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CNN NEWSROOM

Rep. Earl Pomeroy Discusses Saberi Conviction in Iran; Justice Department Releases New Details on Bush Administration Terror Policy; "Ebony" Magazine's Power 150; Maryland Tragedy

Aired April 18, 2009 - 17:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone I'm Don Lemon. We begin with breaking news. Within the last few minutes we've learned of a tragedy out of Maryland. An entire family dead. Just moments ago, the Frederick County Sheriff said a man apparently killed his wife and three young kids and then shot himself. 34-year old Christopher Wood and 33-year old Francis Woods were found dead in their bedroom. The couple's 5-year-old son, 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter were found dead in their beds.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SHERIFF CHARLES JENKINS, FREDERICK COUNTY, MARYLAND: In my entire career which is just about 20 years, this is probably the worst tragedy I have ever been a part of or ever seen in Frederick County. Certainly it's something you never want to see anywhere or you don't want any family to experience. That's why I say our sympathy goes out to the entire family.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: This story is just unfolding in Maryland. We're going to get to the scene with one of our affiliates WHAG in just a moment to find out what investigators said during that press conference as we get some new details on that. Our affiliate working on this story at the moment, we will get her up in just a bit.

But we want to turn to some news overseas before we go to that. It's a rapidly developing story as well, it sounds like a nightmare but this time it is true and it's happening today in Iran. A 31-year- old American journalist accused of spying for the United States is facing eight years in prison. A U.S. senator calls Roxana Saberi's conviction preposterous. President Obama's spokesman is also weighing in on this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I would echo the statement that Secretary Clinton put out on this. The president is deeply disappointed at this news. His thoughts and prayers are with her and her family. I think we will continue to express the concerns that we have through the Swiss to the Iranian government. Make sure they underscore and understand our deep concern for these actions.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP) LEMON: Given the secretive nature of her trial, Roxana Saberi doesn't appear to have a lot of legal options. CNN's Rosemary Church has more on this case for you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Her attorney broke the news.

ABDOLSAMAD KHORRAMSHAHI, ROXANA SABERI'S LAWYER (translator): I verify that according to the verdict presented to me and my defendant, Ms. Saberi, she has been sentenced to eight years in jail. According to law, this verdict can be appealed within 20 days. I will definitely appeal the verdict within this period.

CHURCH: Saberi had been living in Tehran, freelancing for a number of organizations including National Public Radio. She was writing a book when she was arrested in January. First she was accused of buying a bottle of wine, forbidden in the Islamic nation. Then she was told she was working without a press permit. Then a couple of weeks ago, a new charge.

HEIDARI FARO, IRANIAN JUDGE (translator): She was working under the cover of a journalist without permission and went to some governmental centers. She collected classified information through some connections she had with the personnel of some of these centers and submitted to the American intelligence agencies.

CHURCH: The Iranians say Saberi confessed but her father says that was a trick. She was told she would be released if she cooperated. The trial was held behind closed doors and lasted just one day. Washington made its position clear earlier this week.

ROBERT WOOD, STATE DEPARTMENT SPOKESMAN: These charges as I said yesterday are baseless without foundation. We have been very concerned about the transparency of this judicial process and just to emphasize again we're going to work to try to get her released and we call on the Iranians to provide as much information as they can to us about Roxana's Saberi and go from there.

CHURCH: Saberis parents traveled to Iran from the U.S. weeks ago, her father has promised to stay put until their daughter is released. Rosemary Church, CNN, Atlanta.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And Roxana Saberi's father says his daughter is depressed and he's worried about her health.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know how your daughter is doing? Have you been able to see her?

REZA SABERI, ROXANA SABERI'S FATHER (via telephone): She is weak and frail the last time you saw her and she wanted to go on a hunger streak, but we persuaded her not to do so. After this, most probably she will. Even though when we visit her, we want to ask her not to do so. She is quite depressed about this matter and she wants to go on hunger strike. If she does, she is so frail, it can be very dangerous to her health.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Roxana Saberi's father. This case goes far beyond one woman's private ordeal, it is another potential land mine in America's troubled relationship with Iran. Christiane Amanpour joins us now by phone, she is of course CNN's chief international correspondent. We have heard from the secretary of state in all of this Christiane?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, indeed Don. The secretary of state echoed what the president said and that is that they are deeply disappointed by this and it's a set back and that they will continue to raise U.S. concerns with the Iranian government. The Iranian spokesman here in the United States at the U.N. embassy in New York has said that the Iranian president will make a statement calling on people to respect the independent judiciary and the fact that this is an internal Iranian matter. Of course that's not going to go down well in the United States or elsewhere amongst people who want Roxana Saberi freed.

