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AMERICAN MORNING

Tropical Storm Wilma; Deadly Bus Crash; Counting the Votes in Iraq

Aired October 17, 2005 - 08:59   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Six weeks of hurricane season left. We're all out of names now. Tropical Storm Wilma forming overnight in the Caribbean, the 21st named storm this year, tying the record. We could find out if Wilma is headed our way just ahead.
Counting the casualties in the Iraqi town of Ramadi. After the coalition strikes the insurgents there, dozens are killed. We'll go live to Baghdad for an update and a look at the weekend's constitutional vote.

And a Wisconsin community looking for strength after a terrible accident. The latest on a deadly bus crash and the high school marching band now facing tragedy.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

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

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome to Monday. Welcome to another week. Welcome to another named storm.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Tropical Storm -- Tropical Storm Wilma, which is moving very slowly. And I think they're predicting only a Category 2 hurricane. But boy, enough already.

M. O'BRIEN: Awfully early to say for sure, but the makings are there. More important, the water is still warm, as Chad will tell us right now, as a matter of fact.

Wilma is starting to wander a little bit. Chad Myers is there with a little bit on the wanderings of Wilma and that warm water and what impact it might all have.

Chad, good morning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: The wanderings, Miles -- good morning. The wanderings themselves, that just tells us that there are no big winds that we can rely on. We like to have a storm moving 10, 15 miles per hour, because then we know we have some direction, we've got some momentum, we know the winds are blowing in a certain direction.

Most of the night the storm actually drifted to the southwest, and then since about 5:00 this morning it's been drifting to the south. In fact, about 25 miles farther south than it was just four hours ago.

The official forecast takes it from where it is now down to the south of Grand Cayman, right there, and very close to the Caribbean, the islands there of Cozumel, and also into the Yucatan Peninsula, not that far from Cancun. A little bit farther track to the south like it's been tracking this morning, that would take it closer to Belize, Playa del Carmen, and then into the Bay of Campeche.

Now notice, this is Saturday. We're going to be talking about this for a week. And you talked about only going to a Category 2 so far. Yes, that is so far, because when it gets up into this warm water, if it does, into the Gulf of Mexico, it could gain strength past that, past Category 2. But Category 2 is still 120 hours away, and that's as far as the forecast goes.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Hey Chad, going back to Wilma, if Wilma actually makes a beeline toward the Yucatan Peninsula, will that bust up the storm? Or could it reform on the other side?

MYERS: It will bust up the storm. It's kind of a flat peninsula, though. Yucatan doesn't go up very high. Not too many mountains other than like Chitzen Itza, which was manmade.

That entire area is flat and fairly wet. So as it goes from maybe a Cat 2 across, maybe to a Cat 1, back down to a tropical depression, then it will reform if it gets back in there.

M. O'BRIEN: It can reform.

MYERS: Sure. The Bay of Campeche very warm as well.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

MYERS: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: A Wisconsin community is grieving today. A beloved high school music director, his wife and his granddaughter all killed, and more, when their bus crashed into an 18-wheeler.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TANIA RICHTER, PASSENGER ON BUS: There was a lot of sirens. There was probably -- it looked like there was a ton of ambulances.

S. O'BRIEN (voice-over): It happened early Sunday morning on a Wisconsin interstate. A bus carrying Chippewa Falls High School students home from a marching band competition slammed into a tractor- trailer that had just overturned.

CAPT. DOUGLAS NOTBOHM, WISCONSIN STATE PATROL: The driver attempted to correct, jackknifed the vehicle, and a motor coach that was also traveling westbound collided with the tractor-trailer unit. S. O'BRIEN: Five people were killed, including the band director, his wife, their granddaughter and a student teacher and the bus driver. More than two dozen others were taken to area hospitals.

The community is in shock.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As the kids came back, then we talked to them. We let them have access to counselors, and medical folks took a look at them one more time before they were released.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This morning, when I heard the news, I didn't even want to believe it was true, but once I watched it on TV, it hurts.

S. O'BRIEN: Seventeen-year-old senior Tania Richter was a passenger on the bus. She says almost everybody was asleep when the accident happened.

