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AMERICAN MORNING

Claims of Rape and a Corporate Cover up From a Contractor in Iraq; Endorsements Pile up as Candidate go All Out in Iowa; Senator John Mccain Will Pick up Another Endorsement

Aired December 17, 2007 - 08:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Thinking out. Claims of rape and a corporate cover up from a contractor in Iraq. This morning, she tells her story, live.
Homestretch. Endorsements pile up as candidate go all out in Iowa. But can the front runners keep their lead alive.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel very good about where I am, how my campaign is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Plus, help for the hungry.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You do what little things that you can.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: We ride along with the stars to deliver Holiday cheer to needy family on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And welcome, it is Monday, December 17. Glad you're with us, I'm Kiran Chetry.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Rob Marciano. John Roberts has the day off.

CHETRY: And we begin on the homestretch in New Hampshire and Iowa where just 17 stays away for the first votes for president being cast. And in just about 15 minutes, Senator John McCain will pick up another endorsement. This one's from an old friend. Its Connecticut Senator Democrat turned independent Joe Lieberman. He is announcing he's getting behind McCain in an event in New Hampshire. McCain also pick up endorsement by "The Boston Globe" and "The Des Moines Register" this weekend.

Barry Snow is live in Hillsboro, New Hampshire where McCain and Lieberman are hosting a town meeting and that's where they're going to make this announcement, I believe in just about 15 minutes. How significant, Mary, is this endorsement? MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Kiran, talking to people here, they say that it is significant because here in New Hampshire, McCain camp is really trying to help reach out and touch the independent voters to get their message out there. Senator McCain won this New Hampshire primary back in 2000 largely because of support from independent voters. And two of the things that they're going to be stressing here this morning, in a Senator Lieberman in a statement before this endorsement said he acknowledges. This is an unusual step for him.

As you mention, he's a Democrat turned independent. He was the vice president candidate in 2000 on the Democratic ticket. But, the fact that he is coming across party lines, that's one of the things that they're going to be stressing, that he is going to say that the country needs to break the partisan politics that he says, in his words, poisoning the country not getting things done. Also, another thing that he is stressing is national security.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Are there any Democrat who thought they were leading toward getting Joe Lieberman's endorsement, come to a surprise to any Democrats?

SNOW: You know, when Joe Lieberman was running for re-election in Connecticut, as you remember, he had to switch over and become an independent because he almost lost that race because of his support of the war in Iraq and many Democrats had distanced himself from him by supporting his opponent. So, I don't think any of the Democratic candidates are really banking on getting a support from Joe Lieberman because of his support in the war.

CHETRY: Mary Snow for us in Hillsboro, New Hampshire. Right. In just about ten minutes from now, we're going to hear from the candidate himself and also from the Senator. Thanks so much.

MARCIANO: Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards will pick up his own endorsement today. The first lady of Iowa, Mari Culver, will give Edwards her support and they will stop at a homeless shelter later on this morning. And Hillary Clinton is taking her campaign to the skies over Iowa. Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, she said she's thrilled to have picked up an endorsement from the "Des Moines Register" ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm pumped up and I'm very excited because the editorial board of the "Des Moines Register" put all of the candidates through a very grueling process, asking a lot of tough questions, evaluating us and doing independent research. And their editorial makes the case for my candidacy that I'm ready to lead. I've got a proven track record of making positive change in people's lives and what's I'm seeing reflected as I travel around Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere in the country. There's a lot of excitement and energy in my campaign and I'm very confident that we're going to do well. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: The Clinton campaign has once again pushing the theme of change heavily. Senator Clinton says the U.S. needs to move back towards more fiscal responsibility.

CHETRY: Time now to check in with Alina Cho for some of the other stories new this morning. Finally, a bright spot out of Iraq?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, some good news, Kiran, to report. Rob, good morning and good morning, everybody. New this morning. A top U.S. General in Iraq says violence is at its lowest level since the first year of the American invasion. Lieutenant General Ray Odierno says he believes that means the Iraqi government can move forward to settle political differences among rival sects, but he also conceded the first six months of the year were probably the most violent since the 2003 invasion.

Also knew this morning, Russia announcing it has shift nuclear fuel to Iran. Iran insists its nuclear power plant is for peaceful purposes and the latest U.S. intelligence says Iran put its nuclear weapons program on hold back in 2003. But Israeli intelligence disputes that. In fact, a team of Israeli intelligence officers is in the U.S. right now trying to convince officials that Iran has indeed begun a new nuclear weapons program.

A new al-Qaeda video is posted on the web today from Osama Bin Laden second in command. Ayman al Zawahri says the U.S. is defeated and looking for a ways out of Iraq. He also threatened Sunnis cooperating with American forces and says they'll be killed when the U.S. leaves the country. President Bush says the economy is still going strong, despite worries about a recession. That will be the focus of a speech later today in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The president will talk about what small businesses are doing to stay afloat and will also address the recent housing slump.

