses had -- when they're talking about this, had a post on their Facebook page that clearly, one of the witnesses against Sergeant Stein that clearly violated this directive. Clearly. That's OK.

There was a part of the Obama website in 2008 that solicited the endorsement of active members of the military. That means that all of those people under these proceedings could have been -- could be kicked out because that's what they're saying. O'BRIEN: Probably could have been under that directive. Yes. I would agree with you. I guess, as a person who is not in the military, my understanding was always that when it comes to the military, we shouldn't be particularly partisan. That you would expect people in the military to not say one way or the other and follow the orders of the commander-in-chief.

I think that that's, you know, one of the things that I find sort of disturbing about this case, honestly.

STEIN: I think what you have to remember, though, is the Tea Party which its armed forces tea party page that I run, Tea Party is bipartisan by nature. The Tea Party, itself, has gone after Republicans, Democrats, liberals, conservatives, libertarians. It's gone after everybody.

So, you can't sit there -- and we -- you know, we have ACLU working on our side on this case. And they even come out and said the Tea Party is bipartisan. The Tea Party is bipartisan, not partisan. And you will not find bipartisan in DOD 1344.10.

O'BRIEN: Well, your hearing is coming up -- forgive me for interrupting you there. I just want to ask you.

STEIN: No, it's OK.

O'BRIEN: What do you think your chances are? Your hearing is coming up. If you lose this hearing, you know, there's a good chance you could be dishonorably -- very good chance, excellent chance, you will be dishonorably discharged from the military.

KREEP: Well, it's not dishonorably, it's less than honorably. And there's a difference, maybe (INAUDIBLE), there's a difference.

O'BRIEN: OK.

KREEP: But if we lose the hearing on Friday, which is a definite possibility -- no. We're going to be filing with the Ninth Circuit. There's a federal court judge hearing this matter has expressed a marked unwillingness to protect the rights of Sergeant Stein and has urged us to go up to the Ninth Circuit, and on Monday or so, if we lose on Friday, on Monday, we'll be before the Ninth Circuit.

O'BRIEN: Marine Sergeant Gary Stein joining us and Gary Kreep, as well, the executive director of the United States Justice Foundation, thanks for talking with us. Appreciate the time this morning.

STEIN: And no problem. Have a great morning.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. God bless.

KREEP: Thank you. Bye-bye.

O'BRIEN: You, too. Thank you.

Well, still, I just -- I'm stunned by that, honestly. I find that very surprising.

MARTIN: To be in the constitution, foreign and domestic, and you call the president of the United States a domestic threat, you have a problem.

FUGELSANG: If you want to support him, go on your Facebook page and insult your boss and see how he likes it.

O'BRIEN: Anyway, ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're going to go one-on-one with Magic Johnson. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EARVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON, THREE-TIME NBA MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: A lot of us have sons. Sons who wear hoodies, you know, caps turned backwards, and they're not doing anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The Lakers legend sits down and talks to Zoraida about the Trayvon Martin case and why it's really hitting home with some of the NBA players.

And today's S.O.B., Soledad O'Brien, keeping a low profile while updating his Facebook profile, the fugitive on the lam but had time to update his status. He broke up with a girlfriend, by the way, at the same time. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: And welcome back to STARTING POINT. This morning, we call out our first gentlemen. Pay attention here, Roland Martin. He's to chat along trying to do my segment. Our first SOB, which, of course, stands for Soledad O'Brien. This one, a fugitive who was on the run, there he is, he's got like dregs on his beard. That's interesting. Speaking of beards, Will Cain.

(LAUGHTER)

O'BRIEN: He's on the run in Washington State, but he is still updating his Facebook status, because that's important, people, when they're on the lam. His name is 26-year-old Travis Nicolayson and managed to escape a police dragnet last week on foot. A friend posted his account, "cops all over you."

And he responds, "yes, got away, thanks, bro." Authorities say that there are growing number of comments on his Facebook page, some mocking the police. Nicolayson has been convicted of five felonies, including domestic violence. He's wanted now for failing to check in with his (INAUDIBLE) since January.

