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AMERICAN MORNING

Possible Major Break in Murder Investigation of Federal Judge's Family; Surgery for Former President Clinton

Aired March 10, 2005 - 08:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: There could be a major break in the murder investigation of a federal judge's family. The latest on that's ahead.
At this hour in a New York hospital, surgery for former President Clinton needed to repair his left lung.

And Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" re-cut and re- released. Back in theaters, but with changes 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, everyone.

8:00 in New York.

Good to have you along with us today.

Good morning to you, as well.

O'BRIEN: And likewise.

HEMMER: Major league baseball is fighting to protect players from what could be an embarrassment on Capitol Hill. Congress issuing subpoenas for seven current and former players to testify regarding steroids. Former Yankee pitcher and author of "Ball Four" is Jim Bouton. He's our guest. He says Congress is all wrong on this matter. We'll talk to Jim in a few moments here on AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Also, the CIA trying to catch terrorists around the world. But is there a risk of America's enemies infiltrating the agency itself? We'll talk about that with former acting CIA director Jim McLaughlin.

HEMMER: Also, back to Jack.

What's in "The File" -- good morning.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Coming up in "The Cafferty File," Mick Jagger's daughter gets some satisfaction in the lobby of a London nightclub and the cameras catch the whole thing. Lance Armstrong turns his back on his country. And Kirstie Alley is getting some big time criticism from some uptight folks about her very funny new show on TV called "Fat Actress." That's in less than an hour. HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

CAFFERTY: You're welcome.

HEMMER: First the headlines, though.

Here's Carol Costello with us.

We start in Iraq -- good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We do.

Good morning.

Now in the news, Iraqi police officials the target of new violence this morning. Two high ranking officers gunned down in their cars in separate attacks in Baghdad. A third official has been rushed to the hospital for treatment. He's believed to be in critical condition right now. Iraqi security officials are frequently targeted by insurgents, who see them as collaborating with U.S. forces.

The top brass did nothing wrong. A probe into the abuse of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan has reportedly cleared top officials of any wrongdoing. The review set to be presented to Congress today. It comes as the U.S. military is reportedly updating its interrogation policies. The changes include guidelines for how long prisoners can be held.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is heading to Mexico for the first time since assuming her new post. Secretary Rice will meet with the president, Vicente Fox, and members of his cabinet later today. She has expressed hope Congress will move quickly on President Bush's proposals for overhauling immigration rules. President Bush will meet with the leaders of Mexico and Canada later this month in Texas.

And Michael Jackson's accuser is set to be back on the stand today in California. The boy testified Jackson "kind of hypnotized" him after they met while he was battling cancer and said that Jackson suggested he and his younger brother sleep in the pop star's bedroom the first night he visited the Neverland Ranch. And, of course, he'll be back on the stand later today.

HEMMER: And there will be headlines in that case again today.

Thank you, Carol.

We want to get to this possible break in the murder case of a federal judge's husband and mother.

The "Chicago Tribune" is now reporting a man who shot and killed himself near Milwaukee yesterday left a suicide note claiming responsibility for the murders.

Jim Warren is the deputy managing editor for the "Chicago Tribune."

Jim, good morning to you, there in Chicago.

JIM WARREN, DEPUTY MANAGING EDITOR, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE": Good morning.

HEMMER: First of all, this man who killed himself outside Milwaukee, his name is Bart Ross.

What do you know about him?

WARREN: Born 1947, apparently, at least until recently, Bill, was living on the north side of Chicago. Neighbors say they have not seen him now in several months, which would fit, perhaps, with details in the note.

He had been -- he had filed a lawsuit prose, which meant he was defending himself, a medical malpractice case apparently stemming from some cancer treatment or cancer surgery which he felt had done awry. He had filed it against the University of Illinois Medical Center here. The judge was Judge Lefkow.

On January 25, she dismissed the lawsuit.

The note found in the van in West Allis, Wisconsin after he was stopped on a routine traffic stop, apparently a faulty taillight, the note made specific mention of that judgment having cost him his home, his -- and his family and his life, something to that effect.

