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Iran Said U.S. Navy Video Of A High Seas Confrontation Was Fabricated; Dramatic Video From Iraq; President Bush Is In Israel; Dense Fog, Thick Smoke And A Deadly 50-Car Pileup On A Florida Highway; New Hampshire Makes A Second Clinton The Comeback Kid

Aired January 9, 2008 - 09:00   ET


TONY HARRIS, ANCHOR: You're in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.
HEIDI COLLINS, ANCHOR: Hi, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins.

Watch events come into the NEWSROOM, live on Wednesday morning. Here's what's on the rundown for January 9th. The resurrection of John McCain and Hillary Clinton. New Hampshire gives new life to campaigns left for dead. What happens next?

HARRIS: A red carpet welcome for President Bush. His first visit to Israel as president. His news conference, live.

COLLINS: The Pentagon says this tape proves Iran's hostile move. Iran calls the U. S. story a fish tale. High seas hassle, in the NEWSROOM.

HARRIS: Comeback, word of the day on this morning after the nation's first presidential primary. Here are the results. From New Hampshire, beginning with the Democrats: Hillary Clinton rebounded from a disappointing finish in Iowa. She edged out Barack Obama, the front-runner, in many New Hampshire polls. The polls. Guess, we'll talk about that this morning. John Edwards finished third.

Among the Republicans, John McCain came out on top. Mitt Romney second and Mike Huckabee a distant third. So is this the first day of a whole new presidential race? Senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is standing by.


CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hold the phone, it's all different now. Twin victories in New Hampshire have sent the '08 presidential race on its head. One win for a campaign left for dead.

JOHN MCCAIN, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Tonight, we sure showed them what a comeback looks like.


CROWLEY: And another win for a campaign on the brink. SEN. HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Together, let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.


CROWLEY: Women voters who preferred Barack Obama in Iowa flocked to her in New Hampshire, drawn, the Clinton campaign believes, by a newly accessible, more open candidate.

CLINTON: Over the last week I listened to you and, in the process, I found my own voice.

CROWLEY: Hours before the polls closed, Clinton's staff talked about anti-donors and upcoming changes, they seemed startled by her victory. No more so than camp Obama which sailed out of its win in Iowa into a double-digit lead in New Hampshire. All of which disappeared when the votes came in. Still, they are formidable foes who will meet again next in Nevada and South Carolina and beyond.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We know the battle ahead will be long but always remember that no matter what obstacles stand in our way, nothing can stand in the way of the power of millions of voices calling for change.

CROWLEY: On the Republican side, John McCain proved himself the old warrior he is. Losing most of his money and his staff last summer, McCain chose to stand and fight in New Hampshire with a tough guy truth-teller campaign they loved in 2000 and loved again in 2008.

MCCAIN: I listened to you. I answered you. Sometimes, I argued with you. But I always told you the truth as best I can see the truth. And did you me the great honor of listening.

CROWLEY: McCain's victory makes the well-heeled front-runner Mitt Romney a two-time loser. Romney looks now to his home state of Michigan to bail him out.

MITT ROMNEY, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, another silver, and it's -- I'd rather have a gold but I got another silver.

CROWLEY: The Republican race is now officially in chaos with Iowa's winner, Mike Huckabee, placing a respectable New Hampshire third and Rudy Giuliani waiting in the wings for a contest in friendly territory. And though John Edwards and Bill Richardson journey on, the Democratic race looks like an epic battle between two megawatt superstars. Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Candy Crowley, CNN, Manchester, New Hampshire.


COLLINS: What turned the tide for New Hampshire's winners and losers? Clues may be found in what voters had to say after they cast their ballots. CNN senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, looks at the exit poll.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: How did Hillary do it? Well, two words. One of them, women. Women are her base. Yet they abandoned her in the Iowa caucuses and they came back big time in New Hampshire. Women voted for Clinton over Obama by a 12-point margin. Why did they come back? Well, some say, it was her last- minute show of emotion, just before primary day.

But, here's another word, the economy. That had a lot to do with women's return to the Clinton fold. It was the number one issue to Democrats in New Hampshire and those Democrat who said their vote was driven by economic concerns voted for Clinton over Obama by a nine- point margin.

What happened on the Republican side? John McCain's comeback. Well, here's something interesting. Part of it was driven by negative opinion of George W. Bush. McCain beat Bush in New Hampshire in 2000 and it appears that anti-Bush sentiment again helped him win. Half the Republicans, half the Republicans in New Hampshire had a negative view of the Bush Administration. And they voted for McCain over Romney by 14 points. Another factor, those Republicans who said personal qualities were more important than issues -- they voted for John McCain by a 20-point margin over Mitt Romney.

