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CNN NEWSROOM

Anna Nicole's Mother Testifies in Hearing; Brits to Begin Pulling Troops Out; Conditions at Walter Reed Building Called Deplorable

Aired February 21, 2007 - 13:00   ET

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


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CO-HOST: Hello, I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Kyra Phillips today at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.
DON LEMON, CO-HOST: And I'm Don Lemon.

U.S. troops in Iraq, will they soon be going it alone? The British are cutting their numbers. Who's left to support the American troops?

WHITFIELD: The Walter Reed Hospital mess. Who's responsible for deplorable conditions where wounded troops recover? CNN's Pentagon correspondents are following the developments.

LEMON: And the battle over Anna Nicole Smith's body. Smith's mother returns to the stand. And we'll see why Virgie Arthur wants her daughter buried in Texas.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Top of the hour. We start with new developments. Anna Nicole Smith may be closer to resting in peace. A Florida judge presiding over the tug-of-war over Smith's body says he'll make his decision soon. In the meantime, more emotional testimony today.

CNN national correspondent Susan Candiotti has the latest from Ft. Lauderdale.

What's new, Susan?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don.

That emotional testimony coming from Anna Nicole Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, who spent the morning on the witness stand. They're in a lunchtime recess right now.

And under cross examination, she admitted that, even though her daughter said she once wanted to be buried in Texas in a family burial plot, that once she moved to California to become a model and seek fame and fortune there, that her daughter changed her mind and said she wanted to be buried in California where all the stars are, including her idol, Marilyn Monroe.

She also said she doesn't believe anyone who says that her daughter wants to be buried in the Bahamas, next to her son Daniel, because she believes her daughter is now influenced -- or was influenced by drugs.

And then she took aim at the man she blames for all of her daughter's troubles, Howard K. Stern.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIRGIE ARTHUR, ANNA NICOLE SMITH'S MOTHER: My grandson did not overdose. Howard was there when he died. And Howard was there when my daughter died. And he has my granddaughter now. It's not even his child, and I'm afraid for her, life as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CANDIOTTI: Under cross examination, she received a pummeling of questions about whether she ever was paid for any television interviews or received any kind of compensation. For example, a plane trip to an interview, a hotel stay. She denied she ever received a penny for anything she has done for the news media. However, the questioning is not through in that regard.

Finally, we want to tell you about a visit that may be taking place during this lunchtime recess. We have heard from law enforcement sources and other sources at the medical examiner's office that family members, including Mrs. Arthur and possibly Howard K. Stern, possibly ex-boyfriend Larry Birkhead, that they may have an opportunity to see the remains of Anna Nicole Smith at the Broward County medical examiner's office.

That is because, even though she has been embalmed, the medical examiner says that body will not be in that same condition for a very long period of time so he suggests that any viewings happen sooner than later, by the time all these legal proceedings are over with.

And as you indicated, don, we do expect a decision to be announced publicly by the judge on Friday. That's what he said in court this day. Of course, Don, decisions can be appealed.

LEMON: All right, Susan Candiotti. As you mentioned the questioning is still continuing. We'll get back to you if there are any more breaking details. Thank you so much for that.

CNN's pipeline service is streaming those proceedings in Florida live. Just go to CNN.com/pipeline to watch.

WHITFIELD: British troops in Iraq. There are more than 7,000 there today, but that number will shrink starting soon.

CNN's European political editor, Robin Oakley, is in London with details.

So Robin, what is the prime minister, Tony Blair, saying on this subject?

ROBIN OAKLEY, CNN EUROPEAN POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, Fredricka, Tony Blair's third term in office as Britain's prime minister has really been a nightmare where Iraq is concerned. But today at last he was able to go to British lawmakers and give them the news that they've been thirsting for, for a long time, the beginning of British troop withdrawals from Iraq.

Effectively, he said, the number would be reduced from 7,000 to 5,100, a reduction of some 1,600, with the possibility of more reductions to come over the next 18 months or so, if the security situation on the ground in Iraq justified that.

