Return to Transcripts main page
Threats on Sochi Games; More on Christie Scandal; Christie's Political Woes Pile Up; Loud Music Murder Trial to Begin; NYC Carriage Rides May Be History
Aired January 19, 2014 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Thanks so much for joining us right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.
We are following two big stories right now.
New terror threats for everyone heading to the Sochi Olympic Games just weeks before the winter games begin. CNN has obtained the threatening video made by terrorists. We're live in Russia with the very latest.
And another allegation against Governor Chris Christie's office.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
WHITFIELD: While New Jersey Governor Chris Christie coped with a political crisis Russia is dealing with a new threat to the winter Olympic Games, one that might make you think twice if you are planning to go to the games which begin in just 19 days.
These two men claim to be suicide bombers who carried out a deadly attack last month in Volgograd, less than a day's drive from the Olympic host cit of Sochi. And they have an ominous warning for anyone coming to Russia saying this. "As for your Olympic something that you really want we have prepared a present for you. You do your business and we'll do ours. We have prepared a present for you and all tourists who'll come over."
Could we see something like this? That is the attack in Volgograd happening at the Olympic Games. In this attack, dozens were left dead. CNN's Phil Black is in Volgograd and joins me now.
So Phil, how worried are Russians about the Olympic games?
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Russian officials, Fred, say that the games themselves are safe. They believe that they are planning their preparation, their security poster in Sochi is pretty much impregnable. They believe they are being very thorough. And even following the attacks here in Volgograd just a few weeks ago that killed 34 people, bombing on a train station and on a trolley bus, they say that they would not be changing their plan for security in Sochi as a result of that.
But what those attacks in this city showed is that there are potential vulnerabilities in other parts of the country. Whereas the security bubble in Sochi itself might be pretty tight, it is not possible to secure the entire country in the same way. So in that sense when you talk to Russians, there are certainly concerns that in cities like this there is very much a real threat as to what could happen during the Olympics. Fred.
WHITFIELD: And tomorrow, Phil, the Olympic torch comes through Volgograd. What kind of precautions are being taken?
BLACK: Very tough and tight security we expect because the Olympic flame is arriving in this city by train coming into the very same train station that was struck by terrorists just a few weeks ago. We have already seen a very visible security presence on the streets. We've been briefed on just what sort of freedom of movement the media, the general public are expected to have tomorrow. And it's going to be very, very tight. A lot of the city is going to be in lock down. There is not going to be a lot of free movement. Russian officials not taking any sort of chances whatsoever in this city where these terrorists struck recently. Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Phil Black, thank you so much, there in Volgograd.
So Russia may be flooding Sochi with security. But that's not good enough for two U.S. lawmakers. They sit on intelligence committees for the House and Senate. Both say they have concerns about security at the games.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-MI), INTELLIGENCE COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: So what we are finding out is that they are not giving us the full story, what are the threat screens? Who do we need to worry about? Are those groups, the terrorist groups who have had success are they still plotting - there's a missing gap. You never want that when you go in to something I think is as important as the Olympic Games.
SEN. ANGUS KING (I-MAINE), SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE: I would not go and I don't think I would send my family. I don't know how you put a percentage on it. But it is such a rich target in an area of the world where they have almost broadcast that they are going to try to do something there.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: We will talk to security expert Bob Baer about the Olympic threat in just about 10 minutes or so from now.
We're also following a developing story out of New Jersey. A mayor had made stunning new allegations against Governor Chris Christie. Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer standing next to Christie right there told CNN's "State of the Union" Candy Crowley today that Christie's office played politics with Sandy relief money withholding funds unless she backed a re-development project. The governor's office is denying this. Sunlen Serfaty is following this story for us, live from Washington. Sunlen, what more do we know about the mayor's claims and where it goes from here?
SUNLEN SERFATY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, this is a much more specific claim from the mayor today. For the first time, Zimmer directly tied Governor Christie himself to threats of retaliation.
SERFATY (voice-over): The alleged retaliation from Christie's team happened seven months ago. On CNN's "State of the Union" Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer tells Candy Crowley why she is coming forward only now.
MAYOR DAWN ZIMMER, HOBOKEN: I was really concerned that if I came forward no one believed me that we would really be cut out of the Sandy funding. But as I watch the coverage with the Bridge gate, you do see parallels.
