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Controversy About Comments Colin Powell Made About Iran's Nuclear Potential; Senate Finance Committee Grills CEO of Merck

Aired November 19, 2004 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A suspected Al Qaeda training post is found in Falluja. This morning, has the terrorist chain of command been broken?
Did Secretary of State Powell make unsubstantiated comments about Iran's nuclear program? New questions now about the evidence.

And in Senate testimony on Vioxx, five more drugs are named as potentially dangerous? Who does the FDA protect, on this AMERICAN MORNING?

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING, with Soledad O'Brien and Bill Hemmer.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. We've made it to Friday, and that means you have as well. And good morning. Good to have you with us today.

Good morning to you.

O'BRIEN: Good morning to you.

HEMMER: Other stories this hour. Another scare for the beef industry after inconclusive tests for mad cow disease came back for the third time this year. What is the impact now for farmers and customers, and do those tests really prove that America's supply is safe. We'll talk about that with the president of the American Meat Institute this morning.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, several developments to talk about in the Michael Jackson legal story. New photographs in the case to talk about, and also something that could be an indication that the singer is having some serious financial problems. Lisa Bloom is back. She's from Court TV, of course. She'll chat with us about all of that.

HEMMER: He was on assignment at this time yesterday, and he's back today.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Working hard for CNN. CNN is my life. I devote myself to CNN, and that's what I was doing yesterday.

One of the members of Axis of Evil is reportedly busy trying to figure out how to attach a nuclear warhead to a ballistic missile. Here's a hint: it ain't North Korea. We'll take a look at it in a few minutes. HEMMER: All right, Jack, thank.

Heidi Collins, also back with us today, looking at the headlines.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Good morning to you guys, and good morning to you, everyone.

Now in the news this morning, President Bush is set to approve a new limit on the national debt. The House yesterday approved an $800 billion boost to how much the government can borrow. The move will raise the current debt to $8.2 trillion. A White House official says the president will sign the bill into law on Monday.

After some controversy, it looks like Republicans are now clearing the way to make Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter the head of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The appointment was questioned by some conservatives, who said Senator Specter was too liberal on abortion rights, but Specter got unanimous backing from GOP members on the panel yesterday.

In Arkansas, people are getting their first look inside the Clinton presidency. The Clinton library and presidential center opens to the public this morning. President Bush, his father and former President Jimmy Carter were on hand for yesterday's wet dedication ceremony. The $165 million complex tells the story of Clinton's eight years in office, including his impeachment and a brief mention of Monica Lewinsky.

And two Georgia teens are expected to appear in court today, accused of trying to poison their classmates. At least 12 students got sick after eating a cake, investigators suspect contained bleach and glue. The accused schoolgirls, both 13 years old, face 12 counts of aggravated assaults with intent to commit murder. One of the girl's father's calls the incident a bad prank. We'll hear from him, coming up in just a little bit later in the show.

HEMMER: That we will. Back to Little Rock for a second here, who stole the tent?


HEMMER: It didn't just rain, it kept coming down and coming down.

COLLINS: It was not good.

HEMMER: Thank you, Heidi.

O'BRIEN: Some controversy this morning about comments Secretary of State Colin Powell made about Iran's nuclear potential. Powell warning on Wednesday that intelligence showed Iran was working on a missile that could be armed with a nuclear warhead. But today, "The Washington Post" reports two U.S. officials say that intelligence has not been verified. That topic could come up at this weekend's APEC Economic Summit in Chile. That is where President Bush is heading today. White House correspondent is with us this morning with much more on all of that.

Good morning to you, Suzanne.


Of course, there are conflicting restaurants over what Secretary Powell said. There's still a lot of confusion over that. But insiders say that really the nuclear ambitions of both Iran and North Korea are very likely to be President Bush's greatest foreign policy challenge in his second term. Now, already Secretary Powell is in Chile. That is where President Bush is headed today. This, of course, for a two-day summit. He'll be meeting with Asian Pacific leaders. He'll be discussing trade initiatives and fighting terror.