He also explained how the role of the remaining British troops would be changed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: The British forces that remain in Iraq will have the following tasks. Training and support to Iraqi forces, securing the Iraqi-Iran border, securing supply routes and, above all, the ability to conduct operations against extremist groups and be there in support of the Iraqi Army when called upon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

OAKLEY: But Mr. Blair was insistent that the military capacity of the remaining British forces would not be lowered -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And so, Robin, what are ordinary citizens saying about Tony Blair's announcement?

OAKLEY: Well, I think they're pleased to see some divergence between the American approach of putting an extra 21,000 troops into Iraq and Tony Blair beginning to take the British troops out.

Of course, he was explaining that he was fully in favor of the U.S. increasing its troop numbers in Baghdad, because Iraq is a cockpit of the worldwide fight against terrorism. There are deliberate attempts to stir up sectarian violence there. And he said it was right to put more troops in there.

But that's not how it will be seen by the British public. I think they will see a little bit of divergence between him and George W. Bush, and they'll like that, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Robin Oakley in London, thanks so much.

LEMON: Well, the White House says Blair's announcement is a good thing. President Bush is in Tennessee to talk health care. But as usual, Iraq is never far from the surface.

Our Kathleen Koch is standing by in Chattanooga.

Hi, Kathleen.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Don.

The White House is certainly spinning hard to keep perception from becoming a reality. In this case, the perception obviously that the coalition ally with the largest number of forces in Iraq is walking away, is pulling out nearly a quarter of its troops at the time that the U.S. is sending in thousands of troops.

But the White House says no, indeed, that in reality this is a sign of success, that conditions on the ground in southern Iraq are improving. Press secretary Tony Snow pointing out that Great Britain will be keeping the majority of its forces in Iraq. They will stay put. Adding, quote, "But the fact that they have made some progress on the ground is going to enable them to move some of the forces out. And that's ultimately the kind of thing we want to be able to see throughout Iraq."

So if you take Tony Snow at his word, the White House sees the British draw-down as, in fact, a model. But clearly, though, this will put the United States in a difficult position if too many of the coalition allies begin to pull their forces out, as well.

Now, so far, there's been no direct White House reaction to Denmark's plans to pull out its 470 troops by August. Now, certainly that date certain and that hard and fast number sounds a lot like a time line to many people. But Tony Snow says, indeed, that's not a time line, of the British draw-down at least. He hasn't commented on the Denmark -- on Denmark's draw-down. But he says the British draw- down is the result of a judgment based on conditions on the ground.

Though certainly, Don, the test will be when the British troops pull out, will Basra stay secure, stay safe, or will it dissolve into violence?

Back to you.

LEMON: Kathleen Koch in Chattanooga, thank you so much for that.

Another military helicopter down in Iraq. I say another. Since January 20, seven U.S. helicopters have been shot down, 28 people killed. This time, a UA-60 Black Hawk with nine people on board made what's described as a hard landing north of Baghdad. This time, everyone is safe. It's still not clear what happened, though an Iraqi police captain says he saw the chopper hit by some type of projectile.

WHITFIELD: Bad memory or lies? It's up to the jury in the trial of Lewis "Scooter" Libby. Jurors got the case shortly before noon Eastern, a little more than an hour ago. The vice president's former top aide is charged with perjury and obstruction of justice.

Prosecutors say Libby lied to federal investigators who were trying to learn who leaked the identity of a CIA operative. The defense paints Libby as a scapegoat who just got dates and faces confused.

LEMON: Wounded in the line of duty and this is where they're sent to heal. Ahead in the NEWSROOM, outrage at what's supposed to be the Army's top medical facility.

WHITFIELD: A cloud of suspicion falls on mushrooms as a warehouse chain sounds an E. coli warning. And that's not the only edible issue on the NEWSROOM plate. Fear factors in your fridge, coming up.

LEMON: Claims and counterclaims in a Florida courtroom. But is Anna Nicole Smith any closer to her final resting place? Legal analysis straight ahead right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Well, you may not have a clue about Walter Reed, the man, but you know Walter Reed, the place. It's supposed to be America's premier military hospital. And that's why military leaders are so embarrassed by some deplorable conditions they say they never knew about. But critics and the brass agree troops hurt in Iraq and Afghanistan deserve a whole lot better.

CNN senior Pentagon correspondent Jamie McIntyre reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Walter Reed Army Medical Center is considered one of the best medical facilities in the world for treating soldiers wounded in combat.

