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Fight Today in Senate Over Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State; Five Days Before Iraqi Election

Aired January 25, 2005 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A fight today in the Senate over Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state. This morning, one of her toughest critics, Barbara Boxer, explains why Democrats are pushing it this far.
Five days before the Iraqi election, can U.S. troops keep up with the violence? And what about this growing price tag?

And, will Oscar throw a wine tasting party? "Sideways" is among the big contenders as Academy Award nominations are announced this hour on 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.

8:00 here in New York.

Good to have you along with us today.

We are looking today at the president's ambitious second term agenda. What are the signs that he is succeeding or failing as he tries to get off to a quick start? Carlos Watson has a number of ideas on this and we'll check in with Carlos in a few moments here on that topic.

O'BRIEN: Also, we're going to talk about the materials confiscated from the Michael Jackson Neverland Ranch. They could potentially be used against him at the latest. Jeff Toobin is going to join us to talk about the nature of the evidence. Some are calling it erotic, some sources, that is. We're going to talk about that, just ahead.

HEMMER: All right, back to Jack here -- good morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ooh, that's icky. Do we really want to know about that stuff?

HEMMER: Stay tuned.

O'BRIEN: I don't.

CAFFERTY: That's icky. Have to take another shower before you go to work.

Coming up in the "Cafferty File," a study confirms something that we've all known all along, women are worse drivers than men.

O'BRIEN: Bah! No.

CAFFERTY: A prison inmate who thinks the taxpayers ought to pick up the tab so he can become a woman and transfer to a woman's prison. There's a great idea. And the fight to allow women to go topless in California, a legal issue I think we can all support.

O'BRIEN: And I like the focus, a very pro-woman focus this morning.

CAFFERTY: See, it's all in the interests of equality.

O'BRIEN: Yes, it is, Jack.

You're a true friend to all womankind, Jack, and we appreciate that.

CAFFERTY: That's me. I loves the women.

O'BRIEN: Looking forward to that.

A serious topic to get to this morning, a new videotape of an American hostage in Iraq is being released this morning.

Let's take you right now live to CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour.

She's in Baghdad for us.

Hey -- Christiane, good morning.


And this is a newly released video. We don't know when it was made, but it has been released and it shows an American citizen, Roy Hallums, who is about 56 years old and was working here in Iraq for a Saudi contractor. He was taken back on November 1. And in this video he's shown looking visibly nervous, obviously. He is not making any demands, but he is asking for help from "Arab rules so that I can be released as quickly as possible from this definite death."

And the video shows a rifle barrel just inches from his head.

We don't have any way of confirming who it is who is holding him, but the U.S. does say that it is aware of this case, that apparently Mr. Hallums was taken along with others in a fierce gun battle in a Baghdad district not too far from here back on November 1. And they say that they have not seen this video that we're talking about, but they have been in touch with Mr. Hallums' family. And we don't know what's going on, if anything, to try to get him released.

So that is -- that's the latest we're hearing about an American citizen who was kidnapped the 1st of November, apparently, and now a video release of him showing a gun barrel to his head and him asking for help so that he can be released -- Soledad. O'BRIEN: Christiane, I want to ask you a question about the elections, as the elections near. We're getting more information, I know, about the role of U.S. troops during the election.

What exactly will the U.S. troops be doing? How visible will they be?

AMANPOUR: Well, they're going to great lengths to tell us that they are not going to be taking the front line security position. They won't be in polling stations. They don't want to give that impression to Iraqis as they cast their vote. But they will be deployed in a way that they can be the emergency response, if you like.

What they're doing right now is really beefing up as much as possible the training of the Iraqi forces, of the Iraqi special police, the emergency response units to take the front line positions in security.

They are also cracking down as much as they possibly can on suspected insurgents and they've cast a wide net. Hundreds, we're told, if not thousands, are being swept up in the weeks leading up to this election. Obviously they're not all insurgents, the commanders admit, but some of them, they say, are. And we, in fact, did see about 250 suspected insurgents and other criminals in a U.S. detention facility in Tikrit.

So they're definitely trying to sweep up as many of the terrorists and insurgents as possible before the election and to really give a visible security presence with the Iraqi forces on election day.

