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CNN NEWSROOM

President Bush is Big Hit in Albania; Shots in Quiet Wisconsin Town; Ground Beef Contaminated with e.Coli

Aired June 10, 2007 - 16:00   ET

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


VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Straight ahead this hour, a quiet neighborhood becomes a killing ground. Six people, including small children, killed in this home. What triggered the horror behind the crime tape?
Also, he may be down in the polls at home, but President Bush is a big hit with this crowd overseas. So where in the world did the president get such a warm welcome?

And look out below! A massive avalanche caught on camera by one of our CNN i-Reporter.

Hello to you, I'm Veronica de la Cruz in today for Fredricka Whitfield and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Shots in night in Wisconsin. By first light of morning, six bodies and a host of questions. At this hour, police won't say categorically that the killer is among the dead. The shootings happened in the small town of Delavan, several miles normal of the Illinois border. As of early this afternoon, tight-lipped officials are fitting together some very puzzling pieces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHIEF TIM O'NEILL, DELAVAN WISCONSIN POLICE: The department of criminal investigation and the district attorney are working closely together. What they're doing now is asking our officers and we brought on officers from the Warwick County sheriff's department detectives to canvass the area. We want to make sure there's no stone unturned.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: And I just got an update with that police chief, just moments ago. We're going to have a little later coming up in the show.

In the meantime, joining us live from that town reporter Tom Murray of CNN affiliate WTMJ. Tom, thanks for joining us. What more can you tell us right now?

TOM MURRAY, WTMJ CORRESPONDENT: We have reason to believe there were eight people inside the home. The home that we're talking about is this white house up here. The six people that were dead were in an upstairs apartment. Here is what we believe, here is who we believe were inside the home. A husband and wife, the wife's sister, that sister's three children. Two of those kids were infant twin boys, we believe both of those boys are now dead.

The third child, a 2-year-old girl is said to be in serious condition in the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison. There was also a woman in a friend -- a woman in the house that's said to be a friend.

Neighbors describe hearing what sound like fireworks last night. We did not know -- they did not know the magnitude until this morning. Most, if not all the bodies have been removed from the home.

The little girl was found in the minivan that is now still parked in the driveway, she is the only one that was found outside the home. The county sheriff and local police both say there is not a suspect on the loose.

So as we said, there were eight people inside the home. Six are dead. Four adults and two children and that leaves one person still unaccounted for. Police at this hour are not telling us much from what's going on inside their walls. That's the latest from here in Delavan. Veronica?

DE LA CRUZ: Tom, what are police saying about a suspect at this time?

MURRAY: They tell us that there is not a suspect on the loose right now. That people in here, in this neighborhood, in this community are not in any danger, but they are also are not saying at this hour if the person who pulled the trigger is dead.

DE LA CRUZ: All right, moments ago, I spoke with the chief of police Tim O'Neill. I asked him if this was a murder/suicide. This is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

O'NEILL: I have no belief one way or the other. I will leave that determination up to the investigating agency, which is the Department of Criminal Investigation.

However, I want to assure the citizens of Delavan that I have no reason to believe that any members of the community are at risk at this time and as a matter of fact we are lifting all restrictions involving the access to the area. However, it is an ongoing investigation. And we cannot make any additional comments and it wouldn't be fair to do that until the investigation is complete.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: We're going to continue to follow this story out of Delavan, Wisconsin, and bring you any more as soon as we get it.

Now to southeastern Kentucky. Two young boys reported missing last night were found dead hours later. Police discovered the bodies in the trunk of the mother's car. The boys were eight and 11-years- old. Their grandparents were the first to report them missing. Police in the town of London say the mother was home when authorities found her sons. State officials are now investigating.

Well, space shuttle Atlantis docked at its destination just a short time ago. Now that the shuttle is at the International Space Station, problem spots can be fixed. Earlier today, NASA inspected the space shuttle for damage. Atlantis flipped over to give a clear view of any dents or dings on its belly. CNN space correspondent Miles O'Brien joins us know with more on today's docking. Hi, Miles.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Hello, Veronica. Let's go right to space, shall we? About 210 miles above us, take a look at this live picture coming down right now from NASA television. What a picture, isn't it?

