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AMERICAN MORNING

Winter Storm in New York: First Major Snow; Actions and Words: Highlights of Obama-Clinton Texas Debate; McCain Allegations; Your Money: Economy and the Election Express

Aired February 22, 2008 - 07:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Now or never.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I will leave that to voters to decide.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Did Hillary Clinton slow down Obama? The "Most Politics in the Morning."

Rude awakening. Now, nasty winter mess moving inch by inch across the northeast.

Like father like son. Once inches away from a croc. Now, Steve Irwin's boy has a scare with a snake. So how wild is too wild for a child? On this AMERICAN MORNING.

And welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. As we show you a live picture from New York, just outside of Central Park there as people are trying navigate the snowy roads. Big winter storm moving into the northeast causing all kinds of problems on the roads and delays at the airports as well. And Kiran's got this all of this for you on the wall behind us. Good morning, Kiran.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Extreme weather. Hey, John. Good to see you as well, and thanks for being with us this morning on AMERICAN MORNING. And, boy, what a morning it is if you're living in parts of the northeast.

This morning a winter storm dumping heavy snow from Washington all the way to Boston. It is affecting air travel, and it's certainly affecting roadways right now. D.C. area being hit with a nasty mix of snow, sleet and freezing rain. There's a shot of the White House this morning covered almost in a bluish haze because of it.

Live right now outside of our building, again, we've got a couple of inches of snow on the ground this morning, and it's causing a messy commute for drivers. Our Rob Marciano is at the weather update desk tracking all of the extreme weather for us this morning. Well, we got it, Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You're ready for this delay -- the list of delays that I'm going to show you? CHETRY: Yes.

MARCIANO: This is a little built shocking. All right. The rundown. We mentioned that there are de-icing programs going on for just about every airport north of Washington D.C., and the radar is a big old mess, especially across the I-95 corridor. Right now, you are in to light to moderate snow across the northeast.

Let's go to the airport delays that are happening right now. Five hours at JFK. Average of nine hours out of La Guardia. Average of six hours out of Newark. And obviously, there are flights that are canceled. These are average delays that are, you know, taking off and arriving at the airports for ground delays. We'll just give you an idea that if you are traveling in any of the metropolitan airports today, take a long book and certainly call ahead.

All right. Here's the radar again. Here's the 95, and pretty much you go west of there, that's where things begin to taper off. So for the next hour and a half, we're going to see moderate snowfall, and then we'll get into this -- we'll get into this dry area here that will begin to lighten things up. So couple of inches of snow on the ground right now. We'll probably see a total of four to six inches of snow in the New York City metropolitan area over the next several hours, and we're not going to see a changeover any time too soon.

Temperatures right now are well below freezing from New York all the way down to D.C. There were concerns of seeing some serious ice across D.C., but most of the precip really is confined to maybe 100 mile radius around the New York City area. You could see more than six inches. Maybe as much as 10 inches across the northeast into New England, and then a little thunderstorm watch in effect for folks south and east of Birmingham, Alabama, and beneficial rains across parts of Georgia.

Got your snow there, Kiran. Get out there and enjoy it after the big show today because it will eventually change over later on tonight. But I think for the most part, for most of today, it will remain snow. So you shouldn't get into the wet stuff at least for the daylight hours today.

CHETRY: Yes. You're right. We got it hit right into an opportune time for the morning commuters, but nine hours and eight minutes at La Guardia airport. What a mess.

MARCIANO: Yes.

CHETRY: If you don't have to fly today, obviously, you should just maybe call it a day and try to rebook.

MARCIANO: Good advice.

CHETRY: Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: OK.

ROBERTS: Well, it's a state that could give her the lead and brand new life in the race for the Democratic nomination. Last night, Senator Hillary Clinton tried to convince Texas voters to stop Senator Barack Obama's winning streak at 11. All the issues dominated. They were able to sneak in a few quick jabs.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There are differences between our records and our accomplishments. I have to confess I was somewhat amused the other night when on one of the TV shows, one of Senator Obama's supporters was asked to name one accomplishment of Senator Obama, and he couldn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Our senior political correspondent Candy Crowley is live in Austin for us this morning with the highlights. Good morning, Candy. It wasn't the slugfest that a lot of people were expecting last night, but it wasn't the love fest either.

CANDY CROWLEY, SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It was somewhere in between, John. There were moments of tension, and you can feel it. But largely, they were fairly cordial. It was less of a tussle than a tango in Texas.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY (voice-over): Hillary Clinton went in to reach out, to grab some of the connection with voters that comes so easily to Barack Obama. And the moment came when she was asked about a time when she was tested. She recalled a ceremony at an army medical center treating wounded Iraq war veterans.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Those who had lost limbs were trying with great courage to get themselves in without the help of others. Some were in wheelchairs and some were on gurneys. The hits I've taken in life are nothing compared to what goes on every single day in the lives of people across our country.