Neighbors say they have not seen him in a good many weeks in that house.

So the initial operating theory of the case, Bill, that it might be tied to white supremacists and Matthew Hale, the gentleman who is awaiting sentencing from Judge Lefkow, may be erroneous. But at the same time, it may well be very much tied to another case which had been pending before Judge Lefkow.

HEMMER: All right, I have a laundry list of questions here.

Let me try and get through them and sort out fact from fiction.

What was in that note that police are now suggesting and your paper is reporting that there were details contained in that note that were not released publicly about these murders?

Do we know more on that?

WARREN: Well, no, we don't know everything about it. But our two reporters, Jeff Coen and Dave Heinzmann, who wrote this quite remarkable story about seven or eight paragraphs, and you remember the old front page notion of stopping the presses? Well, apparently late last night we did stop the presses for these eight paragraphs.

In the note, to answer your question, again, were some details, not generally -- not known to the public at all. I believe one of them, for instance, was an assertion of where the body of Michael Lefkow, the husband, was, something in its detail which would not have been known to anybody else.

They also found in that car, pretty intriguingly, .322 caliber bullets. There were three shells from a .22 caliber. Similar bullets found in the Lefkow home.

HEMMER: Now, have police answered this question yet, Jim.

Has Bart Ross issued any threats against this judge in the past?

WARREN: No. We do not know. This lawsuit only came to a resolution, apparently unhappily for him, in late January. We don't -- that's about all we know at the moment.

HEMMER: All right, with regard to Matthew Hale, you mentioned him, the white supremacist who was talked about relative to this story for the past two weeks running, does this now mean that this investigation is going in a completely different direction, away from Matthew Hale?

WARREN: Well, I would think so. If, in fact, the details in that note are as incriminating as is suggested and this fellow was acting out of a sense of revenge, but a revenge having to do with an entirely different matter, I think the answer would clearly be yes.

HEMMER: And have police expressed any level of confidence as to whether or not they think they may have an answer for these murders now?

WARREN: Well, I think a pretty high level. We'll be finding out a little bit more in about an hour. I believe the police in West Allis, Wisconsin, which is about an hour or so, an hour and a half, really, north of Chicago, will have a good many more details.

HEMMER: And one more inquiry from me.

Why was this man pulled over outside of Milwaukee?

WARREN: Apparently for a good old-fashioned faulty taillight that was malfunctioning. And as soon as he saw the cops, it is believed, he committed suicide. And in that van, in which, apparently, Bill, he may have of late been living, was the note and was what on the surface would seem to be the other incriminating contents, notably the .22 caliber bullets.

HEMMER: We will be listening in an hour and perhaps then glean more details, as you mentioned, with this press conference scheduled there.

Jim Warren from the "Chicago Tribune."

Thank you, Jim.

WARREN: OK.

HEMMER: Good reporting there.

Here's Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, former President Bill Clinton's surgery is expected to begin any time now. President Clinton checked into a New York City hospital around 5:00 this morning for what's being called a low risk operation. It's a procedure to remove fluid and scar tissue that developed after his quadruple bypass surgery last fall.

CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at that hospital with more -- hey, Sanjay, good morning to you.

Give me a sense of how this procedure goes today.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Yes, you know, usually in academic hospitals like this, operations usually start some time around the morning, around this time. Typically what's going to happen is that he's going to have a couple of I.V.s placed and then he will be placed under general anesthesia. That means, you know, going to sleep for the operation.

It takes a couple of hours. The goal of the operation, Soledad, is to really try and get rid of some of the scar tissue and some of the fluid that built up around his left lung.

Now, typically the way that they want to do that is to actually put in a little small endoscope -- it's a little small fiber optic catheter -- and along with some instruments, go ahead and remove some of that scar tissue.

If they can't succeed in actually peeling away the scar tissue -- sort of think of it like an orange peel, almost, around the bottom of a lung -- if they can't succeed with that little scope, they'll go ahead and open up the chest a little bit more and remove the scar tissue that way.

