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Interview With Louisiana Congressman Charlie Melancon; Has the Hammer Been Nailed?

Aired October 4, 2005 - 22:00   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again. Anderson joins us again tomorrow night.
We begin tonight with the bottom line. Hurricane Katrina is bankrupting what it's failed to destroy. A month without citizens, no commerce, no taxes, localities now face punishing expenses, without the revenue or, they say, the authority to spend federal money to meet those expenses. They've been feeling the budget pressure for weeks now. Today, the bills came due.


BROWN (voice-over): Today, for New Orleans, another domino fell.

RAY NAGIN (D), MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: The city of New Orleans today announces it's been forced the lay off up to 3,000 classified and unclassified city workers as a result of the financial constraints in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

BROWN: The layoffs amount to about half of the city's work force, though it's not exactly clear how that will happen, if you don't lay off people like cops and firefighters and health inspectors, people deemed essential.

NAGIN: We are just not able to put together the financing necessary to continue to maintain our city hall staffing at its current levels.

JACK STEPHENS, SHERIFF OF ST. BERNARD PARISH: If we're in the holding pattern that we are in right now and have been for some time, I think people are going to lose hope.

BROWN: And it's not just New Orleans. It is all those places Katrina devastated. St. Bernard's Parish has little money to pay its deputy sheriffs. Payrolls are met by sales taxes. And if no one buys because there is no place to buy, no taxes get paid. And that's as simple as it gets.

STEPHENS: We made the payroll September 20 and alerted everyone at the state and federal level then that we had an October 5 drop-dead date that we wouldn't be able to make the payroll. We didn't have the revenue to do that . And today is October 4 and I still have not gotten any relief.

BROWN: The sheriff, who is operating his department out of a donated cruise ship, cannot by law use FEMA money to pay for so-called ordinary expenses, which include salaries for deputies. That's the law and that's the next critical battleground.

GOV. KATHLEEN BLANCO (D), LOUISIANA: Our local governments are recovering. But many are on the verge of financial collapse. So I'm asking the federal government to help pay the regular-time salaries of these essential public employees during this emergency period.

BROWN: The White House says the request will be -- quote -- "thoroughly and promptly reviewed" by the administration. And it added, Congress did allow similar payments to local authorities after another unforeseen disaster, the attack on 9/11, none of which is giving much confidence to the people on the ground in Louisiana.

STEPHENS: This emergency response to this weather event is an ongoing tragedy. And this is part of that ongoing tragedy. The response has been so absolutely inadequate and poor that it's -- it's beyond belief, to think that people led us to believe that we were capable of responding to a terrorist attack or some other major event in this country is just -- it is just not true. We are poorly prepared.


BROWN: A different question, that.

Deputies in St. Bernard, office workers in New Orleans, either way, they are people with families to support and, until now, money to spend, much of it going back into a local economy or some economy. Without federal help, that spending dries up, or so the argument goes. Doesn't matter from which department, doesn't matter if some of it is wasted. It keeps a fragile economy going.

In a moment, the opposing view, an argument for doing less.

First, though, we are joined by Representative Charlie Melancon of Louisiana's 3rd Congressional District.

Congressman, good to see you.

There's $61 billion that you and your colleagues have appropriated. How can that not be enough right now?

REP. CHARLIE MELANCON (D), LOUISIANA: Well, you know, it's a beginning.

But when you look at the vast -- the massive storm that we just had, the size, when I saw it that Friday night, before it moved into Louisiana, that was the hugest storm, the most defined storm I have ever seen in my life. And what it did, the devastation that it's done and the problem in St. Bernard Parish and in Orleans Parish and in Plaquemines Parish, that are in my district, is that they have left them inundated with structures that can't be inhabited, businesses that can't be inhabited.

And, as you heard from Sheriff Stephens, he is sitting there with people that have kept that parish safe, sound and what's left of it secure, along with the... BROWN: Congressman -- I'm sorry. At what point -- I think people are sort of generally comfortable, many people, at least, most probably, with infrastructure rebuilding, infrastructure -- helping people get on their feet again and so on. But at what point do you draw the line? At what point should the state of Louisiana, for example, sell bonds and pay its own bills?

MELANCON: The state of Louisiana is facing what's estimated to be a $1 billion deficit. Of a $18 billion budget, a $1 billion additional deficit, there's no ability to sell bonds, you know.

And I'm not the state government. I can't go there. But if you go back in history, our federal government responds to natural disasters. If we can build Iraq, surely we can take care of the people in Louisiana, and Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, for that matter.

BROWN: Any reason to believe the president won't come around on this?

