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AMERICAN MORNING

Midwest Reports 65 Tornadoes Overnight

Aired March 29, 2007 - 07:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Breaking news to begin with this morning, huge deadly tornadoes from the Rockies to the Plains. Neighborhoods destroyed. We are on the alert for more extreme weather today.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Office inferno: Firefighters race to save people inside. This morning major questions about the building's fire alarm and sprinkler system.

O'BRIEN: In the hot seat today: Once the number one aide to the attorney general, now he's testifying about what he knew, that's Kyle Sampson.

ROBERTS: And taking the wrap: Karl Rove like you have never seen him before and probably never want to seen him again, last night in Washington.

We are live on the storm front and from Washington, D.C., London and New York, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. It's Thursday -- please. Please.

ROBERTS: What's that about?

O'BRIEN: That's just bad dancing, isn't it?

ROBERTS: That's dancing?

O'BRIEN: I'm Soledad O'Brien. Welcome back. Well, kinda.

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

O'BRIEN: They say he was totally surprised. They hauled him up. He had no idea, that was just off the cuff.

ROBERTS: Can you imagine?

O'BRIEN: We'll tell everybody more about that.

ROBERTS: It was much better that he did that if that was planned -- he's in more trouble than Al Gonzales.

O'BRIEN: Let's get right to some breaking news for you this morning. Right now, in what is called tornado alley, several twisters across the Plains that have killed at least two people. The storm system is still moving across the country spanning from the Dakotas to Texas. Now, overnight a 600-foot wide tornado reportedly roared right through Holly, Colorado, that's due east of Pueblo, right near the Kansas state line. And 60 homes damaged, 11 people are in the hospital right now. In Oklahoma, a storm chaser captured these pictures. Listen to what he's saying.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A massive stove pipe tornado on the ground. I would 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: Yeah, he's not kidding. That is a massive tornado on the ground. And pretty darn close to where they are, that's in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Two people were killed in these tornados. They were in their home when the twister hit.

And then look at this in Texas. A funnel cloud forming into a tornado, swirling on the ground, extending like a rope in the sky that Chad is always talking about. This one here touching down near Lubbock, Texas.

But we want to get you back to Holly, Colorado. That's where some of the worst damage is. CNN's Rhonda Scholting traveling all night to get there. She just arrived on the scene.

I know it is dark out. And I know search and rescue really has not completely signed off on the fact that everybody has survived this storm. But what are you seeing now?

RHONDA SCHOLTING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Soledad, this part of Colorado is not really officially in tornado alley, but you cannot tell that this morning by looking at around me, maybe at that tree back there.

This storm rolled through at 8:00 o'clock last night. It was pitch black like it is right now. No one really saw this coming. The tornado tore through town on a diagonal from the southwest to the northeast. It damaged, we do have updated numbers, at least 30 homes, destroying some of them. It injured eight people. Two of those injured are children, 10 or 13 years old. The sheriff's department could not tell us exactly what their ages. The a boy and a girl; the girl this morning is suffering from serious injuries.

The town of Holly, we understand, does we have tornado sirens but no one heard them go off.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RON TROWBRIDGE, PROWERS, COLORADO POLICE: I had no reports that they heard the sirens. And I believe the reason is, we just had no warning that this thing was coming at all. There's no radar available out here to give us early warning. And when the tornado was spotted, it had already hit the town. It was too late to warn anybody. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SCHOLTING: Soledad, the rescue crews, you were talking about, looking for people under debris. At this point in time they believe everyone -- they have found everyone. And they have also dealt with the gas leaks that were pretty much spread throughout town.

Obviously, as the sun comes up, that's when they are going to be able to tell the extent of the damage. We will get some very good pictures coming back of the devastation.

Rhonda, thanks for the update. I know you just got to the scene. I know will be on the scene all day for us. We appreciate this first update.

Of course, Severe Weather Expert Chad Myers will join us with the very latest on these storms. That's at quarter past the hour. Also want to ask him about the weather radio, if it would have been a good idea in this case -- John.

ROBERTS: Developing news right now in the 15 British sailors and Marines that are being held by Iran. There's word that Tehran may allow the British to visit them, but it is insisting that Britain admit that its navy entered Iranian waters. Britain is outraged by videos shown on Iranian television yesterday of the detained sailors and Marines.

And listen to this. It is the lone female sailor and what Iranian TV says is a confession.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: And Sailor Faye Turney, of course, being held against her will. The British defense minister says it's, quote, "completely unacceptable to parade our people in this way." Experts say it's likely her statements were coerced, and that her pending release may be an effort by Iran to win the PR war.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE ZEINS, FMR. NYPD HOSTAGE NEGOTIATOR: Yes, 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 at the Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia today. On the streets of London, meanwhile, the stand-off is front page new and outrage at Iran is on the rise. CNN's Paula Newton is live for us now in London.

