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Iraq Study Group's Suggestions; Spy Saga

Aired December 6, 2006 - 09:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And good morning, everyone.
You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

I'm Tony Harris.


For the next three hours, watch events happen live, on this Wednesday, the 6th of December.

Here's what's on the rundown.

Emergency exit -- the Iraq Study Group's suggestions on a way out of Iraq. The report now on the president's desk.

HARRIS: Spy saga -- a friend of a poisoned Russian dissident also contaminated. He talks exclusively with CNN about a radioactive hit job.

COLLINS: And taxpayers soaked -- double dipping washes away millions of dollars after Hurricane Katrina. FEMA's dark cloud, in THE NEWSROOM.

Long-awaited, highly anticipated -- will the recommendations provide a road map out of Iraq?

The report from the Iraq Study Group will be released two hours from now. It was presented to the president earlier this morning.

We want to go straight to the White House now, live with our Suzanne Malveaux -- good morning to you, Suzanne.


Well, President Bush got his hard copy about two hours ago. He was in the Cabinet Room with the Iraq Study Group, all 10 members. We're told that every one of those members went around the table talking about a different aspect of it. And when it was all said and done, the president said, and I'm quoting: "Well, that was good."

Now, White House officials are now confirming what is in that report and what our own Ed Henry broke late last night, the fact that there is no call for a timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops. There is no call for some sort of immediate mass withdrawal. But the bulk of this report is really about changing the role of the U.S. military from on the front lines to embedded with the Iraqi troops, helping them train and move forward, so that they can be a part of the major combat.

The report also calls for the Bush administration to engage in direct talks with Iran and Syria, to offer carrots and sticks, if you will, to make that actually happen. And the commission head, James Baker, also talks about the very important role of the Middle East, bringing peace between Israelis and Palestinians in order to bring peace in Iraq.

President Bush reacting to this report just a couple of hours ago.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've told the members that this report, called "The Way Forward," will be taken very seriously by this administration. It's a -- this report gives a very tough assessment of the situation in Iraq. It is a report that brings some really very interesting proposals and we will take every proposal seriously and we will act in a timely fashion.


MALVEAUX: And, Heidi, one of the things that the report emphasizes is that there is a need in Washington for both sides to come together, a sense of bipartisanship. One of the members of the panel, Vernon Jordan, said, look, we put our partnership, we checked it at the door to come up with a consensus here.

Lee Hamilton also telling the president directly, he said, "Mr. President, you're going to get a lot of advice, but this is really the only bipartisan advice."

That was very much stressed in this meeting, as well as in that text -- Heidi.

COLLINS: And so hopefully, Suzanne, the idea is that because it is bipartisan, it will carry more weight, maybe even more credibility.

But I have to say, without sounding like a naysayer, we have heard of a lot of these suggestions before.

What is different? What will this change and where might Bush go from here?

MALVEAUX: You know, it's uncertain what's going to change at this point. We know that the Bush administration is at least, on the surface, trying to give this impression that they are going to look at this, take this very seriously. This afternoon the president is meeting with Republicans and Democrats here at the White House from both the House and the Senate sides. Very important committees, we're talking about Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Armed Services. He's going to sit down with them, brief them on his NATO trip, as well as his discussions with the Iraqi prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki. He is going to talk about receiving this report, as well. We know that tomorrow President Bush is going to be here at the White House with his greatest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, again, to discuss these recommendations.

And then later today, this Iraq Study Group is going to have a teleconference with Iraq's prime minister, Nouri Al-Maliki, about the way to move forward.

So certainly there are signs that the Bush administration is taking this seriously.

But it's a very good question, Heidi, whether or not this is going to carry enough weight to make real change.

COLLINS: All right.

Well, we will be watching very closely, as the rest of America, I'm sure. And at 11:00, we'll be hearing from the Iraq Study Group themselves. So it'll be a fascinating day.

Suzanne Malveaux live at the White House.

HARRIS: The U.S. military's top brass certain to have a keen interest in the recommended Iraq policy changes.

We check in with CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr this morning -- good morning to you, Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Tony.

Well, it is perhaps the case that none of the recommendations in this report are going to come to a huge -- as a huge surprise to senior U.S. military commanders. Everybody has pretty much long agreed that there are no new ideas that nobody has thought about in regards to Iraq.

The question now is how to make any of these ideas really turn into military strategy on the ground in Iraq.

