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Questioning Begins Today for Judge Samuel Alito; Caught on Tape; Starbucks Bomb Scare

Aired January 10, 2006 - 8:59   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien.
In just 30 minutes, a major test begins for Judge Samuel Alito. Senators expected to hit him with some tough questions in a marathon Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

We're live in Washington.


A live explosive found at a Starbucks in San Francisco. Police say they've got some leads. We'll update you on this story.

M. O'BRIEN: And a daring robbery caught on tape. We'll show you how this courageous store clerk won a battle of wills on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody.

M. O'BRIEN: Just about 30 minutes left for our program. And after that we get right into those hearings.

Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito facing tough questioning from senators beginning in about 30 minutes. The questioning should last into the night, or so it is predicted. Democratic senators well aware this nomination could drastically change the balance of the court.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken live on Capitol Hill. He's been watching it for us.

Bob, good morning.


Today's cliche: you can see the room in back of me. Well, it's the quiet before the storm, polite storm.


FRANKEN (voice over): Leave it to the sometimes quirky chairman of the committee to best tell us what to expect this week.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), JUDICIARY CHAIRMAN: It has been my experience that the hearings are really, in effect, a subtle minuet.

FRANKEN: Democrats are hoping for something a bit more revealing.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: I really hope that this doesn't turn out to be a minuet; I hope it turns out to be a conversation.

FRANKEN: On day one, Judge Samuel Alito did not demonstrate any fancy footwork at all. He didn't have to.

SAMUEL ALITO, SUPREME COURT NOMINEE: A judge can't have any agenda. A judge can't have any preferred outcome in any particular case.

FRANKEN: Now that all of the senators and Judge Alito have labored through their polite opening statements, Democrats are bristling with questions, impolite ones, political ones.

SEN. EDWARD KENNEDY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: In an era where the White House is abusing power, is excusing and authorizing torture, and is spying on American citizens, I find Judge Alito's support for an all-powerful executive branch to be genuinely troubling.

FRANKEN: Republicans contend the priority issue is not presidential power but judicial power.

SEN. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: Our constitutional system is founded on democracy. The will of the people, not the unchecked rule of judges.

FRANKEN: And, of course, there's that old hot button issue, abortion, opposed in past statements by Alito, but supported by the justice he seeks to replace.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Now, Justice O'Connor was the critical fifth vote to protect our right of privacy. We want to know whether you will be that vote as well.

ALITO: Good judges are always open to the possibility of changing their minds.


FRANKEN: The battle of wits is about to begin. Actually, Miles, it's already begun -- or began with the nomination on October 31.

M. O'BRIEN: Bob Franken in Washington, watching it for us.

Live coverage of the hearings coming up 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time. Wolf Blitzer, special edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM" all day long here on CNN.

Also, Pipeline subscribers, CNN Pipeline a great place to go for live gavel-to-gavel coverage of the hearings, as well as replays of the highlights as it continues. That's at -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Take a look at some of these pictures. It's a videotape of a brazen robber and an unsuspecting store clerk. She is in the fight of her life. All of it caught on tape in Utah. It happened in the town of Orem, which is near Salt Lake City.

The story comes from Reed Cowan of our affiliate KTVX.


LT. DOUG EDWARDS, OREM DEPT. OF PUBLIC SAFETY: She's got to have just abject terror at what's happening to her.

REED COWAN, REPORTER, KTVX (voice over): What happened to this woman at her husband's check cashing business began with a leap.

EDWARDS: He's going to come in immediately and go right over the top and knock her to the ground.

REED: The suspect, identified by cops as Junior Fea (ph), points a fake gun at his victim, drags her to the safe where money is unloaded. Soon he's pulling the woman to a back room.

EDWARDS: He wants to take her in the back room. And she does not want to go there. In her mind she thinks she is going to be raped or worse.

REED: Here is where cops say the victim did something that could have saved her life. She resists and returns to the view of the security camera. Then she repeatedly resists being duct-taped over and over, pulling away. Once, even, as Fea (ph) looks over the counter to see if anybody is coming.

The woman then does something else that could have saved her life by reasoning with her attacker.

EDWARDS: She is talking to him about the fact that she is married, she's got children at home, don't do this.

REED: Then, in a point of amazing irony, the phone rings. Fea (ph) thinks he has pulled the phone out of the wall. Instead, he's only knocked it off the hook. The person on the other end is the woman's husband, who listens to all of the attack, calling 911 on his cell phone.

