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AMERICAN MORNING

Taking on Developers: One Man's Battle; Boosting Sex Drive

Aired March 29, 2007 - 06:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news this morning. Huge, devastating and deadly tornadoes from the Rockies to the Plains. Neighborhoods destroyed and watches are still in effect right now.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Office inferno. Firefighters race to save people inside. This morning, major questions about the building's alarm system.

O'BRIEN: There's an offer from Iran overnight, but it comes with a new demand for those captured British sailors. We'll tell you what it is.

ROBERTS: And taking the rap. Karl Rove like you have never seen him, last night in Washington.

We're live on the severe weather, and from Manila, Riyadh, London and New York on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: And good morning. Welcome, everybody. It's Thursday, March 29th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

ROBERTS: I'm John Roberts, in for Miles O'Brien. Thanks for joining us this morning.

To thin, I gave up an invitation to the party. I would have seen Karl Rove in person.

O'BRIEN: MC light or whatever he called himself last night. Yes, that's kind of unforgettable. We'll show you more of that straight ahead this morning.

We begin, though, with some breaking news right in what is called tornado alley. Several twisters across the Plains to tell you about. At least two people have been killed. Now tornado watches are still in effect right now. The storm system spans from the Dakotas to Texas. Overnight, a tornado was reported to be up to 600 feet wide as it roared through Holly, Colorado. That's due east of Pueblo, near the Kansas state line. At least 60 homes were damaged, 11 people were hospitalized.

In Oklahoma, a storm chasers captured these incredible pictures. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A massive stove pipe tornado on the ground. I'd say it's probably right now 200 yards to 300 yards at the base. Again, we're seeing multiple vortex tornado.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: He is not kidding. That is a massive tornado on the ground. They're kind of close, though. I mean, he's kind of calm, too. That was the panhandle in Oklahoma. Two people dead in the wake of that storm. They were inside their home when the twister hit. Our affiliate KOCO reporting that these are the first deaths from a tornado in Oklahoma in six years.

Then take a look at this in Texas. You'll see the funnel cloud forming into a tornado as it swirls on the ground and, you know, extends right up, as Chad always points out, like a rope into the sky. That one touching down near Lubbock, Texas. Let's get right to our severe weather expert, Chad Myers, at the CNN Weather Center.

Chad, you really predicted all this. This is the beginning.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes. Sixty-five tornadoes yet. And 120 or 140 reports of hail. Some hail as large as four inches in diameter. I mean that's bigger than a softball in some spots. From Nebraska all the way down to Texas. The line is still charging to the east this morning, but it's lost a lot of its vigor. There's still a couple of watches out. But for the most part, this storm system had its energy in the heat of the day yesterday. Still a chance of seeing some hail, some wind damage this morning, all the way up to Wichita, right up to Pompas City (ph) and Enon (ph).

But the bit story, I guess, is the number of storms and the amount of coverage that the storm had. This is from the Storm Prediction Center out of northern Oklahoma. There was some hail damage, tornado damage all the way from -- this is North Dakota, South Dakota, right through Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and almost down into even into northern Mexico. Right through Del Rio and so on. A large area. And that number right there, tornado reports, 65 tornadoes reported on the ground yesterday, guys.

John, back to you.

ROBERTS: Chad, thanks. We'll get back to you throughout the morning on updates and all of that.

Serious questions being asked this morning after a deadly office building fire in Houston, Texas. The fire on the upper floors of the six-story medical supply building. Firefighters got at least 10 people out, inching their way backwards down a rescue ladder, while flames and thick, black smoke poured out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The window was right there. We just picked a chair up and just broke it, OK, because we were getting suffocated. The smoke was getting real thick.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: People were breaking the windows just to get some oxygen, some air coming through because of the black smoke. And they were leading them down one by one. We were kind of nervous and a little bit afraid and scared.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Three people were killed, six hurt. Some witnesses say they never heard an alarm and the sprinkler system didn't trigger. Two of the dead were found in the same fifth floor office.