But this is another part of Walter Reed, a part many people don't often see, Building 18. It's a rundown hotel now used to house wounded veterans who are well enough to leave the main hospital but too sick to go home.

(on camera) This is the inside of Building 18. It's become a symbol for a bureaucracy that's not working.

(voice-over) As revealed in a story first reported by "The Washington Post," Building 18 has serious problems, including pest infestations, mold and faulty plumbing. CNN got a firsthand look. So this is the day room. They have pool tables. Got a flat screen TV.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So this is the day room. They have pool tables. They've got a flat screen TV.

MCINTYRE (on camera): But even here you can see on the roof they've got water damage.

(voice-over) Top Army leaders said they were unaware of the problems until they read about it in the paper Sunday. They were shocked. After a tour, the top officials told CNN in an exclusive interview there would be quick action.

GEN. RICHARD CODY, ARMY VICE CHIEF OF STAFF: I have never come to this place. I wish I had. I'm somewhat disappointed in myself, not understanding -- I was briefed that it was in pretty good condition. It's getting better today.

FRANCIS HARVEY, ARMY SECRETARY: It's all about leadership. It's all about seeing a problem, getting an action plan together and then following up to ensure that the actions are taken.

MCINTYRE: Dozens of wounded troops have been living here for months as they go through outpatient care. Veterans groups blame military bureaucracy for the rundown conditions.

FRANK YOAKUM, ENLISTED ASSOCIATION OF THE NATIONAL GUARD: The commander of the hospital has deemed the situation to be, quote/unquote, "problematic." And that they are in a process to try and get things fixed. However, calling something problematic and actually doing something about it are two different things.

MCINTYRE (on camera): In an exclusive interview with CNN, Army Secretary Francis Harvey promised to review conditions not just here at Walter Reed but at outpatient facilities across the country.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And Jamie will join us live in the NEWSROOM in the 3 p.m. Eastern hour. He'll have a new interview with Major General George Weightman, the commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

WHITFIELD: Once again, Iran thumbs its nose at the U.N. Tehran ignores a deadline to freeze its uranium enrichment or face more sanctions. Instead, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vows to press ahead with his country's energy nuclear program.

That fact expected to be confirmed by U.N.'s watchdog nuclear agency tomorrow. The International Atomic Energy Agency has been investigating Iran's program for three years now and has yet to find evidence that it's strictly peaceful.

Tehran insists it only wants to develop an alternative source of electricity. The west suspects Iran is trying to make atom bombs.

Recently, CNN's Christiane Amanpour asked a top Iranian official point blank whether his country wanted the bomb. His answer is just part of what you'll find in Christiane's behind the scenes look at the standoff. It's all on our web site, as well. Just go to CNN.com/world and click on "Iran: A Glimpse from Within".

LEMON: Inspired by Martin Luther King, now leading the city of his birth. Up next in the NEWSROOM, uncovering America and perspective from Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

WHITFIELD: Anna Nicole Smith's mother back on the witness stand, and the twists just keep coming as Anna Nicole's family takes a trip to the morgue. That's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: "We are sorry and embarrassed, but most of all, we are deeply sorry." That's the message in an apology letter from JetBlue published in newspapers across the U.S. today.

Susan Lisovicz is at the New York Stock Exchange with details.

But Susan, while the apology is nice, there are a lot of travelers who are still pretty angry. They want more than that. SUSAN LISOVICZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. How many ways, how many times, can you say it? I think this is going to be a textbook example of crisis management, whether it's a good example or bad example. It's too early to tell, Fred.

JetBlue calling last week's operational shutdown the worst in its seven-year history. About 130,000 people were affected; 1,100 flights were canceled. It wasn't until yesterday that JetBlue got back to full speed.

Company CEO David Neeleman making that up to flyers by paying up. He unveiled the company's customer bill of rights yesterday.

But this morning, plastered across major East Coast newspapers was this full-page apology. It will be repeated tomorrow in papers in other cities affected by the Valentine's Day meltdown for a total of 20 newspaper apologies in 15 cities. And you know, these are full page ads in "The New York Times" and, Fred, they do not run cheaply. That's for sure.