CROWLEY: Asked if Obama is ready to be president, she wouldn't bite, listing her credentials instead. Relaxed and confident in what was probably his best debate yet, Obama moved to trump her resume.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: On what I believe was the single most important foreign policy decision of this generation, whether or not to go to war in Iraq, I believe I showed the judgment of a commander in chief. And I think that Senator Clinton was wrong in her judgments on that.

CROWLEY: They both admitted their plans are very similar, but argued around the edges of health care reform and tangled again over foreign policy. In this case, how they would greet a new leader in Cuba.

CLINTON: I would not meet with them until there was evidence that change was happening, because I think it's important that they demonstrate clearly that they are committed to change the direction. CROWLEY: He says he would meet a new Cuban leader without precondition.

OBAMA: Because the problem is if we think that meeting with the president is a privilege that has to be earned, I think that reinforces the sense that we stand above the rest of the world.

CROWLEY: On the latest dust-up along the campaign trail, Obama batted away the Clinton campaign's charge that he plagiarized a paragraph of the speech.

OBAMA: The notion that I had plagiarized from somebody who is one of my national co-chairs, this is where we start getting into silly season in politics, and I think people start getting discouraged about it.

CROWLEY: She went after him.

CLINTON: You know, lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can Xerox, and I just don't think --

OBAMA: Come on. That's not what happened.

CLINTON: No. But, you know, but Barack, it is, because, you know, if you look -- if you look --

CROWLEY: She got booed for the effort. Otherwise, she avoided the kind of nasty battle that has worked against her, and he avoided any deal-breaking mistakes. They left as they came in. Still in the competition.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CROWLEY: In general, John, the critics took a look at this and thought both put in pretty strong performances and politics 101, when it's a draw or at least looks like a draw, the frontrunner really takes away the winning prize, and in this case that was Barack Obama.

ROBERTS: Candy, the one thing that no candidate wants is to be booed at a debate because that's a sound byte that gets replayed over and over and over again. Hillary Clinton never really does very well when she goes negative, so what can she do in the next week and a half to try to blunt his momentum if the negative thing doesn't work?

CROWLEY: Well, I could tell you what they're going to do. What they think will work. We led with that moment when she said, listen, anything that has been a hit on my life is nothing compared to what I've seen, and she drew the comparison to that ceremony she went to. That's what her campaign thinks will work. They think they have enough time in both Texas and Ohio before the primaries a week from Tuesday, for her to go out and again try to connect in kind of that electric way that Barack Obama does.

We don't see at this point any signs from the campaign that they're going to change message, and her message has always been I'm the friend of the working class. I get things done. I have the experience to go in and change your lives, and that's what they're going to stick with. Apart from that, a big stumble from Barack Obama would really help the Clinton campaign.

ROBERTS: Well, they got one more debate to go before the big contests on March the 4th.

CROWLEY: Yes.

ROBERTS: We'll see if she can get it. Candy Crowley for us this morning in Austin. Candy, thanks.

In case you missed it, CNN will re-air the entire debate again at noon Eastern time today, right after "NEWSROOM." The next big primary day just over a week away, Tuesday, March the 4th, Ohio and Texas, the big prizes. Rhode Island and Vermont also in the mix -- Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, a strong reaction from the Bush administration after an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. The White House saying the Serbian police didn't do more to prevent it. A group of angry demonstrators threw rocks, broke windows and set fire at a compound yesterday. They were protesting Kosovo's independence from Serbia. One person was killed during the demonstration. The U.S. says the Serbian government needs to do more to prevent these protests. The U.S. supports Kosovo's independence. Serbia and Russia do not.

And we're going to be talking about the conflict, putting the two former Cold War rivals at odds again with former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke. He's going to be joining us in the 7:30 Eastern part of our show.

Meanwhile, Veronica de la Cruz is here now with some other stories that developed overnight. Good morning, Veronica.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, good morning to you, Kiran, and good morning to all of you out there. This is new this morning.

A plane crash that we'd like to share with you. A plane with 46 people on board crashing in the Andes Mountains of Venezuela. Witnesses reported seeing the plane go down. Emergency crews have started rescue efforts, but the weather is bad, and the rough terrain is making things difficult. Controllers think the plane had troubles shortly after taking off last night.

Here's what else is new this morning. China is calling on the U.S. to share its data on the spy satellite shoot down. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the U.S. wants to be open and is promising to share whatever he can. China and Russia have proposed a space weapons ban. Washington says no because it restricts an American defense system, but still allows Chinese and Russian missiles to enter space.

Well, Hollywood is getting ready for the Oscars this Sunday. Take a look. Preparations there underway at the Kodak Theater for the first big awards show since the writers strike ended. Jon Stewart is the host and says that he has been working long hours with his writers this week to get those jokes ready.