SERFATY: Her charge, Sandy aid for hard hit Hoboken was held hostage until she pushed through a project by the Rockefeller Group, a real estate developer wit ties with the New Jersey governor. After this Hoboken event in May, in a nearby parking lot, Zimmer says Christie's lieutenant governor, Kim Guadagno, communicated what she said was a message from Christie himself.
ZIMMER: She came and she made a direct threat to me, the lieutenant governor pulled me aside and then she said the - you know, essentially "You got to move forward with the Rockefeller Project. This project is really important to the governor." And she said that she had been with him on Friday night and that this was a direct message from the governor.
SERFATY: And Zimmer said Guadagno told her this -
ZIMMER: "If you tell anyone I'll deny it." It is stunning, it's outrageous but it's true and I stand by my word.
SERFATY: She said her account is backed up by a journal entry she wrote at the time about the conversation and then saying about Christie, "I thought he was honest. I thought he was moral this week I found out he is cut from the same corrupt cloth that I have been fighting for the last four years."
The governor's office in a statement called Zimmer's characterization of the conversation with Guadagno categorically false saying "Parties and politics are at play here as democratic mayors with political axe to grind come out of the woodwork and try to get their faces on television."
Zimmer says Christie and Kim are hiding behind spokespeople but believes the lieutenant governor Guadagno will eventually confirm her account. And I believe if and when she is asked to testify under oath the truth will come out because I believe she will be truthful and she will tell the truth. (END VIDEOTAPE)
SERFATY: And we contacted the governor's office again today. But they decline to respond specifically to these new charges from the mayor. And said they stand by their previous statement that her characterization of the conversation is what is false. Fred.
WHITFIELD: Again, the governor in Florida right now. All right. Thanks so much. Sunlen Serfaty.
On to California now where the drought is so bad the governor there has declared a state of emergency. Jerry Brown is calling it perhaps "the worst drought the state has seen in 100 years." The effects will likely be felt far beyond the state's borders. Here's CNN's Kyung Lah.
KYUNG LAH (on camera): What is this? All the stuff that we're looking at.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is my bedroom.
LAH (voice-over): What was his bedroom. While the Colby wildfires swept through the foothills. Firefighters continue to battle the blaze as Alex Larsen returned home to what's gone, learning first hand the fury of California's drought.
ALEX LARSEN, FIRE VICTIM: This is a ticking time bomb and something happens. All it would take is one lightening bolt.
LAH: From these charred hills in Los Angeles to the dried out lake beds of the Central Valley to the barren hills of Albert Strousen's (ph) dairy farm. The state's drought is palpable and painful.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the worst year I've ever seen.
LAH: Farmers pressured California's governor to act. He says while he can't make it rain he can declare a state of emergency.
GOV. JERRY BROWN, CALIFORNIA: This takes everybody pitching in.
LAH: The message, everyone cut back on water by 20 percent.
The state's reservoirs are at critical levels setting record lows. Snow packs are 80 percent lower than normal. Only getting worse. Areas of extreme drought expanded in just one week.
(on camera): The hills across California are brown. And in January this is usually all green. It is summer weather in winter here and that hurts everyone. About half the nation's fruits, nuts and vegetables come from California.
(voice-over): As the farms wilt so does the country's food supply and prices they are on the climb.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are waiting and praying for rain. We are going to do a rain dance.
LAH: And there may be no other option as the forecast offers no immediate relief for the ever browning golden state.
Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.
WHITFIELD: And straight ahead why a terrorism expert says that he would not travel to Russia for the Olympic Games.
WHITFIELD: No matter how much Russia ramps up security for the winter Olympic games some intelligence experts say it simply won't be enough. A short time ago we spoke with former CIA operative and CNN national security analyst Bob Baer, here is his chilling analysis.
BOB BAER, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I think these people will strike somewhere in Russia, probably not the Olympic Village or the facilities. They could hit airplanes, crowded areas. Americans aren't safe there. I certainly myself wouldn't go to Russia at this time, go to Moscow even or St. Petersburg. I think if these people say they are going to hit they will. There is no way that the Russians can protect this 100 percent.
They've been trying to deal with this threat for 20 years and it failed.
WHITFIELD: So it is not comforting or at all in anyway that even Putin has said that he has security under control. That seven known terrorists have been killed recently leading up to these games to make sure, to ensure that this will be a secure game?
BAER: Fredricka, they cannot control the north caucuses. They are large Caucasian populations in Moscow and the rest of Russia, Volgograd, in particular, whether they're Chechens or (INAUDIBLE). No, they can't do it. It's too big of a threat. The Russians are very efficient, they simply cannot protect Russia during these games.
