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Viktor Yushchenko Poisoned; Hemmer's Travel; '90-Second Pop'

Aired December 13, 2004 - 07:29   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. It's just about half past the hour on this "AMERICAN MORNING."
In just a few moments, we're going to take a look at one of the most intriguing whodunit in international politics. The case of just who poisoned Ukraine opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, if indeed he was, in fact, poisoned. We talk this morning with his chief of staff about the suspects.

Also, take a look at this guy. Who is this harry guy? Believe it or not, you know him. We're going to get the whole story on the adventure behind that sort of fashion statement coming up.

But first the headlines with Kelly Wallace. Not going to give it away?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: That's a tease I'm staying around for that. Who is that Harry man?

O'BRIEN: I'm not going to tell you. You've have to wait.

WALLACE: All right, good morning.

O'BRIEN: You've got the headlines this morning. Good morning.

WALLACE: Yes, we do. Good morning again. And good morning again, everyone.

"Now in the News."

A deadly bombing in Iraq this morning. Police say at least six people were killed and more than a dozen others wounded. The suicide car bombing took place outside Baghdad's Green Zone, which houses Iraq's interim and foreign embassies; that incident coming a day after at least seven American Marines were killed in separate attacks west of Baghdad in Iraq's Al Anbar Province. The military says the fighting was the deadliest for U.S. forces since an attack in Falluja on October 30.

CNN has learned NASA administrator Sean O'Keefe will announce his resignation today. Sources inside NASA are telling CNN O'Keefe will accept an offer from Louisiana State University to be its chancellor. O'Keefe has led NASA's space program for three years.

And folks in Minnesota are cleaning up today after a major windstorm. Gusts over 60 miles an hour uprooting trees, including this Christmas tree in the front yard of the governor's mansion. The high winds also knocking down power lines.

That's a quick check of the headlines.

Now we go over to Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Kelly, thanks.

Ukrainian presidential hopeful Viktor Yushchenko returned to Kiev this morning from Austria. That's where tests found that he had, in fact, been poisoned with dioxin. He is convinced Ukrainian authorities were behind the attempt on his life. The poisoning caused a sudden illness, radically changed his appearance and nearly killed him.

Joining us this morning to talk about the diagnosis and also the impact on the December 26 runoff elections is Yushchenko's chief of staff, Oleh Rybachuk.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: First, how is the candidate feeling?

RYBACHUK: Oh, much, much better. When you look at him and you are shocked, he said, you should have seen me just a few days after he was poisoned, because that was awful. The pain was unbearable, and he was swollen. Now he believes it's over. I also believe it's over.

O'BRIEN: Who does he believe, and who do you believe, is behind dioxin poisoning? I mean, it sounds obviously like an attempt on his life.

RYBACHUK: Yes. I was telling already to your colleagues that somewhere in late July I started getting a warning, because he is the most popular Ukrainian politician. I was starting getting a warning that he would be taken care of, as they say.

I received this information from top-ranking ex-secret service police officers. And they've been telling me that poisoning was the No. 1 issue.

As you know, in the Soviet Union, KGB was very famous at taking care of VIPs they didn't like by very sophisticated poisoning. I told him Yushchenko that threat. I told him that we have to tighten security, and we did this. But, you know, he leads a normal life, an open public life. So, it would be very difficult to imagine that you can take all of the precautions. And, frankly, we didn't know that they would go as far. But actually they did.

O'BRIEN: In September, he fell very, very ill. Describe for me what happened. And how quickly did he think, in fact, he had been poisoned?

RYBACHUK: Well, he was already in campaign. Campaign is very stressful. So you never know. You can't get immediately feeling that you are poisoned. I know I had seen him a few hours after we assumed he was poisoned. He said he feels lousy, but he believed because he slept a little bit. But he started worrying when pain never ceased. And frankly speaking, Ukrainian doctors have no experience in treating this kind of poisoning.

So, I would like to emphasize that if we would fail to get him out of the country, another 20 hours he would be dead.

O'BRIEN: What was the method, do you believe, of transmission? If you've upped the security around him, you have warned him that there could be an attempt on his life, you know that there is a method that is sort of the chosen method of poisoning, how do you think he got poisoned?

RYBACHUK: Well, I can only guess. But, again, you imagine, we are not living in the gentlemen's club. My authorities treat opposition equally to terrorists. They say that opposition and terrorists is alike. It's not only in Ukraine. In the Soviet Union, this is a very typical approach.

So, just jump in my shoes, what you can do. We've been threatened as long as I remember. We are active in politics. We are barred. We are followed. We have car incidents happening to our colleagues. So you can know a little about it.