There you see if you lose the banner, I can show you the international space station. Right up here, of course, is the space shuttle Atlantis. Inside is a $360 million truss which will be installed onto the International Space Station over the next week or so. There you see a Russian cargo vessel, which recently brought up some supplies for the International Space Station.

Let me just roll the tape back a little bit and tell you what happened just a little while ago, about an hour-and-a-half ago. We've sped this up a little bit. So you get a sense of it. This is maneuver called the rotational pitch maneuver.

We like to call it a backflip because we think that sums it up very well. It's not just to demonstrate some fancy flying on the part of the space shuttle orbiter, as you see it passion over South America, but this does provide an opportunity for the crew of the International Space Station to get a close-up look using some telephoto lenses of the belly of the orbiter to ensure those crucial heat shield tiles there are intact.

Two crew members aboard the International Space Station, Russian cosmonauts with a 400 millimeter lens and an 800 millimeter lens played like Paris Hilton paparazzi to the shuttle and snapped a bunch of pictures over a 90-second period. Those pictures will be beamed back down to Houston, Texas, mission control.

And with any luck, it will indicate that heat shield is intact, but they'll be looking for potential problems. There you see the docking, which happened shortly there after. Very soon, they'll be opening the hatch and saying hello to the station crew. There you see them coming in.

Now, let's talk a little about the problem that you referred to Veronica. It's happening up here. There's a little bit of thermal blanket, which covers the top part of this kind of hump, which is right to the left of the tail of Atlantis.

It houses an important rocket which is used for navigation, but one of the important things I want to tell you about is when the shuttle comes in, it comes like this, nose high, belly first.

This particular area doesn't get so hot. This gets to be about 3,000 degrees. Here it is about 600 degrees. Now let me show you the stuff we're talking about. It's quilted silica and glass weaving. Now let's look at the tear. Take a look at it. It's not very big. As a matter of fact, it is six inches along that length of the triangle. It's six inches across there and about four inches across there. Now if there were a problem with that size, we'll find out.

We're going to be spending some time running the models, see how much heat gets generated there. What would happen if the heat exposed the graphite piece there beneath which is exposed because the blanket has coiled up. But there's a fair amount of history on this. Look a look at this tape from now 26 years ago. Listen for a second.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK, we want to show you that we do have a few tiles missing off of both of them.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: That is the first space shuttle mission. I want to call your attention, in those days, they didn't have the thermal blanket, Veronica, and look, missing tiles. Missing tiles, there are a total of 16 of them missing on those very same orbital maneuvering system pods. You see those, much bigger spaces than are exposed currently and of course it came back fine, safe and sound.

DE LA CRUZ: So the bottom line here, you're saying we're making way too much of the damage that's been done to this thermal blanket?

O'BRIEN: Here's the thing. I think this is all very healthy. This shows that NASA and you and I and all of us are attuned to the fact that that heat shield is very important.

If there's any damage to it, they should sit up and take notice of it. That is the key lesson of Columbia, that big piece of foam hitting that shuttle, causing that big hole in the leading edge of the wing where it gets the hottest and mission managers were not concerned about the potential damage there. Certainly the pendulum has swung back in the other direction. I think for all concerned here, it's best to err on the side of too much caution.

DE LA CRUZ: Absolutely, Miles O'Brien there in New York. Miles, thanks.

O'BRIEN: You're welcome.

ANNOUNCER: You're watching CNN, your severe weather headquarters.

DE LA CRUZ: All right, how would you like to look out your car window and see this? A tornado swept through northern New Mexico and it wasn't alone. A second twister was spotted about a half an hour later. Fortunately, neither caused any injuries or damage.

Unbelievable that's how things looked and sounded in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Hail pounding the city in heavy rains flooding streets this weekend. High winds were also a problem. They brought down several trees.

Is there more of that in the forecast? Let's head over to Jacqui Jeras in the CNN Weather Center. Jacqui, I'm going to hope you say no.

