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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Limbaugh Booked on Drug Charge, Ending Three Year Probe

Aired April 29, 2006 - 08:00   ET

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


BETTY NGUYEN, CNN CO-ANCHOR, CNN SATURDAY MORNING: Now in the news, Rush Limbaugh reaches a deal to end a three-year drug investigation. The radio talk show host was booked on a single count of prescription fraud in Florida yesterday, then released on bond. Prosecutors say they will drop the charge in 18 months if Limbaugh continues a drug treatment program. A detailed report and discussion with the legal ladies, that is ahead this hour.
And this has people running inside, pelted by hail, pounded by heavy rain. Severe storms rumble across central and northern Texas and more storms maybe headed that way today. We'll have the forecast for Texas and the rest of the nation. That's just ahead.

In Mexico, it could soon be legal to possess small amount of cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana and heroin. A bill has been approved by lawmakers and the office of President Vicente Fox indicates he is going to sign this measure. Officials say it will free up police to focus on major drug dealers.

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR, CNN SATURDAY MORNING: Iran today vowed to continue uranium enrichment. Tehran did repeat its offer to allow unannounced inspections but only if the United Nations Security Council drops the case. Iran has defined the U.N. deadline to stop all activities related to uranium enrichment. Iran denies western claims that it is trying to produce nuclear weapons.

Robots are roaming around the Georgia Dome in Atlanta today. Thousands of high school students are taking part in a robotics championship. Reynolds Wolf actually is going to be over there to tell us more. Causing trouble. The robes are judged on their navigation systems and how well they can shoot foam balls through hoops. The competition is designed to boost interest in science and technology.

The Texans bypass Bush? Can it be? The Houston Texans have signed defensive end Mario Williams as the number one pick in the NFL draft. They passed on Heisman trophy winner Reggie Bush. Williams signed a six-year, $54 million contract, he is the first defensive end taken as the first overall pick since 2000.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think what the agreement is that we entered into makes good common sense with anybody in this position who found themselves addicted to pain medication, it is unfair to prosecute them or to make some sort of a big case out of it.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NGUYEN: Rush Limbaugh makes a deal with Florida prosecutors and some legal experts say it is not much more than a slap on the wrist. We have those details just ahead. From the Center this CNN SATURDAY MORNING. Good morning everybody, April 29th, and heading into May. 8:00 a.m. here at CNN heads quarters in Atlanta. I'm Betty Nguyen.

HARRIS: I'm Tony Harris, thank you for being with us this morning.

NGUYEN: Well the deal behind the Rush Limbaugh plea. The conservative talk show host was booked on a single charge of prescription fraud late yesterday, but he won't go to trial. That's left many wondering what is the deal? Limbaugh's legal problems began thee years ago when he admitted he was addicted to prescription painkillers. How he got those drugs has been at the center of his legal problems.

Here's CNN's national correspondent Susan Candiotti.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Flashing a smile as he posed for a mug shot, Rush Limbaugh negotiated a deal that in the end can assure him a clean record.

ROY BLACK, LIMBAUGH'S ATTORNEY: What it does say is that he was addicted to prescription pain medication, which, of course he admitted back in 2003 when all this began. So he has adamantly said he has not committed a crime.

CANDIOTTI: According to his lawyers, the agreement with the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office goes like this. Limbaugh pleads not guilty to one count of doctor shopping. He must complete another year and a half of drug treatment. If he does, the charge will be dropped. Finally, the radio host must pay $30,000 to help offset the public cost of the investigation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't believe I'm talking to you.

CANDIOTTI: Rush Limbaugh's nightmare began in the fall of 2003. His former housekeeper sold a blockbuster story to the "National Enquirer." Wilma Kline claimed she illegally sold the popular conservative talk show host thousands of prescription painkillers including Oxycontin and Hydrocodone.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, TALK SHOW HOST: I don't know the scope of what I'm dealing with.

CANDIOTTI: A week later Limbaugh admitted a problem.

LIMBAUGH: I am addicted to prescription pain medication.

CANDIOTTI: With that Limbaugh left the air for a month of treatment. He blamed unrelenting pain from spine surgery years earlier. He claimed his former employee try to blackmail him and said he paid her what he called extortion money and was afraid to go to authorities.

Later that year investigators raided Limbaugh's doctors offices in Florida and California in search warrants, prosecutors said Limbaugh was part of an ongoing investigation that began a year earlier and appeared to be doctor shopping for painkillers, going from doctor to doctor to get more pills. Authorities said pharmacy records showed Limbaugh obtained more than 2,000 pills over a six-month period. Limbaugh claims local prosecutors are unfairly targeting him compared to others in similar predicaments. He says his constitutional right to privacy was violated by the raid. On the air, he also suggested Democrats were to blame.

