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Senators Get Ready to Grill Samuel Alito Once Again

Aired January 11, 2006 - 08:00   ET


I'm Miles O'Brien.

The future of the Supreme Court hanging in the balance as senators get ready to grill Samuel Alito once again.

We're live on Capitol Hill.


A sniper's bullet brings an end to a 10-hour hostage stand-off in central Florida. We're going to take you to there live this morning.

And take a look at this. A daring casino robbery in Las Vegas. Gunshots in the early morning. The suspect, this guy right here, he's still on the lose. We've got details ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: And a growing wildfire may be getting closer to the City of Denver.

That's ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Good morning.

Welcome, everybody.

Happy Wednesday. Halfway there.

M. O'BRIEN: We wonder if there will be a happy...

S. O'BRIEN: Not that I'm counting.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, not that your counting.

Will it be a happy Wednesday for Samuel Alito? We'll see very shortly.

We start with the confirmation hearings for Samuel Alito. New questions begin in less than two hours. So far, the judge has pretty much breezed through the issues and could be well on his way to a seat on the Supreme Court.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken is live in the hearing room on Capitol Hill -- Bob, it has the look -- because I don't think the Democrats got the red meat they wanted -- it has the look like this might be on its way to being a done deal. BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, also, you see the hearing room and you see those digital clocks in back of me, Miles, that are there to help the senators labor through their questions on time. Well, those clocks seemed to be moving really slowly yesterday as this droned one.

Alito went out of his way not to make any headlines by talking about the fact that he'd keep an open mind on the issue of abortion and saying that nobody is above the law when it came to the controversies over presidential power.

As I said, no headlines. Apparently the belief among the Alito supporters is no news is good news.


M. O'BRIEN: Oh, yes, Bob.

FRANKEN: Hi, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: I thought you had a little something else to show us, maybe something on tape.

Let me ask you this. Watching the questioning, I mean I think Joe Biden spoke for 30 minutes before he even got to his question.

You have to wonder if the Democrats, if they followed up a little bit more, if they might get a little more to the meat of the matter.

FRANKEN: Well, let me put it this way. I don't think that anybody in television should hire a senator to conduct an interview program.

M. O'BRIEN: The producers would go nuts.

FRANKEN: They would, indeed. It's -- I think the "New York Times" had a headline this morning, "Enough About You, Let's Talk About Me." And that's pretty much what's going on.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, I just think -- will there be a different tact today, do you think? Have you had a chance to talk to any of the staffers as to whether they're -- they've coached -- you know, we talk so much about the so-called murder boards, the coaching of the nominee -- are the staffers coaching these senators to get a little more to the pithy questions?

FRANKEN: Well, from what we've seen thus far, the senators went through some sort of puffball board. They really have not asked hard questions. That has become the story, that this has been a cakewalk for Samuel Alito so far.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, thank you very much, Bob Franken.

And we'll be back with you in just a little bit.

We, of course, have the live hearings starting 9:30 a.m. Eastern. The special edition of "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer and his team to take you through the hearings all throughout the day.

And then, of course, there's this. CNN Pipeline subscribers can watch it gavel to gavel that way. And they can also download replays of the highlights as they occur. That's at -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Four hostages escaped unharmed after a lengthy stand-off in the shadow of Walt Disney World. The ending not so easy for the would-be bank robbers.

CNN's John Zarrella is in Kissimmee, Florida this morning -- John, good morning.


Yes, it's really hard to believe, as quiet as it is here this morning. That's the Mercantile Bank there, where over a 10 hour period yesterday into last evening, this drama unfolded.

The latest information just released by the sheriff's office this morning that the female bank robbery suspect, hostage taker, who survived, her name is 26-year-old Amanda Lynn Moeller from Orlando, charged with, at this point, one count of armed robbery. She may make her first appearance in court today. It may be held off until tomorrow.

What happened yesterday? About 9:30 in the morning, police got a call, a bank robbery in progress here. They were in the area. They responded before the robbers could getaway. That's when the stand-off began.

Throughout the course of the day, hostages were released and exchanged for a pack of cigarettes, a lighter and, at one point, for an agreement that the SWAT team would move back.

But by late yesterday afternoon, police were a bit surprised when the two hostage takers came out, using their final hostage, a bank employee, a woman, as a shield, tried to make a getaway in one car. When that failed, tried to make a getaway in the second car. And that's when police decided to shoot the male hostage taker, who was driving the car.