One of the central recommendations about trying to turn the U.S. military into more of an advisory role by 2008 in Iraq, rather than a combat force, well, that's pretty much the track that the military has been on a part of President Bush's strategy that as Iraqi forces stand up, U.S. forces will stand down.

But with the security at really crisis proportions in Baghdad and in the west, in Al Anbar Province, that has proven to be very tough.

What the U.S. military already has been doing, we know, is accelerating the takeover of security to the Iraqis, increasing already the amount of training going on, doubling the size of some training teams in Iraq and also repositioning U.S. forces sort of to more rear positions, trying to push the Iraqis out front, get them in the front line combat position to become more of the advisers in the back.

So, a lot of those is already underway in Iraq.

So how to turn it all into real strategy...


STARR: ... how to turn it into military reality on the ground, Tony, unless security improves, it's going to still be a significant problem.

HARRIS: All right, so let's sort of change gears just a bit here.

Is the military concerned at all about how Iran may play a role in all of this on the ground in Iraq?

STARR: Well, Iran is one of the major concerns. As we know, the report calls for direct dialogue with Iran. There is clear evidence, clear intelligence at this point, according to General Abizaid, that Iran is sending weapons, money, trainers into Iraq, supporting some of those Shia militia groups that are causing some of the sectarian violence. It is a significant problem now.

What U.S. military commanders have told us, even if you took Iran out of the equation, there would still be a big problem in Iraq. But unless you deal with Iran, you're essentially not going to solve the Iraq problem.

So there's very much a feeling on the part of the U.S. military that somehow Iran's influence must be dealt with. It will be President Bush's decision, they say, how to do that, but the military does feel it's something they have to address.

HARRIS: Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr for us this morning.

Barbara, thank you.

COLLINS: The key to getting U.S. troops out of Iraq -- the ability of Iraqi forces to take over security.

But are they up to the challenge?

CNN's Ben Wedeman reports now from Baghdad.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is how it's supposed to happen -- Iraqi soldiers capturing insurgents, wresting peace and stability from the chaos that is Iraq today. But this is just a drill.

More than three-and-a-half years after the U.S.-led invasion, the Iraqi Army and police are supposed to be increasingly taking the lead while American forces provide backup.

LT. COL. CHUCK WEBSTER, U.S. ARMY: And we're here to support you in your checkpoints. If you get attacked or you have a suspected terrorist coming through your checkpoints, we're here to support you.

WEDEMAN: But the performance of Iraqi security forces has, at best, been mixed. The Iraqi police have failed to establish basic order, despite billions of dollars and millions of man hours spent on training. And the police force is widely believed to be infiltrated by the insurgents and militias and plagued by widespread corruption.

The Army has fared only slightly better, suffering from high levels of desertion and lacking strong leadership, with many U.S. troops frustrated by what sometimes appears to be a lack of motivation.

LT. COL. ROSS BROWN, U.S. ARMY: They didn't do too much work yesterday.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About how much work...

BROWN: They didn't do too much work the day before.


BROWN: They haven't done too much work since they've been here.


WEDEMAN: The bipartisan Iraq Study Group and other reviews ongoing in Washington are trying to address these many strategy changes. But it will be an uphill battle in a country where the best laid plans have a way of going terribly wrong.


COLLINS: Ben Wedeman joining us now live from Baghdad -- so, Ben, your assessment?

You're there.

Are Iraqi troops ready to take over?

WEDEMAN: No, I don't think so, and nobody actually pretends at this point that they are ready. There's still a long way to go in terms of training them, equipping them. At the moment, by and large, it's the Americans that make the decisions on where troops are deployed and how they are used.

But we heard from the senior coalition spokesman yesterday, saying that they hope that by next summer, the Iraqis will be in charge of what they call their battle space, that they will be the ones making the critical decisions on where to deploy their men and how to use them and that the United States and the other coalition partners would basically be providing backup where it's necessary, where the Iraqis feel that they need the help of the Americans and others.

So we are looking at the middle of 2007 at this point, in theory, for some sort of total hand over with the Americans and others just providing support -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Ben, I'm curious to know if the Iraqis are aware of and are interested in this Iraq Study Group.

WEDEMAN: Well, we went out and asked some of them and by and large they were fairly skeptical about the ability of the Iraq Study Group to actually make a difference. Many of them saying look, the Americans have been here for three-and-a-half years, why are they coming up with this big plan now, when, really, it should have been something they did at the very beginning.

