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Early War Plan; Interview With Representative Gregory Meeks

Aired March 31, 2004 - 07:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning. Welcome back, everybody. It is exactly half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Did the Bush administration have a secret military plan in place to launch a massive strike against Iraq long before the war began? Barbara Starr is going to join us in just a few moments to talk to us about Operation Desert Badger.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Also, Michael Jackson turned up in Washington yesterday and meeting with members of Congress there. What's on his mind? What does he want? And who decided to meet with him? Congressman Gregory Meeks is one of only a handful of reps who sat down with the pop star yesterday. We'll get to that. An interesting mixture of people, I think you could say, in Washington yesterday.

O'BRIEN: No question about that. Top stories this morning.

More violence in Iraq. The coalition press center says that five U.S. military personnel were killed in a roadside bombing near Fallujah, west of Baghdad. In another apparently unrelated attack, witnesses say that rebels attacks two civilian cars, setting them on fire. As many as four people there were killed.

And an oil refinery in Texas City, Texas, is up and running again an after an explosion caused a massive fire. Workers at the British Petroleum plant were forced to evacuate. Nobody was hurt. The refinery is 40 miles from Houston, and the cause is now under investigation.

In Connecticut, three southbound lanes of Interstate 95 have been reopened. Crews worked during the night to replace an overpass in Bridgeport shut down a week ago due to a fiery crash. Officials say the temporary bridge is safe, but they're urging commuters to stick to the 45-mile-an-hour speed limit.

In Wisconsin, police and volunteers continue to search for Audrey Seiler. The University of Wisconsin Madison sophomore was last seen leaving her apartment on Saturday without her coat or her purse. Anybody who has got any information is being asked to contact the Madison police.

A teenage girl gives it her all and outdunks all the best boys in the country. Seventeen-year-old Candace Parker won a slam dunk contest, beating the best high school boys in the country. The contest was part of the McDonald's all-American basketball events. Some of the boys she beat could be headed to the NBA next season. HEMMER: My gosh! Never heard that before, huh?

O'BRIEN: Wow! That's (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Good for her.

HEMMER: She has got some hop, as they say, yes.


HEMMER: McDonald's game is later tonight, too, by the way. The best high school basketball players in the country.


HEMMER: The Bush administration apparently had a military plan for Iraq during the earliest days in the White House.

Barbara Starr from the Pentagon watching this story has more on this.

Barbara -- what did you find out about it?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, after weeks of controversy across Washington about whether President Bush had a plan to attack Iraq from day one, new details now about what exactly that war plan involved.


STARR (voice-over): Frustrated that Iraqi gunners were shooting at American planes, within weeks of coming into office President Bush approved war plans for a massive retaliatory attack on Iraq if a U.S. pilot had been shot down.

CNN has learned that the secret plan, Operation Desert Badger, called for escalating airstrikes within four to eight hours of a shoot down. Pentagon sources say a long list of targets across the country would be hit, crippling Iraqi air defenses and command and control. The plan went far beyond the Clinton administration's 1998 Operation Desert Fox, which hit 100 targets in four days.

President Bush revealed Desert Badger's existence in January, responding to criticism he planned to invade Iraq from the beginning.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Like the previous administration, we were for regime change. And in the initial stage of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with Desert Badger, or flyovers and fly betweens and looks. And so, we were fashioning policy along those lines.

STARR: One defense official familiar with the plan says if a plane got shot down, that was the trigger. We were going in. Over time, the source said, Operation Desert Badger evolved into a more robust plan for attacking the regime.

The president would have quickly decided whether to take the next step, approving sending a small number of ground troops to secure key areas. At the time, only a few thousand troops were in nearby Kuwait. Sources tell CNN, Operation Desert Badger was not a plan to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power.

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says the new options were justified by the threat.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: We packaged them. We pre- cleared them with the president. And we were cocked and ready to do a variety of different things in the event something occurred that fit one of those possible unfortunate possibilities.


