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AMERICAN MORNING

Ariel Sharon Gravely Ill; Tragedy at Sago Mine; Fight for Iraq

Aired January 6, 2006 - 06:30   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Bleeding on the brain sends Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon back into surgery just hours ago. We'll take you live to Jerusalem for more on this developing story.
Just what caused the tragedy at the Sago Mine? Investigators zero in on what likely sparked the explosion.

The fight over tearing down homes heats up on New Orleans. A standoff on the streets of the devastated Ninth Ward.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning from New York City. We're glad you're with us this morning, 6:30 Eastern Time. Lots to cover this morning.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. And welcome back to you. Nice to have you back in New York.

M. O'BRIEN: It's good to be back.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get right to our top story, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon back in surgery right now. Doctors reported finding more bleeding on his brain after a CAT scan this morning. While Israelis wait for word on their leader's health, they also have to get ready for the inevitable: Israel without Sharon potentially.

CNN's Guy Raz at the hospital in Jerusalem.

Guy, good morning.

GUY RAZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Essentially no clear leader. Ariel Sharon essentially dominating Israeli political and public life for the past five years. And there are some very likely possibilities of the man who could replace Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, the man currently serving as the acting prime minister, perhaps Benjamin Netanyahu, a former prime minister, now head of the right-wing Likud Party, and finally veteran Israeli politician Shimon Peres.

Just a short time ago, Mr. Peres spoke to reporters about the prime minister's condition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHIMON PERES, FORMER ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: I think every citizen has to support him. So do I. I wish him success. And I hope that the continuation of the peace process and the attempts to bring an end to terrorism will be continued in full speed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RAZ: Ultimately, Soledad, whichever leader takes over, this is an issue that matters not only to Israelis but to the world, and particularly to the Bush administration which is hoping that Mr. Sharon's successor will continue to carry out his policy of approaching the resolution of this decades-old conflict -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think, Guy, that the man who now has the power transferred to him, Ehud Olmert, does he have the ability to do that, do you think?

RAZ: Well, it appears as if his party is now coalescing around him. Ehud Olmert essentially is taking the reigns of the political party, Kadima, that Ariel Sharon himself founded late last year.

Now, the members of that party, who come from all across the political spectrum, from the left, the center and the right, are essentially saying we will rally around you, Ehud Olmert. And the polls in the country show that even without Ariel Sharon at the helm of that party, with Ehud Olmert running the party, it could still receive quite a large mandate in the upcoming Israeli parliamentary elections.

Whether Ehud Olmert has the force of personality or the historical credibility to do what Ariel Sharon did, it's simply unclear. And a lot of that will depend on whether the country is prepared to coalesce around this next leader with the hopes of carrying on the legacy that Ariel Sharon presumably wanted to carry out -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Guy Raz is reporting to us from the hospital where Ariel Sharon is now undergoing another procedure on his brain. Guy, thanks. And we'll obviously continue to get updates on that throughout the day.

Let's get a look at some of the other stories making news, though. Kelly Wallace has that.

Hey, Kelly, good morning.

KELLY WALLACE, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning again, Soledad.

We're beginning with President Bush. He'll be talking dollars and cents today. He'll be in Chicago this morning for a tour of the Board of Trade. Following that, he'll make some remarks about the economy. He's expected to mention new data showing jobless claims at a five-year low and solid growth in the service sector of the economy. And, of course, CNN will carry the president's remarks live beginning at about 1:00 p.m. Eastern Time today.

Terror suspect Jose Padilla heads to federal court later today after being held without charges for more than three years. And this is the first time we're seeing video of Padilla, who has been labeled an enemy combatant by the Bush administration. He was transferred from a military brig to civilian custody in Miami on Thursday. Padilla, who allegedly has ties to al Qaeda, was indicted back in November on charges of conspiring to murder U.S. citizens and providing support to terrorists. His arraignment is set for 4:00 p.m. Eastern today.

A fund-raising committee linked to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's first Senate campaign is paying $35,000 in fines. The group, New York Senate 2000, has agreed to pay the money for failing to report more than $700,000 spent on a star-studded Hollywood fund- raiser for Senator Clinton. That party held back in 2000 included stars like John Travolta and singer Patti LaBelle.