What we do know is that she is able to appeal. Her lawyer is. She was apparently denied bail but has 20 days to appeal. We also know that there are provisions in the Iranian government and regulations and rules that permit pardons. Over the last couple of years there have been some high profile cases in Iran in which pardons have been forthcoming. For instance in 2007, 16 UK British sailors were taken in the Persian Gulf area and accused by Iran of military espionage. After 12 days they were pardoned by President Ahmadenijad on the Prophet Mohammed's birthday.

Also that year the American Iranian academic Hali Espiandre(ph) head of the Woodrow Wilson Society who was held for 110 days and was accused and interrogated in terms of espionage for the United States. What I'm being told by Iranian sources is that they remain very afraid, some might use the word paranoid by the former Bush administration's funding for groups to overthrow the Iranian government and Iranians have been concerned about the so-called velvet revolution and as far as anyone knows, those funds have not been removed.

In order to get Hala Espiandre(ph) released, Lee Hamilton former congressman sent letters to the Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Hamid and eventually she was released and brought back and said that she had not been badly treated. But clearly these situations point out the extremely fraught nature of relations between the United States and Iran. President Obama has said he wants to engage with Iran because he really believes that diplomacy will have a better chance than other methods that have been tried to get agreement and resolution on the big issues such as nuclear disarmament and other such issues.

LEMON: We shall see what happens with those talks and those efforts. Thank you very much, our chief international correspondent reporting on this terrible story, Christiane Amanpour. Thank you Christiane.

In another danger zone for U.S. journalists, North Korea, the American journalist there had now spent more than a month in custody. Laura Ling and Eunah Lee were arrested March 17th along North Korea's border with China. North Korea claims they were inside its territory and were carrying out illegal activities and it vows to put the two women on trial. Ling and Lee work for former vice president Al Gore's Current TV. They were in the border region to investigate the trafficking of North Korean women.

More international news now. The Summit of the Americas and President Obama's stated effort to launch a new chapter in U.S. relations with Latin America. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is covering the president's trip for us, including developments involving one of America's toughest critics. Hello Suzanne.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Hey Don. Speaking with White House officials who are traveling with the president obviously they're encouraged by what they are seeing by some of these leaders, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez making these friendly overtures if you will. But they're also quite cautious Don. They're telling me that they're not going to fall prey to kind of what they see the antics that are taking place in front of the cameras that President Obama is about serious business.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX (voice-over): Call it the diplomatic club. Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez reaches out to President Obama with a hand shake and a paper back. When asked a little later, Obama responds in good humor.

OBAMA: You know I thought it was one of Chavez's books and I was going to give him one of mine.

MALVEAUX: In front of a clamoring international press, the exchange stole the show. The book, "The Open Veins of Latin America" documents centuries of American and European exploitation of the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is the period going to read his new book?

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think it's in Spanish so that might be a tad on the difficult side.

MALVEAUX: And U.S. officials say it will take much more than pleasantries to change relations.

JEFFREY DAVIDOW, WIHTE HOUSE ADVISER, SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS: A shake and a smile does not constitute a new relationship. We have a strained relationship with Venezuela. I think what we have to do is rebuild the civil relationship.

MALVEAUX: Chavez who once called President Bush the devil has been one of the U.S.'s fiercest critics, most notably on Cuba. But like Chavez many Latin American leaders here are openly pressing Mr. Obama to bring Cuba back into the fold, normalize relations and lift the trade embargo. Mr. Obama said he was encouraged by Cuban President Raul Castro's offer for talks, but also wanted to see action on democratic reforms.

OBAMA: I think we're making progress in the summit.

MALVEAUX: U.S. officials caution that decades of tension with the communist regime will take a good deal of time to change.

MIKE HAMMER, SPOKESMAN, NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL: We will just have to see what happens the next few days and weeks in terms of how the Castro government decides to proceed.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

MALVEAUX: Don, notably one of the people that's on the trip with President Obama, one of his top economic advisers Larry Summer, said really it underscores the importance of the economic agenda. And Summers tells us that the top priority of all of these Latin American leaders, what they are hearing from them is that the U.S. economy succeeds. It has such a huge impact on their own economic situation, the ability to export their goods as well as employ their own people, that that is the one thing that they really want to be reassured about. That President Obama and his administration have a plan and it's a plan that they believe is going to work. Don?

