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AMERICAN MORNING

Growing Fears and Widening Investigation Into E. Coli Outbreak; Bush-Blair Meeting; Do-Something Congress

Aired December 8, 2006 - 06:59   ET

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


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Friday, December 8th.
I'm Miles O'Brien.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Betty Nguyen, in for Soledad today.

M. O'BRIEN: We begin with growing fears and a widening investigation into that E. coli outbreak linked to Taco Bell restaurants. More than 80 people now sickened by the deadly bacteria in five states.

The company took green onions off the menu after they tested positive for E. coli. But is that the sole source of the outbreak?

AMERICAN MORNING'S Alina Cho joining us with more on the story.

Alina, good morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Miles. And that is the big question.

You know, federal investigators are still trying to pinpoint the source of the dangerous bacteria. It seems every morning we're hearing about how this outbreak is spreading. More people are sick, more Taco Bells are closed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHO (voice over): Taco Bell has closed all 14 of its restaurants in Delaware after another confirmed case of E. coli linked to the fast food chain. A 15-year-old girl was hospitalized for five days last month after eating at a Taco Bell in New Jersey.

JAIME RIVERA, DELAWARE PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTOR: The bacteria can live on a surface for some time. The bacteria can be lethal. So we're taking this very seriously and asking people to take precautions accordingly.

CHO: The E. coli outbreak has now spread to five states, with as many as 84 people sickened in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Pennsylvania.

SHENON SONDER, FATHER OF E. COLI VICTIM: Once they diagnosed her with E. coli, the first thing they said was, "Did you eat at Taco Bell?"

CHO: On Wednesday, Taco Bell pulled green onions from all of its 5,800 restaurants nationwide after lab tests showed that could be the source of the outbreak. Federal health officials are also looking at other ingredients.

Meanwhile, the first of what could be many lawsuits against the fast food chain has been filed in New York's Suffolk County. The family of 11-year-old Tyler Vormetag (ph) claims eating at a Taco Bell made him sick.

ANDREW SIBEN, ATTORNEY: Anybody who has ever endured this type of illness will tell you it's a tremendous discomfort that you go through. At this point, Tyler is now steadily improving, but the end result is unknown at this point in time. We don't know if he'll make a full recovery or not.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: So more on the source of the outbreak. Health officials are focusing on those green onions, and they are trying to find out exactly where those green onions may have been contaminated. Was it at the California farm where they were grown, the New Jersey plant where they were cut, washed and bagged, or the New Jersey warehouse which distributed those green onions to all of those Taco Bell restaurants?

They are also testing other vegetables just in case. And just this morning, Miles, "The New York Times" is reporting there are other reported E. coli cases in South Carolina, in Utah. "The Times" is also reporting 169 total cases, including for the first time one in New York City.

M. O'BRIEN: And is it reasonable in even those cases it's green onions and Taco Bell, or could this be widening beyond that?

CHO: It seems that Taco Bell is the sole source and that green onions is the source of the outbreak. Still trying to sort it all out. But Taco Bell is the only restaurant that bought those green onions from the distributors. So that is...

M. O'BRIEN: So if you're shopping today and you're buying scallions, or green onions, you have no reason to worry at this point?

CHO: At this point it doesn't appear that you do.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Alina Cho, thank you very much.

Coming up at the bottom of the hour, we'll talk with a -- one of the government's point persons on this E. coli investigation -- Betty.

NGUYEN: We want to turn now to the war in Iraq. Here's what's happening. Here's what's new this morning.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld hold his final town hall meeting at the Pentagon today, saying farewell to his staff. President Bush meets with House and Senate leaders from both parties at the White House. That's around 8:30 Eastern this morning.

And 20 insurgents killed in a U.S. security sweep. Gunfire opened up on a coalition troop group there, and in an al Qaeda- controlled area which is about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad. The coalition troops called in an airstrike.

Well, the president met with his biggest supporter in the war, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on Thursday. The Iraq Study Group's recommendations dominated those discussions, but what did the two leaders settle on, and more importantly, when can we expect to see some changes?

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins us now from the White House.

A lot of questions on hand, Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Betty.

We know that British Prime Minister Tony Blair has two months left in office, President Bush two years. And what happens in Iraq will largely determine both leaders' legacies. So while they stood side by side in the beginning of this war, both emphasized that they will be together in trying to find a way out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice over): It's probably the closest you'll get from this president to admitting failure.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I thought we would succeed quicker than we did, and I am disappointed by the pace of success.

MALVEAUX: The bipartisan Iraq Study Group described the situation in Iraq as grave and deteriorating. The president's incoming secretary of defense said the U.S. was not winning. For Mr. Bush, it's not easy to admit mistakes.

