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CNN NEWSROOM

Former President Gerald Ford Dies at the Age of 73; Tony Blair's Runway Scare

Aired December 27, 2006 - 11:00   ET

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


RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: You are with CNN. You are informed.
I'm Rick Sanchez, in today for Tony Harris.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Heidi Collins.

Developments keep coming in to the NEWSROOM on this Wednesday, December 27th.

Here's what's on the rundown.

Accolades for the 38th president. The nation remembers Gerald Ford, a critical figure at a critical time. He helped the country turn the corner on Watergate and Vietnam.

SANCHEZ: Colorado gearing up for its second blizzard in a week. Meteorologist Chad Myers is watching things for us as the storm gathers.

COLLINS: And a good-bye letter said to be from Saddam Hussein. The ousted Iraqi dictator awaits the hangman.

You're in the NEWSROOM.

SANCHEZ: He led America out of, as he said, a long national nightmare of Watergate. He went on to become the country's longest- living president.

This morning the life and the legacy of Gerald R. Ford. The nation's 38th president died last night at his home in California at the age of 93.

Earlier today, President Bush spoke about the death of Gerald Ford from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.

White House Correspondent Elaine Quijano was there and joins us now live.

Good morning, Elaine.

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Rick.

President Bush had high praise for former president Gerald Ford from his ranch in Crawford, Texas. The president noted that Ford took power at a time of great division and turmoil in the United States. Of course, referring to the Watergate scandal.

Mr. Bush expressed condolences to the Ford family, and said for a nation that need healing, Gerald Ford came along when the country needed him most.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: On behalf of all Americans, Laura and I extend to Mrs. Ford and all President Ford's family our prayers and our condolences. President Ford was a great man who devoted the best years of his life in serving the United States. He was a true gentleman who reflected the best in America's character.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

QUIJANO: President Bush reflecting on the life and service of former president Gerald Ford, speaking at his ranch in Crawford.

Now, the president learned of Ford's passing shortly before 11:00 Eastern Time last night. He was notified by his chief of staff, Josh Bolten, who had been in contact with President Ford's chief of staff. And after the president learned the news, he then phoned and expressed his personal condolences to Betty Ford about an hour later, around midnight Eastern Time -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Yes, and there's been a lot of comments about the relationship between Gerald Ford and our present vice president. That would be Dick Cheney, of course. Didn't he serve as chief of staff for him?

QUIJANO: He did. You're absolutely right.

The vice president himself is in Wyoming, but overnight he issued a written statement expressing his sadness, but also noting that he was quite proud to serve -- to have served as Gerald Ford's chief of staff. In that statement, he said Ford led an honorable life, and said, "In a troubled era when America need strength, wisdom, and good judgment, those qualities came to America in the person of Gerald Ford." The vice president adding that when Ford left office, he had restored public trust in the presidency -- Rick.

SANCHEZ: Elaine Quijano, we thank you so much for bringing us up to date on that.

Heidi, over to you.

COLLINS: Also want to let you know that former president George Bush, number 41, and his wife Barbara are preparing a statement to deliver live on camera at 2:00 p.m. Eastern regarding the death of President Gerald Ford. Of course, CNN will have that coverage for you live here on CNN.

Also, the Ford presidency carries an asterisk in the history books. He was the only man never elected to the office of president or vice president. There are others who were elevated to the presidency as vice president, but they were never elected to the Oval Office in their own right.

John Tyler assumed the presidency in 1841 after the death of William Henry Harrison. Millard Fillmore took over after the death of Zachary Taylor in 1850. Andrew Johnson replaced Abraham Lincoln, and Chester Arthur assumed office after James Garfield was assassinated. They were all elected as vice presidents but never won a presidential election.

SANCHEZ: Gerald Ford wasn't just an American president. He was a hometown hero, really.

