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AMERICAN MORNING

Navy Blasts Falling Satellite; Barack Obama has Another Big Union Endorsement Today; British Airways Pilots Vote to Go on Strike

Aired February 21, 2008 - 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: Shift to space.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have a fireball.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The navy blasts a falling satellite. How it happened? And just who carried it out on this AMERICAN MORNING.

That's right. And John, talk about pressure. They had a 10- second window to get that right. They had to launch it and looks like they hit it. It looks like they did it this morning.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Well, they told us they hit it. I guess we should believe them, shouldn't we?

CHETRY: Well, we'll see more proof a little bit later. They said it's actually probably going to take a day or two to know for sure. But they also think they hit that fuel tank. So, if so, bull's eye.

ROBERTS: Well, that's a good thing because you wouldn't want that entire satellite coming down on somebody's head.

Hey, we're here at the University of Texas' Rec center, where tonight 12 hours from now, 8:00 Eastern, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton are going to go out, head-to-head, one-on-one for their great big showdown before that all-important Texas primary coming up on March the 4th.

A lot of people are saying that it's make or break for Hillary Clinton's campaign. One of those people being her husband. So we'll see what kind of night we're in for. But by all accounts, it's going to be exciting and important.

Meantime, though, this morning, serious questions for Senator John McCain's campaign this morning. The "New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are running with the story about his past links to a female lobbyist.

Here she is. Her name is Vicki Iseman. She is a telecommunications lobbyist whose clients had business before McCain's Commerce Committee. The papers say during his 2000 presidential campaign, advisers grew concerned. They thought that McCain was spending too much time with Iseman, who at the time was in her early 30s.

Here's how the "New York Times" put it in their article. "Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself, instructing staff members to block the woman's access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him."

The reports even say a top aide, John Weaver, who's seen here in this photograph next to McCain, arranged a meeting with the woman at D.C.'s Union Station to tell her to stay away. But this morning there are just as many questions about the timing of the articles as there are about John McCain's conduct. His campaign has come out blasting.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD HARRIS, MCCAIN 2000 CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: These are unnamed sources, but the "Times" specifies and says, these people had an ax to grind. The "Times" points that out and I think that voters need to be very wary of stories with rumor and innuendo from unnamed sources.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a simple case of the largest liberal newspaper in America trying to run a smear campaign against the integrity of the new conservative Republican nominee for president. They do it by printing false rumors and gossip, unsourced. The journalistic standards here aren't those of a third-rate tabloid and the "New York Times" should be ashamed of themselves.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: John McCain is expected to address the accusations himself at a news conference less than an hour from now. We reached out to the "New York Times" for reaction to the criticism coming at them from the McCain campaign. The "Times" says, quote, "The story speaks for itself."

Some brand new poll numbers to tell you about released this morning. They are from a new CNN Opinion Research Corporation Poll in the state of Texas. It shows that if John McCain and Barack Obama were the nominees, 52 percent of registered voters would choose McCain, 44 percent would choose Obama. If Hillary Clinton were the nominee, McCain will beat her 55-42. Remember, Texas usually votes Republican in the general election.

The two Democrats are getting ready for tonight's key debate here in Texas. Former President Bill Clinton had some candid words about his wife's campaign. He spoke to Hillary supporters at a rally at Beaumont, Texas and said the primary elections on March the 4th will decide the Democratic Party's presidential nominee.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If she wins in Texas and Ohio, I think she'll be the nominee. If you don't deliver for her, I don't think she can be. It's all on you.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ROBERTS: Bill Clinton is still emphasizing that his wife has the experience to be president while suggesting that Senator Obama may not be able to deliver on his promises of change.

Barack Obama has another big union endorsement to top today. The Teamsters says it's backing Obama. Union President James Hoffa says Obama is the candidate that best understands the challenges working people face every day.

The Teamsters has 1.4 million members nationwide. But more importantly, 60,000 in the state of Ohio, which is coming up on the 4th and 80,000 in the state of Pennsylvania, which has its primary on the 22nd of April.

It's a Texas-size showdown. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton going head-to-head tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, live from Austin. And you could see that right here on CNN.

Kiran?

CHETRY: Well, it's less than an hour ago. We had an update from the military about how they did shoot down a falling satellite. In fact, they have some new video just released from the Defense Department where you can see the satellite being obliterated by the missile. There you see the fireball, the explosion there. The military says it looks like the satellite's fuel tank was smashed and that the toxic fuel either burned up or spilled out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT, VICE CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: What we have afterwards is a debris field. We're tracking that debris field that is already starting to reenter. We're seeing reentries in the Atlantic and the Pacific right now. And we'll track that over the next 24 up to 48 hours.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: CNN's Miles O'Brien is back with us now. They made it look easy. They had a 10-second window and they did it in the first shot.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Think about that thing. That satellite was moving at 17,500 miles an hour. The missile going another 5,000 miles an hour, 22,000 miles an hour of closing rate.

Let's take a look at the video that the Pentagon released this morning and give you a sense of what happened here.

General Cartwright went on to say -- there you see this SM-3 launched off an Aegis missile cruiser west of Hawaii, off it goes. Pictures taken now from the missile itself. Boom. Now you see that flash there? What does that flash tell you?

It tells you up to 80 to 90 percent probability that they hit that fuel tank filled with 1,000 pounds of hydrazine. And that was the stated goal by the Pentagon, to eliminate the risk of that hydrazine sphere making it down to the ground intact, landing and causing a hazard. If they had missed the hydrazine, you wouldn't have seen that flash.