Fugitive is also accused of assaulting his girlfriend, and apparently, his ex-girlfriend because he changed his relationship status on Facebook to single. Hello.

(CROSSTALK) O'BRIEN: Yes, I bet she has.

FUGELSANG: Darwin explained this thoroughly.

O'BRIEN: He wins the first SOB award today, again for Soledad O'Brien.

Still ahead this morning on STARTING POINT, we're hearing the 911 tapes from a navy fighter jet crash. Look at that. That's amazing. Hear what witnesses saw. One woman saw a pilot land on her patio, and then, she was evacuated but he was not.

Plus, wildfires are raging all along the east coast, the flames threatening homes. Thick smoke is stopping traffic. And the threat isn't over yet. We'll tell you what's happening there. You're watching STARTING POINT. We're back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC)

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's Master Blaster. It's off Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson's playlist. We'll speak to Mr. Robinson straight ahead about what he's doing you in regards to the Trayvon Martin case. First, though, I want to get to the headlines. Christine has a look at those for us. Good morning.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, again, Soledad. Dry and windy weather fueling wildfires across the entire east coast right now, flames popping up as far north as New England and as far south as Florida. Thousands of acres are burning as one of the warmest and driest springs on record continues in the southeast. In New Jersey the pinelands are glowing. Flames have burned about 1,000 acres and threatened two dozen homes there. No evacuations have been ordered yet.

For the first time we're hearing the 911 calls from that U.S. Navy jet crash. An F/A-18 hornet slammed into an apartment complex in Virginia last week about two miles from the naval station where it took off. Seven people, including two pilots were hurt, but, amazingly, no one died. One witness describes a pilot landing on her patio.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The pilot is on your patio?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And nobody he's here. I've been calling and calling and there's no ambulance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Is the pilot conscious? UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Last time I saw him he was.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's no longer on your patio?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He's still on my patio. They told me to evacuate. There's other guys there helping him. My neighbors are there helping him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Terrifying. The U.S. Navy is compensating people affected by that crash paying for housing, clothing, meals and counseling.

A new video adding to the problems of the General services Administration, the agency in charge of saving the government money.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think meetings are good to have in between breaks.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: Employees go on to mock President Obama. They brag about boozing and goofing off during work in these videos. Two different Congressional committees are now investigating. A member of both those committees, Republican congressman Blake Farenthold, spoke so Soledad earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BLAKE FARENTHOLD, (R) TEXAS: Their attitude should be how can we save the taxpayer money. It needs the attitude of look, every dime that we save in procurement for the government is a dime we don't have to tax people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: All right this as this guy David Foley becomes the eighth GSA official on leave. He was giving out an award for a video mocking the lavish spending.

Stock futures are pointing slightly higher today, Wall Street trying to erase a four day losing strike. Quarterly earnings season starts today. We're waiting for aluminum maker Alcoa, the first big company to report for the January to March quarter.

ROMANS: In other business news Facebook spending big bucks to buy the photo sharing app Instagram, the price tag, $1 billion. Not bad for a company that's been around for less than two years. Instagram has just 13 employees, still hasn't turned a profit, but it does have more than 30 million users, oh, yes, and the interest now of Facebook. Wow, a picture is worth $1 billion.

O'BRIEN: I should have learned a code. Every time I hear a sorry like that I should have learn ad code.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: The people who code say, man, I wish I was an anchor.

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: No one of says I wish I could read off a teleprompter. I wish I could code and create a company that would be worth $1 billion after two years.

FUGELSANG: It's a whole new way for Facebook to sell information to advertisers. It's beautiful.

O'BRIEN: All right, Debbie Downer.

FUGELSANG: I like getting ads for things I love.