MELANCON: I'm very hopeful that the president, who's been down to the affected areas on seven occasions thus far, I would believe his people fully understand it. I'm confident that they have a grasp of it.

The only thing that I ask or hope is that they will act quickly. I don't need, and neither does any of the people in this state or this country, need to be looking in shame because our government can't take care of its people when they need it the most.

BROWN: Congressman, it's good to talk to you. Thank you. You make the argument well.

MELANCON: Thank you, sir.

BROWN: We appreciate it.

Chris Edwards now is an economist with the Cato Institute in Washington, sees this somewhat differently.

Chris, I guess, in this, you play the Grinch. And what point do you think it's OK for the federal government to step in and pay? And at what point do you draw the line?

CHRIS EDWARDS, CATO INSTITUTE: Well, you know, the federal government, as you know, has already spent $62 billion, which is an absolutely enormous amount of money to -- for the immediate, you know, disaster response. FEMA expenses, there's about $25 billion they spent on temporary housing for all the displaced people, over a million displaced people.

I think that that's where the federal responsibility should end. I think now it's really imprudent for everybody to talk about, you know, spending hundreds of billions of dollars more. Senator Landrieu says she wants to build the world's levee system, like the Netherlands. I think that's really rash, frankly. I think that we need -- there should be a state commission in Louisiana, for example, to look into what parts of New Orleans and other parts of the states are really safe to live in.

BROWN: Chris, Chris, let me -- if you can, with me, just set those longer-term questions aside for a second. They are good and appropriate questions about how to rebuild New Orleans and to what extent the levees should be built and whether people should live there or not.

Right now, you have got parishes and cities that can't make payroll. They can't pay the cops.


BROWN: They can't pay the tax assessor. They can't pay the health department. And what you're arguing is, too bad.

EDWARDS: Well, you know, on one extreme, we have, you know, towns all along the coast that were just completely wiped out, and, you know, very sad, of course. But, I mean, the people and businesses have completely left. So, frankly -- and they probably won't go back.

So, you really don't need any government. And I think that it ought to be up to the state to essentially liquidate governments in those communities that won't be rebuilt. In New Orleans, they have laid off about half of their city payroll, it sounds like. That's not necessarily a bad thing. I mean, there won't be a need for as many schools and police and fire services in the future.

BROWN: Well, in truth, though, Chris, you don't really -- I mean, in all honesty, even if there's validity to the argument, you don't know that that's true. You don't know that people aren't going to come back. You don't know...

EDWARDS: Yes, right. That's why I think we ought to take a wait-and-see approach.

I mean, before -- President Bush has promised to rebuild New Orleans bigger and stronger than before. I think that's -- I think that's imprudent. We ought to wait and see how many people want to come back. The leading indicator is going to be businesses. People won't come back unless there's jobs. And so we ought to wait and see how many businesses come back to the city first.

And I think there's a lot of indication, frankly -- you know, business had been leaving -- has been leaving the city for many years.


EDWARDS: They have been moving to Houston because of lower taxes. Many, many businesses may not move back, so there's no reason for individuals to move back.

BROWN: Chris, good to have you on the program. Thanks.

EDWARDS: Thank you, Aaron. BROWN: For a Grinch, you do a nice job. Thank you.


BROWN: The question of federalism is neither, as you can tell, academic or dry, literally not dry. It often involves water, the kind you pump out of New Orleans and the kind that people returning to the city now have to drink. Some say it is safe. Some of it is not, or at least may be not.

Here's CNN's Sean Callebs.


SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): You can see them all over New Orleans, a portable oasis. Ted Boors' Texas-based company has 18 trucks like this working around the clock to keep hotels stocked with safe drinking water. This document from the EPA guarantees this tanker is clean, its contents safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It shows the quality of the water, that it's been cleared as quality water.

CALLEBS: Boor says a large hotel needs 250,000 gallons of clean water a day. That thirst, he says, has grabbed the attention of companies trying to make a quick buck.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the problem we have been running in to. You have got a lot of rogue companies out here just going to any fire hydrant and other unacceptable locations and picking up water.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It flies in the face of what is right and what is decent.

CALLEBS: State and federal environmental agencies say, it's true. There are only four secure safe sites cleared to sell clean drinking water, this one in the Algiers section of New Orleans, two in Jefferson Parish, and one in the capital of Baton Rouge. Some companies are finding water elsewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To find situations where people, in their rush to get back in business or their rush to make a buck, are taking advantage of something we take for granted makes it that much more reprehensible and that much more unsafe.

