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Aired July 4, 2007 - 10:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sent us this clip from a Freedom Days Picnic held this past weekend.
And we want your Fourth of July pictures and videos. Send them to us by pointing your browser to cnn.com and look for the I-Report logo.
MELISSA LONG, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Melissa Long, in today for Heidi Collins.
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Tony Harris. Stay informed all day in the CNN NEWSROOM. Here's what's on the rundown.
A BBC reporter celebrating freedom after months as a hostage in Gaza. Alan Johnston tells his story live this hour.
LONG: It was supposed to be a final message. We're told police in Britain discover a suicide note from an accused terror plotter.
HARRIS: Feel the burn. Scorching heat punishes the west with temps well past 100. How's 115, Phoenix?
It is Wednesday, the Fourth of July, and you are in the CNN NEWSROOM.
LONG: Almost four months in captivity and now a morning of bliss. BBC reporter Alan Johnston freed after 114 days as a hostage. A shadowing militant group, the Army of Islam, released him, but only after Hamas surrounded the Gaza City neighborhood where he was housed. Johnston is due to speak at any moment now. When he does, we'll bring you those comments live.
HARRIS: U.K. terror plots. Sources close to the investigation tell CNN they found a suicide note. It is linked to the two men who rammed a vehicle into the Glasgow Airport. The Jeep was filled with explosives. Both men are in custody. The man on the left here was severely burned and is in critical condition. Authorities believe the two suspects are also responsible for last week's failed London car bombings. Both men are doctors and all seven of the eight suspects are doctors or medical students. Earlier today, Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, vowed increased scrutiny of immigration policies.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GORDON BROWN, BRITAIN'S PRIME MINISTER: We'll expand the watch list, which is the corporation right across the world from Europe to the Arab states, of potential terrorists so that we list them in such a way that authorities in different countries can be warned. We'll expand the background checks that have been done where there are highly skilled migrant workers coming into this country, where people sponsor them, we will ask them to give us their background checks.
Thirdly, as a result of what has happened in the National Health Service, I've asked that Lord West (ph), the new terrorism minister, to conduct an immediate review as to what arrangements we must make in relation to recruitment to the NHS because of what we know has happened over the last few days. And, finally, of course, we will want to sign new agreements with other countries around the world so that we act together to deal with the potential terrorist threat and we are able to deport people to countries where they should be rather than in this country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: The arrest within the medical community have been a shock in Britain where nearly 40 percent of registered doctors are trained abroad.
Dogs and guards greeting July Fourth partiers along with the usual fireworks and parades. Security stepped up today from coast to coast. The Transportation Security Administration is focusing on cities where folks use subways and trains. Both patrols in Boston, the Charles River, the scene of the traditional Pops Concert and fireworks display. The government says the extra measures weren't prompted by any specific threat.
LONG: As we promised at the top of our program, we are waiting to hear from the BBC journalist, Alan Johnston, speaking to the media about his days in captivity. One hundred and fourteen days as a hostage. A shadowing militant group, the Army of Islam, released him.
We heard from his family, Graham and Margaret Johnston, at their home in Scotland, saying they had the opportunity to speak with their son briefly on the telephone, saw him on TV. Thought he looked terrific. We're going to meet him momentarily.
Again, this is a live news conference getting underway. We'll learn more about Alan Johnston's days in captivity. He had spoken to CNN's Ben Wedeman saying, it's great to be able to talk to people like you. He described his ordeal as a nightmare that he didn't think it would ever end. Let's listen now to this live news conference. In a moment, we will hear from Alan Johnston.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fabulous residence available for our (INAUDIBLE). It's just the sort of place he'll spend a happy couple of hours or maybe a day two. And also to Richard and his colleagues in London. There was a loft delicate diplomacy to doing this and I think it was handled with great skill and great tact. And I know that Richard and his team, the only thing in the forefront of their minds was anything that he could say or do to help out. And we're really grateful for that.
So, thanks, everyone. I know you want to hear from Alan.
ALAN JOHNSTON, RELEASED BBC JOURNALIST: Yes, you know, my job, like yours, is supposed to be about putting ideas into words. But they're really hard to sum up quite how good it feels to be standing here instead of lying in that room that I was lying in this time just yesterday. It just - it's unimaginably good to be free.
Maybe you have to have been a prisoner of some kind for some time to know how good it is just to be able to do the most basic, basic things that freedom allows, not the least to get a haircut and to drink what you want, to walk through doors if you want to walk through, eat, speak to people that you love or friends and so on. You want to do everything at the same time, you know. You want to read books, newspapers, and go to the movies, go to the beach and sit in the sun and eat and talk and all the rest. It is the most extraordinary Fourth of July for me as I could imagine.