In either case, they'll take a couple or three hours, probably, to do the operation. You know, he'll probably be in the recovery room for a little bit after that. But I imagine either by noon or early afternoon we'll hear that the operation has been done and that he's recovering.

O'BRIEN: Hey, Sanjay, when can he get back to sort of his normal activities?

GUPTA: Well, you know, his normal activities, if you're talking about golf, that will probably be a little bit down the road still. You know, golf actually does put a lot of strain on some of the area where he's going to have his operation today. But I would imagine we'll see him up and about even within a couple of days. He'll probably be out of the hospital early next week, maybe even over the weekend, and, you know, back to a reasonably normal schedule within about a month or so -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Sanjay Gupta for us this morning.

Sanjay, thanks -- Bill. HEMMER: Eight minutes past the hour.

Let's go overseas right now to the Middle East, where Lebanon's pro-Syrian prime minister has been reappointed only 10 days after he was forced to step down.

To Beirut and our bureau chief, Brent Sadler -- Brent, why the reverse in the government's direction there?

BRENT SADLER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, quite clearly, Bill, here, this follows a huge rally in support of Syria and the Lebanese allies of Syria in this country. So the reinstatement of Omar Karami is seen as, if you like, a circling of the wagons against this continued U.S.-led international pressure on Syria.

Omar Karami is staunchly pro-Syrian. He was appointed by Lebanon's president, Emile Lahoud, staunchly pro-Syrian. And he was named by a majority of parliamentarians, all pro-Syrian.

The opposition did not engage in the process of naming a new prime minister. They, instead, gave a list of demands to the president, which he refused to accept, demands including an international probe into who killed Rafik Hariri, the former prime minister, some three weeks ago; the resignation of all of Lebanon's security chiefs; and an immediate withdrawal of those Syrian forces that have begun to evacuate some positions in Lebanon, moving to a new line closer to the Syrian border, still well inside Lebanon and still falling way, way short of what President George W. Bush has been demanding all along.

So this really is an escalation, as far as the opposition are concerned, and they're planning to challenge Mr. Karami, who says he wants a national unity government of salvation. The opposition say they're going to challenge that and try to topple him again through street protests -- Bill.

HEMMER: Here, then, is a loaded question for you, Brent.

How does this impact the relationship between Beirut and Damascus? And how does this affect the pullback that you just described to us?

SADLER: It does not seem to be having any effect on the pullback. The real importance of this, Bill, is that when those Syrian troops get to that first phase redeployment by the end of this month, then there have to be negotiations between the Syrians and the Lebanese government. If it is a stacked deck of cards, says the opposition, with a staunchly pro-Syrian government in place, if Mr. Karami can go ahead and form it -- and there's doubt that he might be able to do that under these conditions -- then Syria will be negotiating a final withdrawal with people that the opposition says it put in power.

That's the rub here.

HEMMER: A different day, a different headline. Brent Sadler in Beirut -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Time to check on the weather again.

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

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Soledad.

(WEATHER REPORT)

HEMMER: In a moment here, are al Qaeda operatives able to infiltrate U.S. intelligence agencies as new employees? A former CIA chief tells us today about the safeguards in place to red flag those potential spies. Can they catch them? That's our question.

O'BRIEN: Also, Congress subpoenas some of baseball's biggest stars to testify about steroids. The author of "Ball Four" says he's suspicious about Congress' motives.

CNN's Jeff Toobin also weighs in.

HEMMER: Also, scenes are now snipped from the re-release of Mel Gibson's "The Passion." What's missing and why, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: The possibility of terrorists getting inside an American intelligence agency takes us on "Terror's Trail" today.

We're off to CIA headquarters and back down to D.C., where John McLaughlin, CNN's national security adviser and the former acting CIA director, is my guest now.

John, good to see you again and good morning to you.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER, FORMER ACTING CIA DIRECTOR: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: Here's what the "L.A. Times" is reporting, that 40 American applicants were turned away for possible terrorism associations.