BUSH: It's a difficult moment for America and Great Britain.

MALVEAUX: But perhaps now more than ever people want to know, is he in denial? Does he get it?

BUSH: It's bad in Iraq. Does that help?

MALVEAUX: It was typical Bush, use humor to throw off the scent. Then a stab at formality to reassert his authority.

BUSH: Make no mistake about it, I understand how tough it is, sir. I talked to the families who died.

MALVEAUX: Then, as always with the zingers, came the appreciation. BUSH: And so -- no, I appreciate your question. I appreciate -- and you can tell I feel strongly about making sure you understand that I understand it's tough.

MALVEAUX: But with pressing...

QUESTION: Do you acknowledge that your approach has failed?

MALVEAUX: ... and more pressing...

QUESTION: Are you capable of changing course perhaps in the next few weeks?

MALVEAUX: ... Mr. Bush relented.

BUSH: I do know that we have not succeeded as fast as we wanted to succeed. I do understand that progress is not as rapid as I had hoped.

MALVEAUX: President Bush and his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have stood shoulder to shoulder on the Iraq war since the very beginning. Critics calling Mr. Bush "the cowboy" for stubbornly leading the charge, and Mr. Blair "the poodle" for obediently following.

But three years since the U.S. invasion, the two are still adamant their Iraq mission is sound. President Bush didn't just drink the Kool-Aid, he made it. But perhaps now it's a little less sweet.

BUSH: And I believe I know how important it is to prevail. I believe we will prevail.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: Now, I think the vision is absolutely correct. What we've got to do now -- and this is exactly why the president is talking about the way forward -- is that we've got to get the right way forward.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Now, the president seemed to rule out actually one-on- one talks with Iran and Syria, but he did not rule out the possibility of a regional conference involving those two regimes. He also seemed to move forward in a more active role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

But, Betty, he said he's not making any decisions until he reviews the internal review from the Pentagon, the State Department and the National Security Council. He'll get all those reports together and then he'll make an address to the nation with this proposal, with his plan. And we're told in the next couple of weeks -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Yes. We may see it before the end of the year.

Suzanne Malveaux, thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: In Iraq, a security sweep turns into a brutal firefight. It happened about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad.

The Pentagon says U.S. forces raided the building thought to be an al Qaeda hideout. Insurgents started firing. The U.S. called in an airstrike. About 20 insurgents killed.

A stunning report this morning suggests the sectarian violence in Iraq may be funded by Saudi Arabia. The Associated Press reporting private Saudi citizens funneling cash to their fellow Sunnis in the Iraqi insurgency. That money, often trucked across the border, is used to buy guns and explosives that target Shiites and U.S. troops. The report says Saudis are trying to stem the influence of Iran, accused of supporting Shiite militias in Iraq -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld saying good-bye to his employees this morning, holding his final town hall meeting at the Pentagon. He'll also answer questions. Rumsfeld's last day at the Pentagon is next week. He resigned, as you recall, as defense chief a day after the midterm elections.

Here's your "Security Watch" this morning.

The government considering a plan to loosen security at the country's airports. According to "USA Today," the new policy would let unticketed passengers pass through security checkpoints and get to the gate, something banned since 9/11. The idea is being tested with hotel guests staying at Dallas-Fort Worth and Detroit airports.

And it's a start. Six overseas ports will begin screening cargo for nuclear and radiological material before it heads to America. Homeland Security says that's about seven percent of all U.S.-bound cargo. Not a lot, but locals will run the checks, and U.S. officials make the final call on allowing shipments. One port involved is operated by DP World, the Dubai company at the center of the port security debate a little bit earlier this year.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning, two men close to the former spy who was poisoned to death are sick themselves. One of them is a Russian businessman. He now has symptoms similar to Alexander Litvinenko's before he died. Seven workers at the hotel where the men met also tested positive for low levels of radioactive poison.

The heroic dad who set out in the Oregon wilderness to save his family died of hypothermia. Doctors don't know exactly when James Kim died, however, but searchers believe he hiked more than 10 miles in a desperate search for help after his car got suck in the snow on a mountain road. Kim's wife and two daughters stayed at the car and were rescued alive and well on Monday.

In Phoenix, police believe they have captured a serial killer. They say Mark Goudeau is the city's "Baseline Killer." Goudeau now to be charged with nine counts of murder, five counts of sexual assault, 10 counts of kidnapping. The "Baseline Killer" so named because many of the crimes took place along Baseline Road in Phoenix.

CNN has learned that lightning may have sparked a deadly explosion at the Sago Mine. West Virginia investigators coming out with their report next week about what happened at the mine that trapped and killed 12 men the first of the year.