But the top of his agenda, of course, is to rally support to get North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions and to come back at the table for six party talks. Now those talks, involving the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea, broke down when North Korea's Kim Jong Il said they were not participating, they wanted one- on-one talks with the Bush administration. It has been the White House policy that they are not willing to do that, and U.S. officials say they believe that North Korea was simply waiting for the end of U.S. elections to see if that policy would change. Well, the Bush administration making it very clear that it is not going to change, and that is why these meetings are so critical, that they get the Asian allies to rally around, to support them, and to put pressure on North Korea to disarm -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux, at the White House for us this morning. Suzanne, thanks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Significant story out of Washington we're following today. Again, the recall of Vioxx, the largest drug recall in this country's history. And the safety record of the arthritis drug examined yesterday on Capitol Hill. The Senate Finance Committee grilled the CEO of Merck, maker of the drug, and also doctors and scientists from the FDA.

From D.C. this morning, here's Chris Huntington again on that story.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do we do about what we find?

CHRIS HUNTINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): FDA scientist David Graham testified that he estimates Vioxx caused more than 100,000 heart attacks, 30 to 40 percent of them fatal but Graham told members of the Senate Finance Committee that his FDA superiors ridiculed him and insisted on changes.

DR. DAVID GRAHAM, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR SCIENCE FDA: When I was pressured to change my conclusions and recommendations. One drug safety manager recommended that I should be barred from presenting the poster at the meeting and also noted that Merck needed to know our study results.

HUNTINGTON: Graham offered a blistering condemnation of the FDA's drug safety program saying that the system is broken and often overlooks the dangers of drug side effects.

GRAHAM: The FDA as currently configured is incapable of protecting America against another Vioxx.

HUNTINGTON: A senior FDA official responsible for evaluating new drugs flatly dismissed Graham's assessment and rejected his contention that several drugs still on the market, including Bextra, a Cox-II inhibitor from Pfizer, are dangerous and should be recalled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you agree with Dr. Graham that five drugs he mentioned pose a significant safety risk to Americans?


HUNTINGTON: Testifying via satellite, a former Merck consultant told lawmakers that the company refused his request for data on Vioxx related heart attacks. And, another doctor disputed Merck's central points that heart attacks occurred only in those who took the drug for more than 18 months.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Merck lacked information to know when the risk occurred and you cannot say with confidence given the available data.

HUNTINGTON: Merck Chairman and CEO Ray Gilmartin presented a well honed defense of his company and Vioxx insisting that the first time Merck saw clinical evidence of heart attacks linked to Vioxx was just a week before the drug was pulled from the market in late September.

DR. RAYMOND GILMARTIN, CHAIRMAN, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MERCK: Merck believed wholeheartedly in Vioxx. I believed wholeheartedly in Vioxx. In fact, my wife was taking Vioxx, using Vioxx up until the day we withdrew it from the market.

HUNTINGTON (on camera): While there were heated disagreements in the hearing about the way that Merck and the FDA handled the Vioxx situation, there was consensus that in the future all available information about a drug must be made public, particularly the negative findings.

Chris Huntington, CNN, Washington.


HEMMER: And you heard a little bit about Chris's story, the drugs that Dr. David Graham specified as potentially dangerous are the weigh-loss pill, Meridia, the cholesterol-lowering drug Crestor, the acne drug Accutane, the painkiller Bextra, again, and the asthma treatment Serevent. The makers of those drugs say that all these drugs are safe if used properly. Much more on this as we go throughout the morning -- Soledad. O'BRIEN: The Agriculture Department is investigating what could be the second case of mad cow disease here in the U.S. It could take a week to determine with certainty if, in fact, it is mad cow. The animal's location is not known, but officials say it never entered the food chain.

Patrick Boyle is the president of the American Meat Institute, and he joins us from Washington to talk about some potential fallout. Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: The initial rapid-screening tests were inconclusive. As we mentioned, it could be up to a week before we know exactly what the results truly are. How worried at this point do you think the public should be?