STARR: So, Bill, these new details about the scope and intent of Operation Desert Badger may now raise additional questions about whether the White House was paying too much attention to Iraq before the 9/11 attacks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Interesting stuff. Plenty to chew on there. Barbara, thanks, at the Pentagon -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, a California grand jury decides whether Michael Jackson will stand trial for child molestation. The pop star is in Washington promoting the fight against AIDS in Africa. Jackson has been meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

And New York Congressman Gregory Meeks joins us from Washington, D.C. to talk about the meeting with Jackson yesterday.

Nice to see you, Congressman Meeks. Thank for being with us.


O'BRIEN: Good morning to you.

Michael Jackson's publicist actually wanted to set up a meeting with the entire Congressional Black Caucus, but that was denied. So, I'm curious why you and the several members of the black caucus who decided to meet with Michael Jackson, decided to go forward with the meeting.

MEEKS: Well, you know, it's always difficult to get members of the Congressional Black Caucus in one room. But for me, I'm on the International Relations Committee, and I sit on the Subcommittee for Africa. I understood going in that the conversation would be around HIV and AIDS and what's taking place in Africa and some of the accomplishments as well as some of the future aspirations of Mr. Jackson in helping to eradicate the disease on HIV/AIDS.

And so, I went to listen to hear what he had to say and to do anything that I can to draw attention to the fact that we here, we sit comfortably but we have to make sure that we eradicate that disease that is worse than the black plague ever was.

O'BRIEN: You say that it's always difficult to get all of the members of the Congressional Black Caucus in one room, but realistically, many of those members said that actually -- and they said this anonymously -- that actually there was no political upside for them to meet with Michael Jackson, considering the charges that now pending against him. You didn't have those concerns?

MEEKS: Well, again, I'm sitting here today, and we can talk, and I can talk a little bit about HIV/AIDS/AIDS and what's taking place in Africa. You know, I've sat previously in my former profession as a prosecutor, so I understand that that's what's taking place there. I'm not there to prejudge in the political part. I'm here, though, to make sure that, you know, we live in a global world, and we can make sure that we begin to eradicate HIV and AIDS. And I want to do whatever I can and work with whomever I can to accomplish that goal.

O'BRIEN: What sorts of things are you hoping that Michael Jackson will be able to do for you? As you well know, his charity has had some serious financial troubles. And, in fact, has stopped making any kind of donations at this point. So, what would you like him to do?

MEEKS: Well, at least according to what he stated to us at the meeting, you know, he wants to do things such as what he did with "We are the World" and trying to work with others, maybe in Hollywood and other artists, so that they can raise some funds, again, via music, doing something similar to what Oprah Winfrey is doing now over in South Africa.

So, I think that just the attention -- the attention that anyone can bring to the ravaging disease, sometimes we get so comfortable here in America that we -- you know, and we know that, you know, even our underbelly AIDS is still there. So, anytime we can bring attention to it, anytime that we can talk to it, and anybody that can, I think we should, because I think it's extremely important for this day and age in which we live in.

O'BRIEN: And certainly a pop superstar like Michael Jackson is going to bring attention to the issue. Congressman Meeks, nice to see you. Thanks for being with us this morning. We sure appreciate it.

MEEKS: Thank you. Good being with you.

O'BRIEN: Just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING, we're going to get into the legal angle on the Michael Jackson case. That comes from Jeffrey Toobin just ahead.

HEMMER: Also here, another twist in the Peterson matter with the defense accusing a woman of being a stealth juror? Details in a moment on that. You won't quite believe what's happening there in California.

O'BRIEN: Also, the federal government defending a girl's right to defy school rules. We'll explain her story just ahead.

HEMMER: And want to take a great family vacation, one that will not cost you a fortune? We will show you how in a moment here on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: The Justice Department is backing a Muslim girl's fight to wear a traditional headscarf to public school in Oklahoma. Twelve- year-old Nashala Hearn has been suspended twice for refusing to remove her headscarf because it violates the dress code of her school. Her parents filed the lawsuit last year asking permission for the girl to wear the scarf. A government motion yesterday said no child should be forced to choose between faith and a public education. The case is scheduled to be heard in the fall.

