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9/11 Holdouts in Congress Getting Some Support From Victims' Families; Intense Moments in Scott Peterson Trial

Aired December 1, 2004 - 08:00   ET


JOAN MOLINARO, 9/11 FAMILIES FOR SECURE AMERICA: Keep my girls alive. You allowed the murder of my son. I will not allow you to kill my daughters.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The 9/11 holdouts in Congress getting some support from victims' families. As passion build, is Washington any closer to a compromise?

Perhaps the most intense moments yet in the Scott Peterson trial, as Laci's mother rips into her son-in-law.

And one more for the road -- the 2004 hurricane season ending with a bonus storm. Tropical Storm Otto blowing in at Atlantic on this AMERICAN MORNING.

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

S. O'BRIEN: Kind of a yucky day here in New York City. Look how dark and gloomy and rainy and icky it is.


S. O'BRIEN: Good morning.

M. O'BRIEN: But that's OK. There's sunshine in our hearts, right?

S. O'BRIEN: And that's all. That's the only place you're going to get it here in New York City.

Good morning.

Bill Hemmer is off today.

Miles O'Brien, though, filling in all week, so thank you very much.

M. O'BRIEN: It's good to be here.

President Bush has a decision to make that will determine the safety of Americans. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announcing his resignation. This morning we're looking at Ridge's legacy and his possible replacements.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, a resignation at the nation's oldest civil rights organization. Kweisi Mfume stepping down as the head of the NAACP. In a few minutes, we're going to talk to the Reverend Al Sharpton about what the organization needs now most of all.

Hello -- Jack.


Coming up in the "Cafferty File," Wednesday, "Things People Say." President Bush thanking Canadians who waved to him yesterday with more than one finger, the ghost -- think about it.

S. O'BRIEN: That was...

CAFFERTY: Think about that for a minute. It'll come to you.

S. O'BRIEN: I9 even got that one.

M. O'BRIEN: They were telling him he's number one. Isn't that what it was?

CAFFERTY: The ghost of Edward R. Murrow walks the halls of CBS News and Kinky Freidman on snorting the fine line between fiction and non-fiction.

S. O'BRIEN: Ooh, it's going to be a good "File" today, I feel it.

CAFFERTY: I like it today.

S. O'BRIEN: It's a good one.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it's good stuff.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Jack, thanks.

Headlines now with Heidi Collins -- hello.

Good morning, again.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, guys, and good morning to you, everybody.

Now in the news this morning, President Bush giving Canadians a belated thank you for helping Americans stranded after the September 11 attacks. The president leaving Ottawa, Canada right now for Halifax, Nova Scotia. It's part of an official two day visit aimed at warming frosty relations between the neighboring countries. In fact, you're looking now live at Ottawa, where the plane, Air Force One, as you know, is being de-iced.

Today's speech is expected to focus on border security and the battle against terrorism. Secretary of State Colin Powell commemorating World AIDS Day in Haiti. Secretary Powell is slated to meet with Haitian youth who provide and receive HIV and AIDS support. The one day visit will also include a meeting with Haiti's interim leaders, where Powell will reaffirm U.S. support for democracy in the island nation.

Federal officials are looking into whether failure to de-ice may have caused the plane crash involving NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol. A Denver television station reports Ebersol suffered broken ribs and a broken sternum in Sunday's crash in Colorado. His oldest son was also injured. Three others were killed in the crash, including Ebersol's other son, 14-year-old Teddy Ebersol.

And never say never. Just as Floridians were celebrating the last day of the hurricane season -- we told you about this yesterday -- Tropical Storm Otto formed out of the Atlantic Ocean. Unlike the four deadly storms to hit Florida this season, Otto not expected to threaten land. Thank goodness, because you know what? They have just had enough, haven't they?

M. O'BRIEN: Otto will be enough.


M. O'BRIEN: Yes, right.

COLLINS: It ought to be.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you, Heidi.