And our very own Lola Ogunnaike is heading to Hollywood. She will have a wrap-up of the big winners Monday right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Jennifer Lopez this morning has not one, but two bundles of joy. "People" magazine reporting Lopez and husband Marc Anthony are the proud parents of twins. A boy and a girl. The babies born just after midnight, New York. These are the couple's first children together.

And that is what is new this morning. Now, back to Kiran and John. So I was checking the blogs, and they're saying $6 million, $6 million for the first set of baby pictures.

CHETRY: You're kidding.

DE LA CRUZ: Yes.

And Brad and Angelina only got $4 million.

CHETRY: How about that?

(CROSSTALK)

DE LA CRUZ: At least they don't need security.

ROBERTS: They're not going to pay for ours.

(LAUGHTER)

CHETRY: Is that fair? I don't think so.

ROBERTS: Not at all.

CHETRY: Thanks, Veronica.

ROBERTS: Next week, a historic moment is expected in North Korea. The New York Philharmonic Orchestra will perform a concert in Pyongyang. The concert will be broadcast live and is going to mark an unprecedented cultural exchange between communist North Korea and the United States. North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il has not said if he's going to attend, but someone who will be there, we sent AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho to North Korea. See, her family is from South Korea. They survived the war, but still wonder about relatives who disappeared and haven't been heard from since.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I always knew that one of my dad's uncles had disappeared during the war. He is a famous ballet dancer. My grandmother then told me that she read in the newspaper later in Seoul that he was teaching ballet in Pyongyang. So, I mean, that's extraordinary, but I just recently learned that it wasn't just one uncle. It was two. And the other one was a schoolteacher, and I don't know whether they're alive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: It's very personal and emotional story for Alina. She is live from Pyongyang on Monday with her reports inside North Korea. You can follow her trip and read her blog on our Web page at CNN.com/am.

Still ahead today, a health scare for A-list celebrities. Why they're going from Ashton Kutcher's birthday party to the doctor. We're paging our own Dr. Gupta just ahead.

Plus, the fallout over the "New York Times" story alleging John McCain's improper relationship with a lobbyist. We'll talk with a journalist who was following "The Times" investigation ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

And here's some live pictures again from Waterbury, Connecticut, as the light is coming up and sort of giving us a clearer idea of how the weather is affecting us there. Things still moving along pretty well on that stretch of roadway. But elsewhere, particularly at the airports, lots and lots of trouble. Stay with us. We've got it covered. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, as we know conservative Republicans haven't exactly embraced John McCain as the party's presidential nominee, but they are rallying around him this morning and blasting the "New York Times" for suggesting that McCain had an improper relationship, perhaps romantic involvement with a lobbyist in 2000. A McCain campaign adviser even questioned the paper's motives in a statement saying, "They did this because the 'New Republic' was going to run a story that looked back at the infighting there, the Judy Miller-type power struggles. They decided that they would rather smear McCain than suffer a story that made the "New York Times" newsroom look bad."

Well, that "New Republic" article was written by Gabe Sherman. He joins us now. Thanks for being with us this morning.

GABE SHERMAN, SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT, THE NEW REPUBLIC: Thank you.

CHETRY: How did you -- your paper and you guys get wind of the fact that the "New York Times" had been investigating for several months this potential tip about John McCain?

SHERMAN: The story first surfaced in mid December on the drudge report. There was a flash that "The Times" had worked on this piece and that it was being held, and you know, we set out in early February just to find out what was going on with this story, why it didn't run, what were the different camps inside the paper who were debating whether they should publish this article. And after a few weeks this is what we found.

CHETRY: And it's interesting. In one of the e-mails that took place, I guess, Bill Keller of "The New York Times" wrote, "This sounds like a pointless exercise to me, speculating about reporting that may or may not result in an article." That's what he wrote to you when you asked him about what was going on.

SHERMAN: Yes. Well, there was -- we got pushback last week from "The Times" when we were asking them questions and pursuing this line of inquiry. And we got a sense from Mr. Keller and the paper that they did not want this article, this back story, told about why they were holding the McCain investigation.

CHETRY: You think it's important for people, for the average readers and viewers, to understand what goes on in terms of the internal struggles of news operations as they decide whether or not to run with a story, especially a paper like "The "New York Times"" that could potentially have a huge impact on the outcome of something as pivotal as the presidential race?

SHERMAN: Definitely. I mean, we set out in early February to find out what was going on with this story. It burst into public on the drudge report, and at that point it became a public story, and that's really what we set out to do to explain why it didn't run and why the McCain campaign was really denying this so intensely.

SHERMAN: You know, your article today about "The Times" story says it's filled with "awkward journalistic moves" that they get into decades-old stories in the absence of concrete, printable proof that McCain and Vicki Iseman, is the lobbyist in question here, were an item. Why do you think they decided to go with the story without concrete proof?

SHERMAN: You know, that was the center of the debate. You know, the reporters felt they had nailed the story. Bill Keller and the editors felt they needed more documentary proof in the absence of a hotel receipt or a photograph that proved this alleged affair. You know, the reporters felt they nailed it, but the editors felt they needed more, and eventually the reporters' view won out.