It was the most, as you can imagine, the most appalling experience on and on. As I said before, like being buried alive, removed from life. And sometimes, occasionally, quite terrifying. And always frightening in that I just didn't know when it would end or how it would end. And when you're laying in one of those hideouts for three months, you wonder why you shouldn't maybe be lying here in nine months or 18 months. And just such a relief that it is over.
And I really do need to thank the international media. I had one lucky break in this thing and I got hold of a radio, BBC World Services. The radio station I've worked for, for the better part of 16 years. And so I had this enormous lift, you know, with colleagues and friends reporting on my story, keeping me up-to-date with the latest things that the guys in the next room were planning or doing. And at the same time, passing on messages from people I didn't know and some people I did know from all around the world. It was an extraordinary psychological boost, you know.
And how many kidnapped victims are able to sit and listen to their friends giving them messages of support from around the world. And I thought, you know, sometimes if I can't get through this with that level of support, then what chance has anybody else have, you know. I thought it would be a shameful thing if I couldn't pull through with that kind of help on stream.
And I've really got to thank really all of you guys, all the organizations. Not just CNN and al-Jazeera and Fox and Sky (ph) and all the others. I felt at one point, you know, that all the journalists in the world were kind of coming to the rescue. At least, at least maybe they could rescue me. But they weren't going to let go. They weren't going to let the story die. And any kidnapped victim will tell you that the thing they probably fear most of all is that the world is simply going to go on without them and they're going to be forgotten about, incarcerated, lying there in their retched cell. So, really, just all your organizations, thank you so much for keeping my story alive.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a questions. Yes, a question here.
QUESTIONS: Alan, Tom Asco (ph) from NBC. Can you take us through what happened on the day and how you were taken on the day driving from your office to your home (INAUDIBLE)?
JOHNSTON: That's right. Just a drive that I made a thousand times in the three years before. I turned into a quiet street and suddenly there's a car lurching beside me fast. And for a second I just thought it was a bit of Gaza driving, but it turned out to be much more than that. The car pulled up in front of me. There was a guy in the street with a pistol. Next thing, the guy coming around the side of the -- from the passenger side with a (INAUDIBLE) and I really begun to realize very quickly.
I had been in Gaza three years. I'd covered 27 kidnappings. And I knew what it was about. And I'd imagined what it would be like dozens of times and it was exactly like that.
It was a fatally surreal experience, as if I'd lived it before because I'd imagined it so many times. And there I was, before I knew it, on my back in the back seat with a hood over my head and they were pulling my money out of my pockets and laughing. I had been to the bank and they had reason to laugh. They'd hit the jackpot. Off came my watch and phones and passports and we were racing through town.
And I was looking up through the window, through the wool of the mask. I could see the sun on the buildings. I knew we were heading east. And indeed we were. And the next thing I was bundled into this flack and forced on to my front, a hood over my head and handcuffed behind my back. And I was like that for maybe an hour or two. And then they took the handcuffs off.
And all the time I was wondering, as if one of the kind of more benign Gaza kidnaps where it's a family dispute and it's over in four or five days. But what I was worrying about all the time was that it was a Jihadi group that had struck in August and I was always worried about tangling with them. And, indeed, come midnight, a door swung open and the guy filling it with a red and white gucha (ph) wrapped around his head, it was clear that it was the second type of kidnapping and I was in, clearly in a lot of trouble.
And he said I wouldn't be killed. I wouldn't be tortured. I'd be treated with respect as a Muslim prisoner. And that turned out to be true. But, you know, you don't know whether to believe a man with a red and white gucha (ph) wrapped around his head. And at 3:00 in the morning, they woke me up and put a hood over head again and handcuffed me and took me out into the night. And, of course, you wonder how that might end.
But, in fact, they were only moving me to another hideout. And I actually think for that first month were good. And my treatment was good in that I was fed simple kind of things that I could -- my stomach could cope with. I got ill, first of all, and then they gave me the simple things that I asked for -- bread, cheese, eggs -- stuff I could cope with. And they moved me a couple of times. And the regime actually got quite relaxed in the second place. I was even able to use a kitchen next door to my room and a bathroom and could make, you know, eggs and bread myself. And, you know, the guard was kind of an extraordinarily moody man and would flare into rages and so on.
But in this weird, dark world that all the shock has drawn me and him (INAUDIBLE) around and weird, surreal, week after week after week rumbled by, then Hamas took power in Gaza and suddenly the kidnappers who'd seemed to be cruising along in security terms, no worries, suddenly they were worried and Hamas had them in their sights. And the whole mood began to change. I began to hope against hope that maybe we were moving into some kind of end game then. And, indeed, that proved to be the case.