And officials are waiting for investigators to get to Rhode Island today where a plane is actually still sitting on the runway after skidding off of it. The U.S. Airways express jet fled off the runway at TF Green Airport near Providence happened about 5:00 yesterday afternoon. 31 passengers and three crew members thankfully all made it out safely. Weather may have been a factor. The airport actually got a record 7.6 inches of snow.

We also got some snow here in New York so that keep people inside. Like myself.

CHETRY: Yes. It sure did and when you did venture outside, you basically stepped in about a foot of slush in the streets.

CHO: That's right.

CHETRY: Not pretty good around.

MARCIANO: I'm sure, you guys have a fashionable cortex shoes to slump around New York in. CHO: We certainly do, Rob.

MARCIANO: God bless you.

CHETRY: Well, it was a snowy weekend as well and a lot of people from Michigan to Maine got pounded with snow and ice and as we said, slush, sleet. It was a mess in many cities and Buffalo, New York no exception. Ronald Wolf is standing outside the snow in Syracuse, New York this morning. He is tracking extreme weather for us and actually the snow this morning having an effect at some of the airports as we saw over the weekend as well.

(WEATHER REPORT)

MARCIANO: It's just over a week away until Christmas. Retailers are hoping for big spending from holiday shoppers. Ali Velshi joins us from the business update desk to tell us more about what's happening there. I heard somewhere, I guess someone told me or I read it, there was bad news over the weekend, they didn't do so well?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it's just not picking up at the pace that folks were hoping. When we had that first holiday shopping weekend after Thanksgiving, people were saying, well maybe it will get better as we get through the season. Now, we were up to our last weekend before the holidays and we're just not seeing those numbers out there. Now, people are buying some stuff. And if you're looking for certain things, we were talking a little earlier, if you're looking for a Nintendo Wii, you're not going to find that one very easily or UGG boots.

I heard something earlier by you, and being involved in Hanna Montana paraphernalia, that's hard to get. High School Musical connected stuff and anything to do with a GPS. These are hot products this holiday season. They are hard to get, but people just aren't spending all that money there. And what a lot of retailers are doing is trying to do more to allow you to finish your holiday shopping. So, Macy's is this area, New York, New Jersey, they're going to keep eight stores open 24 hours a day.

Toys "R" Us is going to open their stores nationwide starting Friday until midnight until Christmas. So, there's a lot of emphasis on doing what you have to do to get out there and shop. There a lot people are waiting because they think that the promotions and sales will be better this weekend. Saturday before Christmas. That's this coming Saturday will probably be the busiest shopping day of the year.

MARCIANO: And Ali, looking at the calendar, Christmas is on a Tuesday. That means on the weekend a lot of folks might have...

VELSHI: You do have another day, that's right. Just wait. And by the way, why you got to wait. December 25th, every year, same time.

MARCIANO: Thanks, Ali. I'll be keeping my therapist busy, by the way, with having my Hanna Montana.

VELSHI: Yes, exactly.

MARCIANO: Check in with you a little bit. See you, buddy.

VELSHI: See you around.

CHETRY: We have been talking this morning about the death of singer Dan Fogelberg. He died of prostate cancer. He was only 56 years old. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is at the medical update desk and you know, I guess, the numbers really show that many, many men will get prostate cancer. It seems though, that it's rare to hear someone dying so young from it.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, you know, it is relatively unusual to hear about that and so fast. In fact, 8 out of 10 men who get prostate cancer are over age 65. So being in your 50s, that is unusual. However, of course it does happen and that's why doctors recommend getting tested at age 50 for prostate cancer or even at age 40 if you're at high risk. Now, prostate cancer is one of the leading causes of cancer death in the United States and worldwide. That's according to a new study by the American Cancer Society.

Let's take a look at leading causes of cancer deaths in develop cancers or common cancers. Prostate, breast, lung and colorectal top that list. And common cancers in developing countries are at different list and that would be lung, stomach, liver, breast and cervical and uterine cancer. Now, there's an interesting difference here and what accounts for that difference is that in developing countries, it's often viruses that cause cancer. In developed countries like the United States, it's often lifestyle that causes cancer. A high-fat diet and a lack of exercise.

Kiran?

CHETRY: It is interesting and take a look at that 12 million people will be diagnosed, as you said, with this new cancer cases in 2007 worldwide and as you also pointed out in some cases, there are things you can do to prevent it. What are some of the lifestyle changes that can make a difference when it comes to not getting cancer in the first place?