CALLEBS: So far, not one citation has been issued, not one company hauling water or one hotel fined. The EPA says it's investigating one water transport company. CNN has learned that company is Eagle Transport, based in Texas. Eagle denies any wrongdoing and says it's being targeted for political reasons. Eagle is providing water to 10 of 11 of Marriott's hotels in New Orleans, according to Eagle and Marriott representatives.

Eagle says it's only providing nondrinkable water, water used for flushing toilets and cooling and showed us its contract saying so. A catastrophe coordinator for Marriott told CNN, however, that Eagle provides all its water. However, Marriott insists there are no health risks for its guests. And without being specific, Eagle says it did alter the way it's transporting water to comply with EPA standards. Still, the EPA says it met with representatives from Marriott Hotels this past Sunday.

The EPA says it will hold hotels responsible if unsafe drinking water is provided for its guests. State officials say they don't know how many companies could be providing unsafe water, but they want to believe no hotel is knowingly offering water that could be tainted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I certainly hope that they're acting out of ignorance and not malice, that maybe that they're purchasing water from just someone that they think is reputable, but is not.

CALLEBS: Publicly, the agency says it's only been an issue the past few days and point out there have been no reports of any known illnesses.

Sean Callebs, CNN, New Orleans.


BROWN: There is, they say, an exception to every rule. We suspect that applies this story, except, in this story, the rule stands, even if the instance it was applied, it seems to make no sense at all.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Meserve.



JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: The Phoenix, Arizona, urban search-and-rescue team, hailed as heroic after Hurricane Katrina, credited with rescuing 400 people. But now the team has been suspended by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, forbidden from doing rescue work for them.

PHIL GORDON, MAYOR OF PHOENIX, ARIZONA: It's just inconceivable and unbelievable and, in fact, it truly is shameful.

MESERVE: The problem, guns. The team was abruptly demobilized and sent home after Hurricane Rita when higher-ups saw four armed law enforcement officers accompanying the team.

FEMA says their presence put task force members, those they work with and victims at unnecessary risk. The FEMA urban search-and- rescue code of conduct is explicit. Members are restricted from carrying firearms. And the activation order for Hurricane Rita specified the team should be accompanied by six people to do ground support and no other positions or personnel. But Phoenix officials sent protection for the team anyway.

GORDON: Their job is dangerous enough. They're risking their lives to save other lives. And if we have the ability to make them safer, we will.

MESERVE (on camera): When the team deployed here to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, members say they actually came under fire while conducting search-and-rescue.

(voice-over): After Rita, when CNN was embedded with the team, there were reports of poisonous cottonmouth snakes and alligators where the team was searching and sleeping.

DEP. CHIEF KEVIN KALKBRENNER, PHOENIX FIRE DEPARTMENT: It is also comforting to be able to have that protection. As you well know, when we wind up spending the night in a parking lot in -- at 10:00 at night, to have those guys around to create that kind of protection is certainly an advantage.

MESERVE: FEMA says it provides protection for teams that request it, and Phoenix never did. Nonetheless, Phoenix officials are demanding an apology from FEMA and changes.

DAVE SIEBERT, PHOENIX CITY COUNCIL: I think this antiquated policy of FEMA was probably written by some pencil-pushing bureaucrats that were not front-line troops. It's antiquated. We all know it's antiquated.

MESERVE: Phoenix officials say they will not go allow the team to be deployed to unsafe areas without armed law enforcement. FEMA says they won't be deployed with them. So, for now, they stay home, no matter what the nation's needs may be.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, New Orleans.


BROWN: Coming up, from California to Asia, people accused of taking hurricane donors for a ride.

But, first, at about a quarter past the hour, time for some of the other news of the day.

Erica Hill joins us from Atlanta.

Good evening, Ms. Hill.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Mr. Brown. Nice to see you back.


HILL: President Bush wants Congress to give him the power to use the military to enforce quarantines if this country is hit by a bird flu epidemic. That virus has killed 60 people in Asia. Experts are worried, if it begins spreading from person to person, which is not how it spreads right now, but if it should change, they worry that it could kill thousands.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit Afghanistan next week to promote democracy, as the country struggles with increasing violence. About 1,300 people have been killed in the past seven months. And authorities say the Taliban is responsible.

The Food and Drug Administration proposing a plan which it says will make the nation safer from mad cow disease. It wants to eliminate cattle parts from all animal food. That includes feed for chicken, pigs and pets. At the moment, the FDA only bans cattle parts from being used in cattle feed.

And high fuel costs forcing Delta Airlines to reduce its domestic flight schedule. It's going to cancel flights without enough passengers in an effort to conserve fuel. Delta says it will contact those affected passengers, Aaron, two days in advance.

BROWN: Well, that's good of them, so you don't show up at the airport and find out that they canceled your flight.