They say that they have not seen their lives improve dramatically in any way and that, if anything, they say that things have simply gone from bad to worse, that now, of course, the City of Baghdad is divided between areas controlled by various militias, that there's crime, there's killing, there's destruction.

So most people are aware of this study. They just don't think much is going to come of it -- Heidi.

COLLINS: Well, Ben, when you speak with them, do they have suggestions? Do they have ideas about where they would like to see their country go?

WEDEMAN: Well, those we spoke to were in agreement. They said they'd like to see the Americans get out. They say that at this point, there's really not much that they can do. They feel -- they have more confidence in their own forces, the Iraqi Army and police. They feel that if the Americans get out, the Iraqi forces will have no choice but to bring the situation under control. So they told us they want them out.

And, in fact, the -- there was an opinion poll recently done here that basically said the same thing, that nine out of 10 Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces out of the country.

COLLINS: Ben Wedeman joining us now live from Baghdad.

Ben, thanks.

HARRIS: Chad Myers is following a situation in the Midwest that is -- is just really trying right now. Another cold acc blast in a section of the country that doesn't need it right now -- Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: A lot of folks here, still tens of thousands of people without power around St. Louis through Illinois and parts of Missouri, and this air is on the way.


HARRIS: Still ahead, double dipping -- thousands of people claiming hurricane damage got their money from FEMA, and got it twice. The outrageous details -- you won't believe this -- straight ahead.

COLLINS: A family stranded in their snow-bound car. The mother and two daughters rescued, but a father still missing. Details on a desperate search and a new clue, coming up.

Plus, the report is in the president's hands now.

So what happens with the Iraq Study Group's recommendations at this point?

We'll talk with a former defense secretary.

You are in THE NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: How about this?

A shocking case of double dipping -- $20 million -- million dollars worth -- all from FEMA, given to people claiming damages from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve is here with details.

New government findings that will cost you a pretty penny -- Jeanne, good morning.


More indications that it's the American taxpayer who got soaked in the Katrina recovery.

The Government Accountability Office says that there was double dipping, as you say. Nearly $20 million worth of improper or fraudulent payments went to 7,000 people who filed for assistance twice on the same property -- once for damage incurred by Hurricane Katrina and again for damage in Hurricane Rita. A FEMA computer program that should have flagged the problem had been turned off.

Another finding -- nearly $17 million in rental assistance went to people already living rent-free in trailers, trailers also paid for by FEMA. GAO says $46,000 in rental assistance went to 10 people living in rent-free FEMA apartments, but can't get a handle on how often things like that happen because of limited data.

Another shocker -- $3 million went to 500 foreign students who were not eligible for assistance, even though, in many cases, the students had informed FEMA of their immigration status.

Big picture?

The GAO estimates that FEMA paid out about $1 billion on fraudulent claims, but has recovered only about $7 million. That is less than 1 percent of the total -- Tony.

HARRIS: Oh, man, that is staggering.

So, Jeanne, FEMA -- how is FEMA responding?

MESERVE: Well, a FEMA spokesman says the agency hasn't yet seen this new GAO testimony, so they aren't commenting yet on the details. But the agency has acknowledged big problems in distributing aid and says new safeguards are being put in place.

Senator Susan Collins, who is chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which is holding hearings on this today, says current FEMA practices enable and invite fraud. And she says just think of the additional relief and rebuilding that could have been done with the misspent funds -- Tony.

HARRIS: That is an excellent point.

Jeanne Meserve for us.

Jeanne, appreciate it.

Thank you.

MESERVE: You bet.

COLLINS: The Iraq Study Group report now in the president's hand. And he promises to take the recommendations very seriously.

Joining us to talk about the report and Robert Gates' nomination as defense secretary, our world affairs analyst, William Cohen of The Cohen Group.

He served as defense secretary under President Clinton.

Thank you for being here on this very day.

What are your thoughts at this point of this proposal, now that we have seen some of the recommendations?

WILLIAM COHEN, FORMER DEFENSE SECRETARY: Well, the recommendations are not going to set forth any major breakthroughs. The committee has looked very hard and far trying to come up with something that would be very constructive that would be able to galvanize both Republicans and Democratic support for the proposal.

So I think that the president, while he reserves the right to look at it and then to ponder its provisions, to see how it may integrate into what's coming up from his military, nonetheless, I think he would be very hard pressed to reject outright the proposal.

