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AMERICAN MORNING

Powerful Storm System on the Move; Censuring Bush?

Aired March 13, 2006 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR Good morning. I'm Miles O'Brien.

A powerful storm system on the move today. Tornadoes wipe out homes and kill five people in Missouri.

Seventy-mile-an-hour winds blow heavy rain into Illinois, as well flood watches overnight for low-lying areas.

S. O'BRIEN: Some sense of closure maybe in New York as police connect the suspect to the brutal death of that -- that has really captivated the city. We'll update you on this story.

M. O'BRIEN: A defendant in Saddam Hussein's trial coolly admits to ordering the deaths of more than 140.

One senator on the Democratic side said President Bush broke the law. He says he's going to do something about it.

S. O'BRIEN: And bada-bing, after 21 months of waiting, who shot Tony Soprano?

M. O'BRIEN: Oh, man! You just ruined it for me. I TiVoed it.

S. O'BRIEN: I know. It's even still worth watching. We're going to talk about it coming up in this hour on AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Tornado alley is certainly living up to its name this morning. A wave of violent weather ripped through the Midwest. At least five have been killed all in Missouri. Lots of damage in Kansas and Illinois as well. This morning, they are assessing the damage, and in some cases, expressing gratitude to be alive.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIKE FIEWEGER, LOST HOME IN STORM: My house is right over there. It's the one that has nothing to it now. It's totally gone.

M. O'BRIEN (voice-over): As bad as it was, Mike Fieweger and his family know it could have been so much worse.

FIEWEGER: We were in a basement. We were watching the forecast on TV, and my wife said we should go in the basement. We all went in the basement. And about six minutes later, no house. M. O'BRIEN: The scene was repeated along a path of death and destruction through Illinois, Kansas and Missouri. Look at this funnel cloud in Sedalia, 70 miles east of Kansas City. At least three tornadoes touched down nearby. On the other side of the show-me state, near St. Louis, Perry City took a licking. Winds inside a tornado there peaked at better than 200 miles an hour.

In Lawrence, Kansas, the wild winds uprooted huge trees and damaged two out of three buildings at the University of Kansas. Air- conditioner units ripped off the roof of one dorm. The parking lot littered with debris. It was a horrifying scene.

THORNTON THOMPSON, KU STUDENT: Very unnerving. So you know, you always hear about this stuff happening, but you never think you're going to be in the middle of a storm like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I come out, I'm just like, oh God, I'm like, this is just terrible! Like, what happened to my car? I mean, like it's devastated to see it like this.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(WEATHER REPORT)

M. O'BRIEN: Springfield, Illinois one of the places hit by those tornadoes.

Keith Oppenheim is there.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Miles, I'm on the southwest corner of Springfield, Illinois, about what people on the ground here tell me five miles away from where a tornado struck. And around this gas station I'm standing -- oops, I stepped on a wire there -- we could see a lot of debris that's on the ground. There are signs that are smashed. And, Chris, my photographer, I'm going to ask him to pan over to some power lines and a power pole, and you can see how a number of them actually are snapped in two. This area is without electricity, although if we go to the north of us, there is some power.

Let's walk over to this section of the gas station where you can see some of the pumps that have been knocked down by this tornado.

And keep in mind that residents are just getting a sense of the extent of the damage here in Springfield. We're getting the feeling that when this came around 8:00 last night, there were a series of storms. I can't tell you whether there was more than one tornado. That, I'll leave to the experts, but the reports that we're hearing from people on the ground and elsewhere on local radio is that this came in a number of ways, and perhaps the most powerful storm to hit Springfield in the last 50 years.

Miles, back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: Keith Oppenheim in Springfield, thank you very much -- Soledad. S. O'BRIEN: Turning to Baghdad today, an admission. A former judge said he issued death warrants for the 148 people killed in the town of Dujail following an assassination attempt on Saddam Hussein.