LEMON: CNN's Suzanne Malveaux. Suzanne, thank you very much for that.

We want to update now our breaking news we told you about at the top of the hour. We told you our affiliate was on top of this story and they were going to join us live. It is about an entire family, a father, they were found dead. A father discovered the body of his daughter, three young grandkids and son in law. It's happening in Frederick County, Maryland and that's where we go now to the scene. Our affiliate reporter there her name is Jacqueline Waite, she's with our affiliate WHAG. So tell us about what did you hear, are police finding anything about a motive or a note or anything like that?

JACQUELINE WAITE, WHAG REPORTER: Don, there is no motive yet, police have no idea what caused Christopher Wood to kill his family, but they did say that the two young boys were found in their beds and the female daughter was in bed with her mother in the master bedroom. All four of them appeared to have suffered from tragic cuts before apparently Christopher Wood turned a gun on himself and shot himself at the foot of the master bed. And as you said, it was Frances Beloti's(ph) father who found the family. He came around 9 o'clock this morning because he hadn't heard from the family in days so he showed up to see what was going on and came in and found this family tragically murdered.

LEMON: I'm hearing and you can correct me if I'm wrong on this, again, that there were police investigators also found several handwritten notes around the house believed to be written by the father. Is that yes or no or did they talk about that? WAITE: Yes that is correct. They said they found about four handwritten notes. They said they appear to be from the father, they are not releasing what was in the notes yet.

LEMON: The sheriff is there saying this is tough for even seasoned officers, the worst thing that he has ever seen as we were watching the press conference happen just moments ago. Tell us about the community or anyone knew anything about this family in the community. What kind of family were they, were there problems at the home or is this something that's just unexpected? The behavior of whoever did this.

WAITE: Well the family just moved to Middletown, Maryland here about five months ago. They haven't lived here very long but apparently Frances Beloti(ph) grew up around here. So she was very active in the community. Even since they moved back she's been very active. The kids played little league we are being told and they were just friends with everyone around here and no one has any idea. They said t hey couldn't have seen this coming.

LEMON: Who could see it coming? But I'm just wondering if something had happened at the house or if police had been to the house before. Jacqueline Waite of our affiliate, WHAG, thank you very much for reporting. This is our breaking news that we told you about at the top of this newscast, our affiliate reporter there on the scene. We were waiting for her to get in place so that she could bring her report. And as we have been reporting here, an entire family found dead. The father found his daughter, his son in law and their three young kids. They believe that the father turned the gun on himself after that. We will continue to update you on this story.

I want to talk to you more about more fallout from those CIA torture memos. Could the disclosure compromise future intelligence gathering? Also a change of tune. Could the GOP someday stand for gay old party? A week ago, Captain Richard Phillips was in a lifeboat with three pirates, today he is home. You will hear from him. Also tell us what's on your mind tonight, you know where to go Twitter, Facebook, Myspace, ireport.com. We will get it on for you. We're back in moments.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(WEATHER REPORT)

LEMON: Another ship has been hijacked by Somali pirates. A Belgian tourist yacht is the one this time, off the coast of the Seychelles islands. The ship has a crew of seven on board. An email was sent to the U.S. navy claiming the ship would be taken to a pirate stronghold north of Mogadishu. We are following that one.

Meantime, Captain Richard Phillips is back home after he and his crew were held captive also by Somalia pirates. He is fanning away his hero accolades that he has been getting and instead says the navy seals are the real heroes. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) RICHARD PHILLIPS, MAERSK ALABAMA CAPTAIN: The first people I want to thank are the seals. They are the super heroes, they're the titans, they're impossible men, doing an impossible job and they did the impossible with me. And I just want to let you know that they are out there, they're everyday people we will not recognize and I will not divulge but they did an excellent job and they saved me. They're at the point of the sword every day doing an impossible job which we cannot comprehend.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Captain Phillips, you are indeed a hero. How did the navy seals pull off this very difficult rescue? Tonight at 7:00 eastern I will take you inside the mission to save Captain Phillips. We'll get a behind the scenes look at the elite U.S. navy seal training program including the snipers. The kind of program that taught those men to take down those three Somali pirates. That's tonight in the CNN NEWSROOM at 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. eastern. You don't want to miss that.