It wasn't an ideological vote that McCain won on. It wasn't a vote on the issues. It was his personal qualities. What qualities? Well, voters said he says what he believes and he has a lot of experience. Those were very appealing to voters in New Hampshire who know McCain very well.

Final question, why were the pre-election polls so wrong? Why did they all predict a big victory for Obama and in the end Clinton won? Well, we looked at a poll of polls. Eight polls taken just before the primary. We averaged them and here they are. Let's compare them with the actual vote in the primary. The big discrepancy was in the Clinton vote. She got nine points more than the polls estimated. Obama's vote, that was right on target. Edwards was close. That suggests that late-breaking, undecided voters went heavily for Hillary Clinton. Was it her show of emotion? Was it the Clinton election machine at work? Maybe both.

Bill Schneider, CNN, New York.


HARRIS: So, one of the next steps on the campaign trail, South Carolina. Both parties will hold the primaries there later this month. Democrats may have the most on the line, especially among black voters.

CNN's Dan Lothian explains.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: African-Americans in South Carolina are very aware of the power of their vote in the state's upcoming Democratic primary.

TODD SHAW, PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH CAROLINA: A Democratic candidate is going to make headway in the deep south -- and this being a bellwether deep south state -- you need the black vote to do that.

LOTHIAN: And, two candidates, Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, have been aggressively courting that vote, creating an interesting dynamic. Shaw says it divided the African-American community.

SHAW: There was both the electability question with Obama and the sense that there's another Clinton on the ticket.

LOTHIAN: Loyalty to the Clintons, long-time allies of the black community, versus Obama, a relative unknown. At this Columbia barber shop, Damon Hardy says he is supporting Obama but, as he gave me a much-needed haircut, explained why some blacks are still waffling.

LOTHIAN (on camera): Your other friends out there, what's the sense?

DAMON HARDY, BARBER-OWNER OF BLAC BOC'S: They want Obama to win but they don't want their vote to be wasted on someone who they don't think is going to win. They don't really think Obama has a chance but they are voting Hillary Clinton, because of her experience.

LOTHIAN: You think that is going to change, though, when people start seeing that white people are voting for...?

HARDY: Oh, yes.

LOTHIAN (voice-over): Senator John Edwards won the South Carolina primary in 2004 but the political landscape has changed in his native state. The battle between the message of experience or change has energized African-Americans here. Even as some South Carolinians try to decide which way to go.

Which way are you leaning right now?

IDELA ISRAEL, SOUTH CAROLINIAN DEMOCRATIC VOTER: Right now, I'm not too sure, but I think it's going to be Obama.

LOTHIAN: Back at the barber shop, this Obama supporter is optimistic but not overly confident.

HARDY: Hillary has a good chance, too, now. She has a great chance.


HARRIS: Dan Lothian joins us live from Columbia, South Carolina. Dan, we certainly appreciate a good tidying up and you can get anything, including political analysis in a black barber shop. I got to tell you, you know, it feels like the Dems have been targeting South Carolina for months now. With Michigan not really in play for the Democrats, South Carolina, it seems, really comes into focus, doesn't it?

LOTHIAN: It really does come into focus. They have been on the ground here for months working very hard in black communities. They have a very sophisticated ground operations here -- both the Obama and the Clinton campaigns. They've been visiting those barbers shops. They've even been visiting the beauty shops. Beauty shops especially important because about 30 percent of that African-American vote, they're women. And those black women could make the difference here in South Carolina -- for Democrats.

HARRIS: Boy, what a story South Carolina's going to be. Dan Lothian for us this morning. Dan, we appreciate it. Good to see you. Thank you, Dan.

And, for more on the New Hampshire primary and the next stops for the presidential candidates, let's send you to, it is your one-stop shop for all things political.

COLLINS: Unfolding this hour, fog, smoke, and a deadly chain reaction crash in Florida. Authorities say at least three people died when 50 cars and trucks piled up on Interstate 4 in Polk County. The highway was blanketed by an eerie shroud of fog and smoke from the nearby brushfire. Officials say a tanker overturned. It's not clear if it's part of the pile-up. Nearly 15 miles of Interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando are blocked by accidents.

We'll continue to update you throughout this morning on this situation, including when we get word on when that portion of the Interstate will likely re-open. It's not clear if it's part of the pileup, nearly 15 miles of interstate 4 between Tampa and Orlando are blocked by accidents. We'll continue to update you on this situation, including when we get word on when that portion of the Interstate will likely reopen. Does not look very clear in the slightest.