CNN's Gary Tuchman takes a look now at the president's proud legacy in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, is reflected on the windows of the Gerald R. Ford Museum. That's the way the 38th president of the United States wanted it. The man who inherited the presidency during a turbulent time loved his hometown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were very lucky in 1974 when this country had torn itself apart, not just over Watergate, but Vietnam and all the cultural disruptions of the '60s, that this unlikely, calming, hugely decent man from Grand Rapids suddenly found himself in an office that he never aspired to.

TUCHMAN: Gerald R. Ford was born Leslie King Jr. in Omaha, Nebraska, but moved as an infant to Grand Rapids when his mother left his father. She remarried Gerald Ford Sr., and they began calling the future president Gerald Ford Jr.

He lived in several houses in Grand Rapids. His favorite, this one, which the family had to leave during the depression as his father's business suffered financial difficulties.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They lost their home in East Grand Rapids, had to move to a much less desirable neighborhood, but none of the workers at the Ford Paint and Varnish Company lost their jobs. And that tells you something about the family values.

TUCHMAN: Gerry Ford first ran for political office in high school as a member of the school's progressive party, losing to the Republican candidate. Ford joked perhaps that's why he became a Republican.

He had to work hard to convince the recently divorced Betty Bloomer Warren, who he met in Grand Rapids, to go out on a date. They were married in 1948, one month before he won his first term in Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He showed up at his wedding wearing one brown shoe and one black shoe, and two days later they were back here in Grand Rapids, and he was campaigning. It was a preview of coming attractions for Mrs. Ford. TUCHMAN: One of the first people he met in Washington was another young congressman, Richard Nixon. Twenty-five years later, Vice President Gerald Ford was told by Nixon minutes after this picture was taken that he was resigning the presidency. A day later, Gerald Ford took the presidential oath.

GERALD FORD, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Gerald R. Ford, do solemnly swear that I...

TUCHMAN: Gerald Ford's presidential museum features a replica of the Oval Office during his 29-month presidency. It also features unusual exhibits, like tools used during the Watergate burglary and the gun used during one of the two assassination attempts against him. But it primarily chronicles the life of a man who not only was the leader of the free world, but represented the people of Grand Rapids in Congress for a quarter century.

MARTY ALLEN, CHAIRMAN, GERALD FORD FOUNDATION: He really believed in his constituents. He believed he had to come here. He believed he had to talk to his constituents. He came back here so often, almost every week he was back here.

TUCHMAN: Gerald Ford, whose name now adorns places like the city's airport and a major expressway that runs through Grand Rapids, will be buried right next to the museum that bears his name.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Here are some tidbits you may not know about Gerald Ford. We're going to begin with his name.

He was not born Gerald Ford. He was born Leslie Lynch King. You heard Senator Simpson refer to that just a little while ago. Leslie Lynch King Jr., which was the name of his biological father.

He then took the name of his adopted father after his mother remarried. That was Gerald Ford Sr. Gerald Ford, by the way, Jr., or Gerald Ford, the president, served on the Warren Commission and investigating the assassination of President Kennedy.

Ford himself was the target of two assassination attempts, one of them real close to happening had it not been for a Secret Service agent who was able to literally grab the gun from the assailant's hand. They were unrelated, the two assassination attempts, interestingly enough, but only 17 days apart. They took place in 1975.

There you have it.

COLLINS: Denver, get ready. Another blizzard could be on its way.

One week after the city got socked by a major snowstorm, forecasters now predicting another round of heavy snow in the Rockies. Parts of the region could get up to two feet, but as we see, that's not exactly what they need there right now. Some city streets still just a frozen mess.

And the big chill also making its way across other parts of the U.S. Snow fell in the North Carolina mountains overnight. Good news for the region's ski resorts. Warm weather there earlier this month really put a damper on business.

Didn't know that business was huge for skiing in North Carolina, but carry on.

The same story in Vermont. The ski resort operators there now full of holiday cheer as snow finally falls. Parts of Vermont got up to three inches in the last couple of days.