If you think you know where the GOP leadership stands on the issue of same-sex marriage, you better think again.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un American or threatens the rights of others.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That's from a republican leader. John McCain's former presidential campaign manager speaks out. We're digging deeper into his change of tune.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: You want to sit down and pay attention to this one because it is interesting, we are hearing about where the GOP stands on same-sex marriage. It could be changing. Megan McCain is the daughter of Senator John McCain. She wants the Republican Party to broaden its reach to include gay men and lesbians. And she will say as much in her address to the Log Cabin Republicans' annual convention. McCain says she wants a more inclusive GOP. We're going to follow that story for you at 7 o'clock. She speaks to that group this weekend.

Meantime, gay republicans are working for the right to marry and have more clout within their own party. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash takes a look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A surprising challenge from the man who ran John McCain's presidential campaign. Republicans should drop their opposition to same-sex marriage.

STEVE SCHMIDT, FORMER MCCAIN ADVISER: It cannot be argued that marriage between people of the same sex is un American or threatens the rights of others. And our great Republican Party should always be on the side of expanding freedom and equal rights.

BASH: Steve Schmidt told this gathering of gay republicans that allowing same-sex marriage is in line with the conservative credo to live and let live and keep government out of your life. And he argued raw politics. The GOP must be more open if it wants to reverse an alarming trend, a shrinking coalition, especially among younger, more accepting voters.

SCHMIDT: People are turned off in large measure by what they see as intolerance coming out of a party.

BASH: Schmidt has personal experience, a gay sister and knows his is a minority view. Even McCain, the candidate he worked for ran against same-sex marriage.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: One man and one woman. That's my definition of marriage.

BASH: But the group Schmidt addressed the Log Cabin Republicans hope other party leaders now realize that election losses proved the GOP catered too much to social conservatives.

CHARLES MORAN, LOG CABIN REPUBLICANS: It's great that the Republican Party is going through this soul searching moment right now because republicans are thinking outside of the box.

BASH: These days their grassroots organization is reaching out to sympathetic republicans in states debating same-sex marriage initiatives. And this week another republican group, GOProud formed to push a broader agenda, advocating traditional conservative issues like low taxes and small government on behalf of gays.

JIMMY LASALVIA, GOPROUD: There is a misconception that if you are gay, you are liberal. Just like there's a misconception that if you're conservative you're a bigot.

BASH (on camera): Nearly three and 10 self identified gays and lesbians voted republican in the last election. Still, GOP operative Steve Schmidt admits most republican leaders won't drop their opposition to same-sex marriage any time soon. But he also says he thinks that will change as people get to know gay couples in committed relationships, as he has with his own sister. Dana Bash, CNN, Washington.

(END OF VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: What's behind this possible 180 with the Republican Party? We're going to talk about that tonight with our outspoken panel, 7:00 p.m. eastern right here in the CNN NEWSROOM. You don't want to miss it.

Sentenced in Iran. An American journalist is convicted of espionage. We will have the latest on that.

More fallout from the CIA torture memos. Could their disclosure compromise future intelligence gathering?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: All right we want to get a quick check of our top stories that we're following at this hour. Tragic news out of Maryland. An entire family found dead in Middletown, that's northwest of Baltimore. Now police say a 34-year-old man apparently killed his wife and three young children before killing himself. The children were ages 5, 4, and 2. Authorities say some of the victims had quote, "severe lacerations and cut wounds."

A 31-year-old American journalist accused of spying for the United States is facing 8 years in prison in Iran. The trial process has been criticized as corrupt and done in secrecy. Roxana Saberi's father is convinced a conspiracy is at work here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Do you have reason to think she was coerced into making statements at any point?

REZA SABERI, FATHER OF ROXANA SABERI: Yes, I have reason and she has herself said that. But also she was deceived to talk and they told her if she said like this, they will free her and they didn't free her. Later she found out that it was a trick.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

DON LEMON, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota joins me tonight from Fargo where Saberi was born and where she grew up.

She wanted to go there because she wanted to find out about her roots and family's upbringing and it turned into this. Do you think -- how much influence do you think the U.S. has in this? And will the government, especially the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, who has spoken out, be able to, in some way, bring this woman home so she doesn't have to spend eight years in prison?

