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AMERICAN MORNING

Anthrax Mailings Case Suspect Commits Suicide; Drivers Balk at Record Oil Profits; McCain Accuses Obama of Playing the Race Card; Exxon Mobil Posts Record High Earnings

Aired August 1, 2008 - 06:00   ET

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


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Going there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: He doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Both candidates hit the same battleground state today with the race card in play. The debate over who pulled it first.

Plus, pumped up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALLAN CHERNOFF, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: In the four minutes it took Debra Perette to get her tank filled up, Exxon Mobil earned $357,000.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Exxon Mobil posts the highest profit in U.S. corporate history. Drivers say --

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBRA PERETTE, DRIVER: Help the little people out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: On the "Most News in the Morning."

Hey, good morning. Thanks very much for joining us on the "Most News in the Morning." It is Friday. Just about to begin a weekend. It's the very first day of August, too. The Olympics coming up. We've got political conventions coming up and a whole lot of news to talk about.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. You know, August 8th the beginning of the Olympics and apparently everyone in China wants to get married on that day, too, because it's very lucky.

ROBERTS: It will be interesting to watch all these people get married with masks over their faces. CHETRY: Thousand of them. Exactly.

Well, we begin with breaking news and a major development in the seven-year-old anthrax mailings case. CNN has confirmed a suspect in that case has committed suicide just as the Justice Department was seriously considering filing charges against the man. Bruce Ivins died on Tuesday. He was a top biodefense researcher at Fort Detrick, Maryland, the lab at the center of the FBI's investigation.

Justice correspondent Kelli Arena will join us with more on this in just a minute.

Also, the United Nations is extending its peacekeeping mission in the Darfur region of Sudan. All Security Council members voted yes except the United States which abstained over the resolutions wording. The U.S. objected to language that delays indictment of Sudan's president on genocide charges. The U.N. says 300,000 people have died in Darfur with another 2.5 million forced from their homes.

And NASA this morning is trying to determine whether the ice on Mars contains chemicals that can support life. The Phoenix Lander successfully scooped up a small amount of ice from the Martian soil. Analysis last week -- the analysis will last about a week and the results could come within a month.

And back now to the morning's breaking news. A suspect in the 2001 anthrax mailings case reportedly commits suicide as the Justice Department considered filing charges against him.

Justice correspondent Kelli Arena is working the story for us this morning. She joins us on the phone from Maryland with more detail for us. Kelli, good morning.

KELLI ARENA, JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (ON THE PHONE): Good morning, Kiran. Here's what we know. CNN has confirmed that the Justice Department was seriously considering filing charges against a man named Bruce Ivins. He was a former anthrax researcher at the Army's bioweapons lab over in Fort Detrick, Maryland.

Ivins was found dead on Tuesday. Now the "L.A. Times" is reporting that he killed himself after he learned that he may be prosecuted. CNN spoke with the office of the chief medical examiner here in Maryland, which did not yet confirm a cause of death. But both the FBI and the Department of Justice will not comment. They never do, as you know, Kiran, concerning an ongoing investigation.

Interestingly, though, I did speak with the FBI director, Robert Mueller. Just recently, I asked him about the anthrax probe and here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARENA (on camera): Last time we spoke about this was just a while ago, you said you were confident that you would find the anthrax killer. Are you still confident? ROBERT MUELLER, FBI DIRECTOR: I still am confident. And people are not familiar with the investigation. Could criticize. I'm confident in the course of the investigation. I'm confident in the steps that have been taken in the course of the investigation, and I'm confident that it will be resolved.

ARENA: Is there anything --

MUELLER: I'll tell you we made great progress in the investigation, and it's in no way dormant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ARENA: Now, Ivins happened to work at the same facility as Steven Hatfill, a name that you may remember. The government had identified him as a person of interest.

Hatfill was also a researcher at Fort Detrick. He steadfastly denied any involvement in those anthrax packs. He ended up suing the government. He won $2.8 million, $150,000 for life. But you know, investigators have always thought that a scientist was involved because of the expertise that they say it took to make this anthrax which was weapons grade.

Kiran, as you know, there have been no arrests made in this investigation. Five people were killed, 17 people very seriously ill. So we will bring more as we find out.

CHETRY: Still a lot of unanswered questions this morning, but a breakthrough, it appears in this anthrax case, seven years old now. Kelli Arena, thanks for joining us.

ROBERTS: Joining us now on the telephone is Dr. Leonard Cole. He's a bioterrorism expert, professor at Rutgers University. Also the author of the "Anthrax Letters: A Medical Detective Story."

Dr. Cole, in all of your research looking back at this anthrax case, the anthrax mailings there on Capitol Hill, did you ever come across the name Bruce Ivins?

VOICE OF: DR. LEONARD COLE, BIOTERRORISM EXPERT: Well, I certainly knew the name. I did not know him. And I knew him by name to be among many of the scientists who had been working at Fort Detrick, some of whom I was aware, according to public reports, were "persons of interest."