CHETRY: I got you. You wouldn't have seen it because there wouldn't been as big of an explosion.

O'BRIEN: Exactly.

CHETRY: Let's hear from the rocket scientist, though, because you're right. You're talking about dealing with two extremely fast moving objects with a very small window. All they have a couple of other times to try to do this. So, what are they waiting for now? They said it's going to take them a couple of days so they can find out more.

O'BRIEN: Well, they want to be certain that they got everything. So far, the only pieces they've seen are about the size of a football or smaller. They're using radar to track all this. So, they're going to keep tracking it. And as things come around and there are fewer pieces, they have to ask themselves, well, did the pieces fall to the earth and burn up or did we miss them on the first time?

So, they're going to go through a series of scenarios here. Try to ascertain exactly what's left out there. But I think it's safe to say from a look at that video, that was bull's eye.

CHETRY: Pretty amazing. One other thing I want to ask you about, this was the story about these pilots that fell asleep, I guess, at the wheel or at the switch while they were flying over Hawaii. Does that happen a lot?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, all I can say is this. You know, you sort of get what you pay for at the airlines. You pay for cheap tickets, the airlines are in trouble. You look at all the airlines in general. And they are facing hard economic times. They are pressing their flight crews tremendously, using -- giving them the absolute minimum rest times.

In other words, eight hours from the end of one shift to the beginning of another shift. That includes all the time to get to the hotel and usually a lot cheaper hotel than it used to be. They're not getting good rest. You do get what you pay for.

CHETRY: Wow. So, you're a pilot yourself. Could you see yourself falling asleep?

O'BRIEN: Yes. Here's the other factor. You know, my airplane, it's very automated. I just can push a few buttons and then kind of watch the plane fly itself. It's the same for these big airliners, and that can lull the flight crews, of course, into a state of semi- consciousness. The fact is that planes don't require as much hand manipulation as they used to. And so automation is a problem as well.

CHETRY: We'd like to believe it's a very rare instance, though, Miles. O'BRIEN: Yes, we would. Wouldn't we?

CHETRY: Thanks for joining us this morning. Good to see you.

Veronica?

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Definitely. Definitely a scary thought. All right. Thanks, Kiran.

Good morning to all of you here. Here's what is new this morning. The Supreme Court says workers can sue if their employers mismanage their 401k retirement account. The ruling came in a case of a man in Texas who claimed his employer failed to follow his instructions to switch to safer investment.

The whole thing cost him about $150,000. The decision reverses as ruling made more than 20 years ago, when 401k's were much less popular. Now, 50 million workers have them with $3 trillion invested.

British Airways pilots have voted to go on strike. The pilots' union said it hasn't set a date for when the strike would take place. But the strike would be the first in nearly 30 years and could effectively ground BA worldwide. The main issue here -- pay. The union fears new demands between transatlantic flights will result in lower wages for pilots.

Police in France. They reported Madeleine McCann sighting turned out to be a false alarm. A Dutch tourist reported possibly seeing the missing British toddler at a restaurant. The woman says she called Madeleine's name and a little girl reacted, but a man quickly took her out of the restaurant. Police say they've looked out that video from the restaurant and the girl was not Madeleine.

Well, sky watchers across the United States and much of the world watched last night's total lunar eclipse and the skies were also clear for our I-reporters. Take a look.

Pretty cool pictures to show you from Heidi Engelberg (ph) in Hollywood, Florida. And I-reporter, John Bouchann (ph), snapped this from Hope, Indiana. Also our affiliates in Brookline, Massachusetts captured the moon turning red and then dark brown. The lunar color show lasted about 50 minutes before returning to its usual glow.

And also we've got some video to show you from Buenos Aires, Argentina. As the crowds there partied it up in the streets. Be sure to mark your calendars because the next eclipse is December 21, 2010.

Well, the nation's tallest man can finally sleep a little easier. The staggering 7'8" deputy from Norfolk, Virginia, said he was having trouble finding a big enough bed. But yesterday, he received a custom made bed, mattress, also sheets from a shop owner in Vermont who stands just shy of the 7 foot mark. He actually is what? 6'11".

CHETRY: It seems like Tall Paul's Tall Mall. That's the store that made it. So he could commiserate. He knows what it's like to sleep with half your body hanging off the bed. DE LA CRUZ: And you know, I was looking at his measurements. The man who stands 7'8". And it says that he wears a size 19 shoe.

CHETRY: Wow.

DE LA CRUZ: And I put one (INAUDIBLE) and he went ahead and measured what 19 inches looks like. That is what his foot looks like. That is the size of his shoe. Just to give you some perspective. That's 19 inches across.

CHETRY: He needs to go back to the Tall Mall and pick up shoes as well. Thank goodness there is one. Veronica, thanks.

DE LA CRUZ: Unbelievable, of course.

CHETRY: John?

ROBERTS: Hey, thanks very much, Kiran. 11 minutes after the hour. The polls in Texas on March the 4th are going to have a different look to them. Young people will be streaming in after throwing their support behind the Republicans and the Democrats. AMERICAN MORNING's" Ed Lavandera is with us this morning in Austin taking a look at the motivation behind this new wave of youth voters.