COLLINS: Who writes this stuff?

M. O'BRIEN: Appreciate it.

S. O'BRIEN: We got that.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, in just a few days, the lame duck Congress will adjourn for the year and in their winning days, law makers are feeling some pressure to focus on that effort to overhaul the nation's intelligence organizations.

More now from congressional correspondent Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tom Kean and Lee Hamilton huddled with Vice President Cheney in a final blitz for the stalled intelligence bill. The former 9/11 commission co-chairs are also making their case to Congress, warning of dire consequences.

THOMAS KEAN, FORMER 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIR: Reform is an urgent matter and reform simply must not wait until after the next attack.

HENRY: President Bush insists he wants a deal, despite the objections of Republican committee Chairmen James Sensenbrenner and Duncan Hunter.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I believe the bill is necessary and important and I hope we can get it done next week.

HENRY: But one Republican lawmaker suggested if House leaders fail to schedule a vote next week, the president should get the blame.

REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: If we don't have a vote on September 11, it would be my feeling that the president didn't weigh in strong enough.

HENRY: Besides the divide between powerful Republicans, there's a split among 9/11 families. Some say reform can't wait. BEVERLY ECKERT, 9/11 FAMILY STEERING COMMITTEE: America will be watching what Congress does next week to see who is really running this country. Is it Congressmen Hunter and Sensenbrenner, is it the Pentagon or is it the president?

HENRY: But one woman who lost her son on 9/11 argued passionately that this bill isn't strong enough and Sensenbrenner's immigration provisions should be included.

MOLINARO: No bill should pass the Senate, the House, anywhere unless it contains immigration reform. You secure our borders. You keep my girls alive. You allowed the murder of my son. I will not allow you to kill my daughters.

HENRY: Republican Congressman Chris Shays challenged President Bush to come to Capitol Hill next week and make his case for the legislation. Shays is convinced that a direct appeal from the president will sway a majority of Republicans and get this bill done.

Ed Henry, CNN, Capitol Hill.


M. O'BRIEN: Congress reconvenes on Monday -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: After nine years at the helm of the NAACP, Kweisi Mfume is stepping down. Mfume made the announcement yesterday. He left Congress back in 1996 to lead the NAACP and saw the country's oldest and largest civil rights organization through some troubled times.

As for a successor and Mfume's legacy, we're talking with the Reverend Al Sharpton this morning.

Nice to see you.


S. O'BRIEN: Surprised at all that he's decided to call it quits after nine years? SHARPTON: A little surprised, but very proud of his tenure. You know, I think Mfume absolutely helped to make the organization solid. He and Chairman Julian Bond really tackled many issues and worked very closely with others in the civil rights community. Our group here in New York, the National Action Network, Mfume came and spoke the last two or three years at our convention.

They really were very effective in fighting to maintain affirmative action. They led the court fights on that, to deal with discrimination in the corporate world, the report cards that he initiated. And he made the organization solid. They were in millions of dollars of debt. Most of us have debts in civil rights organizations. He found a way to make it solvent again.

I think he leaves with no scandal and with a proud record.

S. O'BRIEN: He says he's leaving because he wants to watch his 14-year-old son's basketball games. He'd like to take a vacation every now and again. Some people have said there's been divisions within the organization and maybe that's fair to say about almost every organization.

Do you think that there's something more to it than what he says, which is he's just got to do something for himself?

SHARPTON: I really don't know. You know, there always are tensions in any operation, particularly when you're in a high tense pursuit like social justice. But clearly these were not so out of hand that there could not be some coming together, and effective coming together. And I think sometimes, you know, Martin Luther King used to talk about creative tension is good.

I absolutely don't think it led to his departure and I think that the organization under Chairman Bond will continue, find a successor that can continue to work. And I think all of the speculation is irrelevant.

What is relevant is whatever tensions, it came together for the good of this country and for the good of the people they wanted to serve.