Paula, tell us more about the mood there.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the mood is one of outrage. As you say, there are a lot of questions about how Britain allowed this whole situation to happen. Yesterday the ministry of defense releasing information about exactly how it happened; they say they were ambushed.

But people, especially where this woman is from, in Plymouth, England, they are saying, look, this is an act of war and Britain has to react. The reaction from Downing Street, though, is one of trying to take all of this down a notch, John.

They just wrapped up a cabinet meeting, a spokesperson for Prime Minister Tony Blair said they are not looking for a confrontation with Iran on this. They are hopeful that perhaps, Ms. Turney will be released in good faith and hoping that their counselor officials will be allowed to visit the sailors and Marines.

You know, John, there are not a lot of options on the table here, in terms of Britain actually being able to do something, unless it really wants to really escalate this and start to look for political and economic sanctions.

I think they're hoping that backroom diplomatic shuffling will work and that slowly, surely they will begin to see good will from the Iranians, John.

ROBERTS: As we saw a number of years ago, when the Chinese were holding the crew members of an American plane, eventually these things have a habit of working themselves out with backroom dealing, and maybe a promise to accept some sort of responsibility. But is the pressure on the British government, right now, to the point where they have to really be defiant in the face of these Iranian threats?

NEWTON: I wouldn't say so, not at all. And certainly, when you consider the atmosphere, the context in terms of the nuclear situation with Iran, right now. Britain is just happy to hold tight, see what they can do through diplomatic channels. They know perhaps they will get some help from Russia, that has a little bit of influence in Iran.

Admittedly not a lot, but I know U.S. diplomatic officials here tell me that Britain has told them they will continue to hold the line on this. Be as calm as they can. The U.S. is standing by, in the wings, ready to help. They told me the sky is the limit in terms of any help they can offer Britain. But the problem is right now, John, is that this will take a lot of patience on everyone's part, if they want to get those 15 sailors and Marines home safe and sound as soon as possible.

ROBERTS: Paula Newton, outside No. 10 Downing Street, for us this morning, in London. Paula, thanks. She mentioned U.S. involvement. Coming up in just a few minutes, we will go to the State Department for a closer look at how U.S. is involved in the stand off -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Did the alarms go off? Did the sprinkler systems trigger? There are some very serious questions being asked this morning, after that deadly office building fire that broke out in Houston, Texas.

The fire was on the upper floors of a six-story medical supply building. Firefighters got at least 10 people out. Look at that. You can see the ladder. Hey, you guys, let's drop that banner -- there you go, much better shot.

Look at these people. They are climbing down from the fourth floor backwards out of an office building. How terrifying must that be? Meanwhile, there is black smoke pouring out of this building.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

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

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: I bet they were. That has to be terrifying. In the end, three people were killed in the fire. Six people hurt. Two of the dead were found in the same fifth floor office building. You can see by some of those shots, the wind was really blowing it into one corner. If you were on the top floors in that corner you really just did not have a chance.

Plus a CNN "Security Watch" for you this morning: Just how did more than 100 Haitians make it to densely populated south Florida Beach community undetected? These are Haitians jumping off their craft, right onto the beach. This morning they are being held by U.S. Immigration authorities.

But that overcrowded 35-foot sailboat ran aground on Hallendale (ph) Beach, which is right between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Happened it broad daylight, Wednesday morning. They had been at sea, officials say, for something like 22 days. Many of them were dehydrated. And, in fact, one man died as he was trying to get to shore.

But of course, the question today is: Isn't this a major security breach? Why did no one detect them before they got right on to the shore? Ahead this morning we will talk to Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen. That's coming up in our 8 o'clock hour.

ROBERTS: Apparently they were tipped off by somebody on the beach, as well. Who said, there's a boat full of --

O'BRIEN: Yes, there was no official who noticed them landing on the shore it was someone on the beach with a cell phone, who said, "Hey, there's a ship full of Haitians coming in."

ROBERTS: Oops.

O'BRIEN: Yeah, wow.

ROBERTS: We will get to the bottom of some of those issues.

Will his testimony today be the final nail in the coffin for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales? We are talking about Kyle Sampson. He is the former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. He is appearing before a Senate committee today.

Sampson helped pick the eight federal prosecutors who eventually got fired. Democrats say the prosecutors were fired for political reasons. Sampson is expected to disagree on that point. Overnight we got our hands on the remarks that he'll deliver today. In them, Sampson says the firings were, quote, "properly made, just poorly explained".