Of course we want to check in with Chad Myers for the very latest on all of this.

Looking quickly at Colorado, because that seems to be the place where most action is happening.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, that's who got hit the hardest the last time for sure, Heidi, yes.

(WEATHER REPORT)

SANCHEZ: Farewell letter from Saddam Hussein. Details on that straight ahead. It comes as an appeals court upholds Hussein's death sentence, and the clock is ticking.

The court says Hussein must be hanged by January 27th. The Iraqi government is trying to figure out who will witness the execution, even whether it's going to be broadcast on television.

Security concerns could mean the hanging won't be televised or made public in any way, but there are fears that a private execution might leave some wondering if it happened at all.

Then there's this: where and how will the former dictator be buried? According to Iraqi law, the relative -- or a relative -- has the right to witness Hussein's hanging and then claim his body.

We're getting a little more information now on this -- on the developments surrounding Saddam Hussein. Carol Lin now with more on Saddam Hussein.

And a Web statement?

CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Rick, you said it. I mean, it can only be described as a farewell letter of sorts.

He wanted to get his opinion about the verdict, his death sentence, out in the court of public opinion, you might say. His attorney said that Saddam Hussein wrote this letter before, though, the appeals court ruled in support of his death sentence. This is what he says, and it's really interesting the tone that this letter takes. He says, for example, "I hereby call upon you not to hate or bear grudges because this will prevent you from being equitable and just."

This letter to the public, and his supporters, in particular. He says, "Do not hate the people of the Nations that invaded us. Differentiate between the decision-makers in those countries and their average citizens."

He also says -- and it's interesting that he speaks about himself in the third person sometimes in this letter -- "If Saddam is martyred, then he will be a content and peaceful soul," saying that he will have taken the path of those before him.

So, Rick, just some of the statements that he made in this letter that was posted on a Ba'athist Web site. CNN did the English translation here, but as you can see, he has a tone of forgiveness and is asking his supporters and Arab nations in general to distinguish between what he called the occupier's leaders and the average citizens.

He also claims that amongst those average citizens there may very well be supporters of Saddam Hussein.

So there you go. He wants to be in his last -- it's almost like a last will and testament of sorts.

SANCHEZ: Interesting that he was never particularly a religious man. In fact, known very much as a secular leader. But it seems like ever since he's been in prison, he's very much found that religion and that spirituality, hasn't he?

LIN: Well, he certainty wouldn't be the last man facing the death sentence to find God, Rick. So...

SANCHEZ: Well put. Carol Lin, we thank you. We'll get back to you -- Heidi.

COLLINS: He had a front-row seat to the opening days of the Ford presidency. General Alexander Haig, Ford's first chief of staff, we'll here from him in the NEWSROOM.

SANCHEZ: Also, a bit of a scare for Tony Blair off the runway in Miami. The big question, was the British prime minister flying coach or first class?

Find out in the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: And a stunning discovery near the airport in Houston. Lots and lots of lost luggage. Dozens of bags dumped in the trash. A mystery in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: A bump in the road for Tony Blair. A problem leaves the British prime minister stuck on the runway.

We're also getting this word in to us now. The NTSB says it will investigate what happened with his aircraft.

We get the story now from Natalia Zea of affiliate WFOR in Miami.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was on the flight.

NATALIA ZEA, REPORTER, WFOR (voice over): More passengers on this British Airways flight knew Prime Minister Tony Blair was on board than knew their flight had problems on landing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As far as I was concerned, we landed, and that was it, really.

ZEA: But they knew something was wrong when they sat on the runway for 45 minutes and needed crews to help reposition and tow their plane towards the gate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just thought there was somebody on board that shouldn't be on board.

ZEA: A Miami airport spokesperson says the plane, with Prime Minister Blair onboard, overshot its landing and crushed lights on the runway. Some passengers could see them from their windows.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We just stopped and then we saw some -- I saw some lights out the front, and they were all crushed. And obviously overshot it a bit. So, yes.