WHITFIELD: And how much might Russia allow whether it be U.S. intelligence and intelligence from other countries to assist, particularly during these games, to try to secure the many tourists and athletes who are on their way?
BAER: The Russians have never been cooperative about internal security. They said listen, we are not going to take care of it, don't bother us. Don't ask us, we're not going to give you anything. We're not going to let you in our situation rooms. So we're not going to get much cooperation at all. We just have to take it on faith, and frankly, you know, I worked with the Russians before, I don't think they can do it.
WHITFIELD: So what does it mean when President Putin says there is an evacuation plan whether it be for U.S. athletes or other athletes if indeed something were to happen? What do you envision that means?
BAER: An evacuation plan doesn't sound good to me. I mean it sounds like people running for it under some sort of attack. I don't - that's not reassuring. You know, he is saying we'll keep you safe but we can't guarantee it.
WHITFIELD: So it would I think most athletes and even tourists would think that if there is going to be a secure location it would be in that Olympic perimeter in Sochi. But you're saying not only is Sochi vulnerable but certainly tourists or athletes venturing outside of that perimeter are really potentially in trouble.
BAER: Fredricka, yes, it is targets of opportunity, tourist buses, train stations, airports and even airplanes themselves, they can get suicide bombers on these airplanes. They have in the past and they are going to try it. The Russian intelligence is not good enough to take care of this. I'm quite sure of it.
WHITFIELD: And this Volgograd attack that took place in December. What in your view was the real strategy here by the terrorists to do this leading up to the games? To make everyone uneasy or to simply also send a message this was a prelude for more?
BAER: I think it's absolutely a well coordinated military style attack. You know, two targets right in the heart of Russia. You know, keep people like me on TV saying it's not safe to go but it's not. And I think they want to wreck the Olympics for the Russians and they are starting to do it.
WHITFIELD: Very sobering, very unsettling for the millions of people who will be descending or planning to descend on Sochi. Thanks so much. Bob Baer, appreciate that.
WHITFIELD: All right. That was CNN national security analyst Bob Baer's take on that.
All right. Meantime Chris Christie facing more accusations and he's not even in New Jersey to deal with it right now. He is in Florida. How is that going?
WHITFIELD: in other news we're following two Maryland women are now charged with murder. Police say the women attempted an exorcism that left two children dead and two others hospitalized. Police found the children Friday after a neighbor called 911.
And this SUV driver who is chased down and beaten by a group of bikers will file a lawsuit against the city of New York. The man Alexian Lee (ph) claims the city was negligent in hiring and training police officers.
Prosecutors say some off-duty police officers participated in the attack in September. The driver's wife and two-year-old daughter were inside the vehicle. The family is seeking more than $75,000 each in damages.
After facing an intense criticism over his controversial trip to North Korea, Dennis Rodman checks into rehab for alcohol addition. His agent said that during the trip "Rodman's drinking escalated to a level none of us had seen before." He said the ex-NBA star would be in a treatment center for about a month.
Chris Christie's office is denying allegations of withholding Sandy relief funds. The mayor of Hoboken made that claim today on CNN's "State of the Union." Christie is in Florida meeting with major donors. It's his first political fund raising trip since the Bridge scandal broke. But he is staying out of the spotlight, at least in public. Here is Tori Dunnan.
TORI DUNNAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Except for a drive-by glimpse or two, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie spent day one of his fundraising trip to Florida behind closed doors.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor Christie, do you have a few seconds, sir.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Governor.
DUNNAN: It is unclear if the Bridge gate scandal followed Christie into those fundraisers. This woman who was inside an Orlando event Christie attended for Florida Governor Rick Scott, played a little bit of a guessing game.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We talked about Governor Scott and how good he is.
DUNNAN (on camera): Did anything about the scandal come up?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think? Yes or no. What do you think?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DUNNAN: What do you say?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I say no, noting.
DUNNAN (voice-over): Democratic national committee chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in Florida to shadow Christie's every move had lots to say.
REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN-SCHULTZ, DNC CHAIRMAN: I think that means either Chris Christie doesn't want to answer any questions or Rick Scott doesn't want to be seen in public with Chris Christie, probably a little bit of both.
DUNNAN: The DNC even released this Welcome to Florida ad.
Florida's Republican Party chairman accused Democrats of trying to turn Christie's visit into a circus.