COHEN: There are three very simple things that people could do and we have heard it over and over. But I'm going to say it again anyhow, which is get control of your diet. You need a low fat diet, not a high fat diet. Also exercise, and of course don't smoke. And that's why this new report from the American Cancer Society says that maybe even more than half of all cancers are potentially preventable. There are things that you can do to keep yourself from getting cancer.

CHETRY: Elizabeth Cohen for us in Atlanta this morning. Thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

MARCIANO: Senator John McCain picking up an endorsement from an old friend. We are awaiting that announcement in New Hampshire. Here's a live picture for you. What makes a former Democrat who ran for vice president decides to cross party lines? We'll find out just ahead.

And a woman says her co-workers attacked her while they were working as contractors in Iraq. Why she says she's the victim of a cover up too. We'll talk with her on AMERICAN MORNING. That's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. We've been following this controversial case out of Iraq where a young American says she was drugged and raped by her co-workers working -- when she was working for a contractor there in Iraq. Several other women are now making similar charges. Jamie Leigh Jones is suing her former employer Kellogg, Brown & Root. She joins us live right now as well as her attorney. Thanks for being with us both of you. Boy, it must be a difficult situation to get on and talk about this.

JAMIE LEIGH JONES, ACCUSES CO-WORKERS IN IRAQ OF RAPE: It is.

CHETRY: But you talk about how you were only in Iraq, in fact, it was your fourth night when you were there and you say that a few men that you had worked with at KBR knocked on your door. What do you remember happened that night?

JONES: They don't knock on my door.

CHETRY: They didn't knock on your door?

JONES: No.

CHETRY: Explain what happened that night.

JONES: Well, I went down and met some of my co-workers because it was just the fourth night and I hadn't met many of them. And one guy offered me a drink and he said there's no Roofies in this drink or anything, I'm saving all my Roofies for (INAUDIBLE). And I just thought it was a joke.

CHETRY: You're saying referring to Rohypnol which can be use to, I guess makes people very woozy and not remember what happened?

JONES: Right. After two drinks, I went blank. I don't remember anything after that.

CHETRY: And then, the next morning, what happened?

JONES: I woke up and I had a severe disfigurement in my chest, I had bruises in my inner thighs, bruises on my stomach and wrists. I was hurting so bad.

CHETRY: So, you figured something bad must have happened. And then, you went to a medic. What did the army medics find out?

JONES: The army medics just called KBR Security and KBR Security took me to the army hospital. And they confirmed that I was raped in more ways than one. CHETRY: And at this point was evidence collected?

JONES: Yes. And the army doctor handed over my rape kit to the KBR Security.

CHETRY: And when you say KBR, this is your employer. This is the contractor that was working in Iraq. How did they respond when you told them that you thought you have been attacked by a fellow worker?

JONES: There are two KBR Security males. They're very insensitive. Actually, after they took me -- from the hospital, they took me to a place that was a container and they put two armed guards outside my door that would not let me leave. So, basically they imprisoned me. They didn't offer me food or drink and they didn't offer me to call my parents or anything.

CHETRY: It's interesting because Kellogg, Brown & Root disputes this. They are claiming that you were brought to a secure area. That they had an HR Representative offering counseling, food and the ability to call your parents.

JONES: That's extremely inaccurate and that upsets me that they would go to great lengths to make that up. Because, the HR woman who had came to the trailer, she did not let me get food. She did not let me get a drink and she did not let me get a cell phone.

CHETRY: How did you finally get help then?

JONES: One of the KBR security guards let me use his cell phone and my father contacted Congressman Ted Poe to get me out of Iraq. But yes, I'll always remember that HR woman, who was very rude, imprisoned me. She took me, you know -- she was awful. This is horrible.

CHETRY: So you feel that on top of something terrible that happened to you, KBR did not respond on the way that you would expect a victim of a sexual attack to respond...

JONES: No one should ever respond to a victim like that. I mean, after you're brutally raped and beaten, you should not put someone, imprison them in a trailer so they cannot bring awareness to the situation. So that's why I'm speaking out because this type of behavior is absolutely not good. It's -- no one should ever treat someone like this.

CHETRY: Attorney, I want to ask you with this because in our internal email to KBR employees that was obtain actually by the Houston Chronicle, the president of the company wrote, after a review of the case, KBR noted inaccuracies in the accounts of the incident in question and the disputes portions of Ms. Jone's version of the facts. Will the physical evidence and other things play out to the point where you can prove your case?

TODD KELLY, ATTORNEY FOR ALLEGED RAPED VICTIM: Absolutely. When I first looked at this case, I looked at KBR's position paper on the case. It was actually the inconsistencies in KBR's statement that got me more interested in investigating this case further which we have done extensively. Jamie's case is not alone. It's really one of the big issues here and the fact of the way that they treated her after the rape seems to be almost an SOP with this company. They do it with a number of women.