Yushchenko is very open. As I said, he is very active politically. He hates all of the security stuff. He hates bodyguards. So he meets lots of people. So what you can do, we just assumed that they wouldn't go for this, because when you know that you can be poisoned, you should be, what, living like Michael Jackson in a laboratory with all of this isolation? It's impossible for an open, public politician.

O'BRIEN: I know there is an investigation under way, and all of this is going to sort of have more of a focus after the runoff election. Oleh Rybachuk, nice to have you. Thanks for coming in to talk us to about the details of this case. We appreciate it.

RYBACHUK: Thank you.

O'BRIEN: Let's go right back now to Bill Hemmer. He's in Tokyo -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad, thank you.

And as we continue to monitor the news out of this country and see how it relates to the U.S. situation as well, we want to bring you some of the headlines we're picking up so far today in the "Yomi Yuri" (ph) newspaper, which essentially translates into buy and read. Readership, by the way, 10 million for this newspaper.

In the center part of the newspaper here on the front page, a cabinet member here in Japan reminding the Japanese people that although the Japanese presence in Iraq has been extended by a year, there is a clause in the constitution that states essentially if there is a threat against those Japanese troops at any point, the government has the right to withdraw those troops immediately.

Also, I found this story rather interesting. The "Sahi Shinboom" (ph) readership is 8 million. The top headline here talks about the bullet trains that travel about 170 miles an hour, so popular throughout the country of Japan. For the first time in 10 years, they're experiencing the longest delays they have had, due to heavy rains and typhoons.

So just a sample of what we're picking up in the newspapers here in Japan today.

Now let's talk about the road. For the past 20 years, travel has been a bit more than a hobby for me. Travel, in many ways, has been my life. And about 12 years ago, I took this camera -- this camera right here -- and captured enough memories for a couple of lifetimes. And a lot of those memories are coming back now.


HEMMER (voice over): For my money, travel is the school of life. There is no better way to learn about this planet, its fascinating people, and how it all seems to work around here.

More than 10 years ago, I quit my job, loaded up a backpack and wandered for nearly 12 months to see and to learn a whole lot more about us -- all six billion of us.

(on camera): Chinese call it Chen Chen (ph), or the Great Wall.

(voice over): I spent a lot of time in some hard-to-reach places. The clinics in Calcutta run by Mother Teresa. A very long bungee jump in New Zealand. Watching small businesses take root in Vietnam. A mud massage along the Dead Sea. I remember telling my family and friends, this is not a vacation; this is an education. And was it ever.

Maybe the one solid truth is this: No matter where you go, we're all trying to make our lives and the lives of those closest to us better than they are today.

In the past few years, my travel has been for work. But the deserts in Afghanistan or the dusty and deadly streets of Baghdad offered the same level of intrigue. And so, more than 50 countries later, the ancient culture of Japan is on the list for this first-time visitor. And I, for one, can't wait to explore and learn again.


So, welcome back to Tokyo, as we continue our travels here, not only today but throughout the week. We hope to bring you some interesting aspects of the great and deep culture and history that this country has had. So we look forward to bringing you that.

In the meantime, though, Steven Wright (ph) once said, Soledad, it's a small world, but I would not want to paint it. He's right about that, because you need a pretty big brush. But I'm thinking about bringing back that beard. What do you think?

O'BRIEN: You know...

HEMMER: Would that work?

O'BRIEN: Let's talk about it.


O'BRIEN: Maybe not. It looks a little scruffy. Great pictures, though, Bill.

HEMMER: Listen, the razor still works.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Great pictures, Bill.

HEMMER: All right.

O'BRIEN: All right, we'll check in with you later. But first, let's check in on the weather.


O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, Andy Serwer explains why tomato lovers have something to cheer about today. Also, it's been a year since Saddam Hussein was captured. How long until his trial? The latest on this and today's car bombing in a live report coming to you at the top of the hour.

And making "Ocean's Twelve" was like a day at the beach. Now its all-star cast has to make good on its promise to make some money. Stay with us. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Let's get right to Jack with the "Question of the Day."


Army National Guard members are 35 percent more likely to be killed in Iraq than full-time soldiers, according to an analysis of Pentagon figures by "USA Today." Reports in the field suggest National Guardsmen often have worse equipment and training that the active-duty troops. Yet, some are being assigned to the most dangerous missions in Iraq. These are soldiers who generally drill only one weekend a month here at home and two weeks during the summer when there is no war.

The question is this: Should the part-time soldiers be put on the front lines in Iraq?