LIMBAUGH: The Democrats in this country still cannot defeat me in the arena of political ideas and so now they are trying to do so in the court of public opinion and the legal system.

CANDIOTTI: Prosecutors defended the search warrant.

JAMES MARTZ, PROSECUTOR: We have to notice the target of an investigation that we have to look at the felonies he committed?

CANDIOTTI: Eventually, despite appeals all of the way to Florida's Supreme Court, Limbaugh lost his privacy battle to keep his doctor's records out of prosecutor's hands and after a two and a half year long legal odyssey, the radio talk show host may soon be able to end his doctor-shopping scandal.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: Coming up in about ten minutes our legal ladies, Nelda's back!

NGUYEN: Good. Glad to see her back in action. You know Nelda is back, that means Lida is ready.

HARRIS: Nelda and Lida back together again in just a couple of minutes with our "Legal Briefs." That's coming up in about ten minutes or so.

NGUYEN: For now though let's get to this email question because it has to do with the Limbaugh situation. What do you think of the Rush Limbaugh case? Did he get off too easily? Send us your thoughts; email us at WEEKENDS@CNN.com. We'll read those comments throughout the morning.

There is new information this morning about the scope of the Justice Department's investigation of suspected terrorists. In a letter to congressional leaders on Friday the Justice Department revealed for the first time the number of people they investigated under the umbrella of the Patriot Act. Now, last year more than 9,000 national security letters were issued and the FBI secretly looked for information on more than 3,000 U.S. citizens and legal residents.

HARRIS: Meantime the Justice Department wants to -- a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration's domestic wire-tapping program. Four of AT&T's customers say the telecommunications companies' cooperation with government surveillance of home and phone and Internet communications violates federal law and their constitutional rights.

Back in December, President Bush admitted he authorized the NSA to intercept communications between suspected overseas and in the U.S. as a tool in the war on terror, but critics called the program an assault on civil liberties.

Stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable information on your safety and security.

NGUYEN: Some other headlines across America right now. The Wright family has no right to live on the street. So says the town of South Ridge, Massachusetts. Ed Wright, his wife, two grown daughters, a dog and a cat were living in a Ford Econoline Van since January. The Wrights say police smashed the windows, maced them and then dragged them out.

Well it's caught on tape, a woman in Salt Lake City who crashed her SUV into a building. Look at this -- oh, right there. She faces a felony charge of attempted homicide. That thing ran right through and didn't even stop. Look at that. Wow!

Police say she tried to run down her husband. That was the guy running in the lobby. He suffered a broken ankle and some bruises. Family and friends tell us the couple is going through a divorce. I'd say so.

HARRIS: The backing up part of this.

NGUYEN: Oh, man, she doesn't stop there. The woman was mad apparently.

In Louisville, Kentucky, onlookers bask in the glow of inflating hot air balloons. The great balloon rush hour race yesterday is a warm-up for the great balloon race today. It's all part of the Kentucky Derby Festival. The derby is next Saturday so set your clocks.

If you spent some time talking about the severe weather in Texas.

NGUYEN: Right. The hail.

HARRIS: And we have a cyclone.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We've got everything. It's been a weird morning all of the way around the planet we've been dealing with cyclones. We've been dealing with tornadoes in parts of Texas. Texas is the place that's under the gun because the situation we've had in parts of Asia has begun to weaken considerably. Things are beginning now to build up in the Plains of Texas, especially southeastern Texas. Let's zoom in right now.

This weird-looking red rectangle, this weird-looking red rectangle is your tornado warning in effect until 1:00 Central Time. We've got all the elements, we've got a strong front dripping from west to east a lot of moisture air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico and with just a little bit of daytime heating we'll see plenty of storms form into the evening as well. Heaviest activity right along the I-10 corridor, but you'll notice this is a very big storm system, the stretch up to the Ark latex (ph) and back up to St. Louis, even farther to the north up in Minneapolis.

This big comma-shaped system is going to march its way up toward the east. As it does so it will bring scattered showers to places like Chicago even into western Kentucky and Tennessee. However, the coast, well the Eastern seaboard looks pretty good. Plenty of sunshine expected all the way from New York and Boston to Washington, even into Atlanta. Not necessarily good news for parts of Florida, because they're desperate for rainfall. In terms of high temperatures today you can expect them to rise mainly into the 50s and 60s along the coast. Los Angeles, 64. That's a look at your forecast; let's send it back to the news desk.

NGUYEN: Busy day.

WOLF: Absolutely.