CHETRY: There's going to be House hearings on this right now. There have been no charges filed against the alleged attackers. What do you hope the out comes of this House hearings are on Wednesday?

KELLY: I hope that they're several. I do hope that the charges are brought against the individuals who did this but the case is much broader and much bigger than that. And I think, what they really need to do is they need to change the laws and they need to hold not only the individuals but also these companies accountable for their actions overseas.

CHETRY: There was some initial confusion about whether or not this rape kit which was given as you said to KBR representatives was lost has that been found? Do you have physical evidence?

KELLY: Actually, they have never produced it to us. We have been told that parts of it may still exist but it's never been produced to us.

CHETRY: Who's looking into this besides those hearings?

KELLY: We believe the State Department is looking into it. It's been a very, very slow process.

JONES: And the reason why I'm bringing this public because there has to be some method that brings the victims to justice. Like, they have to have, if you're rape here, then -- a police officer would take the rape kit, and there would be a chain of command to hand it over. You can't just hand evidence to a KBR security coordinator.

CHETRY: Well, Jamie Leigh Jones and Todd Kelly, thanks you for joining us and thanks for telling us your story.

JONES: All right, thank you.

KELLY: Thank you for having us.

CHETRY: Rob?

MARCIANO: There's still lots more coming up on AMERICAN MORNING. It's a record setting day for the Ron Paul campaign. The Texas Congressman raises a fortune, an online donations all in just 24 hours. We'll tell you exactly how much coming up. And an innocent little snowman battles a CNN weatherman. Now, snowman loses. Stay tuned. Ronald wolf is our hot shot. That's still ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Your "Hot Shot" of the morning is the accidental death of a snowman. Frosty had a run in with our Reynolds Wolf. Take a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's just going to be mainly some rain. I didn't mean for that outcome.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was brutal, Reynolds. You just made all the little kids watching right now cry.

WOLF: Oh, my gosh. Can you imagine the nightmares that they're going to have. I can't wait for the e-mail I'm going to get from that. Sorry, Frosty. There was no Frosty. I have no idea what you're talking about. There was never a snowman here. It was a figment of your imagination. It does appear that - It does appear that, don't you love these golden moments of television.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: Well, Reynolds Wolf joins us in Syracuse, New York and I have to tell you the internal memos show that Reynolds is trying to say, it was an accident. He says he was just going to pat the snowman on the head, no joke.

MARCIANO: We'll see if that holds up in court.

WOLF: No one wants to see an event like that happen, but I guess that kind of makes me cold hearted.

MARCIANO: Oh.

CHETRY: I don't know whether to laugh or cry right now.

WOLF: Let's be honest, Rob. I mean, you know, really, we're just a bunch of weather ninjas and sometimes we have to wheel our barometric numb chucks. Sometimes with deadly force and it just happens.

MARCIANO: You're absolutely right about that. And unfortunately for you, your skills are of the deadly force variety are much more disastrous than others. So, take it easy next time and on behalf of the entire CNN weather team and the resulting PR nightmare that we're about to have, take it easy out there, buddy.

CHETRY: Right, tonight make him mad.

MARCIANO: Reynolds Wolf live in Syracuse.

CHETRY: So, that was today's "Hot Shot." It's usually not video of our own staffers except in strange circumstances like Rick Sanchez teaching me to do the twist. But anyway, if you have a "Hot Shot", please email us at amhotshots@cnn.com. Include your name. A little bit about where the picture or the video where it is from and please make sure the image is yours. I say, in that case, it was definitely all Reynolds.

MARCIANO: It was all Reynolds. I don't say getting responsibility for his actions although behind the system, I definitely got a support.

All right, Senator John McCain picking up an endorsement from an old friend. We are waiting for that announcement in New Hampshire. There's a live picture for you. Some speakers before hand. Joel Lieberman right there, Senator McCain, two stars of the big show, we'll bring that to you live, we hope as it comes to us.

Also, Ron Paul making some waves with some big money raised in just 24 hours. He broke his original one-day record. We'll tell you just how many millions he reeled in. And Kevin Bacon helping out the needy on this holiday season. We'll tell you what his cause is. That's coming up and so much more on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARCIANO: Welcome back. It's Monday, December 17th and we are now about to hear from Senator John McCain.

CHETRY: That's right, a big endorsement today from Joe Lieberman there. They're live in New Hampshire this morning on the campaign trail. Let's listen.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It will transcend many other aspects of life and I will look back on our relationship and our partnership together as having contributed more to the security of this country than some of its parts. I have had the great privilege of knowing, of working with Joe Lieberman. I have had the privilege of seeing us accomplish things in a bi-partisan way in a very difficult political environment. Time after time, at town hall meetings, people will stand up and say why can't you all work together for the good of the country.