LENNY CURREY, REPUBLICAN PARTY OF FLORIDA: Let's say Chris Christie apologized. Chris Christie took action. He is the head of the Republican Governors Association and he's down here doing his job and that's raising money to make sure the Rick Scott gets re-elected.
DUNNAN: The big question hanging over this weekend - how will the scandal affect Christie's chances should he run for the White House?
(on camera): Any talk in there about this being an issue for if Christie decides to run in 2016?
REP. JOHN MICA (R), FLORIDA: None. Thank you.
DUNNAN (voice-over): More likely to come on that front today at a show called donor outreach event in North Palm Beach. The billionaire co-founder of Home Depot, Ken Langone, is introducing Christie to donors who could provide major backing for a Christie for president campaign.
Tory Dunnan, CNN, Orlando.
WHITFIELD: He found himself in the middle of a big scandal and a federal investigation. The outcome is sure to impact more than just him. Both Republicans and Democrats are watching all of this closely.
Steve Lonegan is a Republican who lost to Christie in the 2009 GOP primary. Now he is seeking a seat in Congress and Gordon Johnson is a Democratic member of the New Jersey assembly who is also a member of the special investigative committee looking into the bridge scandal.
So Mr. Johnson, you first. When will we hear? From those 17 people who have been subpoenaed and does this revelation from the Hoboken mayor figure into this bridge inquiry now?
GORDON JOHNSON (D), NEW JERSEY ASSEMBLY: Well, the second part of the question, yes, I believe that should be looked into by the select committee of investigation.
The first part of your question, the subpoena citing that the documents should be delivered by February 3rd.
WHITFIELD: OK. Mr. Lonegan you ran against Chris Christie. Yet I understand that you support the governor right now based on all that he is enduring. To what extent?
STEVE LONEGAN (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: To the extent that I know, Fredricka, a lot about Hudson County politics and places like Hoboken, what a nightmare it is for developers to get projects through their districts and how they have to smoosh people to do it. And if the Lieutenant Governor Kim Gaudagno has been above reproach to all this great scandal and she has been charged openly and publicly spoken about her job is pushing development projects, getting them done and getting economic growth going in New Jersey, getting us recovered from Sandy. So suddenly Mayor Dawn Zimmer has an epiphany in a meeting she had back in May.
Now bear in mind this is after the Democrat party threw Barbara Buono under the bus, their Democratic candidate and in essence elevated Christie's stature in he country. I think we're watching a cathartic episode for the Democrat Party for trying to make amends for what they did to Barbara Buono.
WHITFIELD: So you're saying - you think it is business as usual. Scratch my back -
LONEGAN: Purely politics.
WHITFIELD: I'll scratch yours.
LONEGAN: It's pure politics at it's worst. The federal money for Sandy, comes through the federal government. As of today, there are $70 million in federal funds approved for Hoboken, awaiting distribution by FEMA. The Christie administration has some input but ultimately little control over Sandy money getting to Hoboken. So this allegation is pure nonsense.
I know exactly what happened. I can almost predict what happened just from my understanding of the way things worked. And that Kim Gaudagno said to the mayor "We want to see this project pushed through. We want to see recovery from Sandy. We want to get all the money we can, mayor. Don't let your bureaucracy hold it up. Don't get your Hudson County Democrat machine in the way of economic growth for New Jersey." That's what happened.
WHITFIELD: All right. So Mr. Johnson, is this Democrat just kind of piling it on. Does it still make it OK that you with hold, as the governor, you will allegedly with hold any kind of federal assistance because you wouldn't necessarily back a local plan?
JOHNSON: Fredricka, I see two themes here thus far which I'll be looking into once we start our investigation. The first theme is the people who these mayors represent are punished when these mayors don't do what they're requested to do. They punish the people in their particular jurisdictions. And number two, is the R word. Number two, redevelopment. There is a re-development project going on in Fort Lee for about a billion dollars and there (INAUDIBLE) a redevelopment project in Hoboken where they want to make this area, an area in need of redevelopment which then provides more incentives for investors and for contracts and what have you.
LONEGAN: I think Gordon when you said the R word you mean Republican ultimately. Because this is all about piling on Republican Governor Chris Christie. The federal government controls Sandy funds. Up and down the Jersey coast people know that FEMA is a disaster, they can't get the money out where it belongs and Lieutenant Governor Kim Gaudagno has the job of pushing these projects, getting (INAUDIBLE).
WHITFIELD: But wouldn't it be the job of the governor though to help allocated, disseminate any kind of federal funding.