CNN's Justice Correspondent Kelli Arena is in Washington. She has been looking at an advanced copy of Sampson's testimony.

Kelli, obviously, his testimony is very important but can you tell us a primer on exactly why it's so important?

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, by his own admission he was the point person in charge of those U.S. attorney dismissals. He was involved in evaluating the people, deciding who would eventually end up on the list, how they would be told; and, ultimately, how to respond when the political pressure started to get intense.

He should also be able to shed some light on how involved the attorney general and the White House were. Now, remember, Alberto Gonzales had said he was out of the loop on this one. We will find out if Sampson agrees.

ROBERTS: You read through the testimony last night, that prepared testimony, his opening statement, really, that was provided by his attorney. Did you see any bombshells in there? Is there anything that we don't know yet?

ARENA: Not really. In essence, Sampson saying that he wasn't working alone. That he received input from a variety of officials. He says he does believe that each prosecutor who was asked to resign was selected for legitimate reasons.

He makes an argument that presidential appointees are somewhat different from civil servants, in that they're judged not only by how they do professionally, but how they support the president's priorities. There is a quote, from his statement. It says, "The distinction between political and performance-related reasons for removing a U.S. attorney is, in my view, largely artificial. Then in another quote, John, he says, "This is a benign rather than sinister story. And I know some may be indisposed to accept it, but it is the truth, as I observed it and experienced it."

Now, John, what Democrats are expected to drill down on today is why there have been so many inconsistencies in what we've heard from Justice officials about what happened -- don't forget, Sampson is testifying voluntarily, under oath. Some say it's an indication that he does believe he doesn't have anything to hide.

ROBERTS: Yes, I have to tell you, those explanations keep shifting the further along this line we get.

ARENA: They sure do.

ROBERTS: Even though he's going to make his case in that opening statement, I would imagine that some of those questions will be awfully pointed today. Kelli, thanks very much. We know that you're going to continue to watch this for us. Appreciate it -- Soledad.

ARENA: Sure will.

O'BRIEN: President Bush says being president is a tough job, but he took it head on at the Radio & Television Correspondents, dinner which was last night in Washington, D.C. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The press is a lot tougher the second term. It's reached the point I sometimes call on Helen Thomas just to hear a friendly voice. No matter how tough it gets however, I have no intention of becoming a lame duck president. Unless, of course, Cheney accidentally shoot me in the leg.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, RAP SINGER: Get out his gun, cuz he's shooting quail, this man will never stop. Look at him, jumping up and down...

(RAPPER IN BACKGROUND)

O'BRIEN: Why, yes, you're asking yourself is that Karl Rove, there, dancing? And the answer is, yes, it is. MC Rove, they call him. Believe it or not this performance was spontaneous. He was sitting at the CNN table last night, he was the guest of CNN, Karl Rove. And they hauled him up. Ed Henry, our White House correspondent said he was kind of pushing him to go. And then he did this -- dancing thing.

ROBERTS: Pretty good, right off the cuff there.

O'BRIEN: Oh, wow. You dance like that, John?

ROBERTS: No, I make a point of not dancing because if I did I probably --

Hey, just one quick correction before we go. We did not get that testimony, by the way, from Kyle Sampson's attorney. It was another source. Apologies for that.

We are staying on top of that big developing story. Parts of the country, from the Rockies to the Plains, reeling as tornados touch down in several states. More on what to expect today.

Also, he drilled for oil in his front yard. Now one Louisiana man is celebrating his lucky strike.

And Remember Cute Knute, the Berlin Zoo's rock star polar bear now under scrutiny. We're going to tell you why.

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

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Just after quarter past the hour. Let's get to Chad Myers because there's lots of weather to tell you about.

(WEATHER REPORT)

ROBERTS: Developing news in the stand-off over those British sailors captured by Iran. Just a short time ago Iran offered to allow UK access to its troops. Britain says it is a false offer, though, because Iran is also insisting that the UK admit that its sailors were in Iranian waters. The United States has warships in the Gulf, but is otherwise staying quiet on all of this. CNN's Zain Verjee is taking a closer look at why this morning.

And Zain, why is the U.S. not saying more than we've heard in the last few days?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: They have not really been coming out and making harsh statements, or any strong demands, or really condemning Iran. Senior U.S. officials have told CNN that the U.S. is even playing it low key on purpose because the British government has asked for it to do so.

So the U.S. is saying it won't say or do anything that would jeopardize British efforts to get their crew freed. The U.S. knows, too, John, that it has a difficult relationship with Iran, and it does not want to complicate things in this situation, for the British.

That's why you are hearing comments from the State Department that are pretty limited. Saying only that the capture of the British military personnel was illegal and that they should be released.

