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Tom DeLay Resigning; Tornado Damage in Tennessee; Jill Carroll: 'Thank You'

Aired April 4, 2006 - 08:59   ET


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

A political bombshell from Tom DeLay to tell you about as he announces a surprise end to his congressional career.


REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: I have no regrets today and no doubts. I am proud of the past. I am at peace with the present. And I'm excited about the future.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jonathan Freed in Newbern, Tennessee, where the governor tells us the death toll from the tornado has now risen to 24. That story coming up.

M. O'BRIEN: Meanwhile, constant downpours lead to more shifting in the hills around San Francisco. Even more mudslides could be coming soon.

And fans showered Barry Bonds with more than booze on opening day, also in the bay area.

The story ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

The big news in politics today is "The Hammer" pulling out. Tom DeLay, the powerful Texas congressman and former House majority leader, is resigning.

Congressional Correspondent Dana Bash live for us on Capitol Hill.

Dana, good morning to you.


And Tom DeLay really just facing the hard, cold reality, political reality that, although he for so long had embodied Republican power here on Capitol Hill, he was facing the fact that he could very well lose his seat in November to his Democratic challenger. And that is one of the main reasons why he is not only announcing he is retiring, but he's actually pulling out of his re- election campaign now in order to make room for another Republican to go on the ballot in the hopes of keeping that Republican seat.

Now, Tom DeLay issued a statement to camera, and he was vintage Tom DeLay, quite defiant.


DELAY: Because I care so deeply about this district and the people in it, I refuse to allow liberal Democrats an opportunity to steal the seat with a negative, personal campaign.


BASH: Now, the other reality is that Tom DeLay is somebody who helped build the majority in the House of Representatives, and so his personal seat wasn't just at stake, Soledad. It was the broader control. It still is a broader control of the Republicans on this Congress, and aides, former aides close to him, say that he simply didn't want to be one of the reasons why the Republicans lose control this November.

S. O'BRIEN: Of course, you have, Dana, all the scandals. What kind of an impact will all of this have, do you think, on the midterm elections?

BASH: That's really one of the key questions. And if you ask Democrats, they already were planning on making Tom DeLay the poster child of what they call the culture of corruption here in Washington.

Tom DeLay, of course, has not been majority leader since the end of last year. He had to step down because he was indicted in Texas recently. Two of his former top aides very close to him also pleaded guilty to charges of corruption with regard to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.

All of that are major issues, according to Democrats. This coming November, they say that just because Tom DeLay is not personally running, they still plan to try to use that issue against Republicans this November.

S. O'BRIEN: Dana Bash for us this morning with Congress.

Thanks, Dana. Appreciate it -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen plans to get an up- close look today at the damage done to his state by a series of killer tornadoes. The strong storms blamed now for 24 deaths there.

CNN's Jonathan Freed live from Newbern in northwest Tennessee with more -- Jonathan.

FREED: Good morning, Miles.

I am standing in the remains of the United Methodist Church here in Newbern, and all around me, everywhere I can see, there is nothing but destruction and broken trees. And we're right in -- right in the middle of the path that that tornado when it came through here. It was anywhere from a quarter of a mile to half a mile wide.

It cut about 20 miles. And we're right in the middle of that 20- mile path here.

When the governor arrived -- and he is right now in the middle of taking a tour of the area -- he told CNN that, unfortunately, the death toll is now up by one in Tennessee. It was at 23. He says that there's now been one more confirmed death at 24 -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Jonathan Freed amid the wreckage there. Thank you very much.

More severe weather out West to tell you about. In California, days of soaking rainfall, and with it mudslides. This is one of them.

This is Santa Cruz County. Flashflood warnings in effect in many parts of the state. And there's more to come. Heavy rains expected throughout the day and into tomorrow, which, of course, brings us to Chad Myers for a look at what's going on in the weather picture this morning.

Hello, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Still raining there. Good morning, Miles.