And the so-called "Bubble Gum Bandit" has struck again. He burglarized a candy dispenser at a preschool. Surveillance video from an earlier burglary shows the suspected thief removing the window pane at a video store in Florida. He then crawls on his knees to get to the store's gumball machine. Police say the burglar has hit more than a dozen stores since last month.

Chad Myers, how sad is that, a bubble gum bandit?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And, like, he takes one gumball, or he takes the whole machine?

WALLACE: I don't -- it sounds like he takes just some of the gumballs.

MYERS: It's just like getting...

WALLACE: I don't know.

MYERS: Anyway, good morning, Kelly.

WALLACE: Go figure.

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: So what happened early Monday morning at the Sago coal mine in West Virginia? Why did the mine suddenly explode, killing one miner instantly, trapping 12 others? We've told you since the outset it happened in the midst of a severe thunderstorm. And now there is some hard evidence about that lightning theory.

Tom Foreman explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A fierce lightning storm was pounding the hills of West Virginia when the Sago Mine exploded. Federal investigators now put the time of the blast officially at approximately 6:30 a.m.

That time matters because CNN has learned that at precisely 6:26:35, remote sensors detected two lightning bolts hitting the ground above the Sago Mine complex. One somewhere in this area, very close to the explosion itself.

From the start, authorities have been wondering if lightning might be to blame.

ROGER NICHOLSON, GENERAL COUNSEL FOR ICG: The incident coincided with a local thunderstorm. But we do not know at this time whether those events were related.

FOREMAN: Suspicion that lightning ground strikes might trigger explosions far below drove this study four years ago by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety and a researcher at the University of Alabama. The report found that this could happen, especially if the lightning followed a metal conductor.

For example, if lightning hit a natural gas well on the ground above the Sago Mine and followed the steel casing on the drill hole below the well, the electrical charge could ride the metal through the ground to the abandoned and sealed part of the mine where explosive gases might have collected, possibly touching off an explosion that would blow out into the working mine. We do know that the fatal Sago explosion erupted out of a closed portion of the mine.

That report on lightning and mines says, "The presence of a steel cased borehole dramatically enhances the possibility of lightning initiating an explosion in the mine."

And a state mining official told CNN there are gas wells above this mine with pipes running right through the Sago coal seam.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: That was Tom Foreman reporting.

The mine is closed now. No one knows for sure how long. State and federal investigations are under way -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, we're going to talk to the wife and mother of the only miner who has been able to survive that Sago accident, talk about his condition. That's ahead this morning.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, new worries about the bird flu after three people die in Turkey. We'll look at whether the bird flu could be creeping closer to the U.S.

S. O'BRIEN: And the new surge of violence in Iraq, is it going to keep U.S. troops in Iraq longer than expected? We'll take a look at that ahead as we continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: In Iraq, the death toll from Thursday's insurgent attack is still rising. We now know that at least 140 people were killed, including 11 U.S. troops. That's one day alone.

Ambassador David Litt is the American liaison to the Iraqi military, and he joins us this morning from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

Nice to see you, Mr. Ambassador. Thank you for talking with us.

AMB. DAVID LITT, LIAISON TO IRAQI MILITARY: It's my pleasure, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you. The president has been talking about dropping the number of U.S. troops who are in Iraq. But when you look at numbers that we've seen, the violence, like yesterday, 140 people killed, do you think that's going to be possible to do, remove U.S. troops anytime soon?

LITT: The violence, the murder, the terrorism are reprehensible, despicable, and we're appalled at that. But it does not change the strategy. The strategy is actually a valid one of resting Iraq's rebirth on three pillars: a political pillar, an economic pillar and developing the security infrastructure, all three of which the president spoke about.

And it is exactly the ability for the Iraqi forces to stand up, especially a police force, a credible and competent police force that provides safety and security, stability, day to day, in Iraqi towns and cities. And then, of course, an Iraqi army that provides for the safety of the nation's security of the borders that will really ultimately protect the Iraqis.

And as those Iraqi forces increasingly go in the lead, then American coalition forces will be able to readjust to other functions, logistical functions, helping the Iraqis who are then in the lead.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, we...

LITT: And we can make adjustments along the way according to the conditions that are there.

S. O'BRIEN: We certainly heard the president say that many times as Iraqis stand up then U.S. troops will be able to stand down. But isn't all that violence, that massive toll from yesterday, an indication that, in fact, Iraqi troops are not standing up. Ergo, U.S. troops won't be standing down anytime soon?