(WEATHER REPORT)

DE LA CRUZ: Deadly storms are lashing countries in Asia. Torrential rains triggered flash flooding along Australia's east coast. Rescue workers urged thousands to evacuate their homes. Flash flooding has forced over a half million people to flee their homes in south China. Torrential rains over several days have triggered mud slides and flash flooding that have demolished thousands of homes. The storms have killed at least 66 people in China and nine people in Australia.

Straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, hugs, hardy handshake, crowds show President Bush the love.

And back at home, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales probably won't get that kind of greeting from the Senate. His fate, back on their plate. The political week is ahead.

And getting meat off your plate. 13 e. Coli cases across the country. Now thousands of pounds of beef are being recalled. What you need to know in about 15 minutes here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DE LA CRUZ: All right, take a look at this. President Bush pressing the flesh and working the crowd and getting a rock star-like welcome in the Albanian capital today. It's quite the departure from the president's previous European stops where crowds showed up to protest him. But not here in Albania, where with the exception of Texas, it is true Bush country. CNN's White House correspondent Ed Henry is on the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The kind of welcome President Bush doesn't get these days at home or anywhere in the world, like Italy and Germany, where he was greeted by thousands of angry protesters. For a limping president wondering, where's the love, the answer is Albania, which issued three postage stamps in Mr. Bush's honor, named a street after him, and welcomed him with a massive 21-gun salute.

SALI BERISHA, ALBANIAN PRIME MINISTER: The greatest and most distinguished guest we have ever had in all times, the president of the United States of America, the leading country of the free world, George W. Bush.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm proud to be the first American sitting president to visit Albania. HENRY: A carefully choreographed White House attempt to close the president's European tour on a high note, with a quick stop in a country that's adored America for 85 years, thanks to Woodrow Wilson's refusal to partion Albania and the first President Bush's help in ending communism.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One George Bush, one America. Albania -- George Bush, American, OK?

HENRY: Mr. Bush was here to give thanks of his own for Albania contributing small numbers of troops to Iraq and Afghanistan.

BUSH: Albanians know the horror of tyranny, and so they're working to bring hope of freedom to people who haven't known it. And that's a noble effort and a sacrifice.

HENRY: He also pushed independence for Kosovo, a province of Serbia dominated by Albanians.

BUSH: Two things -- one that -- we need to get moving. And two, that the end result is independence.

HENRY: That's why people here don't understand why Mr. Bush is heckled elsewhere.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they are crazy people, because the democracy begins in America. And America wants to be the democracy all around the world.

HENRY (on camera): The love for America is nonpartisan. After then- President Clinton rescued ethnic Albanians in the Kosovo war, a lot of babies here were named Bill and Hillary. Locals now expect a baby boom of Georges and Lauras.

Ed Henry, CNN, with the president in Tirana, Albania.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DE LA CRUZ: President Bush may want to enjoy the Albanian love fest while he can because his return trip to Washington probably won't be as welcoming. There are a host of issues to address and some topics are stickier than others. CNN's Gary Nurenberg is live with the very latest. Gary, a pretty lengthy list of things to do in the upcoming week.

GARY NURENBERG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, immigration at the top of it, Veronica. Remember that great Mark Twain line, "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." Well, that's what the Bush administration sounds like this weekend when it comes to the immigration bill that at week's end appeared to have no pulse.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NURENBERG (voice-over): The administration insists the immigration bill isn't dead. Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez on CNN's "LATE EDITION." CARLOS GUTIERREZ, COMMERCE SECRETARY: No, this is alive and well and we are more determined than ever.

NURENBERG: Many of the bill's advocates blame Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for pulling the bill too quickly. One Democrat said Sunday it will now take the president's involvement to give it a chance of passing.

SEN. EVAN BAYH (D), INDIANA: If the president steps in and leads, Wolf, better than 50/50. Without that kind of leadership, less than 5/50.

NURENBERG: The president travels to Capitol Hill Tuesday to meet with Republican senators, but it was made clear in a weekend radio address that any blame for failure would be shared.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I urge Senator Reid to act quickly to bring this bill back to the Senate floor for a vote and I ask senators from both parties to support it.