This morning crews in New York will start tearing down the Deutsche Bank building, damaged in the 9/11 attacks five years ago. The 41-floor building was filled with toxic dust. Workers also found bone fragments from 9/11 victims in it. The building will be taken down in stages over the next year.

A new prison ready in Guantanamo Bay, replacing the old detention center seen here. The new facility costs $37 million. Forty detainees have already been transferred. Right now about 430 men are held at Guantanamo suspected of links to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

NASA looking toward a tomorrow-night launch for the space shuttle Discovery, but even that is looking dubious. Low, thick clouds scrubbed the first launch attempt last night. The weather terrible day -- Betty.

NGUYEN: The gavel comes down today on the 109th Congress. Democrats will take control next month, and leaders are promising to crack down, get this, by making lawmakers put in a full five-day week, believe it or not.

CNN's Andrea Koppel has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDREA KOPPEL, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Democrats call it the do-nothing Congress.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER-ELECT: What we see is a drive-by Congress, Tuesday night to Thursday morning.

KOPPEL (on camera): In fact, under Republican leadership in the House, the legislative week of the 109th Congress did begin late Tuesdays but didn't wrap up until late Thursdays. That's two full days a week, for a total of 103 days this year.

(voice over): That's the shortest legislative calendar in almost 60 years. Once they are in charge, Democrats promise, that will change.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), MAJORITY LEADER-ELECT: You cannot do the people's business essentially working two days a week, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

KOPPEL: So does that mean Democrats plan to work five days a week? Not exactly.

HOYER: In order to have oversight, you've got to have sufficient time for committees to meet, which means full Tuesdays, full Wednesdays and full Thursdays.

KOPPEL: That's three days a week. If Monday is a travel day, what about Fridays?

HOYER: We're going to meet every Friday in June. REP. JACK KINGSTON (R), GEORGIA: I don't think anybody is debating the work week.

KOPPEL: For Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, spending time out of Washington and back in his district doesn't mean he's not working.

KINGSTON: I think that members do a lot better when they can go out and see the real world, and I think part of that is being connected to your families back home, your constituents.

DONALD RITCHIE, ASSOCIATE SENATE HISTORIAN: This is in 1910, let's say. When they got here, there were no paved roads.

KOPPEL: Senate historian Don Ritchie says lawmakers have always struggled with splitting their time between home and Washington, but often back then the biggest challenge was traveling back and forth.

RITCHIE: In the 1840s, when Jefferson Davis was elected to the House of Representatives from Mississippi, it took him about a month to get to Washington. He had to go up the Mississippi River by boat, and then he had to go down the Ohio River.

KOPPEL: And once he finally got to Washington, Ritchie says, Davis and his colleagues wouldn't leave until Congress adjourned at the end of the year.

Andrea Koppel, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

M. O'BRIEN: Well, what would Christmas be without Barney? Just a few moments ago the White House releasing this year's Barney Cam video.

The video stars, of course, the president and the first lady's Scottish Terrier, Barney. And it follows his adventures as he roams the White House playing with holiday decorations, looking for presents.

It's a stay-the-course kind of thing. It's the eighth annual. Not bad for a dog who is 6 years old. Do the math on that one. Anyway...

NGUYEN: Yes, how does that work?

M. O'BRIEN: ... Barney -- Barney has no trouble finding the way forward.

NGUYEN: Or the way to the food.

M. O'BRIEN: Or the way to the food.

You better bundle up before heading out to work. Coming up, Chad Myers will tell you just how cold it's going to get.

Also, gas prices are supposed to go down after the summer driving season. So why are prices going up just in time for the holidays?

We'll take a look at that.

Plus, high-protein diets and cancer. A new study with important news for all you carnivores out there.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

M. O'BRIEN: Top stories we're following for you.

New E. coli problems now in at least five states. Taco Bell closing more restaurants and facing a lawsuit from the parents of a child who got sick.

Outgoing defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld will hold his final town hall meeting with Pentagon employees today before leaving office next week.

It's a little past -- quarter past the hour. Chad Myers has the forecast for us.

Hello, Chad.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Miles.

(WEATHER REPORT)

NGUYEN: Well, what goes down must come up. And we're not just talking about temperatures. Gas prices are rising again, and drivers trying to figure out why.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Dan Lothian is live in Brookline, Massachusetts. Hopefully he has some answers for us.

It is cold there, apparently.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, it's cold. So we have to deal with the cold weather and the high gas prices.

At this station , $2.35 for regular unleaded. The premium gas, $2.65.