ROBERTS: Obviously, you know, we don't want to jump to any conclusions here. Still very early in the reporting of this story. But as Kelli Arena said just a moment ago, the Justice Department was seriously considering filing charges against Ivins. He was a researcher at the Fort Detrick facility for 36 years. Any idea why he would have been a person of interest?

COLE: I can only speculate, and I don't want to speculate too much, but obviously if the reports thus far are accurate, especially one that suggests that he might have been -- there was a pending prosecution against him, then, of course, he would have been the focal point at this point.

But, you know, this investigation has gone on since the events, which happened in the fall of 2001 right after 9/11. This is a very long time. The FBI has supported recently, not only through your story that you just offered from the interview with Director Mueller, but previously as well that they've been making progress. And this would be a great relief to all of us. Not just those of us who followed the case carefully, but all of us in the United States and all civilized people everywhere who would like to find out who the perpetrator was of that terrible event.

ROBERTS: Certainly would. Not to say that this is the breakthrough in the case but certainly, a very significant development.

Dr. Leonard Cole this morning. Thanks very much for being with us. Appreciate talking to you.

COLE: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Kiran?

CHETRY: Thanks. Well, other stories new this morning.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the Interstate 35W Bridge collapse back in Minneapolis. Thirteen people were killed. More than 140 injured. City officials have scheduled two public memorials. A moment of silence will be observed at 6:05 p.m. local time. It's the exact time of that collapse.

Tonight CNN's Campbell Brown takes a closer look at the country's crumbling infrastructure in an "ELECTION CENTER" special "Roads to Ruin: Why America is Falling Apart." It's at 8:00 Eastern right here on CNN.

A rare total solar eclipse expected to happen just over an hour from now. It will be visible from northern Canada, northern Greenland, the Arctic, central Russia, Mongolia and China. Scientists say it will last two minutes, 19 seconds. A total solar ellipse is caused when the moon obscures the sun by its passing directly between it and the earth. The next one will happen in 2017 in North America.

And on the heels of Exxon Mobil's record setting profits, Chevron, the nation's second largest oil company reveals its second quarter earnings before the market opens today. Exxon Mobil made more than $11.5 billion. It's the largest ever quarterly profit by any U.S. company.

ROBERTS: Well, as you can expect, the announcement of those record profits is not sitting too well with drivers this morning or with the candidates on the presidential trail. Our senior correspondent Allan Chernoff joins us now. He's in for Ali Velshi this morning. Good morning to you.

ALLAN CHERNOFF, SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We're talking about capitalism with a capital C, my friend. Made this country great. But, of course, on Wall Street the heart of capitalism, would you believe, people, investors, were actually disappointed with this record number. You could also say that consumers were disappointed.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF (voice-over): In the four minutes it took Debra Perette to get her tank filled up, Exxon Mobil earned $357,000. A rate that generated a gusher of profit, $11.7 billion during the second quarter.

DEBRA PERETTE, DRIVER: It's sickening to see that they make so much money and we suffer for it. They should take less of the profit and help the little people out.

CHERNOFF: A new CNN/Opinion poll finds more than two-thirds of Americans believe U.S. oil companies like Exxon Mobil are a major cause of higher gas prices, followed by foreign oil producers, as well as energy speculators.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I blame a lot of the oil companies because I do think they're gouging the American people.

CHERNOFF: Barack Obama called Exxon Mobil's profit outrageous.

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No United States corporation has ever in American history made that much of a profit in a quarter. Never happened before. But while big oil is making record profits, you're paying record prices.

CHERNOFF: John McCain responded with a call to find more oil.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We must begin immediately in drilling offshore so we can get some of the oil that's off our own coasts.

CHERNOFF: Exxon Mobil says that is an answer to high oil prices. Congressional Democrats say a better answer is to stop giving oil companies tax subsidies.

SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: And big oil, despite all its riches, has not delivered anything to anyone but itself. It is the most selfish group of companies that I've ever seen.

CHERNOFF: But for investors expecting even more profit, Exxon Mobil didn't deliver enough. The stock fell nearly five percent on the news.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHERNOFF: Tough crowd on Wall Street. Believe it or not, Exxon Mobil stock is actually down about 15 percent over the past couple of months.

Now, there are a couple of areas where Exxon actually saw a decline in profit. Selling gasoline, refining gasoline. In fact, John, the company said recently it's getting out of the gas station business because of declining profit margins.

ROBERTS: It's pretty incredible, isn't it? But when you consider it though, even though they made $11.68 billion, that's only a seven percent profit margin. If you were talking about that sort of volume and financial services industry or retail or something like that, profits would have been much, much higher.

CHERNOFF: Absolutely. And that is the point that the company makes.

CHETRY: They're actually putting these commercials out saying we only make a small --

ROBERTS: We're poor. Yes.