HARRIS: Let's get you to Jacqui Jeras now.

Jacqui, I guess, you can give a bit of a perspective on this. That looks so bad, at some point, we'll get satellite images from the sky of how bad that looks.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, in fact, you know, I was looking on a radar and we saw a little something in that area. So, potentially some of it has been picking up on there. You know, the fog is starting to improve just a little bit right now. Basically, we've got a lot of low-level moisture in place. We got that brushfire which isn't too far from there and that creates more particles in the atmosphere. Any moisture or water vapor that's out there tends to condense on those little particles and it just creates more fog and haze and real visibility problems.

Take a look at that. This is a little bit earlier today from West TV there in Florida. Just how thick that was. The same visibility was basically down to nothing along I-4. Now it's looking like its improving a little bit. Yes, that's from earlier today, almost looks like snow on the ground when you look there. It was a really shallow layer. You can tell by looking at some of those treetops. And we do expect condition to improve there with the fog in the next hour, but you still might have some haze lingering from the smoke that's in the area.

This is the part we're talking about along I-4. Here's Orlando, there's Tampa Bay. And it's real near Hanes City, just to the south here and they're reporting visibility between a quarter and a half of a mile. Watch for better weather there in the upcoming hours. More fog is likely for tomorrow.

Our other big weather story of the day and this has been the weather story the last couple of days. This is the same weather-maker that produced the tornadoes in the mid-west the last two days. Today, it's moving through the northeastern corridor bringing in some strong thunderstorms and a lot of damage across parts of upstate New York -- from Buffalo over towards Rochester.

That squall line has pushed easterly now and the severe thunderstorm watch has expired. We might see isolated stronger storms yet throughout the morning, but as the storm system passing on through, the winds are going to be picking up. Look at those gusty winds today. Expected to be between 40 and 50 miles per hour. That could be strong enough to bring down tree branches and possibly cause more power outages. We also reports by the way out of Buffalo, New York, that wind gusts from the thunderstorms that blew through there, took a 737 and pushed it into the jetway. Somebody's plane will be late today.

COLLINS: Definitely, at least one. All right, Jacqui, we know you're watching this closely. We'll check back with you a little bit later on. Thank you.

HARRIS: You know what? Let's continue to tell the weather story here. It's the warm weather that is kicking up another round of tornadoes, rain, and flooding in Appleton, Arkansas. I guess this is part of the system that Jacqui was just referring to. A man was killed when a rare January twister rolled his mobile home off its cinderblocks and sent it smashing into trees.

Heavy rain and melting snow led to flash-flooding in Indiana. Two small children died when the SUV they were riding in stalled in deep water. Another man drowned when his truck was swept into a flooded creek. Some people had to be rescued by boat as you can see here. Hundreds remain out of their homes in Indiana.

COLLINS: At the Supreme Court today, Indiana's voter I. D. law, doesn't prevent fraud or disenfranchise minorities and, of course, CNN's Kelli Arena is at the court this morning.

So, Kelli, what are the main arguments that we expect to hear today?

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, this is all about, as you said, how a voter can be disenfranchised focusing on an Indiana law passed in 2005 requiring everybody who shows up at the polls to have a government-issued photo I. D. The government said this is all meant to prevent to prevent fraud. These I.D.s are available for free at motor vehicle offices across the state. It's just one of many steps that we've taken.

But critics suggest that it puts an undue burden on some voters, especially some minorities and elderly voters who may or may not know about the new law or may have trouble getting to a motor vehicle office, or who just maybe intimidated by having to get new documentation. They argue that it should not be difficult for people to vote, and so the Supreme Court will decide, hear arguments today, about whether or not this law is constitutional, Heidi.

COLLINS: All right. You'll watch that for us as well. Thanks so much. Kelli Arena reporting on a Supreme Court decision today.

HARRIS: A four-star restaurant. How about a four-star physician? A new way to rate doctors? Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains.


COLLINS: You are in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Heidi Collins. Confrontation in the high seas, from the U. S. Navy's point of view. Video of that incident with Iran.


HARRIS: OK, man on a mission: President Bush in Israel? On a push for mid-East peace deal, the president got a red-carpet welcome. When he arrived in Tel Aviv, he is hoping to move Israel and Palestinians to work out a peace agreement before his final year in office ends. And, he pledged to stand to with Israel against the terrorists.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll do more than defend ourselves, we seek lasting peace. We see new opportunity for peace here in the Holy Land. And for freedom across the region.