Good morning, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, over the last couple election cycles we've seen an increase in the interest from youth voters. And a lot of that, this time around many people are saying this attributed to the fact that it's a close race. That all of this almost has a survivor feel to it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA (voice-over): Young voters of a certain legal age drown their political sorrows in this Austin, Texas pub. It's a two- year tradition. The grouped called "Drinking Liberally" was organized by 27-year-old, Ben Andrews, to get him and others through the last of the Bush years.

BEN ANDREWS, COLLEGE STUDENT: I was told I was sounding like a broken record. I was creating some nerves. But we can hear (INAUDIBLE), my other broken records.

LAVANDERA: With a laptop surfing blogs and news articles, the conversation isn't about Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, it's all politics.

Across the country, young voters are mobilizing, marching for both Democrats and Republicans. Some campaign events sound and feel like rock concerts.

These voters are known as the millennial generation. In the last presidential race, exit polls showed young voters opted for John Kerry by a 9 percent margin over George W. Bush. Voter turnout jumped 9 percent and Rock the Vote predicts an even bigger jump this year. HEATHER SMITH, ROCK THE VOTE: It's just a whole new generation -- the millennial generation. We're not the older brothers and sisters of Gen-X. And we're paying way more attention to politics.

MARY DIXON, VOTING ANALYST: It's election season. And it's exciting and it's fun.

LAVANDERA: Mary Dixon studies voting trends. She says this generation is also lured in part by YouTube satire. And the close race that has a reality TV feel, which candidates will be voted off the island next?

DIXON: They can participate on blogs. They can participate by creating their own YouTube videos. They can participate by emailing their friends, texting their friends. So it's a whole different way of looking at the campaign. And I think candidates are playing catch- up to that.

LAVANDERA: On the Republican side, young voters have been important to the Huckabee and Ron Paul campaigns.

NEIL SINHABABU, COLLEGE STUDENT: She's been really, I think, a candidate spouse.

LAVANDERA: Back at the pub, Neil Sinhababu says young voters are motivated to turn out the vote.

SINHABABU: We've just had a lot of really gripping things happened in the world over the last -- in America over the last -- you know, since Bush got elected. The Iraq war, stuff like that. That's another thing that just gets people into oh, my goodness, how can we keep this from happening again.

LAVANDERA: Until Election Day, there won't be a last call here.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAVANDERA: And in this presidential election, some 44 million young voters are between the ages of 18 and 29 are expected to head to the polls this year and you know, candidates cannot ignore those kinds of numbers. To tell you, it really is refreshing to see that number of young people voting, because for so many years, they just kind of -- they didn't want to participate, despite all of those, you know, MTV generated campaigns to try to get out there and rock the votes. It's good to see them there.

And it remains a question, whether they're interested now, but what if six months from now, maybe it's not an interesting race. Will they turn out in November?

ROBERTS: Let's hope that it goes beyond the primaries. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

LAVANDERA: Good to see you.

ROBERTS: Kiran? CHETRY: Thanks guys. Well, you know, we've been talking about the fight for super delegates. We're going to meet a husband and wife. Both of them are super delegates in Texas. Both of them undecided. One of them, the chairman of the party.

Also, there is news this morning about the link between how much soda your kids drink and what they eat. Dr. Sanjay Gupta here, paying us a "House Call" on AMERICAN MORNING. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: There's new research now on the link between what kids eat and what they drink. A new British study says that salt is actually a hidden factor in the obesity epidemic. Chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us now.

I mean, imagine the kids' version of you want a soda with your cheeseburger?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right. And you know, people hear about salt. They know that salt is obviously bad for you in large doses. Also any kind of soda in large doses or large amounts is bad for you. There's a link though. This was sort of interesting.

It's just as simple as basically saying, look, if you eat a lot of salt, that's going to make you more thirsty. The question was what do kids turn to when they're that thirsty? And the answer seems to be these sodas, Kiran. In fact, thinking a lot more so than they should.

If you can cut your salt intake by half, this is what the conclusion of the study was. You can reduce the amount of soda you drink by about two drinks a week, which can curb your chances of developing obesity by about 40 percent. That doesn't seem like a lot. These are small changes that could have a huge impact later on.

CHETRY: Sounds like 40 percent, so nothing to sneeze at. The interesting thing though, is that there's hidden salt it seems in so many things. You may think they're healthy. You're looking for something reduced fat. You don't realize there's more salt and sugar in it.

GUPTA: Absolutely. And a lot of time, you'll trade one off for the other.

CHETRY: Right.

GUPTA: So you got to look at those labels. What's also interesting is that in the olden days, if you will, 20, 30 years ago, they use salt a lot as a preservative. So for foods that were on the shelves for a long time or fast foods, they needed the salt.

Now, there are better ways to preserve foods. We don't even really need the salt scientifically to keep the food preserved. There's a lot of hidden sources as you mentioned. 80 percent of salt that we take is not from the saltshaker but already in the foods. Fast foods, pizza -- for example, those are big culprits, so starting to cut those down make a big difference.

CHETRY: There's no denying when you're eating the processed foods, you take in more salt and fat. When you're cooking yourself, you don't.

GUPTA: Yes, you know -- and it's funny, too now. As were both parents, it's easy to say -- look, you should just cook every night. And obviously, you can't do that. It's hard. It takes time to do that, even for your kids. But checking the labels, as you mentioned, I think make as huge difference. It just takes an extra few minutes in the grocery store.

CHETRY: Especially when you have 2-year-old whose favorite foods are pickles and pepperoni. Unfortunately, at this stage (INAUDIBLE).