HEMMER: More legal talk now. The grand jury is hearing testimony in Michael Jackson's child molestation matter. An alleged stealth juror threatens the selection process in Scott Peterson's double murder trial.

And our legal analyst here, our senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin, is here to about both of them.

You got them both covered.


HEMMER: So, Larry Feldman is this attorney. He represented the accuser in a case 11 years ago in 1993. He apparently met with the grand jury yesterday. What's the significance of his testimony?

TOOBIN: What's significant is he has two significant things. One is -- I'm sorry, I'm so excited to talk about this. I just am stumbling over my words.


TOOBIN: He was the lawyer for the first accuser. He was the one who negotiated that big money settlement with the first kid and Michael Jackson. What's significant is it means this grand jury is using the evidence relating to that first kid. They are using the fact that there was this accusation 11 years ago as proof that Michael Jackson did it again.

HEMMER: So, if you're a prosecutor then, how critical is that testimony?

TOOBIN: Well, it's important. Ultimately, in a trial as opposed to a grand jury where you need firsthand evidence, you're going to need to hear from the first accuser himself. Apparently, this juror has not yet -- this grand jury has not yet heard from that accuser.

HEMMER: Yesterday at this time, we were moaning slightly about this First Amendment issue of the media outlets, including CNN, trying to pressure the judge to lighten up some of the restrictions. He has to a degree.

TOOBIN: He has to a reasonable degree. At first, these restrictions, the way the judge wrote it, seemed to bar the news media from taking pictures of what seemed like almost anyone walking into these facilities, these courtrooms or mock courtrooms, where these proceedings are taking place. That's relaxed. What is intact is the ban on speaking to grand jurors, which seems entirely appropriate.

HEMMER: Let's talk about Mark Geragos right now. He's challenging a juror, an older woman, who apparently was on a bus going to Reno, Nevada. And there's a man on the bus who overhears her talking about saying I got past the first round. I'm going to get on this jury, and Scott Peterson, in is words, he said she said that he's guilty as hell.

TOOBIN: Guilty.

HEMMER: Now Geragos wants her off the jury.

TOOBIN: For obvious reasons. But there are actually two agendas at work there. One is trying to get an apparently biased juror off the jury. And, in fact, Mark Geragos will be bringing the informant...


TOOBIN: ... to court in May to testify about this woman's alleged bias. But also he's trying to lay the groundwork for a larger point, which is that it is impossible for Scott Peterson to get a fair trial. There's too much bias against him. Remember, he got this trial moved once from Modesto to San Mateo.

HEMMER: That's right.

TOOBIN: He's trying to get it moved again, unsuccessfully...

HEMMER: Does this help his argument or not? Or is this just one exception and one woman who should be dismissed?

TOOBIN: I think it does help his argument, because the more bias he finds, in effect, the better. It doesn't settle the issue for all of San Mateo County, but this is an example of bias he asserts. This woman, by the way, denies saying this. We'll see what happens.

HEMMER: I said earlier we can't make it up. We can't, can we?

TOOBIN: We cannot. The bus-to-Reno evidence. It's (UNINTELLIGIBLE).

HEMMER: Thanks, Jeff.

Here's Soledad.

O'BRIEN: My client, Jack Cafferty, takes exception to Reno.


TOOBIN: Jack Cafferty was on that bus.

CAFFERTY: You meet a lot of nice people on the bus to Reno.

HEMMER: That's right.

CAFFERTY: And I hope that lady gets on the jury.

Coming soon to cable TV and radio airwaves, the "New York Observer" is reporting that former Vice President Al Gore is going to seal the deal later this week to buy a cable TV channel. His team says that the station will be a youth-oriented public affairs channel. And that liberal talk radio station, Air America, debuts today at noon with Al Franken's program. Franken is going to call his show the "O'Franken Factor."