How tight is the screening process when it comes to looking for new hires at the CIA?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I can't document a particular number, Bill. But I can tell you the screening process is very tight. And we look for obvious associations with extremist groups. I can't go into all of the reasons that we look for problems, because I don't want to give the other side an advantage. But obviously associations with past extremist groups, with present extremist groups, groups like Hezbollah, groups affiliated with al Qaeda, if anything like that pops up, we check it out very thoroughly.

HEMMER: Would you be surprised, though, that al Qaeda tried to get into the CIA?

MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, not at all. Not at all. They have a high incentive to do that and we have to, in this part of intelligence you always have to assume the worst. So their incentive here would be, for example, to learn how we're having so much success against them, how we're capturing so many.

Also, if you think about it, it would be a lot better from their point of view to be inside rather than having to try and recruit airport employees and baggage handlers and other people because all you do is flash your badge and come into headquarters and you're on the inside. And not only can you learn secrets, but you could conceivably participate in a terrorist operation up close to American intelligence.

HEMMER: So, based on your experience, the second part of that question is this, would you be surprised if they were successful? And could they be at some point, successful?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I'd be surprised if they were successful because we are very vigorous in the way we check out these folks. There is a natural tendency or a natural tension, I should say here, between two things we're trying to do. We're trying to keep extremists out. At the same time, we obviously want people with backgrounds in parts of the world where extremists are very numerous. We want people who have on the ground experience. We want people who have languages. We want people who understand the culture. In fact, we offer a sizable signing bonus these days for people who bring in exceptional competence in languages that are very rare.

HEMMER: That's an interesting point you make there. And that takes me to my next question here. If you were not 100 percent sure of a particular candidate, if they were not cleared beyond the reason of the shadow of a doubt, would you still take a chance on that person if they had the language skills and they had those connections locally?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's a very tough call and it's a judgment call that people have to make every day. One message I would give here is that we want people with those skills and nothing I say should discourage people with those skills from coming forward to put them into public service.

But I must say the lean is conservative on this. We're very careful and hesitant to take a chance when we have a serious reservation. Now, once a person is inside the system, I must say, too, that you live a life that is intruded on a good deal. There are frequent background checks. The last thing I did before leaving the CIA was take a polygraph myself, so people are periodically polygraphed. Financial disclosure statements are frequent and somewhat intrusive.

So there are a lot of efforts underway even once a person is inside the system to make sure that they're OK.

HEMMER: Thanks for your time. John McLaughlin from Washington.

Here's Soledad -- back to you.

O'BRIEN: In suburban Atlanta, a huge drug bust. One hundred seventy-four pounds of methamphetamine and a million dollars in cash seized by authorities. They say the drugs, in fact, carry a street value of $16 million. Now at least one suspect is behind bars. Federal drug agents are calling the meth seizure the largest ever in the eastern United States.

HEMMER: Mel Gibson is caving into his critics, apparently. He gives reasons for why he's re-releasing "The Passion" but also why he is editing about six minutes out of that film. What the new version looks like in a minute here on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: One of the most popular stories at cnn.com right now, a story about a San Diego woman who died after a fumigation for termites. Exterminators posted signs and checked her condominium building before they pumped in toxic gas on Monday. But after several hours, they heard screams. She was inside. She died in the hospital. The medical examiner needs six weeks now to be certain if it was the gas that killed her.

HEMMER: Oh, my.

O'BRIEN: Oh, what a horrible story.

HEMMER: Wow!

Back to Jack and the Question of the Day.

Back to baseball.

CAFFERTY: Yes, we've got a couple of publicity seeking Congress people who want to drag a bunch of baseball stars in front of a Congressional committee, put them under oath and make them testify about steroid use. The sport is, as you might expect, opposed, because if these guys had to take the fifth amendment, which protects against self-incrimination, why, that would tend to further tarnish the image of America's pastime.

So the question is should they be forced to testify under oath about steroids?

Steve in Florida writes: "Let the poor athletes alone, Jack. When their genitalia shrivel and their livers become cancerous, the truth will be evident. Until then, they are athletes, sports heroes, role models for the young and in the public's eye, possessed of immunity from the law, like O.J."

