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February 27th, 2013
11:27 AM ET

Zimmerman attorney: Evidence supports George was confronted and injured by Trayvon Martin

Vigils across the country marked the first anniversary of the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. On Tuesday in New York City, Trayvon's parents were joined by hundreds of supporters for what they called the "Million Hoodie March." Oscar-winning actor Jamie Foxx was among those who spoke.

George Zimmerman, the man accused of killing Martin on February 26th of last year, is awaiting trial for second-degree murder, which is set to begin June 10. This morning, Zimmerman's attorney Mark O'Mara talks with Soledad on “Starting Point” to discuss the anniversary of the shooting as well as the next steps in the murder trial.

In April, O’Mara and his client will have the opportunity to ask the court to dismiss the charges under Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law at an immunity hearing. O’Mara says the case is “a self-defense case” because his client “did not have the chance to retreat; so calling it a "Stand Your Ground" law is really not accurate.”

Regarding the public opinion of his client, O’Mara says things have improved since the initial reporting of the story.

Over the past year O’Mara says, “people have finally decided to wait or they've looked at the other information that has come out to see there are not only two sides to the story.” He adds, “it really looks at though the evidence supports George did not do anything wrong and that he was after the initial coming together confronted and injured by Trayvon.”

“It’s horrible to say when you’re talking about a young 17-year-old who’s now passed away that he may have caused his own death but the injuries that George had support nothing but that he was attacked by Trayvon and that he was fighting for his life,” O'Mara says.

"The evidence doesn't support anything that George is the aggressor in the fight. Trayvon had no injuries on him but for the fatal gunshot and George had significant injuries to his face and to his back. I know the prosecutor's position but they have to have the forensic evidence to support it,” O'Mara adds.

Filed under: Florida • Stand Your Ground • Trayvon Martin
February 27th, 2013
11:15 AM ET

VIDEO: Clock ticks down on Pope Benedict XVI's papacy – John Allen on selecting the next pope

CNN sr. Vatican analyst John Allen on the tone of Pope Benedict XVI's final public appearance and picking the next pope.

Filed under: Pope Benedict XVI • Vatican
February 27th, 2013
10:54 AM ET

Rep. Israel: No one wins in blame game on spending cuts

With just two days until the deadline for forced massive spending cuts take effect. Will Congress be able to get a plan together before then?

This morning on "Starting Point," Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY) weighs in on the issue and details efforts to avoid massive forced spending cuts for public services from happening.

Rush transcript available after the jump.


Filed under: Sequestration • Spending cuts
February 27th, 2013
10:36 AM ET

EXCLUSIVE: CIA officer-turned-whistleblower John Kiriakou says conviction a 'badge of honor,' feels ‘optimistic’ about prison sentence

On Thursday, former CIA officer-turned-whistleblower John Kiriakou will be on his way to a federal prison in Pennsylvania. Last month, he was given a 30-month sentence for being among the first CIA operatives to confirm the use of waterboarding among detainees back in 2007. Kiriakou is also the first person convicted of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act in 27 years.

This morning Kiriakou joins “Starting Point” to talk with Soledad O'Brien about his upcoming prison sentence in an exclusive interview.

Kiriakou, who also served as a former senior investigator for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says he feels “oddly optimistic” about his upcoming prison sentence and wears his “conviction as a badge of honor.”

“I believe my case was about torture, not about leaking. I'm right on the torture issue, the administration is wrong, and I’m just going to carry that with me,” he says.

In his book "The Reluctant Spy," Kiriakou discusses his choice to disclose the name of a covert CIA officer who was involved in interrogations that were happening at Guantanamo Bay while maintaining his argument that the case against him was not about leaking.

“If the administration was going to pursue leakers, they would pursue the likes of John Brennan and countless officials in the White House, The Defense Department, Capitol Hill; the jails would be bursting with administration officials and with present and former CIA officers,” he argues.