RICHTER: I was mostly in the back. I was a few seats from the back. And I had to crawl out of -- we opened up one of the windows. It was a rescue person down there, he had a ladder, and we had to climb out of the window and down the ladder to get out of there. Everybody had to have shoes on, because there was diesel fuel, and glass and all sorts of stuff on the ground everywhere.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: The investigation into the crash is focusing now on the driver of the truck. He's telling authorities he didn't fall asleep before the crash. It's still not known, though, what caused that truck to roll over -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's check some headlines now. Carol is here with that.

Good morning again, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you.

And good morning to all of you.

The Supreme Court nominee Harriet Miers on Capitol Hill this morning. She's holding face-to-face meetings with some key lawmakers. Two former Texas Supreme Court justices will also be in Washington to highlight her achievements. It's apparently part of the White House strategy to shift the focus from Miers' values to her resume.

A new bankruptcy law taking effect this morning, and thousands of people waited across the country this weekend to file before the midnight deadline. The number of cases was expected to break all existing records. The new law sets new limits on filings and forces people to get credit counseling before they can declare bankruptcy.

A group of fishermen on dry land today, and there is word Senator Edward Kennedy was involved in the rescue attempt. According to "The Cape Cod Times," the senator was walking his dogs when he spotted the men cut off by rising waters. He apparently tried to help using a 13- foot boat, but had to turn back and hand the rescue off to the pros, to the emergency officials.

At least he tried.

And Peaceful Mountain, Thai Shan, that's the name given to the panda cub at The National Zoo. The announcement coming just within the past half-hour. I'm hoping we can get panda cam up because it is so cute.

Oh, he's sleeping again.

M. O'BRIEN: Is that live? Is that a relatively live picture?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, it's live.

COSTELLO: Well, it should be.

M. O'BRIEN: As live as -- you know, refreshed recently.

COSTELLO: I swear to you, five minutes ago it was on panda cam at The National Zoo in Washington, and he was on his back and his legs were moving. But now Thai Shan is sleeping.

S. O'BRIEN: Wiped out.

M. O'BRIEN: Is that the cub or is that the mom?

COSTELLO: No, that's the cub.

M. O'BRIEN: So kind of long way from the stick of butters day.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

COSTELLO: He's 13 pounds now and 25 inches long.

S. O'BRIEN: Cute.

COSTELLO: And he'll be out next month. He'll be out, like, on display for all to see.

M. O'BRIEN: A peaceful mountain there for everybody to see.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes. I'd like to see that. They wait a hundred days and then they name the little baby panda.

COSTELLO: Chinese tradition.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Carol.

COSTELLO: Sure.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's move over to Iraq now. In Iraq, some major air strikes against insurgents. The U.S. involved in three missions into Ramadi on Sunday, a city just west of Baghdad. The Pentagon says 70 insurgents were killed during a bombing and in a helicopter gunfight. But an Iraqi doctor says 20 civilians were killed, including some children.

The bombings came on the day after Iraqis voted on the proposed constitution. They're still counting those votes today, but there's not much doubt about the outcome.

CNN's Aneesh Raman, live now in Baghdad.

The feeling is, Aneesh, that it has been approved, but with a lot of Sunni opposition.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, Miles. Good morning.

It will be the margin of approval if this constitution is in fact ratified. That could spark further debate, and the implications are huge in the political dynamic.

The counting continues in the capital, delayed by what you might be able to se behind me. A sandstorm has blown its way into Iraq, preventing flights from the north and south carrying ballots into the capital, delaying it potentially until later today, perhaps tomorrow.

We are expecting official numbers tomorrow both on turnout and on the provincial makeup of either accepting or rejecting this ballot. As you say, government officials have been optimistic from yesterday into today that this constitution will be ratified. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also voicing optimism similar to that in London yesterday.

The key issue, though, is that we're aware from early polling that two provinces may have rejected the constitution, two predominantly Sunni provinces. And that means that a third could emerge. It is unlikely, according to government officials, but it is all the more reason to wait for those official numbers and see what happened in those two provinces.