The deputy State Department Spokesman Tom Casey, has also added that the U.S. wants to see Iran do the right thing and resolve the dispute peacefully. He also says that the U.S. fully supports the British position that maintains they were in Iraqi and not Iranian waters when they were seized, John. ROBERTS: All right. Why do you think the British would be targeted in this? If the real argument is between the United States and Iran over the nuclear program, why the Brits?

VERJEE: Yes, well, you know, going after the British could be a way for Iran to antagonizes the West with a lot less serious repercussions. Back in 2004 Iran did the same thing. And what happened was they just got a slap on the writs. So, if Iran, it may be calculating, were to detain, say 15 Americans, the consequences would be much greater.

ROBERTS: And what do you think is the overall motivating factor, here, on the part of Iran?

VERJEE: You know, U.S. officials and different analysts that we have spoke to have said it's really not clear. Iran could be just seizing the moment more out of desperation than provocation. Iran's also just been hit with new sanctions. The U.S. as you mentioned earlier, John, has been war gaming the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. is also trying to pressure the rest of the world to just stop doing business with Iran, that they feel will really hurt them and bring them to their knees. So, experts say by taking the British crew, what Iran may want to do is some kind of response to all of that, is to project the image that it's powerful and it has to be dealt with.

ROBERTS: Iran doing some war gaming in the Gulf, as well, which is provoking fears that perhaps there could be some sort of confrontation, and some sort of military accidents. Zain Verjee, at the State Department for us. Thanks.

Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, on AMERICAN MORNING, if you make too much money you're out. Job cuts are coming, to electronics giant Circuit City. Stephanie Elam is "Minding Your Business" straight ahead.

And oil and lots of it, right in a Louisiana oilman's front yard. Good news for him. We'll tell you what happened. That's straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back. Let's start with a quick look at the CNN gas gauge. Ding, ding, ding.

Prices at the pump are inching up. The current average for a gallon of regular unleaded is $2.60. A month ago it was $2.35. Last year it was $2.50.

Imagine you could find your own source of energy in your front yard. Well, wouldn't that be convenient. Couldn't you make a ton of dough off of that? We met a man, outside of New Orleans, who was looking to strike liquid gold. And we sent Susan Roesgen back to Lake Charles for an update.

Good morning, Susan.

SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

Guess what? He found it. I am standing at the top of three storage tanks that can hold up to 1200 barrels of oil; oil that's been flowing under one man's front yard.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN (voice over): Only an oil man would put an oil rig in his own front yard.

STEVE JORDAN, OILMAN: The drill mast is about 65 feet high.

ROESGEN: And that's what Steve Jordan did last fall. Today, the Rig is gone. Replaced by what they call a Christmas tree. The metal tubing that means the well works.

JORDAN: There was a period of time where every well I drilled, for three years was a dry hole. And my kids started calling me Dry Hole Steve, so that kind of hurts.

ROESGEN: Dry Hole Steve is dry no more. In fact, what he's tapped into is such a high grade of oil it comes out of the ground almost as clear as a nice glass of champagne.

To get to it, Jordan had to drill under his house, under the living room and kitchen, even under the pool and a river behind the backyard. Now the pipes are pulling out 20 barrels of oil a day, and even more natural gas. Altogether Steve says it's enough to triple his million-dollar investment. Take that OPEC.

JORDAN: And I don't like those guys. Those guys don't like us. So we'll hit them back.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROESGEN: From here, Steve's trucks carry the oil to CONECO refinery nearby, while the natural gas is actually, Soledad, shipped underground in pipes to a company that buys it and then sells it to a local power companies.

O'BRIEN: Is that safe, to have all that under your pool and your house?

ROESGEN: Well, you know, obviously, Steve thinks it is, otherwise he wouldn't have done it. There's always a chance that you could have some kind of a -- I hate to even say what might happen underground, but then you have to also remember Soledad, that in cities, like Los Angeles there are lots of underground pipes, pulling out lots of oil every day that most people don't realize are there.

O'BRIEN: Good point. Susan Roesgen for us. That's a great shot, by the way, where you are. That looks pretty cool. Thanks, Susan. John.

ROBERTS: As long as some neighbor doesn't come along and blow your wellhead, you should be pretty good, I would think.

O'BRIEN: I think that's what she was pointing to that, she didn't want to talk about.

ROBERTS: Citigroup is looking East for a billion more customers. It's 26 minutes after the hour now. Stephanie Elam is "Minding Your Business".

(BUSINESS HEADLINES)

O'BRIEN: Top stories are coming up next. Chad is tracking some extreme weather for us in the heartland. We'll update you what's happening there. Deadly tornados really just cutting a path of destruction; it is not great weather there again today. We have that update from Chad in a moment.