ZEA: But British Airways says the captain didn't have a bad landing. They say he stopped on the runway because the signs guiding him to the tarmac weren't lit well enough. Either way, some British citizens here in Miami are not happy their nation's leader had an abnormal landing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a bit scary. You know, it's a bit of a worry.

ZEA (on camera): No one was hurt, and most of the passengers we spoke with were simply annoyed it took them so long to get to their gate. Now, the prime minister and his family did not come through U.S. Customs with the other passengers. Instead, the Secret Service whisked them away to start their south Florida vacation.

In Miami, Natalia Zea, reporting for CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, last week's violent weather leading to trouble down the road. Check this out.

A city truck heading to the sewer backup when a sinkhole opens up underneath. Oh, no. It seems the heavy rain from last week built up on the ground.

Two workers were taken to the hospital. The crumbling road broke water and natural gas lines, and that meant the entire area had to be evacuated.

This next story gives new meaning to the phrase "hit and run." Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just something heavy being on top of me, and I wasn't too sure what it was. It just -- it hurt.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: An understatement, to be sure.

The guy waking up Monday night when a car landed on top of him. Did I mention he was in bed at the time?

The car went barreling through the wall of the man's apartment. That's the hit. Now, here is the run. Witnesses say two women in the car took off on foot into the woods, and police are still searching for them.

"Good morning," said the car to the man in bed.

COLLINS: Remembering the "Godfather of Soul."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): We all know James Brown's funky musical moves. How about his funky political moves?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: How about them? CNN's Bill Schneider will explain coming up, right here in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: His music made millions of people get up and dance. Now many want to pay tribute to legendary soul singer James Brown. He died this week.

Brown's lawyer says the singer's body will lie in repose at New York's Apollo Theater tomorrow. That's the place where Brown made his debut and changed the future of music. A private ceremony will be held Friday in the singer's hometown of Augusta, Georgia, and on Saturday a homecoming celebration open to the public at the James Brown arena in Augusta.

The singer will be buried in a family plot near the arena.

SANCHEZ: James Brown, the hardest-working man in show business, but he made time to play on the political stage as well, did you know?

CNN Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider brings us up to date.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SCHNEIDER (voice over): The "Godfather of Soul" had political soul, too. We all know James Brown's funky musical moves. How about his funky political moves? Like his 1972 White House meeting with President Richard Nixon?

Eat your heart out, Elvis. The meeting with Brown was preserved on the White House audiotapes. The president and the "Godfather of Soul" discussed the memorial to Martin Luther King Jr.

RICHARD NIXON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... a big project in Atlanta to make his birthplace a monument...

SCHNEIDER: James Brown was proud of his political connections.

FRANK COPSIDAS, JAMES BROWN'S AGENT: He performed for every president from Richard Nixon through our president today. And he was very proud of that, as well.

SCHNEIDER: Brown and Al Sharpton visited President Ronald Reagan in 1982. President Clinton identified with the rock star at this 1997 Congressional Black Caucus dinner.

WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am profoundly grateful to the Congressional Black Caucus for making a dream of a lifetime come true. I am the opening act for James Brown.

SCHNEIDER: He identified with Brown's politics, too.

CLINTON: One of James Brown's songs, he says, "I don't want nobody to give me nothing. Just open up the door. I'll get it myself."

SCHNEIDER: In the 1960s, James Brown had a powerful influence on black consciousness. He didn't act white. He was black and proud. In fact, he invented that phrase in his 1968 song, "Say it loud, I'm black and I'm proud."

That year, Brown went to Vietnam to perform for the troops.

In 2003, when Colin Powell presented Brown with a Kennedy Center Honor, the secretary of state recalled Brown's soul music pouring out of army hooches in Vietnam.

In 1968, a "Look" magazine cover story asked, "Is he the most important black man in America?" That was after the King assassination, when Brown gave a concert in Boston and spoke out against rioting. He's credited for helping prevent violence that night.