Developing news right now in the 15 British sailors and marines being held by Iran. There is word that Tehran may allow the British to visit them, but it's insisting that Britain admits its navy entered Iranian waters. Britain is outraged by video shown on Iranian television yesterday of the detained sailors and marines. And, listen to this, it's the lone female sailor in what Iranian television says is a confession.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FEY TURNEY, CAPTURED BRITISH SAILOR: I was arrested on Friday, the 23rd of March. Obviously, we trespassed into their waters. They were very friendly, very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: That sailor, Faye Turney, of course, is being held against her will. The British defense minister says it's "completely unacceptable to parade our people in this way. Experts question whether she was speaking freely.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE ZEINS, FORMER NYPD HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: I think it was coerced. I think that they sat with her. She was alone. She was very vulnerable being alone. I think they fed her a lot of information. And I think that she had to do what she had to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The Iranian foreign minister said Turney could be released soon. He met with the United Nations secretary-general today at the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia. CNN's Aneesh Raman is also at the Arab summit in Riyadh. He joins us now live.

Aneesh, what more do we know about the expected or intended release of Faye Turney?

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the information has gone literally back and forth from the Iranian foreign minister here in Riyadh. Early yesterday I spoke to him directly. He said Faye Turney's release could come "very soon," suggesting it could happen yesterday, if not today. That seemed to be corroborated a few hours later when that video was released in which Faye Turney is prominently displayed. We've shown clips of it earlier in this show.

But then later he said, no, her release was not imminent. That a decision on what to do with her would come soon. He also said that British officials on the ground in Iran would get a chance to see the British military personnel, but did not say when. And said, for this process to move forward, Britain must admit it was in Iranian waters. The British government vehemently denies that.

So we've heard back and forth stories. We do not know simply when Faye Turney will be released. If, in fact, as we reported, she will be the first to be released. It was cultural sensitivities, we understood, that was prompting her to be released and the 14 others, who were all men, to continue to be held. It forecasted a longer prognosis for them in custody. But again, this is a day-by-day scenario. Conflicting information.

John.

ROBERTS: So you've got the Iranian foreign minister, Aneesh, first saying she's going to be released, then saying, no, maybe she's not going to be released. Then you have another lawmaker in Iran saying that "bullying on the part of Britain isn't helping the situation here." Who's in charge?

RAMAN: Yes, that is the big, disturbing question, especially if you're the British government trying to negotiate an end to this standoff. Clearly the foreign minister doesn't have his facts in order. That suggests, perhaps, that the central government is not detailing what is going to happen. Instead, we can recall that it is the Iranian government national guard that seized these British personnel almost a week ago.

The video that was aired has not, as far as we know, aired within the Islamic republic yet. It's aired on a station called Al-Alam. A station that is closely affiliated with the republican guard. So it could be that they're calling the shots and the foreign minister is playing a reflective role. And again, if you're the British government, you're not quite sure what to believe or who to deal with.

John.

ROBERTS: Yes, it was beginning to look promising yesterday, Aneesh, and now this morning murkier than ever.

Aneesh Raman in Riyadh for us this morning.

Aneesh, thanks.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Got a CNN security watch for you this morning. Just how did more than 100 Haitians make it to a densely populated south Florida community undetected? Take a look at this. This morning some of these folks are being held by U.S. immigration authorities. Their overcrowded 35 foot sailboat ran around between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. It happened, as you can see, in broad daylight. Officials say they've been at sea for about 22 days. Many of them were dehydrated and one man died when he was trying to get to shore.

Is this a major security breach? They just walked up on to the beach. We're going to talk this morning with a Coast Guard commandant, Admiral Thad Allen. That's coming up in our 8:00 Eastern hour.

And will his testimony be the smoking gun? The final nail in the coffin for the attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. We're talking this morning about Kyle Sampson. He is the former chief of staff to the attorney general. He's testifying before the Senate committee today.

His role? He helped picked those eight federal prosecutors who eventually got fired. Democrats say they were fired for political reasons. Sampson is expected to disagree. Overnight we got our hands on some of the remarks that he's going to deliver today. In them Sampson says the firings were properly made, just poorly explained. At least that's his story.

ROBERTS: The president can't avoid the scandal at the Justice Department, so he faced it head on, with humor. President Bush speaking at the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner in Washington last night, admitted that when it came to the firings of the eight U.S. attorneys, yes, mistakes were made.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You in the press certainly have had a lot to report lately. Take the current controversy. I have to admit, we really blew the way we let those attorneys go. You know you've botched it when people sympathize with lawyers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And then there are some things that just absolutely defy words. Take a listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get out his gun, because he's shooting quail. This man will never stop. Look at him jumping up and down and ready to hop. He's got so much to prove. Man, tell me you never thought this man move, doing the dance. The Karl Rove dance. Doing the dance.

Treasure trove, tell me what is your name?

KARL ROVE: MC Rove.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You can see him later hanging in the cove. Tell me what is your name?