OPERATOR: 911 Emergency.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I need to report a robbery.

REED: At this point Fea (ph) gives up and runs away. The victim hits her panic button, runs to lock the door, and places her own agonizing call to 911.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I work at a place called Cash Valley (ph). I have just been robbed by a man. He was wearing a yellow sweat suit. He was...

OPERATOR: OK. Calm down and give us the information. They are going to come help you.

REED: Shaken by the attack and the robbery, the woman tonight is alive. Police say...

EDWARDS: This is a smart lady.

REED: ... she was able to identify her attacker as a previous customer. Now...

EDWARDS: He's safely inside the Utah County Jail.

REED: ... the man who jumped behind the counter is behind bars.


S. O'BRIEN: Oh, my gosh. That report from Reed Cowan of our affiliate KTVX television.

Other stories making news this morning. Carol has got that -- Carol.


And good morning to all of you.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is showing some signs of improvement. It's been nearly a week since he suffered a major stroke. Doctors say hours after they reduced his anesthesia the prime minister slightly moved one of his arms and legs. But he does remain in critical condition and he has yet to open his eyes.

A tragic anniversary in California. One year ago today, a hillside gave way in La Conchita. You remember this small seaside resort and what happened here? This mudslide killed 10 people.

Well, it's been a year, and people are still wading through red tape. They are asking FEMA to help pay for repairs to the worst-hit areas, and the money just hasn't come.

And Seattle is known for many things: the Space Needle, coffee and rain. Lots and lots of rain. But even Seattlites are getting tired of the latest run of bad weather. Twenty-two straight days of rain. And yes, that's close to a record. Back in 1953, the city had 33 days of rain, 33 days in a row.

Oh, and they are hoping they don't come close this year -- Chad.


M. O'BRIEN: Police in San Francisco say they have a pretty good lead in finding the person who planted an explosive device at a Starbucks.

Sarah Jarvis, with our CNN affiliate KTVU in San Francisco.

Sarah, tell us about what leads police have.

SARAH JARVIS, REPORTER, KTVU: Well, at this point police say that they have some "pretty good leads," but they are not saying anything about arrests.

We're at the Starbucks on Van Ness and Bush. This is a busy intersection in San Francisco along Auto Row. And yesterday, around 1:15, police found a pipe bomb -- an employee, rather, of the Starbucks found a pipe bomb in the bathroom of the Starbucks.

The place was evacuated. About 100 people evacuated from the restaurant, a restaurant next door, and an apartment building. They shut down a four-block radius of this intersection.

The bomb squad came in about an hour later. They were able to detonate it. And no one was hurt.

The thing is, police don't know why. Who would leave something like this?

They are at this point looking for a motive, but the Starbucks this morning is not open yet. They have a sign on the door that says it will be open this morning, but at this point the customers coming in waiting for their morning coffee are surprised that the Starbucks is closed, surprised something like this would happen in San Francisco.

Live in San Francisco, I'm Sarah Jarvis reporting.

M. O'BRIEN: Sarah Jarvis with our affiliate KTVU.

Thanks for that report. We appreciate it.

S. O'BRIEN: Coming up this morning, some new worries about the bird flu after yet another case. A 15th case is reported in Turkey. Is the virus more widespread than we thought?

Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to be back. He's got a "House Call" this morning.

M. O'BRIEN: And later, a preview of day two of hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Wolf Blitzer and gang from "THE SITUATION ROOM" will join us for a reporters' roundtable. We'll get their outlook ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Turkey's reporting yet another case of bird flu today, bringing the total number of cases there to 15.

Meanwhile, a new study suggests that while bird flu is more widespread than previously thought, it's not nearly as fatal.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta's got details in our morning "House Call."

Nice to see you. Good morning.


S. O'BRIEN: Or nice to see you again. Good morning. I guess it's a study that's sort of a good news-bad news study. The bad news being that it seems like it's more widespread than everybody first thought. The good news, though, less lethal than everybody thought, too.

GUPTA: That's right. And part of the study was actually done in a particular area of Vietnam. You have about 45,000 people, many of them actually had contact with birds, about 80 percent, either birds, living birds, or dead birds. Some of them were eating chickens, as well.

What they are finding, though, probably is exactly what you would expect to find in the natural history of a virus. Viruses don't like to kill their hosts. If they kill their hosts, they have nowhere to live, they have nowhere to spread.