S. O'BRIEN: It sounds pretty nice there.


S. O'BRIEN: All right, Chad. Thanks.

MYERS: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Held captive in Iraq for almost three months, Jill Carroll is speaking out. The reporter for the "Christian Science Monitor" thanking everybody who pulled for her release, especially the very publication that made it happen.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Dan Lothian has our story.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Out of seclusion, former hostage Jill Carroll broke down as she thanked her colleagues for their support during the toughest 82 days of her life.

JILL CARROLL, FMR. HOSTAGE: I just want to say how much and overwhelmed by how wonderful the paper's been to my family and to everyone.

LOTHIAN: Free at last, she marveled at the Boston-based paper's effort to win her release.

CARROLL: The work that went into this and the trouble everyone went to for me, a lonely freelancer -- you know, who am I?

LOTHIAN: Carroll is no longer a freelancer. The "Christian Science Monitor" placed her on staff after her abduction.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As Jill said, this is like a family here. And we feel part of the family, too.

LOTHIAN: A family the reporter had never met until now.

CARROLL: I've never been here before. I was supposed to come here last summer, and the planes didn't work out, and I actually never made it to the newsroom. So it's really great to finally be here and meet people in person I've talked to on the phone so many times.

LOTHIAN: Carroll was released last week and returned to the U.S. on Sunday. This home video captures the emotional reunion with her family.

CARROLL: I saw a picture of dad.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Officials say Carroll is not yet ready to tell her story. When she is, details of her abduction and time spent in captivity will first appear in the "Christian Science Monitor." The 28-year-old then plans to hold a news conference and do interviews about her horrifying ordeal.

Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.


S. O'BRIEN: It is sure to be a fascinating read.

Other stories making news. Carol's got those. She's in the newsroom this morning.

Hey, Carol.


Good morning to all of you.

Saddam Hussein charged with genocide now. Charged for the first time with that crime. The Iraqi tribunal making that announcement earlier this morning.

Hussein is now on trial in connection with the 1982 massacre at a Kurdish village. The trial is expected to pick up again tomorrow.

In the meantime, another car bombing. It happened just within the past hour in Baghdad's Sadr City. At least 11 people killed in today's violence, including two children.

The hard part is over for the government. The only person charged in connection with the 9/11 attacks in the United States is eligible for the death penalty. A federal jury made that decision in the case against Zacarias Moussaoui. The next phase of the trial picks up again on Thursday.

The 17 people aboard a military cargo plane recovering this morning from a rough crash. The C-5 crumbled on a runway at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Former C-5 pilots say its sheer size might have prevented any deaths. The plane is the length of a football field. Two Air Force panels are looking into what caused the crash.

Not the best time to visit Denver. The city's transit union is on strike for the first time in 24 years. Some 1,700 worker walked off the job on Monday. They're calling for higher wages and increased health benefits. No word on when they'll be back together to talk.

And flying the red eye on JetBlue just got a little easier. The airline will now offer spa products on some of its flights. Overnight passengers will get kits with eye masks and lip balms and other promotional items from Bliss Spa. It's part of JetBlue's shut-eye service so you can smell the spa -- can you imagine all that perfumey (ph) stuff going through the plane?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. It makes you want to sneeze.

No pedicure?

COSTELLO: Maybe...


M. O'BRIEN: Something in ruby red.

S. O'BRIEN: Joking.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. All right.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Carol.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up in the program, more on Congressman Tom DeLay's decision to call it quits. How will his surprise resignation affect the midterm elections? We'll take a closer look at that.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, a teenager born with a rare birth defect finds new hope thanks to a medical breakthrough that helps grow new organs. We'll explain just ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: And later, tennis legend Martina Navratilova, she will join us here to talk about here new book. It's called "Shape Yourself" -- "Shape Yourself Up" or just "Shape Yourself"?

S. O'BRIEN: Yes -- no, "Shape Yourself."

M. O'BRIEN: Just "Shape Yourself."

S. O'BRIEN: Internally and externally. It's a great book.

M. O'BRIEN: Was she interesting?

S. O'BRIEN: She's fantastic, as always.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Soledad will talk to her in a little bit.