HARRIS: Hardliners in Gaza staged a small protest against Pres. Bush. The president is scheduled to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank -- that's happening tomorrow. Also Pres. Bush holds a news conference with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert. And you will see it live, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM, starting at 10:55 a.m. Eastern time.

COLLINS: Rating doctors like restaurants? Chief Medical Correspondent and "Time" magazine columnist Dr. Sanjay Gupta has details on a new program that let's you have your say. He writes about this service now in his column. Let's see him and talk about it a little bit more right now. So, this is pretty cool. I mean, you know, we always want to know what good restaurants are out there and everything. Maybe, a little bit more importantly, what the doctors are out there.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes and I think, you know, when it comes to medicine, the medical field consumers are the -- sort of -- consumer impotence are the last things that come to that. So that the idea that you could actually have customers, who are patients in this case, actually, rating doctors to some extent, I think it's a pretty interesting thing.

Zagat which makes those burgundy books -- a lot of people have seen those partnering with Well Point -- actually going to, using four different criteria, you can actually look at doctors, such as availability, such as communication, environment, and trust. It's all for the time being for Well Point insurance folks, in partnership with Zagat and you have to have 10 surveys actually submitted about a particular doctor before they actually publish anything. It's sort of interesting, in the least.

COLLINS: Yes, it's very interesting. I wonder, though, are there any dangers to this? I mean, there is so many -- I don't know, I had a bad day or the doctor wasn't as nice as they want them to be and write really fiery comments.

GUPTA: Yes and typically, in general, people tend to write in when they are angry. And less so when they are actually happy about ...

COLLINS: No, that's always the case, isn't it?

GUPTA: That is the case. We deal with that. And the other thing is that Well Point has actually overseen this so... In some ways, it's kind of like they are rating their own doctors. Some people are going to cry, foul and say how unbiased is that? I think, more to the point, though, is the idea that you may not be the nicest person in the world but you may be a good doctor still.

You look at the character "House," for example, on TV. He's obviously fictional but... He's not a nice guy. And he probably wouldn't do well on a survey like this. But he's a smart doctor, nonetheless. And, I think that's also a concern.

COLLINS: There are also some of these Web sites that are rating, that sort of talk about doctors' and nurses' services, right?

GUPTA: Yes, there are a couple of sites out there that exists -- helpgrade is one of them for example and you know, my producers actually went in, put my name in there.

COLLINS: Oh, boy.

GUPTA: Some of these are for-pay Web sites. Yes and, I actually did OK. But it does ask quite a bit of information about yourself -- the types of procedure us do, how many patients you see, that sort of thing. And, patients can write in on some of these surveys as well. So there are a few that exist out there. Zagat, as you know, may have used the books when you're in New York or elsewhere.

COLLINS: Yes, I've actually chatted with them. Zagat?

GUPTA: Right. So, they're pretty ubiquitous sort of ratings system. It's not any perfect by any means. But, this idea of getting some consumer input, not a bad idea.

COLLINS: Really even better if you yourself, if a doctor could write in about yourself. Right?

GUPTA: Exactly.

COLLINS: All right. Sanjay, thanks so much.

GUPTA: You could do it for me.

COLLINS: Yes, I would. I'll work on that. Thanks, Sanjay.

HARRIS: Our stock markets now in a correction, tumbling 10 percent from recent highs. The culprit? Fears of a coming recession. Find out why so many believe we're already there.


HARRIS: Stock markets get off to a rough start in 2008. The Dow dipping more than 600 points in the new year so far. Boy, is a recession coming or is it already here? Ali Velshi, "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Recession defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth, Ali?

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They sort of expanded this in the last two years. "They" being the National Bureau of Economic Research, the people who are responsible for -- this is their job. They tell us about recessions. They sort of called it "extended period of negative growth" -- extending over a few months. Now, here's where we stand. Today's talk is all about recession.

Yesterday, the head of the NBER said we have a better than 50% chance of being in recession. And Merrill said that we are already in a recession that started at the end of 2007. One thing about recessions, Tony, it's because it's continuous, you've got to be in one before somebody declares it so. Now, Goldman-Sachs has come out and said we may already be in one. We're definitely going to be in one. So, this is where all the talk has gone, that's why we've seen the Dow drop.

Take a look how the Dow dropped yesterday again. Another 1. -- almost 1.9 percent, the Nasdaq off almost 2 1/2 percent, the S&P was down as well. This is where we're going right now. The Dow has been down 625 points just in the last week or so, and since the highs that we reached in October -- look at that.-- the Dow's dropped 1,500 points. When you drop more than 10 percent from your high you have got what's called a correction. HARRIS: But you know what, Ali, I'm just curious. There's a lot of talk about recession. Is it tied to real, hard numbers, and fundamentals? Market fundamentals?