We're not talking about shattering any records here, but nonetheless, drivers are asking a lot of questions, trying to figure out what's going on. Some of them are frustrated, especially because this is a time when gas prices are typically stable, but not this year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN (voice over): Just when you thought it was safe to fill up your tank without breaking the bank, higher gas prices are making a comeback.

CHUCK SALVADO, MOTORIST: But it hurts, you know. It takes away from doing some other things.

ALEX KAZARIAN, MOTORIST: It's not all that, you know, relief on the budget, especially during the holiday times.

LOTHIAN: The current national average for a gallon of regular unleaded is $2.30. That's up 11 cents from one month ago and 17 cents compared to a year ago.

PATTY GALLUCCI, MOTORIST: I'm wondering why, basically. I'm just looking at the price. I'm paying more every week.

LOTHIAN: Energy analyst Phil Flynn says blame it on the law of supply and demand.

PHIL FLYNN, ALARON TRADING CORPORATION: The demand for gasoline has been incredible. And, in fact, you know, the latest numbers, you know, if you look at it, I mean, we burn about 9.3 million barrels of gasoline a day. We're producing about 9.2.

LOTHIAN: What makes this trend unusual is the fact that gas prices rarely go up so sharply after the busy summer travel season, and just as people are making their holiday plans to visit grandma.

FLYNN: Normally we get a little bit of break at this time of year.

LOTHIAN: But this holiday season is different because it comes on the heels of record summer prices at the pump, followed by steep declines.

FLYNN: When it comes to $3 gasoline, I was hearing everybody, "You know what? I'm going to carpool. I'm going to buy a hybrid. I'm going to stop driving." And all of a sudden, gas prices come down about 75 cents.

Invariably, we go back to our old habits. And we're using more gasoline once again.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LOTHIAN: Gas prices are expected to go up another five to 10 cents before Christmas, and the experts are saying that this upward trend will continue unless we have a mild winter which, of course, would ease the overall pressure on the energy market -- Betty.

NGUYEN: Well, no mild winter today. Thank you, Dan. Appreciate that.

LOTHIAN: That's right.

M. O'BRIEN: Medical news this morning. A surprising link between protein and cancer. A new study says those high-protein diets might increase the risk of cancer. Tests show that people on low- protein diets who exercise regularly have lower levels of certain hormones, and those hormones are proven to raise the risk of pre- menopausal breast cancer, prostate cancer and colon cancer -- Betty. NGUYEN: Coming up, when buying a diamond, you might consider cut, clarity. But what about conflict? We'll tell you how one dealer is trying to sway customers.

That's ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Well, they are gorgeous to some, deadly to others. Conflict diamonds are back in the public eye thanks to a movie that hits theaters today. It's got some of the diamond industry worried though about a consumer backlash. But Ali Velshi's back to tell us the other side of the story he introduced yesterday.

So what is that other side of the story?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, everybody's mad at me for complaining about diamonds. So the other side of the story, do you ever ask about your diamonds? Where do you think most diamonds are mined? Would you ever ask a jeweler what country a diamond came from?

NGUYEN: And would the jeweler know?

VELSHI: And would they know? And would the fact that it might have come from a conflict-free -- or would the fact that that diamond might be conflict-fee actually have any influence on your decision to buy?

Well, if you answered yes to any of these, you might want to take a trip to Harry Winston.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI (voice over): When someone asks you where you got your diamond, they probably want to know where you bought it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The country of origin when it comes to polish doesn't really make a difference. It's really not important where that diamond comes from.

VELSHI: Unless, of course, you're worried about buying what's called a conflict diamond, rough diamonds traded for arms in African civil wars. Conflict diamonds aren't the problem they once were because of worldwide pressure on the diamond industry and the industry's own efforts. But Canada, now the world's third largest diamond producer, thinks increased attention to this issue will cause at least some customers to intentionally buy conflict-free.

BOB GANNICOTT, CEO, ABER DIAMOND CORP.: We want to be in the forefront of that, not trailing behind it. So even though the customer may not be particularly interested yet, we are very interested, and we take great care in that respect.

VELSHI: Bob Gannicott runs Aber Diamond Corporation, one of Canada's major diamond miners. His company recently moved into the retail diamond business. GANNICOTT: We want to be the world's best, most authoritative diamond jeweler.

VELSHI: And how exactly does one make the move from diamond miner to diamond jeweler? By buying one of the most storied names in jewelry, Harry Winston, the venerable New York institution immortalized by movies like "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."

MARILYN MONROE, ACTRESS, "GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES": Talk to me Harry Winston. Tell me all about it.

VELSHI: Harry Winston still buys quality diamonds wherever it can, but says conflict-free is now part of its mantra.

(on camera): Does the person who comes in to drop top dollar on diamond jewelry at Harry Winston give a hoot?