At the Kennedy Center three years ago, Brown offered this advice...

JAMES BROWN, SINGER: I've been out on the town, and there's one thing I've found. If you want to get down, find James Brown.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Good advice for politicians, as well as music lovers.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Well, just when people in Colorado thought they couldn't take anymore snow, look out. Here it comes. Another wintry blast appears to be headed their way.

The latest on the big chill, this version of it, that's ahead from the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: And he had a front-row seat to the opening days of the Ford presidency. General Alexander Haig, Ford's first chief of staff, we'll hear from him in the NEWSROOM.

Former president George Bush will talk about the death of Gerald Ford at 2:00 p.m. Eastern. CNN will have live coverage of his remarks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Across the nation, flags are being lowered to half staff to honor former President Gerald Ford. He died yesterday at his California home at the age of 93. Today he's praised for the dignity and integrity that he brought to the Oval Office after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace. In fact, Ford likely sacrificed his own election hopes, his own political hopes, by pardoning Nixon, and declaring, quote, "Our long national nightmare is over." Ford always maintained that he never regretted that decision.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FMR. PRES. OF THE UNITED STATES: It was a decision where I had to sign my name, and I was the sole person that had to make that decision, but when you look back at the alternatives that I had, it was the right decision, and I have...

LARRY KING, CNN HOST: No doubt about that either?

FORD: I have no question that it was the right thing to do then, and I'm more certain today.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: This is how he's being remembered today at Ft. Meyer military installation. It's a single-gun salute. I don't know if we're going to be seeing one here or not. We may. We've been watching them and monitoring them throughout the day. They're actually taking place every half hour. They began around 8:00 this morning. Will go until about 5:30 tonight as a remembrance in the way of honoring our former president, Gerald R. Ford -- Heidi.

Here it comes now. Let's stay with it. Let's stay with it.

There it goes. Single-shot salute, all day long from 8:00 to 5:00.

Heidi, it happened, so why don't we take it over to you.

COLLINS: Former first lady Nancy Reagan pays tribute to Gerald Ford for his dedication to the country. She issued a statement saying, quote, "Ronnie and I always considered him a dear friend and close political ally. His accomplishments and devotion to our country are vast."

Mrs. Reagan said Ford continued to speak out on important issues, even after he left the presidency. She praised him for his early support of stem cell research.

Earlier this morning, I spoke with a White House insider who witnessed firsthand the crumbling of the Nixon presidency, and the resolve of President Ford. Al Haig served as the chief of staff for both men.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEXANDER HAIG, FORD'S CHIEF OF STAFF: I don't think President Ford was a hater in any sense of the word. He was an unusual human being with very strong human characteristics, loyalty and respect for authority and the man who preceded him, enjoyed that position. He didn't do anything that was petty or mean with respect to President Nixon, and he might have. So those around President Ford were in that camp, some of them were outrageously so, but that's understandable because the country was politicized from day one by the combination of Vietnam, anti-communism, which was the Nixon way, and Watergate.

COLLINS: His political career is just absolutely fascinating and something we've been talking about here, of course, not being elected as either vice president or president. Do you think that that affected the way that he held office in any way?

HAIG: Well, I think that it probably did. You know, after he lost the election, I was in NATO, and he called me and asked me to come back and just have a chat, and I did. I came back, and he put his arm around me, and he said, Al, he said, you know, I never wanted this job, and once I realized that I could do it, it was too late, and I don't know what he meant by being too late. I don't think he thought the pardon was the culprit in the event. Maybe Vietnam had more to do with it than the pardon.

COLLINS: Mr. Secretary, what will you miss most about President Gerald Ford.

HAIG: I remember most of all his thoughtfulness. He knew that loyalty is a two-way street. Some presidents I've worked for only wanted to know what did you do for me today, young fellow? That was not President Ford's way. He always asked, how's your family? I know this is a tough job and you're going through a tough period, and I'm grateful. That's the kind of person he was, and he never forgot those who worked for him and sacrificed for him.