ROVE: MC Rove.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Doing it right, and he really strove (ph). One more time, what's your name?

ROVE: MC Rove.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Give it up for MC Rove in the house.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: File that under white man cannot dance. Oh, my goodness, Karl Rove as you've never seen him before. And hopefully never again.

ROBERTS: There's just something about Washington that just makes people nuts. I'm not sure what it is.

O'BRIEN: That was very funny. Well, they always do that at that dinner. The whole point is a spoof and a joke.

ROBERTS: Yes, I know, but still.

O'BRIEN: What was with this? What was that about?

ROBERTS: It's the this one that got it there. It's like an Egyptian thing, you know.

O'BRIEN: He was working it. He was trying. Got to give him points for that.

Let's get back to serious news this morning.

On alert for extreme weather as storms move across the country today. People in several states are trying to pick up the pieces from those devastating tornadoes. We've got more on that ahead.

Also news outrage in the United Kingdom this morning. Will the British get to visit members of the royal navy who are being held against their will and being shown on Iranian TV.

And then remember cute little Knut. The Berlin Zoo's rock star polar bear is now under scrutiny. We'll tell you why.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The most news in the morning is here on CNN.

A developing story today. Tornadoes slamming several states. This is a picture from Oklahoma. Two people killed when a twister rolled through the panhandle there. And about 60 miles to the north of the panhandle, in Holly, Colorado, which is about 200 miles southeast of Denver, they're still assessing the damage after a 600- foot-wide tornado touched down there. At least 60 homes damaged and 11 people hospitalized.

Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Colorado this morning with Powers County administrator Linda Fairbairn. She's on the phone from Lamar. She's going to bring us up-to-date on what's happening there. Thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it.

I know it's dark now, obviously, plus you guys lost power, as well. What can you tell me, though, about what's happening right now?

LINDA FAIRBAIRN, POWERS COUNTY, CO. ADMINISTRATOR: Well, at this point, my understanding is that they are continuing the search and rescue efforts. They are going door to door, waiting for daylight to kind of put a final look on trying to make sure that there are no other victims.

O'BRIEN: Well, what we're seeing right now is really bad. We're rolling some tape of some of the devastation in Holly, Colorado, and, wow, that looks bad. Do you have a count of how many people have been injured and how many homes have been damaged, like some of the ones we're looking at?

FAIRBAIRN: What we've been told is that there are 60 homes that suffered severe damage, five homes that are just totally destroyed. All that's left are foundations or holes in the ground. We had 11 people transported to the hospital here in Lamar, Powers medical center, and seven of those were flown by flight for life to other hospitals because of the extent of their injuries.

O'BRIEN: I know right now the indication is -- and it's an early indication -- but the indication is that you've had no fatalities. Very small community there, 800 to 1,000 people, so that is some really good news.

Miss Fairbairn, thank you very much for talking with us. I know you got a lot ahead on your plate today as you focus on the cleanup as the sun comes up. Thanks for talking with us.

It's coming up on quarter past the hour. That means it's time for Chad, who's watching some of these storms.

Sixty-five yesterday, Chad?

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: A glimmer of hope this morning for the families of those 15 British sailors how were captured by Iran. The Iranian government is now saying it will let British diplomats visit with the crew. But it also want London to admit that the sailors trespassed into Iranian waters. British officials are angrily dismissing that request and expressing new outrage over this video of the sailors that was beamed around the world. CNN's Paula Newton is live for us in London.

And, Paula, what's the latest on this as far as the Brits go? Do they see Iran's just trying to find a way out of this but they want to admit that Britain's got some culpability in it?

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, look, that's quite a catch. You're saying councillor officials can go and see British sailors and marines if you admit that you were wrong. Britain is not about to capitulate on that. They believes that they have a right to make sure that their staff is safe. In fact, they still want them released immediately.

John, you couple that with that video that was seen yesterday. A young mother with a three-year-old daughter being paraded on Iranian TV. She clearly looked quite stressed, quite nervous. And she was on air giving what looked like a confessional, certainly against any kind of Geneva Convention or international law on this.

The British are outraged here, John, and so is the country, quite frankly. I mean, these are the headlines we woke up to today, "Outrage." I mean Faye Turney, the mother of a three-year-old daughter. Molly is the one who's really become the human face of this.

But, you know, where she's from, they're asking two questions. One is, how could the Iranians do this? And, of course, they're angry with the Iranians. But at the same time, they're actually asking questions of the ministry of defense and saying, how were 15 of our sailors and marines ambushed in this way? What went wrong?