CHETRY: Yes. We make a middle of the road profit and we invest on it.

CHERNOFF: Could be Exxon Mobil. The fact is the oil business is generally a lower margin business than many other businesses.

ROBERTS: It's all about volume.

CHERNOFF: Exxon is a massive, massive company, and that's one reason we see such a huge profit.

CHETRY: Think of selling that many refrigerators.

ROBERTS: Imagine.

CHERNOFF: That's a tough business today, too.

ROBERTS: Allan, thanks so much for that.

Barack Obama in his own words. Hear what he's saying about political attacks and how they are distracting from the issues of real importance to voters.

CHETRY: And Alaska Senator Ted Stevens in court declaring he's innocent on corruption charges. Guilty or not, is it ethical to accept large gifts or favors while in office? We're going to have some answers from the ethics guy.

ROBERTS: And after hearing some horror stories on the Hill, members of the House move to make a permanent cell phone ban on airplanes. Not everyone agrees with it, though.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's coming up on 14 minutes after the hour now. With the election a little more than three months away we want to give you all the information that you need to decide who to vote for. So every day we're going to play longer excerpts of the candidates in their own words talking about the issues.

Here's what Barack Obama is saying about his opponent's political attacks and the challenges facing the next president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It's harder to say, it's harder to retire. And the worst part is is that I think a lot of Americans feel as if not only are things getting tougher for them right now, but they're worried about the future of their children and their grandchildren, and whether they're going to be able to pass on a better America to them.

That's after all what the American dream's all about. That's what the American dream has always been all about. That if you try, you can make it here in America. If you work hard, you can make it. And you don't just make it for yourself, but you're passing on a better life to the next generation.

And that's what people are anxious about. They're not so sure right now. And given the seriousness of the issues, given the fact that the decisions that we make right now are going to help determine the future not just of the next generation, but perhaps generations after that, given the magnitude of our challenges when it comes to energy and health care and jobs and our foreign policy, you'd think that we'd be having a serious debate.

But, so far, all we've been hearing about is Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. I mean, I do have to ask my opponent, is that the best you can come up with? Is that really what this election's about? Is that what is worthy of the American people?

Even the media has pointed out that Senator John McCain, who started off talking about running an honorable campaign, has fallen back into the predictable political attacks, the demonstrably false statements.

You know, but here's the problem. I'm not interested in getting into a tit for tat. These negative ads, these negative attacks, spending all this time talking about me instead of talking about what he's going to do, that's not going to lower your gas prices. That's not going to help you stay in your home if you're falling behind on the mortgage. That's not going to help you find a job if it's been shipped overseas. It doesn't do a single thing to help the American people.

It's politics as a game. But the time for game playing is over. That's why I'm running for president of the United States of America.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Barack Obama in his own words this morning. And in about 20 minutes' time, we're going to hear what John McCain is saying about taxes and the economy.

CHETRY: Well, to a neighbor's tree that most of it hanging over your property, does it sound familiar? What exactly are the homeowner's rights? Sunny Hostin answers the legal hotline. And we have Rob Marciano watching extreme weather today. And I bet you you're going to be watching for some of that NASA video of that solar eclipse.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, that's going to be cool. I wish we could see it here on all of North America.

Speaking of trees, maybe you want to grab some shade today if you can't get a glimpse of that total solar eclipse. Cool shot.

Let's talk about that and the heat wave. It's going to be hot. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Wow. Beautiful shot this morning of Miami. Gorgeous. It's clear, 83 degrees. And a little bit later some storms with a high of 91 degrees.

And our Rob Marciano joins us. You probably wish you were there, right, sitting outside the Delano (ph) Hotel having a lychee martini this morning?

MARCIANO: Oh, that sounds nice.

CHETRY: How about it?

MARCIANO: Let's go.

CHETRY: You need to do something because no matter where you live, it's going to be pretty hot today.

MARCIANO: Yes. You know, that 90-degree mark is going to be quite prevalent even if you're not in the orange-shaded area here on the weather map that indicates the hot. This is where a lot of folks will not only hit 90, but will hit 100 degrees.

Even the East Coast where we don't have that painted in, if you're blessed to get hit by an afternoon thunderstorm to cool you off, namely across parts of the Deep South, East, and in through parts of Florida, and even the northeast where it could get a little bit rough and tumbley, just, you know, be thankful for it and grab some shelter and enjoy the rain cool there.

76 in New York right now. 76 degrees in Philadelphia. It's a little bit muggy out there. It's that soupy kind of first day of August type of air, isn't it? Yes.

Also kind of muggy in Dallas. Believe it or not, 85 degrees. Boy, they have just been steaming and today could very well be another day where they hit 100 degrees. And they've been, like, 13 or 14 days, the last 15 where they've been 100 plus.