They like to get their hosts somewhat sick -- that's a good place to live -- and then continue to spread on. So the way a virus evolves is to become more easily transmissible but less lethal.

S. O'BRIEN: Let me ask you a question about this study, because they didn't really take blood samples. How can they actually confirm that the bird flu is what these people had?

GUPTA: It can only at best be listed as inconclusive. I mean, you're sort of going on speculation, to some extent, because of some of the things that you just mentioned. You have this area where bird flu does exist in chickens. And you do have people with these mild illnesses.

So it's somewhat sort of starting to piece puzzles -- piece of the puzzle together. Before it was 146 cases, half of them died. Now we're saying, well, there's other people who were sort of sick, maybe they had it as well, it was a less severe form, you know, and they just got a mild illness.

S. O'BRIEN: So then what is the takeaway on this? Are you pleased? Because I guess it says if you get bird flu you're not necessarily going to die. And up to now it looked very dire.

GUPTA: It does. And I think -- you know, I think we are seeing some of the natural evolution of a virus.

I mean, the cold virus started off this way, as well. If you look at the natural history of viruses, they start off as very lethal. But if they are going to continue to exist in our world, they have to become less lethal so they don't kill their hosts.

Incidentally, these cases in Turkey, it's sort of -- I find those interesting, because I would have expected that health care workers in Turkey would have been the first to be affected by that. When people go to a hospital, they get sick. The health care workers get the illness from those people.

That's not happening. So this may have been a virus that was circulating around in Turkey for some time and they're just now starting to detect it over there, but it had been there all along.

S. O'BRIEN: So is that an indication that it's not really spreading people to people, it's spreading animals to people, you have to direct contact with an animal or you have to eat undercooked meat?

GUPTA: It sounds like the vast majority of cases are still animal to people. And the animals may have gotten it in Turkey, and now you are seeing animal to people, still. We're still not seeing significant human-to-human, you know, spread yet.

S. O'BRIEN: Why do you think what seems to be sort of significant numbers in Turkey? We start with, you know, two cases the other day, and now we're up to 15.

GUPTA: Yes. You know, that's a good question. I think that happens a lot. And epidemiologists, maybe they're just sort of more geared up to be testing what would have otherwise been milder cases.

Now that they saw it, they said, oh, well that could be bird flu and this could be bird flu. Or you are starting to see maybe a particular group of poultry who actually were good spreaders and they just spread it to a large numb of people.

S. O'BRIEN: But it could also just be the way they are being counted as opposed to the actual disease?

GUPTA: Yes, exactly.

S. O'BRIEN: Interesting. All right. Sanjay, thank you very much. Appreciate the insight.

GUPTA: Thanks, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And we have to mention that we're just a few minutes away from the start of the hearings, of course, for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito. Expected to be a long and pretty grueling day for the nominee. We're going to get a preview in just a few moments from Wolf Blitzer. He's in "THE SITUATION ROOM."

And that's coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Day two of the Samuel Alito hearings begins very shortly. And for the first time, we will hear senators and the nominee exchanging questions and answers, or perhaps sound bites and zingers and non-answers.

Let's get a preview now from our able team covering this every step of the way: Wolf Blitzer, Jeff Greenfield and Jeffrey Toobin, joining us from Washington. Can't think of a better team.


Wolf, let's start with you. This one is different than -- the last one, of course, we remember is john Roberts. He breezed through. It's going to be different this time, isn't it?

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: It's going to be different because it's going to be much more contentious, Miles. There's no doubt that throughout all of these hearings over the next day, two, three, hovering over all of it is the fact that Samuel Alito is supposed to replace Sandra Day O'Connor, who has been this moderate swing vote over these many years. And a lot of senators, especially the Democrats, are very, very nervous that she will -- that her moderate voice will be replaced by a very conservative voice. And that could have a huge difference on these decisions over the next several years that the courts are going to make.

He's going to be around, presumably, for 20 or 30 years. Maybe even longer.

Jeff Greenfield, you've covered these hearings for a long time. You understand what the stakes are, as well.

We did get a little bit of hint of the strategy he's going to take in his opening statement, 11 minutes of personal statement that he delivered yesterday

JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: We got a hint of really much bigger than that of where this whole hearing is going. We know from the Republican side they are going to stress his credentials. They're going to say don't -- you don't have to answer any questions about what you might rule any more than other nominee, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer did.