CHETRY: The McCain campaign and many conservatives have accused "The New York Times" of bias, saying that this article was published, that they're going after the conservative presidential candidate as they have in the past. Do you think that there was biased in publication of this article?

SHERMAN: Oh, I would have no way to knowing. I mean, only "The New York Times" and the reporters who worked on the piece know their sources and -- but they bring to it their years of experience. They're all veteran reporters with great reputations and, you know, those sorts of questions are left to the pundits. You know, "The New York Times" went with the story they felt comfortable with, and this is just the McCain's campaign way of pushing back and getting their message out.

CHETRY: You also acknowledge the paper went with something that had decades-old information...

SHERMAN: Yes. CHETRY: ... and that nothing really concrete.

SHERMAN: Yes. Well, that was to really point to the controversial nature of the story and sort of point to the debate. But, you know, that's really up to "The Times"'s editors to decide, you know, what was ready to publish and whether the story was ready to go.

CHETRY: All right. It will be interesting to see more about it and whether or not there's more fallout.

SHERMAN: Definitely.

CHETRY: Gabe Sherman, special correspondent with "The New Republic." Thanks for being with us this morning.

SHERMAN: Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

CHETRY: John?

ROBERTS: Coming up at 20 minutes after the hour. Under siege. The U.S. Embassy burns in Serbia as freedom rings across the border in Kosovo. New tensions in a volatile region. What's next? We'll ask a former United Nations ambassador.

A survey camera rolls as a brawl breaks out on a school bus. Shoving, hair pulling. A real mess there. We'll tell you what started it all.

And you got your flu shot, so why did you get the flu? We're paging our Dr. Sanjay Gupta to find out. Good morning, Sanjay.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You know, we're trying to keep you healthy, and every doctor around the country will tell you to get your flu shot, but how much of it is science? How much of it is speculation? We'll break it down. That's straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: The snow, sleet and freezing rain continues to come down from Washington D.C. all the way up into New England causing trouble on the roads, and look at this, trouble at the airports as well. Here's your delays for you this morning. Five hours and 15 minutes at JFK in New York City. La Guardia, which just a couple of minutes ago had nine hour delays, is now down to three hours and five minutes, which is a blessing in comparison.

CHETRY: Right.

ROBERTS: Newark at six hours and 55 minutes. Two hours and 45 minutes at Philadelphia. No delays reported yet at Washington National or Dulles, but the weather is not good there either. We'll keep you updated on all of this stuff throughout the morning because it's information you need to know. CNN's Election Express is rolling through Texas this morning. They're in Austin, the state capital, where our own Ali Velshi is talking to voters about the economy and the impact that it's going to have on the next round of votes, and he joins us now with his hat. Good morning, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN SENIOR BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You know, people asked me why I like these road trips on the Election Express. No airport delays. The bus leaves when it leaves and it gets to where it gets when we're ready to get there. I'm in Austin. We're starting our trip here.

You know, Texas is a country unto itself, John. It is the second most populous country in the nation. It is the second largest work force in the nation. It's the second biggest economy in the nation. Very friendly people here in Austin. It is also got a faster job growth rate than any other state in the nation.

It's the biggest exporter of any of the states, largely because of oil, by the way. $100 billion worth of exports last year alone. And the unemployment rate in Texas is about 4.5 percent. That's lower than the national average of 4.9 percent. There are major corporations in Texas; 111 of the Fortune 500 companies have a presence in Texas. About six of them are based here, including companies like ExxonMobil, the biggest in the country, and other oil and refining companies. Dell Computers, Southwest Airlines, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, all based here.

Tomorrow we're headed -- sometimes this weekend we're headed over to San Antonio. There's a plant there that makes the Toyota Tundra pickup truck, so a lot of industry. A lot of jobs. It's a very, very busy and interesting state to keep our eye on. We'll be touring around for the next week or so -- John.

ROBERTS: All right. Looking forward to that. Ali, thanks very much. Love the hat.

VELSHI: OK.

ROBERTS: And thank you for the cattle the last time out.

CHETRY: He wrote to me and said, have you known I've been a cowboy for a long time? This cowboy hat is very old.

ROBERTS: You know, this is an inner side of Ali that we haven't seen before.

CHETRY: That's right. He hides it because he is in New York.

Well, a nasty strain of the flu sweeping the country. And even though you might have gotten your flu shot, you still got sick, and a lot of people are saying, well, how did that happen? CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is at the medical update desk with more on this. You know, you think, hey, I got the flu shot. I'm protected this year. GUPTA: Yes, you know, it is interesting, and I think most doctors will continue to recommend the flu shot, but I think people will be surprised to know that there's a lot of speculation that goes into actually making the flu vaccine. Let me explain.