WHITFIELD: Yes, not cheap. So you talk about a seven-year history. But what was their track record? I mean, is this an anomaly?

LISOVICZ: That's right. And this is an opportunity to examine just how good it was.

For all of 2006, Fred, JetBlue ranked 14th out of 18 airlines for on-time flight arrivals. This, according to the Bureau of Transportation. It ranked number six in consumer complaints. JetBlue passengers reported a whopping number of instances where their baggage was mishandled between '05 and '06.

But still, one of the things that JetBlue had going for it, up until Valentine's Day, was a very loyal following who seemed willing to put up with certain inconveniences. They liked the low prices. They liked the fact they had leather seats and real-time TV. We'll see if that loyalty continues.

(STOCK REPORT)

LISOVICZ: The latest from Wall Street. Coming up, a major drug maker caving into pressure over a cancer vaccine. I'll have those details in the next hour. But in the meantime, I'll throw it back to you, Fred and Don.

WHITFIELD: All right, good. Look forward to that. Thanks so much, Susan.

LISOVICZ: You're welcome.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, how about this, the case of the McMissile? Sound familiar? A young mother sentenced to two years in prison for throwing a cup of ice. A judge has weighed in, and Soledad O'Brien talked to the woman in jail. That story straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. LEMON: And actors court Hollywood gold. But for politicians, it's more about the Hollywood green. So who is in Tinseltown's -- on Tinseltown's "A" list now? We're going to tell you, straight ahead right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Hello, everyone. I'm Don Lemon live at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

A riveting witness with her own ideas about burying her daughter and reburying her grandson. Anna Nicole Smith's mother, Virgie Arthur, on the stand. We're talking with legal expert Jeffrey Toobin all about it. You're in the NEWSROOM.

LEMON: It is the bottom of the hour, and we start with this. A racial divide. It is an issue Americans often discuss but -- they discuss it privately, but rarely acknowledge it publicly. We're talking about it today as CNN uncovers America.

Up first, our T.J. Holmes. Today, he's taking a journey from America's famed Auburn Avenue to city hall and talking to people inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s dream.

Quite an undertaking, T.J.

T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: It was. Make sure you're hearing me OK. We're having a couple technical issues here.

But yes, we're here in downtown Atlanta, actually. Just a block over from where I am is MLK Boulevard, of course, which really paves -- cuts right through the seat of power here in Atlanta and, really, in Georgia.

And of course, MLK, a lot of people will give him credit for certainly paving the way for a lot of black politicians, many of whom serve right here at the state capital, which is right behind me down here in downtown Atlanta.

But we've got several others who also are doing their thing here at city hall, Atlanta's city hall. And we've had the pleasure of talking to one woman here at city hall who actually got a chance to hear and got to see Martin Luther King and hear his message firsthand when she was a young lady. She went on to make history.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REV. DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR., CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Now is the time.

MAYOR SHIRLEY FRANKLIN, ATLANTA: I saw Dr. King's speech at the march on Washington as a recent high school graduate. I was going to college at Howard University. And all of us who were there were inspired by his dream that we could, in fact, reach greater limits than any of us ever imagined.

HOLMES (voice-over): Shirley Franklin never imagined she could be mayor of a major U.S. city, even after hearing Martin Luther King Jr.'s speech. Now, in her second term as Atlanta's first female black mayor, there are some things she still can't imagine.

(on camera) Are we going to get to a point -- or how close are we to the point where somebody can run and it not be about race anymore? We can see a black politician and it's not an issue of, OK, he's a black candidate, he's just a candidate? How close are we to that?

FRANKLIN: Well, as a 60-year-old woman, I don't think I'll live to see that. But I hope that as a much younger man, you will.

HOLMES: Why are we -- why do you think we're so far away from that?

FRANKLIN: It's very complicated. It's very complicated. I mean, the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Act, those -- those are 40 years ago. Opening schools with Brown vs. Topeka. That's just 50 years ago.

It takes more than a generation. It takes more than 40 years. It takes more than 50 years to make up for the disparities that have been instilled both in our minds and in our experiences.

HOLMES (voice-over): She says it also takes more people like her willing to show the next generation what's possible.