In the last hour, Soledad, you talked with the sheriff here and he told you why they made that decision to shoot.


SHERIFF BOB HANSELL, OSCEOLA COUNTY, FLORIDA: ... a highly trained officer. We -- they train to only initiate the target that they're after. It was a clean shot as far as no other presence. He was in the front seat. They were in the back seat. The two females were in the back seat, the female hostage and the female hostage taker. He had the shot. He took it. And, like I said, after the initial contact with the male hostage taker, she immediately surrendered.


ZARRELLA: Of course, by initial contact the sheriff there means the shot that was fired that killed that hostage taker. And the sheriff did tell us, Soledad, he was a bit surprised that they kind of panicked and decided to try to get out of the bank here, because the police had thought that the negotiations were going well. But the decision -- but they apparently were not going to give up that last hostage, and that's why they made the break for it. And that's when police made the decision to take him down -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: John Zarrella in Kissimmee, Florida this morning.

John, thanks -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, the hunt is on in Las Vegas for a man who held up a casino. Kind of an "Ocean's 11" type plot, I suppose, but with one person. Check out the surveillance pictures from the heist.

He's wearing a baseball cap and wig. Police say he's about six feet tall, in his late 20s.

Check out this. This is not movie stuff. This is the real thing. The suspect shot several rounds, seen there -- you see the flash from the handgun there -- as he fled. One officer was hit in the leg. The suspect dropped some money, but it's unclear at this point how much cash he got away with.

Let's check some headlines now.

Carol Costello with that -- Carol.


And good morning to all of you.

President Bush is taking on his critics again today, delivering another Iraq speech. He's been doing that a lot these last couple of months. He made a speech on Tuesday in Washington. The one today is in Louisville, Kentucky, an important congressional district for Republicans.

Health officials in Turkey say as many as 100 people there may have the bird flu. The Turkish government has sent teams to different parts of the country to begin mass killings of infected poultry. Two people in Turkey died from the virus in the past week. A third suspected bird flu death is still unconfirmed.

Israeli doctors say Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is moving his left hand for the first time. But they're stressing not to be overly optimistic. It's been a week since the prime minister suffered a major stroke. Doctors expect to wean him off of sedatives today that could pull him out of a medically induced coma. Once he's awake, they can do more tests to check the extent of his brain damage.

And Angelina Jolie's bump isn't just some extra pounds from the holidays. Oh, no. She is pregnant. Jolie confirms that news to "People" magazine. We just got a picture of the cover of "People" and you can see it. "Yes, I'm Pregnant!" the issue is set to hit the newsstands on Friday. The daddy, actor Brad Pitt, he's in the middle of trying to become the legal father of Angelina's two adopted children, Max and Zahara. His divorce from actress Jennifer Aniston became final last October. Oh, poor Jennifer Aniston.

And firefighters fear strong winds could fuel flames from a wildfire burning right now near Denver, Colorado. More than 2,000 acres have already been scorched. These are new pictures we're just getting in to CNN. Some evacuations and already been ordered. Of course, we're following this.

But are the winds high out there again -- Chad?


They were gusting over 40 miles per hour overnight. Here's Denver, Cheyenne and Colorado Springs, and I can zoom into some of the wind gusts here around Denver. You get west of Arvada and it's about 25 miles per hour still. Out by the airport, 11. And then down south of Lakewood, 20 miles per hour. And that is strong enough to fan the flames. And they're going to be with them all the -- there's not a shower in the forecast. The radar is actually turned on and you can't see anything out there.


M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, a follow-up on a story we've been reporting, the first American woman journalist kidnapped in Iraq. What drew her to one of the most dangerous spots in the world?

Also, the road to recovery in New Orleans. Today, the city unveils its long awaited rebuilding plans and, of course, already, there is controversy. We'll look into that.

S. O'BRIEN: At this morning, we talk to the guys who broke the story that everybody's talking about. Did this author, James Frey, con Oprah? Was his best-selling memoir just a pack of lies? We've got the story behind the story ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: A pivotal day in the post-Katrina history of the City of New Orleans today. The mayor's "Bring Back New Orleans" commission set to unveil its plan for rebuilding the ravaged city. Not even close to last word, of course. In fact, it's more like the first volley in what will probably prove to be a long, tough battle.