John.

ROBERTS: Yesterday, the foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, said that Britain was at least temporarily suspending bilateral ties with Iran. What other options are on the table in order to try to move this forward toward a resolution?

NEWTON: You know, I asked British foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, this morning, had she heard anything more from the Iranians. She said, not that I know of.

Things are pretty grim here, John. The cabinet meeting just wrapped up. Tony Blair just left. There is no negotiation right now with the Iranian officials. The continue to get statements like this from Iran.

What's on the table? You can go for political and economic sanctions. And that's really about it. It's been completely ineffective in terms of trying to get Iran to comply with some of the demands on the nuclear program. No consideration here that it will actually work for the hostages, as well.

It's a very delicate situation, still, John. And, you know, as far as Britain is concerned, there really aren't many options on the table. They're just going to have to continue to wait it out. At the same time, we are waiting to see if Faye Turney, that woman sailor, is released in good faith perhaps later today.

ROBERTS: And Britain also asking for the United Nations to get involved.

Paula Newton in London, thanks very much.

Soledad. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning on AMERICAN MORNING, remember little Knut, the Berlin Zoo's new polar bear? Is he getting too much attention at the deadly expense of other animals? We'll take a look.

And the hostage drama that unfolded on our air in the Philippines. More on the hostage taker. And we'll hear from one of the kids on that bus for 10 hours. We're live in the Philippines coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: This morning, police in the Philippines are preparing to charge a daycare owner who's accused of hijacking a bus full of preschoolers. You watched it unfold right here yesterday. The suspect's name is Jun Ducat. He surrendered after about 10 hours, freeing about 30 kids. Now Ducat says he was trying to give the kids a better life. And this morning, even the president of the Philippines is listening. CNN's Anjali Rao is live for us in Manila.

Good morning.

ANJALI RAO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Soledad. That's very much for that.

You know, it's hard to believe that just 24 hours ago, when you and I were talking about this, it was a very, very tense situation unfolding as these children were still being held on the bus by someone that they knew, someone that they trusted, and some who had been instrumental, really, in getting them an education. Jun Ducat, he had founded and also financed a daycare center in a slum area, incredibly poor area. I thought that it was important to go down there earlier today really to get a sense of exactly who this man was and why on earth he would feel the need to take such drastic actions to get his point across.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RAO, (voice over): For these children, 10 hours must have seemed interminable. Sitting on a packed bus with the searing Philippines heat outside, unable to speak to their parents and unsure why they were in this situation. Yet they never believed they'd be harmed by the man who had taken them hostage, Jun Ducat.

Odd, perhaps, that Ducat would be seen anything other than revile. But his work to educate slum kids means he's seen as a hero in this desperately poor neighborhood. Even parents who just a day earlier had been terrified about what was happening with their children, stood up for him.

One mother told us, "he's a good person. We have nothing bad to say about him. He was only fighting for the children."

In the dirty, crowded alleyways of the Benando (ph) slum, it's practically impossible to find anyone who holds a judge against Jun Ducat. Outside these walls, however, he certainly has his critics. The media, today, going so far as to call him a lunatic and a veteran attention seeker. His comeuppance is just about the corner.

As for Ducat, he's been here before. He kept two priests captive in the 80s over a pay dispute for building work he did. He also went on hunger strike a decade later in protest over ethnic Chinese in this country vying for political office. And though one might wonder how someone with that sort of past could be allowed to take charge of young children, here in the slums, no one cares to ask or answer such questions.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

RAO: And as far as the kids are concerned, they were seen by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo traveling to the presidential palace on a bus very similar to the one that they were held captive on. Though, just attesting to their resilience, Soledad, there was absolutely no trauma for any of them involved in that.

Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Anjali Rao for us this morning. Thank you.

You're right, just 24 hours ago we were talking about this story as it was breaking.

Thank you.

John.

ROBERTS: Twenty-six minutes now after the hour. Business spending is on the decline and that's raising more concerns on Wall Street after a nearly 100-point drop yesterday. Stephanie Elam "Minding Your Business."

Good morning, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

We care about this because, obviously, if businesses are pulling back, then that means consumers may be pulling back even more because they'll have less from the businesses. So this is why we care about that information. And it comes in the form of new orders for durable goods. When we look at that, they were up just 2.5 percent and that's compared to a January number that was revised lower, which many expected to be higher.