REP. EARL POMEROY, D, NORTH DAKOTA: I'm confident that we're going to do everything we possibly can to try to positively prevail upon the authorities that have conducted this secret trial and have now sentenced Roxana. We're going to try and ask, if nothing else, on humanitarian grounds, please let this young woman return home. I know her personally. I know her family. This is a deeply dismaying event that occurred. And we want to reverse it and get her back with us again.

LEMON: Mr. Pomeroy, do you know of any precedent that has been set or possibly someone who was there being held and brought home and didn't have to face trial?

POMEROY: We know there was a researcher with the Woodrow Wilson Center. He was in prison and tried and held. And after some months -- they worked exhaustively -- but she was allowed to return to the United States. She is back with us now. We have been in touch with the Woodrow Wilson Center leadership. Lee Hamilton heads that center. Obviously, their insights are instructive to us as we face this difficult question.

LEMON: Didn't have to face trial, didn't have to face prison because -- and a trial which you and the government says was held in secrecy.

Representative Earl Pomeroy of North Dakota, we appreciate it. Best of luck to you.

POMEROY: Thank you very much.

LEMON: At least 20 people have been killed after a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a security forces convoy in Pakistan. Police in Islamabad say 15 other people were wounded in the attack. Soldiers, police and civilians are among the dead. 11 military vehicles were also damaged.

We have new details from the Justice Department on the Bush era treatment of terror suspects.

CNN Tom Foreman has the very latest.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The release of the details on how top terror suspects were pressured by interrogators and which techniques are now forbidden is provoking sharp reactions from some in the intelligence community.

In the "Wall Street Journal," former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey says, "Fully half of the government's knowledge about the structure and activities of al Qaeda and came from those interrogations. Terrorists are now aware of the absolute limit of what the U.S. Government can do to extract information from them.

President Bush's homeland security advisor and now CNN consultant, Fran Townsend.

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN CONSULTANT & FORMER DHS SECURITY ADVISOR: To release them and to subject these people, these career professionals to sort of public humiliation and a program, and then the potential of a congressional investigation really will make our intelligence community risk averse.

FOREMAN: But long-standing critics of tactics described in the memos --waterboarding to create the sensation of drowning, sleep deprivation for up to 11 straight days, locking prisoners in cramped spaces -- disagree.

Retired Army General James Cullen, now a human rights activist. GEN. JAMES CULLEN, U.S. ARMY, RETIRED: I think that are argument is a lot of nonsense. Our enemies already know the techniques because we have carried them out on the enemy.

FOREMAN: Just last month, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee laid the ground work for rolling out the memos.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY, D, JUDICIAL COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: In order to restore our moral leadership, we must acknowledge what was done in our name.

FOREMAN: Even some, who say intelligence work will suffer, agree. David Rivkin served in the Bush administration and is now with the Counsel on Foreign Relations, a nonpartisan research group.

DAVID RIVKIN, COUNSEL ON FOREIGN RELATIONS: Enough criticism has been launched against the use of these techniques, combined with a lot of misinformation about how they actually worked. Frankly, continuing to use them what not a viable option.

FOREMAN (on camera): Still, the debate rages, some saying the president went too far in exposing our intelligence gathering techniques, and others saying, until someone is prosecuted, we did not go far enough.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: All right, Tom.

President Barack Obama, singer Beyonce and CNN's Rowland Martin have something new in common.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROWLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: You know, it's pretty cool to be on "Ebony's" 150 most influential African-Americans. I grew up reading "Ebony." You are looking at so many different people, Charlie Rangel, members of Congress, the Supreme Court justices, and to be in that list and having an impact in terms of being able to affect folk's lives and impact them and touch them is certainly great. So I appreciate the honor. This is the second year in a row, so, hey, we have to keep going, keep doing great work to make the list next year. But the most important thing, making the list is one thing, doing the work is really what's more important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Absolutely, Rowland.

Several other folks on the list. You may be surprised at who. We're going to tell you. "Ebony" magazine's Power 150 is out. We have the list.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) LEMON: They are among the most powerful in Washington, President Obama's cabinet, a diverse administration, but an administration with the highest number of African-Americans. They are "Ebony" magazine's Power 150. Among them, the most influential African-Americans in the country. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice -- look at this photograph of all of the high-ranking members there, Attorney General Eric Holder, senior advisor, Valarie Jarrett; Desiree Rogers, the social secretary, just to name a few of the people in that photo. Also on the list, media moguls, Oprah Winfrey, Tyler Perry, Bob Johnson, Kathy Hughes, actor Denzel Washington, Congressman John Lewis, Journalist Gwen Eifel (ph), Donna Brazil, Roland Martin, Soledad O'Brien, and, yes, yours truly, Don Lemon.