Heat advisories posted for Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. Anywhere you see these counties that are painted in yellow is where heat advisories are posted. In some cases just for today. In many cases right through the weekend. And even Kansas City metropolitan area will see a heat warning.

Denver getting into the act with 19 days in a row of 90-plus temperatures today. Yesterday, they got up over a 100, and they'll probably see temperatures up and over or at least close to 100 degrees today. 98 the official forecast. It would be 89 degrees. Relatively cool, John, up there in New York. Back to you.

ROBERTS: Hey, that's a good thing, Rob, because it was steaming yesterday. Thanks very much.

No coincidence that the Beijing Olympics begins on 8-8-08. Eight is a lucky number in China. See how thousands of Chinese couples are planning to get some of that luck for themselves.

CHETRY: The montauk monster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ewww, what is that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's pretty disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: What exactly did wash up on the Long Island shore?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm pretty sure it's an alien.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Jeanne Moos takes a look. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It's Friday. It is time for our legal hot line. AMERICAN MORNING legal analyst Sunny Hostin here to answer some of your legal questions. Good morning to you.

SUNNY HOSTIN, AMERICAN MORNING LEGAL ANALYST: Good morning, John.

ROBERTS: So we've got a viewer from my home state of Virginia who writes us to say that he's having an issue with a neighbor and wants to remain anonymous. Here's the question he posted.

"My next door neighbor has a large tree on their property, but most of the branches hang over the fence over my property. It's just a matter of time before this tree falls. What are my legal options?"

You got some advice? HOSTIN: I do. But I'll tell you, the legal information that I can provide depends on the state where you live. In this case it's Virginia. But in all states it really depends.

It's a self-help option typically that you get. If the branches are falling on to your property, you're allowed to cut those branches, not harm the tree but cut those branches so that you have the shade that you need or the sun that you need or what have you.

But in Virginia, the Supreme Court of Virginia in September of 2007 reversed all the law that it had before and held that where a neighbor's tree causes actual harm or even poses imminent harm, you can sue your neighbor and force your neighbor to cut those offending branches or fell the tree in its entirety. So it's a real departure in Virginia. So, in Virginia, he's got a lot of legal recourse.

ROBERTS: So what happens if this tree falls on his yard? Then what can he do?

HOSTIN: He can sue. He can hire an attorney. He can sue, and, again, get actual damages. So if his property gets damaged, let's say $5,000, he can get $5,000.

What can he do if this is happening or this is happening to anyone else in Virginia? Document the damage. Hire an arborist, which is someone that can come and take care of the tree. Give a copy of that arborist report to your neighbor and try to work it out amicably.

We contacted Virginia and that's what they advice. But after that, contact your insurance company. And if nothing else works, hire your friendly neighborhood attorney.

ROBERTS: So bottom line, state of Virginia, you think that a neighbor's tree is a hazard to your house, you've got some recourse.

HOSTIN: You've got a lot of recourse. A lot of recourse there, not only self-help.

ROBERTS: Sunny, thanks so much.

HOSTIN: Thank you.

CHETRY: Well, still ahead, the politics of race. John McCain accusing Barack Obama of playing the race card. Obama claims McCain is trying to scare voters. We're going to ask an independent voice to weigh in.

And it's about to get a little more expensive flying Northwest Airlines. We're going to tell you about their new fee and what it will cost you to get on board.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, the issue of race exploding on the campaign trail. It began with Barack Obama responding to a John McCain ad that labeled him as a celebrity, not a leader. And then here's what Obama told a town hall meeting in Missouri yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: What they're going to try to do is make you scared of me. You know, he -- oh, he's not patriotic enough. He's got a funny name. You know, he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Well, the McCain campaign claimed that Obama was playing the race card by making those statements. It's a charge that the candidate then backed up in an interview with CNN's John King. Let's listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm sorry to say that it is. It's legitimate. And we don't -- there's no place in this campaign for that. There's no place for it, and we shouldn't be doing it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: The Obama campaign denies trying to use race for political advantage. They accuse McCain of taking the low road to distract voters from the real issues.

John Avlon is a self-proclaimed independent political analyst. He's the author of the book "Independent Nation" and he joins me now to talk more about this.

First of all, this back and forth taking place about what's said and not said when it comes to race. What's maybe implied? How does that play with independent voters?

JOHN AVLON, AUTHOR, "INDEPENDENT NATION": Independent voters are very sensitive to when politics takes a negative turn. And you know it's August and the heat's turning up on the campaign trail and so is the rhetoric.

But candidates need to be very careful because hypocrisy is the unforgivable sin in politics. Both John McCain and Barack Obama have campaigned as being a break from the politics of personal destruction we've seen in the past. So whenever the campaign takes a negative turn, independent voters notice and they'll punish the candidate that takes it too far.

CHETRY: So independent voters, by and large, have a different feeling because negative campaigning clearly works or candidates wouldn't use it. It doesn't work for them?