First of all, this year's flu vaccine probably covers about 40 percent of the existing flu bugs out there, so less than half. Not very good. In years past, it's 70 percent to 90 percent. Never perfect, but better than this year. What they have to do, Kiran, is last year they had to decide which strain they thought were going to be the biggest problems this year. They have to sort of guess that. It's based on guesswork and based on what the strains sort of look like, how they might actually live throughout the season, and they make the flu vaccine.

This year they sort of missed it, Kiran, and they admit that. To give you a little bit of frame of reference, 16 out of the 19 last year's, they pretty much nailed it. So this year not so good.

Flu shot, as I mentioned, still a good idea for a lot of people. It's still going to protect about 40 percent of the people, which are still reasonable numbers. There are certain groups of people as you know, Kiran, probably better than anyone, that should definitely get it. Pregnant women, for example. Children above the age of 6 months. They should get it as well. So there are certain groups that are higher risk, and they should certainly consider getting the shot, Kiran.

CHETRY: Now, I want to ask about this other story that's been making news. Doctors urging everyone who attended actor Ashton Kutcher's birthday party in New York to get a shot. A hepatitis A shot. They say, according to the New York City Health Department, a bartender could have had this disease. How contagious is this, and how easily transmitted?

GUPTA: Well, this is a virus, and it is more contagious in some ways just by contact of a bartender, for example, with handling food or something and hasn't used perfect hygiene techniques. They can actually transmit the virus that way. That, you know, is always a concern if someone is actually carrying the virus and is in what's called the infectious period, meaning where the virus is actually shedding from the body.

So how contagious? A little bit hard to say. Casual contact, not so much. The people at this party probably OK, although it's a little concerning that someone was handling food items and also had the virus. The good news, Kiran, is that you can get the vaccine even after you may have potentially been exposed, up to two weeks later. So my guess is Ashton and his friends who received this party favor, if you will, are probably getting a shot to try to ward off any potential Hepatitis A infection.

CHETRY: All right. So they have two weeks to get that shot, and it's being recommended actually by the New York City Health Department. Sanjay, thanks.

GUPTA: Thanks.

CHETRY: By the way, you can catch Dr. Sanjay Gupta this weekend on his own show "HOUSE CALL" airing Saturday and Sunday morning 8:30 a.m. right here on CNN.

ROBERTS: It's 28 minutes after the hour. Right now, a live picture from a rally, pro-Serbian rally this morning. A Cold War heat in a post-Cold War world after the U.S. Embassy burns. How to stop another bloody conflict in Eastern Europe. A former United Nations ambassador weighs in for us this morning.

And the morning after the Democratic debate, did Hillary Clinton give voters reason to stick with her? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: There's a shot this morning outside of our building here in Columbus Circle. Boy, you know, I mean, we knew it was going to be a rough commute this morning with the snow coming down, sleet, and freezing rain. And boy, not that great this morning out there.

Here's a look at the delays. Who knows? Is it better to drive? Is it better to fly? You don't have to today, maybe you want to call it a day at the airport. New York City and JFK looking at five hours and 15 minutes worth of delays. New York's La Guardia Airport, they revise this from nine hours so I guess that's better. But you're still going to be sitting around for at least three.

ROBERTS: It's almost three times better.

CHETRY: Yes. That's the glass-half-full way to look at it.

ROBERTS: Yes. There you go.

CHETRY: In Newark, you're looking at ground delays of six hours and 55 minutes. Two hours and 45 minutes in Philadelphia. Still no word coming in about whether or not Washington, D.C.'s airports are going to be dealing with this as well.

But it looks like this is going to last into the day. We'll get more details from Rob. Maybe a mix of sleet and freezing rain in the afternoon.

ROBERTS: Our initial plans for this morning was to be in Austin to do the post-debate show out of there, and yesterday morning we heard about the weather and thought, well, let's get back to New York while we can. We start with breaking news this morning. Turkey launching its first ground attack in northern Iraq. Turkish troops backed by warplanes are hunting down Kurdish militants. Turkey says the operation will prevent the region from being a hotbed for terrorists and will help contribute to Iraq's stability.

Early reports from the region suggest up to 10,000 troops have crossed the border.

A U.S. military spokesperson in Baghdad says Turkey's operation will be short-lived.

CHETRY: Well, the Stacy Peterson case, the missing mother out of Illinois, back in the news this morning with a new twist. A pathologist now saying that her husband, Drew Peterson's third wife Kathleen Savio was murdered. A coroner's jury ruled Savio's death an accidental drowning back in 2004 even though there was no water in the bath tub. Her family at the time said it was very suspicious.

Well, the state now says evidence suggested someone killed Savio and tried to make it look like an accident. Investigators exhumed her body after Peterson, pictured here, fourth wife Stacy went missing in October of last year.

Peterson is a suspect in Stacy's disappearance and has maintained his innocence. As for a suspect in the Savio case, right now police are not saying whether or not they're naming him a suspect.