COLLINS: Well, and we can't say how much the president will go along with -- I mean he already stated he would agree with some of it and likely not agree with all of it -- isn't it important to think about the Iraqis in all of this, and their mindset?

I mean this is going to be a dramatic shift in war policy.

What about a shift in the way Iraqis are thinking in defending their own country?

COHEN: Well, ironically enough, the only leverage we seem to have at this particular point is the threat of leaving. Now, the Sunnis do not want us to leave. The Shia, at this point, do not want us to leave. Iran would like to see us continue to stay and be bogged down and bleeding and spending billions of dollars.

So what we have to do is take that into account what is our mission and objective, what is the best that we can do in a reasonable period of time.

I think what this commission report can do is to bring together the key people on Capitol Hill, to build a consensus, a coalition of the willing, if you will, and to use that coalition to try to support the country to support it for a limited period of time.

If, after, let's say, four months, things start to look better, the violence gets under control, then I think the American people may have a different view in terms of how fast the exit out of Iraq should take place.

If, however, things continue to descend, there's more chaos, more carnage, than I think you'll see the consensus split apart, the presidential candidates starting to run-much harder and much faster, and the chance for bipartisan support for the president's program will disappear quite quickly.

COLLINS: I know you have said before, Mr. Secretary, that there are no good options and now it's really just up to choosing the best of the bad.

Have you been able to sign onto any of these as a former secretary of defense?

COHEN: Well, I haven't had a chance to study the recommendations yet. But I clearly understand the need to try to engage the entire region.

My question all along has been yes, we should talk to the Iranians. But in talking to the Iranians, it has to be more than just their involvement in Iraq. We have to include the entire spectrum of talks about their pursuit of nuclear weapons.

I believe it's really important, before we talk to the Iranians, that we talk to the Security Council of the United Nations first, to get them on board, saying look, you passed resolution after resolution saying it's against world interests to see Iran go for a nuclear weapon. Stand behind your own resolutions.

Every time you pass a law or pass a resolution and it goes unenforced, it breeds contempt for that resolution or that law.

COLLINS: Right. And we have seen that.

So how likely is it to get them to really do this enforcement?

COHEN: Well, what we have to do is to appeal to their long-term interests. For example, to the extent that Iran thinks it can divide the Council and there will be no sanctions imposed upon them, they'll continue on their way to accelerate their development of nuclear weapons, saying you can't do anything about it.

But if Iran were to see that the Chinese and the Russians were on board and they were going to have to suffer serious sanctions, that gives the president of the United States an opportunity to go to them saying now let's talk about making a comprehensive deal, one in which we will welcome you into the international community; we will help rebuild your country; you will stop funding the insurgency, Hamas and Hezbollah; we will put the Middle East peace process back on track, try to resolve that and move as quickly as we can.

That has a chance in an overall concept to really produce the result that we need to see.

COLLINS: What about a little bit of new energy and new motivation that we may have now in a new secretary of defense, as you saw, ums confirmation yesterday for Robert Gates.

What does he bring to all of this?

COHEN: Well, he brings a fresh approach, a new face. But I've always maintained just because you change personalities doesn't mean much if you don't change policies. If we've just seen the substitution of one individual for the other, but the policy remains the same, then we're likely to see the same kind of fractious distribute on Capitol Hill, the same kind of disillusion out in the country.

So I think that Robert Gates has an opportunity, having served on this commission, to look at this issue in a fresh way, to make recommendations and make them very strongly.

But ultimately you have to remember, Bob Gates, as the secretary of defense, serves at the pleasure of the president.


COHEN: He is independent but -- independent-minded, but nonetheless, when it comes to a question where the president disagrees with his recommendation, he either has to salute smartly and say yes, Mr. President, it's your decision, or say I can't stay in this position because I think it's fundamentally wrong on the direction you're going.

So he's independent, but not completely disengaged.

COLLINS: Sure. Sure.

Well, we will continue to watch this story, obviously.

11:00 today we're going to have more from the Iraq Study Group themselves. So that should be interesting, as well.

We appreciate your time here.

Our world affairs analyst and former defense secretary, William Cohen. Thank you.

COHEN: It's a pleasure to be with you.

COLLINS: As we just mentioned, smooth sailing for Robert Gates. The man the president wants to run-the Pentagon getting a quick thumbs up on Capitol Hill. We'll have that in THE NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: And look at this. Rival fans -- look at this -- rocked the house. The actions in the stands at this basketball game. Yes, a basketball game. Stick around for this one in THE NEWSROOM.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I'm Rob Marciano live in Central Illinois, where they're still reeling from the snow and ice storm last week. Some people still without power and another cold shot coming into town tonight.