O'BRIEN: Christiane Amanpour is in Iraq for us this morning.

Christiane, thanks -- Bill.

HEMMER: That is one headline.

For the rest, here's Carol Costello with us here in New York -- good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you.

On the subject of Iraq, now in the news, President Bush may soon ask Congress for another $80 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sources are saying the request could come as early as today. It would boost the cost of both conflicts to almost $300 billion.

Secretary of state nominee Condoleezza Rice is expected to be confirmed in a full Senate vote tomorrow. Law makers are scheduled to take up her nomination again today. Nine hours have been set aside for this debate. The Bush administration's plans for the war in Iraq are likely to top the agenda.

And the infamous Pacers-Pistons brawl will begin playing out in a courtroom today. A Michigan judge has ordered five Indiana Pacers' players and five Detroit Pistons fans to attend a pretrial hearing. One of the fans faces a felony charge for apparently hurling a chair during the November 19 fight. Remember, that was caught on camera? The lawyer for one player says he expects today's courtroom drama to be quite a zoo.

O'BRIEN: Going out on a limb there, huh?

COSTELLO: Yes. Coming you imagine?

O'BRIEN: I'd say duh to that.

HEMMER: Put a camera in that courtroom.

COSTELLO: I'm sure there will be many around that courtroom.

HEMMER: Film at 11.

Thank you, Carol.

President Bush will be personally judged by the success or failure of the Iraq elections, in the near term, that is. But a stable Iraq is just one portion of the ambitious agenda for the second term.

Carlos Watson back with us in L.A. today, here to talk about the signposts that we can look out for to show how the president is doing in his second term -- Carlos, good morning.


HEMMER: Signpost number one is what?

WATSON: Signpost number one has to do with Social Security, the president's biggest focus in the second term, certainly his biggest domestic focus. Signs that that's going well is that the president wins the public perception battle, meaning that more Americans think there is a real crisis, as opposed to just a major problem, and he's able to convince congressional Democrats and Republicans to move on it, and therefore by the fall, he's able to sign a bill.

Signs that it's not going well as it relates to Social Security, he wastes a half a year with lots of competing plans from various factions of the Republican Party and/or, frankly, he also loses not only some Northern Republicans like Olympia Snow of Maine, who's had questions about it, but -- and not only some Democrats in the Senate, but also Southern Republicans. If those like Trent Lott, who have had questions about changing Social Security in the past begin to abandon the president, that would be a really bad sign that things aren't going well.

HEMMER: Outside of Social Security, Iraq is going to be front and center for the next four years, essentially, and it is again today over this lead story about $80 billion needed more to fund the war in Iraq and also the ongoing battles in Afghanistan, as well, and the rebuilding efforts there. What are the signposts there, Carlos, that you're watching?

WATSON: Really two positive signposts for the president, Bill, that would say things are going well. One, if, in fact, these elections next week are well received, well received not only within the country, but that there's a positive international perception that they went as well as they possibly could. And, two, as you referred to, that there's more congressional support, financial support, to some extent, the $80 billion that the president is about to request, and there's more international support so that international support doesn't necessarily mean German or French troops in Iraq, but it may mean more support for training. It may mean more support for trade and supplies.

Those would say that things are going well for the president's Iraq policy.

Suggestions that it may not be going well, or signposts, are, one, that very few people turn out to vote, not only in the Sunni areas, but, frankly, in the Shiite areas, as well. And, obviously, the worst case scenario would be that civil war breaks out, particularly between Sunnis and Shiites. That would suggest a broken society.

HEMMER: We are going to have some of those answers on Monday morning of the next week, after that vote is taken there in Iraq.

In the meantime, though, Condoleezza Rice is front and center again today for the full center.

What are you watching today, Carlos?

WATSON: You want to see quick approval. You know that there are going to be some tough questions and I think we've got Senator Barbara Boxer later in the hour talking about that. But you want to see that she is able to move forward, and some of the other nominees, not just on the cabinet side, but, frankly, some of the federal judges that the president has sent up once again. These were some judges that had been rejected in the past, or at least not acted on. You want to see quick approval there, at least the president would like to see that.