And a couple making waves for how they're dealing with their son's autism. Shocking him with a cattle prod. We found out their side of the story ahead this morning.

And the cutie, who might be a killer. Did all the attention showered on that cute little Knute, the polar bear, come at the expense of this older panda bear? Panda bear. It's one person's theory. You are watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning. Welcome back everybody. It's Thursday, March 29th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And I'm John Roberts in today for Miles O'Brien. Thanks very much for joining us today.

O'BRIEN: Lots to get to this morning.

ROBERTS: Developing news this morning, extreme weather slamming the country. Tornados from the Rockies to the plains turn deadly. New pictures coming in all morning long and there could be more today.

O'BRIEN: And one state is taking aim at parents for using a cattle prod to shock their son who's got severe autism. We will tell you their side of the story this morning.

ROBERTS: And a showdown over those concerts for the environment that Al Gore has planned around the world. One lawmaker says not in his backyard and his backyard happens to be Washington. We'll fill you in.

O'BRIEN: And deadly accusations about this cute little guy. Some people say Knut, the cute polar bear, could have played a role in the death of a panda bear. We will take you live to the Berlin zoo this morning.

ROBERTS: How could that cute cuddly little bear be an accessory to murder? We'll find out. The latest on our developing story out of the Midwest, extreme weather from the Rockies to the plains, reports of 65 tornados overnight. One of them up to 600 feet wide roared through Holly, Colorado near the Kansas state line. At least 60 homes damaged and people in the hospital there including a couple of children right now.

In the Oklahoma panhandle just a little further to the south, a massive twister hit the ground. Two people killed in their home. Our affiliate KOCO reporting that these are the first deaths from a tornado in that area in six years. In Texas, a funnel cloud caught on camera forming into a tornado. Take a look at this. See that rope extending all the way up into the sky. That one touching down near Lubbock, Texas. Thirty two minutes after the hour. Let's get right to severe weather expert Chad Myers. He's in the CNN weather center. Chad, could be more in store today?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Absolutely and maybe some of the same places where the storms are dying out now. This is a storm, the low itself is centered back out to the Rockies and it's going to send little pieces, we call them impulses, one after another every day. And so these storms are going to line up. Now they're dying and then the air mass is going to what we call recover. The clouds are going to go away. The showers are going to go away. The sun's going to come out and we're going to try to do this all over again this afternoon and all the way from Nebraska down through Kansas. Probably, I would say, a good 50 to 150 miles further east than where the storms were yesterday. But we still have everything in place. It's 28 in Denver. It's 69 in Dallas and that's the clash between the two. But we're going to have video as the day comes in, because I know more is rolling in here as we speak this morning. Don't ever forget, if you have something you can show us, don't get out there and get in trouble but cnn.com/ireport and we'll get it on the air. I love showing those pictures, especially even some of those home videos that come from the cell phones. They're pretty scary at times. So don't get yourself in trouble.

O'BRIEN: Let's underscore that. We like the shots, be careful getting them. All right, Chad, thank you.

For the embattled attorney general what happens today in Washington, DC is going to be crucial. His former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, is going to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee. It's going to happen in just a few hours. Now the top Republican on the committee, Arlen Specter told the "New York Times" this -- I can't think of anyone else who has quite the drama. Sounds like he's expecting a bombshell. What should we expect? Court TV's Savannah Guthrie in Washington for us this morning. What do you think? Bombshell?

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, COURT TV: I don't know. It's interesting to hear Specter's comments because Democrats who talk to me are really down playing it and saying, don't expect a bomb shell. This will be more like a deposition. We're on a fact-finding mission. It has the potential to be bomb shell testimony because Kyle Sampson was absolutely in the thick of it, on the front lines of these firing decisions. He's the guy who was inside so he has the information. He'll be on the stand probably for hours today. Even the most smooth and controlled witness can really fall apart when faced with a lot of unfriendly questioning, so there's definitely potential for some revelations here.

O'BRIEN: Everybody is going to look past that statement phase and get right to those questions and see what he is asked. He has said what happened was the process was bungled but it was not malicious. I think his exact words are this is a benign rather than a sinister story. He is a guy who's incredibly loyal to the attorney general. Do you expect that he's going to stray in that story at all and not protect his boss?

GUTHRIE: I think from the tone of his statement, he wants to defend what the Justice Department did and he'll want to stand by his boss. On the other hand, I'm sure his lawyer has said you go in there and you tell the truth. Don't give a false statement. Don't cover up for your boss. Everybody remembers what happened with the Scooter Libby case. He won't want to be in that situation. So I think he'll answer those questions as truthfully as he can.