GANNICOTT: Some do. And certainly we give a hoot. The point is, we make it our business to protect ourselves from what will undoubtedly become a bigger issue in the future than it is today.

VELSHI (voice over): Whether conflict diamonds become a bigger issue is yet to be seen. During the height of the diamond-fueled conflicts in Africa the last 30 years, jewelry buyers rarely asked where a diamond came from, not that most jewelers were likely to know the answer anyway.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VELSHI: Which is exactly what Betty guessed. Because of the increased demand for luxury goods in general, Harry Winston, like De Beers, with has its flagship store just down the street on Fifth Avenue here in New York, is planning to open several more stores around the world in the next few years.

They can't move them fast enough.

NGUYEN: Well, so say your jeweler says yes, it's conflict-free. Where's the proof? I mean, how do you know?

VELSHI: There's no -- there's no proof. A number of the Canadian mines were putting -- they were engraving -- laser-engraving these polar bears on them. Some diamonds have, you know, a serial number on them. But fundamentally, there's no way to get from a rough stone to a polished diamond and actually know.

Right now it's controlled by the industry, it's governed by the industry. A lot of critics say that's not tight enough.

M. O'BRIEN: Would those markings affect the value of the diamond?

VELSHI: Some people don't like them. We were talking to the folks at Harry Winston. They were saying, yes, you know, when you're dropping $30,000, $40,000 on a diamond, maybe you're not into something being written on it. NGUYEN: That's true.

M. O'BRIEN: What you got next?

VELSHI: You know, Wal-Mart. We're going to be talking about Wal-Mart and dropping its ad agency. When you're Wal-Mart, that's a big deal. That's hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising.

NGUYEN: That's a lot of money. That's what that is.

M. O'BRIEN: Probably for the ad agency it's a big deal.

VELSHI: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you.

NGUYEN: Thank you, Ali.

Well, coming up, important health news for women. We're going to tell you about a chewy and minty alternative to the birth control pill.

Plus, the latest on the E. coli outbreak linked to food at Taco Bell, now in at least five states. We'll get the latest from the CDC.

That is just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Skeptics in the Senate. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle with sharp questions about the Iraq Study Report. Could that make things even worse for U.S. troops on the front lines?

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: That E. Coli outbreak now infecting people in at least five states. Taco Bell closing more restaurants and facing its first lawsuit.

O'BRIEN: New twists in the murder of that Russian spy. Radiation now reportedly turning up in former KGB agents as well as a London hotel and workers there on this AMERICAN MORNING. Good morning to you, Friday, December 8th, I'm Miles O'Brien.

NGUYEN: Hello, everybody, I'm Betty Nguyen in for Soledad today. I want to thank you for joining us.

O'BRIEN: Happening this morning outside Bakersfield, California, firefighters now have that brush fire along interstate 5 about 40 percent contained. It burned 6,000 acres so far. The flames were sparked by a truck fire last night.

The sun may or may not come out tomorrow at the Cape Canaveral in Florida but NASA is hoping it will be good enough to launch the space shuttle "Discovery" to the international space station. Low, thick clouds making for poor visibility scrubbed the first launch attempt last night. Weather threatening the next attempt tomorrow as well. A new prison is ready in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba replacing the older detention center seen here. The new facility costs $37 million. Forty detainees have already been transferred to the new one. Right now about 430 men are held at Guantanamo suspected of links to al Qaeda or the Taliban.

NGUYEN: Turning now to the war in Iraq here's what's new this morning. Twenty insurgents killed in a U.S. security sweep. Coalition troops are raiding an al Qaeda-controlled area about 50 miles from Baghdad. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld holds his final town hall meeting at the Pentagon this morning, and President Bush meets with House and Senate leaders from both parties at the White House this morning as well. It is expected to begin in about an hour.

Well, when the Iraq Study Group's report was released, most of what we heard from members of Congress was praise. Now that lawmakers have actually had time to read the recommendations we're hearing some tough questions, even criticism from both sides of the aisle. CNN congressional correspondent Dana Bash reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): From the Republican chairman of the Iraq Study Group a warning, if the president accepts some but not all of their key recommendations to fix Iraq the plan won't work.

JAMES BAKER, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIR: I hope we don't treat this like a fruit salad and say I like this but I don't like that. I like this but I don't like that.

BASH: But Jim Baker's appearance before the Senate Armed Services Committee brought ample proof Republicans and Democrats in Congress have just as many doubts as the White House about some of the biggest recommendations, especially engaging Iran and Syria.

SEN. JOSEPH LIEBERMAN, (D) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I'm skeptical that it's realistic to think that Iran wants to help the United States succeed in Iraq. They are, after all, supporting Hezbollah which gathers people in a square in Beirut to shout "death to America."