Signs that things aren't going well is that perhaps there's another Bernard Kerik, there's someone whose nomination seemed to be very likely, the confirmation, rather, but it ultimately doesn't go well. And obviously another bad sign would be kind of a messy battle somewhere maybe you don't expect it, something like the new FCC commissioner, or, rather, chairman, the person who replaced Michael Powell, that that becomes an ugly fight between the corporate faction within the Republican Party and the social conservatives, those like James Dobson and others, who want the FCC to play more of a guardian role.

HEMMER: You mentioned Barbara Boxer. We'll talk to her in about 20 minutes and more on Condoleezza Rice then.

Thank you, Carlos, from L.A. this morning. WATSON: Good to see you.

HEMMER: Carlos Watson -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: A look at the weather now.

Chad Myers is at the CNN Center with the latest forecast for us -- hey, Chad, good morning.



HEMMER: Most people know eating fish is good for your health. But how you prepare it could lower your risk of stroke. We're "Paging Dr. Gupta" on that a bit later this hour.

O'BRIEN: Also, the so-called erotic materials seized from Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch. Now the judge has a big decision to make. We'll explain.

HEMMER: And this hour, live coverage of the Oscar nominees. The announcement comes out of Beverly Hills. Find out whether or not "Million Dollar Baby" is in the ring.

That's ahead live here this hour on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Prosecutors in the Michael Jackson case want what they are calling erotic materials seized from the pop star's Neverland Ranch to be evidence at trial. Court papers released yesterday show that prosecutors think the items reveal Jackson's motive in touching a young boy was sexual.

Joining us this morning is senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin.

Nice to see you -- good morning to you.


O'BRIEN: What's the point? If the judge already censored these materials, what are the prosecutors trying to do by highlighting them now?

TOOBIN: Well, the judge has only censored the briefs for public release. He hasn't said whether he's going to censor them for the jury. I mean it's actually a very interesting legal question and it's almost a psychological question -- does it meet -- if you possess erotic materials, and we can talk about what those may be, but does that make you more or less likely to have abused a child?

Not a clear answer to that question.

O'BRIEN: So prosecutors are trying to draw this very clear link.


O'BRIEN: Yes, it would, they would say. Obviously, the defense would say no, it has nothing, they could potentially have nothing to do with each other.

What exactly are erotic materials?

TOOBIN: Well, we don't know. Because the judge has censored precisely what this is, we don't know what's involved. They're books, they're videos, they're magazines, but we don't know the content of any of them. And I think the content will be very significant. If the activities shown in the photographs are similar to what Jackson is alleged to have done with this young boy, maybe the judge would admit it. But if it's a "Playboy" magazine, if it's involving heterosexual porn or if it's even porn, that may not be able to -- that may not be admissible either.

O'BRIEN: Now, the defense obviously is going to oppose, try to oppose this move.

On what grounds can they say that something that's been taken as evidence should not be shown?

TOOBIN: Relevance. It has to -- in order to be admissible evidence, it has to be relevant to the charges against him. The defense will say this is simply an attempt to make Jackson look sort of generally bad, like a weird person, in front of the jury, but it doesn't make it more likely that he committed these crimes. And that's a pretty good argument. Judges are reluctant to introduce evidence that just kind of dirties up the defendant without any clear tie to the crime.

O'BRIEN: Does this come down, at the end of the day, to dueling experts who will talk about a link between somebody maybe potentially being a pedophile and having erotic material? Is that how it's going to work out?

TOOBIN: Well, I think it's...

O'BRIEN: And how will the judge, how does the judge make the decision?

TOOBIN: I think it's really kind of a seat of the pants judgment by the judge. There are rules that basically leave it up to the judge, does it make it more likely that the crime was committed? And the judge has to use essentially a gut check to decide whether it's admissible. And this is one of those issues that I think is going to be a tough one. Because we don't know what the material is, it's hard to judge it in the abstract. It would be easier if you could see the material and see what connection, if any, there was to the charges.

But the judge is really going to have to make a gut call on this one.

O'BRIEN: Who's the jury in this? I mean who doesn't know of Michael Jackson and, to some degree, all the stories that have been in the news? I mean not only in L.A., but I mean anywhere in the world. Where do you move it?