HARRIS: Deadly bombings and kidnappings in Iraq today. Two men kidnapped south of Baghdad overnight were later found dead. Roadside bomb at a police convoy in Baghdad while police commandos were killed and three others wounded. Elsewhere in Iraq another roadside bomb killed two policemen and wounded five others Friday night.

NGUYEN: The body of the first Australian soldier to die on duty in Iraq arrives home. In an embarrassing mix up the wrong body was sent to the family. A full military funeral for Private Jay Copho (ph) will be held on Tuesday. Australia's defense minister called the mix- up an unacceptable, terrible mistake.

HARRIS: The bodies of three Italian soldiers killed in Iraq are returned home today. The three and a Romanian soldier were killed Thursday in a roadside bombing in Nasaria (ph). The remains of the Romanian soldier are being returned home today as well

NGUYEN: The first U.S. army officer is charged in the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal. Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Jordan ran the prison's interrogation debriefing center. The now infamous photos of prisoners being abused and humiliated. They tell the story. Jordan faces seven charges. The army says he could face 42 years in prison if convicted of all of them.

HARRIS: Still ahead, no more legal limbo for conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, he walks free and maybe even avoid an ink spot on his record. How did he do that? What happened? Straight ahead on CNN SATURDAY MORNING. I'll put our legal ladies on the case. Plus.

NGUYEN: Take a look at this, this Web site has thousands and thousands of clicks every day with people checking on the eagle's nest. We'll tell you all about the eagle hype on the web.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HOLLY FIRFER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Looking to drop a few pounds but not sure where to start? Registered dietitian and author Ellie Krieger says a few small changes could have big payoffs.

ELLIE KRIEGER, REGISTERED DIETITIAN: If you just cut out one sugary beverage a day the results can be incredible. Just one sugary beverage that's 150 calories. It could be a soda or lemonade or sweetened iced tea. Cut that out and you can lose up to 15 pounds by the end of the year.

FIRFER: Tired of the bagel with cream cheese for breakfast? Try whole grain cereal, low-fat milk and strawberries. Ellis says this change alone will cut 200 calories that is 20 pounds a year. Lastly.

KREIGER: Make sure that at every meal or snack you have at least one serving of fruit and vegetables and if you get into the habit of doing that you will probably want fewer calories overall and you will most certainly be a lot healthier.

FIRFER: Thanks Ellie. For the "Bod Squad," Holly Firfer, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BLACK: The agreement was that Mr. Limbaugh would enter a plea of not guilty and never changes that plea and he has steadfastly denied and continues to deny that he ever did any doctor shopping.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HARRIS: OK, and with that Rush Limbaugh is out on legal limbo. And what is being called a sweetheart of a deal the popular radio talk show host was booked on a single charge of prescription fraud and then he was released on bond. His attorney says the charge against Limbaugh will be dropped in 18 months if he continues treatment for painkiller addiction.

So let's talk about it with our legal ladies. Lida Rodriguez- Taseff and Nelda Blair are on the story for us this morning. Lida good to see you. Nelda, good to see you. Welcome back, Nelda welcome back!

Thanks Tony, good to be here.

HARRIS: Explain to me, Nelda, why is this case not going to court?

NELDA BLAIR, FORMER PROSECUTOR: It's not going to court because it doesn't need to go to court and this isn't all that unusual, Tony with a first-time offender, someone that will have to be supervised for 18 months. The prosecutor basically has done the public a favor by not clogging up the court with this kind of case.

HARRIS: That's good. Lida -- that was good, show. She's back in the saddle and that was good. That was good. Why is this case not going to court?

LIDA RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: This is funny. This is a double irony. The first irony, Nelda, our rabid prosecutor has gone soft on us. All that time away, I don't know what it did to you. The second irony is that the reason Rush Limbaugh is not going to jail or prison, actually, is because of the very progressive Florida legal system which has allowed for non-violent drug offenders to receive pre-trial diversion, that's what this is called, folks, pre- trial diversion instead of prison.

HARRIS: So this is a real program that's in place down there. We thought it was concocted for Limbaugh, but they a real program.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: There is a legal program all over Florida where prosecutors and defense lawyers agree to send people to pre- trial diversion. They have to complete the terms of that diversion. They're treated as if they're on probation. They have to report once a month. They have to pay for reporting and then if they stay squeaky clean for the period of the treatment and also stay out of trouble for that time their charges are dropped. They never have to plead guilty.

This is progressive legal action at work, boys and girls.

BLAIR: But this isn't anything unusual, really. Even in Texas it's called deferred adjudication. It's a little bit different, but it's not unusual at all and it happens with first offender, it happens with usually nonviolent in this case victimless offenders and what happens is these people need to stay clean, not only from drugs but they can't have any kind of criminal activity, can't do anything wrong for 18 months.