You know, Hamas is a controversial organization with a lot of problems and so on in terms of relation to the outside world. But I'm pretty sure that if Hamas hadn't come in and stuck the heat on in a big way, I would still be in that room.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dominic (ph). Dominic.
QUESTION: I'm Dominic (INAUDIBLE).
First of all I want to say how pleased we are that you're (INAUDIBLE).
JOHNSTON: Thanks. Thanks. Thanks.
QUESTION: Can you talk about the Army of Islam? (INAUDIBLE). What do they want? (INAUDIBLE).
JOHNSTON: You know, I guess I still know frustrating little about them. I only had one conversation with the leader on that very first night. It lasted for about 15 minutes only. And, you know, unlike the multitude of militant groups -- the other militant groups in Gaza, who have a very much Palestinian/Israel agenda. The Army of Islam clearly had a Jihadi agenda. They described me as a prisoner in the war between Muslims and non-Muslims. You know, a phrase that kind of saddened me really. I guess I'm a non-Muslim but I'm certainly not at war with anybody.
What I would say is that, you know, there are people in the west who -- some people sadly who would regard any Arab as a terrorists or potential terrorists. And I would say that the leader of that group was a kind of mirror image of that. He was a guy that saw really any westerner, I think, as kind of worthy of punishment, whatever they had been doing.
He wasn't impressed with the idea that I had been working in Gaza for three years essentially trying to tell the outside world about the problems of Gaza. He said I made a nice speech when I explained that, but he clearly wasn't impressed.
And they made -- yes, they made a number of appeals for the release of prisoners and so on. But that was their agenda, was a Jihadi style agenda.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ben. Ben Wedeman.
JOHNSTON: I recognize you, Ben. I do recognize you. Thanks for the . . .
QUESTION: Alan, (INAUDIBLE) said that prior to the takeover of Gaza (INAUDIBLE).
JOHNSTON: For sure, you know.
JOHNSTON: Well, you know, they -- there was nothing about their demeanor to think -- I just felt all the time, these guys are cruising along, you know. They don't need to worry. They're not remotely worried about a security situation. They don't look like they're going to get rumbled at any point. They just were relaxed and at ease.
But as soon as Hamas took over, Hamas said, you know, that one in their opening statements from the al Kasan Brigade (ph) was that one of their issues is that my kidnapping had to end. And, clearly, these guys then -- there was a lot more talk about Hamas. And very soon after that they put me in the exploding vest. And that was their way of trying to hold Hamas off of any kind of attempt to storm the hideout.
So you could tell they were worried. And there was more and more talk about the dangers of Hamas. And soon after that they moved me quite quickly. And then the guard told me that his brother had been arrested. Up to that point, I got the feeling that this group was maybe so small, so secret, so underground that nobody was ever going to put any kind of pressure on them.
But then when I heard that the junior guard's brother had been arrested, I knew that Hamas knew exactly who everybody was. The next day, or the day after, I heard the leader of the group's brother had been flung in jail and I knew that they were under big pressure then in that kind of way.
And Hamas has a huge law and order agenda. And, you know as well as me, Ben, the kidnapping of foreigners has been perhaps not the most serious problem for ordinary Gazans, but that it's been the most -- one of the most high-profile issues. And, you know, it just goes back really to that issue of that the way that the leader of the group saw all westerners as worthy of being used in the political way of having suffering and (INAUDIBLE) on them.
There's just so many -- you know, he saw the world in a very black and white way. But the fact is, it's a much more multi-shaded thing than that. There are so many westerners. Not just journalists, but aide workers, doctors, psychologists, development people who would like to go to Gaza and get involved in those huge problems that the place has. People can't do that if they think they might end up getting locked up in a room for several months.
And, in the end, I feel that it's the ordinary Gazan, you know, the guy with no job and eight kids to feed, who suffers from that kind of problem. And many, many people in Gaza are pleased if Hamas can stamp out that kind of thing. And it looks to me like Hamas intends to.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Indigo (ph).
LONG: BBC journalist Alan Johnston free after 114 days. One hundred and fourteen days he was a hostage. With so much information to share today in his first large, public, live news conference saying, oh, it feels so good to be standing here, to be free in contrast to just yesterday when he was lying in that room. He said, with freedom you just want to do the most basic things. He had an opportunity to get a haircut. He said he wants to go to the movies. He just has so much to say, so much that he wants to do at the very same time. He said it was like being buried alive, removed from life. And he also thanked so many journalists around the world for keeping the story alive.
HARRIS: On Independence Day. What he say, unimaginably good to be free.
LONG: Also want to point out, if you like to continue listening to Alan Johnston, you can do so on cnn.com right now. We're continuing to stream that news conference.