Joe Lieberman and I will look back someday with pride at the fact that we were able to work together and reach across the aisle to work for the betterment of future generations of Americans. I know I couldn't have done the things we have done together by myself and I certainly know that we have done our best to serve this country first and our party second. I'm proud to introduce to you today, my dear friend and comrade, Senator Joe Lieberman.

SEN. JOE LIEBERMAN: Thank you. Thank you, John. Honored to be here with Tom Ridge, a great American, great first secretary of Homeland Security and it's actually great to be back in Hillsboro. Thanks for coming out this morning.

You know, I know it's unusual for a democrat to be endorsing a republican. It's even unusual for an independent democrat like me to be endorsing a republican. You know, political parties are important in our country. But they're not more important that what's best for our country. They're not more important than friendship. They're not more important than our future and that's why I'm proudly here to urge republicans and independents in New Hampshire to come out on January 8 and make John McCain the next president of the United States.

You know, we all have a lot at stake in this presidential election. These are not ordinary times. This is not an ordinary election and John McCain is not an ordinary candidate. You've got to go, I hope everybody, for who we genuinely think is best qualified to lead our nation forward because the problems we face today here at home and around the world are too great, the threats are too real and frankly the opportunities in this great country of ours are still too exciting to let partisan politics determine alone who will be the next president of the United States. The fact is as John has said that we desperately need our next president to break through the reflexive partisanship that is poisoning our politics today and stopping us from getting anything done in Washington for the American people who were good enough to send us there.

So as I said earlier, I say it explicitly, being a republican is important, being a democrat is important. But you know what's more important than that? The interests and well-being of the United States of America. Let's put America first again and John McCain is the man as president who will help us do that. I honestly believe that he can reunite our country. He can restore faith in the American government and he can rebuild confidence in America's future. I don't say that as a stranger to this guy. I have worked closely with John for many years on many issues.

CHETRY: All right there you see it.

LIEBERMAN: ... from strengthening our military to supporting our veterans to doing something about global warming.

CHETRY: All right. There you see it right now while we're hearing the endorsement quite unusual to see, a democrat, even though an independent democrat at that. Joseph Lieberman endorsing republican John McCain. He says that while parties are important, they are not more important than our future which is why he says he's proud to say he endorses, why he endorses Senator McCain and why he says everybody should come out on January 8th and make John McCain the next president of the United States.

There we see attending and also up the corner, Tom Ridge, the former governor of Pennsylvania and Homeland Security cabinet member. There he is as well. So, a big endorsement. Actually, it was a pretty big weekend of endorsements for John McCain, also getting "The Des Moines Register," "Boston Globe" and now former 2000 vice- presidential nominee, Joe Lieberman.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, ANCHOR: And to other political news, you spoke with Hillary Clinton earlier today.

CHETRY: That's right. I had a chance to talk to her and she is in Des Moines as well. She did get the endorsement of "the Des Moines Register" as well. So a big one there in Iowa.

MARCIANO: And more importantly, she was sympathetic of getting up every morning at 4:00 in the morning.

CHETRY: That was nice of her, wasn't it?

MARCIANO: Speaking of, Hillary Clinton is taking her campaigns to the skies over Iowa. Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, she said she was thrilled to have picked up that endorsement of "The Des Moines Register" ahead of the Iowa caucuses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm pumped up and I'm very excited because the editorial board of "the Des Moines Register" put all of the candidates through a very grueling process, asking a lot of tough questions, evaluating us and doing independent research and their editorial makes the case for my candidacy, that I am ready to lead, I have got a proving track record of making positive change in people's lives and that's what I'm seeing reflected as I travel around Iowa, New Hampshire and elsewhere in the country. There's a lot of excitement and energy in my campaign and I'm very confident that we're going to do well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARCIANO: The Clinton campaign is once again pushing the theme of change very heavily. Senator Clinton says the U.S. needs to move back towards more fiscal responsibility.

CHETRY: And with just 17 days and counting before the first votes are cast, the democratic candidates are trying to hit all 99 counties in Iowa. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is following the Clinton campaign in Des Moines and we heard her. I thin she was speaking somewhere at an event and it seemed like she lost her voice a little. She regained it when we spoke to her earlier today. But boy, they are nonstop in that state.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Nonstop absolutely and perhaps the only way you can hit all 99 counties is do what Senator Clinton is trying to do, that is, she is taking a helicopter trying to hit as many of those small towns. She calls it the hillecopter tour. You get the idea but all we're trying to get as many people in this small window as possible before the Iowa caucus is less than 2 1/2 weeks away. Senator Barack Obama continues his bus tour in northern Iowa trying to hit as many rallies, meet and greets. And then Senator John Edwards has been traveling with his own star power this past weekend, actor Kevin Bacon. We expect that he's going to get an important endorsement here. That is Iowa's first lady, the governor's wife.