S. O'BRIEN: Mfume himself said his biggest failure was an inability to work with the White House. At the end of the day, never really got the two groups together in any kind of productive, effective way.

Does the next person to come in, should that be part of their agenda, to mend whatever -- I mean the president said, as well, they have a non-existent relationship, the White House and the NAACP.

SHARPTON: I think that that failure is more the president's fault than Mfume's fault.

S. O'BRIEN: But regardless of whose fault it is, does the person who comes in say...

SHARPTON: Well, again...

S. O'BRIEN: ... you know what, we've got to work with the White House?

SHARPTON: I think that is the role of civil rights organizations to work with the White House or to work toward certain goals that if the White House is available to work with them on that, fine. If not, sometimes you have to work on the White House to achieve civil rights. and I think the next leader, as the present chairman, has to be prepared to do either.

You know, we gained a lot in the '60s and the '70s, both working with and on the White House, whatever was necessary. So a social relationship with the White House that benefits no one is not more desirable than a non-social relationship if it's going to advance the cause. Sometimes you get a lot with conversation. Unfortunately, sometimes you get a lot with confrontation. You need leadership that's prepared to do either, and do it effectively.

S. O'BRIEN: Who is the leadership? Who do you predict is the one who takes over?

SHARPTON: The 64 members of the board will decide that. The membership will decide that.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, come on, who do you guess?

SHARPTON: I have no idea. A lot of people out there could do a lot of work.

S. O'BRIEN: Like who?

SHARPTON: I don't know. I think the fact that Julian Bond is still chairman is good and I think that there are available people in the civil rights community and beyond that have the talent to do it. And I think the NAACP will only be better in the 21st century than it even was in the 20th century.

S. O'BRIEN: Reverend Sharpton, nice to see you.

SHARPTON: Thank you.

Good to see you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks for coming in to talk to us -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Life or death -- the stakes could not be higher for Scott Peterson, as the defense today presents its side in the penalty phase of Peterson's murder trial. Yesterday's testimony from those closest to Laci Peterson emotional, to say the least. Many jurors, spectators and even many of the journalists in tears.

CNN's Rusty Dornin live now in Redwood City, California with more -- Rusty, good morning.

RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Miles, things got off to a bit of a rocky start, though, yesterday. There was a two and a half hour delay and sources tell CNN it involved the subpoena of a bartender who was questioned about alleged juror misconduct. Now, when the judge came back in the courtroom, the only thing he would say was that an evidentiary issue had been resolved.

Then it was the prosecution's time to present their case and in two hours they had wrapped it up. And by the time they did, there was barely a dry eye in the house.


DORNIN (voice-over): There were cries of anguish from family members and friends of Laci Peterson as her mother, Sharon Rocha, described the horror of the past two years. A number of jurors wept openly along with Rocha as she spoke of her daughter and her fears about the killing. "I wonder every day if she knew she was being murdered," she said.

At times, Rocha screamed directly at Scott Peterson. "Divorce is always an option, not murder."

She talked of the pain of her pregnant daughter's disappearance, the agony of waiting. At times, Scott Peterson could be seen wiping his eyes. Rocha described how her daughter would get seasick, but Peterson chose to dump her in the Bay.

Again staring at the son-in-law with whom she was once very close, she cried, "You knew she'd be there for all eternity and you did that to her anyway."

Rocha was the last of four family members and the prosecution's last witness to testify. Her stepfather, Ron Grantski, told the jury: "Part of our hearts are gone. Nothing will ever be the same again."

Brent Rocha said his sister was the life of the holidays for the family and told the jury how much he will miss her.

Legal analysts say both sides tried to gain sympathy with the jury, but it won't be easy for Defense Attorney Mark Geragos.

JIM HAMMER, LEGAL ANALYST: But in this case, it seems to me, the sympathy is 100 percent for Laci Peterson n Conner and Sharon Rocha. And that's why I think Geragos has an almost impossible task to connect with this jury after they have so quickly rejected every argument he's made in the case.