LONEGAN: Well, they have some input in it and I'm sure the governor has to work hard with the feds because we all know we're fighting FEMA. There are movements in New Jersey to stop FEMA now. They have such failed so miserably in getting money to where it belonged and then in addition to that, you've got the Democrat Hudson County, Democrat machine also getting in the way of development.
This is about pushing real jobs, real job growth getting politics out of the way. This is what this governor has committed to do it. (INAUDIBLE) taking down this governor at all costs. And that's what you're watching right now.
WHITFIELD: So Mr. Johnson, your response. Is that what this is all about, taking down Governor Christie?
JOHNSON: You know, I respect my friend, Steve Lonegan, but that is not accurate. And when he was the mayor of Bogoda, in my district, the 37th district. When he made requests to us at the state legislature (INAUDIBLE) legislators for different aid or what have you, we went in and we did all we could to help the people of his borough because they are taxpayers and they are people we represent, it does not matter who is in the party, what party it is. It is about taking care of the people we represent. In this case -
LONEGAN: Why would Dawn Zimmer hold up a project that would create economic growth, economic development, why do they take so long to prove every single thing you want to do in Hoboken and in Jersey City? Why does everybody have to be involved in the political process to move projects.
Kim Gaudagno is in charge of cutting through red tape and suddenly, the mayor interprets that effort to cut through red tape as some sort of political retribution. Well, it took her eight months to figure that out. I think her credibility is on the line.
JOHNSON: I think (INAUDIBLE) there, Steve.
WHITFIELD: All right. Mr. Johnson, you have a respond to that.
JOHNSON: Yes. I think (INAUDIBLE) Steve, where a select group within that project wanted special treatment and she objected to that and she wants a full review of that total tract of land and that's what happened.
WHITFIELD: All right. We have to leave it right there. Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, Steve Lonegan, thanks to both of you, gentlemen, for joining us and we will be talking again.
JOHNSON: Thank you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: And we'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: First it was the George Washington Bridge scandal, now a New Jersey mayor accuses Governor Chris Christie of playing politics with emergency money after Superstorm Sandy.
A short time ago I spoke with journalists Ron Brownstein and Professor Larry Sabato to get their takes on what this could mean for Christie's political future.
RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's no question these are very serious charges. They would be very serious on their own terms. They're even more serious when they occur in combination with the allegations about the bridge because what it does is create a pattern of behavior that he is being accused of. So this is, I think, a very serious moment for him.
We know that these are going to be investigated by the state legislature. We've heard, as you showed, the mayor being very unequivocal, I will go testify under oath. So I think a new chapter has opened that is even more serious that where he has been so far.
WHITFIELD: And, Larry, you know, the mayor, Mayor Zimmer, there challenging Chris Christie's office and the governor himself saying hiding behind spokespeople is not going to work. At some point he has to address this.
How do you suppose he will try to address this? It certainly wouldn't happen during his swearing-in ceremony but at what point does he emphatically denies this or come clean about her allegations?
LARRY SABATO, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR POLITICS, UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA: Well, there's obviously going to be an investigation or two or three. And I agree with Ron. This is very serious. In my view it's more serious than bridgegate as it connects to Chris Christie.
SABATO: No one has alleged with any evidence that Chris Christie was an instigator of the closing of those lanes on the bridge. This ties directly to Christie. I watched all of Candy Crowley's interview with Mayor Zimmer. Just as I found Christie credible with his press conference, I found Mayor Zimmer very credible in this interview. The evidence she presented, the testimony was powerful, and the lieutenant governor is not just any old aide. This is someone that Christie picked and is known to be close to him.
WHITFIELD: And in fact, Ron, you know, Mayor Zimmer saying the lieutenant governor said to her, and I'm quoting, the mayor, you know, if you tell anyone I'll deny it. Yet at the same time, the mayor was saying if were to be subpoenaed, if she were to testify the lieutenant governor would likely tell the truth that yes, you know, she was told that she wasn't getting funding in exchange for not supporting the governor.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. Well, the mayor has really thrown down a gauntlet here by repeatedly saying in that interview I will testify under oath, I believe the lieutenant governor will have to validate my story if she testified under oath.
And the -- you know, as Larry pointed out. You know, the real breakthrough here. What makes this much more high stakes for Governor Christie is that he is being tied directly to the activity. I mean the argument that the -- you know, I was told the governor said this was a priority for him.