HARRIS: OK. Good stuff.
Still to come this morning in the NEWSROOM, Republicans lagging behind. Top Democrats boast stunning bank accounts, almost 50 percent more cash than the leading Republicans. Our guest weighs in on fund- raising.
LONG: Are you heading to the pool this Fourth of July? Keep a close eye on the kids. Swimming pools can be a deathtrap for children, but safety rules can keep them out of harm's way.
HARRIS: The mouth that warred and gorged. Kobayashi's legendary dog, putting his hot dog eating title in jeopardy. Could acupuncture be the answer here? The Coney Island contest now just hours away.
LONG: And a Fourth of July they'll always remember. U.S. soldiers become U.S. citizens on the job in Iraq.
HARRIS: And you saw it here just moments ago on CNN, resident Bush rallying the troops on this Fourth of July and urging support for the Iraq War policies. He told members of the Air National Guard in West Virginia that the nation is thankful for their service.
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We give thanks for our founders. We give thanks for all of the brave citizen soldiers of our centennial army who dropped their pitchforks and took up muskets to fight for our freedom and liberty and independence. You're the successors of those brave men. Those who wear the uniform are the successors of those who drop their pitchforks and picked up their muskets to fight for liberty.
HARRIS: Members of the 167th Air Wing have earned six bronze stars and two purple hearts for their service in Iraq and Afghanistan.
LONG: Summertime, swimming pools, great combination, but a potentially deadly one for children. They can drown in the blink of an eye. CNN's Greg Hunter in Gladstone, New Jersey.
And, Greg, what can pool owners do to protect all the kids?
GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they can do a lot.
Let me demonstrate to you, first of all, though, what you hear when a toddler fall into a pool. That's right. You don't hear anything. If a toddler falls into a pool, they silently go under the water and they slip away. And that's why pool alarms are so very, very important. Because if a toddler does go into a pool and you have a device like that, it will go off in just a few seconds. It will alert you both outside and inside that you have a problem. And the guy you're about to meet wishes he had one of these alarms.
MICHELLE SCALZI, ALEXIS' MOTHER: I was more worried when we were playing in front that she would get hit by a car or something, you know. I never in a million years thought this would happen.
HUNTER, (voice over): Mike and Michelle Scalzi, whose lives changed in an instant last June when their two-year-old daughter, Alexis, wandered out alone to the backyard pool and drowned. MIKE SCALZI, ALEXIS' FATHER: There's no words to describe how we feel. The pain is just -- the pain is too much.
HUNTER: Her father tried to revive Alexis, but was never trained in CPR. Now the Scalzi's are raising awareness about pool safety -- the importance of learning CPR and installing pool alarms.
Here's how they work. When a weight of 15 pounds or more falls into the pool, like this doll, a sensor triggers a high-pitched sound. Other safety measures to consider, an automatic cover and a fence around the pool with a self-latching gate. And even an alarm on the back door signaling that a child has gone outside. But parents still must keep a sharp eye out. And remember drowning can happen quickly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Drowning is a silent act. Parents often think that they're going to hear screaming or splashing or cries for help. But that's not actually true.
HUNTER: Mike, who was home alone that day, had only taken his eyes off Alexis for a few minutes.
MIKE SCALZI: Our goal is to keep Lexi's memory alive and to try to prevent other children from drowning.
HUNTER: If you had had a pool alarm?
MIKE SCALZI: We wouldn't be talking today.
HUNTER: Michelle is now pregnant. The Scalzi's don't know when they'll be ready to roll back the tarp and use their back pool again.
HUNTER: This is from Custom Pool Safety and it has a tube that goes in the water. When something goes in the water, water pressure is supposed to change and it has an excruciating loud, loud sound. I don't think we had it quite turned on properly. The Custom Pool Safety people are going to donate this to Lexi's Legacy. Not just one, but dozens of more just so they can give them away for free. And the folks at Lexi's Legacy, the Scalzi's say, they need your monetary donations. You can log on to firstname.lastname@example.org and you can donate and they'll -- and so far they've sent out a lot of these -- 4,000 of them so far -- but they need your donations to keep sending them out.
Back to you guys.
LONG: OK. So 4,000 sent out. But what if somebody wants to just buy one off the store shelf? How much will it run them?
HUNTER: There's about three different manufacturers. The ones that they're giving away from Lexi's Legacy, about a couple hundred bucks retail. Now they'll send them out just for the cost of shipping, about $15. It's totally legitimate. They have a fiduciary bank that handles the money, the whole deal. This one here has to be about $500. There's on that you can install that's $1,000. And even ones that you can install while you're building your pool. But this one you just sit it on the side of the pool, you arm it and it works.