A live report is coming up.

HARRIS: And we are Minding Your Business.

Ali Velshi is here with a preview -- Ali, good morning, sir.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tony, we are looking at mortgage rates. Mortgage rates are down, refinancing rates are up. We're going to tell you why and how it affects you when we come back.

Stay with us in THE NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Well, how about this?

Now might be an excellent time -- OK, let me not hype it, Heidi.

Now might be a good time to hit the housing market, as interest rates are falling.

Ali Velshi is Minding Your Business this morning -- Ali, good morning.

VELSHI: Tony, good to see you.

Interest rates are falling. We know that home prices are falling. And what has happened as a result of those interest rates falling and home prices falling, a little bit of demand has gone up. People are starting to buy homes. And the mortgage application rate went up last week. So more people are applying for mortgages and for refinancing.

So this is the way the system works. When demand starts to fall off and prices start to go down, you get a whole bunch of people who were waiting for that to happen to get back into the market and start buying houses and applying for mortgages.

The rate on a 30-year fixed rate mortgage right now, the average last week, was 5.98 percent. Two things that are interesting. One is that's the lowest level since October of 2005. The other thing is the spread between the 30-year and the 15-year and an adjustable rate mortgage is not very big right now.

Very few people are now taking adjustable rate mortgages because a lot of people got burned on those over the last few years. They were really low and they moved up.

HARRIS: Why are these rates coming down now? Is that the result of some moves by the Federal Reserve, Ali?

VELSHI: Yes, well, the Federal Reserve typically deals with -- the rate that the Federal Reserve sets deals with the prime rate, which a lot of people get when they take on loans, variable rate loans. It does affect the adjustable rate market in mortgages.

It doesn't affect the 30-year fixed rate mortgage. Without getting into too much boring business, the 30-year mortgage, long-term fixed mortgages, are set in the bond market, which takes all sorts of other trends and considerations into account.

But one of them is supply and demand. The fact of the matter is people are buying these mortgages -- they're taking these mortgages. There are many people now thinking about getting into the market because they've finally seen this bubble burst. We have not seen lower housing prices year-over-year for years. I mean it's been a long time and no one suspected it would happen.

So right now not bad. You're a bargain hunter, you're looking for a house, the price of the house is probably lower and your mortgage rate is pretty low.

HARRIS: OK, so does this translate into a bit of a jump start for the housing market?

VELSHI: And possibly -- it possibly translates into a jump start for the housing market, possibly translates into a jump start for the economy.


VELSHI: The wealth that Americans hold in their own houses is the thing that makes them feel like they can continue to spend. And, as you know, continue to go into debt. If they feel like they can make that investment, it helps them feel secure. The stock market, as you know, is performing very well. At a time when some people are worried about an economy slowing down, it's not a bad sign.

HARRIS: Alessio Vinci Minding Your Business this morning.

Ali, we appreciate it.

That's good news this morning.


VELSHI: See you.

HARRIS: All right and we turn our attention back to that report from the Iraq Study Group. Our Andrea Koppel has a copy, I understand of the executive summary. Let's get straight to Andrea. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Tony. That's right, it's a five-page summary. I've just finished going through it. And as our Ed Henry had already laid out, it does go into specifics in two areas. One has to do with diplomacy. The report does specifically call for the U.S. to engage diplomatically with Iran and Syria, as well as with Iraq's other neighbors. That is potentially problematic for the Bush Administration because President Bush has laid out conditions in it for Iran, as well as for Syria before he would do so.

The report also says that the U.S. must directly re-engage on the diplomatic process to bring about some kind of Arab/Israeli peace. That means with the Palestinians and with the Syrians. It also says that it should provide political, economic, and military support for Afghanistan. Additional support on that end.

Now as far as the military end of this is concerned, the report says that the U.S. military role should evolve -- begin to evolve and adjust its role such that by the beginning of 2008, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection could be out of Iraq. It says that U.S. combat forces could, thereafter, be embedded with Iraqi security forces, but significantly reduced.

It also says that U.S. must not make an open-ended commitment to keep large numbers of troops in Iraq. This is something that President Bush has obliquely been reluctant to do. It says that the milestones that have already been laid out by the Iraqi government must be much more specific. National reconciliation, security and governance and here is the clincher, Tony. It says if the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress towards achievement of these milestones, the United States should reduce its political or economic support for the Iraqi government.