The question is: Does America need additional liberal media outlets? That's if, you know, "The New York Times" and CBS News and Peter Jennings, if that doesn't do it for you, then maybe we need more. Here's some of what you've written. We're getting a lot of great responses, not all of them very pleasant, but some good ones.

Val in Connecticut says: "I hope Air America takes off like a rocket. It's about time we had a voice for the masses. Go, Franken."

Patrick in Waitsfield, Vermont: "No, I don't think we need anymore liberal media outlets. There are enough already. As for the Limbaughs, O'Reillys, et cetera, the liberals need to stop worrying. Most people listen to them for the same reason they listen to Howard Stern or Don Imus -- to be shocked and amused, not to learn how to vote."

And April says: "Calling the left-wing or liberals in this country communists is not funny and is, in fact, inflammatory. Why doesn't he call the right-wing extremists or reactionaries. I like Jack, but he clearly needs a muzzle. Live television may not be for him."

Thank you, April.

O'BRIEN: Here, April, is that better? Will this work for you, April.


CAFFERTY: Did you wash your hands? You had a terrible cold yesterday.

O'BRIEN: And you know what?


O'BRIEN: In about 48 hours, you're going to have it, too.

CAFFERTY: I'll be out sick for a week.

O'BRIEN: April, not only did I muzzle him, I gave him my cold. What more can I do for you?

CAFFERTY: I'm getting on a bus to Reno. I've had enough.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, believe it or not, you can find great and inexpensive family vacations, even (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ones, if you know who to call. We'll explain ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Well, spring has sprung, so the time is right to plan and save for that summer vacation. In this week's edition of "90- Second Tips," personal finance contributor David Bach tells us how the early bird gets the deals.

Hey, nice to see you, as always. Thanks so much.


O'BRIEN: How much lead time do you realistically need to start saving enough money for your summer vacation?

BACH: It really depends on how much you are going to spend on vacation. You know, it's sort of good news and bad news. Our friends in Europe go on vacation up to two months a year. Here in the United States, we go on vacation for a week and a half, but that week and a half vacation can cost the average family $2,000, $3,000 or $4,000.

O'BRIEN: At least.

BACH: At least. So, really the thing to do is plan your vacation budget six months out. Create a vacation fund. That's what I teach in my books. It's what I teach in my seminars.

O'BRIEN: Next piece of advice. Use credit cards to accrue cash -- to accrue and cash in on mileage points. And I know sometimes you are not a big fan of using credit cards.

BACH: I'm not a big fan of using credit cards, but if you are responsible and you pay your credit cards off every month and you have a rebate card, over the year you can get enough frequent flyer points to pay for the entire vacation, you know, two or three free plane tickets, or you might even get a couple thousand dollars in cash back, depending on the card. So, the key is make sure you are paying those credit cards off each month, but get those credit cards to work for you to actually pay for your vacation.

O'BRIEN: What's the best way to plan for your vacation so that there are no surprises, so that you've stashed away the money, boy, you put that $5,000 away, and, oops, actually your vacation cost $6,500 with you and the four kids?

BACH: Well, I think one of the biggest things is to really read the fine print on your actual travel tickets. In other words, if someone tells you that this vacation is going to cost $2,000, does that include tax or local fees? You know, when you go into a hotel, they tell you it's $150, but by the time you get your bill there's an extra 50 bucks in miscellaneous taxes. The same thing happens with rental cars. So, ask the travel agent or if you're doing it yourself, get all of the fees upfront so you really know what you're paying for.

O'BRIEN: You also say consider preplanned vacation packages, because they essentially do that for you. They spell it out.

BACH: They do. And the nice thing about prepaid vacation packages, everything is included. You can get the food, the hotel, the airline, the car all in one package deal. And sometimes it's a very, very good price.

O'BRIEN: If you are flexible, you actually can save a lot of money.