BOYLE: I don't think the public should be worried at all. This is the third inconclusive test result the department has announced in six months. In those six months, the USDA has dramatically increased the surveillance program to determine the prevalence of BSC in the U.S. cattle hard if it exists. I mean, because of the high volume of tests that they are appropriately conducting, they've had to go to rapid-screening tests. That have a proclivity to turn out inconclusive, because they're designed to find the disease if it even remotely exists in the sample.

So USDA announced another inconclusive. The first two were deemed a negative, and this one's going through subsequent testing, as you just said.

O'BRIEN: As we mentioned, the cattle never made it into the meat supply. So in your mind, that's an indication of a system that's working well.

BOYLE: Well, every cattle that we sample is diverted from the food supply and the animal feed supply. That's pursuant to federal regulations that the industry strongly supports.

Outside of what you just mentioned, which is an increase in the surveillance program, what has changed since December when that case of mad cow was discovered? How's the public better protected today?

BOYLE: Well, actually, the U.S. government and the industry began to implement protections against mad cow disease as far back as 1989. And in the ensuing 15 years, we have further refined those protections, designed to protect the health of the animal herd, but more importantly, designed to protect the safety of the meat and the public health of our consumers.

Since the discovery last December of our first mad cow, a cow we had been looking for, for about 15 years, by the way, the U.S. level of confidence in beef supply has remained extremely strong. Our sales domestically have been strong as well.

The one negative, and it's a significant negative, is some of our major foreign trading partners have disrupted shipments of U.S. beef exports, although we're working hard to regain those markets.

O'BRIEN: So then are you saying that the increased surveillance program is all that's really changed since last December?

BOYLE: Well, there are different requirements in terms of handling feed. There are different requirements in handling certain classes of animals, and there's a dramatic increase in the surveillance program.

O'BRIEN: The surveillance program, though, is sort of finding it after the fact, right? Is there any way to protect from a mad cow becoming a mad cow in the first place?

BOYLE: Well, the key here is not finding a mad cow, the key here is what we've been doing in the United States for the past 15 years, to protect the health of our herd and the safety of our consuming public. For example, the infective agent that makes a cow sick is housed in certain tissues within that animal, non-edible tissues. We remove them through the process, we divert them from the animal feed supply so the infection spread amongst the cattle. But more importantly, that infective agent has never been found in the beef that you and I consume.

O'BRIEN: Patrick Boyle is the president of the American Meat Institute, joining us this morning to clarify some of these information, some of this new information that has come forth.

Thanks very much for your time. We'll wait and see what this most recent test has to say. Thank you -- Bill.

BOYLE: Thank you.


HEMMER: Here's something you may not want to try at home, ever. A Florida man lassoed a six-foot gator that he says has been terrorizing his neighborhood. He says he called wildlife officials, got no response, so he took matters into his own hands.

Here's what he did: He took some rope from a boat and some duct tape. The man sat by the neighborhood lake and waited for the gator to show up and caught him. He says the creature put up quite a fight, a bit. Police officials then helped cart the gator away.

You know, any time we do alligator stories, I see memories of gator boy coming back to me.

O'BRIEN: A fine television moment here on AMERICAN MORNING.

HEMMER: You remember our 12-year-old boy friend out of Florida.

O'BRIEN: Yes, he didn't talk so much.

HEMMER: He has the gauze off of his head.

O'BRIEN: That was a long four minutes. But you know what, he was on a lot of medication, is all I'll say.

HEMMER: That he was.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, a suspected Al Qaeda house in Falluja, and a surprising claim as well. Can Osama bin Laden no longer command that terrorist organization?

HEMMER: Also today, Howard Stern more than ready to jump ship from his current job, and now his old boss wants to go with him. We'll find out why in a moment.