DORNIN: Geragos will make his most important argument first thing this morning, the one to try and save Scott Peterson's life.


DORNIN: Some of the things we're likely to hear in those opening statements are the fact that Peterson has no criminal record, no violent history, some character witnesses, that sort of thing; also, the fact that there could be some lingering doubt. I mean there was no crime scene, no murder weapon and no cause of death. And I'm sure Geragos is going to impress upon the jurors that if they have any doubt about this, that they should not sentence him to death -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Rusty, a lot of observers were surprised at how brief the prosecution was yesterday, especially considering the length of the trial.

What can we expect from Geragos and his team today?

DORNIN: Well, I think you're going -- of course, you're going to hear from Scott Peterson's family, probably his father and his mother. He does have seven brothers and sisters. We don't know if we're going to be hearing from all of them. But certainly there will be some experts, what they call mitigation experts, who will, again, talk about the fact he had no criminal history, no violent history and also talk about the horrors of life in prison, you know, saying it's no walk in the park. If you sentence him to that, he will suffer for the rest of his life and that that's what they should do, instead of giving him the death penalty.

M. O'BRIEN: Rusty Dornin in Redwood City, California.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Another look at the weather now.

Rob Marciano at the CNN Center with the latest forecast for us.

Kind of a yucky day here -- Rob.


S. O'BRIEN: How is it looking elsewhere?

MARCIANO: It's not bad elsewhere, actually. It's really nice across the rest of the country.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, still to come on the program, stop stressing about getting old. Dr. Gupta explains how it just makes you older.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, the legalese of love -- a rare and unusual 18th century law factors into a 21st century divorce case. We'll explain.

M. O'BRIEN: And the fight against AIDS in Africa -- could discrimination be the reason why people aren't getting the prevention education they need? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Today is World AIDS Day. It is the 16th annual day to take stock of the virus, the disease and its devastating impact. The numbers are still staggering. Nearly 40 million people living with the AIDS virus. More than three million this year alone will die from the disease. The coordinator of the president's plan for global AIDS relief is Ambassador Randall Tobias.

He joins us now from the White House.

Ambassador, good to have you with us.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, on this 16th World AIDS Day, at least here in the United States, there's a fair amount of apathy about HIV and AIDS.


TOBIAS: Well, I think people have just become comfortable here in the United States that the disease is under control, and it's not. But more particularly, around the world, 8,000 people are going to die today and every single day. And so awareness and the leadership on a national level in every country is critically important to bring attention to the things that need to be done.

M. O'BRIEN: The Bush administration intends to spend $15 billion over five years to try to combat AIDS. These are tight times for the budget.

Will that money be spent? Will it be spent effectively?

TOBIAS: Well, what the president has put in place is really quite extraordinary. This year, the United States will be spending as much as the rest of the world's donor governments combined. And in the first year of the plan, we spent, I think quite effectively, $2.4 billion. We have programs up and running in 100 countries around the world and while it's an enormously daunting task, I'm pleased with the early progress that we're making.

M. O'BRIEN: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who works us and who is doing a special on this subject, got a hold of a Government Accounting Office report which says that that money that is spent on pharmaceuticals to help out people with AIDS all around the world must be spent on brand name drugs, not generics, obviously costing a lot more money.

Why is that?

TOBIAS: Well, that's not true. And, in fact, our policy is to buy the least expensive drugs that we can find from any source, any country, any company, any place in the world, as long as those drugs are demonstrated to be safe and effective. So we've invited every company in the world that makes these drugs to apply to the FDA for review. And as soon as those reviews take place, they'll be eligible for funding under this program.

M. O'BRIEN: But as you well know, those reviews can take quite some time, many years.

Will some of these reviews be fast tracked...

TOBIAS: Well, not really.

M. O'BRIEN: ... given the urgency?

TOBIAS: No. We've put an accelerated process in place for this purpose at the FDA. So these reviews can be done in a matter of just a few weeks.