O'BRIEN: The lying was much more important than really the crime in a low of ways in and of itself. Now, do you think, potentially, at the end of the day people could be talking about the final straw, the nail in the coffin for the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales out of what comes out of what we're going to watch today?

GUTHRIE: A lot of people look at this as make or break testimony for Gonzales because as I said, Kyle Sampson was right there, so if he does significant damage to the story that Attorney General Gonzales has told, if he places Gonzales more in the middle of this than Gonzalez has led on, I think he's going to find himself in some trouble at the end of the day.

O'BRIEN: You keep hearing over and over, the time line has changed, the motivation has changed, Rove wasn't involved. Now it turns out he was involved. That could be a big, big problem as the testimony gets underway today. Court TVs Savannah Guthrie, always nice to see you. Thanks for talking with us.

GUTHRIE: Sure. Nice to see you.

O'BRIEN: John.

ROBERTS: The parents of a man with autism are speaking out. They say that they use an electric cattle prod on their son, but for good reason, they say. They talked with CNN's Randi Kaye about the whole thing.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Bradley Bernstein is 48 years old but his parents still call him their baby.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We feel that we were chosen to have Bradley and to give him what he needed in his life.

KAYE: Does what he need include electric shock, because for nearly 40 years the Bernsteins have been using a cattle prod to shock their son.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If this stops my son from having black eyes and bleeding in his mouth and having his face all swollen up, believe me, it's worth it.

KAYE: You see, Bradley is severely autistic. He lives in a group home, only speaks a few words and spends much of his day rocking in a chair with the lights out.

Can I get a high-five? Nice to meet you. His parents tried psychotropic drugs, restraints, then someone suggested the cattle prod. They insist the only thing that stops Bradley from beating himself bloody like many with autism do is a sudden zap. This portable prod shoots 4500 volts of electricity into Bradley as often as several times a week. But now the state of Illinois says no more. It passed a law last year making electric shock illegal in community facilities, so Trinity Services, which operates Bradley's group home, has stopped using it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our mission is to help people live full and abundant lives. I don't think you do that with cattle prods.

KAYE: Since Trinity in this group home stopped using electric shock last September, Dykster (ph) says Bradley has tried to strike himself seven to 10 times. While that may be double the number of incidents that were occurring when the cattle prod was in use, Dykster believes Bradley is happier and communicating better. But the Bernsteins don't buy it. They sued Trinity. The case was dismissed since shock treatment is outlawed.

The Bernsteins still use the prod when Bradley is visiting them at home. The new law doesn't prevent that. Bob said he shocked his son just two weeks ago, but at his group home, attendants now restrain Bradley or give him a drug to calm him. Fran still calls the cattle prod the most humane treatment.

I'll try just for a second. Oh! That's not horrible. It's not pleasant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, but is it horrible?

KAYE: No. If Bradley could speak, what would he say? Barbaric or beneficial? Randi Kaye, CNN, Des Plaines, Illinois.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: The Bernstein's lawyer is petitioning the state of Illinois. If they don't get their way, they say that they will consider taking Bradley out of state to a facility that does approve of the use of shock treatments.

O'BRIEN: It is an indication of how horrible this disease is, when parents who clearly love their son, who's not a child. He's a grown adults and who's probably healthy in all other ways, are willing to shock him with a cattle prod in order to try to make him better.

ROBERTS: You have to wonder what is the worst of the two evils, the cattle prod or medicating somebody?

O'BRIEN: It's all brutal. For people who have got kids who are autistic, it's just brutal, brutal, brutal.

Ahead this morning on AMERICAN MORNING, we've got the latest video for all those tornados that ran across several states overnight. At least two people are dead. More storms are moving across the heartland right now. Chad's going to update us on that.

Plus the Berlin zoo's rock star, polar bear, he's so cute -- Knut -- he's now under scrutiny. Was it murder? We'll tell you. You are watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back everybody. You are looking at some new pictures coming to us from Holly, Colorado. It's a story we have been following after a tornado ran through there last night. It about 8:00 p.m. And what a mess, although right now officially there are no - there's no deaths to report, although 11 people, it appears, have been hospitalized, some of them so badly they had to be airlifted out of the area. Now it's a relatively small community. Some people saying they didn't get any kind of warning whatsoever, but the damage, 60 homes, it looks like, really destroyed by this tornado. And it is quite a mess. We are waiting for better light so we can give you a better picture of just what has happened, but you can see by these early pictures just how bad it is in Holly, Colorado. It's one of a number of tornadoes that did some major damage to the country overnight. Chad Myers is watching it for us. We'll update on what's happening, not only what happened last night, but of course, what's in store for today as well. John?