Now, why is that important? Well, you may recall back in 2004, it was Christy Vilsack who actually endorsed Senator John Kerry. He ended up winning the Iowa caucuses. What does all this matter, Kiran? Well, the bottom line is everything matters right now. That is because each one of these candidates is trying to get the advantage and it is really a dead heat. Kiran.

CHETRY: It sure is. Things are certainly heating up there in Des Moines this morning. Thanks a lot, Suzanne.

Also call him the $6 million man. Ron Paul's campaign says the republican congressman raised that much money, $6 million in just 24 hours. The staff called the on-line fund-raiser a "money bomb." The average donation is 50 bucks. His previous one-day record was $4.2 million.

You know, we talk about the candidates having the campaign bus. Here's the Ron Paul blimp and that flies around and on one side, it says google Ron Paul. So they really do know how to master the internet in that campaign/

MARCIANO: I believe he made history by having a political blimp for the first time.

CHETRY: How about it?

MARCIANO: And raising a ton of money now. No doubt about that.

Well, breaking news this morning out of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah is pardoning a rape victim who is sentenced to 200 lashes and six months in prison. After weeks of international outrage, a Saudi newspaper says her conviction is being overruled in the interests of the people. The 19-year-old was convicted for being alone with a man who was not a relative. The seven men who attacked her received sentences of up to five years.

Well, nearly 300 escaped prisoners are still at large in India after a mass jailbreak. Authorities say the inmates escaped Sunday from a jail in the central Indian state of Chattigarh. They overpowered the four guards that were at the facility during lunchtime. Police have closed the states' borders and are on high alert throughout the region.

CHETRY: Time to check in with Alina Cho for some of the other stories new this morning and of course we're following that case out of Illinois, the Peterson disappearance.

ALINA CHO, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Kiran, Rob. Good morning, lots going on today on this Monday. The husband of Stacy Peterson is scheduled to be in court this morning. The question, will he get back the items that were seized just after his wife vanished? Drew Peterson's lawyers say prosecutors are relying on innuendo to explain Stacy's disappearance. But those prosecutors insist it's simply too early to give Peterson his guns, two vehicles and a computer. They say the probe is ongoing. The Chicago area ex-cop is a suspect but has not been charged with anything. His wife has been missing since October 28.

A victim wounded in the Colorado church shooting has now been kicked out of that very same church. Larry Borbon nay was escorted from the New Life Church and told not to come back. He told CNN affiliate KRDO TV that officials simply did not like his criticism of church security. Borbon say he pleaded with the guard to confront the shooter, Matthew Murray and then asked for a gun. He says he distracted Murray before another guard shot him. But the pastor of that church says Borbon actually did more harm than good.

The Reverend Al Sharpton is defending himself after a videotape allegedly shows him cutting a questionable deal. The "Philadelphia Enquirer" obtained the tape of the 2003 FBI sting operation looking into corruption at Philadelphia's City Hall. The paper says the tape shows Sharpton offering to help a man win a business deal in exchange for fund raising for his presidential bid. That tape has also touched off a separate investigation into Sharpton's campaign and his civil right group. Sharpton says the deal was legal because he is not a public official.

Congresswoman Mary Bono, the widow of the late singer turned politician Sonny Bono has walked down the aisle again. Bono married Florida congressman, Connie Mack on Sunday at a private ceremony in Ashville, North Carolina. Those are the first pictures there. She's gone her hair out. You may remember the congresswoman succeeded her then husband Sonny in a special election after Bono's death back in 1998. Bono and Mack had been dating for about two years before tying the know. By the way, both are republicans.

It could soon be lights out for incandescent bulbs. This week Congress is expected to pass an energy bill that will phase out the traditional light bulb over a 12-year period. President Bush says he will sign the bill.

And a New York City councilman has introduced a bill that would ban horse drawn carriage rides. These are popular among tourists. He says those carriage rides are inhumane. The Humane Society is among several groups supporting the ban. But New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg says carriage rides are part of what defines the city. And by the way, it brings in a lot of money as well. Those things are expensive.

CHETRY: It's a controversial issue because of some of these horrific accidents that have been taken place involving those horses as well.

CHO: Well, they get in the way of traffic, you know, and unfortunately that can be bad news.

MARCIANO: Well, traffic in Central Park is bad, as John Roberts will attest to having gotten into a bike accident there. So, you know, be it a horse, a bicycle or a car, it's dangerous.

CHETRY: Or the TV news anchor, he's still nursing a broken neck, actually. That's not why he's not here today though. (He's on a trip.)

Still ahead, heavy snowfall hits the northeast over the weekend and now it's Monday morning and the weather still causing some problems in many parts of the country. We'll fill you in on the airport delays. Take a look at the forecast for the work week ahead, coming up.