TOOBIN: Well, that's -- I mean you couldn't have a change of venue in this trial because the attention is not just in Santa Barbara County, it's worldwide. Monday jury selection starts and it's going to take weeks. I think it's going to be a very difficult process because everybody has a, knows something about this case. It doesn't disqualify you if you know something about this case, but, you know, probing people for whether they think Jackson is just simply weird, which I think everybody can agree on, or already believe he's a pedophile, which would disqualify people from being on the jury, or if they're super Michael Jackson fans they shouldn't be on the jury. Those kind of judgments are going to take a while to tease out.

O'BRIEN: That's going to rule out a lot of people.

TOOBIN: It is going to rule out a lot of people.

O'BRIEN: Jeff Toobin, as always.

TOOBIN: But, you know, they think this trial may take six months.

O'BRIEN: That wouldn't surprise me. It wouldn't surprise me if it took longer than that.


O'BRIEN: But I'm not the legal expert.

TOOBIN: You don't -- and you aren't -- and you don't have to go.

O'BRIEN: And I don't have to go, we just have to talk about it, right.

HEMMER: That's right.

O'BRIEN: All right, Jeff, thanks -- Bill.

HEMMER: Absent-minded passengers left more than 11,000 laptops in taxis around the world last year, and that's not all. They also left 31,000 handheld computers and 200,000 cell phones. Less common were those lost items, including a harp and artificial limbs and even a baby. A survey of 1,000 cabbies in nine cities shows three times more computers were left behind in 2004 than in 2001, but 19 out of 20 found their owners in the end. There's the silver lining.

O'BRIEN: And one would hope the baby found its owner in the end.

HEMMER: I'm hoping.

O'BRIEN: And the artificial limb, too.

HEMMER: We're not reporting on that yet, so I think that's a good thing.

In a moment here, how would you like it if they paid the new guy at work $760 an hour?

Andy tells us about a hefty hourly wage and explains that in a moment here on AMERICAN MORNING after this.


O'BRIEN: A reminder there, in just about 10 minutes or so, we are expecting to hear the Oscar nominations from the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills.

Adrian Brody is going to announce them.

We're going to bring that to you live when it happens.

Welcome back, everybody.

CAFFERTY: If "Ray" is not nominated in every major category, they should disband the Academy and find some people with taste.

HEMMER: Jack saw one movie and now everything's got to win blue.

O'BRIEN: But he's picking good movies, though.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: That was a good movie.

HEMMER: It's a good movie. Jamie Foxx will win. You're right there.

CAFFERTY: Krispy Kreme is going to pay its new CEO like most of its other workers, by the hour. And the big Healthsouth trial kicks off today.

Andy Serwer has got those stories and a look at the markets, which suck.

SERWER: Yes, thank you, Jack, for that -- that note.

CAFFERTY: The markets are just, I mean it's awful.

SERWER: They're terrible.


SERWER: It's terrible. They ought to do something about it. They ought to make a movie about it.

No, they should make a movie about the Healthsouth guy, and I bet you they will at some point. You'll see.

CAFFERTY: They will, yes.


SERWER: How much would it cost an hour to pay a guy to run a broken down donut chain? $760 an hour. That's how much Stephen Cooper is getting paid an hour to run Krispy Kreme and there he looks happy. Why wouldn't he be happy? $760 an hour to run Krispy Kreme, and all the donuts he could possibly eat.

CAFFERTY: But, you know, for a CEO, that's not a lot of money.

SERWER: It's not.

CAFFERTY: That's about $1.5 million a year.

SERWER: Right.

CAFFERTY: If it's based on a 40 hour week.

SERWER: You know, I think they do that to tick people off or something like that, break it down. It doesn't tick me off but...

CAFFERTY: But it's not too bad, really.

SERWER: Just give me the donuts.


SERWER: Forget about Dennis Kozlowski and the $6,000 shower curtain. The most colorful corporate rogue out there is Richard Scrushy, the former CEO of Healthsouth, allegedly orchestrated a $2.6 billion accounting fraud. His trial is underway in Birmingham this week, opening statements this morning. He has pleaded not guilty, we should point out.