HILL: No. That -- that part is good. And then they say they won't actually cancel the flight until they actually have you booked on another flight? We will see.

BROWN: All right. Thank you. That happened to me once, but they denied it.

More to come tonight, starting with a way -- and it wasn't Delta -- for you to help the victims of Katrina, or so you might have been led to believe.


BROWN (voice-over): It says so right on the Web site.

RON BAKLARZ, RED CROSS: I find it utterly despicable.

BROWN: Scammers done up as legitimate charities and how you can give without being taken.

Also tonight, a call for help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my God! Oh, my God! A boat, a boat, a boat went over the Ethan Allen, just outside of Green Harbor!

BROWN: What happened between that call and the rescue? Why did the tragedy happen at all?

Is the Hammer really nailed? We will talk with one of the grand jurors who voted to indict congressman Tom DeLay.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: She's an enormously accomplished person who's incredibly bright.

BROWN: So says the president. So, why is Harriet Miers getting such a going-over from conservatives? We will ask the man who used to call the president boss.

From the White House to the bench, this is NEWSNIGHT. (END VIDEOTAPE)


BROWN: Well, now, not all the toxic waste churned up by Katrina is in and around New Orleans, or even Mississippi. Law enforcement officials say scammers on and off the Internet from California to Asia are taking advantage of people who want to open their hearts and, of course, their pocketbooks to storm victims. Eight people have been arrested in California, charged with siphoning off donations made to the Red Cross call center there and Internet scams spread even wider.

CNN's Kelli Arena tonight with an exclusive report from inside the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.


KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Money continues to pour into help Katrina victims, as residents start the long process of trying to rebuild. Many donors are giving online, but their money is not reaching victims. It's being pocketed by con artists using fake Web sites.

BAKLARZ: I find it utterly despicable, some of the schemes and fraud that these -- these people are perpetrating. It's just unspeakable.

ARENA: Ron Baklarz of the Red Cross is embedded with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center in Pittsburgh, known as IC3. The charity's Web site has been spoofed at least 25 times.

CNN got an exclusive look inside IC3, ground zero for fighting Katrina-related crime.

Dan Larkin, the FBI agent in charge of the center, escorted us through the facility. These analysts are covertly scanning suspicious sites using nontraceable computers.

DAN LARKIN, FBI: Sometimes, we will see malicious code or viruses that are hooked to these Web sites. And the user may not actually notice that it's happening as they're clicking on the links. And, in fact, their computer might be infected for future use.

Here, we have some of the investigators looking at recent Katrina-related sites that have popped up and they're actually comparing them to those that we saw during the tsunami incidents.

ARENA: Over in the simulation lab, investigators are tracking a suspicious site hosted out of Germany.

DAVID BONASSO, ANALYST: This is actually one that we were notified of this morning. Through spam e-mail, he's redirecting people to his site and is soliciting donations.

ARENA: The IC3 team has studied about 5,000 Katrina-related Web sites to figure out which ones are for real. It has shut down dozens of fake sites and launched nearly 70 investigations. But the FBI has not and could not do it alone. The bureau works with partners from private industry.

RICHARD LAMAGNA, MICROSOFT: Quite frankly, we have funding available. If it's required to hire outside investigators to assist, we can do that, where they might have to go through a sort of bureaucratic process.

ARENA (on camera): Investigators say that Katrina donor fraud is finally starting to decline, but that doesn't mean that activity at the center here in Pittsburgh will slow down. That's because the FBI and its partners are bracing for what they believe will be an explosion in identity theft and other Katrina-related scams.

(voice-over): Lou Reigel heads the FBI's Cyber Division in Washington.

LOUIS REIGEL, FBI CYBER DIVISION: I think it is sad that people prey on the weaknesses. It happened after 9/11. It increased with the tsunamis in -- of December of last year. Katrina has been off the radar scope. This is the worst that we have seen. I hope this is the worst we ever see.

ARENA: Kelli Arena, CNN, Pittsburgh.


BROWN: More than 3,000 people who lost their homes because of Katrina have now been offered a place to stay in Baker, Louisiana. They call it "FEMA City" and it represents progress, but only of a sort.

Here's CNN's Dan Simon.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT voice-over): There's no welcome- home sign or balloons to recognize the occasion, but for some hurricane evacuees in Baker, Louisiana, these trailers, they say, are a blessing.

JAMAL SIMMS, EVACUEE: I'm ready to go right now. You know what I'm saying? Basically, for the privacy. That's the most important thing.