LONG: Money well spent, though, that's for sure.
CNN's Greg Hunter from New Jersey.
Greg, thank you.
HARRIS: What do you say we get a check of weather now and Rob Marciano.
LONG: (INAUDIBLE) full-time weather.
HARRIS: About that in the severe weather center for us.
Rob, good morning to you. Happy Fourth. Happy Fourth.
HARRIS: A matter of money. Presidential hopefuls and their campaign coffers. We will talk with a political expert who looks beyond dollars and cents for us this morning.
HARRIS: Bottom of the hour. Good morning, everyone. Welcome back to the CNN NEWSROOM.
I'm Tony Harris.
LONG: I'm Melissa Long, in today for Heidi.
Let's focus now on the Fourth of July and no time for celebration for the Fourth of July in Iraq. Just another day of dangerous duty for U.S. troops.
Let's go to the war zone and CNN's Frederik Pleitgen who has been embedded with soldiers just south of Baghdad.
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Melissa.
I'm here at Forward Operating Base Kalzoo (ph), that's about 35 miles south of Baghdad, and really, almost none of the soldiers here are celebrating the Fourth of July. Most of them saying that this is just another day of work, a very dangerous day of work for a lot of them.
And I have two of these soldiers with me right now. I have Sergeant Nick Serio and also First Sergeant Kirk Alkire.
Let me ask you first, Sergeant, you've been here for such a long time and you're doing so much work on this day where so many other people are celebrating. How does that feel for you, what kind of feeling is that for you on a day like this?
SGT. NICK SERIO, U.S. ARMY: Oh, it's just another day for us, sir. Wake up every morning, do the same thing every day. Trying to accomplish our mission. You don't really think too much about the fact that you're missing the Fourth of July. Your family is constantly in the back of your mind.
But for us, it's Ground Hog Day all over again. We're doing the same thing we did yesterday, and we're doing what we are going to do tomorrow. And it's just all part of the mission, can't get too caught up in what you're missing at home.
I'd rather be with my family. But I also want to accomplish the mission and I want to win, and if it means being here on the Fourth of July, so be it, sir.
PLEITGEN: Yes, that's what I was going to ask First Sergeant Alkire. I know you have family, you have a child. I mean, this is very much a family day. It must be very hard for you to be away. How do you cope with that?
1ST SGT. KIRK ALKIRE, U.S. ARMY: Once again, it's an honor to be here serving our country, doing what our forefathers did, fighting for the freedoms and liberties that so many Americans enjoy -- enjoy today. The democracy that we have and the liberties to do the things we do in America every day. It's an honor to be here.
PLEITGEN: Well, let me ask you this then. Is there anything going on here on base? Is there some sort Fourth of July feeling here, just to catch up on things?
ALKIRE: A little bit of a celebration. Meal hours, have a nice meal. But for the most part, it's -- business as usual.
PLEITGEN: Sergeant, what about operations during this time? Is there less, is it -- I know you can't talk too much about it. But give me a little overview.
SERIO: Our operational code quota (ph) doesn't change for the holidays. We have -- there's nothing special planned for the enemy. There's nothing special planned for us. It's business as usual. And the date, the holiday has absolutely nothing do with it, sir.
PLEITGEN: All right, thank you very much, Sergeant Serio, 1st Sergeant Alkire.
Melissa, so, these soldiers working very, very hard here on this day. I saw an operation early this morning. There is a lot going on here, Melissa.
LONG: And Frederik, to help people better understand the mission, earlier you were embedded with troops who were working south along the Tigress River in order to transfer power from U.S. troops to the Iraqi security forces.
PLEITGEN: Well, that's exactly what's going on right here, right now. But this is also an area, you should say, that there's a lot of insurgent activity going on right here. So basically, what a lot of the troops here are doing is they're trying to fight that. They're trying to intradict (ph) a lot of the IEDs that are coming in here, a lot of bomb making material that's coming in here. That's one of the big missions that these troops are trying to accomplish now.
The other one, as you said, which is very important, is in the long run and in the medium (ph) run to try and transfer of power to the Iraqi National Security Forces, because one of the things that almost all of the commanders that we talked to, almost all the people that we talk to, almost all the American soldiers that we talk to, tell us is that in the end, while the American forces here can clear areas, and can hold areas for a while, in the end, it's going to have to be the Iraqi security forces that do all this in the long run. They take over this country in the long run and that hold these areas in the long run, and that provides security for the people here in the years to come, Melissa.
LONG: Frederik Pleitgen, just south of Baghdad with our U.S. troops on this Fourth of July, where in their words, it is just another day, they're focused on the mission.
Frederik, thank you.