And from the Democrats, demands to explain what he meant 20 years ago when he declared he was proud to have worked in the effort to overturn Roe. And how big a past does he give to the president in the use of executive power, given the controversy over NSA spying. And were you credible -- did you tell us -- did you do what you told us you were going to do 15 years ago when you went on the federal bench about recusing yourself from cases where you had an interest?

So we know -- I think the terrain is pretty good.

BLITZER: Miles, you know, Jeff Greenfield knows a lot about this subject. Jeff Toobin knows a lot about it as well.

And I'm just curious, Jeff, is there something, a pitfall out there for Samuel Alito that could derail this nomination? Because as you know, as you know, the Republicans are trying to suggest it's basically a done deal.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SR. LEGAL ANALYST: Right. I think if Alito said something that really told the moderate Republicans left in the Senate, the Susan Collins, the Olympia Snowes, the Lincoln Chafees, that he was a virtual lock to overturn Roe v. Wade, that could generate some real problems for him. But if I know that, he knows that.

And so he's not going to say anything, I don't think, that would give any clear signal to the moderates to abandon him. And so he's got -- he's got to put up with the Democrats challenging him to take a stand and simply not take a stand if that's where he wants to go.

BLITZER: And the whole point that the Democrats -- their strategy, presumably, will be, if they are adamantly opposed, Jeff, they still have this filibuster hovering over this hearing.

GREENFIELD: You know, this is -- this is almost like a math problem. You're going -- you have more than 51 votes to confirm him. You probably have more than 40 votes to filibuster. So the question is, do you have 50 votes in the Senate to declare no more judicial filibusters? And the told trick here is whether Alito can avoid saying something that persuades the moderate Republicans not only that they don't want him, but that they will break from the Republicans if Bill Frist tries to exercise what's been called the nuclear option.

So that's down the road a couple of weeks. But you're -- you know, that's what the calculus about this is.

TOOBIN: But, I mean, independent of the sort of strategy, this will be a great civics lesson today. I mean, you will really see different conceptions of what a judge is supposed to do.

I mean, the idea of the Republicans that judges are supposed to not participate in the political process, who are supposed to let the legislative process function, and the Democrats who say, no, judges have to be a powerful force to protect individual rights, those are really two very different conceptions of what judges are. And there's not a right or wrong, but it's very different in terms of how the Supreme Court winds up ruling on issues that matter to a lot of people.

BLITZER: And as we see the senators begin to come into this chamber, including the chairman, Arlen Specter, one thing I think our viewers should be interested in knowing, and they will discover this very, very quickly, every senator, all 18 senators, will have 30 minutes to ask whatever questions they want of Samuel Alito. When these senators start making their statements, though, they are going to be making a lot of long statements, and by the time they get to questions, they might not have much time left.

GREENFIELD: As you know, you've hit a hobbyhorse of mine. I once did a piece where I put a clock on these guys and found -- tried to figure out how long it was before they actually got to a question.

Specter, interestingly enough, the chairman, who is many ways the most intriguing member of this committee because he's pro-choice, but he's a Republican, he almost lost his seat last year to a conservative, he will ask questions more than others.

TOOBIN: He is a former district attorney of Philadelphia, a former prosecutor. And he really knows how to ask questions.

I think both of you were using code for Joseph Biden, who can be the most longwinded questioner. And we'll see whether he can manage to get some questions out. But it's one of the many things to watch for today. BLITZER: It's not just Biden. A lot of these senators, they really want to hear themselves more than they want to get to the bottom of -- most of them have already made up their mind, basically.

GREENFIELD: One senator told me last year they feel it's immoral to deprive the world of their wisdom.

BLITZER: They will be doing a lot of that.

Miles, I don't know if you can hear me up in New York, but it's going to be an exciting day. And if it's not all that exciting, at least it will be historic and important.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. And those kinds of pearls of wisdom I did hear.

Wolf Blitzer, Jeff Greenfield, Jeff Toobin, thanks for the insight.

This reminder for you: Wolf turns on the lights on "THE SITUATION ROOM" early today, as you can see. A special time, actually a few minutes from now, 9:30 Eastern. Confirmation hearings all day long.

Stay with CNN all day.

We're back with more AMERICAN MORNING in a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: We're ending 30 minutes early to make a little room for "THE SITUATION ROOM." Wolf Blitzer anchors coverage of the Samuel Alito hearing.

M. O'BRIEN: So let's send it off to "THE SITUATION ROOM."

And we wish you gentlemen well today as you cover what is likely to be a very interesting day on Capitol Hill -- Wolf.


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