NURENBERG: The Senate Monday turns its attention to a no- confidence vote in the prseident's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, whom Democrats believe has politicized the Justice Department. Gonzales didn't seem worried when asked about it Tuesday.

ALBERTO GONZALES, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I'm spending my time focusing on what's important to the American people.

NURENBERG: The no confidence vote is being led by New York Senator Charles Schumer.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Only because George Bush puts his friendship with Alberto Gonzales above the proper running of the Justice Department, above the rule of law taking precedent, do we have to have a no confidence vote.

NURENBERG: The administration says a no-confidence vote will make no difference.

TONY SNOW, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If they want to have a symbolic vote, that's fine. But the president still supports Alberto Gonzales and Alberto Gonzales will remain the attorney general of the United States.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NURENBERG: Gonzales isn't the only high level appointee on the hot seat this week. On Thursday, a federal judge could decide whether to send former Dick Cheney's chief of staff Scooter Libby to prison, pending appeal of his convictions of lying and obstructing justice in the CIA leak investigation.

When asked today if the president would pardon Libby if in fact he is sent away at the end of the week, White House Spokesman Tony Snow said quote, "That's up to the president and I'll let him announce it if and when he does decide to do so," end quote. Veronica, it could be a fascinating week.

DE LA CRUZ: And I do understand the White House has indicated there will be absolutely no talk about a pardon while this appeals process is in place, is that correct?

NURENBERG: Veronica, that's a good read of what the White House has been saying for a long time now, but that was before the very real possibility of Libby going to prison pending appeal. That could change things. And we should know on Thursday night what direction this might go.

DE LA CRUZ: All right, Gary Nurenberg, we'll be checking back with you in the next hour. Thanks so much.

A quick look now at the campaign trail. Republicans John McCain and Rudy Giuliani are campaigning in California. Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee attends a fundraiser in Little Rock.

On the Democratic side, Barack Obama campaigns in Illinois, Colorado and California. John Edwards is attending a fundraiser in North Carolina. Bill Richardson has a fundraiser in Los Angeles and Christopher Dodd is holding a town hall meeting in Sioux City, Iowa.

Speaking out about Iraq.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: The military surge, our part of the surge under General Petraeus, the only thing it can do is put a heavier lid on this boiling pot of civil war stew.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell offers his views of the challenges lying ahead for the U.S. and Iraq. That's in about 10 minutes in the NEWSROOM.

Plus Paris Hilton, Friday she was crying, today she is shocked. Find out why. That's ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DE LA CRUZ: "Across America" now, police in Middlefield, Connecticut think they have found the skeletal remains of a woman in her house years after her death. Neighbors of Ann Simmeck said they hadn't seen her in years. Police think she died of natural causes about seven years ago. They say her utilities were still on and that her calendars hadn't been changed since the late '90s. Simmeck had a no trespassing sign on her home.

In Belton, Missouri, helping hands hope to find a missing teen. 17-year-old Kara Kopetsky disappeared back on May 4th. Friends and family are stepping up a search effort, canvassing neighborhoods and handing out flyers. Right now, authorities have not established a link between the Kopetsky case and the nearby kidnapping and killing of a Kansas teen. Montana state prison officials hope that they will be able to flesh this escaped felon and his accomplice out of hiding and back into custody. Kelly Frank is one of two inmakes who took off from a prison work detail on Friday. Frank is notorious for his failed ransom plot that targeted David Letterman's son.

All right, listen up here. Check the sell by date here on your ground beef before your next cookout. The U..S. Department of Agriculture says nearly six million pounds of fresh and frozen meat might be contaminated with e.Coli. The recall applies to ground beef sold between April 6 and April 20th in 11 western states. The distributor in question is California based United Food Group. Fourteen people have gotten sick so far, but all have recovered.