Now if you're wondering what durable goods are. That would includes machinery, automobiles, airlines. Just really big items there. So that's why it looks like business spending is pulling back.

Now Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke did come out yesterday and said this weakness is a concern. He's keeping his eye on it. He said the magnitude of the slowdown was greater than expected and that the Fed is still focused on controlling inflation at this point, but admitted the U.S. economic outlook had become more uncertain moving forward in the recent weeks that we've seen here.

Now the U.S. Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, says the damage to the U.S. economy because of those sub-prime mortgage rates, that seems to be contained a this point. So a little bit of good news there.

This all led to the market have a slide, that John just mentioned, that 97-point drop and 2,300 is where we ended the Dow yesterday. The Nasdaq off about 20 points at 2,417. So when you look at this slide, obviously, these mortgage concerns and all of this economic data affecting the markets.

ROBERTS: It's still a little over inflated, though, isn't it? It's sill got maybe a little ways it could go down.

ELAM: It's definitely outside of the comfort zone of the Fed right now. They're still working on getting that back in check.

ROBERTS: All right, Stephanie, thanks very much.

Top stories in the morning are coming up next.

We're watching the weather for you from the Rockies to the Plains. Deadly tornadoes cut a path of destruction in several states. New pictures just coming in. Plus, a look at the threat on tap today.

Also this morning, Oprah opens a second school in south Africa, but some people are not applauding. We'll explain.

Plus, what ever happened to no sex, please, we're British? A tax promising to increase a woman's sex drive is soon going to be available in England. But why is it off limits in America?

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. It is Thursday, March 29th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien.

ROBERTS: I'm John Roberts, in for Miles O'Brien.

Good morning to you.

O'BRIEN: We are watching several developing stories for you this morning. New pictures and some damage coming in from a night of absolutely devastating storms.

Plus, there's a new offer to let British officials see those 15 sailors that are being held in Iran. The British at this point, though, dismissing it because there is a huge catch attached.

ROBERTS: Also, outrage at Oprah. The talk show host opening another school for kids in South Africa. But not everyone is cheering her good deeds.

O'BRIEN: And is he a cutie or is he a killer? Is Knut the polar bear costing another panda its life? We'll tell you about this one. It's a little strange.

That's ahead.

ROBERTS: Yes. You know, the cute ones, you've always got to watch out for them. They're the dangerous ones.

First, let's go to that massive storm system across the plains. Tornado watches still in effect in Texas and Oklahoma.

Storms rolling through Colorado. A 600-foot-wide twister in Holly, Colorado. That's just north of the Oklahoma panhandle, about 200 miles southeast of Denver, if you want to try to figure out where it is on a map. It damaged at least 60 homes and sent 11 people to the hospital.

In Oklahoma meanwhile, a storm chaser capturing these incredible pictures. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A massive stovepipe tornado on the ground. I'd say it's probably right now 200 yards to 300 yards at the base. Again, we're seeing a multiple vortex tornado.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Pretty incredible pictures. You heard him, a massive tornado on the ground last night in the Oklahoma panhandle. At least two people dead there. They were inside their home when the twister hit. Our affiliate reporting that these are the first deaths from a tornado in Oklahoma in six years.

And check this out in Texas -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I see a funnel cloud, which, you know, you can see this a million times, and they are still fascinating to watch, aren't they? Look at this one swirling on the ground like a rope in the sky.

They've got to be pretty close to be getting this shot. Wow. That one is near Lubbock, Texas.

And, you know, the sad thing is, we've had these pictures, a bunch of them, coming into us overnight, while we've been watching them all morning.

ROBERTS: And, you know, severe weather expert Chad Myers predicted all of this yesterday. Let's see what's in store for us today. Chad's at the weather center now.

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: We've got some developing news on those 15 British sailors and marines who are being held by Iran. There is word that Tehran may allow the British diplomats to visit those sailors, but they're also insisting that Britain admits it entered Iranian waters.

Britain's outraged by the videotape that was shown on Iranian television yesterday showing the detained sailors and marines. And if you listen to this, you can hear the loan female sailor in what Iranian TV says is a confession.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAYE TURNEY, CAPTURED BRITISH SAILOR: I was arrested on Friday, the 23rd of March. Obviously, we trespassed into their waters. They were very friendly, very hospitable, very thoughtful, nice people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That sailor, whose name is Faye Turney, of course, being held against her will, as well as the other ones. The British defense minister says it is "... completely unacceptable to parade our people in this way." Experts say most likely those statements were coerced and that her pending release may be an effort by Iran to win the P.R. war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE ZEINS, FMR. NYPD HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: I think it was coerced. I think that they sat with her. She was alone, she was very vulnerable being alone. I think they fed her a lot of information, and I think that she had to do what she had to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: The Iranian foreign minister says Turney could soon be released. They said maybe yesterday. It didn't happen. It could be today even. He met with the U.N. secretary-general today at the Arab summit in Saudi Arabia -- John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Soledad.