GUPTA: Well, keep her away from sodas afterwards. You know, maybe she should not be drinking soda yet but if she is, keep her away from the soda and salt.

CHETRY: No soda. People are going to write in. Anyway, taking your kid away. No soda. But you're right. Things to keep in mind, you got to check out that salt, because it does make a difference.

GUPTA: There's a real link here between salt, sodas, and non- obesity. So simple steps. We're trying to arm people with simple steps to try and fight this thing.

CHETRY: All right. Sanjay, thank you.

GUPTA: All right.

CHETRY: Well, super delegates could ultimately decide the Democratic nominee for president. We're going to meet two in Texas who say they're uncommitted, who are also married to each other. What do they want to hear from the candidates in the debates tonight?

And as the economy struggles to get back on track, a lot of Americans are being force to turning to 401ks. The money that they saved for retirement, but what happens when you need it now? We're going to be talking to Gerri Willis coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: 22 minutes after the hour now. The two Democratic candidates are running neck and neck here in Texas. The fact that only highlights the role that super delegates may ultimately play in this race. Our next guest are two Texas super delegates who say they are still undecided about who they're going to support. They're also husband and wife. Boyd Richie is the chairman of the Texas Democratic Party. His wife, Betty, also a super delegate.

Good morning to you both. Thanks for joining us this morning. So you're both uncommitted. Why have you remained so up until this point?

BETTY RICHIE, TEXAS SUPER DELEGATE: Well, I have because it's really difficult just to decide between two excellent candidates.

ROBERTS: Is that all it is? It's difficult to decide or is there a principle here, Boyd, that you don't want to make up your mind just yet?

BOYD RICHIE, CHAIRMAN OF TEXAS DEMOCRATIC PARTY: Well, there is for me as chairman of the party. I have taken the position that I need to remain neutral. But also, all of our delegates have not been allocated yet. And that won't happen until after our state convention in June. And until I have heard from all of the voters and all of the delegates, I'm going to keep my powder dry.

ROBERTS: So you both remain neutral. But I take it, Betty, that it's not for lack of trying on the parts of the campaign? They've been reaching out to you? Has your phone been ringing off the hook? Your e-mail burning up? What's been going on?

BETTY RICHIE: E-mail, letters, telephone calls. As we had discussed, Obama's campaign is really grassroots, but they're very...

ROBERTS: What do you mean by that? Are grassroots organizers are reaching out to you?

BETTY RICHIE: Right. That's correct.

ROBERTS: So who would you hear from?

BETTY RICHIE: From all over the United States, basically.

ROBERTS: Folks calling up saying we think you should support...

BETTY RICHIE: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: What about on the Clinton side of things?

BETTY RICHIE: Not so much. Not so much. I did meet -- have the privilege of meeting with President Clinton before the caucus.

ROBERTS: What do you say?

BETTY RICHIE: Very charming. No persuasion, just very charming.

ROBERTS: And boy, did they pretty much leaving you alone because of your position as the party chair?

BOYD RICHIE: Yes. I still receive e-mails and letters. I don't get as many phone calls.

ROBERTS: So what are they saying in this e-mail?

BOYD RICHIE: Well, they set out the reasons that they are supporting their candidate and urging us to do that as well. And then others are saying we want you to follow the will of the voters, whatever the voters decide, that's the way you should go.

ROBERTS: Which brings up the idea, there's this whole debate out here about what these super delegates should do. They were created in the wake of a divisive convention in 1980 to give their party leaders some say in the nominating process here.

And there's a debate over whether they should vote their conscience, whether they should follow the results in their own congressional district. As Sheila Jackson-Lee is being pressured to do, down there in Houston, with the thought that Barack Obama will win handedly there. Should they follow the state results? Should they wait until all of the national results are in and then throw their support behind the person with the most delegates? What do you all think?

BETTY RICHIE: Well, I think we should follow the will of the people, truthfully.

ROBERTS: What does that mean?

BETTY RICHIE: Well, I think that there's going to be a candidate who is ahead.

ROBERTS: State, national?

BETTY RICHIE: I think both.

ROBERTS: So is it the person with the most pledged delegates, then? And the pledged delegates are the ones that they win in these primary contests?

BETTY RICHIE: Right. That's correct.

ROBERTS: So at the end of all of this, when it's all said and done, if either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama have more pledged delegates than the other, that's the person who the super delegate should throw their vote behind?

BETTY RICHIE: I think so. I really have a problem with super delegates making the decision.

ROBERTS: Really? Why?

BETTY RICHIE: I just don't think that that's the way it should be.

ROBERTS: Well, what do you think, Boyd? Is it good or bad for Democracy? And what will voters think, if after all of the excitement of these primaries, record turnouts in almost every state, it's down to this handful -- it's not really handful, it's 800 people, but it's down to these party insiders who make up the minds?

BOYD RICHIE: Well, I don't know that it's party insiders. These are folks who have, for the most part, been elected by various constituencies. Congressmen from their congressional districts, governors, et cetera.

ROBERTS: Senior party members.

BOYD RICHIE: But other whose have labored long and hard in the vineyards unnoticed. Do the hard work...

ROBERTS: But why do you think it's a good idea? Cut to the chase here.

BOYD RICHIE: Well, I agree that the will of the voters should play a tremendous role in super delegate making the decision. And that would weigh heavily upon me. But we still got a responsibility of trying to figure out what is best for our country and what is best for our party.

ROBERTS: So you two part ways a little bit here?