Joining us now from New Orleans, David Meeks, who is the city editor of the New Orleans "Times-Picayune."

David, good to have you with us.

This is sort of the beginning of a very heated discussion, I know.

First of all, let's set the parameters here. This is a non- binding recommendation, correct?

DAVID MEEKS, NEW ORLEANS "TIMES-PICAYUNE": It is. That is correct. It's up to the mayor to endorse it. It is the work of a lot of experts. He does not have to take exactly what they say. He can modify it. He can ignore it. He can reject it. But it is expected that he will at least see it presented to the state authority to see what they think of it.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, the over arching kind of tug of war here is should whole parts of the city sort of be declared, you know, off limits, resort to swampland? In other words, you cannot rebuild no matter what. Or should free market forces sort of take over. That's the big philosophical tug of war.

And this report sort of splits the difference between those two competing forces, doesn't it?

MEEKS: I'd say that's a fair analysis. That's been the big debate -- how many people are going to return and where do they want to live?

What this report recommends is formalize a process, have neighborhoods meet with planners and get residents' intentions down and let us find out who wants to live where and then plan from there.

M. O'BRIEN: OK. That presents an awful lot of chicken and an egg kind of decisions for people who have a damaged home. They may wish to build their home back up, but it's going to require an entire neighborhood to kind of coalesce and that's a difficult thing to get together, isn't it?

MEEKS: Well, it can be in different parts of the town, depending on where you are. You know, I lost my home and on my block, I'd say about 75 percent of my neighbors have already stopped by my house and asked me what I'm doing.

So I think what you're going to see is a lot of meetings called, a lot of opportunity for people to come back and say here's what I want to do. And, at the same time, residents have four months to get more information. You know, we're going to get new flood maps. We're going to get new insurance information. There's a lot of factors that go into deciding do you want to rebuild, and, if you do want to rebuild, where do you want to rebuild.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, and at the root of all of this is the concern that whole swathes of the city will not be rebuilt and that will disproportionately affect African-Americans. And that's where it gets into a very volatile debate, doesn't it?

MEEKS: No doubt about it. I mean the city was 70 percent African-American before the storm. So the flood naturally disproportionately affected them.

But there is a lot of sensitivity to that in this report. They are trying to preserve each neighborhood. For example, if you want to remain in the 9th Ward, come up with a solution that allows you to remain in the 9th Ward, albeit maybe on higher ground.

One of the misconceptions is that the 9th Ward is low. It is not low.

M. O'BRIEN: That's a big -- that's -- wait a minute.

Come up with a plan, albeit higher ground, that's a difficult thing to unilaterally do. I mean, we're talking about an area that's low lying and you can't just simply snap your fingers and make that happen.

MEEKS: That's not really true in the 9th Ward. The 9th Ward has high ground near the Mississippi River. I mean one of the things that's happened, there's been a lot of generalizations made about the land in New Orleans. You can live in the 9th Ward and be on higher ground the closer you get to the river.

So I think the idea is to have different areas, like Gentilly and Lakeview and Midcity and the 9th Ward. You might have a similar footprint. You may not be able to live in exactly the same part of that neighborhood that you did before, but you should be able to stay in that neighborhood should you want to do so.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's take a quick little Google map tour.

We're going to go down into the City of New Orleans. Generally speaking, the right portion of your screen most affected by the flooding. You see Lakeview and Gentilly up near Lake Pontchartrain. As we move the map a little down to -- we're going to head over to New Orleans East, also very hard hit. Move down to the Midcity area and the Bromwar (ph) area. And then finally over to the 9th Ward.

When you go to those, tremendous amounts of devastation in all those areas, David.

Will there be whole chunks of that area -- those areas that will not be repopulated, do you think?

MEEKS: Well, I think what this is -- you know, you're asking a question that everyone is trying to answer. And I think that's what the four month process is all about, to try to find out how many people really do want to be back in those areas.

And don't forget, a lot of the areas you're looking at, the severe flooding you saw was not caused by a storm that overwhelmed the levee system. It was caused by flood walls that fell down or manmade canals that introduced storm water into the city.

So one the other parts of the solution is to get better engineering and solve some of these issues that were created by men, not nature.