SIMON: Jamal Simms is among the expected 3,000 evacuees to move into one of these new temporary homes provided by Uncle Sam. One look inside, and there's clearly an improvement from life at the shelter.

(on camera): All this is brand new. You can see that there's a stereo here, a CD player, plenty of lighting.

(voice-over): Space is tight in these 30-foot-long trailers, but the essentials and even some nonessentials are here.

SIMMS: Basically, your own house. SIMON: But not everyone is as enthusiastic. Lisa Carter says, despite losing everything in New Orleans, the cramped quarters are keeping her from moving into a trailer, along with what she says is opposition to the evacuees' presence from locals.

LISA CARTER, EVACUEE: And then the community don't want us here.

SIMON: There's actually some truth to it. Some residents are blunt.

CLIFTON BURGE, RESIDENT OF BAKER, LOUISIANA: Well, my biggest concern is that the crime is going to be a problem.

SIMON: Baker Mayor Harold Rideau says there's nothing to fear. And he's pledged to do anything he can to aid in the rebuilding of lives.

HAROLD RIDEAU, MAYOR OF BAKER, LOUISIANA: We just want to be able to give something back to the citizens that don't have any place to stay right now.

SIMON: But if history is an indication, "FEMA City," as some have dubbed it, could produce even more hardship. Example, this trailer community in Punta Gorda, Florida, went online last year after Hurricane Charley. Many residents told CNN, it's become a nightmare.

DOYLA LANE, RESIDENT: There is just always something. If you get two nights out of the week where you don't see the blue lights flying in here, a fight out here, somebody trying to stab somebody, something, you're doing good.

SIMON: In addition to the crime at the Florida site, authorities say more than two dozen evacuees have tried to commit suicide and cite the stress of remaining uprooted.

Housing researcher Ronald Utt says there's a better solution than massive trailer parks.

DR. RONALD UTT, THE HERITAGE FOUNDATION: There's a lot of cities in the Southeast in Texas and Alabama and Mississippi and over into Florida and Georgia that were not devastated, which have active, lively rental markets with lots of decent apartments and lots of vacancies.

SIMON: But FEMA will only guarantee three months of housing. The trailers are available for more than a year.

Back in Baker, Jamal Simms is grateful.

SIMMS: They're doing all they could do for -- they're doing the best they can.

SIMON: Question is, how will he feel months from now?

Dan Simon for CNN, Baker, Louisiana.


BROWN: It's all complicated stuff, isn't it?

Still ahead tonight, the tragedy on the lake and what the boat owner could pay for it. Would you believe as little as $25 for 20 lives?

Also, do the money laundering charges means Tom DeLay's political career is, well, all washed up?

We will take a break. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: For years, when he was still the Republican House majority leader, Texas Congressman Tom DeLay was known as the Hammer, not necessarily an affectionate nickname. But now that he's been hit with not one, but two grand jury indictments, the question is, has the Hammer been nailed?

In a moment, the foreman of the grand jury. First, background from CNN's Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After getting hit with a second indictment, Tom DeLay's reaction was dripping with sarcasm.

TOM DELAY, (R) TX: Another wonderful day in the life of Tom DeLay. I got to tell you, it's been quite a day.

HENRY: But the new charges brought by Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle are punishable by up to life in prison.

GEORGE DIX, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS LAW PROFESSOR: Seems to me that being charged with a first degree felony is not a laughing matter. And I would certainly be concerned if it were my name on the indictment.

HENRY: Regardless of how it plays out in court, conservatives are starting to believe DeLay cannot survive this politically.

MATTHEW CONTINETTI, "THE WEEKLY STANDARD": The question is will he be able to get back into the position as majority leader? And I think the second indictment only is kind of the final nail on DeLay's coffin -- political coffin, so to speak.

HENRY: The basis of the first indictment on conspiracy and the second indictment on money laundering is identical. Allegations DeLay and his associates evaded a Texas law banning corporate contributions in state races. The prosecutor alleges they arranged to have $190,000 sent to the Republican National Committee and that an identical amount was sent to local elections in Texas.

The prosecutor called that money laundering. DeLay denies that and maintains the second indictment only came after the prosecutor botched the first indictment by basing it on a conspiracy law that did not apply in 2002, the year of the alleged crimes.

DICK DEGUERIN, DELAY'S ATTORNEY: This is a terribly embarrassing thing for Mr. Earle. He indicted Tom DeLay, the majority leader of the House of Representatives for a crime that didn't exist. Wasn't on the books.

HENRY: Earle counters that, quote, additional information came to attention of the district attorney's office over the weekend. And that's why he sought more serious money laundering charges. Political analysts say the trouble for DeLay is widening.