AVLON: No, independent voters, the reason they're independent is they're reacting against the extremes on both sides. They want to see an end to this split screen politics. They want to see people who put patriotism ahead of partisanship. And the national interests ahead of special interests. That's what the independent voters want. And both candidates so far have been pretty attuned to that. But this is going to be the real test. Not wanting destructions.

CHETRY: And this is interesting because according to a study of political commercials by the advertising project of the University of Wisconsin, they say a third of McCain's ads have actually been negative attacks on Barack Obama. They also say that 90 percent of Barack Obama's ads don't even mention McCain. So, is this a risky strategy for John McCain?

AVLON: Isn't that interesting? Yes. You know, John McCain is walking a fine line here. Because a lot of his credibility with independents comes from the fact that he's always stayed above partisan gutter ball politics. He's always criticized those folks who've indulged in that, especially on the Republican side, in the past.

So, while he needs to play offense and define Barack Obama, and that's what the month of August really does -- remember August is when the swift votes about charges came against John Kerry. August is when Michael Dukakis saw his 17 point lead over the first George Bush evaporate.

Those McCain camp is going to try to get back in this mix and define Barack Obama. But Barack Obama's focused really on a larger target, the American people.

CHETRY: Well, the other interesting thing is one of the big issues that has been talked about on the campaign trail has been this debate over Iraq. One about timelines for withdrawal, but the other about whether or not the surge has worked.

And Barack Obama has not, after going on the big visit, he did not I guess changed his mind. I guess you could say or admit in interviews that he felt the surge worked. And when you talk about where independent voters stand on Iraq, are they also hard and fast about their views about Iraq or are those also the facts on the ground type of debates?

AVLON: Sure. Over 60 percent of independent voters say that stabilization in Iraq is more important there than an immediate timetable for withdrawal. And Democrats are in danger of being stuck in 2006 on this issue. One of the large critiques they had on the Bush administration which is valid is they're not changing their strategy to meet changing facts on the ground.

Well, the reality is the surge has worked. The facts on the ground have change. And I think Democrats need to decide what's more important, stabilization or withdrawal. That's a major test of leadership for Barack Obama.

CHETRY: All right. It will be interesting to see how that all plays out. John Avalon, great to have you as always.

AVLON: Thank you.

CHETRY: Thanks for being with us.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: 32-1/2 minutes after the hour now. And here's a look at some of our top stories this Friday morning. John McCain's campaign manager accusing Barack Obama of playing the race card. Rick Davis says Obama's insinuation of race is, quote, "divisive, negative, shameful and wrong".

It came after a speech in which Obama said Republicans would try to scare voters by pointing out his, quote, "funny name and that he doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills."

A memorial service today in Minnesota marking the one year anniversary of the deadly bridge collapse. 13 people were killed when the I35-W Bridge fell into the Mississippi River. It's part of the service. Emergency responders will walk across a new bridge. A moment of silence will be observed at 6:05 at night followed by bells tolling 13 times for the victims.

And we are waiting for a spectacle in the skies over the northeast this morning. Here's a live picture. Look at this. It's beginning already. A total solar ellipse going to be visible in parts of Canada, in the north-eastern part of Maine. A total solar eclipse happens when the moon passes directly between the earth and the sun casting its shadow on the ground below.

We're going to have it live for you coming up over the next hour. That picture, by the way, is from Baghdad.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's incredible.

ROBERTS: Red sun there this morning.

CHETRY: It is beautiful.

CHO: Oh, man. Doesn't look real.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: Because we can't see it here in North America.

ROBERTS: Well, you can see it in Maine.

CHETRY: You can?

ROBERTS: Yes. Maine, eastern parts of Canada, northern part of Maine.

CHETRY: All right.

ROBERTS: Yes. But a beautiful picture from Baghdad this morning.

CHETRY: Love it.

ROBERTS: Just incredible.

Alina Cho here now with other stories new this morning.

Good morning to you.

CHO: They there. Happy Friday, guys. Good morning. Good morning, everybody. And new this morning, Congress is moving towards making the cell phone ban on commercial airplanes permanent. A vote by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee came after several House members spoke passionately about their own experiences with obnoxious passengers. Some lawmakers worry that domestic airlines might try to get the cell phone ban lifted so they can charge passengers extra to sit in no phone sections.

Just a day after Delta decided to raise its baggage fees. Northwest Airline is boosting its ticket prices next year by up to 80 bucks round trip. That's to cover a fuel surcharge. The new fee applies to about 7,000 domestic routes beginning January 10th. It matches a similar fee by other carriers. Now if the hike stays in place, it'll be one of the largest fare increases this is year.

The summer Olympics now just a week away. The official Olympic clock counting down to the opening ceremonies as you see there right there in Beijing. While dancers rehearse their routines for the big event. Chinese officials are desperately trying to limit Beijing's air pollution so it doesn't impact the athletes or, of course, the expectators either.