O'BRIEN: I want to talk this morning about one of the most influential groups you may never have heard of. It's called for ALEC, and it stands for the American Legislative Exchange Council. Why are they so powerful? Because of their membership includes Wal-Mart, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, and more than 500 other companies and foundations and individuals as well as roughly a quarter of the nation's state lawmakers. Basically what they do they draft model bills that can be introduced into state legislatures nationwide. One of the bills they pushed and one of the reasons why you know their name is the stand your ground law, the same law that George Zimmerman probably could use in his defense of shooting Trayvon Martin if it ever goes to court.

Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Intuit now withdrawing their membership from ALEC under pressure from activists groups who now want other companies to follow suit. The African-American civil rights group color of change naming AT&T as the next prime target yesterday. Rashad Robinson is the executive director of Color of Change and he joins us this morning. Nice to have you. Thanks for being with us.

ALEC has been around for 39 years. Is the reason that we've been hearing about the group and their role in legislation really because of the Trayvon Martin case or is it more than that?

RASHAD ROBINSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COLOR OF CHANGE: It's more than that. We started our campaign last year specifically around discriminatory I.D. bills, laws that were popping up around the country, Wisconsin, Ohio, South Carolina. And we started to educate our members about these bills and sort of how we could push back. And all fingers kept pointing back to these model bills that ALEC was creating in D.C., working behind-the-scenes with state legislators and corporations in backrooms writing these bills, and then sending them out to states all over the country. This is what ALEC has been doing for 30 years. In some states when bills have popped they still had ALEC's mission statement on it. The legislator was so sloppy they didn't remove ALEC's information.

O'BRIEN: When you talk about your campaign, what is your campaign? ROBINSON: Our campaign is to hold the corporations that every single day come to black Americans for our money but at the same time are supporting ALEC who is working to suppress the vote and now we learned has supported these stand-your-ground laws and has pushed those laws with the support of Wal-Mart and support of the NRA has pushed those laws in states around the country.

O'BRIEN: It's 23 or 25 states I believe have those stand your ground?

ROBINSON: Absolutely. We know where ALEC stands on democracy and on the right to vote for black Americans, for Latinos, poor people, young folks. Our question is where do these corporations stand? We're continuing to amplify the voice not only of our members but people all around the country.

O'BRIEN: When you say amplify the voices, does that mean public shaming of a company?

ROBINSON: Public shaming, but the fact of the matter is that these corporations have been able to, you know, experience ALEC because they do it behind closed doors. They are not having an open relationship with ALEC. We need to shine a spotlight on so when bills and laws are created they are done out in the open so Americans can understand how these things become law. And for, you know, ALEC, they benefitted -- 99 percent of their money comes from corporations. So the idea that we can really push back by holding corporations accountable is the focus.

O'BRIEN: You mentioned AT&T. Who else are you aiming for?

ROBINSON: Today, along with a number of good government groups and organizations across the good government spectrum we're launching or extending our campaign to McDonalds's, State Farm, and Johnson & Johnson. These are all public corporations

O'BRIEN: What does that mean? You go on TV and talk about Johnson & Johnson, make a statement, or do you go and have private meetings with them and talk to them --

ROBINSON: We've been having private meetings or trying to have private meetings for a number of months. We just had a meeting yesterday with State Farm trying to give them a final chance to pull out. We've been working for months to educate these corporations behind-the-scenes to give them an opportunity to pull out before we went public. The goal was always to get these corporations to do the right thing. They have been given a chance, and now they are not.

CAIN: ALEC creates model bills. States can vote on or adapt. It's a clearinghouse a model bill creation center. There are people who disagree with you on the purpose of those laws, voter I.D. laws, problems with fraud. Stand your ground --

O'BRIEN: I don't know if it's a serious problem with fraud.

CAIN: There are people who disagree with you on your position whether there's a serious problem with fraud and purpose of I.D. bills. Obviously I don't know right now what stand your ground law has to do with race.

That being said, I'm really curious about this. A couple of weeks ago, maybe a month, a boycott against Ellen Degeneres and her partnership with J.C. Penney. You have a right to boycott these companies. Do you think it's a valuable thing to suppress the debate? The Ellen Degeneres-J.C. Penney boycott totally failed. I'm just wondering, is this the way we should go in our debates?