BOYD RICHIE: Well, I don't know that we part ways but this is a very independent woman. We've been together for 42 years this May and I have always respected her intellect and her ability to make up her own mind, and vice versa, I think.

ROBERTS: Well, you're still together now. Let's hope you're still together as of August. Boyd and Betty Richie, thanks very much for joining us this morning. We appreciate it.

BOYD RICHIE: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: We appreciate it. Good to see you.

And be sure to keep it right here on CNN for tonight's debate. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama head-to-head tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, live from Austin right here on CNN.

Kiran?

CHETRY: All right. And you're watching the most news in the morning. He's calling it a smear, but what do campaign insiders really know? The John McCain camp responding to the allegations in today's "New York Times" and "Washington Post" about him and a female lobbyist.

Also we're paging Dr. Gupta. He's paying us a "House Call," answering your medical questions that were sent to his mailbag.

Some good questions this week?

GUPTA: We've got some great questions. I want to thank the viewers. We've got lots of questions. I've really been picking up a lot, so we really appreciate all the questions. We'll get to those in the mail bag, coming up, right on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN, ANCHOR: A hazy shot this morning coming to us from KVUE in Austin, Texas, where it's 67 degrees, cloudy right now. Shaping up to be 78 degrees for a high with some rain showers. And that is where our own John Roberts is this morning. It's not Hawaii. It's not Honolulu, but, hey, it's better than Iowa.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: Hey, we're inside the Rec Center here in the University of Austin where the sun is always shining, Kiran. It doesn't matter what it's like outside, and such a great event coming up tonight. Nobody cares if it's raining because all eyes will be focused on what's going on tonight here at the University of Texas.

Some serious questions this morning in politics for Senator John McCain's campaign. The "New York Times" and "The Washington Post" are running with a story implying an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist back during the 2000 campaign. Her name is Vicki Iseman. She's a telecommunications lobbyist. Her clients had business before McCain's Commerce Committee. The paper say during McCain's 2000 presidential run advisers grew concerned. They thought that he was spending too much time with Iseman who at the time was in her early 30s.

Here's how the "New York Times" put it in its article. "Convinced the relationship had become romantic, some of his top advisers intervened to protect the candidate from himself. Instructing staff members to block the woman's access, privately warning her away and repeatedly confronting him." The reports also say that a top aide, John Weaver, who's seen here in this photo standing next to McCain, arranged a meeting with Iseman at D.C.'s Union Station to tell her to stay away. But this morning there are just as many questions about the timing of the articles as there are about John McCain's conduct. Former and current campaign adviser spoke with us earlier on AMERICAN MORNING.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TODD HARRIS, MCCAIN 2000 CAMPAIGN SPOKESMAN: You know, frankly, I couldn't believe that this warranted a story in the "New York Times" and anywhere in the paper, much less on the front page. I can tell you I traveled all over the country with John McCain during the 2000 campaign. I never saw anything that would even come close to corroborating what was in this story.

CHARLIE BLACK, SENIOR ADVISOR, MCCAIN CAMPAIGN: Their purpose here was not a journalistic purpose. Unfortunately the "New York Times" has decided to become a political player and the largest liberal newspaper in America is trying to smear the integrity of the new conservative Republican nominee for president, John McCain. It's false. It's gossip and rumors, unsourced. The "National Enquirer" would not print this story, even with their journalistic standards and the "New York Times" should not have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: John McCain is expected to address the controversy himself in a news conference less than a half hour from now. We've reached out to officials from the "New York Times" early this morning to get their take on the response from the McCain campaign. They're response to us was that the story speaks for itself. Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. John, thanks a lot.

Also new this morning, Great Britain now says it knew about a U.S. plan to transfer terror suspects to secret prisons around the world because it was in on it. Britain denied this for years. Now, officials in London say the U.S. used a British airport in the so- called extraordinary rendition program. The British foreign secretary talked about it this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID MILIBAND, U.K. FOREIGN SECRETARY: Contrary to earlier explicit assurances that Diego Garcia has not used for rendition flights. Recent U.S. investigation have now revealed two occasions, both in 2002 when this had in fact occurred. An error in the earlier U.S. records search meant that these cases did not come to light. In both cases, a U.S. plane with a single detainee onboard refueled at the U.S. facility in Diego Garcia. The detainee did not leave the plane and the U.S. government has assured us that no U.S. state detainees had ever been held on Diego Garcia.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The British government had previously insisted it had no evidence to support allegations that Britain was involved in the secret terror transfers.

A Justice Department team investigating Blackwater contractors is now on its way to Baghdad. The Associated Press says that the investigators plan to revisit the scene of the shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead in September. They also hoped to question witnesses. Prosecutors want to know whether Blackwater contractors used excessive force or violated laws. The contractors were hired to guard diplomats in Iraq.

And Spain has put security forces on maximum alert ahead of the general elections. They're set for March 9th. The alert is now at level 3. It rose from level 2, which was in effect since the start of the trial of the Madrid train bombing suspects last year.

And also, President Bush is in Liberia this morning. The last stop on his week-long trip to Africa. He met with Liberia's president today, the first woman ever elected president in Liberia. U.S. aid to the country has totaled to some $750 million since the 14-year war, civil war in that country ended back in 2003.

Well, as prices on everything from gas to groceries goes up, more Americans are pulling money out of their retirement funds to pay bills. CNN's personal finance editor Gerri Willis is here with your financial security watch for people that are doing this and we asked the question, 50 percent of our viewers this morning say they had taken money out of their 401ks.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN, PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: I wasn't surprised by that.