Kiriakou, who will soon be departing from his wife and five children, says “the government was looking for something that they could pin on me, they found something, and they went with it.”

Filed under: CIA • Crime • Waterboarding
February 27th, 2013
10:27 AM ET

Can charities be trusted to do good? Author Ken Stern on the need for accountability and his new book 'With Charity for All'

Who oversees non-profits to make sure their donations are spent wisely?

Ken Stern, former CEO of NPR, sought to expose the lack of accountability and structural flaws in the non-profit section in his new book "With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give." He talks with John Berman on "Starting Point" about what needs to change for these organizations.

Stern believes that from a charities inception its validity is questionable. The government does not have strict guidelines for what qualifies as a non-profit, he argues.

"Anyone with a stamp and facility with government forms can start a charity, and when you start looking at the charitable sector you see a lot of charities that are actually for profit organizations for all intense and purposes," he says. 

Stern attacks such charities as the Red Cross and D.A.R.E for not conducting proper research, and limiting the barriers to entry for other competing charities to come in with more "innovative and successful research." 

Stern further argues that a big problem lies with donors. Americans are extremely charitable and are "actually the most generous donors in the world, with the average family rich or poor gives about $2,700 a year," he says.

However, donors do not put in the effort to find effective charities. For many,donating to certain charities become a habit, and many give to charities with recognizable brand names, or charities run by friends.

"It takes work to find the good charities, and that is where the change will have to start," Stern says.

February 26th, 2013
11:32 AM ET

Could horse meat show up in American meat products? – Dr. David Acheson weighs in

IKEA is currently pulling its famous Swedish meatballs from stores in 14 European countries after horse meat was found in them. As a result the retail company reached out to American customers in order to reassure them that the horse meat will not be an issue in the U.S. This however is the latest in the tainted meat scandal sweeping Europe. But many Americans are still wondering if they should be worried about the horse meat making its way into the U.S. meat supply. This morning the Managing Director, Food and Safety Import Practice at Leavitt Partners, Dr. David Acheson weighs in.

Acheson says the chances that horse meat could be in the U.S. meat supply are low because of the “strict controls with the vast majority of our meat.” He also says that U.S. “inspection strategies and the robustness of our U.S. meat system” also serve as contributing factors.

Acheson who also served as the Fmr. Associate Commissioner of Foods of the FDA says while it is possible that horse meat has slipped into the U.S. food supply he still believes “the vast majority of beef that we’re consuming is beef.”

Regarding drug residues, Acheson says “if you take a low likelihood it's in [horse meat] anyway … and then the possibility that that horsemeat contains some cancer causing drug at some low level – let's put this in perspective of risk to the public and recognize that the safety side is low.”

Filed under: Food safety • Horse
February 26th, 2013
11:12 AM ET

Navy Sec. Mabus: If sequestration hits, '90,000 government workers in Virginia will lose 20 percent of their salary'

In three days, forced spending cuts will slash $85 billion from the federal budget unless legislators are able to come to a deal with the administration.

President Obama is heading to Newport News, Virginia today to talk about the impact the sequester would have on jobs and the shipbuilding industry.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus will be joining the president and he sits down with Soledad this morning to explain how the Navy will be effected by budget cuts.

"There's going to be some real impacts to Navy readiness. We've already had the delay the "Truman" strike group going to the Middle East. We're going to have to delay an amphibious ready group going out. If sequestration keeps going, we're going to have to take down four of nine carrier air wings and it will take us a year to get them back and it will cost two or three times as much," Mabus explains.

"If we lurch from this budget crisis to the next artificial budget crisis, and that's the continuing resolution at the end of March, we'll start cutting some significant number of workers here. We'll lose about 7,500 workers by the end of the year, and these are highly skilled, highly motivated people who build ships that nobody else can build," Mabus says. "And if sequestration hits, you're looking at the possibility of furloughing 5,000 workers at the public shipyard here, and you're looking at another 40,000 government workers here in the Norfolk area and 90,000 across Virginia who will lose 20 percent of their salary before the end of the year."