Retired Specialist First Class Tim in Fredericksburg, Virginia, writes: "In case anyone hasn't noticed lately, there is no front line. Once a person puts on a uniform, they're stepping onto the front line. This is not the early 20th century when defined lines on the battlefield existed. The concept of a safe and secure rear area is no longer a guarantee."

Weldon in New Market, Ontario: "If they have the full training that the regulars get, then I say yes. If not, they should be assigned to non-combat duties. Why should American lives be lost for the sake of an adequate head count?"

Buck in Charlottesville, Virginia, writes: "After retiring from the Army after 21 years, I find the question insulting. Prior to deployment, these soldiers are brought up to the same level of competency as their active-duty counterparts through a regime of training and exercises that have been developed by the active component. They're as well-trained and motivated as any soldier in the world."

And from Washington, Bob writes: "Yes, as long as they're trained for the job expected of them. And by the way, who's taking their place while they are away?"

That's a fairly relevant question, I would guess. We've got a lot of our guard people and reservists over there, and there are not as many here as there used to be.

O'BRIEN: And interesting for Buck to be sort of offended by the question per say. It's interesting.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: And it's just a question of numbers, though. I mean, troop strength, right?


SERWER: We don't have enough people in the Army, so these people are brought in, right?

CAFFERTY: Exactly.


O'BRIEN: All right, Jack, thanks.


O'BRIEN: So, it looks like tomatoes might be back. Breaking news right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

SERWER: All of the big stories, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Finally, that shortage is over.


O'BRIEN: I was waiting for it.

SERWER: Tomatoes, tomatoes, yes, we have no tomatoes. It was actually -- you know, it had to do with the hurricanes and the heavy rains that killed all of the tomato crops. And if you noticed, there wasn't a lot whole lot of salsa at your favorite Mexican restaurant over the past couple of weeks, or there were some different kinds. I'll tell you about that.

Tomato prices had soared after these storms, up to $44 for a 25- pound box. Just to give you an idea, it's usually $13.



SERWER: And I also thought the quality was pretty bad. I think they were getting some of these tomatoes from God knows where. So now, some restaurants like Wendy's and Jack in the Box were actually take the slices off of the tomato -- off of your hamburgers. And the salsa was holiday cranberry, which you're not going to put any holiday cranberry sauce on my burrito.

O'BRIEN: Oh, really?

SERWER: But that's what they were replacing it with: holiday cranberry.



SERWER: So this stuff is all coming back, and the prices have come down.

O'BRIEN: But good news, right?


O'BRIEN: It's all coming back.

SERWER: More good news. Football. Let's talk about that a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Let's.

SERWER: How did the anchors do? Well, pretty well. Let's see if we can check it out here. Well, we've got a little bit mixed around. Bill is up there. Soledad did OK. I did all right. I didn't pick one game, which is why I'm 12-2.

CAFFERTY: I had another big week, didn't I?

SERWER: You know why? Because you don't pick games. You stir the pot.

O'BRIEN: You stir the pot.

SERWER: That's your job.

O'BRIEN: That's your job.

CAFFERTY: I took all of the underdogs at the beginning of the year. I said, 'Just put me down for all of the underdogs.' So now... O'BRIEN: Well, now, why would you do that?

CAFFERTY: They're underdogs for a reason. Because I'm too lazy to sit and go through the games every week. So I just said, 'Give he me the underdogs.'

SERWER: There's not a whole lot of money at stake. That's why.

O'BRIEN: And I thought you were doing it to...

CAFFERTY: However, let me tell you how I did do this week. I won 50 cents from Hemmer, who is over in Tokyo.

O'BRIEN: Did he pay you?


CAFFERTY: No. And he owes me for two Cincinnati games now. And when you get back to the states...

SERWER: Pay you in yen.

CAFFERTY: Cash money.

SERWER: Pay him in yen.


HEMMER: Hang on.


CAFFERTY: What do you mean, "Hang on?"

HEMMER: What was the spread in the Patriots-Bengals game yesterday?

CAFFERTY: I don't know.

SERWER: No one knows.

CAFFERTY: What was...

HEMMER: I took the Bengals and the points. That was the double or nothing wager.

CAFFERTY: What was the spread?


CAFFERTY: What was the...

HEMMER: The final score was seven points for New England. So I don't know. I'd have to call your bookie.

SERWER: It's not in the papers over there, Bill? CAFFERTY: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Oh, for god's sakes, pay him the 50 cents so we can move on!

SERWER: So we don't have to listen to this anymore.

O'BRIEN: Just pay it.

SERWER: No one wants to hear this.

O'BRIEN: I'll pay you the money.

HEMMER: Hey, Soledad?