Look, we know -- and Larry wrote a great book about this several years ago, there are -- everybody in public life gets some dents now. And we know the public has more tolerance for imperfection in their political officials than it used to. But even having said that, these allegations are very serious ones and I think they could have a material effect certainly if proven out these are very serious questions for Governor Christie to answer.
WHITFIELD: And are these particularly serious allegations because it comes on the heels of the feds? Now, you know, reviewing whether Christie misspent Sandy money to air television commercials that were also, in the view of some people, used as campaign ads for him, Ron?
BROWNSTEIN: Well, yes. Well, you know I think it's -- again, it's -- and I think Larry would agree. It's the overall pattern that becomes the risk here because all of these allegations kind of resolve around the idea of improperly using state power toward other ends. And, you know, what's interesting about that is that's something that would not only draw criticism from the left but you can imagine the libertarian and conservatives like Rand Paul making great hay out of this in a Republican primary from the other direction, and we know there's no love lost between the two of them to begin with.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And so, Larry, is the governor isolated at this point? Is it difficult for him, you know, to try and get the support of other leading Republicans because at this juncture it seems every few are willing to come to his aid because he's always been the kind of guy who's doing it his way?
SABATO: That's certainly true. Look, he got a third of the Democratic vote in the election which is extraordinary. Well no Democratic official is going to come to his aid at this point. And as for the Republicans, he's potentially facing, if he still runs for president, potentially facing a half dozen or more opponents. And let me tell you something, with these allegations, the TV ads the Republicans will use against him in Iowa and New Hampshire are writing themselves. And they're potentially very powerful.
Larry Sabato, Ron Brownstein, good to see both of you gentlemen, appreciate it.
A murder trial that some are comparing to the Trayvon Martin case. A 17-year-old black teenager shot and killed by a white man after a fight over loud music. His mother talks to me live next.
WHITFIELD: A case that's been compared to the Trayvon Martin case is about to go to trial in Florida.
Michael Dunn is accused of shooting into a car at a gas station killing a 17-year-old by the end of Jordan Davis back in November of -- 2012, that is. All after a fight over loud music.
Stand your ground laws that made headlines last summer during the George Zimmerman trial may be in play in this case.
Here's Drew Griffin.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was the day after Thanksgiving Friday, November 23rd, 2012. 17-year-old Jordan Davis and three friends pulled into a convenience store in Jacksonville, Florida. His dad said they had been shopping.
RON DAVIS, FATHER OF JORDAN DAVIS: Dad, he said, listen, some friends, we're all going to window shop at a Town City Mall and he said, can I have some money for food, you know, to hang out with my friends.
GRIFFIN: Jordan Davis stayed in the backseat of the Dodge Durango as the driver went inside the store. The windows were down, loud music was on the radio. It was at that moment, police say, 45-year-old Michael Dunn driving a black Volkswagen Jetta pulled into the parking spot right next to them.
Dunn was just attending his son's wedding reception with his girlfriend Ronda Rouer. And Rouer wanted to stop. She went inside, Michael Dunn says he politely asked the music be turned down. In the Durango, the passenger in the front seat complied, turning down the radio. But Jordan Davis, police say, asked the music be turned back up. Michael Dunn concedes as much in a later police interrogation. And then it comes back on and I'm like you know I don't need any trouble.
MICHAEL DUNN, DEFENDANT: And then the music comes back on. You know, I'm just like, lay low, you know, don't need any trouble.
GRIFFIN: But there was trouble. Police say what followed was a verbal altercation between Dunn sitting in his car and the other teens sitting in theirs. Interrogated by police, Michael Dunn said it was one of the teens who was trying to escalate the confrontation, threatening he says to kill him.
DUNN: So I put my window down again and I said excuse me? Are you talking about me? And it was like, kill that (EXPLETIVE DELETED). And you know, I'm still not reacting but then this guy goes down on the ground and comes up with something. I thought it was a shotgun, and he goes, you're dead, (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and he opens his door. And I'm (EXPLETIVE DELETED) but that's when I reached in my glove box, unholstered my pistol.
GRIFFIN: Dunn opened fire, four quick shots into the SUV, then four more as it sped away. Jordan Davis, the only person hit, was killed.
As for Dunn, he told police he and his girlfriend spent the night at a local hotel before driving the 159 miles to his home. He wouldn't be arrested until the next day. Dunn's girlfriend, also questioned by police, her face blurred, tells the police Dunn told her he was firing in self-defense.