Turning to extreme weather and a major winter storm. Dumping snow, sleet, and freezing rain in many parts of the northeast causing major delays at the airports, as we said, and also problems on the roadways.

Rob Marciano at the weather update desk tracking extreme weather. I know you're familiar with some of those roadways, Interstate 95 in parts of Connecticut. They were saying the big rigs just couldn't stop going down these hills. A lot of reports of jackknifed trailers along those roads.

(WEATHER REPORT)

CHETRY: That's right. I feel bad for the people at the airport and on the roadways this morning, though. But it would be nice to get a little bit of snow.

Thanks, Rob.

MARCIANO: OK.

ROBERTS: Well, she needed to score big in last night's debate, but Hillary Clinton didn't appear to make much of an attempt to land a knockout punch against Barack Obama. Mostly she tried to kill him with kindness. Now it's full speed ahead to March 4th where voters in Texas and Ohio could decide the Democratic nominee.

Joining us now from Washington is John Dickerson, CNN political analyst and chief political correspondent for Slate.com.

It wasn't the knockout punch many people said that she needed last night, John.

JOHN DICKERSON, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: No, it wasn't. You wonder if a candidate really can deliver a knockout punch unless it's just some moment that comes out of the blue. So what Clinton tried to do is connect with voters, and showed them that she cares about their lives and that she has plans to deal with the problems of their lives.

The problem is for the week and for the last several weeks the Clinton campaign is saying -- they're basically saying Obama is just words. He's an empty suit. But he had a very strong performance, too, and given what Clinton's been saying, he really overcame that kind of description.

ROBERTS: You know, there was a moment last night that did not go down well for her when she tried to hit Barack Obama on this idea of lifting lines from Deval Patrick's speech a couple of years ago.

Let's listen to how that unfolded for her last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Lifting whole passages from someone else's speeches is not change you can believe in. It's change you can xerox, and I just don't think...

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Oh no. That's not what happened.

CLINTON: No, but you know, Barack, it is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: You know, she got booed there, John, and the one thing you don't want to do is when you are trying to make a killer point like that is have it blow up in your face. Is that an indication that she just can't go negative here in the next week and a half?

DICKERSON: Well, this -- that's right. This is what I was saying. It's hard to deliver a knockout punch because so many thinks oh this will be a good line, and then you play it out loud in front of the crowd and you get booed, and you have gone backwards.

So that was a bad moment for her in the debate. And those freeze dried lines that come --that are figured out beforehand usually do land poorly. So yes, it's hard for her to knock him out. I think she's going to have to rely on Obama to create his own blunder, something he's not really done in this campaign.

ROBERTS: You know, a moment that the campaign -- her campaign pointed to last night as being a stellar moment was right there at the end. It was interpreted differently, depending on who heard it.

Let's listen to it. We'll get your interpretation of it. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Whatever happens, we're going to be fine. You know? We have strong support from our families and our friends. I just hope that we'll be able to say the same thing about the American people, and that's what this election should be about.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: So her campaign came out last night, John, and said that was the defining moment at the debate. It shows that she has fully taken the reigns of this campaign. She is the one who should be president. Some of the other people looked at that and said, wow, it sounds like she is bowing out of the campaign already.

DICKERSON: Well, I think it achieved for the Clinton campaign what they were trying to do with the debate at large, which was to show a human side to her, show that she can -- could connect with the voters and that she dedicated her life to their problems. The question was about when she'd been tested. She referred to her husband's infidelity, got an applause line, and then moved on to this part about essentially the American people.

What was most interesting in addition to that is that after this debate about plagiarism, two parts of her final answer were, essentially, repeats of something John Edwards has said in this campaign and something her husband used to say on the campaign trail.

ROBERTS: Well, you know, if everybody is lifting lines from everybody else, you got to wonder if this plagiarism thing is even an issue.

John Dickerson for us this morning in Washington.

John, thanks very much. Good to see you.

DICKERSON: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: The U.S. embassy burns in Serbia as freedom rings across the border in Kosovo. New tensions in a volatile region. What's next? We'll ask a former United Nations ambassador.

And Bob Irwin was just one month old when he was seen with his father, the crocodile hunter Steve Irwin, while he was feeding crocodiles. But Bob's recent snake bite raises questions about how young is too young to be playing with wild animals. We'll put those questions to animal expert Jeff Corwin ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Forty-three minutes after the hour now. We want to get more on this unrest in Belgrade, specifically the attack on the U.S. embassy yesterday in which the parts of the embassy were set afire. Apparently one protester died in that fire as well.

Here's some live pictures this morning. Are these in Mitrovica? Yes, this is Mitrovica which is in Kosovo. A pro-Serbian rally there. This according to experts and -- you know people who know a lot about this region. Could be a real flash point here.

We'll be talking with former U.N. ambassador Richard Holbrooke about that in just a second.

But first, our Alessio Vinci is in Belgrade and he's been to the U.S. embassy this morning.

Alessio, what's the scene on the streets like there today in Belgrade?