In just a few hours' time, we're going to hear from Alberto Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson. Sampson is expected to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that eight U.S. attorneys didn't support the president's priorities, so they were all fired.

In a transcript obtained by CNN, Sampson says, "The distinction between political and performance-related reasons for removing a United States attorney is, in my view, largely artificial." Sampson also goes on to say that the firing of the attorneys was a "benign process rather than a sinister one".

So how did we get here? You almost need a flowchart to understand, and we've got one for you.

The White House originally said that White House counsel Harriet Miers had proposed firing all 93 U.S. attorneys in early 2005. That was at the start of President Bush's second term in order to get new blood into the offices. The White House has since backed off of that statement, now placing the timeline far earlier.

Enter Karl Rove, one of President Bush's top aides. E-mails released earlier this month indicate that Rove and then White House counsel Alberto Gonzales may have been involved in discussions about the attorney dismissals about a month before Gonzales was confirmed as attorney general. That vote taking place February the 3rd of last year.

But now Gonzales is -- or February 3rd of 2005. I'm sorry.

But now Gonzales is largely blaming his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, for botching how the firings were explained to Congress. Gonzales says he had little direct involvement in the dismissals and relied on Sampson to help select the targeted prosecutors, which brings us back to Sampson.

Sampson came up with a suggested list of those to dismiss, including the eight that were eventually forced out. Sampson resigned about two weeks ago. Many people saying that he is the administration's latest fall guy -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: We appreciate the flowchart there.

It's a second school for Oprah Winfrey. This one's for boys and girls in a remote region of South Africa. But Oprah is also taking some heat for her first school.

The $40 million girls academy that opened a few months ago, Oprah handpicked the 152 students. Some parents, though, are reportedly comparing the school to a prison, saying rules deny students e-mail access, cell phone privileges. They even ban junk food in the school compound.

Now, Oprah dismisses the criticism, telling CNN she cares deeply about her girls.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OPRAH WINFREY, OPRAH WINFREY LEADERSHIP ACADEMY: I am not bothered by the complaints, because the number one priority for me is the safety and well-being of the children. And if you look at any other private schools or public-private schools in South Africa and throughout the world, there are rules. There are rules.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: Oprah says she puts the girls first and nothing is going to stop her from achieving her goal of giving every child a chance in South Africa.

ROBERTS: Officials at the Berlin Zoo are denying any link between the arrival of a new polar bear cub and the death of a 22- year-old panda. We told you about Knut, and that rhymes with cute, last week abandoned by his polar bear mother, being raised by humans.

Not everyone was crazy about that. One environmentalist said kill the bear because it's unnatural.

Then there was so much excitement about knut that zoo officials say no one noticed the sudden demise of the panda, Yan Yan, who was found dead in her cage. The German paper speculating that Knut's nonstop visitors put too much stress on Yan Yan. She had been a star attraction at the Berlin Zoo since 1995.

We're going to be going live to the Berlin Zoo in our next hour to find out more about this.

Speaking of pandas, a month after she started receiving visitors at a zoo in Atlanta, Mei Lan, the giant panda cub, has a new outdoor habitat to explore. She's apparently in no rush to enjoy her new freedom, though. Mei Lan peeked into the outside section on Wednesday before scurrying back inside. Zoo officials say it's going to take time for the panda cub to adjust into the great wide open.

And a zoo in northern Thailand is going to extremes to get a male panda to mate with his partner. He spent hours in front of a big screen TV watching panda porn. Yes, folks, the truth is sillier than reality -- or fiction, I should say. Zoo officials say it's been a tough sell so far. The panda seems to have no reaction to the action at this point, though.

O'BRIEN: Panda porn.

ROBERTS: What do you say to that? Yes.

O'BRIEN: Yes, that's a -- that's a new one.

ROBERTS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: Let's get back to some severe weather we've been talking about all morning. It's been cutting a wide swathe right across the country. This morning, the latest aftermath video from some of the tornadoes that hit several states.