HARRIS: From Iraq to Iowa. Presidential hopefuls all over the map today celebrating the Fourth with potential voters. But some candidates have a little more reason to celebrate than others.
John McCurio is the Senior Editor of the Hotline. He joins me now from Washington.
Happy Fourth to you, John. Good to see you, good to talk to you.
JOHN MERCURIO, SR. EDITOR, THE HOTLINE: Happy Fourth to you.
HARRIS: Why don't we put up a full screen graphic for folks at home to take a look at these Republican fund-raising numbers. The second quarter results are in. Giuliani, you see there, topping the list, $17 million, Romney, $4 million, McCain, $11.2.
John McCain, let's start with John McCain, $11.2 million. Trailing obviously, the others, the top two in fund-raising here. He is in Iraq today, not in Iowa with the other hopefuls.
He is with the president on Iraq, he is with the president on immigration. Is there any hope for him?
MERCURIO: Well, absolutely. Look, we're still, you know, some several months away from even the first votes being cast in the state of Iowa, but, you know, I think what we are seeing with John McCain and with Hillary Clinton who's not raising as much money as some people expected, is that this is a very difficult campaign season for the establishment candidates.
Both Hillary Clinton and John McCain came into this race as the sort of perceived front-runners, the runaway front runners, if you will. They're both considered the establishment candidates within their respective parties, and this is an election year, I think, where voters in both parties are looking for change and that's what they're fighting against.
In running against people like Mitt Romney, like Rudy Giuliani and like Barack Obama, who are perceived as outsiders coming in with much more of a mandate for change.
HARRIS: He is such a -- I'm talking about McCain again, he is such a compelling figure in our debate. Just a compelling figure in that he really believes what he believes. Particularly with Iraq and certainly with immigration. A bad report from Petraeus and Crocker in September ..
MERCURIO: Could be.
HARRIS: ...is he done at that point?
MERCURIO: I don't think you're looking for when John McCain is going to be done, look ...
HARRIS: No, I just -- I ...
MERCURIO: We're almost 500 days away still from the first vote being cast in Iowa. John Kerry, at this point into the 2004 campaign, was basically being dismissed as the -- in the Democratic primary against a guy named Howard Dean. Remember what happened to him ...
MERCURIO: ...in Iowa. I'm certainly not ready to write off John McCain's campaign whatsoever. But look, the biggest problem he had, I go back to this sort of perception that he came in as the front- runner, is that he sort of built up in terms of the fund-raising way, a front-runner's campaign. He hired consultants, media experts, a huge staff. He spent more than $1.6 million during the first quarter on staff salaries alone.
MERCURIO: That was what he thought would be a front-runner's campaign. And obviously, he has to now run essentially as an underdog.
HARRIS: Hey, why don't we look at the numbers from the -- well, you know what. Let me spend a little more time. Mitt Romney and Giuliani, what's the story there beyond the numbers?
MERCURIO: Well, I think you saw Mitt Romney really surprised and wowed everybody in the first quarter. He raised more than any other Republican candidate. Now coming in at a slightly lesser amount, less than he had expected to raise. So I think you might see a little bit of the excitement in the Republican base wearing off for Mitt Romney. Rudy Giuliani also coming in at a relatively good rate, more than he had raised, more than he had expected to raise during this quarter.
Look, you know what the unspoken sort of dynamic going on here ...
HARRIS: Tell me, tell me, tell me.
MERCURIO: The unspoken dynamic, not just in Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, but also John McCain, is Fred Thompson ...
MERCURIO: ...former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson. A lot of Republicans still waiting for him to get into this race. So, I think a lot of people, especially in the last month or two, said that they were going to hold on to their pocketbooks and wait to see what he did before they contributed. That's why I think you saw Democrats do so much better during this quarter.
HARRIS: OK, Democratic fund-raising numbers now. We'll show you the numbers. Let me ask you a question as we put the numbers up. Barack Obama -- let me ask a question in a way that perhaps only a black man can ask it. Barack Obama at the top here, how does a black man in America raise $32.5 million to do anything in the United States other than maybe score a lot of points at a basketball game? I mean, what is the story here with this fund-raising effort for Barack Obama?
MERCURIO: Well, let me answer it in a way that I hope a white man or a black man ...
MERCURIO: ...or any man could answer it. Plus, I don't think it really has that much to do with race. Although, I do believe he has, you know, motivated and generated a lot of excitement within African- American -- the African-American community. People who have never seen -- you know, a viable African-American candidate get into the presidential campaign. So I think there's certainly that level of excitement.
But I think, obviously, his appeal is significantly broader than just black voters. And I think what you see is his crossover appeal to moderates, independents, to even some Republicans who are contributing to him. I mean, 250,000 donors since the beginning of this year is an incredible amount of excitement clearly on behalf of his campaign.