All right, now the latest in the Paris Hilton saga. It looks like the celebrity heiress turned jail bird is feeling better today. In a statement posted on the celebrity Web site TMZ.com, Hilton said she told her attorneys not to appeal the judge's decision that famously sent her back to jail. And Hilton says that she is shocked at all the public attention devoted to her situation. She urged people to pay more attention to the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The statement went on to say: "This is by far the hardest thing I have ever done. During the past several days, I have had a lot of time to reflect and have already learned a bitter, but important lesson from this experience."

The Reverend Al Sharpton is calling for a fair justice system.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REV. AL SHARPTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST: Clearly, we must raise the question if the appearances are that some people are treated differently based on their wealth or based on their color. And there are any number of cases that has been cited where there has been difference strokes for different folks. None of us have any negative or personal feelings one way or another about Paris Hilton. But we all are concerned that people from south central are treated the same as people in Hollywood Hills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: Sharpton plans to meet tomorrow with L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca.

Fighting insurgents and al Qaeda in Iraq. We'll take you on a tour with U.S. troops to the infamous Diyala Province, one of the deadliest places for U.S. soldiers in Iraq, that's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

Plus, say severe weather, and you probably think tornadoes, hurricane, but drought? The Great Plains and the severe drought, that's in the NEWSROOM in about 20 minutes. Stay close.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT, IN THE NEWSROOM: Happening now in the news, the shuttle "Atlantis" has successfully docked with the International Space Station. It happened just a short time ago. NASA scientists still trying to determine if a damaged thermal blanket will affect the shuttle's re-entry to Earth.

And a gruesome discovery at a home in Delavan, Wisconsin, police find the bodies of six people, all apparently shot to death. The only survivor, a 2-year-old girl who had been shot in the chest and is now in serious condition.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell is speaking out about Iraq. Powell, who made the administration's case for war in its 2003 speech to the U.N., appeared on NBC's "Meet the Press" and gave his view of the challenges that lie ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the war in Iraq worth the price we paid?

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: We won't know for a while yet because the war in Iraq is not yet over. It is an extremely difficult situation. I have characterized it as a civil war, even though the administration does not call it that. The other two parts of the surge, building up Iraqi forces, military and police forces so they can take over responsibility for security, and getting the Iraqi political leadership to undertake reconciliation efforts and to do something to turn out the fire. So General Petraeus is moving ahead with his part of it. But he's the one who's been saying all along; there is no military solution to this problem.

The solution has to emerge from the other two legs, the Iraqi political actions and reconciliation and building up the Iraqi security and police forces and those two legs are not going well. That part of the strategy is not going well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: A top U.S. general in Iraq is giving a sober assessment of how quickly Iraqi troops are getting up to speed. Lieutenant General Martin Dempsey says Iraqi forces should be ready to take control of most Iraqi provinces by the end of the year, but they will not be ready to fight on their own for quite some time.

Dempsey also says the first wave of Iraqi troops sent to Baghdad, as part of the new security drive was disastrous. Dempsey says, quote, not enough of them decided to deploy. They left half the unit behind.

Another huge challenge for the U.S. military, Al Qaeda in Iraq which is fighting hard against U.S. and Iraqi troops in several provinces including Diyalah in eastern Iraq. CNN's international correspondent Karl Penhaul went there to see how U.S. troops are coping with the day in, day out dangers.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We took a couple of small arms fire attacks, have been hit with indirect and one IED so for this morning. KARL PENHAUL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Whichever way you twist and turn, all routes lead to al Qaeda country.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back about a click south of this right now is one of those support zones, the barrier they use for targeting and planning.

PENHAUL: Sprawling palm growths flash past the gaps in the camouflage netting. Striker combat vehicles cruise through dusty villages. Ground zero for extremist gunmen. Destination firebase bronco, a ram shack and outpost straight out of the video action game.

SPEC. STEPHAN HAWK, U.S. ARMY: It was pretty wild at first. There were times we couldn't get down the street a little ways before we took on -- it's all changed now.

PENHAUL: In just two months the striker battalion to which this unit is attached has had at least 11 soldiers killed and 60 seriously wounded, that makes this region of Diyala Province one of the deadliest spots in Iraq.

