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Second Indictment for DeLay; Tour Boat Investigation; Road to Recovery

Aired October 4, 2005 - 09:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Congressman Tom DeLay hit with another indictment in his campaign finance scandal. Now he's accused of money laundering, and the Texas Republican is making some strong accusations of his own. We've got a live report from Washington just ahead.
President Bush faces reporters in a White House news conference. In just 90 minutes, his Supreme Court nominee a likely subject of questions. Could he face a rebellion from the right over Harriet Miers? We'll take you live to the White House.

And new reports of violence and fighting in Iraq. A powerful and deadly bombing inside Baghdad's heavily-fortified Green Zone, while in western towns thousands of U.S. troops are on the offensive again on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Miles has the day off. We're going to have a look at those stories ahead this morning.

Also, some new developments to tell you about in the investigation of the tour boat accident that killed 20 people in New York.

First, though, let's get right back to Rob Marciano. He's reporting for us from Lake Charles, Louisiana.

Hey, Rob. Good morning.


On the shores of Lake Charles, where 12 days ago the water was over my head and pressed up against I-10 just to my left, with five and six-foot breakers on top of a seven or eight-foot storm surge. So obviously still wreckage and damage.

This used to be the Wildlife and Fisheries building where they would have boats out here to go out and take samples. They haven't been able to do that, obviously. Their docks and their storage facilities are all torn up.

We're starting our three-day tour -- or we're in the middle of our three-day tour of three states that have been affected not only by Hurricane Rita, but also Hurricane Katrina. Yesterday, if you didn't join us, we were in Port Arthur, Texas, southeast Texas, which got the western edge of the eye wall as Rita came ashore 12 days ago. Lot of damage there, the lights still out.

Across the Sabine River, across the border we came into southwest Louisiana and Calcasieu Parish. Lake Charles is where we stand right now, where they got the eastern end of the eye wall, the more destructive, the higher winds, the greater storm surge. And certainly here they're struggling to pick up the pieces.

But we have seen some bit of good news in the last 12 to 24 hours. Some lights beginning to pop on. Some folks trying to get back to their houses to actually take a look at what they've seen.

Coming up in this half-hour, I've managed to track down a an old friend and colleague. Time to get a little bit selfish here, Soledad. I used to work in this town, and one of the great voices of Lake Charles is going to join me in this hour, and he really has his pulse on the community here and will give us a feel for what folks have been going through in the last 12 days -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, Rob. Thanks.

Headlines now. Carol Costello has those.

Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, Soledad.

Good morning to all of you.

"Now in the News," President Bush will hold a news conference at the White House this morning. It comes after a number of recent developments, including his latest Supreme Court pick, the federal response to the hurricanes, and the resignation of the FEMA chief.

That news conference is set to take place at 10:30 a.m. Eastern. It will happen in the Rose Garden. And of course CNN will have live coverage for you.

Turning now to Iraq, there's been a car bombing near Baghdad's Green Zone. Video from the scene shows smoke, heavy smoke, rising from the area. Iraqi police say at least three people were killed, seven others hurt.

West of Baghdad, the U.S. military is launching two new offensives in the Al Anbar region. Some 3,000 U.S. troops, backed by Iraqi forces, are trying to hunt down al Qaeda operatives.

O'BRIEN: Louisiana authorities say the search for Hurricane Katrina victims is over. All agencies have apparently finished looking for bodies. The death toll in Louisiana was raised Monday to 964. The total number of victims from the five states where the storm hit the hardest now stands at around 1,200.

Former President Bill Clinton is said to arrive in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in the next hour. He'll meet with Katrina survivors and get a briefing from officials on the relief effort.

He and former President George Bush are trying to decide how to best use the $100 million raised for their Katrina fund. Clinton is also expected to make stops in Mississippi and Alabama.

And two Americans and a German share the Nobel Prize in physics. The announcement coming down earlier from Stockholm, Sweden.

The scientists won for applying modern quantum physics to the study of optics. You got that? Their work makes it possible to do things like improve GPS technology, which helps me especially, and develop extremely accurate clocks, which helps all of us in the broadcasting...