ROBINSON: We never called for a boycott on this, never been a statement from Color of Change calling for a boycott. We're actually shining a light. We're saying Coca-Cola and Pepsi and Kraft and other companies that pulled out and McDonald's, State Farm and Johnson & Johnson, they have a choice. They can tell Color of Change and other organizations that they want to stand behind voter suppression laws, they want to stand behind stand your ground laws. They can tell us where to go, actually. Or they can say they don't. And they can say they don't want to stand with ALEC and they want to make a different choice.

But the end goal is that they are no longer can do it in private. They can no longer side with this organization that is nameless and faceless, that most Americans have never heard of and gets to make laws behind-the-scenes out of the light. Color of Change does its work in the light. We send our petition out to hundreds of thousands of members and we are very public. Most members will never know about ALEC until this campaign is started. And that's the goal is to make sure democracy is done out in open so all people have the opportunity to see how our laws are made.

O'BRIEN: Rashad Robinson, it's nice to have you come and talk to us. We appreciate it.

ROBINSON: Thanks for having me.

O'BRIEN: Still ahead on STARTING POINT this morning, Lakers legend is now part owner of the Dodgers. Zoraida had a change to sit down with Magic Johnson, had some thoughts why NBA players are so concerned about the Trayvon Martin case. You're watching STARTING POINT. We'll bring you that interview in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Equestrian Ballet has been described as Cirque du Soleil with horses. On this week's "Human Factor" Dr. Sanjay Gupta has a story of trick rider who had to mount big obstacles to become a star. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Fairland Ferguson's high flying career came very close to not happening after a freak accident almost left her unable to walk. She and her friends were diving 70 feet off a cliff in Virginia. FAIRLAND GERGUSON, SURVIVED FALL FROM CLIFF: I fell down the rocks. And just fell and fell and hit and hit and hit and hit all the way down until I fell into the water.

GUPTA: She lost consciousness and began to drown. Her friends rescued her from the water but her bones were broken in 46 places and she had to undergo eight operations over six months.

FERGUSON: The doctors told me that because of the severity of how bad my left leg was they were like you probably won't walk again. And if you do walk you're going to walk with such a severe limp. I respected their judgment but I didn't believe it.

This one is super hard on my ankle.

GUPTA: Ferguson said she knew to overcome her injuries she had to work hard at her rehab, to be patient and to stay positive.

FERGUSON: There's mornings I wake up and I limped to the bathroom and my -- my leg hurts. When it rains it's terrible. You know stuff like that but it's almost like a reminder just like hey remember where you were and so get up. Get going. And you know, live this life that you have a second chance at.

GUPTA: Despite the pain she didn't give up and she got back on her feet. Working towards her dream of performing she turned her love for horses into a career landing her at Cavalla (ph) performing tricks like this.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Wow that's amazing.

Up next from Trayvon Martin to why he bought the Dodgers, Zoraida goes one on one with Magic Johnson up next. You're watching STARTING POINT. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This in to CNN. Happening right now, President George W. Bush is speaking at a national economic conference taking place in New York. The former president is going to be joined by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie along with other leading political and economic figures including some potential vice presidential candidates, which means we're going to be dipping in and listening to that as it goes on for the day.

That's happening at the George W. Bush Institute, a conference which it focuses on the economy and tax rate and things like that.

Up next, he is a Lakers legend and also is now part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Zoraida Sambolin sat down with Magic Johnson on the set of a new play about his storied rivalry with Larry Bird.

Well obviously we have technological difficulties. So who wants to play Magic Johnson in this interview?

Wait. Wait. Let's see if we can fix the problem. We got it? All right. Let's try that it again. Roll tape.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: -- or still a long way to go?

EARVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON, 3-TIME NBA MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Well no not a long way. We just don't take over until about May 1st. And so I'm excited.

SAMBOLIN: Why baseball?