Riley in Michigan writes: "The country is fighting two wars, Social Security is in disrepair, the national debt is out of sight, the dollar is down, the balance of trade is outrageous. Practically everything with the government needs fixing, including the IRS, and the only thing Congress can find to do is investigate baseball?"

Dave in Japan writes: "Barry Bonds did steroids. He's still playing. Bill Clinton cheated on his wife. He's still married. Ken Lay stole a boatload of money. He's still walking around spending it. Bush lied about WMDs and was reelected. Cheating and deception seem to have no negative consequences anymore."

And B.J. in Kansas writes: "Baseball players appear before Congress? Sure, as long as they're allowed to spit, dig in and scratch themselves before stepping in to testify."

O'BRIEN: Why are you so opposed? I mean because...

HEMMER: There you go.

CAFFERTY: Why am I what?

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

I'm sorry. I was sneezing during your whole segment. But why do you think it's wrong for Congress to (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

CAFFERTY: I don't. I have no opinion on this. I just am a messenger. I just figured...

O'BRIEN: Oh really?

CAFFERTY: ... a communication from me...

O'BRIEN: I would have guessed otherwise.

CAFFERTY: I would think that the Congress people ought to be addressing this whole litany of stuff that one of these letter writers referred to instead of addressing a topic that will invite the kind of publicity it's getting this morning. But more importantly it will be televised if Mark McGwire walks in and sits down in front of a Congressional committee. This is a bunch of publicity hungry politicians who are shirking the responsibility they have to address the stuff that they were elected to address in order to get their picture in the newspaper with Sammy Sosa and it stinks.

O'BRIEN: But if they feel like baseball is not doing enough -- I'm just curious.

CAFFERTY: Can I get a can?

O'BRIEN: Hey. If they feel like baseball is not doing enough...

CAFFERTY: Whatever.

O'BRIEN: ... I don't know, doesn't Congress have the...

CAFFERTY: I don't care what they do.

O'BRIEN: Oh.

CAFFERTY: I just don't care what they do.

O'BRIEN: Oh, that's not right.

CAFFERTY: They can testify or not. I don't care what they do.

O'BRIEN: I think this is a fascinating Question of the Day.

CAFFERTY: You know what I care about?

HEMMER: I want to know why right now.

O'BRIEN: What?

CAFFERTY: Getting to the end of taping of "In The Money" tomorrow and the weekend.

O'BRIEN: Blah, blah, blah.

CAFFERTY: That's priority one for me, you know.

O'BRIEN: And spending quality time with me, Jack, right?

CAFFERTY: Well, that, too, yes. If you'll stop sneezing all over me.

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. I have a little bit of a cold. I'm sorry.

CAFFERTY: Over here like some...

O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. I'm sorry.

We're going to have more on that steroid story just ahead this morning. Jeff Toobin actually is going to tackle the legal angle for us. What actually could happen to the players if they refuse to talk to Congress?

Also, a big story that we're following for you this morning may be a major break in that double murder case in Chicago. Details up next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HEMMER: In a minute, Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" going back to theaters for a re-release. It's got a few changes, though. We'll find out what got cut in a minute when we continue after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning.

Welcome back, everybody.

Just about half past the hour on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Will some of the biggest names in baseball be forced to testify before Congress on steroids in the game? Subpoenas are flying, baseball's fighting back. "Ball Four" author and former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton has some very strong opinions on this.

HEMMER: Also, "The Passion of the Christ" is getting a bit of an Easter makeover. The director, Mel Gibson, is cutting about six minutes from the film, which comes back to theaters soon. We'll look at what scenes came out and why Gibson felt the changes needed to be made now.

But first, before we get to that, we want to get back to this story about a possible break in the murder case of a federal judge's husband and mother. The "Chicago Tribune" is reporting that a man who shot and killed himself yesterday just north of Milwaukee left a suicide note claiming responsibility for the two murders. The man's name is Bart Ross.

And a short time ago, I talked with the "Tribune's" deputy managing editor, Jim Warren, about Ross' possible motive.

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