And as you know, the Olympic Games begin on 8-8-08. That's August 8th, 2008. That's because eight is considered a lucky number in China. And that has prompted about 9,000 Chinese couples to get married on that day. They're hoping to share in that luck.

In Mandarin the word for eight is similar to the word for wealth. 8-8-08, by the way, also falls on a day after China's Valentine's Day. And that's a date set by the lunar calendar. It's like last year when all those American couples got married on 7-7-07. You know, doing it again there.

CHETRY: See that. Although, the other interesting thing is they said that people have already taken their wedding photos. They have planned for this for months and even years in advance.

CHO: Well, you guys you'll recall a couple of months back I did a story about 8-8-08, being a lucky number, but maybe is it a curse because it was also connected to some devastating things including the earthquake. But --

ROBERTS: Yes. All those things that added up to eight.

CHO: To eight. Exactly. But China is going forward saying eight -- the consensus is eight is lucky. Get married on that day.

CHETRY: All right. Congrats to all the thousands of couples.

CHO: Nine thousand.

CHETRY: Thanks. CHO: You bet.

CHETRY: Well, powerful Alaska Senator Ted Stevens is bringing home the bacon for his state. Now, he's facing corruption charges for failing to disclose a quarter million dollars in gifts. Guilty or not, was it ethical? You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: 38 minutes after the hour. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens has pleaded not guilty to charges that he lied about accepting more than a quarter of a million dollars worth of gifts from an oil contractor. May not be illegal, but is it ethical to accept gifts or favors from professional associates?

Bruce Weinstein is the ethics columnist for businessweek.com. Better known as "The Ethics Guy." And he joins us now.

So, even if this wasn't illegal, even if he told the truth, didn't lie about this whole thing and the gifts that he accepted from this oil company, VECO, is it ethical for someone in his position or another position of prominence to accept gifts from somebody with which they have -- with whom they have a professional relationship?

BRUCE WEINSTEIN, ETHICS COLUMNIST, BUSINESSWEEK.COM: It is not ethical to do this. Here's the problem. When you give a gift to someone the person receiving the gift feels obligated to return the favor. Now, if this is a matter between friends, if I give you a gift on your birthday you feel obligated to give one to me, it's not a big deal.

But if we're talking about members of Congress who are there to serve the people of the United States of America, and instead, they may feel a tug of loyalty to the corporations that have given them substantial gifts, then it's an ethical issue.

ROBERTS: Right. Because, you know, so many of these politicians will say, you know, certainly, they gave me something. But anything that they've ever given me whether it be campaign contributions or a small gift or whatever has never influenced any of my decisions.

WEINSTEIN: Well, how do you know that? I mean, it's important when you are in a position of power or influence or authority. Not only to avoid a true conflict of interest, it's important to avoid the perception of a conflict of interest. And Democracy should not be for sale. It shouldn't be for sale to the highest bidder or to any bidder.

ROBERTS: So, across politics, across corporate America, there are either laws or there are corporate guidelines that give us some idea of what we can and cannot accept when it comes to gifts. But they don't cover every situation. So, what's some good advice, good rule of thumb to live by when it comes to gifts from professional associates?

WEINSTEIN: If there is any chance at all that your integrity will be compromised by accepting gifts, just don't accept the gift. This means that physicians should not accept gifts from pharmaceutical companies. It means -- I know we're talking pie in the sky, but we're talking about ethics, which is about the way the world ought to be, not the way the world is.

It means -- it means attorneys should not accept gifts from venders. And it means members of Congress should not accept gifts from special interests who may want something in return.

ROBERTS: Right. We have seen is related to Senator Stevens. He made campaign contributions to a lot of members of Congress and senators, John McCain among them. Those people have since taken those contributions. They have given them to charity to disassociate themselves from it.

Can you pass on this dirty money and say, "There, I feel better now."

WEINSTEIN: If it's wrong for you to accept it, why would it be right for your charity to accept it? I mean, isn't it showing great disrespect to your charity by saying, "I don't want to touch this money. It's filthy. Here, you can have it."

Instead, what members of Congress should be doing is viewing this as a moment of opportunity to say, "We're not going to accept gifts ourselves. We're going to rise to the challenge and bring out the best in ourselves and not follow down this road." So, they don't have to apologize down the road.

ROBERTS: But again, sometimes it's as things should be and not as they actually are.

WEINSTEIN: Well, that's what we're talking about this for.

ROBERTS: Bruce, it's great to see you. Thanks very much. Have a great weekend.

WEINSTEIN: You too.

CHETRY: The Montauk monster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eww, what is that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's pretty disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, man.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: What exactly did wash up on the Long Island shore?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm pretty sure it's an alien. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: Jeanne Moos takes a look. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING. With the election a little more than three months away, we want to give you all of the information you need to decide who to vote for. Every day, we're bringing you extended clips of the candidates in their own words talking about the issues. Here's what John McCain said about the economy and taxes.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Senator Obama says he'll only raise taxes on the rich. But in the Senate he voted for tax hikes that would have impacted those making just $32,000 a year. He's proposed tax increases on income taxes, capital gains taxes, dividends taxes. Pretty much anything you can tax, he wants to tax more.