COLLINS: Al Haig, it is a pleasure talking with you on this day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: And Al Haig returns with more insights coming your way tonight on CNN. He will be one of the guests on a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE." That's tonight at 9:00 eastern here on CNN.

We are also getting word now out of Washington, President Bush by proclamation has ordered all flags at all federal buildings flown at half staff for the next 30 days to remember President Gerald Ford.

SANCHEZ: President Ford while in office, he was often mocked for an occasional, well, stumble or two. Some said he was a bit clumsy at times. An unfair rap for an accomplished athlete really. Why? Well, Gerald Ford was a college football star at Michigan. He was a member of two national championship teams there. He later turned down offers to play in the National Football League. Instead he studied law at Yale but still served as an assistant coach in football and boxing. By the way, if you're wondering what position he played, he was a center and a team captain.

If he hadn't become president, he could have played pro football. Former President Gerald Ford was, in fact, a star at Michigan, and it's because of that that in an interview with CNN's Larry King he talked about several things, including those offers to play in the NFL.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Why didn't you go to the NFL? You had -- three teams who were after you and you chose to go to Yale.

FORD: Well, when I got through Michigan, I was offered opportunities at the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions, but I had a chance to go to Yale as assistant football coach and go to law school at the same time. So that opportunity was so wonderful, I couldn't turn down the chance to further my education and earn some money in the meantime.

KING: See what a mistake -- you could have made something out of yourself. What a mistake you made. Are there every times you say I would have liked to play pro football.

FORD: I would, in retrospect, liked to have play one year just to prove that I could, but the opportunity to go to Yale and be an assistant coach and go to law school at the same time might not have been available.

KING: Of course, Gerald Ford is a major story in this century. You look back on an incredible -- how many years in Congress were you?

FORD: Twenty-five-and-a-half years, 13 elections. KING: Minority leader.

FORD: For nine years.

KING: Vice president.

FORD: Nine months.

KING: And president.

FORD: Two-and-a-half years.

So we were there 28 1/2 years, and we enjoyed it. It was a great honor, and I urge other young people to get into politics. It's an honorable profession, and we need good people, men and women, who will serve in public office.

KING: Those who have dishonored it have not turned you off from it.

FORD: Not a bit. In politics, like any other profession, Larry, there are bad apples. You have it in your profession. We have it in all other professions, but that doesn't mean that young people shouldn't serve in government, elective office or appointed office.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: This going to be a good one tonight. The type of interview that Larry King probably does as well as any others. It's a special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight on the life and career of Gerald Ford. You don't want to miss it. It's at 9:00 Eastern, and of course you will only see it here on CNN.

If you want to get more information on Gerald Ford, you can get all the info about the life and the legacy that he leaves in a special report at CNN.com. All you have to do is click on it, see his life in pictures. Interact as well. Tell us how you remember the former president in a CNN i-report. Get more info from CNN.com.

(WEATHER REPORT)

COLLINS: Holding out hope in China. A search for two missing American mountain climbers. New clues, new questions. CNN is there to tell you about it ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: An admission from the Bush Administration -- global warming is real. The "Washington Post" is reporting the Interior Department wants to list polar bears as a threatened species now.

It's a culmination of a two-year study and a lawsuit that's been brought by environmental groups. It would be the first time the administration has listed climate change, even used the words as the reason for a species potential extinction. Melting ice flows have made it more difficult for the bears to find food. Right now, there are only 20 to 25,000 polar bears worldwide.

COLLINS: Two Americans lost in China. Search crews believe they have found important clues that could lead them closer to a pair of missing mountaineers.

CNN's Jon Vause has the details.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (speaking foreign language) America.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For almost two weeks, Ted Callahan has been trying to retrace the last footsteps of his two friends, Americans Christine Boskoff and Charlie Fowler.