ROBERTS: Wow, 43 minutes after the hour now. We have been telling you about the Berlin zoo's new star, Knut the polar bar, abandoned by his mom, raised by humans. Now some are wondering if Knut's high profile is creating a deadly distraction. Is he an accessory to murder? CNN's Diana Magna (ph) has more on this mystery.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANE MAGNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He is the picture of innocence and ever since his very public debut last Friday, Knut's fans just can't get enough of him. But this week the German tabloid suggested that Knut fever may have claimed its first casualty, Yan-Yan (ph) the panda.

HEINER KLOES, BEAR CURATOR, BERLIN ZOO (THROUGH TRANSLATOR: We found her dead in her enclosure. We are all very sad. Unfortunately we cannot yet tell what caused her death. From the way we found her, we expect she died of natural causes, that she died peacefully. MAGNA: Yan-Yan was 22, not young for a panda but not that old either. There are suggestions in the media that Knut's crowds were too much for her, and that zoo keepers may have been too preoccupied with Knut to notice something was wrong. But zoo visitors are skeptical.

NILS MARKFELD, ZOO VISITOR (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The zookeeper has certainly paid as much attention to Yan-Yan as she normally would. I don't think she died because of this.

MAGNA: As for Knut, he's none the wiser. At 3 1/2 months old, he's too young to understand.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: That was Diana Magna reporting for us.

O'BRIEN: Do you buy that?

ROBERTS: No, I just can't imagine that Knut the cute little polar bear is bumping off the competition. They do say the problem is that people have been lining up to see Knut and they can't get in to see Knut so they go to see Yan-Yan.

O'BRIEN: ... which would be good for Yan-Yan.

ROBERTS: But apparently they were taking pictures.

O'BRIEN: Oh, too stressful, for all the attention too stressful. Maybe she didn't die from being ignored --

ROBERTS: Maybe she died of overexposure. She died of exposure.

O'BRIEN: Weird. That's a weird one. More video we want to get to you. Some new videotape coming in from Elmwood, Oklahoma, this time as the light comes up. We got some pictures of the tornadoes that struck there. Take a look at the damage. As you can see, powerful tornado blew apart a home. Two people, a couple inside that home were killed. Their home, other homes, storage buildings, just absolutely shredded. As you can see in here, tornado touched one. It's one of what Chad told us was 65 tornadoes that hit the Rockies and the plains overnight. Let's get right to Chad. It's 45 minutes past the hour, with an update. Chad, why 65? Why are we not going to see that same number today? What's the limiting factor on that?

MYERS: We have a lot of what we call debris in the air. Debris is not what came off of the homes that were hit by tornadoes, but it's the cloud cover that's going to be left over from some of the storms that are still out there. Storms put up big tall thunderstorms and they blow air off the top and it's like the angel hair pasta or the horse hair that comes off, big cirrus clouds. That's the blow off and this blow off is going to be in the air. It's going to limit the sunshine that's going to hit the ground. That's going to limit the amount of heat that's going to be on the ground, so that will limit the amount of what we call rising motion that gets the storms going. I can show you those 65. Here's the number. Tornado reports, 65, wind reports, 14 and hail reports 162. A couple of those hail reports were bigger than four inches. But the storms, John, the damage all the way from South Dakota right on back down into Texas. Today the storms will be a little bit further to the east, maybe centered over Wichita, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Enid, down even into Dallas, Texas today. Could be kind of an ugly day as the storms travel further to the east. Back to you.

ROBERTS: All right, Chad. I love those technical terms, angel hair pasta clouds.

MYERS: The fluffy stuff up on top.

ROBERTS: Very descriptive, thanks Chad. Still to come this morning, you didn't win it (ph). New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson goes on Comedy Central to make his presidential campaign unofficially official but he might have to work on his communication skills. You'll hear what he has to say.

And not so fast. A challenge to Al Gore's environmental concert in Washington. Someone wants to kick it out of town. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Checking politics this morning, make no mistake about it. Bill Richardson is in the race for president. The New Mexico governor took his campaign to the "Daily Show" last night making it clear - well maybe not -- that he's a contender.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

BILL RICHARDSON: Yes, I'm 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. We then announce we have thought about it.

STEWART: Um-hum.

RICHARDSON: And thirdly we announce that we're going to announce.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Bottom line, Richardson says he's in. He recognizes the uphill climb but he says he is the most experienced candidate having served in Congress, the United Nations and as Bill Clinton's energy secretary, a definite maybe from Richardson.