HARRIS: John, don't you have a de facto ticket here, Democratic ticket? I mean, come on, look at the numbers. It's just a matter of ...
MERCURIO: Tony Harris, you are on it somewhere, I'm sure.
HARRIS: Yes, right. It's just a matter of going to the primary season to determine, you know, who's at the top of the tickets. Look at the numbers.
MERCURIO: Sure. Well no, I mean look, I honestly think that Hillary Clinton remains the Democratic front-runner despite her fund- raising -- her lack of fund-raising success. On a national level, either because of the performances during the debates or just the polling, even in very crucial, early stages she remains -- she sort of holds on to a very solid lead. She's actually expanded that.
But Barack Obama is a very, very, very, very serious candidate.
MERCURIO: Bill Richardson, also the governor of New Mexico, doing relatively well in fund-raising during the past quarter.
HARRIS: You got to ask questions in a different way to get different responses.
John Mercurio, that was good stuff. John, good to see you, happy Fourth.
MERCURIO: Thank you.
HARRIS: And once again, CNN is raising the bar on the presidential debates. And you can take part on Monday, July 23rd. The Democratic candidates square off on a CNN/YouTube debate. Anderson Cooper hosts this first of its kind event. Live and interactive on TV and online.
And you can see the Republican candidates debate on Monday, September 17th. You can submit your own questions right now, just log on to CNN.com/Americavotes. CNN is your political headquarters.
LONG: And now, a trash can. We're going to show it to you in a moment. May hold more than candy bar wrappers, thwarting hidden terror dangers.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The great Coney Island hot dog eating championship, only two hours away. An opportunity for the U.S. of A to regain the mustard yellow international belt. Details straight ahead on the NEWSROOM.
STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Stephanie Elam in New York, and when NEWSROOM returns, I'll have the latest Hilton bombshell. But this time, we're not talking about Paris.
You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LYNN NAVARRO (ph): Hi, I'm Lynn Navarro here at Camp Air F John with MWR. I want to give a big shoutout to everybody in Houston, Texas. All my friends, all my family. I love every single one of you guys. Can't wait to see you again.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LONG: The countdown now, about two hours until the Super Bowl of competitive eating. It is expected to come down to a battle between two titans: an American, Joey Chestnut (ph), and six-time defending champion, Kobayashi (ph). This is the staredown.
LONG: On Tuesday, New York, CNN's ...
HARRIS: That's good stuff.
LONG: ...Allan Chernoff is live at Coney Island in New York this morning. You're not competing today, right?
CHERNOFF: Oh, yes, we're expecting them to. But the tension in the air is as thick as the mustard on this hot dog right now. Many people here wondering will six-time defending champion Takeru Kobayashi (ph) actually compete. And if he does compete, will he be able to compete effectively?
Kobayashi has a jaw injury which, of course, is an occupational hazard for a professional eater. But, given that he has that injury, this opens an opportunity for the U.S. of A to regain the mustard yellow international belt.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): California's Joey Chestnut, a man on a mission to bring hot dog eating glory back to the U.S. of A.
JOEY CHESTNUT: I think it's serious to a certain extent, and I'm going to push my body to the extreme limit.
CHERNOFF: Last July Fourth, Chestnut pushed Japanese master Takeru Kobayashi to his belly-bursting limit, losing by less than two hot dogs to the six-time champion. Then four weeks ago, at a qualifying match for the July Fourth contest, Chestnut shattered Kobayashi's world record, consuming 59 and 1/2 hot dogs and buns during the 12-minute contest.
Now, just as Chestnut appears poised to claim the coveted mustard yellow belt, there's a fly in his bun. After complaining of jaw pain, Kobayashi had a wisdom tooth extracted only last week. And his mouth, he says, has yet to fully heal.
TAKERU KOBAYASHI (through translator): It does hurt if I try to open up my mouth wider or if I chew on something or I move my mouth a lot.
CHERNOFF: Dentist Stephen Tympanick confirms Kobayashi is unlikely to be 100 percent on game day.
DR. STEPHEN TYMPANICK, DENTIST: It's going to take probably two weeks before he's fully able to function the way he needs to in a competition.
CHERNOFF: Chestnut, poised for eating fame, says he's annoyed and wonders if Kobayashi is gaming him.
CHESTNUT: The fishiest thing about the whole thing is that it happens five weeks after I break his record by five hot dogs. It's a little bit suspicious.
CHERNOFF: Joey Chestnut wants the glory of beating a healthy Kobayashi. And in pursuit of fame, Chestnut is making the audacious pledge that he'll set yet a new record by eating 60 or more hot dogs at Coney Island.