VELSHI: You know, we have not yet seen negative growth. We might be in it right now. We've had slow growth, but it hasn't been negative. The reality, though, it's not like a weather forecast. Where I'm going to tell you it's going to rain on Thursday. If you're in one of those places where you're struggling with low home prices, high energy prices, maybe layoffs, you're feeling it anyway.

So, it's not like it's going to show up and you'll say, "Ah, the recession is here." I think for some people in America, it's definitely already here and, for others, they may not feel it at all, no matter what happens.

HARRIS: Well, let's take that whole idea of a forecast, what are you looking at today in terms of a market open?

VELSHI: Well, we were positive on the futures. They went negative on these recession forecasts, now, they are positive. It's hard to know. One of the things, when you say there's a recession coming, that means the Fed is probably likely to cut interest rates again. It means the administration will look at cutting taxes which then makes people think, oh, maybe the markets are going to do OK. The market is a tough judge on recessions. Right now, we're looking at -- we're four minutes away -- but we're still looking at a slightly positive open for the Dow.

HARRIS: Wow, we like the idea of cheaper money. You know, cut would be cut -- nice. Unheard, Ali. Ali Velshi, minding your business for you, Ali, great to see you. Thanks, man.

COLLINS: An inmate escapes straight out of a Hollywood film but he failed to follow the rest of the script.


HARRIS: President Bush in Israel. He's aiming for peace but, is his goal already out of reach? The story ahead. Coming back up on the bottom of the hour.

Welcome back, everyone, to the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Tony Harris.

COLLINS: Hi, everybody. I'm Heidi Collins. Want to take a moment now to check out the big boards. A crazy place to be. Boy, yesterday, not so great. Dow Jones down 238? Is that right? Points?

HARRIS: Heidi, has there been a positive day so far in '08?

COLLINS: Ah, yes, really tiny now, but there's the opening bell. Today could be the day. Come on.


COLLINS: Stay positive. We're going to be talking with Susan Lisovicz later on about all things business, and what some of these first few days of trading of the year has meant.

HARRIS: And among our top stories this hour, they react, you decide. Iran today said U.S. Navy video of a high seas confrontation was fabricated.

CNN's Jamie McIntyre has the pictures.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As sailors on the U.S. (INAUDIBLE) Destroyer Hopper are ordered to general quarters, manning their battle stations, the ship blasts a loud horn repeatedly. In an effort to warn the Iranians speedboats to steer clear. Instead they zip around and between the U.S. war ships. The radio crackles with an ominous threat from the Iranian revolutionary guard corps manning the fast attack boats.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am coming to you.

MCINTYRE: From the bridge of the Hopper, a warning to back off.

U.S. SAILOR: Your identity is not known, your intentions are unclear, (INAUDIBLE). Request you establish communications now or after your course immediately to remain clear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will explode after a few minutes.

U.S. SAILOR: You will explode after a few minutes.

MCINTYRE: At this point, after nearly 30 minutes of provocation from the Iranians, the Hopper is preparing to unload its 50 caliber machine guns but the Iranians give up the dangerous game.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We viewed it as a provocative act. It is a dangerous situation. And they should not have done it. Pure and simple.

MCINTYRE: The video does not show the small white boxes the U.S. Navy says were dumped in the gulf near the trailing ship in the three- ship formation but it does clearly show how close the Iranian patrol boats came. If one had turn and sped directly towards one of the U.S. ships it would have hit it in a matter of seconds.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, Washington.


COLLINS: Dramatic video from Iraq. U.S. military officials calling it a brutal execution and linking the killers to al Qaeda. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is here now with the story.

Barbara, what's this all about?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Heidi, let me tell you that early this morning there was a news briefing from top commanders in Baghdad talking about some of the new military operations under way north of Baghdad to go after al Qaeda members, and they showed quite a startling video, as you say, of an execution that they caught on camera from a drone flying overhead. We're going to show that video. Look very carefully at the lower part of your screen, and you will see something very startling. Have a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What you're about to see on the film are three individuals pulling another individual from the trunk of a car in the middle of an open field and then throwing him into a ditch and assassinate him. You can see these three individuals now pulling them off. They'll be a little break in the film shortly as the camera smoothes. This was off of an unmanned aerial vehicle. And now you see several of them shooting and leaving him in the ditch. What you are seeing on the screen is a brutal execution of an individual in Diala.