CHETRY: to pay for their bills. That's something else.

WILLIS: That's a high number. Yes. And I got to tell you, it's not a great idea. Look, you can take out 50 percent of your 401k balance up to $50,000, borrow it, and do whatever you want to with it, and then you got pay it back with interest over five years. Those are the rules. I got to tell you, it's not a great idea. And here's why. If you default on this loan you have to pay taxes, and a 10 percent penalty. And guess what? If you get laid off, you leave the company unexpectedly, that money is owe and dueing immediately. You got to pay it right away or then you're in default of the loan and you owe the fees and you owe the back taxes.

Look at the end of the day, borrowing from your 401k puts your retirement at risk. This is money. These are savings that you can't make up in the long term. Remember, there are limits on how much you can contribute every each year. $15,500. So, if you make the mistake of borrowing a lot, and even if you repay it, that amount of time that your money would be working for you in the stock market, you're not doing that.

CHETRY: Unfortunately, you know, for some people right now it really is the only option they're seeing. You know, as we talk about...

WILLIS: I don't think it's their only option. I really don't.

CHETRY: You say that there are other things that can you do?

WILLIS: Yes.

CHETRY: That this really should be a last resort. What's the advice for people to take, I'm looking at this and I think maybe that's where I need to go?

WILLIS: I know it feels like it's your money, right? And you should be able to borrow it but at the end of the day, you're going to be paying it back to the company you work for. And let's say you lose control of the situation, you lose your job. Now, you've doubled down on that debt and you got to pay it immediately. Keep in mind, another fund to tap here is refinancing or modifying your mortgage. That could help you out. There are also counselors out here for people who are specifically in trouble with their mortgage. Go to nfcc.org for counseling, if you're looking for budgeting help. But at the end of the day, a time like this, when the economy is slowing down and people are getting into trouble, you have to change the way you're spending money. It's as simple as that.

CHETRY: You're right. Good advice. Thanks so much, Gerri.

By the way, here's another look at that "Quick vote" we were talking about. And it's even more than we thought before. Have you had to tap into your 401k to pay your monthly bills, 54 percent of you saying yes, 46 percent saying no. Cast your vote. cnn.com/am. We're going to tally your votes throughout the morning. John.

ROBERTS: Extreme weather this morning to tell you about here and once again lake-effect snow is burying some towns in New York. The town of Pulaski saw another foot of it. Rob Marciano is watching all of the extreme weather for us. Good morning, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, John. That's pretty much over, thank goodness. AND That little kid, really, buried as you said, and trying to big himself out of it. Still cold in upstate New York. We have cold air mixing with some warm air, and we got some disturbance along the Gulf coast. So, severe weather potential here. Tornadoes, some large hail and damaging winds from southeast Texas all the way across southern Louisiana. We do have a tornado watch that is in effect until 12:00 Eastern time. I don't know why that came back.

And into New Orleans, we're looking at showers and thunderstorms right now, some of which have been severe. Mostly just heavy rain at the moment and some gusty winds and most south of the i-10 corridor into Tivo, and the mouth of the Mississippi there. All right, the other issue today of concern is the icing problem across parts of the midsouth. Joplin, at this hour, reporting a thunderstorm with 28 degree temperature at the surface. That is significant icing happening there. In Springfield, it is currently 20, 21, 22, 23 degrees at the surface. At about 5,000 feet, it's over 40. So, you've got a seriously warm aerial loft and then falling into cold air and we've got icing happening in Springfield.

This is an area of southwest Missouri that has gotten clobbered this winter with icing situations and we got ice storm warnings for a good chunk of this area. St. Louis back to Louisville, Kentucky, Cape Girardeau, you're all going to be in this for the next several hour. Actually, for most of the day today and the cold air held pretty well in place from Chicago all the way back to New York. Not too warm in New York either with a high temperature today of about 33 degrees. John, back over to you.

ROBERTS: All right. Rob, thanks very much.

It's Thursday, and that means it's time for Dr. Gupta to open up the mail bag and answer your medical questions. He joins us coming up next.

And he's the famous face that once ran for Texas governor. This morning, we're getting Kinky Friedman's take on Texas' chance to help choose a Democratic nominee. Kinky Friedman joining us here right after the break. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: 43 minutes after the hour now. Author, musician and humorist Kinky Friedman holds Texas close to his heart. He even ran for governor here in 2006. And now Texas could play a huge role in determining who will win the Democratic nomination. To state's primary is scheduled for March 4th and could help decide the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and of course, tonight's debate could be key as to who wins in the lone star state. Kinky Friedman joins us now to talk about the issues in the minds of voters throughout the state. Good to see you.

KINKY FRIEDMAN, FMR. CANDIDATE FOR TEXAS GOV.: Great to be here, John.

ROBERTS: Former gubernatorial candidate, we should day. Have you made up your mind about who to vote for or even what party?

FRIEDMAN: I'm like the great civil rights leader Al Sharpton. I am remaining neutral. Until I may be called upon to mediate this.

ROBERTS: So, we can't expect Kinky Friedman endorsement for one candidate or another?

FRIEDMAN: No. This time no. But, you know, I hate to admit it, John, the two-party system which I called crisp and the blood, bipolar and everything else, has worked. It's almost worked. It's given us three pretty decent candidates. Seeing as most politicians are hall monitors, you know? I like these three.