At least two people reported dead. It's dark. Search and rescue is still on the scene. It's all developments.

Chad Myers is going to update us in just a moment.

And David and Goliath. We'll tell you how one man is standing up to giant developers and to an entire government.

Plus, is he running or isn't he? Bill Richardson makes it clear -- sort of.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.

The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Well, talk about standing your ground, we've got a couple of stories to tell you about this morning. Would you turn down $3 million for a house that was worth $200,000? Austin Spriggs did. He's sticking with his two-story house in Washington, D.C.

Take a look at that.

He turned down all that money. Now, why, nobody is really saying. I mean, he won't tell. But developers just went ahead and built the 12-story office building and $2 million condo buildings just around his two-story house.

Look at that.

ROBERTS: That's just up the street from the Washington, D.C. bureau of CNN.

O'BRIEN: Wow.

ROBERTS: I go by it every day.

O'BRIEN: It kind of looks weird, but I guess he's standing his ground.

Then on the other side of the world, a Chinese hotel owner is kind of doing the same thing. Now he's become a national hero.

CNN's John Vause joins us by broadband in Changxing, China, with the story.

Good morning to you, John.

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Yang Woo (ph) has been inside this building without electricity, without running water, without plumbing. He's refusing to leave, even though today is the court-ordered deadline for him to get out.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE (voice over): Defiantly standing alone, this two-story brick hotel with only Yang Woo (ph) inside. One man against gargantuan developers, and ultimately the Chinese government. His wife, Woo Ping (ph), has become a national celebrity, mobbed by crowds who gather to show support.

"All of these friends have given me a lot of comfort," she says.

This construction site has become a rallying point for anyone trying to battle big developers, like this man who traveled across country. "I hope the media will be our voice," he told me. "There's so much corruption in local government."

Mr. Yang (ph) and his wife, Woo Ping (ph), have been fighting a legal battle with builders of a shopping mall in downtown Changxing for more than two years. They were offered almost $500,000 in U.S. dollars in compensation, a staggering amount by Chinese standards, but Woo Ping (ph) wants more. "They want to use money to solve this problem," she says, "but that offer is not good enough."

They're holding out for a new property of equal size in the new development. The builders aren't talking publicly, but the mayor's office says they'll never give in to the owner's demands.

Mr. Yang (ph) has been in there for almost two weeks now. Supporters bring him food and water, hoisted up by ropes.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAUSE: Now, the bulldozers could come at any time, but while this building still stands, it gives ordinary Chinese hope that they, too, can stand up to the government -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: John Vause for us this morning.

Thank you, John.

It's 45 minutes past the hour. Let's get right to Chad Myers, who is watching weather for us this morning.

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: A quick look now at the stories that are crossing the CNN political ticker.

Democrats taking aim at Senator John McCain for his support of the Iraq war. The latest comes from Barack Obama, who told Wolf Blitzer yesterday that McCain's support for an indefinite troop presence in Iraq would cost more money, more lives, and also hurt America's standing in the world.

Obama, though, was on the receiving end of a more veiled shot from Democratic senator and presidential hopeful Chris Dodd. Dodd told a union gathering that the last thing America needs is a president who requires four years of on-the-job training. Obama has been criticized for his relative lack of experience.

New Mexico governor Bill Richardson is definitely on the list of Democrats who want to become president, taking his campaign to "The Daily Show" last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JON STEWART, "THE DAILY SHOW" : You are running for president because officially you are not running for president, but you are, indeed, running, yes?

GOV. BILL RICHARDSON (D), NEW MEXICO: Yes, I am running.

STEWART: But not officially.

RICHARDSON: Unofficially, officially I'm running. You know, we all do the same, all the candidates. We say we're going to think about it.

STEWART: Right.

RICHARDSON: We then announce we have thought about it. And thirdly, we announce that we're going to announce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Bottom line, Richardson is in. He knows it's going to be tough going up against Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, but he says he is the most experienced candidate, having served in Congress, the United Nations, and as Bill Clinton's energy secretary.

And, of course, all the day's political news is available any time, day or night, at cnn.com/ticker.

O'BRIEN: That's the best explanation I've ever heard of it.

ROBERTS: It is.

O'BRIEN: They think about it, they announce they've thought about it, they announce they may announce. That's how it works.

Ahead this morning, what are all those TV ads teaching your kids about what to eat? We've got some new answers about that this morning.

Plus, a patch designed to boost a woman's sex drive. So why is it not for sale here in the U.S.?

Stay ahead with us for AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Health headlines for you this morning.