CNN's Arwa Damon is following the trial, joins us live from Baghdad this morning.

Arwa, good morning.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

That's right. We have just heard the testimony of Awad Bandar. Now he was the chief judge of the Revolutionary Court. That is the court that issued the death warrants for at least 146 Shia following an attempt to assassinate President Saddam Hussein. Now he is saying, though, that these accused went to court and that they confessed to the assassination attempts, and not only did they confess to that, but that they also confessed their orders came straight from Iran.

Now at that time, Iraq was at war with Iran. The prosecution, however, is saying that the trial was imaginary, that those who were accused never were brought to court, and is also saying some of those who were killed afterwards were minors. Something that is, of course, illegal under international law. And they're also seeking to prove that the regime sought to punish the entire civilian population of Dujail.

Now Bandar in his testimony said that was not the case. We have not seen Saddam Hussein in court today. What is happening is the defendants are being brought out one by one to testify. If all does go as planned, we are expecting to see Saddam Hussein tomorrow -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Arwa, let me ask you a question in the wake of the deadly weekend that we've seen, 46 people killed I believe is the number in Baghdad on Sunday. How is it looking today on the ground where you are?

DAMON: Well, Soledad, compared to yesterday evening's attack that you just mentioned, today has been a fairly quiet day in Baghdad. Four Iraqis were killed at least, and another 36 wounded were throughout the country. Now, yesterday evening's attack happened in the Shia area of Baghdad called Sadr City, and that was the deadliest attack that we saw in the last 24 hours. And what happened, there were six car bombs simultaneously detonated, killing, like you said, at least 46 and wounding over 200.

Now, that attack did trigger fear of reprisal attacks by Muqtada Al Sadr's radical Mehdi militia, but, however, Sadr did say in a statement this morning in Najaf that the attacks were carried out by extremists, and that, quote, "they would not be dragged into civil war" -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Arwa Damon for us in Baghdad this morning. Arwa, thanks for the update -- Miles. M. O'BRIEN: President Bush is going to George Washington University today. He'll be pushing his global war on terror. He is hoping to pump up public support for the war and war policies in general.

CNN's White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is joining us live from the White House.

Suzanne, give us a little preview of the message.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Miles. This is in the first of a series of speeches leading up the third anniversary of the Iraq War, and especially the president is trying to convince Americans that he gets it. He is going to say that amid daily reports of these car bombings, the kidnappings and brutal killings, that there is some Americans who believe that this is not worth it. He is also going to acknowledge the specific problem for U.S. troops, those improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, roadside bombs that have been devastating.

But he's also going to make the larger case here that he is optimistic. Why? Because, he says, the military is adapting its tactics on the ground and also political progress. You know that bombing of that Shiite mosque, the Golden Temple, just last month. A lot of people thought it was going to be civil war. That just didn't happen -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Suzanne, let's talk about something going on Capitol Hill, a liberal Democrat from Wisconsin, Russ Feingold, a senator, introducing a resolution to censure the president. The issue is the domestic wiretapping campaign. Tell us about that. What's the White House saying about that?

MALVEAUX: Well, I spoke with a White House official this morning who simply reiterated the president's position. They believe the president has the authority, had the authority at the time for that NSA domestic spying program, to continue the constitutional authority. There are many people who are speaking out, Republican leadership, however, who are using very harsh language, saying that this is simply a political ploy here to embarrass the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN WARNER (R), VIRGINIA: The president is not perceived as breaking the law. I don't think he has. But that was political grandstanding, and it tends to weaken our president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MALVEAUX: And, Miles, we expect to hear from President Bush later today. We'll get a couple of questions in about this. and we expect that he will essentially say the same, that he believes it's political posturing, clearly a political problem for the administration -- Miles.

All right, things political in Washington, imagine that. MALVEAUX: Imagine that.