My friends, on social security, he wants to raise social security taxes. My position and I am opposed to raising taxes, including social security taxes. Have no doubt about my opposition.

You know, and that's a debate we should have openly in good faith. I hope I can convince Senator Obama that it's not a good idea to raise taxes on American families who are hurting today. And we all know they're hurting today. Raising taxes in a bad economy is about the worst thing, the worst thing, you could do because that would kill more jobs than we were already losing. We were already losing too many.

I'm going to keep current tax rates low and cut others, and not because I want to make the rich richer. But because it keeps jobs in America and it creates new ones.

Senator Obama says that he wants energy independence. But he's opposed to new drilling at home. He's opposed to nuclear power. He's opposed to an innovation prize for electric cars.

My friends, we must begin immediately in drilling offshore so we can get some of the oil that's off our own coasts. We have to begin that drilling, and Senator Obama opposes it.

(APPLAUSE)

He said that the high cost of gasoline doesn't bother him only that it rose too quickly.

Yesterday, he suggested we put air in our tires to save on gas. My friends, let's do that, but do you think that's enough to break our dependence on Middle Eastern oil? I don't think so. So, I believe -- I believe that every energy source needs to be part of this solution. We need to develop new alternative energies like wind, solar, tide, biofuels. But we also need to develop more existing energies like nuclear power and clean coal. Nuclear power is safe. Clean coal technology is vital.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: There we heard from John McCain. Well, coming up in about 20 minutes, we're going to hear what Senator Barack Obama has to say on the issue of health care.

ROBERTS: More on our breaking news this morning. A scientist and suspect in the anthrax letters from back in 2001 apparently is dead. Why it may not mean the case is closed in the investigation, though. The latest from the Justice Department coming up.

And right now on the telephone with us is Thomas Ivins. He is the brother of Bruce Ivins, who was a researcher at the Fort Detrick bioweapons lab for 36 years. Bruce Ivins is the man who's said to have committed suicide.

Mr. Ivins, are you there with us this morning?

Thomas Ivins?

VOICE OF: TOM IVINS, BROTHER OF ANTHRAX SUSPECT: Tom, yes.

ROBERTS: Hi, Tom. Are you with us this morning?

IVINS: Yes, I am.

ROBERTS: Can you confirm the news about your brother, Bruce?

IVINS: Yes, I can.

ROBERTS: What have you heard?

IVINS: I heard he committed suicide.

ROBERTS: Right. And he was a researcher at Fort Detrick, Maryland, at the bioweapons --

IVINS: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Right. Did you know that he was a suspect in the anthrax attacks?

IVINS: I was questioned by the Feds a year and a half ago. They say they were doing some investigation.

ROBERTS: Right. What kind of questions did they ask you?

IVINS: Very confidential. ROBERTS: Right. Can you tell us at all what the nature of those questions was, if not the exact questions?

IVINS: Well, they ask you about your personal life. How you got along with your brothers when you grew up.

ROBERTS: Right. Excuse -- all right, sorry, Tom, about that. So, you've had some idea, then, that federal authorities were closing in on your brother?

IVINS: See -- at the time of the interview, they said they were investigating him when they talked to me.

ROBERTS: And that was in relation to the anthrax attacks of 2001?

IVINS: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Did you ever talk to your brother at all about those attacks?

IVINS: No, I didn't.

ROBERTS: All right. So you had no idea of a potential involvement from his side of things?

IVINS: Exactly.

ROBERTS: Right.

IVINS: I stay away from him.

ROBERTS: For what reason?

IVINS: I'll tell you what. I'm very independent. I'm a paratrooper.

ROBERTS: Right.

IVINS: From 101, I'm a veteran. I'm very strong, a very dominant character.

ROBERTS: Right. Right.

IVINS: And I don't associate with him.

ROBERTS: I see. Did you --

IVINS: Three boys in the family, and I was, like, the outcast. It was like a two and one situation.

ROBERTS: I see. Did you --

IVINS: And I grew up, like, separately...

ROBERTS: Right. IVINS: ...from them.

ROBERTS: Right. Got you.

IVINS: I had my own room. And he and his other brother grew up together. There's your answer.

ROBERTS: OK. And did you ever have any concerns...

IVINS: No, I didn't.

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: ...That he might have stressed that he served government --

(CROSSTALK)

IVINS: None at all. None.

ROBERTS: OK.

IVINS: He can go to hell as far as I'm concerned.

ROBERTS: All right. Tom Ivins, the brother of Bruce Ivins, for us this morning from Middletown, Ohio. Tom, thanks very much for being us today.