New help for some people who are suffering from asthma. It's a procedure called bronchial thermoplasty. It's heat therapy to relax the muscles of the airway. Researchers say the treatment is still in the experimental stage.

If you're watching right now on the couch, get up. Researchers in Australia think there's a link between TV-watching and blood glucose levels. They found more sedentary people were much more likely to have high blood sugar.

And confirmation this morning for something you probably already know. Kids watching TV are just deluged by junk food ads. Candy, snacks, sugary cereals, fast food, virtually no commercials, though, for fresh fruits or poultry or seafood or vegetables. This is a study, one of the largest of its kind.

We're going to have more on this story from Sanjay Gupta coming up in our 8:00 hour.

A patch that's designed to enhance women's sex lives is about to hit the market in England. It's not going to be available here, though, in the United States, and many people are asking why? The government says it's simply a matter of safety.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN (voice over): Imagine a patch for women meant to give a boost of testosterone and a lift to your sex life. It's called Intrinsa, and it's designed for postmenopausal women like Roslyn Washington. She participated in a U.S. trial on the Intrinsa patch and says it helped.

ROSLYN WASHINGTON, TESTED TESTOSTERONE PATCH: There was a noticeable increase in, you know, my sexual desire. Just physically and mentally, I just felt great.

O'BRIEN: But right now, Intrinsa is only available overseas.

Back in 2004, an FDA advisory panel rejected it, said there wasn't enough long-term safety data. The panel raised concerns that giving postmenopausal women certain kinds of hormones, including testosterone, could lead to higher rates of heart disease and cancer. And because Intrinsa is designed to help patients with sexual problems, the FDA was concerned about other women using it to enhance their sex lives when they may not need the drug.

But researchers who worked on the Intrinsa patch say what's most important is how a woman feels.

DR. JIM SIMON, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIV. MED. CTR.: In the studies, it's very clear that women using the testosterone patches felt sexier, felt better about their sexual life, felt better about themselves in general, and about their relationships.

O'BRIEN: According to the maker of the patch, Procter & Gamble, the FDA wanted further testing.

So, while marketing plans are on hold here in the U.S., the Intrinsa patch is now available in Germany and France. And as soon as next week, prescriptions could be issued in the U.K. for the patch through the government-run health system.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: Could women potentially order the patch online once it's available in the U.K.? Well, experts say yes. With other drugs, it's all possible.

O'BRIEN: You know, it's also worth pointing out, too, that one of the -- one of the most outspoken people on this FDA advisory panel against this patch was a man.

O'BRIEN: Yes. I'm not even going to say anything on that.

ROBERTS: No. I'm thinking...

O'BRIEN: I'm going to nod my head.

ROBERTS: ... maybe you've got to be a woman to understand the need for some of these things.

Still to come this morning, Chad explains extreme weather. Dozens of tornadoes in the plains with deadly consequences. We'll see if there's a threat for more today.

Also, a deadly fire inside an office building. Several rescues, but a passerby apparently had to pull the fire alarm. It didn't work automatically. We're going to look at what might have gone wrong.

And Iran's influence. The country is capable of causing huge headaches for anyone who buys gasoline for their car or oil for their home.

We'll explain.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fifty-eight minutes after the hour now. Tensions with Iran are on the increase, and why Iran matters to oil markets.

Stephanie Elam "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Good morning, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning.

So you may think that we actually get all of our oil from the Middle East, but the truth is, we get 20 percent of our oil from the Middle East. And, in fact, the U.S. has an embargo against Iran. So why do we care so much about what happens with the tensions there?

We saw this earlier this week when we saw the supposed clash between Iran and U.S. warships, but then those were later discounted. But while the rumors were out there, oil spiked by about eight percent.

Well, the reason why we care is because Iran could just still sell their oil anywhere else. And because oil traders know that, they factor that into the price. And in this case, most of the oil from Iran goes to Japan.

Demand is so high that it affects overall what happens with oil. So that's why we sit back and talk about it so much.

So, now the other thing that's interesting here is that if you look at how oil will go to any part of the world, if any little tension there shows up, then it could affect OPEC, which sets -- basically puts out a third of the world's oil.

So that's the reason why we follow it.

ROBERTS: I'm sure there's also plenty of speculation, too. You know, this is all about geopolitics, not supply, really. ELAM: It's really more about geopolitics completely. OPEC says oil's out there.

The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts now.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Stephanie.

Breaking news to begin with this morning.

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