BASH: Baker said he met with a senior Iranian official with the White House blessing as part of the review.

BAKER: And they in effect said we would not be inclined to help you this time around.

BASH: Still, he and his Democratic co-chairman said in their view it's worth a try. On the military side the report calls for phasing out the U.S. combat role in Iraq by 2008 and rejects an idea championed by Senator John McCain to send more U.S. forces to Iraq to stabilize the country. The commission said those troops simply aren't available. Skepticism, too, of a recommendation to embed more U.S. troops with Iraqi units as part of accelerated training. SEN. SUSAN COLLINS, (R) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: I'm just wondering as a practical matter whether that isn't an invitation to attack American troops that are one by one in small units.

LEE HAMILTON, IRAQ STUDY GROUP CO-CHAIR: That will have some risks to it and there will be some American casualties there but not like I think we're now suffering.

BASH (on camera): Both Lee Hamilton and James Baker both said again today how urgent it is for both Republicans and Democrats to work together on a new approach in Iraq. Top lawmakers said that means the president must consult with them before he finalizes any new strategy. Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: That E. coli outbreak is growing. More than 80 people sick with the deadly bacteria now in at least seven states. Taco Bell has ordered the removal of all green onions from its restaurants nationwide after some samples were found positive for E. coli. It's closed down all of its restaurants in the state of Delaware. Dr. Chris Braden is with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he's part of this investigation. Dr. Braden, good to have you with us this morning. Tell us what the Centers for Disease Control is doing right now and where you are in this investigation.

DR. CHRIS BRADEN, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: Good morning, Miles. Yeah, thank you for having me on the show. The Centers for Disease Control is coordinating a large investigation but much of the activity is actually taking place in state and localities, counties where public health authorities are doing a lot of the work in interviewing patients. We're playing a coordinating role right now. We are collecting data centrally at CDC. We're going to be updating the case counts from all the states every day, putting that out for public release, and we're also going to be coordinating some of the studies involved in order to try and identify the specific food vehicle involved.

O'BRIEN: At this point we've been hearing all these reports about green onions or scallions. Do you think it's limited to that?

BRADEN: Well, we have some leads to say that it might be green onions, and that's based upon some preliminary testing that's been done in a number of laboratories right now, but the testing has not been confirmed, so we're keeping the options open, and the investigations that we're doing will be covering a wide range of foods, all of them served at Taco Bell specifically.

O'BRIEN: You mentioned Taco Bell specifically, it's all linked back to Taco Bell. Does that in any way change the investigation? Are there certain foods that only Taco Bell purchases outright and, therefore, that limits your investigation in that way?

BRADEN: Well, certainly the vast majority of the cases are -- have eaten at Taco Bell prior to their illness and so that's the focus of the investigation. We do keep the option open that there might be some other source of some illnesses, but we haven't seen that yet, so that's the focus of the investigation. And it is true that a corporation like Taco Bell will have sources for their foods that we may be able to identify fairly quickly and that will be helpful.

O'BRIEN: I guess what I'm saying though is they would buy all of the potential sources of green onions and that shouldn't give us alarm for purchasing green onions in the grocery store. In other words, they buy out all those suppliers, whatever they produce.

BRADEN: That may well be, and we have no evidence to say that we're seeing illnesses due to green onions from another source.

O'BRIEN: And one final thought here, this comes on the heels of that spinach outbreak of the E. coli. Is this, are we hearing more about this E. coli because these are a couple of celebrated cases or is E. coli on the rise?

BRADEN: Well, actually this fall has been busy for us. As you mentioned there was the E. coli 0157 outbreak due to spinach and we have this situation. We have had a number of outbreaks of E. coli 0157 and even other pathogens due to produce. But when we look at the surveillance for the total number of illnesses in the country, we get about 3,000 reports of culture confirmed illnesses of this infection. That's actually on the decrease. You might remember that E. coli 0157 has been associated with beef and ground beef in the past, but we think that there's been a lot of accomplishments in that industry maybe to decrease the number of infections from that source.

O'BRIEN: Dr. Chris Braden with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thank you for your time?

BRADEN: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: As they say, it just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser. A case of international intrigue involving a former Russian spy and a lethal dose of radiation takes yet another strange turn. The developing details ahead.

And do you know the way forward? Jeanne Moos on the catch phrase sweeping the White House, at least, and maybe the nation when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: We're following for you, President Bush gathers congressional leaders at the White House within the next hour to discuss the Iraq Study Group's report. And the beginning of the end for outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He'll hold his final town hall meeting at the Pentagon today before leaving office next week.