O'BRIEN: Absolutely positively maybe. Al Gore squaring off with his environmental nemesis. Senator James Inhofe says global warming is a hoax. He has said that in the past. He says he wants to stop Gore's plans for a live concert in Washington, DC that would raise money for Gore's favorite cause. CNN's Carol Costello has our report this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For Al Gore, a political smackdown after a whole lot of love from Hollywood and (INAUDIBLE) from Prince Charles, the Sundance film festival, the Japanese, Tony Blair, but not Republican Senator James Inhofe who does not like the idea of a global warming awareness concert held on the capitol grounds. Inhofe once called global warming a hoax perpetrated on the American people. It is so politically driven. That's something the former chairman of the environment and public works committee tried to get at as Gore testified before the Senate.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why don't we do this? At the end you can have as much time as you want.

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D) CALIFORNIA: That isn't the rule. You are not making the rules. You used to when you did this. You don't do this anymore. Elections have consequences.

COSTELLO: But Inhofe still wields influence, arguing Live Earth and its message don't belong saying that he quote, objects to having any events on the capitol grounds that are either highly partisan or politically controversial and the proposed Gore concert is both.

Live Earth organizers disagree, pointing out that back in 1990, Congress approved Earth Day festivities at the very same capitol location and they tried to make Live Earth nonpartisan by inviting not only groups like the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but conservative-friendly performers like Faith Hill. They are so frustrated, late they told us, it's unfortunate for the American people that we are being blocked from staging the U.S. concert in our nation's capital. The show must go on, even if it's in another city.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: And it looks like it will be in another city. Live Earth is going to be a 24-hour concert held on all seven continents on July 7th, 7/7/07. Al Gore and the Live Earth organizers are now looking for another spot to stage that concert.

ROBERTS: Goodness knows you can't have that rock 'n roll on Capitol Hill.

O'BRIEN: All the day's political news is available anytime day or night at cnn.com/(INAUDIBLE). John.

ROBERTS: Sorry. Coming up on AMERICAN MORNING, a new offer to let British officials see 15 sailors being held in Iran. The British are dismissing it saying there's a huge catch attached. We're going to have a live report for you.

And how did more than 100 Haitian refugees come ashore in south Florida undetected, not some obscure key, but Hallendale (ph) Beach? We will talk live with the Coast Guard's commandant. You are watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is on CNN.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Fifty seven minutes after the hour now. The parent company of TJ Max and Marshals admitting that if you shop with a credit card there, it could be that your information was stolen by hackers. Stephanie Elam here, checking your business for you this morning.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And this always freaks us out, when we hear this sort of thing and think about how many people actually shop at TJ Max and Marshals. It looks like about 46 million credit and debit cards were stolen, the information from those cards over an 18-month period. We heard about this two months ago when TJX, that's the parent company here, said that hackers had broken into its system, but this is the first detailed account of what's actually happened.

Now they are saying another 455,000 customers who returned merchandise without receipts also had their personal data stolen including their driver's license numbers. So obviously, it's kind of freaky there. They said this can go back as far as December of 2002, but they didn't find the suspicious software in their system until December of 2006. Now maybe this will make some people feel better. They're saying 75 percent of the cards that were involved here had either expired or had masked data in their magnetic strips, which meant their numbers weren't on there, it's actually like an asterisk, so anyone who's hacking in couldn't get their hands on it. But still, kind of a freaky story.

ROBERTS: There's so many cases of that. You just got to wonder how many people have your identity.

ELAM: And on top of it, if it did happen to you, how do you follow up and find out? Its very hard to track that down and figure out who is a part of it.

O'BRIEN: Untangling that is a nightmare.

ELAM: That is a nightmare, so TJ says they're going to work on strengthening their computer data.

ROBERTS: Let's hope. Thanks.

ELAM: Sure.

O'BRIEN: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING begins right now. Let's get right to it. We have a developing story. Huge, deadly tornadoes from the Rockies to the plains. Neighborhoods destroyed. And there's more extreme weather moving in right now. Chad's updating us just ahead.

ROBERTS: Office inferno. Firefighters race to save people inside. This morning, major questions about the building's fire alarm and sprinkler system.

O'BRIEN: And extreme skiing on an escalator. Yeah. We're going to show you the stunt, show you where it happened.

ROBERTS: Plus taking the rap -- Karl Rove like you have never seen him before. Dare I say never want to see him again on this AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Apparently the crowd went wild when he was doing that. They dragged him up from his table.

ROBERTS: He was at our table, too.

O'BRIEN: Hosted by CNN. They said people were in hysterics watching him.

ROBERTS: Probably the new Bush salute. Bush walks into the room and you --

O'BRIEN: It's just the way he dances, I think. Welcome back. Let's get right to the pictures of our top story this morning and these are some tough pictures.

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