ALESSIO VINCI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, John. The situation around the embassy is calm right now. The embassy remains closed, however, but we're seeing several Serb policemen securing the grounds. Obviously, the damage is still very visible. Destroyed windows blackened by the fire last night.

A U.S. embassy spokesman told me that the situation remains -- they remain on heightened state of alert, but, however, they have not receiving any specific threats against either U.S. embassy staffers or, for that matter, U.S. citizens here living in Belgrade.

So while they remain under -- there are concerns still, they say that there is no real danger against U.S. citizens at this time here in Belgrade. The Serb officials, meanwhile, are standing by what they said all day yesterday. That is they're appealing for calm. They're saying that this kind of violence is not bringing Kosovo closer to Serbia, but if anything, it's pushing it further away.

At the same time there are some Serb officials that are beginning to point a finger at the international community and especially at those countries who have earlier recognized Kosovo's independence saying, we told you so, this kind of violence would happen if you backed the independence riot -- John?

ROBERTS: Alessio Vinci for us, just on the scene there in Belgrade. We'll be hearing a lot more from Alessio throughout the day.

But right now let's turn to Richard Holbrooke, former United Nations ambassador, the one who actually gave Slobodan Milosevic the ultimatum, get out of Kosovo or face NATO bombing in 1999. He's also a foreign policy adviser for the Clinton campaign. He joins us this morning.

What's your sense of all of this that's going on there and where it's headed?

RICHARD HOLBROOKE, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: First of all, what's happened in Belgrade is, of course, an outrage. The police melded away and let it happen. And it is entirely their responsibility. But the truth is, John, it's a theater, a dangerous theater. The real frontline of where we are is the city of Mitrovica.

ROBERTS: Which we're looking at live pictures of here. Explain to us why this is the real potential flash point?

HOLBROOKE: Mitrovica is a city in the northern part of Kosovo divided by the Ibar River. On the south side of the river live Albanians, on the north side live Serbs. It is the ugliest, nastiest and most dangerous city in Europe, and the demonstrations have now begun.

There are American troops north of the Ibar River in the Serb enclave. If the Serbs start throwing rocks at Albanians, if the Albanians respond, if somebody gets killed, they could go to the mattresses and turn this into really bloody violence.

Now there are NATO troops in Kosovo. Not enough in my view. I publicly urged that NATO send troops in advance of independence to prevent this from happening, but there are troops there. They are ready to reinforce. They must reinforce. They can't let this violence escalate or we'll have a fifth war in the Balkans.

ROBERTS: So this all started last week when Kosovo declared its independence from Yugoslavia, and Yugoslav officials, like Vojislav Kostunica, who is the prime minister there, have vowed that Kosovo will always remain a part of Serbia, and as we know, Richard, you know, going back to 1999, when they wanted to hang on to Kosovo, they're going all the way back to 1389 and the battle for Kosovo when they lost it to the Ottoman Turks saying, we lost it once, we're never going to lose it again.

So in the bigger picture here the tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, not just what's happening in Mitrovica, where could this be headed?

HOLBROOKE: Well, in the worst case it could head to sustained violence. I don't think it will. But it could. NATO must step in and prevent it. We can't react after the events as we did in Bosnia 15 years ago. Kosovo was liberated from hundreds of years of Serb oppression by the bombing in 1999 and the introduction of NATO troops.

Milosevic lost Kosovo forever. The Serbs considered it their historic home. But over 90 percent of the people are Albanians. Now we can put -- push back now. The Serbs are split politically in Belgrade. The man you just mentioned, Kostunica, is an extreme nationalist. The president Boris Tadic is much more moderate.

But the issue is incredibly dangerous. Now, what lies behind this is a very much more important fact, the Russians. Putin and the Russians have been encouraging the worst elements in a divided political system in Serbia for years while Brussels has been offering Serbia a path to join the European Union.

The larger question for the United States is why is Putin stirring up troubles in an area which had been at peace for years? This administration didn't face up to it. It is a big issue. And we must address that underlying problem.

ROBERTS: Well, this rally that we're looking at now in Mitrovica now, at least peaceful for the moment, but as you said, could be a flash point.

HOLBROOKE: No, if you -- stood on the bridge today, John, you would not be -- you would be wanting your flat jacket.

ROBERTS: Yes.

Richard Holbrooke, good to see you. Thank you for your expertise.

HOLBROOKE: My pleasure.

ROBERTS: All right. Kiran?

CHETRY: So ahead, he was just a baby when he was introduced to crocodiles by his dad, the late crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin. Well, now 4-year -- there he is -- well now 4-year-old Robert Irwin has been bitten by a snake. Some are asking today: what's appropriate for young kids when it comes to handling wild animals? We're talking to animal expert Jeff Corwin. He has a snake. But it's poisonous. He has a snake with him this morning to introduce us to coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, 4-year-old Robert Irwin, the son of the late crocodile hunter Steve Irwin was recently bitten. It was a non- venomous baby boa constrictor and his mother said that she wasn't at all alarmed by the incident. But you may remember the uproar caused back in 2004 when Steve Irwin was videotaped holding his then 1-month- old son, Robert, while feeding a crocodile.