STARR: This is the area of Diala province north of Baghdad, Heidi, where much of the combat action is going on right now in this new operation. The briefing went on to talk about the other threat that they are now seeing emerge there against these concerned local citizen groups. These are the Iraqis that are now supporting the coalition and they are coming under increasing attack, of course, from al Qaeda.

General Hertling and General Bergner also at the briefing talking about the military just found five severed heads with a threatening note attached in writing saying, if you join the concerned local citizens, this is what will happen to you. So it is the Iraqi citizens that are suffering much of the violence in that country right now -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Yes and it also makes you wonder, I mean, the imagery is spectacular from the drone up above. But it does make you wonder, clearly how many times this happens without being caught on camera and this intimidation type of method. I mean, it's been use for a long time in Iraq.

STARR: Absolutely. This is really the message that, you know, we asked the military today, why did they show such an explicit video? And of course, they have videos that are much more explicit that they will not show the public.

And we asked them why they at least showed this one? And that's the point they wanted to make. They say that this is the intimidation tactic that al Qaeda in Iraq is using and they want the Iraqis to know that the U.S. is very aware of what's going on and that they are trying to engage in these combat operations right now to try and get a handle on it all one more time -- Heidi?

COLLINS: All right. CNN's Barbara Starr for us from the Pentagon this morning.

Barbara, thank you. STARR: Sure.

HARRIS: And new details emerging this morning about the kidnapping and killing of a Georgia hiker. Authorities say Meredith Emerson was alive for three days after her disappearance last Tuesday. An autopsy found she died from a blow to the head and was then decapitated. A 61-year-old drifter has been charged with Emerson's murder. Gary Michael Hilton will be in court this afternoon.

A prosecutor says Hilton led police to Emerson's body only after authorities agreed they wouldn't ask for the death penalty. Hilton is now being investigated to possible links to unsolved murders. Officials say the Emerson deal would have no bearing on other prosecutions.

An escaped New Jersey inmate is cooling his heels in jail this morning. Police found Jose Espinosa in an apartment just six blocks from the jail. A young woman was also arrested. You'll remember, Espinosa and his cohort, Otis Blunt. They tunneled through the cinder block wall of their cell at the Union County Jail last month. They covered the hole in the wall with posters of women in bikinis.


RALPH FROELICH, UNION COUNTY, NEW JERSEY: That's one down and one more to go, and I'm certain we're going to be successful with it. With the combined efforts of all of these agencies, we'll get the other guy. Blunt is still on the loose. But authorities believe he may be close to turning himself in.


COLLINS: We have been talking severe weather for a few days now. Jacqui Jeras is back over the severe weather center. I saw snow flurries in our animation there. So it's still about the northwest, right?


HARRIS: Well President Bush is in Israel this morning. It isn't his first trip there. First trip was in 1998. He certainly has been there before, but this time he has a very different title and a different agenda.

CNN's Ben Wedeman has more.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This was nine years ago. Meeting with Israel's ceremonial President Bush ducked the presidential question.

BUSH: I haven't made up my mind if I'm running for president or not. WEDEMAN: Bush on rare trip outside the U.S. was then Texas governor. Former Israeli government adviser Ra'anan Gissin got a taste of the effect the journey had on Bush.

RA'ANAN GISSIN, SENIOR SHARON ADVISER: One of the things that really affected him greatly when he awoke the first time in the King David Hotel. He opened the curtains and he saw the sun rising over Jerusalem, over the old city. And the glow on the mosques and on the churches and everything, and he said, at that moment, you know, I understood what a revelation is, he said. This was like a revelation to me.

WEDEMAN: During the visit, then Israeli foreign minister Ariel Sharon took Bush on a helicopter ride over the occupied West Bank. For someone with little knowledge of the region beyond the Bible, it was an eye-opener.

GISSIN: I asked him, Mr. Governor, what do you think of that tour? I never realized how small Israel is. You know, I have a creek in my ranch in Crawford, which is larger than the Jordan River.

BUSH: A good friend of the prime minister of Israel

WEDEMAN: Bush and Sharon in a coma for the last two year were later to meet 12 times as leaders. And while Israel and President Bush didn't always see eye to eye, it is a close relationship. And many Israelis see Bush as the most pro-Israeli U.S. president ever.

For the Palestinians, the Bush years have been hard. He refused to meet the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Palestinians saw Bush giving Israel a free hand to crush the Intefadeh and isolate Arafat in his Ramallah headquarters.