M. O'BRIEN: Suzanne Malveaux, appreciate that.

We will ask the senator about that in just a little bit. Soledad will be talking to Senator Feingold about that censure effort. He is our guest at about 15 minutes past the hour. That's like five minutes from now, is that right? Five minutes from now. Boy, oh boy, it's hard on a Monday sometimes.

And meanwhile, as long as we are keeping time and keeping track of things on CNN, we will bring you the president's speech naturally, live at George Washington University as he makes his pitch on behalf of his war effort; 1:15 Eastern is the time for that -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Here in New York City, the discovery of a graduate student's body has touched the emotions of so many people. A young woman raped, and her face taped, and her hands bound and her body dumped on the side of a road.

CNN's Allan Chernoff tells us there could be an indictment for murder.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Imette St. Guillen's body was found two weeks ago in this isolated lot in a desolate part of Brooklyn. The grad student in criminal justice had been strangled and suffocated, her body wrapped in a bed sheet, hands and legs tied and face covered with strips of packing tape.

St. Guillen had been out drinking late at this Manhattan bar. Police had identified a bouncer at the bar, Darryl LittleJohn as a person of interest in their investigation. Sunday, New York's police commissioner revealed forensic evidence that he said connects LittleJohn to the crime.

RAY KELLY, NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: LittleJohn is the prime suspect in this case. And his indictment will be sought for the murder of Imette St. Guillen.

CHERNOFF (on camera): Forensic scientists working for the police department extracted DNA from blood found on plastic ties that were wrapped around Imette St. Guillen's wrists. They determined that DNA belongs to Darryl LittleJohn.

RAY KELLY, NYC POLICE COMMISSIONER: When you talk about DNA here, we're talking about the certainty of one in a trillion, so it is a very important piece of evidence for us.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): More evidence. The NYPD says the night of the murder LittleJohn's cell phone was tracked to the immediate area to where the body was found. LittleJohn Thursday was placed into a lineup as part of an investigation into another rape, but the victim did not identify him as the perpetrator. Kevin O'Donnell was LittleJohn's court-appointed lawyer for the lineup. Though O'Donnell says he has not yet represented LittleJohn in any other case, he told reporters the bouncer had become a scapegoat.

KEVIN O'DONNELL, DARRYL LITTLEJOHN'S ATTY.: It would be difficult for him to get a fair trial anywhere in this country.

CHERNOFF: The NYPD says it still has more investigating to do in the St. Guillen case, including the analysis of more DNA samples. LittleJohn has been convicted of armed robbery and drug charges. He's currently held at Rikers Island jail for violating a parole curfew, by working as a bouncer at the bar.

Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

S. O'BRIEN: Brooklyn's district attorney is going to ask a grand jury to hand up an indictment against LittleJohn as early as today -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come, the death of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Was it a heart attack as the autopsy suggest, or was it something more nefarious, as other would put forth. We will get into that.

S. O'BRIEN: Also ahead this morning, we're going to talk to a good friend of former NFL star Pat Tillman, who's also leaving football. He's going to join the military as well.

M. O'BRIEN: Also, Senator Russ Feingold is on deck. We will ask him why he wants to censure the president for that spying campaign. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Democratic Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin is taking aim at President Bush. Today, Feingold, a prospective presidential candidate, plans to issue a resolution censuring the president for his domestic wiretap program. Senator Feingold is live on Capitol Hill, joins us this morning.

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

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD (D), WISCONSIN: Good morning. Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: The official announcement is today. Already the Senate majority leader has said "it's crazy." That's a quote, "It's crazy." Why are you doing this?

FEINGOLD: Well, I think Bill Frist knows better than that. Many of his colleagues on the Republican side, senators, have said repeatedly since we've found out about this eavesdropping program in December, that it wasn't legal. In fact, some are saying, well, it's illegal, so let's make it legal. What does that tell you? That means they're admitting the president broke the law of the United States of America.