Stay with us.


S. O'BRIEN: In this morning's "House Call," a medical breakthrough that could hold pretty exciting promise for regenerating organs, like the bladder or your heart or your lungs.

Here's Senior Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): By most definitions, this is the life of a typical 16-year-old girl. Her days are filled with teenage fare, family, friends, even a tinge of attitude.

KAITLYNE MCNAMARA, 16 YEARS OLD: What would you do without me?

GUPTA: But the days were not always this happy for Kaitlyne McNamara.

TRACY MCNAMARA, MOTHER OF KAITLYNE MCNAMARA: By the time she was 3 or 4 years old, she was already up to like 35 surgeries. And we're not talking tonsillectomies. We're talking major neurological, orthopedic, urological.

GUPTA: Kaitlyne was born with spina bifida. That's a rare birth defect that stunts brain and spinal cord development. For Kaitlyne, that meant, among other things, a crippling jumble of nerves jetting out from the base of her spine. Doctors said she would probably never sit up on her own.

As if that weren't enough for her parents to bear, another problem surfaced. Kaitlyne's bladder was not functioning properly.

T. MCNAMARA: We realized that something wasn't right. Then you hit a developmental stage, and you're supposed to be out of diapers. You're supposed to be doing this. It's when we realized that she was never wet.

GUPTA: The problem was, Kaitlyne's bladder was the size of a thimble and could not sustain normal amounts of fluid. What didn't fit into her bladder flowed back towards her kidneys.

T. MCNAMARA: If she drank a cup of water or a cup of juice, her bladder's pressure were at such an intense point that she would have what they call a bladder burst.

GUPTA: The accidents, especially at school, were embarrassing for Kaitlyne.

K. MCNAMARA: At my school, they make fun of you. And I didn't want to become singled out as being different than everybody else.

GUPTA: Problems with Kaitlyne's bladder were causing major damage to her kidneys. Doctors offered the most common surgical option, using a piece of intestine to create a new bladder. But that procedure is not without risks.

DR. ANTHONY ATALA, WAKE FOREST UNIV. SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: When you put that piece of intestine to function as a bladder, you start having absorption of things that you shouldn't be having, and this may lead to problems with bone growth, mucus production, certain metabolic problems, even cancer.

GUPTA: DR. Anthony Atala, a urologist at Wake Forest University, believed there had to be a way to dodge those problems. With few options left, Atala and his colleagues looked for help somewhere they hadn't considered before, Kaitlyne's own bladder. Not just repairing it, but creating an entirely new bladder using her own cells.

ATALA: We're not using any type of stem cell population or cloning techniques, but mainly the patient's own cells that we're using to create these organs and putting them back into the patient.

GUPTA: Kaitlyne was one of the first patients ever to undergo this technique.

T. MCNAMARA: We didn't understand in the beginning. I think it was too science fictiony for us.

GUPTA: So how does it work? Well, a small piece, less than the size of a postage stamp, is taken from the patient's bladder. Both muscle and bladder cells are teased out from that piece of the bladder and grown in a Petri dish.

When there are a sufficient number of cells, they're layered onto a three-dimensional mold shaped like a bladder and they're allowed to grow. Several weeks later, the cells have produced a newly engineered bladder which is implanted into the patient. Several more weeks later, the new bladder has grown fully inside the body and can function on its own.

All seven patients who underwent the procedure including Kaitlyne report dramatic improvements. Their bladders hold more fluid and they have fewer problems with incontinence and because the organ comes from their own tissues ...

ATALA: When the organ is placed back into the patient, you avoid all of the problems with rejection.

GUPTA: Many more studies must still be done before growing replacement organs becomes mainstream and used for other organs like hearts, livers or lungs. But the potential impact of engineering organs from a patient's own cells is enormous. For now, this beneficiary of the new technology is a step closer to being a normal teenager.

K. MCNAMARA: I'm happy. I was always afraid that I was going to have, like, an accident or something. Now I can just go and -- go out with my friends, go do whatever I want.