TED CALLAHAN, SEARCH LEADER: We're looking all in here. So it's not a small area.

VAUSE: It's guess work as best.

CALLAHAN: It's not going to sound too hopeful. Originally, we were dealing with, say, thousands of square kilometers, and now we're down to hundreds.

VAUSE: From e-mails they sent, it's known the pair reached the summit of this mountain, Yellow Peak, between October 20 and 22nd. Two days later, stayed at this hostel in nearby Kungdin (ph). From there, headed further up the mountains to the small frontier town of Litung (ph).

(on camera) This is the only road to the town where Christine and Charlie were last seen, and parts are quite dangerous. In fact, we've been advised by the U.S. consulate that we shouldn't drive on this road at night. We still have many, many hours to go before we get there.

(voice-over) The roads are icy, a light covering of snow on the hills.

CALLAHAN: This is a really hopeful sign, and if there's any -- basically any traces wouldn't have been buried yet by snow.

VAUSE (on camera): In Litung (ph) on November 9, they ate at this restaurant, which is popular with foreign tourists. Christine signed the book here. Friends confirmed this is her handwriting.

The message reads, in part, "Countryside reminds us of home. We'll be back."

Later that night, she went to an Internet cafe, possibly this one, e-mailing friends back home that by morning, she and Charlie planned to go to the Genyin (ph) area, a six-hour drive east. But there is no indication of precisely where.

CALLAHAN: We feel it's pretty unlikely that at the last minute, unless weather or something else came up, that they would change their plans.

VAUSE: Christine Boskoff is considered one of America's best mountaineers, one of the few who have reached the top of Everest. Charlie Fowler, a filmmaker and photographer who's been climbing for 35 years.

Their friends back home are offering a $4,000 reward for any information. That's about four-year wages in these parts.

And over the weekend, Litung (ph) police found the missing pair's luggage, being held by a local man who they have hired as a driver. On November 10, he says, he took them to Yenda, a small village at the base of the peaks.

CALLAHAN: We're going to try to see that -- up, up and away.

VAUSE: And that is where this search is now focused. Callahan and 13 other experienced climbers spread out across hundreds of square miles.

(on camera) Well, we've been trying to keep up with one of the search teams up here, but really it's very difficult. The air is very thin. Very hard to breathe, also. It's very, very cold and windy, as well. The conditions up here are very, very tough.

(voice-over) And so far, no signs of life.

CALLAHAN: We still like to think that they're in a remote valley sitting with some herders, lost, maybe slightly injured.

VAUSE: But with each passing day, the temperature continues the fall, already well below freezing, and with it, Christine's and Charlie's chances of survival.

John Vause, CNN, Szechuan province, China.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Wow, what a difficult situation.

COLLINS: Yes, no kidding.

SANCHEZ: Let's find out now what's going on on "YOUR WORLD TODAY." For that let's go over to Hala Gorani.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Hello, guys. At the top of the hour YOUR WORLD TODAY with Michael Holmes and myself, we take you first to Africa and ask the question will the fighting between Ethiopia and Somalia turn into an all-out regional war. There are fears that will happen. We'll go live to our Africa correspondent Jeff (INAUDIBLE) and explore the reasons behind the flare up in the fighting in the horn of Africa.

Also, you heard the appeal judge's decision yesterday. Saddam Hussein will be executed by hanging before the end of January. Today we take you inside Iraq's justice system with rarely released video of inmates moments before their execution. Images some might find disturbing.

And then we switch gears completely and on a much, much lighter note. We take you inside an exclusive rich club in Italy where instead of having to endure the headache of owning a Lamborghini Quatro, well you can rent it. Makes life so much easier.

All right. And of course we'll continue our coverage of the legacy of Gerald Ford as well at the top of the hour. Hope you can join us.

SANCHEZ: Rent a lamborghini huh?

GORANI: Yes, it's just so much easier when you rent it and don't have the headache of owning it and bringing it for oil changes.