HEMMER: A quick thing for Andy, because I think he'll appreciate this story. Business cards in Japan are primo.

SERWER: Right.

HEMMER: It's considered a part of you, a part of the person here. And there's a very from strict decorum for how you present it. And believe me, you present it everywhere. You have to take both hands and give it to the person that you're meeting and greeting.

And then you just don't like take it and stick it in your pocket and walk away. No. You take it and you look at it and you examine it and you recognize the identity of the other person, as I did, when I met the sushi master over the weekend. You're going to see that a bit later in the week.

But I thought Andy would appreciate that, you know? And I'll tell you what, the stack gets pretty high pretty fast here in Japan, too, because everybody's doing it. So, we thought we'd share that with you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Bill, thanks.

Still to come this morning, less than an hour until the Golden Globe nominations are announced. The pressure is on. Our 90-second popsters (ph) will make their case for which films and which shows should be picked. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Welcome back. OK, no chitchat. We're on. "90-Second Pop" with a panel that is truly golden this morning. B.J. Sigesmund...


O'BRIEN: I'm just saying it because it fits today for the Golden Globes.


O'BRIEN: B.J. Sigesmund is a staff editor for "US Weekly." Sarah Bernard is a contributing editor for "New York" magazine. And Toure is CNN's pop culture correspondent.

And as I mentioned, the Golden Globe nominations are due out very shortly. Let's talk a little bit about who we think we're going to be hearing from. Are they just sort of the ones that you're pretty sure are going to get it?

TOURE: You're going to hear a lot from Jaime Foxx. The coronation begins. The Golden Globes is the beginning of the awards season. Jaime Foxx is going to get a lot of stuff, the crown right on his head this year. This is the beginning of that.

O'BRIEN: For the movie, "Ray."

TOURE: For "Ray," which was fantastic.

O'BRIEN: It got mixed reviews, though, honestly.

TOURE: But no mixed reviews for his performance.

O'BRIEN: Right.

TOURE: You know...

O'BRIEN: So you think not the film but for him personally.

TOURE: Absolutely.

BERNARD: Now, do you think it's going to be in the musical comedy category or the drama? Because you know how the Golden Globes have them divided?

TOURE: It's going to be a drama.


TOURE: I mean, like, his crying and he's done heroin and he's beating that. The other thing I want to see is "Sideways" get a lot of love, because this...

O'BRIEN: Who is in "Sideways?"

TOURE: I don't know. It's a bunch of -- I mean, it's a bunch of people who we've seen before...

BERNARD: Paul Giamatti.

TOURE: ... but we don't know their names.

O'BRIEN: Right.

TOURE: But it's just that rare modern thing, a sweet film about Americans, regular Americans in America today. BERNARD: But I think it's Alexander Payne, who was the director of "Election"...


BERNARD: ... who is really also -- he's probably going to get a nomination for best director. But I think also Paul Giamatti, who plays the guy with the beard. And the other guy...

O'BRIEN: Plays a guy with a beard.

BERNARD: He's, like, the guy with the beard.

TOURE: The one who knows about wine really.

BERNARD: Right. The other guy is Thomas Haden Church. I think he already won some sort of online award for his performance.

SIGESMUND: Yes. It's clear that "Sideways" is really the movie to watch. It's the "Lost In Translation" of this year. It's picking up a lot of momentum. It won the L.A. Film Critics award this weekend. And today if it gets a lot of Golden Globe nominations, it becomes an Oscar frontrunner for sure.

The thing it has going against it is the very fact that it doesn't have a lot of stars in it, and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which does the Golden Globes...

O'BRIEN: Likes Hollywood stars.

SIGESMUND: ... loves big stars. So if it can overcome that hurdle...

BERNARD: OK, which is why "Aviator," I think -- and we were talking about this earlier...

O'BRIEN: A shoe-in?

BERNARD: ... is probably get a bunch of things, because this is, like, Leonardo DiCaprio...

O'BRIEN: Leonardo DiCaprio is playing Howard Hughes.

BERNARD: Right. Gwen Stefani...

TOURE: Old Hollywood.

O'BRIEN: Is he great in it? I mean, I haven't heard...


SIGESMUND: I saw it last week. And Leo is actually pretty good in it. And I'm sure he's going to get a Golden Globe nomination this morning, along with Cate Blanchett for playing Katharine Hepburn...

BERNARD: That's right.

SIGESMUND: ... and Martin Scorsese. The other movie that's probably going to get nominated this morning that also hasn't come out is "Million Dollar Baby" starring...

O'BRIEN: That's Hilary Swank.

SIGESMUND: Yes, Hilary Swank...

O'BRIEN: She plays a female boxer.