If he does, he's back in the court system. He has to be good and usually what happens is those people that stay clean and stay away from criminal activity that long are going to continue to do so and that's the whole idea around it.

HARRIS: So let me ask you something. Does Pookie from -- I don't know one of the poorer neighborhoods, one of the barrios down there, does this Pookie, Lida get the same option?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: Well you know what? Technically they're supposed to but they certainly don't get the red carpet treatment where they get to turn themselves in at their own will, on their own time. They don't get a handcuff.

HARRIS: Yes, stop right there.

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: They're out in an hour after paying $3,000.

HARRIS: Stop right there for just a second. Let's see these pictures. Let's see the mug shot. Can we see the mug shot? This is Mr. Limbaugh's mug shot where he was able to -- look at this. BLAIR: Well Tony, Mr. Limbaugh turned himself in. He was able to go to his makeup artist prior to that. Pookie probably doesn't have a makeup artist.

HARRIS: OK, and this is what happens when you don't get an opportunity to turn yourself in and make a kind of what feels like a bit of a cozy deal.

RODRIGUEZ, TASEFF: Oh, no!

HARRIS: This is what happens to you. Nick Nolte.

NGUYEN: James brown. That's wrong. Why did you all do that?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: They're illustrating a point, Tony.

Roy black is one of the top-notch criminal defense lawyers in the country and he is a nice guy to boot, but the bottom line is Roy Black did an amazing job cutting a deal for his client where he would not have to go to in house rehab. Lets not forget that all he has to do is continue what he's doing for 18 months.

He's not going to be locked up in a rehab facility for 18 months. No sir re, he's not going to be off the air for 18 months, he's just going continue what he's doing for 18 months and then he's clean. And that is special treatment. The nature of how his deal was struck is definitely because of his celebrity and how good his lawyer is.

HARRIS: Well then Nelda let me ask you one last question here as we wrap this up. Are you then a little outraged that Mr. Limbaugh had his life sort of dragged through the gutter then if this is the outcome of it all?

BLAIR: No. I'm not outraged at all because he has criminal activity. He has done things that are wrong. He's had prescription drugs illegally. So, no, he obviously has to pay, but listen, Lida, you know as well as I do that the only reason we're talking about it is because it's Rush Limbaugh. There are other folks who get the same treatment.

HARRIS: Well, Lida, is that true? Is that the only reason we're talking about it?

RODRIGUEZ-TASEFF: No, the other reason we are talking about it is because ironically it was the ACLU that came to Rush's defense when his records were seized. His private medical records were seized unconstitutionally and it was the ACLU that defended him all of the way up to the Florida Supreme Court. That's why we're talking about it.

BLAIR: And you're saying I've changed? Lida!

HARRIS: Well it is great to have our a-team back.

NGUYEN: Applaud them. So good to have you back, ladies.

HARRIS: Good to see you and we'll see you again next week.

BLAIR: Thank you.

NGUYEN: It's not the same without the two. Never the same.

HARRIS: It is great.

NGUYEN: Don't forget to weigh in though on our e-mail question of the day has to do with all of this. We'll read your responses throughout the morning. Here's the question one more time. Do you think Rush Limbaugh got off too easily? E-mail us at WEEKENDS@CNN.com.

HARRIS: All right. We are going to take a break and we will come back at the top of the hour with more of the day's news, but right now --

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: All right. Check it out. We'll get you to the eagle cam. That's what you see right there and it's live. The eggs in this nest are ready to hatch and this live cam is there just to be there when it happens.

HARRIS: These eagles have been returning to this nest on an island off of Vancouver for 17 years. There have been more than 100 million hits on the Web site to watch the parent eagles take turns on the nest.

NGUYEN: If you want to watch, too, just point your browse to WWW.INFOTECHBUSINESSSYSTEMS.com. Boy, what will it be like when you see those little things hatch? That will be neat. No wonder so many clicks.

Well the supposedly world best young engineering wizards are showing off this weekend here in Atlanta.

HARRIS: We'll take you to the first international robotics championship live at 9:00 on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

But first let's not talk about brains. Let's talk about pounds. If you're trying to get back in shape and trying to shed a few pounds tune in for good advice next on "HOUSE CALL."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks. Experts figure that at any given time, one in four men and nearly 50 percent of women are trying to lose weight. This morning on "HOUSE CALL" we're looking at alternatives to those mainstream diets from prayer to baseball, we're checking out the unusual diets of some successful losers. Find out what they did, how they did it and how they're keeping it off. That's coming up on "HOUSE CALL" at 8:30.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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