ROBERTS: Now, you're not going to be at the debate tonight? You're going to be down in Houston?

FRIEDMAN: I would love to be.

ROBERTS: You'll be keeping tabs. What do you want to hear from these candidates tonight?

FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, this is not a debate. This is the same thing. Nuances on health care and all that. I mean, this is not screwing up. That's what it's about. And it's really deeper than that. It really is, will the Hispanics come out for Hillary? Will the white people really support a black man running? You know, they say - you know, that's the question. Because the Democratic party is coupled together with groups of people who don't really like each other so much. You know, that's always been the case and the Republicans, of course, hate everybody. So it all comes out in the lone districts.

ROBERTS: So what's your sense in how that will play out? Will Hispanics go for Hillary and will white voters come out for Barack Obama here in Texas? They certainly did in Wisconsin.

FRIEDMAN: Yes. My guess is I love Hillary. I mean -- sometimes the best man for the job is a woman, you know? And on the other hand, I love, so far, I really like what I'm hearing from Obama. His idea, you know, the education thing, about teaching the test. That is not the same as teaching. Most politicians don't understand that. So you know, this is really - I don't think we can lose, really, but who's going to win?

ROBERTS: But the one thing you say, that the Democratic party needs to do this year is they need to become Democrats again. What do you mean by that?

FRIEDMAN: Absolutely. Well, I'm a Democrat. I ran as an independent for governor in 2006, because I thought the Democrats and the Republicans had become the same guy. Kind of admiring themselves in the mirror. I want the Democrats to be a Molly Ivins, Ann Richards, JFK Democratic party and stand for something different than the Republicans. And we have just got to get, we've got to get the wooden horse inside the city here in Texas. We've got to get an honest broker in there as governor. ROBERTS: But it's a very exciting time for Democrats.

FRIEDMAN: Oh it is. I think this is the Democrats year and I'm feeling very, very good about it. I just - I'm conflicted, yes. I mean, I am conflicted and as I said, though I know Hillary and McCain, I've never met Obama, you know, but I love the Irish lad. Definitely, there.

ROBERTS: You know, one of the things that you have become synonymous with is the ubiquitous cigar here. We should mention that you recently came out with a line of Kinky Friedman cigars. What's that all about?

FRIEDMAN: Kinky Friedman's cigars, KFC and if -- well, they're made in Honduras by Cubans. Let me try to get one of these little buggers. Here you go. This is the utopian, the only cigar in America that benefits animal rescue, that's Utopia Rescue Ranch.

ROBERTS: Really, how big is this enterprise? Very nice?

FRIEDMAN: The cigar company or the rescue ranch?

ROBERTS: All of it.

FRIEDMAN: How big is it? Well, the rescue ranch has about 60 dogs, you know, we've got chickens, goats, and cows, some pigs. We adopt them. You know, we take stray and abused animals. Never kill sanctuary and what I want is a never kill state in Texas. No killing horses, cats, dogs or people.

ROBERTS: And are you about to become the Arturo Fuente?

FRIEDMAN: No. I'm the Jimmy Dean. With the cigar company, KFC, I'm expecting a lawsuit from the other KFC and if so, we retain the fine law firm of Goldberg, Schwartz and deal killer.

ROBERTS: And you said you've actually come out with a cigar that enhances the flavor of tequila but if you're the Jimmy Dean of cigars, maybe we should get one that enhances the flavors of sausage, too?

FRIEDMAN: Well, that's probably be next in line. Smoking cigars has become a political statement these days because the politicians won't let do you it. You know? Try to keep Kinky Friedman 20 feet away from Katz' deli. They failed in immigration and education and health care and this is what they're able to do. Bring back prohibition.

ROBERTS: Kinky, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming this morning.

FRIEDMAN: God bless you. You're a great American. Welcome to Texas.

ROBERTS: All right. Continued success in the future. Thank you very much.

FRIEDMAN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Kiran.

CHETRY: You couldn't wait to get that cigar back in his mouth. CNN NEWSROOM just minutes away right now. Heidi Collins is at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead. Good morning, Heidi.

HEIDI COLLINS, CNN, ANCHOR: Good morning, Kiran.

Presidential politics on the NEWSROOM rundown. That's for sure. John McCain live in the NEWSROOM. He's going to be responding to a report about a relationship with a lobbyist. The woman did business before a senate committee McCain led.

Now the stage is also set for tonight's CNN Texas debate. Can Hillary Clinton find a way to derail Barack Obama? Also, there are the tracks so you probably think a train is coming. Nope. Police say it's actually a drunk driver. Yikes. Breaking news, any time it happens. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM, top of the hour right here. Kiran.

CHETRY: Heidi, thanks so much.

You know, we're also awaiting the John McCain news conference. That's going to be taking place at the Park Inn in Toledo, Ohio. In fact, there is a look right now at the press setting up, getting ready for this statement. He's going to be answering to the front page news today out of the "New York Times," insinuating some possible, questionable activity by the Senator back in 1999 or 2000. He's going to be talking more about that. Our Dana Bash is there as well and we're going to be getting an update and we'll take you there live as soon as that happens.

Also, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here, he's paying us a "House Call." We're paging him. He's answering back.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Some interesting stuff. We got lots of great questions, questions about shingles and the effectiveness of the vaccine and does it cause chicken pox? Also, this idea that there are two different types of tremor. An essential tremor of Parkinson's tremor, we're going to break it all down for you. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

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CHETRY: Every Thursday at this time we open up Sanjay Gupta's mailbag. And we're going to dig in with some interesting question today from people. The first one is from Katherine. She writes to us from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, "a family member has shingles on his face and one eye. He has very close contact with his older son and shingles poses no danger to anyone in the family. I've been told otherwise by doctors." So who's right?