In the last few weeks it's been a little calmer. An alliance between formal nationalist insurgents and U.S. troops is taking hold. Two old enemies uniting against a common foe in al Qaeda. So between combat patrols, there's time to stroll down Market Street, and make new friends. A sign soldiers believe of progress. Back at the outpost, young soldiers battle to stay in touch with loved ones half a world away.

SPEC. LANGKILDE PALEAA, U.S. ARMY: The toughest thing out here is being on this little outpost, and away from you know any means of communication, like phones, Internet.

PENHAUL: Scratched into the smoke charred walls two words to spur these solders on never quit. They have been here 12 months to date, some think about finally going home. But few dare let their minds stray for long.

CPL. DENNIS WESTBROOK, U.S. ARMY: I'm thinking about home, you still got to keep your head in the game and focus on the mission and hope you and your buddy go home alive.

PENHAUL: Karl Penhaul, CNN, Iraq.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: Well, he's friend with President Bush, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. And now he's under fire for allegedly taking billions of dollars in bribes. Saudi royal scandal straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

Plus severe drought in South Dakota and the struggle to survive. We have details straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) DE LA CRUZ: Time now to go global with headlines from around the world. An explosion rocked a crowded district of Istanbul today. Six people were hurt. Authorities are trying to determine if the blast is connected to a rash of recent attacks by the separatist Kurdistan workers party.

Israeli air strikes today targeting Gaza, Israeli is vowing to keep up the pressure on Palestinian militants after a failed cross border raid yesterday. A flurry of air strikes hit an Islamic Jihad leaders home in Gaza and suspected weapons warehouse. There was also more infighting between rival Palestinian factions.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai appeared undaunted by a Taliban attack near a building where he was speaking today. His audience was rattled. Some members began to run off. So Karzai joked about the attack and asked them to stay until he was done.

Britain's Prince Harry could soon be deployed to Afghanistan. Harry is reported getting some advanced recon training at a base in Canada. The 22-year-old prince was spotted at a nightspot in Calgary. British defense officials refuse to comment on where he might be deployed.

He is a Saudi prince with close dies to the Bush administration and now the center of a scandal on alleged kickbacks from a British defense contractor. Questions are swirling about former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. CNN's Brian Todd examines Bandar's deals.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A wealthy Saudi prince with deep connections to America. An estate in Aspen worth $135 million, tutor on foreign affairs to George W. Bush before he became president. Confidant of George Bush Senior, Dick Cheney, former secretary of state Colin Powell, a crucial broker in the first Gulf War, now questions about another deal he brokered. "The Guardian" Newspaper and BBC report Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, former Saudi ambassador to the U.S. may have gotten up to $2 billion in secret payments from a British defense firm.

The payments they say took place over 20 years and were sanctioned by the British government in return for Bandar's help in negotiating a multi billion-dollar deal to sell British warplanes to the Saudis in 1985. The British firm BAE denies wrongdoing. But Prime Minister Tony Blair admits he supported a decision to quash an internal British investigation.

TONY BLAIR, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I don't believe the investigation would have led anywhere except to the complete wreckage of a vital strategic relationship for our country in terms of fighting terrorism, in terms of the Middle East, in terms of British interests there.

TODD: Through his attorney, Prince Bandar issued a statement denying taking what he called backhanders are, he said he was authorized to handle the money channeled to the now Defunct Riggs Bank in Washington but the accounts were audited by the Saudi government. "At no stage have MODA of the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Finance identified any irregularities in the conduct of the accounts."

But that, too, leaves questions.

THOMAS LIPPMAN, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: Who is the ministry of defense? The ministry of defense is Bandar's father, Prince Sultan who is also next in line for the throne.

TODD: Thomas Lippman who covered Saudi Arabia for the "Washington Post," says payments like these are standard with the Saudis and often justified by western governments and companies.

LIPPMAN: This has been a relationship that has helped both sides, but it's also one in which business is not done the way it's done in Australia or Canada.