O'BRIEN: I didn't know that that was from quantum physics.

COSTELLO: I know. So, you go, guys.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

COSTELLO: Congratulations.

O'BRIEN: Congratulations to all involved. We have no idea what you actually do, but we're happy you won.


O'BRIEN: Thanks, Carol.

Congressman Tom DeLay facing more legal troubles this morning. Another Texas grand jury has indicted the former House majority leader once again. This time on a money laundering charge.

Joe Johns at Capitol Hill for us this morning.

Joe, what exactly is behind the second indictment?


In the event the first count gets thrown out by a judge, the prosecutor has essentially upped the ante.


JOHNS (voice over): Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle piled on a new charge against former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, money laundering, a first-degree felony on top of a prior charge of criminal conspiracy. This new and more serious charge comes after some fast- paced legal maneuvering in Austin, Texas.

Late Monday, attorneys for DeLay asked the judge to throw out the conspiracy charge because conspiracy in this context was not yet a crime in 2002, when the alleged wrongdoing occurred. The judge has not yet responded.

DeLay tried to laugh it off, speaking with a Texas radio station.

REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: So this crime didn't even exist. And -- and -- I'm sorry for laughing. This is -- this is beyond -- it's just unbelievable. I mean, he's making the Keystone Cops look good.

JOHNS: DeLay's lawyers say Earle got the new money laundering indictment out of desperation.

DICK DEGUERIN, TOM DELAY'S ATTORNEY: If this doesn't prove that the motivation behind this indictment is political, then I don't know what it is.

JOHNS: The indictments relate to a plan by Texas Republicans to first take over the state House in 2002. Earle says DeLay and his associates used corporate money, $190,000 funneled through Washington to win the Texas legislature in violation of Texas law.

Back in April, when I went to meet him, Earle explained his reasoning.

RONNIE EARLE, TRAVIS COUNTY DA: I call it money laundering.

JOHNS (on camera): Why?

EARLE: Well, taking the proceeds of a criminal transaction and using it for other purposes.

JOHNS (voice over): DeLay's attorneys insist there was no money laundering because all of the financial transactions that took place were perfectly legal.

DEGUERIN: The law was followed. No law's been broken.


JOHNS: The prosecutor's office is not conceding anything was wrong with the first indictment. They say they are prepared to fight that issue out in court -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Joe Johns on Capitol Hill for us this morning.

Joe, thanks.

Well, today federal investigators are going to interview the captain of a tour boat that capsized. Twenty people were killed when the Ethan Allen sank on Sunday. And now authorities have shut down the tour boat's operator.

Susan Lisovicz live for us in Lake George, which is just about 50 miles north of Albany.

Susan, good morning to you. I know you're waiting for the sort of official statement from the company. What do you think we're going hear?

SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad. I think what we're going hear is that Shoreline Cruises is going to express its deep remorse about what happened on Sunday, and also to state that it is cooperating fully with authorities. One of the reasons why I think that's what we are going hear because that's the company's very -- very statement that you hear when you call the company. It's its outgoing message.

Shoreline Cruises is a family run business. It has been here for decades. It operates four other boats in addition to the Ethan Allen, including the Adirondack, which is just behind me, which is obviously a much larger boat.

But in any case, its operations right now are suspended. The New York State Parks Department suspended all operations for Shoreline Cruises yesterday because it did not adhere to regulations that required an additional crew member aboard the Ethan Allen on Sunday.

There was just one crew member on Sunday. That was the captain. And there were 47 passengers.

In the meantime, the majority of survivors, 27 survivors, have returned to Michigan. CNN caught up with one of the survivors yesterday still in the hospital, Jeane Siler, who described the ordeal on Sunday.


JEANE SILER, SURVIVOR: All of my friends around me, some of them not being able to swim, were fumbling about. Some of them were screaming, and those that could were trying to hang on to the side of the boat.


LISOVICZ: Jeane Siler just happens to be also a Red Cross volunteer who just very recently returned from the Gulf Coast area, where she was assisting victims of Hurricane Rita and Katrina. She came to escape from that, have a week of relaxation. She says she -- she is much better at handling other people's grief than her own.