Again, just to recap, if this constitution is ratified by mid December, on December 15, actually, we'll have a general election that will elect a permanent five-year government. If it is rejected, though, this transitional government is dissolved, this process starts all over again -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's talk about the trial of Saddam Hussein, Aneesh. That now lies ahead of us. What do we expect to see? And for that matter, will we see it at all? Will there be TV coverage?

RAMAN: Well, we're expecting, according to officials involved in the preparation of this trial, that Saddam Hussein will appear in court with the seven other defendants in this first of what could be 12 trials. This one centers on atrocities committed in the northern village of Dujail.

Allegedly, Saddam had some 140 people summarily executed. In addition, had thousands incarcerated after he survived an assassination attempt there.

It is likely, too, that we will see TV coverage. But again, the mechanics of this trial remain completely in doubt.

We expect on the 19th that the charges will be read, that the defendants may in fact acknowledge what the charges are. But the defense is likely to petition for a delay to further review the evidence. That delay could be a matter of days, it could be weeks. We'll find out on Wednesday -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Aneesh Raman in Baghdad. Thanks very much.

Still to come on the program, Washington's waiting game. Will the president's top adviser, the man they call "The Architect," be indicted in the CIA leak case?

S. O'BRIEN: Also, rebuilding New Orleans' failed levee system on the sinking sands that are there. Can they do it? Should they do it? What have engineers learned?

A new study's out. We'll tell you about that.

M. O'BRIEN: And Wilma in the Caribbean, headed for the Gulf, the 21st named storm of the season. We'll update you ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: So what is Karl Rove's Plan B should he be indicted? "TIME" magazine out with a story which talks just about that very issue. The White House correspondent, Mike Allen, who penned it, joins us from Washington.

Mike, good to have you back with us.

MIKE ALLEN, "TIME" MAGAZINE WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: What's Karl Rove's circle of wagons plan? Or is it get on a wagon and get out of the White House?

ALLEN: Well, Miles, people in the White House hope that this is an academic exercise, that this is a plan that's never going to have to be used. A number of Republicans think that Patrick Fitzgerald has an axe to grind here, is trying to justify his existence, is trying to make something out of nothing. But if there are charges, Vivica Novak and I, my colleague at "TIME," have found that both Karl Rove and Scooter Libby do plan to leave the White House in some fashion, is the way it's been put to me. There's a plausibility of unpaid leave of absence, more likely is they would simply resign.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. So, just for our viewers, Scooter Libby, the vice president's chief of staff. Just want to make sure people -- and Karl Rove, of course, deputy chief of staff for the president, the architect of his political realm.

Go ahead. Finish. Finish up.

ALLEN: And the idea of an unpaid leave of absence is that these people are -- would be innocent until proven guilty. And, in fact, we know that Karl Rove plans to use this time, if he were to leave, to aggressively fight the chargers.

He continues to have the position that White House officials were told this information by journalists, not the other way around, and that he has an ironclad alibi in the fact that the columnist Robert Novak told him about the CIA operative, as opposed to the other way around. But some of the lawyers who are involved in the case have begun to fear the worst.

They do fear that based on the questions that the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, has been asking, is that he is very interested in the misuse of classified information, which is a much less rigorous statute than we'd originally been looking at. For years and years, I guess now it is, Miles, you and I have been talking about a law that would have a very high standard in which there would be a lot of tests that had to be met before revealing someone's identity could be a crime. But mishandling classified information, much lower standard.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Let's -- let's talk about this for a minute -- let's imagine for a moment an academic exercise. I'm sure, as you pointed out, the White House doesn't want to see this happen, but a White House without Karl Rove.

I suppose you could make a case that he's been so focused on his own case that the White House is without him for a little while. Maybe that's why we saw some mishandling in the wake of Katrina, and now we're doing a re-launch of Harriet Miers. Those are very unRovian episodes.

ALLEN: Well, you're right. That's a great -- a great word for the choice of Ms. Miers. It certainly...