RHONDA ROUER, MICHAEL DUNN'S GIRLFRIEND: And I said what happened? And he said, I shot at the car, and I'm like -- we're moving at this time.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
ROUER: And I said, what car? And he said the one with the music.
GRIFFIN: Other witnesses to the shooting told police they never saw the teens getting out of the SUV or approaching Dunn in any way. No weapon, no stick, no threatening object of any kind was found in the teen's possession. Dunn insists he was shooting to save his life and according to his attorney plans to use Florida's Stand Your Ground law as his defense.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.
WHITFIELD: It's still not clear exactly how the defense will argue their case. Dunn's lawyers just filed a motion last week to delay the trial but as of now it is still scheduled to start in two weeks, February 3rd.
I'm joined now by Jordan Davis' mother, Lucia McBath. She's preparing to go to Jacksonville for the trial. And she has also been very outspoken about Stand Your Ground laws testifying before a Senate committee alongside Trayvon Martin's family last year.
Good to see you.
LUCIA MCBATH, JORDAN DAVIS' MOTHER: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
WHITFIELD: It's a heartbreaking situation. I can't imagine what you and the entire family are going through. Given that you are pushing for advocacy and at the same time you're dealing with this trial and really emotionally trying to prepare for that.
So given the outcome of the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman trial in Florida, how might that in your view impact this upcoming trial?
MCBATH: Definitely I would not be telling you the truth if I didn't think about that all the time. It appears to us that the impact of the Stand Your Ground laws particularly in Florida have a lot to do with what happened with Trayvon's case. And in fact, since you know, Michael Dunn is espousing the same thing in our case we believe that the laws are written in such a way that they allow for a lot of ambiguity.
And in both cases, you know, the boys were absolutely doing nothing. There were -- there was no threat from either one of the boys, you know, in the cases. And the way the laws are written is that even though the boys were not a threat the initiator of the threat, the initiator in both cases, you know, Zimmerman and Michael Dunn, are allowed to use Stand Your Ground as an immunity and possibly walk away free.
WHITFIELD: Do you concern yourself that the outcome of the George Zimmerman trial, whether it'd be the outrage that came from it or even the advocacy for George Zimmerman that any one of those things might influence this case in that it might change the approach whether it be from the prosecution's point of view or perhaps even the jurors' responsibility that they may be -- their vision of Stand Your Ground may be colored differently as a result of that trial?
MCBATH: I think that the jurors probably have a lot more information now about Stand Your Ground. And the influence that it has on the trials. I think that they will probably be more enlightened. Spending a lot more time understanding the parameters of the laws to make sure that they're not using them improperly, that they completely understand the impact that they have on the -- you know, on the case.
I just honestly think that there will definitely be some influence based upon what happened with Zimmerman's case.
WHITFIELD: And what's your activism now? What message is it that you're trying to convey? Whether it'd be when you were on Capitol Hill or whether you are, you know, in neighborhoods talking to families and talking to young people?
MCBATH: I basically find that what I'm trying to do is educate people, let them completely understand the gun culture in our country. How it is affecting communities, our future generations. The gun culture I believe at this point is really fueling a lot of fear. Citizens are in fear of one another, they're in fear of people that they don't know, people that don't think like them, look like them, act like them.
WHITFIELD: So then what is the answer to that?
MCBATH: I think the answer is educating people to not be so afraid. You know, here we are on the eve of Martin Luther King, you know, celebration and everything that he talked about and fought for it seems to be that people have forgotten those things. As we become more advanced as a civilization here in the United States, it seems that in some regard we are starting to turn back the hands of time and people are moving back, they're regressing back instead of moving forward into a culture of acceptance.
Accepting one another. Taking responsibility for one another. Taking responsibility for making sure that all of us have our rights and you know that we are able to live in this country peacefully with one another. WHITFIELD: Lucia McBath, thanks so much and all the best as you continue to embark on what has been an incredibly emotional rollercoaster.
MCBATH: Thank you so much.
WHITFIELD: All right.
All right. Not having clean water is a daily reality for millions of people around the world and that's something one movie star wants to change.
Our Chris Cuomo shows us how Matt Damon is impacting our world.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN ANCHOR, NEW DAY (voice-over): This celebration in India has a very special guest, Matt Damon. But the Oscar-winning actor isn't the big news of the day. The new water pump is stealing the spotlight. And Damon's charity made it happen. Water.org helps bring water and sanitation to those in need.