CHERNOFF: How do they do it? It is a mystery of the digestive system. But we can share one secret with you. They have to dunk the bun.
(LAUGHTER) CHERNOFF: That makes it much easier to go down. You've to dunk that bun in the water.
LONG: OK, you had a chance to swallow, because I do have another question for you. You're good to go? OK.
Aside from dipping the bun in the water, what are some of the other tactics? It looks like Mr. Chestnut moves his body quite a bit.
CHERNOFF: That's right. Joey Chestnut actually uses the zigzag technique. I'm terrible at it but I'll try to demonstrate. He puts part of the dog in, part of the dog out, like that.
Now, Joey Chestnut would have finished two of those dogs in that time but that's what he does, zigzags it in and out and then shakes his body to take it all the way down.
LONG: All right, a little shake involved.
CHERNOFF: Crazy technique, but it works for him.
LONG: Was that a good hot dog? Did you enjoy your lunch?
HARRIS: Did you enjoy your lunch.
LONG: I hope. All right, I think it's very loud there. We will check in with Allan Chernoff next hour here from Coney Island as well.
HARRIS: Oh man, that's good stuff, good stuff.
All right, Hilton, once again in the news. This time, though, it is not Paris but the company that made her and her family -- well, famous and rich.
Stephanie Elam has the details. She joins us today from our New York studios.
Happy Fourth, good to see you, Stephanie.
ELAM: Good to see you, too, Tony. Sorry, I'm without hot dogs. I have no props for you.
HARRIS: There you go. We've got enough hot dogs on our plate.
ELAM: OK, that sounds good.
LONG: By the grace of God, a firefighter's words after a daring rescue, and a fire that could have been much, much worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LT. COM. KEVIN STEPHENS: I'm Lieutenant Commander Kevin Stephens. I'm here in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I'm from the U.S. Tour (ph) Forces Command out of northern Virginia. I'd like to say happy Fourth of July to my family living in Chesapeake (ph), Virginia, to Anne, Jack, and Luke. Thanks for your support. I hope to be home soon. I love you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: OK, we are podcasting, Melissa. I don't know, did you get a memo on that? Yes, we're podcasting.
LONG: Right now?
HARRIS: In a little bit.
HARRIS: We're working on it right now so that everyone can download it on this Fourth of July holiday.
LONG: Do you have an iPod?
HARRIS: I do, I do. I swiped one of the kids' iPods when my son received the upgrade. OK?
LONG: You get the hand-me-down.
So, 24/7, you know about it at this point. It is the CNN daily podcast. What you need to do is go to CNN.com and when you go to CNN.com, Melissa, look what has happened to our Web page.
LONG: Yes, the team has been hard at work for a year now studying, answering questions, trying to figure out what do people want, how can we improve cnn.com. So, this is the relaunched version.
HARRIS: Look at this.
LONG: And also, all new way to integrate the video, the galleries, the pictures, the maps. And click on the little red box in the upper hand corner right there ...
LONG: ...the video. You'll have live news coverage streaming on your desktop. So, when you're at work, still stay in the know. Even if you don't, turn on that TV and watch YouTube.
HARRIS: A new upgraded player ...
HARRIS: ...OK, that'll make it easier for everyone to have the videos.
LONG: Yes, just a plug-in that goes right to your desktop. HARRIS: And we're not talking pipes anymore, we're talking streams, right, correct?
LONG: No, remember -- of course, Pipeline, it's no longer called Pipeline.
LONG: It's called cnn.com, cnn.com/live. Right there.
HARRIS: So, we've retrofitted it. There we go. So it works better for you.
LONG: All about ease.
HARRIS: All about ease, outstanding. CNN.com., visit it. Well, watch us for a while and then visit it.
LONG: Do both at the same time, simultaneous. We are about multi-tasking.
HARRIS: This morning in the NEWSROOM, back on the big screen. But what does the future hold for Harry Potter?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you going to survive in the next book? Are you going to survive?
DANIEL RADCLIFFE, ACTOR: I don't know, and if I did, I couldn't possibly tell you.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: The crowds and frenzy at the London premiere of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix."
LONG: A champion tees off for the troops. Special guest joining Tiger Woods today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What's it like to play a round with the number one golfer in the world? We'll introduce you to one woman who got the chance of a lifetime, coming up, in the CNN NEWSROOM.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LONG: Clinging to the side of an Apache helicopter, anti- aircraft weapons hitting like sledgehammers. Hear from a rescued pilot fresh from the line of fire.
HARRIS: A debut fit for a wizard. The stars were out in force for the London premiere of "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix." So were thousands of loyal fans.
This is just the first wave, Melissa, of Potter mania.
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