TODD: Prince Bandar says he's consulting with his attorneys regarding these media reports but analysts say they likely will not affect his current standing as Saudi Arabia's national security advisor and may never be reported in the Saudi media.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: Coming up we are talking weather. Who going to be wet and who is going sweat? Jacqui Jeras is here.

JAQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hey Veroncia, yes actually if you live in the upper mid west you are going to get both, more storms moving into that area, some of them are going to be severe. We'll have the latest on the large hail and damaging winds, and also talk about some airport delays, they're getting nasty out there Veronica, that's coming up.

DE LA CRUZ: All right, Jacqui thanks so much, see you in a few.

And may the force be with them. A wedding that seems far, far away. That's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JERAS: I'm meteorologist Jacqui Jeras with today's allergy reports. Showers and thunderstorms sweeping across the upper Midwest has cleared out the air and improved it for you allergy suffers. Very low pollen count here and along the Midwest. Still suffering in the middle Mississippi River Valley and inner mountain west.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DE LA CRUZ: On the Great Plains, extreme weather. Not storms and tornadoes, but drought. CNN's Gary Tuchman has details.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It has happened right before their eyes. Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln have been watching this part of South Dakota turn brown. For seven straight summers, the southwestern part of South Dakota has been in a drought. The forecast for this summer is it will only get worse. Ranchers are struggling.

JOE FALKENBURG, RANCHER: Well I haven't taken a long walk with my rifle one-way, but it occasionally crosses a person's mind.

TUCHMAN: Joe Falkenburg and his family own a 60,000-acre ranch in Fall River County, on South Dakota's border with Nebraska and Wyoming. The family makes their living selling beef cattle, but the drought has left the grass barely growing so the cattle are hungry. This photo shows the way a dam on the ranch used to look. Now the dam is empty. The cattle get thirsty. By all means, the cows don't grow as much. Before the drought, a typical calf would way 600 pounds?

FALKENBURG: Six hundred, 650, somewhere around there.

TUCHMAN: How much is a typical calf weighing now?

FALKENBURG: Five hundred fifty would probably be more like it.

TUCHMAN: So you are losing 100 pounds, which is almost 20 percent of your income?

FALKENBURG: That's right.

TUCHMAN: The rancher is hundreds fewer cattle then he use to have, because he can no longer feed all them. Joe, his wife Farah and their children and grandchildren can barely make a living.

FALKENBURG: I think this is our Katrina. We're a small group of people but we are just as affected.

TUCHMAN: The government's drought map shows many areas of the country dangerously dry. East of the Mississippi, some improvement is expected and much of the west it's not. More dangerous wildfires are feared in southern California. For the large population it leads to a lot of attention. In sparsely populated South Dakota, not much national attention.

FALKENBURG: Yes, it seems like we're forgotten people.

TUCHMAN: So you might not have heard about this. These are prairie dogs. In a drought, these rodents can get away from predators more easily in the short grass. There are a lot more of them. They end up building mounds with huge holes in the ground making ranchers and farmers' land look like crater-filled moonscapes.

FARAH FALKENBURG, RANCHER'S WIFE: Once you put cattle in a pasture that has those prairie dogs, the time you leave them there is drastically reduced because the prairie dog already consumed the grass that the cows used to eat. TUCHMAN: It has been more than four weeks since a drop of rain fell on this ranch. The forecast for the next seven days, grim. And this is the rainy season. State agriculture experts don't exactly have inspirational words for the people in this part of South Dakota.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the end of the line. It's that critical.

TUCHMAN: The Falkenburg's are trying to cut costs but still worry whether they can make if the drought continues.

FALKENBURG: We've been praying a lot, that serious. We have had some prayers. Guess we'll see.

TUCHMAN: What they'd like to see is rain.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Fall River County, South Dakota.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DE LA CRUZ: On that note, let's get a quick check of the weather now with Jacqui Jeras. Jacqui I think I'm going have to ask you one more time. What is the question, who is going to get wet and who is going to sweat?