The incident sparked international criticism. Irwin always defended his actions, though.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE IRWIN, THE CROCODILE HUNTER: My intention was strictly and only to show people here's my little baby boy. I would never endanger my son, as you wouldn't yours, nor any good father would.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: So is it appropriate to let young children handle wild and potentially dangerous animals?

Jeff Corwin, the host of "The Jeff Corwin Experience," as well as "Corwin's Quest" on Animal Planet, joins us from the South Shore National Science Center and EcoZone. This is in Norwell, Massachusetts, an interactive environmental center that you actually established.

Welcome, Jeff. Good to see you this morning.

JEFF CORWIN, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST, ANIMAL PLANET: Good morning.

CHETRY: I know you have kids, what's your take on -- or whether or not they're allowed to be around some of the wild animals that you deal with every day?

CORWIN: I do have a daughter, and I think there's a difference, though, between my children being in the field with me when I'm in production and being near wild animals versus in a facility like this.

I think it's incredibly important that children, especially young people in this day and age of iPods and Xboxes that they have access to nature, and in a facility like this, at the EcoZone, at the South Shore Natural Science Center in Norwell, when it's done under a system of supervision where you have an expert naturalist and interpreter, an opportunity to come face-to-face with an incredible snake like this, this is a non-venomous eastern hog-nosed snake.

It's an opportunity for that young person to perhaps have a catalyst ignited within them that could perhaps be the spark to send them on the direction of being a good conservationist.

CHETRY: You know, parents do -- and I mean, this was a unique situation. Not everybody, obviously, is around boa constrictors like the Irwins are, because that's their trade and what they do. But if you want to introduce your kids to wild animals, you want to be able to have them out in nature. Are there some things that you should keep in mind and follow?

CORWIN: Absolutely. I think one of the first resources that a parent should look for if they've got that kid in their lives that's just inkling to explore and discover, learn more about the natural world, one opportunity is to take them to their local science center, nature center, environmental center, museum or zoo.

Oftentimes they'll have these interactive exhibits where a child could come face-to-face. For example, with this hog-nosed snake, not only did they learn that animal is a reptile, that it's specifically a snake, they also learn that this creature is regionally threatened. It's lost its habitat. They learn about the specifics about on how it hunts. And there, there are resources such as books and field guides.

From that, you can then apply it to the field. And of course, with very young children, you would never want to send them into the woods or wilderness by themselves. You always want to make sure that you accompany them and if you are out in the wilderness, the last thing you want to do is to approach a wild animal.

The best thing is to be the fly on the wall, observe that creature and really discover the marvels and secrets of how nature works, and ultimately learn the role as stewardship, the responsibility that we all have when it comes to taking care of our natural resources.

CHETRY: Are there animals that young children should just definitely be kept away from?

CORWIN: Absolutely. For example, here at EcoZone, the only time children and visitors and, by the way, it's not just children, it's young people and old people. The only time they have contact with animals, physical contact, is during interpretive programs where a naturalist will come out with a group and they'll talk about the physiology and the character and ecology of the animal and then they'll be able to get close.

But there are certainly many animals, especially mammals and venomous snakes and other creatures out there in the wild that you should never let your children go near. The other aspect is the animal itself. Even if it's a non-venomous creature, you know, children can be very powerful. They may not know their own strengths. So we're always leery to make sure that children when they have contact with animals that they're actually being careful so that they don't hurt the creature.

But ideally you don't want your children out there physically manhandling or touching wild life. But you do want them to have the opportunity to observe, study, and explore.

CHETRY: That's right. And you know how kids are. They'll go over for the dog's ears and the tail and pull them hard. It's just, I guess, human nature when they're little.

(INAUDIBLE), thanks for joining us this morning, Jeff. Good to see you.

CORWIN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Four minutes now to the top of the hour.

So who was the winner of last night's Democratic debate? We're talking with the co-chair of Barack Obama's national campaign Federico Pena, who also happens to be a former member of the Clinton administration. That's coming up.

Two of the biggest issues in the election, immigration and health care, both colliding in a single case. Why a group of nurses who came to the U.S. to care for sick kids were hit with criminal charges. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

And a live picture for you right now from Columbus Circle in New York City. That's Central Park just beyond that little kiosk there. Snow coming down here causing all kinds of traffic problems and lots of airport delays. We'll have the complete story for you coming up right up on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Texas angle.

OBAMA: You see hate crimes skyrocket in the wake of the immigration debate. And that is unacceptable.

ROBERTS: Did Obama win over Latinos?

CLINTON: There is a smart way to protect our borders and there is a dumb way. ROBERTS: Was this Clinton's Alamo?

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