M. O'BRIEN: Here's what I'm left with here, though. If it's somebody like you who lost a house or my boss, Kim Bondy, who lost her house, at the end of today, having seen this report, it doesn't seem like they have much to go on as to make a decision whether to start rebuilding or not.

MEEKS: Well, that's absolutely true. I mean I think I'm in the same situation as a lot of people. I've gutted my house and it's sitting there drying out. I haven't started construction on it because I'm trying to find out, you know, what is going to be the future of this neighborhood, in a lot of ways, not just can I rebuild, but who's going to be around me? And that's a question we have to answer.

That's -- I don't think they could answer that question and I think that's why they've launched this neighborhood planning process, to have professional planners come in, call meetings, have residents show up and get people to declare hey, I intend to come back and I want to get a permit and I want to go ahead. Take a count from that and see what kind of density of population we're going to have in various neighborhoods across the city.

M. O'BRIEN: That is a long and difficult process and it won't happen quickly, will it?

David Meeks, who is the city editor at the New Orleans "Times- Picayune."

Thanks for being with us.

MEEKS: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Thousands of Katrina victims are being kicked out of their hotels, their temporary homes, to make room for tourists, believe it or not.

Gary Tuchman is going to have more on this story tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360."


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some hurricane Katrina evacuees who have lived in FEMA paid New Orleans hotel rooms for months...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, we're all packed up.

TUCHMAN: ... are being told they need to move out because Mardi Gras is around the corner and tourists have made reservations for the rooms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was the first one out because they told us if we didn't leave, they'd arrest us.

TUCHMAN: Last month, FEMA extended the deadline for the hotel program to at least February 7th. But hotels have not had any legal obligation to keep the homeless that long. So here's the note one New Orleans hotel gave the FEMA guests: "We are now entering into the city's season of special events. And as a result, it is necessary that you check out of the hotel."

The hotel would not comment to us. But not everyone voluntarily left.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They kicked them out. They threw out their mattresses, their furniture, sheets, bedding. They threw everything out on the street behind them. It was probably one of the most obscene, disgusting things I've ever seen.


S. O'BRIEN: You can catch the rest of this story tonight on "ANDERSON COOPER 360." That airs at 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.

Still to come this morning, what happened at the very first meeting of al Qaeda? A revealing new book takes a look at that and how Osama bin Laden became the most wanted terrorist in the world. We talk to the author this morning.

Then later, did this author con Oprah? Accusations now that his best-selling book is just full of lies. We'll tell you how one Web site found some big holes in his story.

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: It's a book that's been at the top of the "New York Times" best-selling list for 15 weeks now. Once Oprah Winfrey chose "A Million Little Pieces" for her book club, sales went right through the roof. It is the memoir of Author James Frey's life as an alcoholic, a drug addict and a criminal.

Now, though, the book's accuracy is being called into question.

"The Smoking Gun" Web site claims it's less fact and much more fiction.

William Bastone is the editor of "The Smoking Gun."

He joins us this morning.

We should mention that you're part of the Time Warner corporate family. You're owned by Time Warner, sold back in 2000.

Why did you start looking into James Frey's claims?

WILLIAM BASTONE, "THE SMOKING GUN": Well, we initially set off to just try to find a mug shot of him. And we have a large section on the site that's devoted to booking photos of well known people. We had a visitor to the site send us an e-mail saying you should get a photo of this guy and we thought, OK.

And it basically set off a chain of events that started with us having a very difficult time finding a booking photo of this guy and... S. O'BRIEN: Kind of strange when you consider the whole book is really -- it's a memoir, but all of the arrests were very serious and violent felonies.

BASTONE: Sure. I mean he -- by his own account, he was arrested 13 or 14 times. And we could not find anything. So that kind of piqued our interest. And we figured -- we took a very hard look at the book, just specifically with incidents in the book for which we thought a paper trail would have existed -- police records, court files, motor vehicle reports, things like that.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's go through some specifics.

First of all, he talks about when he was 12 years old he sort of moved to this new town. He doesn't fit in at all and he has this one lone friend, it's this girl who kind of takes pity on him. It turns out she sort of uses him as an alibi for a date. She wants to go out with an older guy, gets in the car with the older guy, he writes. He then later speeds across the train tracks to beat the train and he doesn't make it and the girl is killed.

And he writes, basically, this: "Michelle was popular, beautiful, smart. She played sports. She was a cheerleader. She got straight As. She was my only friend. She got hit by a train and killed."