Now their answer is just to scream and say it's political and point that out, but it's not political. These are the very same people that went after President Clinton saying he broke the law. I want to tell you something, this is a lot more serious, a lot more like an impeachable offense than anything President Clinton ever did.

S. O'BRIEN: If that's the case then, why not call for impeachment? Why call for a censure, which is most people I think would say is kind of a slap on the wrist? I mean, if you really think it's an impeachable offense...

FEINGOLD: Well, because I think this is the first step. I think what we've done for three months is I'm on both on the Intelligence Committee and the Judiciary Committee. We've listened and listened. We've not heard any persuasive argument at all that the president had legal authority to do that. Would it be a good thing for the country now to start an impeachment proceeding? I'm not so sure. I think that's something we ought to think about. Do we really want to remove this president from office because of this? Or do we want to send a clear signal by a censure resolution that what he did was wrong?

If we don't do something to pass a resolution, what we're saying is, Mr. President, just make up whatever law you want, whenever you want. This is a way to restore the constitutional order on a bipartisan basis and allow us to get back to the main issue, which is fighting the war against al Qaeda and terrorism.

S. O'BRIEN: But you know, you say, we listened and listened, but the truth is the issue is under investigation now. The jury is not back actually on whether this is a legal. Why not wait until...

FEINGOLD: Actually, Soledad, the jury has been dismantled. The only committee that was able to handle this was the Senate Intelligence Committee. The Senate Intelligence Committee, the whole committee, a majority of the committee, isn't even going to be allowed to hear about what this program is. And, frankly, in those hearings, we've heard enough to know that we don't know everything about the program.

But we also know that there is no basis and no argument that's credible that this program is legal. In other words, there's a lot more to find out about how the program works, but it's already very clear, and many Republican senators have said that there is no legal basis for it.

S. O'BRIEN: But by your on admission, there's a lot more to find out, so why not wait?

FEINGOLD: But now about the law.

S. O'BRIEN: So why not wait until all that is found out before you call for something quite serious, which is a censure of a sitting president.

FEINGOLD: Because as I said, we're not going to find it out. The administration has already said that they're not going to let the majority of the committee, or the majority of the members of the United States Senate ever find out about this program. They've shut the door. They haven't allowed an investigation. On a partisan basis, they've essentially ruined the role of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and that means, Soledad, we are never going to be able to know the specifics of the program.

But what we do know, and what the president has admitted, is that this is not within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, so the president broke the law. So it's entire appropriate to censure the president for breaking the law as we continue our efforts to try to figure out what exactly this program (INAUDIBLE).

There is no serious debate about whether the president was within the law here. He was not. He violated our...

S. O'BRIEN: I actually have to disagree with that. I think there's a lot of debate about that very issue. But I want to ask you about another question, which is the critics who say basically this is, in a nutshell, political grandstanding.

Let's listen to what Senator Frist had to say, which I quoted a little bit earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BILL FRIST (R-TN), MAJORITY LEADER: I think it's a crazy political move. And I think it, in, part, is a political move. Because here we are, the Republican party, the leadership in the Congress, supporting the president of the U.S. as commander-in-chief who is out there fighting al Qaeda and the Taliban and Osama bin Laden and the people who have sworn -- have sworn to destroy Western civilization and all the families listening to us. And they're out now attacking, at least today through this proposed censure vote -- out attacking our commander-in-chief. It doesn't make sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

S. O'BRIEN: He says it's crazy, it's dangerous. This is the RNC statement. I'm going to read it to you. "Not only is Senator Feingold's approach," Tracy Schmitt (ph) writes, "a disservice to those who work tirelessly to protect America, it sends the wrong message to our enemies." What do you make of those criticisms?

FEINGOLD: Well, this is the game of intimidation, and it's working. Obviously, they've got you believing somehow that there's a legal basis for this when there isn't. Even Republican senators have said that this was not within the law, but the intimidation campaign of calling people names makes people apparently -- are supposed to stand up or be afraid of saying exactly what the law is and stand up for the Constitution.