FRANKLIN: Our young people are not short of dreams. They have dreams. And their dreams are wide and broad. They want to be teachers and doctors and lawyers. And news people. Some of them want to be elected officials.

They don't have the means, either financially sometimes or the know-how to connect their dreams to reality. That's what we have to do. That's what Maynard tried to do. That's what Andy tried to do. And that's what I try to do. And all of that is consistent with the message and the life of Dr. King.

HOLMES: Whatever obstacles Mayor Franklin may have experienced, she knows those before her pave the way.

FRANKLIN: The value of understanding your history is to understand that you can overcome the obstacles.

So then when things seem hard for me, I think about the people who came before me, like Maynard or Andy or Martin King or Coretta King. And then my day is easy by comparison. My obstacles are easy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Well, you heard her there, speaking of those before her who paved the way. Certainly Maynard Jackson, who was the first black mayor of Atlanta. She talked about how a lot of people called him audacious, couldn't believe that he would run for mayor of this large city, not having the right amount of experience, the right kind of experience. Well, she certainly, as well, and maybe a lot of us could make the parallels to another young black politician who people are calling audacious these days, who just might become the first black president -- Don.

LEMON: And it's something to think about. You know, we work a lot of hours in this business. It's something to think about, T.J., the struggles that other people went through. It's certainly a small price to pay for us. So thank you so much for that report.

HOLMES: Absolutely, puts things in perspective.

LEMON: Yes. We'll look forward to more reports from you a little bit later on. Thank you so much for that.

HOLMES: All right.

WHITFIELD: So one custody battle in the Anna Nicole Smith case may soon be over; another still looms. A judge in Florida is promising to decide by Friday morning who has the right to claim Smith's body for burial.

Her mother wants Smith buried in Texas. Virgie Arthur was grilled today about their tumultuous relationship.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VIRGIE ARTHUR, ANNA NICOLE SMITH'S MOTHER: She didn't -- wasn't estranged from me all those years. We were still in contact. It was when she got older, at the age of -- when she met Howard Stern, that I started not being able to get a hold of her or being able to talk to her except every -- you know, every three or four months, you know, like the time she called me and said, "Don't go to work, Mom."

So I still talk to her on the phone. We just didn't talk as often as we had in the past. We used to go get our nails done.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So joining me now on the phone is CNN senior legal analyst, Jeffrey Toobin.

And so Jeffrey, the judge in South Florida spent a lot of time on trying to establish the relationship between Anna Nicole Smith and her mother, as well as the relationship between Anna Nicole and her partner.

How vital is it for the judge to be able to make a decision based on their testimonies? Obviously, no one's able to question Anna Nicole Smith about her relationships with these people.

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Fredricka, I'm -- excuse me for making a bold statement, but this may be the most ridiculous legal proceeding I have ever watched.

This judge is one of the least competent judges I have ever seen. He is letting this thing meander all over creation, mostly because he seems to enjoy being on television.

Asking questions about Anna Nicole Smith's mother's career as a police officer and discrimination that she suffered. I mean, just a total waste of time.

This is really a fairly straight-forward matter of determining who's the next of kin and what Anna Nicole Smith's wishes would have been, if she was -- if she could have expressed them herself.

The only reason there's going to be any decision at all is her body's decomposing. Otherwise, I imagine Judge Seidlin would keep this thing going for weeks.

WHITFIELD: And meantime, as we -- as we talk about this, Anna Nicole Smith's family apparently is on their way to the morgue to get a viewing of the body. Because we heard from the medical examiner, chief medical examiner, yesterday, who said that it's very quickly deteriorating, and he was urging the court to do something fast, because after Saturday it may not look so good.

So meantime, this judge says he's going to make some kind of ruling on Friday. But does his ruling -- does he have to take into consideration the written wishes of Anna Nicole Smith, who apparently has said that she wanted to be buried in the Bahamas, next to her son's plot? She paid for that before she died.

TOOBIN: Well, there are no written records of her wishes to be buried there. Her companion, Howard K. Stern, has said that that's what she wanted, has said that she bought a burial plot for herself. But there's been no proof of that.

And so -- and that's why this hearing. Had there been some sort of explicit proof of where she wanted to be buried, presumably we would not be having this lengthy and peculiar -- peculiar hearing.