HARRIS: Which sounds like that amounts to a sanctions program. But we'll get clarification on that. Another line -- Iraqi government needs to show it deserves continued support.

KOPPEL: That's right. It's almost an ultimatum.


KOPPEL: Exactly. It's to tell Prime Minister al-Maliki, if you can't get your act together and if things don't improve significantly by the beginning of 2008, the U.S. doesn't have any obligation to remain there.

HARRIS: Interesting. OK, Andrea Koppel, our congressional correspondent. Andrea, thank you. And once again, we will hear from the members of the Iraq Study Group for themselves in their own words as they talk about their work and their conclusions in the study. That's at 11:00 a.m. Eastern time right here in the NEWSROOM..

COLLINS: They are cold, miserable and worst of all, perhaps, unplugged. Nearly a week after a wintry storm blew through, tens of thousands of people in Illinois and Missouri still do not have power. And another cold front about to invade. CNN's Rob Marciano explains.


ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST (voice over): The Illinois National Guard rolled out across the icy streets of Decatur checking on residents door to door.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can help you out as far as like, blankets, or warmth or food.

MARCIANO: Some, like Lena Jones, have been without electricity nearly six days, since a winter storm blew through the area, knocking down trees and knocking out power.

LENA JONES, RESIDENT, DECATUR, ILLINOIS: When we called the power, they said it could be seven to 10 days, so we're just doing the best we can.

MARCIANO: She says her priority is keeping her grandson Eric warm in this frigid weather. That means relying on a last -- and sometimes dangerous resort -- a gas oven.

JONES: I know it's a risk, but also, you know, you have to -- you've got a three-year-old running around. You have to keep him warm, you know. You can't go with nothing.

STAFF SGT. ROBERT CHARLES SMITH, U.S. ARMY: It's disheartening that a family has to put themselves where they have to choose the lesser of two evils, whether they want to have heat, or they want to risk of gas fumes.

MARCIANO: As residents do what they can to stay warm.

Others, like George Diggs, are trying to help utility crews. He's clearing his alley hoping to pave the way to get power back.

GEORGE DIGGS, RESIDENT, DECATUR, ILLINOIS: If they can get their trucks down here, they can get our stuff back, hooked back up.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have lights.

MARCIANO: Tina Pressley got her power back.

TINA PRESSLEY, RESIDENT, OREANA, ILLINOIS: It's wonderful. You don't realize how much you miss it until you don't have it.

STEVE LASHMETT, DELIVERY SUPERVISOR, AMEREN ENERGY: Hopefully we'll be wrapped up tomorrow or early the next day.

MARCIANO: House to house, and well into the night utility crews work to restore electricity. LASHMETT: Just the overall magnitude of this, and how widespread it was just makes it very difficult.

MARCIANO: And with many more residents to go, and temperatures expected to drop, it's not just a race against time but against Mother Nature as well.


COLLINS: Time always the issue, Rob Marciano joining us now live. What is the biggest challenge with the exception of, of course, do it as fast as you possibly can facing these utility crews Rob?

MARCIANO: Well, I mean, look behind me, just debris. It's like a hurricane zone here. With all the ice and snow that piled up on these tree limbs they couldn't take the weight. So, this debris has been moved off the road, but oftentimes, they couldn't get down to the road to the places that were without power because they first had to clear the road of the trees and then get the tree limbs off the power lines, and then hope that those tree limbs don't snap back.

Look at this tree limb. This is snapped because of the weight of the ice. The ice is still on here. It's been almost a week. Now, in some cases when the sun heats up and melts some of this ice, the weight is then released and these tree limbs will actually snap back up and might take a power line that was repaired back down again.

So, it's kind of a two-steps forward, one step back type of deal. And that's the main reason that they've had a hard time getting all the power back. They are hoping to get most of it restored by tonight. That's their deadline. Because as you know Heidi, it's going to get cold tonight. It's about 32 right now. Tomorrow morning, we'll be into the teens and might not get out of the teens tomorrow afternoon.

COLLINS: All right. Rob Marciano. Boy, tough situation there that's for sure. We'll check in with you later on. Thank you, Rob.


COLLINS: And now, we want to tell you a little bit more about that ex-spy who was murdered. His friend now infected by radioactive polonium.