And I thought it would be appropriate, Jack, this morning to do the five most interesting facts about Richard Scrushy, because you really shouldn't forget this guy.

Fact number one. He has a boat and a helicopter. No big deal. The boat, however, is called Chez Suarez. The helicopter is Bonus One, and he gave that to himself the year that Healthsouth got rid of bonuses for executives.

Number two, he wanted to be a rock star and, in fact, he formed a band called Dallas County Line. I introduced it one night in Cleveland. And he also started a girl band called 3rd Faze. There's 3rd Faze. How many CEOs start a girl group like that?

Number three, he hired Jason Hervey, the former child star from "The Wonder Years" to be his head of P.R. and really just to be his good buddy. They e-mailed each other. Now Jason Hervey is suing him for back pay.

Number two, he hosts a TV show with his wife, an evangelical Christian show. You can see it here.

CAFFERTY: Oh, please.

SERWER: It's very sincere.

CAFFERTY: He wanted to be a rock star and instead became a corporate jerk.

SERWER: Right. And then became an evangelical Christian. I think we've seen this before.

And number one, what you should always remember about him, is that he commissioned a statue of himself of full bronze in Birmingham...

O'BRIEN: Who hasn't?

SERWER: ... and someone decided to spray paint "thief" on it. A local D.J. in Birmingham, by the way, suggested that they pull it down like they did the Saddam statue in Baghdad.

CAFFERTY: That would be bad, right? That would be good. We'd be there to cover that.

Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

CAFFERTY: Four employees of a Michigan help benefits company fired for refusing to take a test that would determine if they smoked cigarettes. The company instituted a policy the first of the year that makes it a firing offense to smoke, even after hours or at home. Wyco founder Howard Lyles says that he did this to protect his company from rising health care costs. And since Michigan doesn't have strict smoker's rights laws, the company's mandate is legal.

The question is, do companies have the right to fire employees for smoking?

Lynn in Laurel, Maryland: "Where do you draw the line? If companies can fire you for smoking, they'll fire you if you consume alcohol or eat too much or participate in sports. All are potential risk factors."

Wendy in Oklahoma City: "Unless and until my employer is paying for 100 percent of my health care costs, they have absolutely no right to tell me what I do or do not have a right to do during my off time."

That's a lot of dos in there.

Joan in Enfield, Connecticut: "We have a right to do whatever we please as long as we're not breaking laws. As a human resources manager for 15 years, I would argue with my employer not to attempt to impose such rules on our employees. As an employee, I would be fired rather than go along, even if I didn't smoke."

And then Hal in Oran, Missouri writes: "What's the law now, you can only smoke in your own home under the covers with the lights out? When they start going after alcohol and porn, I start building a compound in Montana."

It sounds like somebody on our crew might have written that.


O'BRIEN: Here's a question for you. Is "Ray" the movie to beat this Oscar season?

CAFFERTY: Well, it ought to. Yes, it ought to be.

O'BRIEN: Well, it ought to be, says Jack Cafferty.


O'BRIEN: Yes. And he's going to be mad if it's not among the nominees and if, in fact, it doesn't win. In about 10 minutes, though, we're going to find out whether it's a contender. AMERICAN MORNING is going to carry the Oscar nominations live. That's ahead.

Stay with us.


HEMMER: In a moment here, Condoleezza Rice's confirmation was expected to be a slam dunk. Why then does the entire Senate need to debate it today for nine hours? We'll talk with perhaps Condoleezza Rice's most outspoken critic, Senator Barbara Boxer, our guest in a moment on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Ooh, that's a pretty shot right there.

Welcome back, everybody.

Just about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.

"The Passion of the Christ" one of the most successful films at the box office. But will Oscar give it the nod? We're going to know in about seven minutes or so, when the nominations are announced in Beverly Hills, California. We're going to bring that to you live.

HEMMER: Also this hour, in a few moments, in fact, Senator Barbara Boxer is our guest in a moment. Took a lot of heat last week for her line of questioning with Condoleezza Rice and in return, today she has an hour to set aside to speak before the full Senate continues its debate. We'll talk to her live in a moment down in Washington. Stay tuned for that, as well.


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