In the meantime, Soledad, another very busy day here. The NTSB will hold its first formal interview with the Ethan Allen's pilot, Richard Paris, and also divers will return to the scene of the accident. Commercial pilots lifted the boat yesterday, but today Warren County's scuba unit will return to try to retrieve personal effects from the bottom of the lake.

Back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right, Susan. Thanks.

Gosh. You know, when you hear her talk, you just realize how devastating -- you know, elderly people can't swim, with walkers, terrified, probably can't even hold onto the boat. I mean, just a horrible thing.

Susan Lisovicz, thanks. And we'll of course get an update from you when we get more news out of there.

There's some welcome news this morning for hundreds of hurricane victims from the New Orleans area. The first of Louisiana's trailer park communities for evacuees could open as early as today.

Dan Simon's in Baker. It's about 80 miles northwest of New Orleans.

Dan, good morning to you.

How many evacuees could live in this one park that's behind you?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning, Soledad.

We haven't seen anybody come in yet, but as many as 3,000 people could soon be calling this place home. We're standing on to top of our SUV. So this kind of gives you a good vantage point of how many trailers we're talking about here. Ultimately, there are going to be several sites just like this, but as we discovered, not everybody is fully embracing them.


SIMON (voice over): It gives new meaning to the idea of a gated community. Workers are putting their finishing touches on this previously vacant land that now holds nearly 600 trailers that await scores of hurricane evacuees here in Baker, Louisiana. Some of the locals calling it FEMA City, and hurricane victims like Jamal Simms can hardly wait for moving day. He says he's been living in a crowded shelter for the last month.

JAMAL SIMMS, HURRICANE 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 (on camera): Refrigerator, freezer over here.

(voice over): The trailers, as we saw firsthand, are compact. As many as five people will have to share the space, but they have all of the essentials for living. Nonessentials, too, like CD players and microwave ovens.

SIMMS: Basically your own house.

SIMON: But not everyone is equally thrilled. Lisa Carter says, despite losing everything in New Orleans, the tight quarters are enough to keep her away, along with what she claims is opposition from locals.

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

SIMON: There's some truth to what she's saying. Just listen to Baker resident Clifton Burge, who says he's worried about an increase in crime. CLIFTON BURGE, BAKER, LOUISIANA, RESIDENT: We've had crime here before this had ever come here. So this -- the only thing I can figure, it's going to increase it. You bring in more people, you're going to have more crime.

SIMON: Local officials held a town hall meeting, and Mayor Harold Rideaux got an earful from other concerned residents.

(on camera): You had some pretty vocal people.


SIMON (voice over): According to the mayor, the worries were fueled in part by stories about rape and murder in New Orleans following Katrina. While other communities are turning down similar trailer sites, Rideaux says the hurricane victims are fully welcome in Baker.

RIDEAUX: And god blessed us and we were spared. You know? Let's -- let's give something back to those that are less fortunate.

SIMON: And for people who lost everything, this new mini city offers a fresh start in rebuilding lives.


SIMON: And back here live in Baker, each one of these trailers costs Uncle Sam about $15,000 to $20,000 a piece. And as you saw there, it's pretty tight quarters. They're only about 30 feet long -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes. Not a lot -- five people to a trailer. That's a tight squeeze.

All right. Thanks for that update and that report.

Let's get back to Rob Marciano. He's reporting for us this morning.

Good morning, Rob.

MARCIANO: Hi, Soledad.

Obviously, we're here in Lake Charles. It's a beautiful day in Louisiana. We're tracking -- we're getting progress reports on the storms that rolled through, how people are recovering. But we've got to shift gears a little bit and talk about something that's also weather related, and that's the wildfires that are out West.

They were being blown around pretty bad last week. The winds cane onshore, knocked them down a little bit. But now the winds are started to pick up again. And that's not good news.

KTTV is one of our affiliates out there. Bob DeCastro is a reporter.

Hello, Bob. What's the latest?