QUESTION: Did you poison Alexander Litvinenko.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not me, of course. Not me.


COLLINS CNN's Matthew Chance in an exclusive bedside interview with one of the players in the spy saga. You'll see it in the NEWSROOM. And a family stranded in their snowbound car. The mother and two daughters rescued. But a father still missing. Details on a desperate search and a new clue straight ahead.

And there's this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it was a little bit much. I do.


COLLINS: Going too far? A South Carolina mom had it with her son. He unwrapped a Christmas present early and what she did about it and why police are now involved ahead in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: A desperate search for a missing husband and father. James Kim was last seen Saturday when he set out to find help for his family. Stranded in the snowy, rugged mountains of Oregon. His wife and daughters were rescued. So far, he is nowhere to be found.

CNN's Thelma Gutierrez reports.


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the back of the chopper that rescued them, Katie Kim clutched her baby.

LT. GREGG HASTINGS, OREGON STATE POLICE: The helicopter saw her with the umbrella waving frantically, saw the vehicle. They were the same color. Put one and one together and realized that he had -- the right equation.

GUTIERREZ: It was a mother's desperate attempt to save her small children, stranded for nine days in their car on a desolate road in the freezing snow.

HASTINGS: I think everyone's been amazed at the fact that they were found alive.

GUTIERREZ: The family's ordeal began the Saturday after Thanksgiving. James and Katie Kim of San Francisco and their two daughters, 4-year-old Penelope and 7-month of old Sabine, were on the way to the Oregon coast on a back country road when their Saab station wagon became stuck in the snow.

To survive, James and Katie ate berries and drank melted snow. What little they had, rice crackers and baby food, they fed to the children. Katie told hospital staff she breast fed both of her kids to keep them alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the girls were at the forefront of their minds, just making sure that their girls, you know, got out OK.

GUTIERREZ: The Kims also burned car tires to signal for help and fend off frostbite. Authorities say they did a lot of things right.

HASTINGS: Working as a group together to stay warm at night, conserving their fuel. Having their engine run every now and then just so they can get the car warm.

GUTIERREZ: After a week out in the wilderness with no help in sight, James Kim set out to look for help. He took two lighters, an extra pair of pants. He was wearing a sweater and a heavy coat. That was Saturday.

BRIAN ANDERSON, UNDERSHERIFF, JOSEPHINE COUNTY: This is frustrating. I mean, we are so close. You've got people who are pouring their heart and soul in here. A lot of us, 18, 20 hours. It's frustrating. Long days. So, we're not going to quit until we find him.

GUTIERREZ: Searchers followed the footprints in the snow right up to a ledge that dropped to a drainage ditch.

ANDERSON: Today we had rafters go down and look that area at the bottom.

GUTIERREZ: One hundred search and rescue workers combed the rugged terrain using three helicopters, plus snowmobiles and horses. They used heat sensors at night in hopes of finding him.

The only thing search and rescue workers have found so far, a pair of pants laying on the ground that searchers believe belonged to James Kim.

JAMES KIM, MISSING: This is James Kim.

GUTIERREZ: Friends of James Kim, an editor at a technology web site, say Kim is resourceful, has camping experience and may have left the pants behind as a marker for rescuers.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Merlin, Oregon.


HARRIS: What a story. Let's get you to some breaking news in the CNN NEWSROOM. Fredricka Whitfield is following a story out of Milwaukee.

Good to see you, Fred.


Well, right in downtown Milwaukee, a sizable explosion is taking place. You're looking at the pictures right now of the plumes of smoke. Evacuations are under way. We're still trying to determine exactly what this building is. We know it's an industrial area, and this building is located at 30th and Canal. About 30 people reportedly have been injured and are being treated.

You're looking at the aerial views there, or a panoramic view, of that explosion there in downtown Milwaukee.

On the phone with us now is Brian O'Connor. He's one of the city officials there, public information officer with the Milwaukee Fire Department.

And give me an idea right now, Brian, if you could, exactly what this building is and how sizable of an explosion and resulting fire are we talking about?

LT. BRIAN O'CONNOR, MILWAUKEE FIRE DEPT.: Well, the building was a one-story industrial building. I'm not sure what they produced in this building. It's about 100 feet by about 300 or 400 feet long. It blew up and the power of the explosion was -- is very evident in other buildings around this, kind of right in the middle of their complex. Also a number of cars that were parked next to the building have been totally destroyed. And right now we just have the fire involvement of what was left of the building.