M. O'BRIEN: You can use it, unRovian. I like -- yes.

ALLEN: The one -- the one advantage of this would be is it would answer for the question -- it would answer for once and for all the question, the president is the president. And the president doesn't think that he needs Karl Rove. I'm sure he appreciates what he's done.

M. O'BRIEN: Really?

ALLEN: But he's the president. And, you know, if the -- under this scenario he would be running the situation. But, in fact, Mr. Rove is essential to the operation. He does the work of two, three, four people. And there's been some speculation about how exactly that would be reconfigured, because now that he's deputy chief of staff, he has lined authority for a lot of different offices in the White House.

So there would be a mechanical, managerial issue if he were to step out. In addition to the fact that his vision, his contacts in the country, his instincts are what has done this White House so well for so long, which is what caused conservatives to immediately wonder, was he distracted, was he out of the loop when this court pick was made?

In fact, we were -- we are told that he learned about it very late in the process, which is extremely unusual. This is part of his purview.

He would be -- both judges and conservatives are something that he has a great interest in. He would normally have laid a lot more groundwork for Ms. Miers, which might have avoided some of these problems.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. So the question is, is there anything the president can do to kind of turn this thing around? Of course, the person he would normally seek advice on this situation would be Karl Rove.

So he's got turn to somebody else for advice. It's your turn, Mike Allen. If there is anything you want to share, any advice you want to give, lay it out now.

ALLEN: I'm not in the advice-giving business. But Miles, I would point out the president is surrounded by people who give him good advice.

I would start with the first lady, the vice president, Dan Bartlett, the secretary -- the chief of staff, Andy Card. There's lots of people around the president. And I think that that's a point that would be made, is this is one person, this is not the president.

One complication to this story is there's a number of stories, including one by Bloomberg News today, talking about the prosecutor asking questions about the vice president. Witnesses have been asking whether the vice president himself knew about this.

Now, I am told by lawyers involved in the case that he -- Mr. Fitzgerald just seems to be being thorough. He wants to unravel every possibility so that six months from now he won't be embarrassed by something he didn't ask or didn't know.

But the fact that they are being asked about him does raise a whole new series of questions about that. And Miles, in a way it shows how really little we know about this.

We try and connect a few dots based on what some lawyers tell us. But Mr. Fitzgerald has kept his cards closer to his vest than just about anybody in Washington. Somebody told my colleague, Vivica Novak, if they were any closer to his vest they'd be in his underwear.

M. O'BRIEN: I guess that's where we'll leave it right now. Perhaps a little too much information, but we'll take it.

Mike Allen, White House correspondent for "TIME" magazine. Always a pleasure -- Soledad.

ALLEN: Have a great week, Miles. M. O'BRIEN: You, too -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, the secret is out. The National Zoo's newest panda now has a name. We're going to tell you about that, show you how the panda is doing, too, just ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: It's official, that baby panda born at The National Zoo this past July finally has a name. Just a few moments ago, the zoo's director revealed to all the name, which is Tai Shan. It means peaceful mountain. In keeping with tradition, the name was selected 100 days after the baby panda's birth.

Joining us this morning, Lisa Stevens, the assistant curator for giant pandas.

What do you think of the name, Lisa?

LISA STEVENS, ASSISTANT CURATOR, GIANT PANDAS, NATIONAL ZOO: I think it's a great name. I especially like the fact that it means peace.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, that's true. Forty-four percent of the people who voted actually picked this name. So we could say it was an overwhelming response there.

Tell us a little bit about Tai Shan. How is she, he -- he?

STEVENS: He.

S. O'BRIEN: He doing? There was a while -- last time we spoke it was an it, because we weren't quite sure. So how's he doing?

STEVENS: He's doing great. He's growing. He weighs about 13 pounds now. And he's 25 inches long. And he's all black and white fur, and he's just wonderful.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, he's so cute. We're looking at some pictures there when they were giving little baby Tai Shan the exam.

Now, I read that this baby panda is teething. And, you know, my boys, who are 14 months, are teething, too. And it's really, really painful. Is it the same way for a panda?

STEVENS: I would think so. Those teeth are very sharp. But Mei Xiang doesn't seem to notice it so far. She's very tolerant. She's been an excellent mother and is still caring and holding for him intensely.