THOMAS MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: In a political sense, more than a legal sense, many respects, the DeLay era is over. The odds of him regaining a formal position in the Republican leadership are slim. It's likely that as time goes on his party colleagues will find him more a liability than an asset.

HENRY: Legal experts say the second indictment makes it more likely the case will drag on into next year. A point DeLay now acknowledges.

DELAY: The longer this goes, the tougher it is for me to step back in as majority leader.

HENRY: DeLay told Rush Limbaugh he is innocent and he is confident he will prevail.

DELAY: And I'm going to fight it to the death. Because the most important consideration is not to allow this to happen in America.

HENRY: But the interview ended with Limbaugh saying DeLay is in his prayers. Ed Henry, CNN, Capitol Hill.


BROWN: Whatever disagreements there may in Washington, one man in Texas has little doubt about the grand jury indictment of Congressman Tom DeLay. He was the foreman of the grand jury that set the indictment up. He is also a former deputy sheriff, a state insurance investigator. William Gibson, it turns out, doesn't like to have his picture taken but he was happy to join us on the telephone and has.

Mr. Gibson, thank you. Since Mr. DeLay says this is all political, let me ask you, are you a Democrat or a Republican or neither?

WILLIAM GIBSON, JR., DELAY GRAND JURY FOREMAN (on phone): Well, I have got my listed as a Democrat in the primaries and what it comes to in a general election it is wide open.

BROWN: Did political considerations play any role in your decision?

GIBSON: It did not play any at all. We looked at the evidence presented to us. Based on the evidence, we returned our indictment. BROWN: Certainly you were aware of the power of the majority leader and that how this -- the implications of what you were doing. Did you consider at all the fact that it really would whether it meant to have political repercussions, it would have political repercussions?

GIBSON: I feel it was I was dealing with the Texan that violated Texas laws. In fact, I thought Mr. DeLay was the speaker of the House. That was not a concern, but that not that he was the majority leader so as far as the political implications, that did not enter into my mind at all and I don't think it entered into the minds of the other 11 grand jurors.

BROWN: Was there any single compelling piece of evidence that said to you, Mr. DeLay knew that this money was being raised from corporations and sent to Washington and then sent back to Texas? That he knew it.

GIBSON: We had information that was presented to us and the 12 members of that grand jury decided that was enough evidence to warrant that indictment to be assigned.

BROWN: Would you have liked to have heard from Mr. DeLay?

GIBSON: We had requested. He had answered with Ronnie Earle the district attorney. But he would not go under oath. He gave a statement to Mr. Earle. That statement was presented to the grand jury. We had requested that Mr. DeLay visit with us. He was given an open invitation but he never did appear.

BROWN: Let me ask you one other thing. There's an old saying that a good prosecutor perhaps, even a bad one, get a grand jury to indictment diet a ham sandwich. Did you hear evidence that would have led you to believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Tom DeLay was guilty of a crime?

GIBSON: The evidence that was presented to us, and I want to congratulate Mr. Ronnie Earle and his staff because they presented us with the evidence they had and we, in turn, questioned his staff dearly to get this information. We were provided with documentations, we had witnesses. I cannot go into what was said and everything, but I feel that the grand jury acted properly and I would have not put my name on that indictment had I not felt there was sufficient evidence to proceed on with this.

BROWN: Mr. Gibson, we appreciate your time tonight. William Gibson, who was the foreman of the grand jury in Texas that indicted Tom DeLay.

Still to come, the picture comes into focus and the sound from a former captain and the survivors and the woman who appealed for help when the Ethan Allen went down.

Also tonight, another hurricane, Hurricane Stan -- where it came ashore. We'll take a break. First, from New York and around the world, this is NEWSNIGHT. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: The company that owns the Ethan Allen tour boat that capsized in Lake George in New York could be fined as little as 25 bucks for failing to have a second crew member on board. Police say the most the company can be fined is $100. The accident killed 20 people.

New York safety inspectors said they didn't have mechanical problems. Tomorrow they are going to find out more by seeing how an identical boat handles in similar conditions. Here's CNN's Alina Cho.


ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Like so many others Al Dardis heard about the accident on television.

AL DARDIS, FORMER CAPTAIN, ETHAN ALLEN: I couldn't believe it. I just couldn't believe it.

CHO: Dardis had a reason to care. He was one of the first captains on the Ethan Allen -- piloted the tour boat for 15 years. You're still sick about it?

DARDIS: If it ever happened to me, I'd die. I couldn't take it.

CHO: Dardis said when he was at the helm, back in the '70s and '80s, he always made sure people were seated. He said the boat was harder to handle when it was filled to capacity.