What's the true story behind this event?

BASTONE: Well, he had nothing to do with it. In fact, there was a woman who -- there was a 17-year-old girl who died, two 17-year-old girls and a 17-year-old boy driving the car. The girls were killed. He sets up a situation whereby he basically serves to create an alibi for her so she can go out on a date with a high school boy.

He back -- he turns back the odometer on this story five years so he can make it seem as if she befriends him when he moves to this town at age 12, because he's now 10.

S. O'BRIEN: He had nothing to do with this accident, this train accident?

BASTONE: No. He had absolutely nothing to do with it. We've spoken to the victims' parents. We got the original police report on the accident. We spoke to the investigator. And all of them basically say he was not involved. He basically created a role for himself in the tragedy, which he then post-dates by, you know, by -- I'm sorry. He rolls back the odometer by five years to create him as the victim. And after the accident occurs he says the town turns on him and not the driver of the car who basically caused the death of the girl, because he facilitated her -- putting her in the car with him. He was the other victim of the accident, as he tells it.

S. O'BRIEN: He writes a lot about arrests.

And let's read one that he gives a lot of detail on. It's kind of a pivotal moment. He's drunk, he writes. He's high on crack. Rolls sort of over a curb and literally hits a police officer. This melee ensues. He's yelling at the cops. It looks like a couple of cops have to come in and help restrain him. He won't get out of the vehicle. Expletives everywhere.

And then he lists: "The next day I'm arraigned on charges of assault with a deadly weapon, assaulting an officer of the law, felony DUI, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest, driving without a license, driving without insurance, attempting the incitement of a riot, possession of a narcotic" -- I mean on and on and on.

What's the true story behind this arrest?

BASTONE: It's about 2 percent true. He was in an automobile. He was driving out of a parking lot across a sidewalk and he immediately pulled into a no parking zone and rolled the right front tire of his car up onto the sidewalk.

S. O'BRIEN: What about the melee, the arrest, the cop...

BASTONE: It didn't happen. The closest to an intoxicating agent that was in his car -- he claimed there was a bag of crack. It actually was a half bottle of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer that was in between the bucket seats of a 1989 Mercury. No crack, no melee, no resisting arrest.

S. O'BRIEN: Does it matter? Does it matter?

BASTONE: Does it -- well, I mean I...

S. O'BRIEN: Do you think that it's -- OK, so he embellished that.

Does it matter?

BASTONE: Well, I mean if you publish it as nonfiction and you promote it nonstop for two-and-a-half years as straight nonfiction and it's a true story and you go on "Oprah" and all those people who bought that book because of Oprah's say-so think it's a real story, yes, I'd say it would matter.

S. O'BRIEN: He's going to be on "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight. I'm actually dying to hear what he has to say. They have a statement. I want to put it up on the screen. The publisher, he has said, you know, these are haters, people like yourselves. And I think he's referring specifically "The Smoking Gun" and he's not going to deal with any more of these.

And the publisher itself said, you know, this is essentially his memoir from his memory.

I mean don't they have a, you know, from his perspective, and that's what a memoir is.

Don't they have a point?

BASTONE: No, I mean if suddenly -- your defense is suddenly now we have a memoir defense to basically explain away how you fabricate stuff and how you place yourself in the middle of incidents which, you know, there's this incident led two girls, 17-year-old girls ended up in a slab in a morgue, a hospital morgue. But for him, you know, for his memoir or whatever he calls it, that's narrative gold to be spun, you know, for a beneficial purpose.

Yes, I'd say, yes, OK, the publisher can spin it, memoir, all this and that, you know? To me, it's misstatements and it's fabrications and it's embellishment that he's never previously acknowledged.

S. O'BRIEN: William Bastone is the from "The Smoking Gun."

I'm dying to see him on "LARRY KING" tonight.

BASTONE: Oh, us, too.

S. O'BRIEN: Absolutely. I never stay up late. I am dying to see it tonight. I'm going to stay up late.

Thanks for talking with us this morning.

BASTONE: Thanks very much.

S. O'BRIEN: We certainly appreciate it.

And, again, "LARRY KING LIVE" airs at 9:00 p.m. Eastern time. This is an exclusive interview the with author, James Frey. His mom, too, Lynn Frey, is going be there, as well.

We're back in just a moment.



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