SAEB ERAKAT, CHIEF PALESTINIAN NEGOTIATOR: But at the same time he was meeting has Sharon, almost every month, which is, to us, it was -- you know, you know people are going to talk to them about themselves, about being honest broker, even handed. Even handed means even handed, not one handed. You know, Sharon, Sharon, Sharon.

WEDEMAN: But George W. Bush was the first U.S. president to have what he called a vision for a Palestinian state. Though that vision for much of his administration has been little more than a mirage. Long ago blurred, many argue, by grim reality.

ERAKAT: On the ground, the settlements are being determined by more settlements. Jerusalem fate instead of being negotiated to being determined by settlements and the borders are being determined by a war. So what's there to negotiate?

WEDEMAN: In November, Bush hosted a Middle East Peace Summit in Annapolis heralded as the start of American re-engagement in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. But in the last year of the waning presidency, it's hard to shake the impression among both Palestinians and Israelis that it's a visit too late to make a difference.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Jerusalem. (END VIDEOTAPE)

HARRIS: As we take a look at some of these live pictures, boy, that tells a story. As you know, the president as Ben Wedeman was just outlining in Israel right now. Take a look at the view from Gaza. We've also heard reports of some protests along the West Bank as well. A protest in Gaza right now of the president's trip to Israel. As you know, the president is scheduled to hold a new conference with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. And you will see that, of course, live in the NEWSROOM. Scheduled to start at 10:55 a.m. Eastern time.

COLLINS: Can Senator McCain beat Senator Clinton in a general election? And is there any upside to Senator Obama losing in New Hampshire? Veronica De La Cruz joins us with answers from the political bloggers straight ahead.


COLLINS: Dense fog, thick smoke and a deadly 50-car pileup on a Florida highway. Jason Lanning of affiliate Bay News 9 live from Polk County now with a little more on this accident.

And boy, those pictures that we have been seeing this morning, Jason, are just awful.

JASON LANNING, REPORTER, BAY NEWS 9: Horrible situation on Interstate 4 between Orlando and Tampa this morning, Heidi. All resulting from a brushfire at which was actually supposed to be a controlled burn that broke out yesterday. It jumped at the safe perimeter of that controlled burn, sparking two different fires. And then we saw humidity levels increase overnight which just added to the smoke and fog that we saw that created zero visibility.

I want to give you a live look here of where we're set up, just north of the interstate. We are in an area known as the Hilochee Wildlife Management Area. This is the staging area for Polk County fire rescue and as well as the Florida Division of Forestry. You can see they got a number of tractors ready to go on to this property once the visibility improves just a little bit more. And we want to walk you to the back of this property as well where you can see more firefighters are staged. They've got tanker and hose trucks as well as the main command post here.

Really, this location that firefighters have been staged at, they've sat here for about six hours because the visibility simply was too bad for them to go on to this property. If we pan back here to the back of the property, you can see this main gate. Those two trucks are division of forestry. They're ready now to go out on to this property. This fire itself is still probably a couple hundred acres south of here. But the big thing firefighters here in Florida are trying to determine is if this fire jumped the fire lines that were cut overnight.

Obviously, without firefighters on the ground back there on this property, it's impossible for them to know if this fire spread any further. But we should start getting some of those very crucial answers as the day progresses. In the meantime, a number of victims are being treated at local hospitals as result of that horrible accident on the interstate. As many as 50 cars and trucks.

We're told at least six tractor trailers burnt literally down to the rubber of the tires. We're told multiple vehicle fires as well. And a very difficult situation for firefighters when they were responding here from the command post, they said they were walking on the interstate, simply listening for the screams of victims so they could find them and get them out of the area to a safe location and be treated for injuries -- Heidi?

COLLINS: Wow. Very scary situation there. Jason Lanning, appreciate that from Bay News 9 in Polk County, Florida.

Also, we want to take a moment now to look at some of those pictures we brought you a little bit earlier where you can get an idea of what we are talking about here. Extremely poor visibility obviously and then the accident that ensued because of that. These pictures coming in from our affiliate WESH. So we will continue to follow this. Again, as you see in the bottom of your screen there, 50-car pileup. We'll have the very latest for you throughout the morning here.

HARRIS: Disney's a dream on parade almost turns into a nightmare. One of two parades now cancelled. Look at this. At Tokyo Disney Land.


HARRIS: It's been so long since I've been a part of the broadcast. Holding it down, Heidi?

COLLINS: Not very well.

HARRIS: Well, I got to tell you, we don't have anything new. I know at the end of the last year, we were always working on getting different stories into the podcast. Something we don't have time for, in the victory hour extravaganza that is in the CNN NEWSROOM.