M. O'BRIEN: The other criticism that comes up time and again is the focus on programs which are encouraging abstinence to the detriment of, perhaps, also encouraging condom use, which has been shown to be very effective.

What's the administration's stance on that?

TOBIAS: Well, the administration's prevention policy is really based on something that was developed in Africa, in Uganda, called the ABC approach, a for abstinence, for being faithful within a relationship and for condoms for those who engage in high risk behavior. And it's been demonstrated there that if young people can delay the age at which they become sexually active and then people are faithful within a marriage or a committed relationship, that's had a dramatic impact in bringing the infection rate down.

M. O'BRIEN: But does that provide enough focus on the use of condoms so that people understand the value of using them?

TOBIAS: Well, condoms are certainly an important risk reduction approach. They're not a risk elimination approach. But they are a part, an important part of the ABC approach. But more things also need to be done and on this particular World AIDS Day, when we're very focused on the issues of girls and women, we also need to be focusing on cultural changes that need to take place and laws that need to be changed in many countries around the world so that women and girls have more rights and more control over their own lives and their own sexual activities.

M. O'BRIEN: Ambassador Randall Tobias, thank you very much for your time.

TOBIAS: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the U.S. didn't see another terrorist attack under the watch of Tom Ridge. Was his department responsible or was something larger at play? A look at that is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Jack's got his Question of the Day.

CAFFERTY: Tom Ridge leaving the Department of Homeland Security. He'll be remembered for plastic sheeting, duct tape and the color coded alert system. And people laugh about that. But think about this. On his watch, there have been no other terrorist attacks on our homeland.

So the question we're pondering this day is has the Department of Homeland Security been right or have they been lucky?

This letter: "I would tend to suspect that Ridge and his crew have been more lucky than right. What I do have, however, is a lot of duct tape, plastic sheeting, spare batteries, bottled water. I'm contemplating a Tom Ridge homeland security yard sale."

Gayle in Cave City, Kentucky: "I think he's been lucky, but not because he wasn't qualified for the job. It was a thankless job that was doomed from the start by an administration that totally is unconcerned about the reality of what's needed to protect us here in the United States."

Natalie in Mount Lookout, West Virginia: "Everybody seems to forget the terrorists who targeted America are incredibly patient. It was almost 10 years between the first attack on American soil and the second, 9/11. Therefore, the answer is neither. It's time for Americans to understand that on September 11, as tragic as it was, the only thing that really happened was we joined the rest of the world."

And Bob writes from Bedford, Virginia: "Tom Ridge will take Dan Rather's job at CBS News, make a bundle of a money for a 30 minute news show. America is a whacky place to live, but I love it."

So there.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting to see if that happens.

CAFFERTY: "Things People Say" coming up, a good batch of those...

S. O'BRIEN: A good one?

CAFFERTY: Yes. These will be good. I'm looking forward to these.

S. O'BRIEN: All right.


S. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, when you're psyched about it...


CAFFERTY: Sometimes you have a risk of over selling yourself in advance.

S. O'BRIEN: You know what? I was going to say...


(CROSSTALK) CAFFERTY: I like them. I don't care whether you like them or not, OK? I thought they were amusing. How's that?

M. O'BRIEN: This never happened in the history of television.


M. O'BRIEN: Over selling. Imagine that?

CAFFERTY: Well, no, it's...

S. O'BRIEN: And there's the hat, all right.

CAFFERTY: That's a good point.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Jack.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, still to come on the program, Dr. Gupta tells us why stressing out will never help you find the fountain of youth.

Plus, is it time for Kofi Annan to step aside.

What do you think, Jack?

CAFFERTY: Didn't we do this yesterday?

M. O'BRIEN: I think we did, yes.

CAFFERTY: It seems like we did.

M. O'BRIEN: Kamber and May will talk about the family scandal and that's one of the many things ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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