Certainly, Howard K. Stern seems to have been in closer touch with her than her mother was. And given the fact that people care about their own children, the fact she wanted to be buried near her own son is plausible and makes a certain amount of sense.

But her mother is the closest living relative other than her infant daughter, so her views have got to be listened to. But certainly not at this length and not with the endless questioning over irrelevancies that this judge has allowed.

WHITFIELD: You have to wonder how this ruling of this south Florida court might potentially impact the paternity case in California.

TOOBIN: You know, it really shouldn't impact it at all. Because unlike most things involved in Anna Nicole Smith's life, the parent -- the fatherhood of the little baby, Dannielynn, can be established with certainty. There is going to be a DNA test.

Again, as with any other matter in the legal system, especially involving Anna Nicole Smith, it's just taking longer than it should.

But there are going to be DNA tests. And all the various claims -- claimants to the throne of fatherhood will be able to submit DNA samples, and they'll determine who is the father. And where Anna Nicole Smith winds up being buried is really not relevant to that scientific determination.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jeffrey Toobin, thanks so much for being on the phone with us.

LEMON: The first presidential primary is 11 months away, almost a year, but the sniping is already starting. The campaigns for the two leading Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, well, they're trading words today.

The Clinton camp wants Obama to disavow criticism of her by Hollywood exec David Geffen. The comments were first reported in "The New York Times". Obama's team is refusing. His spokesman, in fact, notes a comment this week by a South Carolina state senator backing Clinton, who said Obama can't win the White House because he is black. Well, that man later apologized.

WHITFIELD: David Geffen co-hosted an Obama fund-raiser last night in Beverly Hills. California is a big draw for any presidential wannabe, especially a wannabe with the star power of the junior senator from Illinois.

CNN's political analyst Bill Schneider is in Los Angeles.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): First stop, the streets of Los Angeles to say, "Show me the love." Then to Hollywood to say, "Show me the money."

MARTIN KAPLAN, DIRECTOR, NORMAN LEAR CENTER: Obama has something that Hollywood is uniquely qualified to recognize. And that's star power.

SCHNEIDER: Barack Obama is supposed to be the outsider, the scrappy kid who appeals to young people and political newcomers.

JOY BRYANT, ACTRESS: I kept saying over and over again that, you know, I'm hoping. We're not sure yet, but, you know, hoping that Barack's going to run. But for me, like he's the one that sort of embodies that spirit of Bobby Kennedy, of hope and inspiration.

SCHNEIDER: But he's drawing the ultimate A-list Hollywood crowd to his fund-raiser here, which is sponsored by three of the most powerful figures in the movie industry.

LAWRENCE BENDER, PRODUCER, "AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH": The amount of money they're raising is equivalent to what a president comes into town and raises, not someone who's just announced.

SCHNEIDER: Think of it as Oscar week for politicos. There's a huge amount of money for politics here. Congress is in recess. Washington is frozen over. The primary schedule is earlier than ever. And an important deadline looms.

KAPLAN: The more dough you can show in the first quarterly filing on April 15, the more credible a candidate you are. And the more you can attract the pig glitzy names who used to go with, say, Hillary Clinton, the more formidable a contender you seem to be.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): Does that mean Hillary Clinton is chopped liver in Hollywood? Not at all. People here feel strong loyalty to the Clintons, and many Obama supporters are supporting her, too. After all, the most you can give a candidate is $2,300. And in Hollywood, that's loose change.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: A cloud of suspicion falls on mushrooms as a warehouse chain sounds an E. coli warning. And that's not the only edible issue on the NEWSROOM's plate. Fear factors in your fridge, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: So, buyer beware. Recalls are issued for two more foods. B.J.'s wholesale club is recalling packages of fresh mushrooms. A routine inspection turned up the possible presence of E. coli bacteria.

The mushrooms are Wellesley Farms brand, sold between February 11 and the 19th.

The other recall is for Oscar Mayer's Louis Rich ready to eat chicken breast strips. A random government inspection found 53,000 pounds of the meat possibly contaminated with listeria. The chicken was distributed nationwide and has a "use by" date of April 19.

LEMON: OK. I'm nervous about all these recalls. And CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen has been following all these recalls, as well as last week's peanut butter scare and others before that.