COLLINS: Only fits two people though, right? All right Hala thank you.

SANCHEZ: I can only imagine what that would cost?

COLLINS: Who knows?

SANCHEZ: Stunning discovery near the airport in Houston. Lots and lots of lost luggage. Dozens of bags dumped in the trash. A mystery. We'll bring it to you from the NEWSROOM.

COLLINS: Also in your neighborhood, the goal may be keeping up with the Joneses. In this suburban enclave, it was mingling with the Fords. Rubbing elbows with the future president -- a neighborhood remembers. You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COLLINS: This information just coming into us here at CNN. The Associated Press is reporting something out of Beijing, China. This is what it says.

The body of a U.S. climber missing for more than a month, we just told you about this story, our John Vause is there reporting on it, has been found on a remote mountain in southwestern China, while a second climber is still missing and presumed dead.

You see the two pictures of the mountaineers that we have been talking about, Christine Boskoff to your right and Charlie Fowler on the left. She is a top female climber in the world and a well-known climber himself, guide, and photographer, Charlie Boskoff.

They have been reported missing after they failed to return to the United States back on December 4th. So, once again, according to the Associated Press, the body of one of the climbers has apparently been found in southwestern China.

We have continued to check on this story. We do not know which person has been found, so we will continue to follow it and bring you the very latest information just as soon as it comes in here at CNN. SANCHEZ: Back to the story we've been following throughout the day. Gerald Ford, once a leader of a nation, before that an unassuming neighbor on a quiet tree-lined street.

Reporter Gary Nurenberg has that part of the story from CNN's Washington affiliate WUSA.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GARY NURENBERG, WUSA REPORTER (voice-over): 14 Crownview Drive, a new home for a growing family with a 1955 price tag.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $40,000, $35,000, $40,000, $45,000 maybe.

NURENBERG: Bill Smith's backyard abutted Gerry Ford's backyard and his appealing swimming pool.

NANCY SMITH, FORMER FORD NEIGHBOR: And I used to hear him hit the water in the morning when I was getting breakfast.

NURENBERG: But one day the splashes came from the Smith's son, Leif.

BILL SMITH, FORMER FORD NEIGHBOR: And Betty Ford called Nancy and said Leif is throwing some rocks into the pool. Could you ask him to stop.

NURENBERG: So Mr. Smith marched his son to the Ford home to apologize.

B. SMITH: And they were of course very nice to him. They acted as if nothing had happened, but it was a good lesson.

NURENBERG: It's not the only story involving that fence.

N. SMITH: The night that he became vice-president, his son, Steve, who is our son's age, came to our door and said, can you please boost me over the back fence. The secret service won't let me into my street.

NURENBERG: Phil and Louise Abrizzi (ph) opened their garage to give reporters a way to get out of the rain and to quench their thirst. The press responded with a plaque that hangs over the door today. First press room of President Gerald R. Ford, August 8th, 1974. Phil remembers moving into the neighborhood.

PHIL ABRIZZI (ph), FORMER FORD NEIGHBOR: We had been there only a few days when Mrs. Ford brought a gift over for my wife.

NURENBERG: Not the first gift from the Fords.

ABRIZZI (ph): There were some feet marks on the shower door which we learned Susan had put on the door.

NURENBERG: Susan baby-sat for neighborhood families. The Fords were an active part of the community. B. SMITH: They were at home in the neighborhood, and the neighbors were at home with them.

N. SMITH: They were very normal, natural, down to earth, everyday sort of people, the kind you want to have in your neighborhood.

NURENBERG: A neighborhood that today still remembers.

Gary Nurenberg, 9 News now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: CNN NEWSROOM continues one hour from now with Don Lemon and Fredricka Whitfield. They'll have continuing coverage of the death of former President Gerald Ford.

SANCHEZ: "YOUR WORLD TODAY" is next with news happening across the globe and here at home. We'll see you again same time tomorrow.

COLLINS: Bye everybody.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

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