But we were talking about adding some music, more Jeanne Moos, and more Jeanne Moos to the podcast. So we'll see how far along the process we've gotten today. We'll podcast it for you. What you do is to go to and you download the CNN NEWSROOM daily podcast. It is available to you 24/7. And you can download it right there on to your iPod and changes, changes to the podcast to keep it number one.

COLLINS: We talk about you a lot on the podcast when you weren't here.

HARRIS: There you go. So big changes coming in '08 to the podcast. Guaranteed.

And this story to tell you this morning. A sad first in Tokyo Disneyland history. The theme part cancels its two daily parades. At least for now. The decision follows this scary accident. Man! Yes, whoa. A 600-pound pillar with colorful planets fell from a float. Children who were near it, screamed of course, but no one was injured. That's the great news here. Park officials now conducting safety checks as you would expect. Tokyo Disneyland is the first Disney theme park built outside of the U.S. It opened in 1983.

COLLINS: Senator John McCain and Hillary Clinton are talking up their big comebacks in New Hampshire last night. Veronica De La Cruz has been all over the Internet finding out what everybody else has to say.

Good morning to you, Veronica.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Heidi. You know, it was interesting to logon this morning and see what was floating around the blogosphere. And Heidi, you know, if I have to sum it up, I would say the write leaning blog seemed less focused on the McCain win but really turned up the heat when it came to Hillary bashing.

One blogger from PoliPundit writes this, The terrifying prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency is finally real enough that Republican primary voters will cast about for the most electable candidate.

This is from John Hawkins of, who also didn't make much of the McCain win. The race is still very fluid and since the two candidates who seem to be bubbling up to the top aren't well liked by most conservatives. It's still possible the alternative candidate could emerge.

COLLINS: Well, (INAUDIBLE), I think a lot of people at PoliPundit today were talking about how it would be that huge of a surprise if McCain took New Hampshire. But was there anything written on the blogs about why they didn't really seem all excited about it?

DE LA CRUZ: Well, they love to Hillary bash for one thing. They love to do the Hillary bash this. And a lot of rightwing bloggers think that McCain will get hammered in South Carolina. Even the ones that do seem to support him. And again, Heidi, to them the bigger news really was Hillary Clinton. Lots of blogs attacking her show of emotion Monday calling it staged. Other bloggers accusing the media of invoking sympathy for her because of the excessive coverage of Obama's big win in Iowa.

COLLINS: All right. What about left leaning bloggers? What they had to say?

DE LA CRUZ: Well, Arianna Huffington, she tried to inject a little humor with this post to her website. She says, this was obviously a great night for Hillary Clinton and her running mate Bill. The voters clearly want the nominee they pick to have fought for it. They don't want a coronation.

And this, Heidi, from Andrew Sullivan from The Atlantic. He writes Obama is the better candidate. After this very close race, he will go on to Nevada and South Carolina stronger for not winning in a wave of euphoria. COLLINS: Well, there are also lots of I-reporters that we appreciate out in New Hampshire covering this primaries right?

DE LA CRUZ: Yes. Lots of people taking advantage. All the face time the candidates are offering out on the campaign trail, snapping lots of photos from rallies and speeches throughout the day. But Heidi, I want to show some I-reports that are simply too cute to pass up. Take a look. Meet Max and Simon. They take their civic duties very seriously. They're both campaigning there for Obama in Bow, New Hampshire.

And then this, Heidi. There was Frosty the snowman's brother, also known as Obama Man. Tamara Hester Cocchiarella sent this photo and her son made the snowman in support of Obama. So Heidi, as long as we keep Obama Man away from Reynolds Wolf, I think we're OK.

COLLINS: Yes, no kidding. For viewers who don't know that story, Reynolds, kind of demolished a snowman a few weeks ago live on the air. Those issues where we've been trying to help out. All right, Veronica De La Cruz having some fun with the blogs out there. Thank so much, Veronica.

DE LA CRUZ: Of course.

COLLINS: And also a reminder, you can see Veronica, every morning on "AMERICAN MORNING" 6:00 to 9:00 Eastern.

HARRIS: Well New Hampshire makes a second Clinton, the comeback kid.


HILLARY CLINTON, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Together let's give America the kind of comeback that New Hampshire has just given me.


HARRIS: OK. The best political team on television explains how she did it.


COLLINS: International incident. Iran calls it a fabrication; the U.S. calls it a provocation. Now Washington Iran against the high seas repeats. Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr joining us now. And Barbara, you first tell us about this story a couple of days ago. What are the U.S. officials saying now?