NGUYEN: Happening in America right now, Marble, Indiana, white out conditions trigger a major pile-up, look at this, all this twisted metal. A total of 30 cars and trucks just smashed along interstate 69. A few people were hurt. The interstate was closed for four hours while this mess was all cleared up. This morning crews in New York will start tearing down the Deutsche Bank building damaged in the 9/11 attacks five years ago. The 41-floor building was filled with toxic dust. Workers also found bone fragments from 9/11 victims. The building will be taken down in stages over the next year.

In the Midwest more than 19,000 people still without power and shivering this morning in single digit temperatures. They have been in the cold and dark for a week since that ice storm hit. Now the governors of Missouri and Illinois want to know what is taking the electricity company so long to get it back online.

In Nevada, a new survey from the league of cities shows a dwindling supply of affordable housing nationwide. About a third of U.S. cities have less affordable housing than a year ago. And in New Jersey drug-maker Warner Chilcote is launching the first chewable birth control pill, it's a mint-flavored tablet with the same hormones as standard oral contraceptives. It's an option for women who don't like swallowing the pills and like the minty flavor, of course.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: If Tom Clancy wrote it in a novel you might not believe it. The real world espionage mystery of the murder of Alexander Litvinenko taking yet another strange turn. More people are sick, more radiation found, this time in a London hotel. CNN's Matthew Chance in Moscow with more. Matthew, hello.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello to you as well, Miles. It's not clear actually whether this investigation into that very mysterious poisoning of former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko in London last month is making any real progress either. British detectives, nine of them at least, are in the Russian capital trying to interview key witnesses in that poisoning. They have spoken to one of them, Dmitri Kovtun, but immediately after the interrogation was over, according to Russian prosecutors, Mr. Kovtun fell ill, and he's now believed to have a sickness which the Russian authorities describe as radiation poisoning. That's a very severe development certainly for him in this.

What the investigators here in Moscow now are trying to do is interview another one of the Russians who may have come into contact with Alexander Litvinenko in London on the day he was poisoned, on November the 1st. Much of it centers around the Millennium Hotel in central London where it's been confirmed in the past 24 hours that at least seven staff members have been found to be contaminated with that highly toxic radioactive isotope polonium 210. And so what investigators are looking at right now is the possibility that the poisoning took place on November the 1st in the bar of that hotel where Mr. Litvinenko met with these various Russian nationals, friends of his, some of them former KGB officers themselves and was served drinks by the bar workers in that hotel who are now, as I say, confirmed to have contamination as well. Miles?

O'BRIEN: All right, so Matthew for a time we thought this all happened at a sushi restaurant, their thinking now that the poisoning might have happened there at that hotel? CHANCE: Well, the point is that the investigators aren't clear where it's happened, and they are trying to get it clear where this actual poisoning took place. Yes, you're right. Initially it was believed that the poisoning was most likely have taken place at that London sushi bar where Alexander Litvinenko met Mario Scaramella the Italian security consultant, where they discussed the possible threats over their lives. That's still a possibility, but the other possibility now that's emerged, given that so many staff in that Millennium Hotel bar have also been contaminated with radiation. The other possibility they're looking at, amongst others I have to say, is the bar of the Millennium Hotel, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Matthew Chance in Moscow, thank you very much.

Top stories are ahead. President Bush saying farewell today to the departing congressional leaders. We'll go live to the White House for more on that. Plus, the latest Washington catch phrase. May have you longing for "stay the course." Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Take a look at the grid. Some of the feeds we are watching for you today. First of all, the space shuttle, where is the space shuttle, there it is, incoming 17. That is obviously from last night, and it is still there on the launch pad. Should have been in space by now. Low clouds were the problem. Weather is so bad today they won't even try. They'll try again tomorrow night, 8:47 p.m. eastern time. You'll see it on CNN whenever it happens, of course.

Take a look at the White House there, first of all, incoming 20. Go in there, Brad. That's Barney, Barney cam. Now I said earlier I was kind of a little confused by numbers. Barney is six years old. This is his eighth major film, but not his eighth holiday film obviously. He's had two other films, but they -- this is where they -- he runs through the White House and everybody puts on a little holiday show, and that's Karl Rove there, of course, and having fun with the old Barney cam. And then at the White House today more serious issues as the outgoing Republican leadership comes by to meet with the president. It will be a farewell get-together with Bill Frist, the outgoing majority leader, Dennis Hastert, outgoing Speaker of the House, he still remains in Congress. Frist is leaving Congress. And then later the president will meet with South African President Atabo Mbeki. Back to you, Betty.