LITT: Actually the violence is something that we expect as terrorists and those who are irreconcilably wedded to bringing back Saddam Hussein, jihadist extremists become increasingly desperate at the progress that Iraqis are making along the political front -- and I think you know about the constitution, the elections that just took place, along the economic front and on the security line -- then we think that the ability of terrorists and extremists to function in this kind of environment will increasingly diminish so that we will be able to focus our attention on them as the Iraqis take care of maintaining stability and promoting economic and political growth.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, you mentioned the elections, and that's probably a good example, because even that, I think, underscores the sectarian divisions that underscore everything. I mean, to a large degree it's going to be possible for an outside source, like the United States, to have Iraqis thinking of themselves as Iraqis and not Sunnis and Shia and Kurds. I mean, isn't that kind of the essential thing that has to happen first? Are you going to continue to have these divisions, sectarian divisions?

LITT: Actually the success of the elections, where more Iraqis than ever voted, some 70 percent, which is quite a feat, where all of the various ethnic groups of Iraq participated fully and will be represented in their new parliament, they are able to and they are, in fact, now engaging in the kind of political negotiations to form coalitions in a way that we hope will be able to bring a national unity to Iraq that allows all of Iraqis to benefit from their new government and to see that participation was actually the right way to go as opposed to choosing violence.

S. O'BRIEN: Ambassador David Litt in Baghdad this morning. Thank you very much for talking with us, Mr. Ambassador. Appreciate it.

M. O'BRIEN: Andy Serwer is here "Minding Your Business."

Good morning, Andy.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning, Miles.

Another financial windfall for Howard Stern. We'll tell you all about it coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MYERS: The cold and flu for today's report, I'll tell you why the West Coast doesn't look all that good. We have sporadic activity across the East, but widespread outbreaks of influenza out to the West. Make sure you drink some good orange juice to get some vitamin C and do all those things necessary to keep yourself healthy -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

The lone survivor of the mine disaster clinging to life. Now he's undergoing a special treatment in Pittsburgh. We'll talk to his wife and his mother at the hospital. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: It looks a beautiful day out there -- about to be.

Welcome back, everybody. Andy is going to be "Minding Your Business" in just a few moments. First, though, let's get a check of the headlines. Kelly has that.

Hey, Kelly.

WALLACE: Hello again, Soledad.

And we are beginning in Israel, where Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is back in surgery after undergoing a brain scan that showed additional bleeding on his brain. Sharon suffered from a massive stroke on Wednesday. Earlier today, doctors had said the prime minister remained in a medically-induced coma. Doctors had expected to bring him out of that coma this weekend to better assess his condition.

The possibility of a vote delay when it comes to the confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court is apparently being floated by some Democrats on Capitol Hill. Alito's confirmation hearings are set to begin Monday, but aides to the Senate minority leader reportedly say they may seek a one-week postponement. The chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Arlen Specter, says he hopes to have a January 20th vote by the Senate.

To California now, where Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is preparing for re-election, and he's now proposing a $222 billion public works program. The governor unveiled the plan Thursday during his State of the State speech. And in that speech, Schwarzenegger offered a mea culpa for pushing ahead with a special election in November in which voters rejected all four of his ballot initiatives. The governor's new plan would rebuild highways, levees, schools and prisons.

Britain's Prince William is packing his duffle bags. The 23- year-old heir to the throne will join an officer training course at Sandhurst Military Academy this weekend. He's following in the footsteps of his younger brother, Harry, who started training there last year.

And in the St. Louis suburb of St. Charles, a story about three. Count them. One, two, three. Sophia born December 28, Jack on the 29th, and Kara (ph) on the 30th, born on three consecutive days at the same hospital to three sisters. Their doctor says she's never seen anything like it. Meanwhile, the sisters' mom, yes, resting after being on a round-the-clock watch.

Chad, how is she going to keep up with three new grandkids in a matter of three days?

MYERS: Right. Yes, that will be one heck of a birthday party, won't it?

WALLACE: It sure will.

(WEATHER REPORT)

S. O'BRIEN: The power of Howard Stern. Man, he has been all over the place talking about his new gig. He hasn't even started broadcasting, and he's already made a chunk of dough from Sirius.

M. O'BRIEN: You could call it "Sirius" money, couldn't you? Couldn't you?

SERWER: Well, you could, Miles.