O'BRIEN: Plus, authorities unsealed some new photos from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. What they show, how damaging could they be? That's ahead, as we continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: We want to get to these questions now over who's calling the shots within al Qaeda, and whether or not that terror group is losing power or not. Yesterday, in Falluja, CNN took videotape of an apparent al Qaeda house, complete with letters from the terror leader there, Abu Musab Al Zarqawi. And yesterday, also, a U.S. military official saying that with Pakistan's help, al Qaeda leaders have been weakened to the point of no longer being able to direct worldwide terror activities. Is that the case? And if so, what is the state of al Qaeda today?

Back from London with us is terrorism expert Sajjan Gohel. And thanks for coming back with us.

To quote this commander here. stateside, he said, his words yesterday, we are living in the -- or they, rather, the "al Qaeda leaders, are living in the remotest areas of the world without any communications other than courier and are unable to orchestrate or provide command and control over a terrorist network." That is one heck of a statement, if true. Based on what you know, is that accurate?

SAJJAN GOHEL, TERRORISM EXPERT: Well, we have to understand, Bill, is that it doesn't actually require al Qaeda, it doesn't require bin Laden to plan and plot terrorist attacks all over the world. What we've witnessed since 9/11, is that there have been terrorist attacks throughout the world, Europe, Africa, Asia, but orchestrated by different groups with different leadership in their own organization structure. For example, Jamis Lamya (ph) was behind the Bali terrorist attack, the Salafis (ph) behind the Madrid train bombings, and Chechen terrorists in the Beslan school siege, doesn't require bin Laden. He is just the figurehead now of a world terrorist movement, but he doesn't organize anything at all.

HEMMER: Keep the conversation just on Pakistan for a moment here. Yesterday, Pakistan was called a key and critical ally in the war on terror. Do you see it that way, with cooperation out of Islamabad?

GOHEL: Well, what we have to understand, is when al Qaeda left Afghanistan after it was liberated by the U.S., all the key al Qaeda personnel just shifted base of operations and moved to Pakistan.

What we've witnessed is that every single al Qaeda leader has been caught in Pakistan, they've been caught because of the intelligence by the CIA and the FBI. And credit has been given to the Pakistanis, but they've only played a role of merely hosting al Qaeda. Their role, I think, has been overrated significantly.

HEMMER: Do you believe then that Osama bin Laden is still there? And when I say there, I mean this region of Waziristan in the western part of Pakistan?

GOHEL: It's become a very popular myth that Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman Al Zawihiri are somehow hiding in these caves. It's become a very popular scenario type of scenario.

But let's look at the facts. Every single key al Qaeda leader has been caught in major urban heartlands, major cities inside Pakistan, along with the entourages. It's like supposing we were looking for Osama bin Laden in the U.S. and we were looking for him in the Rocky Mountains, but in fact every single al Qaeda leader has been caught in L.A., or New York or Chicago. They're in the major cities. He needs to be near communications. He needs to be near medical equipment. He suffers from his kidneys. He would and needs dialysis machines. It's illogical to suggest he's in a mountainous cave. It's -- I think it's a fallacy.

HEMMER: Let's try and connect the dots, too, based on what we know are learning out of Falluja, and based no what you are said to believe about what's happening now with al Qaeda leadership. What could have been the connection with Zarqawi, and this safehouse in Falluja and the al Qaeda network? And what kind of communication may they have had, given the possibility that you say al Qaeda's on the run, and they are indeed a group that's under extreme stress?

GOHEL: Well, Falluja, for example, has become very much a Taliban-ized city, it was being controlled by Islamists, by fundamentalists. And al-Zarqawi himself had made Iraq his base of operations. And from what we can understand this year is that twice, al-Zarqawi swore his undying allegiance to the al Qaeda goal, the al Qaeda doctrine. It's no longer just the organization, but it's the ideology, the belief that bin Laden has permeated throughout the world of creating global jihad and destruction. And what we're witnessing now is that Iraq has become a major battleground for the terrorists, for Islamists, for foreign fighters. And al-Zarqawi has now developed a notorious reputation that probably rivals Osama bin Laden. He doesn't just need bin Laden, but he can do it by himself.