What's going on? That peanut butter one really got me, because I love peanut butter. I went home and checked.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Did you have any in your cabinet?

LEMON: No, luckily.

COHEN: No.

LEMON: Did you check? COHEN: No, but I had a friend who did.

LEMON: Yes.

COHEN: Went home and it was half eaten.

LEMON: Oh, no.

COHEN: Luckily, no one was sick. So they were OK.

But it has been quite a week in the world of food-borne illness. There's been case after case. Let's take a look at what's been happening in the past couple of days.

February 19, as we just discussed, possible E. coli in mushrooms. February 18, listeria in chicken strips, which Fredricka just told us about. February 14, salmonella in peanut butter.

And then you only have to go back a couple more months to find even more. In December of '06, E. coli in mushrooms. In December of -- in September of '06, rather, E. coli in spinach. Oh, my goodness, what is going on here?

Well, I asked some experts, is this really an unusual number for the past six months? And they all said yes, it really is an unusual number.

However, they couldn't say whether it's because there really is more food-borne illness than there used to be or if we're just getting better at detecting and reporting it. That's a big distinction. And it's going to take a while to sort out that difference.

LEMON: OK, Elizabeth. We have the E. coli. We've got, I think, salmonella or something. We've got listeria. With all of these outbreaks, the obvious question, how do you protect yourself?

COHEN: Right. There are some things you can do. But we do have to be clear that, in a way, there's a limited amount that you can do.

Now, when we're talking about meat and poultry, that's pretty easy. Cook it thoroughly and clean up after yourself. Don't leave chicken juice all over your kitchen. That would be not good.

But when it comes to produce, unfortunately, there is a limited amount that you can do. Because often, the listeria or the salmonella is systemic. It's inside the vegetable. So you can scrub them all you want, and it's not going to do any good.

So you know, wash it. It's always a good thing to wash your produce. But you should know, you're not necessarily going to get everything. There's some risk involved.

LEMON: All right. So when you think about salmonella, you usually think of eggs, meat, things with, I guess, protein in them, or what have you?

COHEN: Or animal products.

LEMON: Animal products.

COHEN: Right.

LEMON: So what about the vegetables, then? How does it get into vegetables?

COHEN: Right, exactly. Whenever you hear about an outbreak in produce, you know that you can trace that outbreak back to an animal.

So for example, maybe there were wild animals that were running through the fields where this corn was grown, for example. Or maybe there's a cow pasture nearby, and some of the fecal matter ended up in the groundwater, and some of that groundwater ended in a produce field next door.

So if you trace it back far enough, there always is an animal involved.

And so what food safety experts are trying to figure out is what can they do. For example, how do you keep wild animals from going through a produce field? Because that's gotten people sick before. So they go back to the animals and try to figure out how to stop it from there.

LEMON: All right. So wash, wash, wash.

COHEN: But still...

LEMON: But it doesn't really do anything. You can't wash peanut butter.

COHEN: Well, you're right. You definitely can't. Right. There's nothing you can do there. Wash, because you ought to wash, but know that you are taking a small amount of risk.

LEMON: That's life, right?

COHEN: That's right. Exactly.

LEMON: Thank you so much for that.

COHEN: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: So perhaps you've heard about this, the case of the McMissile. A young mother sentenced to two years in prison for throwing a cup of ice. A judge has just weighed in, and Soledad O'Brien talked to the woman in jail. That story straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right, new video just in to the CNN NEWSROOM. We have been following the developments on the Anna Nicole Smith story, the hearing there. You're looking at Howard K. Stern going to the morgue, the place where Anna Nicole's body is being held. He went in earlier, as well as the mother of Anna Nicole Smith, Virgie Arthur. And also the man who claims to be the father of her child went in a short time ago, Larry Birkhead. This is Virgie Arthur going in.

We're -- let's look at inside. This is inside now. That's the mother, Virgie Arthur, going in now to view the body.

And the circumstances surrounding this -- the mother, I don't think, has been able to see her daughter since her death. So the judge allowed her to go in, as well as family and friends of Anna Nicole Smith.