Well, more than a thousand firefighters from all across the state are still here, and they are bracing for those extreme fire conditions. We're in the West Hills area. This is an area that was hard hit by the Topanga fire, which burned some 25,000 acres. Three homes were destroyed last week.

It's now about 85 percent contained, but they're going to be working very hard today to contain this fire, because they're concerned about that round of Santa Ana winds expected to come today. In fact, the National Weather Service has issued a red flag warning. They're concerned about these Santa Ana winds, expected to exceed 35 miles per hour at times. And that, coupled with the low humidity, the high temperatures, the extremely dry conditions, can pose an extreme fire danger.

So they're bracing for that today. We are expecting again some very dry conditions.

Fire officials are asking people in this area to be extremely careful, especially in the wildland areas, because they do believe that most of these wildfires are caused by humans.

That's the latest from here. Rob, we'll send it back to you.

MARCIANO: Thanks, Bob.

Bob live for us in southern California on the wildfires, the latest there.

Chad, you know, I thought maybe things would quiet down, but apparently those winds have gone offshore. What's going on with that?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. That's not really the case, Rob.


O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the latest on the efforts to get hurricane victims back on their feet financially. We'll take a look at a special program that's backed by FEMA, corporate America, and thousand of volunteers as well.

Plus, much more on the political impact of Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court. Could the president's pick hurt Republicans in next year's elections? We'll get that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: President Bush holding a news conference in the Rose Garden this morning 10:30 Eastern Time. CNN is going to carry that live for you when it happens. The White House also playing up Harriet Miers' accomplishments amid uncertainly from conservatives and Democrats alike about her qualifications to serve as a U.S. Supreme Court justice. Miers, who has never been a judge, is getting a bit of a mixed reception.

Mike Allen is "TIME" magazine's White House correspondent, and he joins us from our Washington bureau.

Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us, Mike.


O'BRIEN: The fact that, in fact, Harriet Miers has never been a judge, do you think that works for her or against her in her confirmation?

ALLEN: Well, it's interesting. Senators have been talking over the last couple months about how they wanted someone who had not been on the bench, and they talked about someone who had been in political life. And some of us suspected that what they meant was they wanted him to pick a senator, which seemed to be what they wanted.

But Soledad, you talk about the political impact. All during the last month of Katrina and Frist and DeLay and deficits, what Republicans have kept saying is, hold on, everything is going to be better as soon as we get this new court pick, because that will give us something to rally around and something to be excited about.

And then the pick comes out and it's worse. Conservatives are more depressed. You talk about -- you hear Rush Limbaugh talking about people being disappointed and let down.

O'BRIEN: But nobody knows anything about her, really. I mean, I think that's fair to say.

So why are conservatives more disappointed than Democrats?

ALLEN: Well, I think that's a good point. And I think we have to be humble about this.

It could be that she turns out to be a great constitutional scholar. Maybe it will be like the quiet kid, and you finally let him bat, and you're like, holy cow, look at what he can do.

And the administration's message very much is sort of hold your horses. They're pointing out that this is someone who was on the team who picked other judges, that she knows the president's mind. And Mary Matalin, Vice President Cheney's former counsel, was pointing out last night that people had question about Roberts and about Vice President Cheney.

But what conservatives say is there's plenty of great constitutional scholars on the right out there who have been training for this, and we shouldn't have to have someone that you need to debate whether or not they're qualified. They were hoping for a homerun, somebody who is obvious.

O'BRIEN: There are critics who say this is the easier choice, and it's sort of the easy road for the president to take. What do they mean by that? And do you think that's the case?

ALLEN: Well, you do hear people saying things like the president didn't have the stomach for a fight. A new story this morning called it a cut and run choice. You heard Rush calling it a pick from weakness.

I could be wrong, but I don't think these are things that have ever been said about this president. And so it is very surprising.

Now, this pick is characteristic of the president in two ways. One, is he picked who he wanted to pick. He didn't -- you often hear him say, "I'm the president." You know, he didn't listen to all of the other people giving him advice, solicited and unsolicited.

And second, the staff always says the president likes surprises. And people certainly are surprised.

O'BRIEN: He certainly likes loyalty. And is there a risk that by picking someone who is clearly very loyal to him and has been for a long time that he sort of overshadows her accomplishments? Could that be a problem?