WHITFIELD: And so when we talk about evacuations, how many nearby businesses are being affected, or are the evacuations primarily of the inhabitants of this building?

O'CONNOR: Well, it's just this complex, the Faulk (ph) Corporation. It's just a building around the building that blew up.

WHITFIELD: And what is the Faulk Corporation?

O'CONNOR: They do manufacturing of steel products, heavy-duty welding and numerous other products like that.

WHITFIELD: And of those reported 30 people injured, all of those persons were in this Faulk Corporation?

O'CONNOR: They were in this area, correct.

WHITFIELD: OK. And what are you all doing as firefighters to try to contain this fire, explosion, contain the entire area?

O'CONNOR: Well, right now, the fire is just involved in the building that exploded. We have lines on the fire. It doesn't look like it's going to extend to any of the other buildings, and we're treating the wounded people.

WHITFIELD: All right. Good news there. Lieutenant Brian O'Connor, with the public information office of the Milwaukee Fire Department, thanks so much for that update.

And, Tony, we're going to continue to watch this situation. But the good news here, they have contained it to this specific area, and they are treating those who have been injured.

HARRIS: OK, Fred, thank you.

COLLINS: Opening the door on a way out of Iraq. The Iraq Study Group suggests an exit strategy. The president reviews it. Our experts analyze it, throughout the day here in the NEWSROOM. HARRIS: Americans in Iraq. How do Iraqis feel about U.S. troops? A surprising survey. That story coming up.

COLLINS: Just keep on talking. Cell phones and your health. Details of a new cancer study in the NEWSROOM.


HARRIS: Heidi Collins, this might be the outrage of the morning. You know, I try to use these moments as teaching moments...


HARRIS: ... for folks to find their inner peace.

COLLINS: Yes, you think?

HARRIS: To the videotape, please.

COLLINS: This is am unbelievable video.

HARRIS: The basketbrawl in Belgrade. OK, people who need a zen moment, right? Fans fought before a game. This is before the game between Serbian and Greek teams. OK, centuries old conflicts and rivalries.

COLLINS: What are they shooting?

HARRIS: Flares, Heidi, flares into the stands. Running the risk of setting the entire building afire here, right? So the Greek visitors ended up calling in reinforcements from the Serbian team's cross-town rival fans. OK, it's all over the place, flares, the seats were set on fire, riot police brought in to try to control the thing. You know, in all of this mayhem, I suppose the good news in all of this bad behavior, fans losing their minds, is that just six fans were injured.

Look at this. Outrageous.

COLLINS: They don't really look like they are doing much. Who won the game?

HARRIS: That's what i've been trying to find. Apparently they...

COLLINS: Not that it matters.

HARRIS: I bet it was maybe called off?

COLLINS: You would think.

HARRIS: Yikes. Good Lord.

COLLINS: All right, well, meanwhile, a South Carolina mom -- this might be for some people a bit of an outrage, too. Apparently her son was arrested. He's 12 years old. Trouble at great-grandma's house. He unwrapped it, and even, yes, dared to play with a Nintendo Game Boy. It was supposed to be a gift for him.

HARRIS: Right, set under the tree early.

COLLINS: Yes, but that was a mistake. His mother repeatedly warned him not to touch it. You know what happens if you do that before Christmas.


REGGIE MEEKS, BOY'S COUSIN: He always been like that, anxious to get what he want, get attention. And if he can't get his way, he'll find his way.


COLLINS: So police in Rock Hill say it's the first time they've arrested a child for unwrapping a Christmas present early. The boy has also been naughty at school, though. He's accused of punching a school police officer last month and now faces an expulsion hearing today.

HARRIS: Well, I had something kind of quippy to say there, but once you figure that he's -- yes, there's some issues there. I'll let it go.

COLLINS: All right.

They're A-list power brokers now in Washington. The Iraq Study Group reports to the president their recommendations. Their news conference, 11:00 eastern in the NEWSROOM.


COLLINS: Can you hear me now? A new Danish study says cellular phones do not increase your risk of cancer. Researchers used data from the entire population of Denmark. They say cell phone use did not increase the risk of tumors of the brain, the nervous system, the salivary glands or the eyes. So it's safe to keep talking if you can pay the bill.

HARRIS: Opening the door on a way out of Iraq. The Iraq Study Group suggests an exit strategy. The president reviews it. Our experts analyze it throughout the day here in the NEWSROOM.



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