Now, look. When President Clinton was under the impeachment situation, I was the only Democratic senator to vote to hear the evidence against President Clinton. The Democrats were very mad at me for that at the time. I ultimately concluded that he should not be convicted. But, Soledad, I voted on an independent basis because I thought there was a possibility the president had broken the law.

So, people can say it's political, but even John Warner himself congratulated me at the time and said Russ, you're independent, you call 'em as you see 'em. I'm a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, on the Constitution subcommittee. If I don't stand up say the law was broken here and do something about it, I'm not doing my job. So they can call it political if they want. But my record is clear, I've been independent.

S. O'BRIEN: And I've got to correct you, which is, I'm not saying it's legal or not. What I'm saying is that there are many of your Democratic colleagues would say let us wait.

FEINGOLD: Well, none of them have said it's legal, Soledad. That's my point. None of them have said it's legal.

S. O'BRIEN: And they're saying let us wait.

FEINGOLD: That's true.

S. O'BRIEN: We're out of time. Senator Feingold, always nice to chat with you, spar with you some mornings.

FEINGOLD: That's all right.

S. O'BRIEN: Nice to see you. Thanks for talking with you us.

FEINGOLD: Nice to see you.

S. O'BRIEN: Senator Russ Feingold of Wisconsin joining us.

President Bush is also facing stiff criticism over the war in Iraq. What's it going to take to convince Americans the country is on the road to victory? We'll take a closer look at that ahead this morning.

And then just like Pat Tillman, another former NFL star is joining the military. Ahead, Jeremy Staat tells us why he's giving up the grid-iron for the Marines. His story is ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Delta Airlines in bankruptcy, and its pilots headed for a showdown. Andy Serwer with details.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" COLUMNIST: Miles, the latest chapter in the bitter dispute between Delta Airlines and its pilots. Today in Washington, D.C., the two sides will convene to binding arbitration. Three arbitrators will decide whether or not the airline can scrap its contract with the pilots, tear it up, and write a new one which, obviously, will be a lower cost contract.

And this is very unusual because when in bankruptcy, most often, these disputes are resolved before the bankruptcy judge. But what happened here is that Judge Prudence Beatty (ph) -- you may remember her; she is the one who would berate lawyers and tell stories of her own personal travel tales -- had some health issues and has stepped aside. So it's going to go to arbitrators. And, you know, it will expedite the process, but no one knows where there is going to end up.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, if she had health troubles, was there not another federal judge available or did it just made more sense to do this?

SERWER: Apparently it just made more sense. And so this is going to be a rolling of the dice for both sides a little bit. Very interesting, obviously, to see how this kind of plays out.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, they're kind of jumping off a cliff together here with binding arbitration. It will be interesting to see how that comes out.

All right, what else you got going?

SERWER: We got some market stuff to talk about. Last week, a good one for investors, you can see here -- at least as far as Dow investors go. The Dow is up 54. Nasdaq tech stocks under fire a little bit last week. Big rally for the Dow on Friday, up 100 points or more, 104 points, actually, after that jobs report for the month of February. And this morning futures are up. We have a merger Monday. Talks with Verizon, Capital One, Knight Ridder, a lot of companies in play. And we'll get to that later in the program.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you Andy Serwer.

SERWER: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Still to come on the program, it's all the Sopranos fans are talking about this morning. I wish they would be quiet because I TiVoed it, and now...

SERWER: Oh, now you know what happened?

M. O'BRIEN: It's been ruined! It's been ruined! The dramatic end.

SERWER: Serious stuff.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm going to close my eyes as I read this prompter. Oh, I can't do that. Anyway, it was so worth the two-year wait, according to some. I wouldn't know. We'll have more on that and a look at what's ahead this season. "AM Pop" is coming at you. Watch it or we'll whack you! Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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