Also we're riding along as actor Kevin Bacon helps put food on the table for the needy this holiday season. Lola Ogunnaike went along with Kevin. She's going to give us the scoop, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARCIANO: 15 minutes to the top of the hour. Welcome back to the most news in the morning. Here's an I-report for you. Weatherwise, we are standing by Edward Vick of Old Greenwich, Connecticut. He says this street does typically flood, but with this past nor'easter and the cold weather, they actually got some ice flow going on there in leafy Old Greenwich.

Reynolds Wolf started his journey weather wise earlier this weekend in Connecticut and has now made it to Syracuse, New York, where the snow continues to come down. Hello, again, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Hey, there, Rob. You're absolutely right, the snow continues to fall. It does appear the worst is over though. We ended up with roughly 17 inches of snowfall in the Syracuse area, much of this now pushing off to the east. The nor'easter is pretty much into the Atlantic but still we're getting lake-effect activity, which you know, with that northwest breeze can make all the difference. All this weather can make all the difference in your travel plans today.

Take a look at what we have here for you terms of the airports. We're going to get to that very quickly. And you can see that we have some expected delays, no surprise in parts of the northeast. Most of your New York airports, in fact all of them are going to have some backups. Same is true in Philadelphia back over to Pittsburgh at least with 30 minute delay.

For the time being, Chicago, about 30 minutes but in St. Louis, you are in the clear. Southeast airports, look pretty good. Atlanta no issues there at the time. Same story in Dallas-Ft. Worth. However, back out west it is going to be a mixed bag for you. In places like Phoenix, no problems but back into San Francisco, a half hour delay. That is a look at your forecast, we are going to wrap it up.

But first a quick look at your snowfall totals. It's about 18 inches of snowflake in Peru, New York. Saranac Lake same story. Bronson, Michigan 14 inches of snowfall. And Newark, New York not Newark, New Jersey but Newark, New York about 15 inches of snow and still it's coming down. All right, that's a look at your forecast. Let's send it back to Kiran who's in the nice, warm studio.

CHETRY: Yes. And it seemed to have picked up actually, the flurry, since we checked in with you last. All right, hang in there, Reynolds. Thanks.

Well, the nation's food banks say that they are in crisis but many more people are in need and there is not enough food to fill the demand. Net flicks, and America's harvest is asking for your help. They're also enlisting the stars to chip in. Some of them are more than happy to oblige. In fact, our Lola Ogunnaike caught yup with Kevin Bacon at the Food Bank in New York City.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LOLA OGUNNAIKE, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: I was watching you over there, great actor and you know how to back a box, too, don't you?

KEVIN BACON, ACTOR: I'm learning. Actually, one of my - I was a packer and shipper. That was actually my first job.

OGUNNAIKE: Really/

BACON: Yes, working at a warehouse.

OGUNNAIKE: So you have had experience?

BACON: I have had a little bit of experience. You know, I got up this morning and made myself a big breakfast. And you don't even really think about the fact that there are people that don't have really basic fundamental needs fulfilled. Food being the biggest one.

OGUNNAIKE: It's amazing, that, you know, in a first world country like this, food is still a luxury for a lot of people.

BACON: Yes, and the shelves here, are a lot of them are empty and these food banks are really in a crisis right now.

OGUNNAIKE: So how are you hoping that you're being here will help?

BACON: I think that just in general, you do what little things you can and I always feel like I, when I do anything like this, it makes me think to myself, I'm not doing enough. So just do one little thing today and we'll see what happens tomorrow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: He's so humble about the whole thing. Does he have one- on-one contact with people? I saw he took a picture with what looks like a group. But does he sort of interact with people as they're distributing that food?

OGUNNAIKE: Oh, he was there, you know, filling the boxes, putting labels on the boxes. Apparently, he used to work at a grocery store and pack boxes so he has a history of doing this. But you know they are really in need here and those shelves were definitely empty. They used to have about 8 million pounds of food. This year, they only have about 4 million pounds. The donations just aren't coming in from corporate sponsors. Personal donations aren't coming in. Federal subsidies are down as well. And you know, they said a dollar can get them five meals, so they really need this money and it takes just a little to really help out. A dollar for five meals? They know who to make the money stretch there.

CHETRY: You know, you're right. It's something all of us should be thinking about for sure. For Kevin Bacon and for other celebrities, does getting celebrities to show up at those, at the food banks and at these events make a difference in people's donations?

OGUNNAIKE: You know, I talked to the director and she said it absolutely does make a difference because it brings awareness, it brings the cameras. You know, when Kevin Bacon is there, or say a Teri Hatcher who also help volunteer or a Morgan Freeman, or Adrian Greenier, these people draw the attention. They also makes them feel good. They've been so bless and they feel like any little contribution they make helps them feel good and if they can use their celebrity for something other than landing on the cover of a magazine, they're happy to do it.