S. O'BRIEN: No, I wasn't going to go there, because I thought that was... M. O'BRIEN: No. See, I go for the low-hanging fruit always.

S. O'BRIEN: Exactly.

SERWER: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Andy is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

SERWER: He's got the puns going this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, he does, doesn't he?

SERWER: Yes. We never told you life was fair here on AMERICAN MORNING. In October of 2004, we told you that Howard Stern had inked a five-year, $500 million deal with Sirius Satellite Radio. Now we find out he's making even more money.

His show begins this Monday. But meanwhile, the company has reported that because it has met subscriber targets that exceeded projections, Howard Stern gets a 34 million share bonus of company stock worth -- get this -- $220 million. Now that's an additional 100 million than he was supposed to get before, because he was supposed to get his money in 2006 going forward. But the stock is worth more, and he gets it earlier.

So, essentially, it's $100 million more, plus he gets it a year earlier. Wow! How about that?

Let's talk about the stock market a little bit, shall we? Maybe some other people are looking to get rich here.

Three for three in 2006. The market continues to climb as the Fed has indicated it may stop raising interest rates. You can see here the big jobs report, you guys, due out at 8:30 Eastern, looking to add 200,000 jobs for the month of December. And futures are up on that prospective news. But it is still early yet.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. We'll watch for that.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Andy Serwer. I am not a suit in this business.

SERWER: Clearly not.

M. O'BRIEN: And that's why I get up at 3:00 in the morning.

SERWER: Right.

M. O'BRIEN: So I want to know, how is it possible to make that money on that deal for Sirius?

SERWER: How is it possible? I don't think...

M. O'BRIEN: Is that a loss leader? That is a loss leader.

SERWER: It is a loss leader. M. O'BRIEN: OK.

SERWER: I mean, they're adding hundreds of thousands of subscribers every month. But still, they're not going to make that back, I don't think.

S. O'BRIEN: He made their stock go up. Every time he goes on TV -- he was on "LARRY KING" last night.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, right.

SERWER: Right.

S. O'BRIEN: In fact, we're going to play some of that a little bit later this morning. He talks about the money. It's worth the 12.95. I mean, he's...

(CROSSTALK)

SERWER: I'm the most important person in the radio business.

S. O'BRIEN: And, you know, he is a hired talent and also someone who is the marketing phenom for the, you know, Sirius Satellite Radio.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Well...

S. O'BRIEN: He might be worth every dime for them at the end of the day.

SERWER: Way down the road.

S. O'BRIEN: Not short term, but long term.

SERWER: Way down the road, yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, I think that's right.

SERWER: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Andy.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

SERWER: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: It's time for a New Year, time for a New Year's resolution. How about we resolve to get rich like Howard Stern? This time we are helping three pairs of people get fit. First, the D.C. lobbyists, two very different co-workers who share a goal of getting more fit, then the twins who share identical weight problems as well, and the parents of four whose life is too hectic to eat right. Can you relate, Soledad? Can you relate?

S. O'BRIEN: Completely, totally.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. S. O'BRIEN: Absolutely.

M. O'BRIEN: Meet these people...

SERWER: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: ... as they start their journey to a healthier life. Were those French fries?

S. O'BRIEN: Whenever they show the guy eating the hamburger, it's like I know the reaction should be, oh, that's terrible.

M. O'BRIEN: You want it.

S. O'BRIEN: But it looks so good.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: It's counter-productive, too.

M. O'BRIEN: Ergo the problem.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: More in a moment. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Be sure to check out our Web site, CNN.com, for the latest on this morning's top stories, including this one: Ariel Sharon who is back in surgery today. We are monitoring his condition with live reports from his hospital.

Also at CNN.com, the most popular stories, including this one: Pat Robertson has suggested that Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's retribution for Israel's withdrawal from Gaza. Hmm.

If you're about to head out the door for work or for school, you can stay in touch with CNN and AMERICAN MORNING by logging on to CNN.com and our pipeline video service. You can catch live commercial-free news updates. All there at CNN.com/pipeline.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, as we approach the top of the hour, let's get the forecast.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MYERS: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Chad. Good morning, everyone. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

The prime minister of Israel is on the operating table right now. Ariel Sharon is undergoing surgery after doctors found more bleeding on his brain. We're going to take you live to Jerusalem for the very latest on this developing story. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com.

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