JOHNSON: Well, I love baseball. I grew up a Tigers fan. I love going to Dodgers stadium. I love the Dodgers. You know and Dusty Baker, Steve Garvey, all of those guys, Tommy Lasorda and who would ever thought that Dodgers would be up for sale and who would thought that Magic Johnson would be in a group to own the Dodgers.

I mean it's -- it blows my mind, but Stan Kasten, Mark Walters, the group behind -- we made a good bid and they accepted it.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of money.

JOHNSON: A lot of money but you know the value is there. And so I'm excited about it.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. But I want to bring you to current day with race and the Trayvon Martin case. Right? Because there's a lot of tension. Here we are 30 years later Magic and it seems like we haven't progressed very much.

JOHNSON: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of NBA players are rallying around Trayvon Martin. How do you feel about that?

JOHNSON: And so with the NBA players, if they felt good about speaking about it and they had and they wanted to say something, I'm glad they did. Because we're still all of us are still wondering, ok, what's going to happen. And so -- and here in America we're still dealing with situations like this.

And it's very unfortunate because also a lot of us have sons, sons who wear hoodies there. You know, caps turned backwards and they are not doing anything. It's just that that's the fashion of today.

And so they could really happen to our sons. That's what the NBA players, I'm sure are thinking and that's what I'm thinking. And so I hope that justice is served. I hope that they get down to making sure they have a thorough investigation. And then take it from there.

SAMBOLIN: Today the special prosecutor said that she's not going to give this to the grand jury. And so what do you think -- first of all, how do you feel about that? And secondly, is there a teachable moment, a learning opportunity here for our black and Latino families?

JOHNSON: Well first of all, we have to understand that, you know, the black and brown community got to work better together anyway, you know. And it's going to be tough no matter which way it goes. Right? But the black community have seen days like this so many times, unfortunately.

And we thought that this case would be different in terms of they are going to really investigate, get behind really and find out what happened, get to the bottom line and it's unfortunate that we may not see the real justice to this.

And so you got a family who's grieving, who lost their son. And while -- and when you think about we don't know all the circumstances, but you know and he can't come back. So they want justice. And what -- whichever way that is they want to see this young man, to make sure that we find out the truth on what happened.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: You know, it was really interesting because we talked about race a lot. You think about those times back when they were competing it was the "Great White Hope" versus the "Magic".

O'BRIEN: Larry Bird versus Magic Johnson.

SAMBOLIN: Exactly. He said for them they never saw the color of the skin but they really only saw their similarities. But for the rest of the world that is all everybody talked about.

JOHN FUGELSANG, POLITICAL COMEDIAN: And for the record there are plenty of Caucasians who rooted for the Lakers and plenty of black folks in Boston who cheered for Larry Bird.

SAMBLIN: But they were divided at that time.

FUGELSANG: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Particularly during that time, it was very, very divided. They actually talked to some folks who were black in Boston who said there is no way I'm going to root for the Boston Celtics.

O'BRIEN: Right. Great interview, Zoraida. Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

"End Point" is up next with our panel. Back in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. We just have time for "End Point". My question to Will Cain is what's with the beard? What's going on?

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Seriously. WILL CAIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: With the beard. You're eating into my time asking about my beard.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I am. Answer.

CAIN: For my time I'm going to nominate Roland Martin as the number one parakeet hunter in the United States. He's the Bill Dan for parakeet hunting. He's got a green one in his pocket today --

(CROSSTALK)

O'BRIEN: Moving on, Roland martin, tell us about the beard he's got going.

MARTIN: The fake beard.

All right. Magic Johnson, anyone who is an athlete out there whether you're in junior high school or college you should study that man not for what he did on the court but for how he has conducted himself off the court when it comes to business. That's how you operate as a professional athlete.

O'BRIEN: John, you have 12 seconds.

FUGELSANG: And if you want to show your support for Sergeant Stein go on Facebook and smear your boss and see what the consequences of free speech can be in a free society.

O'BRIEN: That is the final word. We're out of time. "CNN NEWSROOM" Carol Costello begins right now.

I'll see everybody back here tomorrow morning at 7:00 a.m. Hey Carol, good morning.

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