Filed under: Budget • Navy • Sequestration
February 26th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Rep. Price: The House will 'provide flexibility to the administration' on budget cuts

There are only three days until massive forced budget cuts are set to be enacted, and this morning there's no sign that a deal is in the works.

The forced cuts, referred to as the sequester by the government, would slash the budget by $85 billion, a move that some say is necessary to curb spending.

Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) joins Soledad on Starting Point this morning to explain what the House GOP is willing to do to avoid some of the more drastic cuts, and to respond to President Obama's recent comments about the impacts of the sequester.

"The president has talked about all of these calamitous things that will happen, but what we're looking at is a 2.5 percent reduction," Price says. "That's the level of spending that we had just two years ago. I don't remember all of these bad things happening two years ago. [The House] will provide, I believe, some flexibility to the administration so that they can make certain that the bad things that the president cites don't happen, and if they do, it's because he wants them to."

Filed under: Budget • Sequestration
February 26th, 2013
11:01 AM ET

Nelson Mandela's daughter and granddaughter launch wine brand and weigh in on Oscar Pistorius case

Mention the name "Mandela" and most people think of the former South African president and anti-apartheid leader, Nelson Mandela. But the Mandela name is now on a product not usually associated with his legacy – wine. His daughter and granddaughter have formed the House of Mandela brand from which a portion of the profits will help improve the lives of Africa’s poverty-stricken communities. Maki Mandela, Nelson's daughter and Maki's daughter, Tukwini join “Starting Point” this morning to discuss their new endeavor.

Maki says using the Mandela family name is important because it promotes South Africa as well as a good product. She adds, “The wine industry itself is an agricultural product, it's about the soil. It employs about 450,000 people in South Africa. It contributes about three to four billion rands to the GDP of South Africa so it's a very important industrial sector.”

Regarding how other family members feel about the use of Mandela for the brand, Maki says she thinks “there will always be concern.” She says her father told her “if you use the name either for commercial or charitable or political, use it with a lot of integrity and responsibility.” Ultimately Maki says, the “House of Mandela's goal is to “continue our legacy of the House of Mandela – to promote the values that my father also emphasizes very strongly that he was made by the customs, by the traditions, by the values of his ancestors, they shaped him. And he always tells us we should always remember who we are and remember those values.”

Maki says the case involving Oscar Pistorius is a tragedy. She adds, “I am a mother of four children I have brought up also my late brother's children so in all I have 11 children… and I think if I was a parent either Reeva's parent, I would be devastated. I wouldn't know what to do. My son, my youngest son knows Reeva and she says she was a very, very good person.”

Maki says she also feels sorry for and empathizes with the parents of Olympian Oscar Pistorius. She adds, “If it was my son, I don't know where I would start, if your son killed somebody as it is alleged. So it's a tragedy for all of South Africa also, it’s not just a tragedy for those two families, for us as South Africa because Oscar Pistorius has a role model to a lot of kids.”

Filed under: Oscar Pistorius • Pistorius • South Africa
February 26th, 2013
10:43 AM ET

Trayvon Martin's father: 'We feel we have to become spokespersons against senseless violence'

One year ago today, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot to death by George Zimmerman, who claims he was attacked and shot Martin in self defense. Martin's family, however, claims that the unarmed teen was racially profiled.

Since their son's death, Martin's parents Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton have been advocating against gun violence and they sit down with Soledad on Starting Point this morning to discuss their efforts.

"We're doing this for Trayvon," Fulton explains. "We're doing this so we can help other kids, the other teenagers who have been shot and killed through senseless gun violence. We feel like we need to do something about it as parents. I have a son on earth and a son in heaven, and I'm going to do my best as a parent to work on both."

Filed under: Trayvon Martin
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