HEMMER: Interesting. Sajjan Gohel, always great to have you on our show. Thank you for your insight.

GOHEL: My pleasure.

HEMMER: All right -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A Florida police officer has quit his job after an internal investigation found that he lied about an incident involving a prisoner and Taser gun. Boynton Beach officer David Silverman told officials he ordered the handcuffed prisoner to stop kicking a cell door, that the prisoner refused to follow orders. But this videotape shows that the prisoner wasn't kicking anything, he was actually sitting down when Silverman shocked him. The officer was arrested last month. The Taser gun fires electric darts that pack a 50,000 watt shock.

HEMMER: Twenty-one past the hour. In a moment here, a father in the state of Georgia says all his daughter did was play a bad prank, but she and another girl are now accused of trying to commit murder. We'll explain that story, as we continue in a moment here on Friday morning.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everybody. Howard Stern's old boss at Viacom joining up with Stern again in a heck of a PR stunt yesterday in Lower Manhattan. Andy Serwer is back here "Minding Your Business."

Good morning to you.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE": Good morning to you. Howard Stern knows a little bit about PR, doesn't he?

HEMMER: My gosh, he sounded like a war protester yesterday.

SERWER: Yes, good stuff. We'll show you that in a second. Anyway, it's going to be a radio reunion at Sirius Satellite Radio apparently. Another bold stroke by this new company, hiring Mel Karmazin, the former No. 2 at Viacom which owns CBS and Nickelodeon and also Infinity Radio.

Karmazin is a highly regarded executive, came up through the ranks of radio, Infinity, which merged with CBS, where his No. 1 protege was Howard Stern. OK? Howard Stern, of course, will be joining Sirius Satellite Radio, yesterday down in New York City's Union Square rallying his faithful. And was he ever rallying. Listen to some of this. Giving away radios, giving away boom-boxes. Listen to what he had to say.


HOWARD STERN, RADIO PERSONALITY: The death FCC interference, the death of the FCC. Down with the FCC.


O'BRIEN: Did he say down?

SERWER: Down with the FCC. He said the FCC is going to die at one point. I'm not sure what he means by that. But anyway, he's supposed to join Sirius in January '06. I wouldn't be surprised if he comes before then to join Mel. Mel used to defend him all the time. And this morning Sirius Satellite Radio stock is up nearly 20 percent in pre-market trading. That's called the Mel effect.

HEMMER: Who's winning that battle so far, Sirius or XM?

SERWER: XM is winning in terms of subscribers, but Sirius has all the buzz.

HEMMER: Buzz indeed. Thank you, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: "Question of the Day" now, good morning.

CAFFERTY: Good morning. Secretary of State Colin Powell is suggesting that fresh intelligence indicates that one of the members of the axis of evil, Iran, is actively working on a program to enable its missiles to carry nuclear bombs. There's a comforting thought. "Washington Post" quotes a couple of U.S. officials who cast doubt on that story, saying that Powell's information is based on a single unvetted source. Iran insists that its nuclear energy program is only about power plants.

Meantime, Britain, France and Germany are suggesting that further diplomacy is the solution to this. "The New York Times" called the whole thing, quote, "an eerie repetition of the prelude to the war in Iraq." And Powell's comments indicated, quote, "steady tightening of the outlook between the hawks and the doves in the administration."

The bottom line, though, is that Iran's nuclear ambitions probably ought to be reined in before it's too late. The question is this: "What should be done about Iran's nuclear program?"

Our e-mail address is

HEMMER: A lot to consider there, too.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jack, thank you very much.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: Guess what? It's Friday! TGIF. And even better, guess what's coming up, your favorite segment, "90 Second Pop."

"People" magazine says Jude Law is one sexy beast. But why do other people beg to differ?

Plus who's got more box office mojo, Nicolas Cage or a bucktoothed yellow sponge? It's "National Treasure" versus "The Spongebob Squarepants Movie" ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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