DARDIS: If you have a lot of people on one side, it is just not good. Don't run good.

CHO: He has seen what happens when a boat tries to maneuver around the wake of a larger vessel.

You have seen things flip over.

DARDIS: If they come close to anything and they're anywhere near half throttle, something bad happens.

CHO: Investigators are looking into whether the wake of another boat caused the Ethan Allen to capsize.

DARDIS: Well, you can understand a vessel of that size, things can go wrong.

CHO: New York State Police Major Gerald Meyer said two crew members should have been aboard the Ethan Allen on the day of the accident. But Captain Richard Paris (ph) was alone.

MAJOR GERALD MEYER, NY STATE POLICE: The crew member would be important in an accident situation because, you know, you might need two people to hand out life preservers.

CHO: The company that owns the Ethan Allen is Shoreline Cruises. The state has sidelined its five other boats.

JAMES QUIRK, PRESIDENT, SHORELINE CRUISES: Our company, Shoreline Cruises, has been in passenger boat business on Lake George for more than 27 years and until Sunday, we have had a perfect safety record.

CHO: But as this 911 call makes clear, something did go terribly wrong.

DISPATCHER: 911 emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh my God. Oh my God. A boat. A boat. A boat went over just - the Ethan Allen, just outside of Green Harbor.

DISPATCHER: Green harbor?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It tipped right over.

DISPATCHER: How many people were in the boat?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, a lot of people. They're hanging on to the bottom because it went right over. Oh, please hurry.

CHO: Seventy-five old Anna McGunagle said it all happened so fast. She survived the accident, her husband did, too.

ANNA MCGUNANGLE, SURVIVOR: I was content that I wasn't going to make it. And he was, too. But God had other plans for us.

CHO: Despite the tragedy Al Dardis says Lake George is still the queen of American lakes. And the perfect place to take a vacation.

DARDIS: You know, it was a beautiful day. Gorgeous day. Something like that should have never happened.

CHO (on camera): On Wednesday, the NTSB will be conducting what it calls a stability test to take the twin sister boat of the Ethan Allen, put the equivalent of 50 passengers on that boat, move all of the weight to one side of it and then see what happens. The NTSB says it will know more then than it does now. Alina Cho, CNN, Lake George, New York.


BROWN: Just ahead tonight, is the president getting it wrong with the right when it comes to his pick for the U.S. Supreme Court. Take a break first. From New York, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Coming up, calming the right. The president tries to assure the home team about his Supreme Court pick. But first, at about a quarter till the hour, time once again to check on some of the other news of the day with Erica Hill in Atlanta. Good evening, again. HILL: And good evening again to you Aaron. We start off with news of another hurricane, Hurricane Stan, coming ashore in Mexico today. Winds of about 80 miles per hour. Hundreds of people were evacuated from their homes. And there were also reported deaths. At least 51 people in Central America were killed by Hurricane Stan as it crossed the Yucatan Peninsula this weekend. It has since been downgraded to a tropical storm.

It is now legal in California to use global satellite positioning to keep track of prisoners on parole. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the bill and it also prohibits sex offenders from getting state-funded impotence drugs.

And two Americans and a German sharing this year's Nobel Prize for Physics. John Hall, who you see right there. Roy Glauber. Coming up next. And Theodore Hansch. The three won the $1.3 million prize for optics research. Their research improves the accuracy of things like navigation systems and atomic clocks, Aaron.

BROWN: So you can keep better track of sex offenders and parolees as it turns out.

HILL: Exactly.

BROWN: It all ties together. Thank you. We'll talk tomorrow.

Just ahead, the food fight over Harriet Miers. Is it a case of right or left or right and wrong or both? We'll talk about with a former top man at White House who's going against the president on this one. From New York, where we never let legislate from the desk, this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: The president today stood up for his nominee for the O'Connor seat on the Supreme Court bench. "I picked the best person I could find," he said in a Rose Garden news conference, adding "people are going to be amazed by her intellect."

As best we can tell, the fuss over the choice has little to do with the intellect and lot to do with the unknown. While many conservatives seem content if not exactly ecstatic, others are clearly disappointed. David Frum falls into that latter group, a former speech writer for the president, currently a writer for "The National Review" and someone we're always pleased to see.

David, it's sort of a case of you don't know what you don't know and makes you nervous but if you knew everything, if you know where she stood on abortion, if you knew where she stood on this and that, wouldn't you be a little bit hypocritical in the sense that those are all litmus tests?

DAVID FRUM, "NATIONAL REVIEW": I'm not interested on where she stands on abortion. You can be, for example, as I am in favor of legal abortion and against the Roe v. Wade decision or the other way around. We are interested not in your personal feelings about abortion, but in your judicial philosophy. And that is something that is just not known about Harriet Miers and there really is no excuse for not knowing it.