Just minutes away now from a total solar eclipse. NASA broadcasting it to millions today. We're going to peek in. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning." A live picture there from Baghdad.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: Well, a lot of people asking today, what is it? A dog? A cat? A turtle? A monster? It washed ashore on Montauk at the tip of Long Island, supposedly. It has a beak and a leathery body. And you may find some of the pictures disturbing.

CNN's Jeanne Moos searchers for answers.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Montauk, Long Island used to be known for its nice lighthouse. But now?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's pretty disgusting.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Eww, what is that? Seriously. What is that?

MOOS: Avert your eyes if you're sensitive. They're calling it the Montauk Monster. So ugly it has folks crossing themselves.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my gosh. Oh, man. MOOS: The photograph was taken by this woman several weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is the actual shot.

MOOS: When the so-called monster washed up on the beach. Now, the Web is awash with it. It first appeared on a gossip site called Gawker and folks have been gawking at it ever since.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is really not real. Is it real?

MOOS: It's real. According to a 22-year-old life guard known Colin Davis, along with his friends, claims to have recovered the remains after they decomposed a lot more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This thing stinks.

MOOS: Colin says they're keeping them in the type of zippered bag you'd put a comforter in.

VOICE OF COLIN DAVIS, RECOVERED REMAINS: We have a bag of bones and a skull decomposing black like oil like goo.

MOOS: But the big question about the remains, still remains.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What do you think it is?

MOOS (on camera): What do you think it is?

(voice-over): Guesses range from turtle without the shell to semi-aquatic rodent. It's the beak like snout and flipper like limbs that confuse folks.

DAVIS: We're going to definitely take it and try to have some expert analyze it. But, you know, in the meantime we're having a great time with it. It's a really cool beast.

MOOS: Check out the cloth band found on the creature. One of Colin's friends has been wearing it around his neck. Decked out in beach gear, we sampled opinion on the concrete beaches of Manhattan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Some sort of hog.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. It's a bird like pig.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Part pig, part eagle.

MOOS: Posted one person, it's a dead pit bull. What's wrong with you people? Most experts seem to think based on its teeth that it's a dog or a raccoon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A raccoon?

MOOS: No, it's not. Mr. Beagle's Worth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right Mr. Beagles Worth. We're back. MOOS: Some think it may have washed up from the nearby Plum Island Animal Disease Center where they investigate diseases. But the director categorically denies the creature's from there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Something that the scientists have not identified yet.

MOOS (on camera): What creature could that be?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My husband.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not that much of a beach person. But it doesn't look like anybody I know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm pretty sure it's an alien.

MOOS: You really can't look at it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. I'm really -- I'm squirmish.

MOOS: No. You're squeamish. It's squirmish.

Jeanne Moss, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHETRY: And so the mystery continues. Well, with a little more than three months away from the election, we want to give you all the information you need to decide who to vote for. So, everyday we'll play extended clips of the candidates speaking in their own words about the issues. Here's what Barack Obama is saying about health care, the energy crisis and deteriorating roads, bridges and levees.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Think about if we, in fact, designed that new fuel efficient car here in the United States. And we create a new electricity grid so that when you plug in that car, it's using that energy wisely and smartly, and we can distribute energy from wind and solar. All across the country.

Think about how many jobs that would create. Think about a rejuvenated auto industry and what that would mean to the Midwest -- Michigan, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri. I mean, that's -- that's got to be the agenda for the future. So, that is, I think, something we've got to get a handle on.

Number two, our health care system is a huge drain on families and businesses.

(APPLAUSE)

And -- and I know that gas prices have gotten so much attention lately that the health care issue has not been talked about as much in the news. But families silently, they're still suffering. You know, there are a lot of people -- there are people in this audience who don't have health insurance. There are people in this audience who have got health insurance but have seem their co-payments, their deductibles, their premium rising so much that they're being priced out of the market.

There are people here who lost their job and are just barely hanging on trying to figure out how to get another job just for their health care. Not even thinking about possibilities of getting a decent wage. So, I've already put forward a plan where everybody who needs health care can get it and everybody who has it can afford it. And we're going to make the system more efficient by investing in information technologies.

(APPLAUSE)

Investing in prevention. So, that is a critical part of the economy. Investing in infrastructure -- rebuilding our roads, our levees. When we talk about levees, we should be continually upgrading our infrastructure, our ports, our walks, our damns. The farmers can get crops to market.

We should be doing that on a -- we should have engineers put together a capital budget, prioritizing what projects are needed, when they're deteriorating, and we should plan that. Each and every year, it shouldn't be this random political pork barrel process.

And if people tell you --

(APPLAUSE)

If people tell you we can't afford it, you just remind them, we are spending $10 to $12 billion a month in Iraq. And if we can spend $10 to $12 billion a month in Iraq, we can spend $10 to $12 billion putting people back to work rebuilding our economy right here in the United States of America.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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