Now the judge in this case has said that he will have a ruling on this by Friday, and he would like to have Anna Nicole Smith buried by Saturday. The reason for this, at least they wanted to have a viewing by the end of the week, because Anna Nicole's body, although it's been embalmed, is quickly decomposing.

So there you go. Friends and family members still going in, inside the Broward County -- place where Anna Nicole's body is being held.

And also there are more hearings still going on. And we'll update you throughout this broadcast -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: The McMissile mom gets a break. Jessica Hall, seen here in jail, was looking at two years in prison for throwing a cup of ice into the car next to hers. Today, a judge in Virginia reduced that sentence to probation.

After you watch this report, you might understand why. "AMERICAN MORNING's" Soledad O'Brien talked with Hall before today's hearing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JESSICA HALL, CONVICTED FELON: Without my kids, I'm nothing. And -- they can't, you know, obviously, like, teach theirselves (sic) what Mom would teach them, and you know...

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Twenty-five-year-old Jessica Hall is a convicted felon. She's serving time at the Rappahannock Regional Jail in Virginia, which is about an hour south of Washington, D.C.

HALL: That felony -- my life is over. That's all I see.

O'BRIEN (on camera): Twenty-five years old is very young to have your life over.

HALL: It is.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): In January, she was convicted of "propelling a missile at an occupied vehicle" and other minor charges. (on camera) Here's Jessica's side of the story. Three kids in the back seat, pregnant sister next to her. A small red car kept cutting her off in traffic.

The couple in the red car have said they weren't cutting anybody off. They were just trying to navigate this massive traffic jam like everybody else.

Regardless of who you believe, here's what happened next. Jessica took a large McDonald's cup full of ice, threw it across her sister and into the red car.

So you're charged with propelling or throwing a missile into an occupied vehicle. Do you think that accurately describes what you did?

HALL: No, of course not.

LAJEANNA PORTER: It seems ludicrous for her not to be here for a cup and no one's injured, no one's hurt.

O'BRIEN (voice-over): The jury gave Jessica the minimum, two years in prison. It means leaving behind her three small children, 4- year-old Jay Lee (ph), 6-year-old Jania (ph), and 8-year-old Jaynon (ph).

Jessica's mother is watching the kids in North Carolina while Jessica says her husband, Cordell (ph), pulls a third tour of duty in Iraq.

HALL: That's the second painful thing, is that he's over there dodging bullets. I don't know which way it's going to go. I just hope it will go that way that, you know, they'll have mercy on me.

O'BRIEN: In Stafford County, Virginia, Soledad O'Brien, CNN, reporting.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: And so the judge did show some mercy, reducing Hall's two-year prison term to five years' probation. And we've been trying to reach the prosecutor for comment. So far, he has not been able to talk with us.

LEMON: And Anna Nicole Smith's family and loved ones are visiting the morgue where Smith's body is being held at this hour. New video of them going in to see that. More on all of those proceedings in Florida straight ahead right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: We have some breaking news here in the CNN NEWSROOM. That helicopter that made a hard landing north of Baghdad. There's new information. Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr has latest for us.

What do you have, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, very worrisome information for the U.S. military. Today, they said a Black Hawk helicopter made just a hard landing north of Baghdad.

But just a few moments ago, the top U.S. military spokesman, Major General William Caldwell, spoke with Wolf Blitzer and gave him the latest information. Have a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAJ. GEN. WILLIAM CALDWELL, U.S. ARMY SPOKESMAN: We initially reported as making the hard landing. Indications are now -- again, it's preliminary, but the indications are now that it was brought down by small arms fire and RPGs, rocket propelled grenades.

It did land safely. All nine occupants were transferred to another helicopter. And the helicopter currently is secured. And they're assessing the damage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STARR: Everyone safe, thank goodness, on board that, Don, but this, now, may make the eighth incident involving helicopters being brought down in Iraq in the last month or so.

More of that interview with General Caldwell later today on "THE SITUATION ROOM" with Wolf Blitzer -- Don.

LEMON: Thank you, Barbara. You took the words right out of my mouth. Thank you for that report.

WHITFIELD: Other news, from Iraq: a draw-down. Many British troops may soon be coming home. Is Prime Minister Tony Blair re- examining his commitment to the war and to President Bush?

The next hour of the NEWSROOM starts right now.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.voxant.com

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