MATT DAMON, ACTOR: Water really just kind of underpins everything. Every 20 seconds, a child dies because they lack access to clean water and sanitation. Every 20 seconds.
CUOMO: This hits home for Damon, who has four daughters.
DAMON: Once you have kids, it's impossible not to see, you know, their face in every child you see.
CUOMO: Water.org provides small loans to help people get access to water.
DAMON: People were paying money for water already. Sometimes 15, 20 times what you or I pay for our water, right, to a local water mafia. And if you could actually just front them the money to connect to the municipality, you'd give them their time back so they could work at their job and pay the loan off.
They are now in control of their destiny in a way that they weren't. So it's not only about the millions of children who actually die every year, it's about the quality of life that somebody can have if they have access to clean water.
WHITFIELD: President Obama says using marijuana is no worse than drinking alcohol. In an interview with the "New Yorker" magazine, the president acknowledged he smoke pot as a young person and now tells his own daughters is a bad idea. And instead of supporting the legalization of pot, Mr. Obama says he's focused on making currently marijuana laws more fair so that young people don't get locked up for long periods of time. Also in the interview the president if he had a son, he would not let him play football because of the concussion risks.
All right. When you think of New York's Central Park, one of the many of the things that come to mind are the horse drawn carriage rides. But the horses and the rides may all be history if New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has his way.
Here's CNN's Margaret Conley.
MARGARET CONLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it's a horse buggy battle. And as it plays out, many tourists are flocking to Central Park either to see the horses or to go for on one last carriage ride. This as Mayor Bill de Blasio says it's over.
CONLEY (voice-over): Horse-drawn carriage rides. They're an iconic way for so many visitors to take in New York City's Central Park. But soon they may be a thing of the past.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO, NEW YORK: Happy new year to all.
CONLEY: New York Mayor Bill de Blasio has taken the reins at city hall from former Mayor Mike Bloomberg. And he plans to make good on a campaign promise to pull the carriages off the streets.
DE BLASIO: We are going to get rid of the horse carriages. Period. It's over.
CONLEY: The carriage rides have been offered in Central Park for more than 100 years. They have been celebrated on film. Here in "Barefoot in the Park." And on TV, including HBO's hit series "Sex and the City."
SARAH JESSICA PARKER, "SEX AND THE CITY": And I wasn't going to question any of it. Not even how he found a horse-drawn sleigh in the middle of Manhattan.
CONLEY: They've been at the top of so many tourists must-do list.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's part of New York City.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's one of the things you need to do.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't get rid of the horses. Or we won't come back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How many horses have to die?
CONLEY: But animal rights groups have long been calling for a ban on the rides citing accidents like these. They argue the animals are forced to live in conditions they described as inhumane.
ELIZABETH FOREL, COALITION TO BAN HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGES: No matter what they say, the horses are really not kept in good condition. CONLEY: Mayor de Blasio says he is open to alternatives, including possibly replacing the carriages with antique style electric cars. But carriage driver Stephen Malone says the move to get rid of the horses just won't work and that he and other drivers plan to fight it in court.
STEPHEN MALONE, CARRIAGE DRIVER: The horses are the star. It's not the car, it's not the carriage. It's not me. These are the star. That's what people come for. You can't create that with an electric car. You'll never create it. Kids can't pet fenders. They pet horses.
CONLEY: The two sides are going back and forth. Animal rights groups, they're saying that horses don't belong in an urban setting, that the traffic and the pollution is just bad for the horses. Meanwhile the carriage drivers, they're fighting for their jobs. They say the horses are treated well, they actually get four weeks' vacation out of the year. Some of them get six months off.
Regardless of all that, Bill de Blasio, he's hired legal counsel to try to get this done -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Thanks so much for being with me this afternoon. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Much more straight ahead. The next hour of the NEWSROOM begins right now with Martin Savidge -- Martin.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN ANCHOR: Fredricka, nice to see you. Thank you very much.
And there it is. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Martin Savidge. It is very good to be with you.
All right. Less than three weeks now before the world converges on Russia for the winter Olympics and there is a new video terrorist threat that has emerged. The people behind it are sending a particular warning shot to tourists.
CNN's Phil Black is in Volgograd a day ahead of the Olympic torch arrival and the city that's all too familiar with terrorism.
PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The video was posted to a well-known online jihadi forum. And it shows two men claiming credit for the attacks that took place in Volgograd just a few weeks ago on December 29th and 30th. Bomb blasts that struck at a local train station and on a trolley bus killing 34 people.