ALLEN: Yes, I mean, this White House has faced questions before about whether it's to insular, but loyalty is important. And this is someone who's been with the president all this time in her first role as staff secretary. That's someone who sees every important piece of paper in the West Wing, who literally pulls the paper in front of the president.

She's traveled with the president now as counselor, she knows about every sensitive issue. So, this is -- the lawyer -- I'm trying to think in my mind and make sure this is right, but this is the lawyer that the president probably has spent the most time with, at least recently.

And it's a Texan. And it's someone who came with him. It's someone who's been on for the whole ride. And that was important to him, whereas conservatives wanted someone that had been an articulate, ardent champion of their causes, as opposed to just a backer of the president.

O'BRIEN: Well, we'll see how the fight shapes up.

Mike Allen of "TIME" magazine.

Nice to see you. Thanks.

ALLEN: Have a beautiful week, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Thank you. And likewise.

Still to come this morning, much more from Lake Charles Louisiana. Shrimpers send seafood across the country. We're going to talk to the head of one of the companies that's trying to recover now. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Stay with us.


MARCIANO: We're live in Lake Charles, Louisiana, as they continue to pick up the pieces after Hurricane Rita. All is calm here. We'll continue our work on a progress report from southwest Louisiana.

Yesterday we were in Port Arthur, Texas, where we spoke with a number of people, including a shrimper. Jack Hemmenway, who is the owner of a shrimp packing business over there, also owns a couple of -- a couple of boats, shrimp boats which is took a hit during the hurricane. So we took kind of a behind-the-scenes look at how the shrimp business works. And here's the tour that Jack gave us yesterday.


MARCIANO: Did you know any of the guys who lost their boat in the storm?

JACK HEMMENWAY, SHRIMPER: Oh, yes. I knew four or five of them, launcher (ph) boats. These big boats cost a million dollars a piece.

MARCIANO: No kidding? This is a million dollars?

HEMMENWAY: Yes, a million dollars. You just -- you just can't imagine what's all inside of that boat down below. From that (INAUDIBLE) right there, all the way back right yonder, it's 12 feet down. That's all freezer space down below.

MARCIANO: That's where they keep the shrimp?

HEMMENWAY: Where they keep the shrimp. It's about 10, 15 below zero down in this hole right here. There's 30,000 pounds of shrimp in that hole.

MARCIANO: Holy smokes! Look at the size of that thing!


MARCIANO: How about the guys that own the boats that are waiting to unload into your plant? Are they getting a little impatient, or do they understand what's going on?

HEMMENWAY: No, they understand what's going on. And we all told them we're going to start loading them in the morning.

MARCIANO: Tell me about what surprised you most in the storm. Were you surprised that you didn't have much damage, or...

HEMMENWAY: Yes, I'm really surprised being here close on the water, because I've looked at everybody's else's, like Sabine, 10 miles down the road. They're completely gone.

And I had come back, I thought maybe my building would be gone, and it was all intact. The generators were on it. The temperatures were down on the hole, and I was a happy fisherman.

MARCIANO: Given the storms that you've had, and the hit that it's taken in the industry, the price of oil, there's a lot of obstacles against you. If you had to do it all over again, way back when, would you still be in the shrimp business?

HEMMENWAY: I'd still be in the shrimp business. I love it. I am 72 years old, and I can't wait every morning to get up and get to my company. We're going to make it.


MARCIANO: That's the kind of positive talk you like to hear after a storm like Hurricane Rita rolled through.

Fisheries here, the hatcheries here, they're going to go out and test the waters here in Lake Charles and take a status report on that. Haven't done that yet. Haven't been able to get out there.

And as far as Jack is concerned, he says, you go out there in the Gulf of Mexico, the water's fine. So every shrimp you eat from the Gulf is just as delicious now as it was before all these hurricanes hit -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Good. That's good to hear. All right, Rob. Thanks.

Ahead this morning, a unique private and public venture helping hurricane evacuees back on firm financial ground. We'll tell you about Project Restore Hope. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



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