GUPTA: This is really interesting. First of all, shingles has a very characteristic rash which is what she's describing along the eye line, the side of the face. What many may not know about it, it's actually caused by the same virus that actually causes chicken pox. So, if you've had chicken pox previously in your life, shingles will not be contagious to you. If you've never had chicken pox, it potentially could give you chicken pox. So, that sort of the key issue there. If you had chicken pox in the past year, you're probably protected. It is the same virus that lies dormant for years and years.

CHETRY: Isn't it that adults get shingles and children gets chicken pox or does it matter?

GUPTA: Yes. You get the chicken pox, the virus stays in your body. It caused you no harm at all and then suddenly at some point in the adult life, it's re-triggered for some reason. And it causes what she's describing that sort of rash. It can be on your face. It can be on your chest, all over but its very characteristic.

CHETRY: Question from Linda in Missoula, Montana. "Can you explain essential tremor? I've been diagnosed and I don't have a lot of information.

GUPTA: This is interesting, Linda. Essential tremor is a sort of tremor that can develop even as young person. You have a sort of tremors of your hand, sometimes your head, sometimes even of your voice but you don't have any of the stiffness or rigid sort of feeling that people get with Parkinson's disease. One way to tell the difference, is very interesting, Linda. You may want to Write this down. If you have a drink of alcohol, a glass of wine or something, your tremor will go away. If it goes away that is essential tremor.

Parkinson's medications won't work for essential tremor. They only work for Parkinson's disease. The type of medications that works for this sort of tremor are typically what are called beta blockers. They're sort of heart medications. They lower your blood pressure a little bit and that's what gets rid of the tremor. Different types of tremor though. The essential versus Parkinson's, are two different things.

CHETRY: So do they recommend a glass of wine?

GUPTA: Well, it's sort of a diagnostic - no, not as a treatment. You certainly don't want to do too much of it. But if you're someone who say, you know, I took that glass of wine or beer, and my tremor just went away. You're almost assuredly dealing with essential tremor. So, more of a diagnostic tool. I'm not going to write that prescription for it.

CHETRY: One bottle of Chardonnay. OK. Well, by the way, if you have a question for Dr. Gupta, e-mail us. As he said, he gets a lot of great e-mails. He goes through them all. Cnn.com/am and thanks for being a trooper coming out a day after your big flight with the Blue Angels.

GUPTA: And I flew all the way from San Diego to New York. I tell you, that was, had to go down as one of the hardest days of my life, but I'm delighted to be here.

CHETRY: A story to tell the kids.

GUPTA: That's for sure.

CHETRY: Thanks, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you.

CHETRY: John.

ROBERTS: I'm impressed to see he finally woke up.

Hey, John McCain, is going to hold a news conference in just a few minutes time to answer questions about a story in the "New York Times." He is accused of an inappropriate relationship with a female lobbyist. Our Dana Bash is live in Toledo, Ohio for us with the latest on this. Good morning, Dana.

DANA BASH, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. And what we expect to see behind me where John McCain is going to come in about ten minutes if his campaign is any bit of a preview, likely we're going to see a very defiant John McCain. Since this story came out last night, what his campaign is insisting, is that any suggestion, first of all that John McCain had any inappropriate or romantic relationship with this lobbyist, more than eight years ago, is not accurate but more importantly, they insisted that he didn't do anything inapproriate in terms of influence, inappropriate influence that he might hav used with regard to her and her clients. And his position on the senate commerce committee.

But the reality is, the fact that John McCain is holding this news conference, the fast the he understands he has to answer questions. If the reality is, and his campaign understands just like they apparently did according to the "New York Times" eight years ago, any suggestion that John McCain does anything inappropriate with regard to a lobbyist really goes to the heart of undermining, potentially undermining the key central point of his candidacy for president now just like it was eight years ago, which is he is running to try to change the way things are in Washington. John.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll hear what John McCain has to say coming up in just a few minutes. Dana Bash for us this morning in Toledo, Ohio.

A final check of this morning's "Quick Vote" question coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.

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T.J. HOLMES, CNN, ANCHOR: and right now, let's take you to Senator John McCain in Toledo, Ohio.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: -- would not be in the public interest and would favor any one, or any one organization, as chairman of the Commerce Committee, there were hundreds of issues including many telecommunications issues that came before the committee. I had to make decisions on those issues and I made those decisions, sometimes they were very good, sometimes they were not, but any observer will attest to the fact that I made those decisions on the basis of what I thought was in the best interests of the American citizen.

So I'm proud of my record of service to this country, and I'm proud of my service as chairman of the Commerce Committee, which has oversight of literally hundreds of issues. It's the largest committee in the United States Senate, in terms of jurisdiction, and I will continue to serve, and I will focus my attention in this campaign on the big issues and on the challenges that face this country, and I think that's what the American people are very interested in hearing about. Again, I'm very disappointed in the "New York Times" piece. That's not true and I'll be glad to respond to any questions you might have. Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Senator, did you ever have any meeting with any of your staffers in which they would have intervened to ask you not to see Vicki Iseman or to be concerned about appearances of being too close to a lobbyist.

MCCAIN: No.

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