BACH: Yes, for example, right now if you wanted to go skiing, there is a lot of snow right now in the mountains. But guess what? Nobody is skiing at the end of March, the beginning of April. So, when you travel on times that are maybe just two weeks away from the major time, you can get a trip as much as 50 percent off.

O'BRIEN: Practice the art of negotiation. Can you really bargain with people, like travel agents?

BACH: Oh, let me tell you...

O'BRIEN: I mean, can you go to the Ritz Carlton, and say I'm not paying $300 for a room. I'll give you 150.

BACH: Yes, yes and yes.

O'BRIEN: Really?

BACH: And I'll give you my Ritz Carlton story.


BACH: OK. I just went to the Ritz in (UNINTELLIGIBLE). A classic example of this. I went online to the Ritz Carlton. They didn't have any special deals for skiing. I then called directly and said, are you guys having any ski packages right now? Well, it turned out they were. I got a package rate that included my lift tickets that was half the price of the typical rack rate. So, the rack rate was like $800, but I got my ski tickets and my room for less that that. Then I got to the hotel. They had another special coupon inside one of their magazines. I went back down to the manager and said, hey, you were advertising this price last month. Can I have this same price? Yes, Mr. Bach, we'll be happy to accommodate you.

O'BRIEN: That's not just because you're Mr. Bach and they can do that?

BACH: No. Anybody really can do it, but you do have to spend time, and I spent about an hour shopping around. But can I tell you something, Soledad? That saved me $2,000 on that trip.

O'BRIEN: Wow! Totally worth it then. You also say stick to an itinerary.

BACH: Yes, stick to an itinerary. In other words, when you go on a vacation, a lot of times people all of a sudden make a change, believe it or not. They decide they're going to come back a day late or come back a day early. That's how you get nailed. Those extra change fees on your airline tickets, your train tickets can add up to hundreds of dollars and increase the costs of you vacation by 20 or 30 percent.

O'BRIEN: Next piece of advice, bring, don't buy. I know what this is, and I am so bad at this. I land somewhere, and I have to buy everything, because I have forgotten my shampoo, my lotion, you know, everything.

BACH: You know, when you go to a beach vacation and you forget your suntan lotion, OK?

O'BRIEN: Always. I always forget it.

BACH: Wal-Mart and suntan lotion is 2 bucks, right? But by the pool it's $19.95. It's the exact -- you know, the exact same suntan lotion. So, suntan lotion, shaving cream, razor blades, film, all of the obvious things, stock up on that. Take that with you before you go on that trip. You could save easily $100 on your vacation.

O'BRIEN: Yes, I would imagine at least 100 bucks. And finally, there's no place like home. Are you encouraging people to stay home for a vacation? And that's a fun vacation, camp out in your backyard?

BACH: Yes, but think about it. It really can be. And, again, I'm using myself as an example here. Last week, we were supposed to go to Vermont. We stayed in New York City. We did the thing in New York City that people come here to do. We went to the museums. We visited some of the local areas. We went up to (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We had a great week, but people live in a lot of cities like New York, where there's a lot to do. When people come into the town for that visit, they bring people to those locations, but they don't go to those locations when they're just living here.

O'BRIEN: Right. You know, I went to the Empire State Building. I'm a New Yorker. I went to the Empire State Building two years ago.

BACH: Yes.

O'BRIEN: First time ever.

BACH: And guess what? That's free.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Well, not now. Nothing's free. But it's not very expensive. David Bach, as always, nice to see you. Thanks for some great tips.

BACH: Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Appreciate it. David Bach, of course, is America Online's money coach. His Web site is David is here every Wednesday with tips on how you can improve your financial life -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad, thanks. In a moment here, the about-face of the White House from yesterday afternoon. National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice is set to talk before the 9/11 Commission. The commission's chairman is our guest top of the hour here on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, a possible shotgun malfunction is now firmly at the center of the Jayson Williams manslaughter case. We're going to talk about the case of the former attorney for Williams just of head on AMERICAN MORNING.


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