GUPTA: DR. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, reporting.


S. O'BRIEN: Oh, gosh. What good news for her.

Doctors hope that one day regrowing a new organ will be even simpler and even more effective than just treating an old and failing organ.


M. O'BRIEN: That's truly amazing, isn't it?

S. O'BRIEN: It is. It is.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes. All right.

Coming up on the program, Tom DeLay's stunning decision to leave Congress. We will take a closer look at its impact on the midterm elections. Bill Schneider in the house.

And later, the controversy over this new movie. It's about 9/11, and there are some theaters that will not be showing the promotional trailer, as they call it, for "United 93."

Stay with us. We'll explain.


S. O'BRIEN: Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney claims she is a victim of racial profiling. The Georgia lawmaker accused of hitting a Capitol Hill guard who tried to stop her from entering a House office building.

In an exclusive interview with Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM," here's what she had to say, kind of scoffing at suggestions that a new hairstyle -- you'll note the new one's on the right, the old one's on the left -- was the reason why the officer failed to recognize her. She claims race was a factor in all this.


REP. CYNTHIA MCKINNEY (D), GEORGIA: There are only 14 African- American women members of Congress. So I don't understand what it is about my face that certain members of the Capitol Hill Police Department can't remember.

The bottom line on this is that it doesn't matter if you're in the United States Capitol or the Georgia Capitol. The issue is racial profiling. And that's something that we're going to have to deal with as a country.


S. O'BRIEN: Federal prosecutors are considering whether to file criminal charges against McKinney. You can, of course, watch Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" weekdays at 4:00 and again at 7:00 p.m. Eastern -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: "The Hammer" strikes a blow to the conventional wisdom. Former majority leader Tom DeLay says he's leaving Congress behind, moving to Virginia, and moving on to promote causes near and dear to him in new ways as a private citizen. All of this comes as scandal swirls around him on at least two major fronts and as many Democrats were set to frame him as the poster child for Republican excess in Congress.

CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider in Washington this morning.

Mr. Schneider, sure always a pleasure to have you with us.


M. O'BRIEN: This is a move that Tom DeLay says he made on his own. Do you think he was getting a lot of whispers? You know, maybe you should step aside? What do you think was happening behind closed doors?

SCHNEIDER: Well, there was one very loud noise, not just a whisper, from his former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, who pleaded guilty to charges that he was involved in a conspiracy, a criminal conspiracy, and that that conspiracy was taking place out of DeLay's office.

Now, he made no allegations that Tom DeLay was involved in any criminal wrongdoing or was guilty of anything, but there was something going on in Tony -- in Tom DeLay's office, and Tony Rudy is all set to talk about it. So the timing here is kind of suspicious.

M. O'BRIEN: Interesting. And, of course, we're talking about the widening scandal surrounding Jack Abramoff here.


M. O'BRIEN: And he, of course, is cooperating as well. So I guess -- I guess this could have really -- well, it was clear it was going to overtake the race in some way, shape or form. The question was, in this solidly Republican district of Sugar Land, could he persevere? It was about a 50-50 shot, so we're told.

SCHNEIDER: And it wasn't quite as solidly Republican as it has been in the past because one of the things that Tom DeLay did in his famous redistricting effort in Texas was to sacrifice some of his own Republican voters to other districts to make it more likely that they would elect a Republican. His district, while it did vote about 64 percent for Bush in 2004, his margins were not particularly safe by the standards of Congress. And every poll indicated that he was in serious trouble even before Tony Rudy's guilty plea.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. That's the district issue. The larger issue is how he became sort of, as I said in the intro here, kind of a poster child in stepping out.

Does this deprive -- stepping aside. Does this deprive Democrats of a foil that they wanted?

SCHNEIDER: Well, in some ways it does because his race won't be the centerpiece of the House races in the midterm election. His race would have eaten up an enormous amount of resources.

He would have been, as you described it, a poster child of the Republican Congress. He's the face of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives, as Newt Gingrich used to be. And that did not do the Republicans any good. He ended up stepping down.