These are enormously important positions. They are not just in the president's gift or any way when the president makes the gift, he is accountable to his supporters. There have been a lot of appointments that have disappointed conservatives over the years, seven of nine of the justices, as often pointed out, are Republicans.

Meanwhile, there's an extraordinary bench of incredibly brilliant conservative jurists with records. It isn't that people want to know how do you feel about this thing or that thing but they want to know about how do you see the world so you can see deal with issues to come up in 10 years, 20 years, 30 years.

BROWN: David, you said the president is accountable to his supporters. May I suggest the president is accountable the country and he found someone he is comfortable with? You trust him. You worked for him. I think your first line in the piece today is he gets the big ones right.

FRUM: Yeah.

BROWN: Cut him some slack.

FRUM: Look. No one cut the president more slack than I do. I do trust him. I do support him. But he is not infallible. I trust his integrity, I trust his good judgment. But you know, the things I am concerned about that a lot of conservatives here in Washington are concerned about, not just me, there is a growing unease here is the things that the president doesn't know are -- things that we need to know, I think, the president doesn't know. He can't know them because Harriet Miers doesn't know them. She has not developed a judicial philosophy. She can't have done. She hasn't published, she hasn't written, she has not handled the case. She has been an advocate and deals with fairly narrow range of kinds of issues.

BROWN: Might that make her more malleable to your allies on the court?

FRUM: Look, the question that conservatives are asking is why not the best? The court is very important to conservatives. A lot of time is spent developing a team of people, of extraordinary abilities. People who are the most impressive people in America. If you were to get the 10 conservative law professors in the country's elite schools and give them a chalk board and marker and say list 100 people who might be on the Supreme Court, Harriet Miers' name would not have appeared there. I was the first journalist to mention the possibility that the president would support her. Back in July. People laughed at me. It just seemed an outlandish possibility.

BROWN: David, we appreciate you coming in. I know it took some effort tonight. So thank you.

FRUM: Thank you. BROWN: We'll talk soon. Thank you, David Frum, used to write speeches for the president. Writes for "National Review" now. Later tonight, to some it's a story of the power of hope over loss. To others, the story of a charlatan a year after the slaughter of hundreds of children in Russia. A man that says he can raise the dead and the man has a following.

And also tonight, they have seen Afghanistan and now they're seeing Louisiana. We'll take a break and you'll meet them because this is NEWSNIGHT.


BROWN: Louisiana National Guard has been through some tough times. They have seen the devastation and they have seen death in Afghanistan, and now, they're working in some places on the home front. Places hit hard as the worst of battlegrounds they have ever seen.


SSG BILLY RAY MCDANIEL, LOUISIANA NATIONAL GUARD: That used to be like a mechanic shop right there.

BROWN (voice-over): Staff Sergeant Billy Ray McDaniel seen the bad stuff in the world. Afghanistan made sure of that.

MCDANIEL: Look like bombs been dropped over here. Look bad as it is. Looks terrible now. Real bad.

BROWN: But in its own way, this is worst. Because it isn't there. It's here. And this is home.

MCDANIEL: Gets to you. You try not to let it but it does. Try not to show it. Because you're an army person. You're supposed to be strong.

BROWN: This is or was Cameron, Louisiana. Small Cajun fishing town. Sergeant McDaniel's' engineering unit has the job of clearing enough downed trees and power lines to make it passable. Livable is another matter.

CPT CALLEN D. WEST: This is probably the first step. Just to begin cleanup and to allow the people to have a possible chance to come back in and take a look at the damage.

BROWN: The National Guard unit hasn't stopped in a year and a half. First in the dust of Afghanistan. Then in the mud and chaos of New Orleans. And now this.

MCDANIEL: I'm tired. I really am. I'm 47 years old so, yes. I'm tired. My body's getting tired.

BROWN: And he misses his wife.

MCDANIEL: She said, oh Lord. He ain't coming home again. I said, yeah, I guess we're going to move and pass by the house. I'll blow if you can hear me. But I ain't going to stop.

BROWN: Sergeant McDaniel is ready to get back to his real job detailing helicopters. And ready for this part of his life to end.

MCDANIEL: I just want it to be over with and hopefully things start turning so that people can pick their lives up and go on with it.

BROWN: Get on with picking up the pieces and rebuilding a life from the places he's been lately. Sergeant McDaniel knows it will be a long, slow process.

MCDANIEL: I know it's going to be hard, but I hope they just be strong and try to do the best they can.



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