SIGESMUND: A female boxer.

TOURE: Directed by Clint Eastwood.

SIGESMUND: Right. And you'll see Eastwood probably get a nomination for acting and directing.

O'BRIEN: Interesting. Anybody who you think is just way off that you hope to see win?

BERNARD: I would actually like to see Natalie Portman get something for "Garden State," if there is any way that she can get supporting...

SIGESMUND: Or for "Closer".

BERNARD: Or for "Closer." That's right. "Closer" is probably another thing we've been talking about.

TOURE: I do hope that Jude Law gets something.



O'BRIEN: Just so he can get up there and do his acceptance speech.

BERNARD: That's right.

O'BRIEN: So we can all just say, whoa, congratulations, Jude.

BERNARD: Jude Law is so good-looking.

O'BRIEN: You're the best.

All right, let's move on and talk about "Ocean's Twelve."


O'BRIEN: It did great.

SIGESMUND: "Ocean's Twelve" did really well. It made almost $41 million this weekend. This was like one-shop stopping for moviegoers this weekend who love stars. Clooney, Brad Pitt, Catherine Zeta- Jones, Julia Roberts, Matt Damon -- it goes on and on, Don Cheadle. It goes on and on and on. It made $41 million.

O'BRIEN: But it's pretty unusual to have a sequel that's wildly successful. I mean, honestly, more often we're talking about the sequel is bad.

SIGESMUND: Yes. And Warner Brothers is actually hoping that "Ocean's Twelve" would do even better than "Ocean's Eleven." The early numbers indicate it's probably not going to top the first one.

BERNARD: This is like the year of the sequel, though. Remember, we were talking about this a couple months ago.


BERNARD: It was "Spider-Man 2" and "Shrek 2."

TOURE: "Kill Bill."


BERNARD: So that sort of fits the theme.

TOURE: "Ocean's Eleven" was all about eye candy. So, I mean, like, I just want that pink shirt that Don Cheadle had. That's all I want. I don't need to go see the film. I just want that.


O'BRIEN: Is it a good story?

SIGESMUND: Well, the problem is that some of the reviews -- the reviews have been mixed to bad. So the word of mouth on this film isn't that great. It definitely had a built-in audience for the first weekend...


SIGESMUND: ... to just see that, you know, potpourri of stars.

O'BRIEN: I want to see that.


O'BRIEN: That's definitely one of the movies that I want -- you know, every so often you see the trailers, and you think, I would never want to see that.


O'BRIEN: But that's one of them where I think it's going to be cute.

SIGESMUND: And the other movie that was No. 2 this weekend was "Blade Trinity." You know, this is with Wesley Snipes playing Blade again, and they had said that this was going to be the last in the franchise. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SIGESMUND: And it actually didn't do as well as the second one. So this will definitely be the last in the franchise.

O'BRIEN: It's going to be the last.


TOURE: It's going to the rest of the world and to Europe and Asia, and it starts to make all of the rest of the money.

O'BRIEN: And then we're going to see another one, you know?

TOURE: Exactly.

O'BRIEN: Maybe it's not the last in the franchise. You guys, as always, thank you very much.

And we want to mention, stay with us, because, of course, we're going to have those Golden Globe nomination announcements right here in just about 40 minutes. That happens at about 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time. And then we're going to have our pop panelists back. A long day for you all. Oh, I feel so sorry for you.


O'BRIEN: We're going to be back, but we've got...

BERNARD: We'll have coffee, and we'll be right back.

O'BRIEN: ... breakfast downstairs. Cry me a river. I will have you back at 9:00 a.m. Eastern Time.

Let's head back to Bill in Tokyo -- Bill.

HEMMER: Hey, you know, can I jump in here just fro a second here from halfway around? I think it's been a very mediocre year for movies. And I'd love to go and see a great movie. But, Toure, I think "Sideways" is an excellent film and maybe the best of this past year. Agree or not? Anyone seen it?

You need to get on the panel.

BERNARD: Oh, yes?

O'BRIEN: Bill Hemmer wants to be on the panel. Yes, they all love "Sideways."

SIGESMUND: We love "Sideways."

O'BRIEN: Yes, you know what? I want to see what's gets nominated, and then I go out and see them all, all of the good ones. Someone else does the work.

All right, Bill, thanks. We're going to check in with you in just a little bit, and to our panelists as well -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Soledad. Also, top stories in a moment here, including the seismic shift in Japan's defense posture, causing tremors around the Pacific and the world for that matter. Plus, changes in Japan's ancient and imperial throne. It's the women shaking things up now in a moment on AMERICAN MORNING.


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