DeLay didn't really help the Republicans. He stepped down as well. But remember, there's going to be an investigation, there's going to be testimony.

Both Rudy and Abramoff had pleaded guilty. They're both going to testify. These investigations are ongoing. So there are going to be a lot of charges, a lot of revelations to come out during the rest of this year.

M. O'BRIEN: In his statement released this morning, Bill, he made it sound as if he's just taking one for the team.

Is that accurate?

SCHNEIDER: Well, I think that probably is part of it. He doesn't want to hurt the Republican majority. He's spent much of his career building that Republican majority, and he realizes, I think, it's perfectly clear that his troubles are creating troubles for his party.

So, yes, I think that was a good part of it. Remember, he's not just saying he's not running for re-election. He's also leaving Congress. He's leaving a vacant seat in Texas, and one of the questions is how the seat is going to be filled.

M. O'BRIEN: Right. And that -- of course, part of that is a little bit of the machinations of election law that allows a Republican to be in place when it comes time for the election. But let's talk about what lies ahead for Tom DeLay.

Do you expect we'll see him run for office in the future, or is it just too early to say?

SCHNEIDER: I think it's unlikely. I mean, he's -- he's just too hot. Anybody who's running against him has a built-in issue, and it's not an ideological issue, it's an issue of corruption.

And even though no charges -- well, there was a charge, of course, in Texas on which he's been indicted, a charge of money laundering, but there are lots of scandals swirling around him. And that's just something -- that's a lot of burden for any candidate, for any office to bear, because he would just draw an opponent to matter where he ran.

M. O'BRIEN: Bill Schneider in Washington. Thanks, as always.


M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, beloved by some and vilified by others, Katherine Harris' campaign is in trouble in Florida. You wouldn't know it, though, if you asked her.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken has that story this morning.


BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Katherine Harris, once little known outside Florida, became controversial forevermore for delivering the state's hanging chads election to a new Republican president.

KATHERINE HARRIS, FLORIDA SECRETARY OF STATE: I hereby declare Governor George W. Bush the winner of Florida's 25 electoral votes.

FRANKEN: She's moved on to become a member of the U.S. Congress and now she's running for Senate, beloved by Republican true believers, despised by Democratic non-believers, and increasingly abandoned by GOP professionals who believe her campaign is sinking like a stone. A first wave left in November and a second group bailed out this past weekend, led by nationally-known political consultant Ed Rollins, who told CNN by telephone that Harris' campaign was a tragedy unfolding.

The thought was echoed by the campaign manager who left Harris in November.

JIM DORNAN, FMR. HARRIS CAMPAIGN MANAGER: It's very unfortunate to me to see that basically spiraling downward, and where I do not see a scenario where she can win right now.

FRANKEN: Last August, GOP leaders told Harris she couldn't win, but she ignored them.

HARRIS: I'm here to officially declare my candidacy for the United States Senate.

FRANKEN: There was pressure to undeclare last month as financing was drying up. Instead, Harris announced she was going contribute up to $10 million of her own money.

(on camera): Harris is expected to announce replacements later today. Her only response thus far to the exodus of last weekend is a press release in which she's quoted as saying, "We're a stronger campaign today than yesterday." (voice over): Recent polls have shown Katherine Harris trailing incumbent Democratic senator Bill Nelson by 15 to 20 points and more. Not surprisingly, Nelson's campaign had nothing to say about this. Discretion, after all, is the better part of valor.

Bob Franken, CNN, Washington.


S. O'BRIEN: On her campaign's Web site, Harris blames the media for what she calls relentless personal attacks upon her.

Ahead this morning, the controversy over the new 9/11 movie called "United 93." We'll take a look at why some theaters will not run the trailer.

That story's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: I hear the clapping. Where's the bell?

M. O'BRIEN: Give it up. Give it up for the bell, baby.

S. O'BRIEN: Any moment. Any moment. And...

M. O'BRIEN: Come on, bell. Come on, bell.

S. O'BRIEN: ... there it is. Look at that.



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