CHETRY: Secondharvest.org is where you go to get more info. It's not too late if we still want, I people still want to donate food and money.

OGUNNAIKE: Not to late at all. Food and money and they need it throughout the year, not just the holidays. Obviously, we think about it now but throughout the year they need the money. I mean need is up by 20 percent. So a dollar, two dollars, five dollars, any little bit helps.

CHETRY: It sure makes the difference. All right, Lola. Thank you.

MARCIANO: Well, the CNN NEWSROOM is just minutes away. Heidi Collins at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead. Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN, ANCHOR: Hey there, Rob. That's right, we're doing a story right up your alley. We're going to be talking about shovels and snow blowers because you got to have them. From Michigan all the way to Maine today, the big storm left as much as a foot and a half of snow. Now after outrage in the west, Saudi Arabia pardons a rape victim. She had been sentenced to six months and 200 lashes. We'll have that story. Plus a Florida family finds a racist nightmare outside its home. Swastikas and messages of hates.

Plus, the president's remarks this morning about the economy. NEWSROOM gets started right at the top of the hour, right here on CNN. Rob.

MARCIANO: Looking forward to that, Heidi Collins. We'll see you in about nine minutes.

COLLINS: All right. Very good. Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: If you are looking for luxury, you should let your fingers do the walking. Easy ways you can find deals of the high end variety all online. We'll tell you next on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MARCIANO: Welcome back. Only eight more shopping days until Christmas and if you have a few luxury items left on your list, well, our Veronica de la Cruz has some interesting web sites to help us get the goods and get them out on time.

DE LA CRUZ: Good morning to you. Do you know woot.com?

MARCIANO: Woot?

DE LA CRUZ: Woot.com. Do you know woot? It's something entirely different. Woot.com is a web site that puts one item on sale cheaply for 24 hours. That's it, you got 24 hours. You want to think woot.com before these big ticket designer items. This site is called ideeli.com and it launched today. It described itself as a red rope online shopping community. It offers members a chance to buy heavily discounted luxury items. You want to think Prada. Christian Dior, Jimmy Choo, and you have to think of it as shopping as a sport. Because, you've got to be really quick. These deals are apparently so good, they can sell out in a matter of hours and you can have the sale alert sent to your cell phone. Membership is free but if you are willing to cough up this 7.99 a month for this so called first row membership, you can get those alert an hour before anyone else does.

There are also certain first row member only deals, Now, if you're not interested in these luxury goods. Then here's another web site. It might help you save. You want to check out priceprotectr.com. The theory behind this side, lots of stores offer price protection policies. If the price drops, then they'll refund the difference. You just have to watch the prices. Price protectr does that for you. The site lets you enter your past purchases and the store that you bought them from. If the price drops within the protection period which is usually about 30 days and then you'll receive an e-mail The site monitors 72 stores including amazon, the Apple Store, Best buy and Sears.

And once again, those web sites are ideeli.com, that's spelled I- d-e-e-l-I, that's the one for luxury goods. Priceprotectr.com, you want to drop the e before the last r. So some good web tips there.

CHETRY: Cool, i just looked up woot because you just mentioned it. There is one item and they only do one item.

DE LA CRUZ: Which one was it?

CHETRY: It's a Kodak digital camera and printer for $150. And it's the only item on this website.

DE LA CRUZ: I was thinking of buying. $150.

CHETRY: The only item on this web site.

DE LA CRUZ: Yes. One for 24 hours, that's it. That's all you got.

MARCIANO: And the stuff is real. I assume, I mean, if you're buying Prada, you spend...

DE LA CRUZ: What kind of question is that?

MARCIANO: All right. Thanks, Veronica. I just wanted to make sure that's why I ask those questions.

CHETRY: We're going to take a quick break. We're going to get a final check of our quick vote. We were asking people about whether or not they're mailing holiday card this year. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Before we leave you this Monday morning, a final check of the quick vote, we asked how many holiday card are you sending this year? 30 percent of you say you're going to send more than 25, 34 percent say they're sending fewer than 25 and 36 percent none at all.

MARCIANO: Strong come back from the none people. I appreciate your support.

CHETRY: That's right. Let's hear it for being lazy.

MARCIANO: You know, you can e-mail too, just to save on the paper. Spread your cheer.

CHETRY: All good points. All right. Well, great having you with us this morning, Rob. See you back here in your weather gear tomorrow.

MARCIANO: Yes, doing weather tomorrow.

CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins starts now.

COLLINS: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I am Heidi Collins. Good morning to you, everybody. Watch events come into the NEWSROOM Live on this Monday morning, it's December 17th here's the rundown.

Snow, cold and winds, people from the Great Lakes and New England.

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