NGUYEN: Say that twice Miles. Well it's on everyone's lips, even yours, so it seems. The latest catch phrase, the president is saying it, the Iraq Study Group is saying it and once you've heard it, there's just no going back. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When those pesky reporters start asking those "f" word questions --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you capable of admitting your failures?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you acknowledge that your approach has failed.

MOOS: It's time to tell them to look forward, not back.

BUSH: And design a way forward.

MOOS: In one answer alone, President Bush used the phrase five times --

BUSH: The way forward in Iraq. An important way forward. Talk about the way forward. Analyze the way forward.

MOOS: Apparently the way forward is contagious. Tony Blair caught it standing next to President Bush.

TONY BLAIR: The way forward. How do we find the right way forward? We've got to get the right way forward.

MOOS: You could blame it on the Iraq Study Group for naming one of the sections in its report "the way forward." Even Democrats like to go forward. Senator Barack Obama's big foreign policy speech was titled "A Way Forward in Iraq." Senator Joe Biden called his, "Iraq, A Way Forward."

(on camera): But watch out, the phrase "The Way Forward" tends to surface when things are a complete, total, utter mess.

WILLIAM CLAY FORD JR., CEO, FORD MOTOR CO.: We call our plan, "The Way Forward."

MOOS: That's the head of Ford Motor Company announcing a restructuring that would cut 25,000 jobs.

FORD: "The Way Forward" contains some strong medicine.

MOOS: But which way is forward wondered "Forbes" magazine when the Ford plan to move forward seemed stuck. You might as well get used to hearing the administration's new mantra.

TONY SNOW: The way forward. The new way forward. What he sees as the way forward.

MOOS: He also uses variations of the phrase?

BUSH: Go forward. I'm heading back.

MOOS: Nah, that's no policy reversal, just the president heading back to pick a questioner. All of this forward motion --

BLAIR: A different way forward. Whatever way forward.

BUSH: An important way forward.

MOOS: Sort of makes you long for the days of --

BUSH: We'll stay the course.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: All right, the way forward in this program, we'll tell you how safe is safe. New questions about U.S. port security. And once again that company from Dubai is involved. We'll have a security watch ahead. And just in time for the holidays, guess what's rising again besides your temper as you wait in line for the Wii? Get ready to pay through the nose as you pump through the hose ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NGUYEN: Some top stories that we're following for you. New E. coli problems. Taco Bell closing more restaurants and facing a lawsuit from the parents of a boy infected with the bacteria. E. coli now cropping up in at least five states.

A new study suggests high protein diets can increase the risk of breast and prostate cancer. That study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

O'BRIEN: Wal-Mart drops its ad agency after less than two months. Ali Velshi always the best business guy, always.

ALI VELSHI: Good to see you Miles. It wouldn't be a big deal that Wal-Mart is dropping its ad agency, except its Wal-Mart and everything Wal-Mart does is big. This ad agency gets more than half a billion dollars worth of business or that's how much advertising goes through this agency. The issue here is that Wal-Mart less than a year ago hired a new executive in its ad department and she recruited these contracts and she then was released from the company a few days ago. Wal-Mart wasn't clear as to why and now they found out that she may have sort of breached some internal company policies in the way that she recruited these ad agencies and the fact that she took some gifts or what were thought to be some gifts from the ad agencies. Wal-Mart has a very, very strict policy about not being able to even be taken for dinner by a client and she was seen at some parties. It does seem to be an internal policy matter but the company that lost the ads is a publicly traded company or is part of a publicly traded company. And when you lose that kind of business it hits the stock hard.

The other thing we're looking at, IPO of the week, a company called Heely's. I don't know if you have any, Miles or Betty, but Heely's are those little running shoes with wheels in them. That is going to be offered at $21 a share this morning, HLYS. This company sells a lot of these things. They have doubled, they're supposed to be a big holiday seller for the kids. I've seen people wearing them. I can't imagine that would work very well for me, but something to keep an eye on. And while we're talking about feet there are some people unhappy about "Happy Feet." Haven't seen that movie either but apparently the penguins are affected by those plastic things that go on bottles and cans and the company that makes those is a little out of sorts that it's giving the product a bad name.

NGUYEN: Yeah, one of the penguins has it wrapped around his neck.

VELSHI: Yeah, well that's apparently felt to be misleading. So I'll investigate the penguin situation and come talk to you about that in a while.

NGUYEN: And come back with some Heely's, would you?

VELSHI: I will do that too, I'll slide in.

NGUYEN: Thank you Ali.

O'BRIEN: He'll make it on time, for sure. Next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now.

NGUYEN: Strategy session, President Bush to meet with congressional leaders this hour, discussing the Iraq Study Report and possible changes on the front lines, we are live.

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