S. O'BRIEN: So he can walk now, right?

STEVENS: He's just beginning to walk. He -- she's not quite sure about this walking thing. She tends to pick him up when he starts to walk. But he's working it out. S. O'BRIEN: Like any mother -- oh, you can't do that yet, let me carry you. And is he still nursing, or does he eat any solid food now?

STEVENS: He's not eating solid food yet. That will come between five and six months of age. And he'll still nurse off and on until he's over a year of age. They don't really wean them until they're almost two.

S. O'BRIEN: You've had such massive interest in the baby panda. Oh, we're looking at some pictures when he was just really a little nugget there. Oh, he's so cute. People have been very excited because, of course, outside of panda cam, you cannot see Tai Shan.

STEVENS: Right. Tai Shan won't be available for our visitors until some time in December. We want to be sure that we give Mei Xiang and Tai Shan plenty of time to being used to being on exhibit.

S. O'BRIEN: How's she -- how's she been, the mommy? Because some of the reports you read, mommy's a little tightly wound, never really lets the baby -- oh, you can see there this is the live pictures.

M. O'BRIEN: It's nappy time.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, nap time again.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: How's the mom handling all of this?

STEVENS: She's been doing great. She picked up Tai Shan within two minutes of his birth, and she held him for 24 hours a day, pretty much through the first month of his life. And now she's beginning to have a life again. She's beginning to eat and go outside.

And he's beginning to explore his world. So she's just doing everything perfectly, and we're really happy about that.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, that's so cute.

M. O'BRIEN: Lisa, I've got a question for you. This has been bugging me.

STEVENS: Yes?

M. O'BRIEN: Is a panda a bear or more closely related to the racoon family?

STEVENS: Well, the panda is a bear.

M. O'BRIEN: It is a bear?

STEVENS: DNA technology -- yes.

M. O'BRIEN: For a while they weren't bears, right? They took them out of the bear family.

STEVENS: Well, the DNA technology helped us solve that puzzle. And the little red panda is a racoon, and the giant panda is indeed a bear.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. Well, that's -- but now, it's interesting, though, because, in many respects, they act so much different than a lot of other bears, don't they?

STEVENS: They do. What's interesting about pandas is that they've evolved to specifically feed on bamboo. And we tend to think of other bears as primarily carnivorous, but actually, other bears eat a lot of vegetation as well. Pandas sort of went into this very highly specialized lifestyle, and it makes them definitely unique.

S. O'BRIEN: Of course, surviving in captivity is a huge "if" for this little bear, right?

Besides, Miles, they don't call them panda racoons. They call them panda bears.

M. O'BRIEN: They just call them pandas. But I used to correct people when they'd say panda bear, but now I've got to go back on that because it is a panda, period.

S. O'BRIEN: How's it looking right now, Lisa? I mean, you wait 100 days under Chinese tradition because it's assumed then after the 100 days the baby will survive.

STEVENS: Well, we feel confident after a hundred days that this little guy is going to thrive and be healthy. And I thank that at this point we're really out of the woods in terms of our concerns.

We'll continue to monitor him closely, of course. Every panda cub is very special. They're representative of a very endangered species. They're an ambassador for conservation, as well as friendship between China and the U.S.

And so they're very special in so many ways. And we will still continue to watch and take care of him. And I'm sure he'll thrive.

S. O'BRIEN: And they're so darn cute, too.

M. O'BRIEN: Sure are.

S. O'BRIEN: Lisa Stevens is the assistant curator for the giant pandas of The National Zoo.

Thank you for sharing his progress with us and the new name. We're very excited for that.

STEVENS: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Never let it be said we don't do a little pandering.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, stop with the puns. Honestly, it's like you get two a day, Miles. That's it.

M. O'BRIEN: That's the quota and that's it.

S. O'BRIEN: And you're at your limit, so stop.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm in overtime.

S. O'BRIEN: Please.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, the bird flu now in Europe, moving closer to the U.S. How prepared are we? Is there any way you can protect yourself? We'll check in with an expert who will tell us about that.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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