JERAS: I believe that was the one. A lot of people are going to be sweating out, actually, the Plains the temperatures have really been increasing, I wanted to show you the drought monitor, it's kind of interrelated to the drought conditions. Here's the area that Gary was talking about in the southwestern parts of South Dakota. This is an update, they do this every week, and Noel does on Thursday. This is the latest one, you can see the dark orange still severe drought and it is expected to get worse. Also expected to get worse in the next couple of months across the southwest. You can see all the red here indicating extreme drought across southern California and also into western parts of Arizona.

Now, while we still see some very extreme severe drought conditions across the southeast from Jackson, Mississippi, into Huntsville, over towards Atlanta, we are expected to see gradual improvements here as we get more daytime heating because of those pop- up showers and thunderstorms in the upcoming months. We've also see improvement over some of the fire areas in the northern parts of Florida.

We have also seen showers and thunderstorms across central Florida today. And also just a little bit here into the Carolinas. The real action though happening across the nation's midsection, we have two severe thunderstorm watches in effect across South Dakota though, doesn't quite clip the north western part of the state, but we do think you can get some rain here probably coming in by tomorrow afternoon.

Of course you get lightning to go along with that it can be a catch 22 because the lightning can start more fires. The big hot bed of activity this afternoon around Oklahoma City, extending over towards Fort Smith, Arkansas, large hail and damaging winds is going to be our primary threat here.

Who's sweating? Well a lot of people. Take a look at these temperatures; it's 87 right now in Minneapolis, 85 in Denver, 92 in Dallas. Your heat advisory has been lifted in New Orleans but still a 93 is nothing to sneeze at. We've got 92 in Atlanta and 90 degrees in Orlando. Those temperatures tomorrow are going to continue to stay on the hot side with a lot of 80s and 90s, a lot of red on the map here. But do take note the northeastern quarter, you're still seeing cool here, 73 in Boston for tomorrow afternoon.

As you take a look at the satellite picture, here you can see the swirl of clouds offshore, this has been a low pressure storm system that just doesn't want to budge and doesn't want to move out of the way and that's helping to keep in some overcast conditions and making your weekend kind of dreary here across the northeast, we got a live picture out of New York City to show you. The cloudiness, your temperatures are so much cooler than they should be this time of the year, 70 degrees. If this was October, we would be loving this weather, but this is summer, we want to get out and enjoy the summer heat.

You guys aren't going to be seeing it for at least not another couple of days. Our weather pattern is going to be stuck where we are, we think, in the upcoming weeks. We do have quite a few airport delays because of the low clouds. New York JFK, 55 minutes right now, Newark and Teterboro those delays are not bad, mostly due to high volume, Las Vegas also has some volume delays, if you are traveling 25 minutes for you.

Veronica back to you.

DE LA CRUZ: All right, Jacqui Jeras thanks so much.

A study in white that no skier ever wants to see, an avalanche. And this one was actually intentional; it was set off in March by the ski patrol at Baldy Peak in Alta, Utah. One of our i-reporters shot the tape as he was taking a helicopter tour.

What George Lucas has joined together let no wookie tear a thunder. Storm troopers leading a wedding procession. The best man dressed up as Boba Fett. Light Saber, the whole shebang. We've got a Star Wars wedding for you straight ahead in the NEWSROOM. You don't want to miss it.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

DE LA CRUZ: All right, take a look at this. Instead of traditional vows, a Virginia couple decided to let the force guide them on their big day. Heather and Andy Simmons, Star Wars themed wedding, seemed to be a big hit with their guests yesterday. Storm troopers escorted the wedding party down the aisle while the bride was dressed in white; the best man donned a Boba Fett costume, very nice. Other attendants were dressed as Jedis, that's one wedding you might want it call out of this world. There he is, r2-d2.

The next hour of CNN NEWSROOM begins right now. Straight ahead this hour, murders in the Midwest, a town shaken by shootings. Six people are dead and a small child is barely alive.

Also, a U.S. Senator calls for military action against Iran.

Plus -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Woke up this morning got yourself a gun --

DE LA CRUZ: Who will survive tonight's "The Sopranos" swan song? Fans can hardly wait and have we got a preview for you.

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