Bryan Monroe is the editor of "Ebony JET".

Bryan, thank you. I was shocked. And my mom is happier than I am. She got like 85 copies and is probably going to gold plate them. Thank you for that.

BRYAN MONROE, EDITOR, "EBONY JET": Congratulations, Don. We like to call it the Don Lemon and 149 others.

(LAUGHTER)

LEMON: I will get to all of that, but how do you come about this? How did you picking me? I was surprised.

MONROE: It's important to recognize those African-Americans like yourself who are really making a difference. And have made a difference in the last year, certainly, through the venue of media and what you do every night and every week on CNN about telling America's stories and has an impact in this country. And we found it important not just to make your mama happy, but to keep America happy by including you on the list.

LEMON: Thank you very much. I say, in my mission in this is to inform people and tell the truth and not to worry about criticism and conservative versus liberal, just to get the truth and help people. I'm glad you recognize that. Thank you very much.

Let's talk about the power behind the power.

MONROE: That was a great opening to the package because, of course, it was pretty obvious if there was one most powerful it would be President Barack Obama.

LEMON: You are talking about the inner circle?

MONROE: Absolutely.

With him, he has brought in a great team to lead the country and lead his administration both on the cabinet and key advisory roles. Someone like Valerie Jarrett who was with him in Chicago and now is a senior advisor in D.C. Eric holder, the attorney general; Dr. Susan Rice who has been at the center of some of the biggest news happening recently, whether it's North Korea or the issues in Iran; and Lisa Jackson at EPA. There is a host of folks. Desiree Rogers who has been making a lot of changes in the White House and was behind that very successful Easter egg roll last week.

LEMON: I'm sure she had something to do with the dog as well because all of the members of the press were gathered out there.

Two things I want to talk about really quickly. We had some breaking news so we have to move on. But it's a great day in the White House. You're talking about the press corps, right? Is that what you are talking about?

MONROE: Yes. It was really important for us to show that this year there more African-Americans covering the White House than ever before, including your own Dan Lopean (ph) and Suzanne Malveaux. And we have our Kevin Chappel (ph) who has been in Washington covering for "Ebony" and "JET."

And covering the White House and going to the daily briefings and asking Robert Gibbs the tough questions is really something that has -- there have been African-Americans covering the White House for years and decades. We go back to the 50s with Simeon Booker (ph). But only now is there enough of a critical mass where we can see more than 20 black faces throughout the White House press corps.

LEMON: It is a distinguished list, Bryan Monroe. Again, I am really honored and thrilled to make that list. And I really appreciate it.

You can be in any other thing, named on anything, but for mamas from way back, until it hits "Ebony" magazine, it doesn't mean anything, right?

(LAUGHTER)

MONROE: Thank you for doing your hard work and the rest of your colleagues like Roland and Soledad and everyone else who have been important in telling America's stories.

LEMON: Yeah, we will try to live up to that. Thank you very much, Bryan Monroe.

MONROE: Thank you.

LEMON: Here's what some of you are saying about the stories on the air.

Pattyjeras says, "If gay Republicans want more clout in the GOP, they should become Democrats where most of the party won't consider them centers."

Coloradofoothill, "Why are you surprised about the gay stance on gays? Did you forget about Dick Cheney's daughter?"

Angela78gax says, "I think it's great that Republicans want to come into the 21st is great."

OregonMJW says, "Isn't the term gay Republican an oxymoron sort of like pregnant man?"

Long on to Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, iReport.com, we want to hear your thoughts on our stories and we will get your stories on. Even if it criticizes, we'll get them on.

One woman, two missions, she's feeding the hungry and rescuing the rainforest at the same time. She is our "Hero."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Inspiration can come in all shapes and sizes and spirits. Tonight, we meet a man who's love for rum led him to start a an environmentally friendly business in Africa.

CNN's Richard Louie explains how this small but global operation works.

(CNN SMALL AND GLOBAL)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Moments ago, Bonnie Schneider told us about a tornado warning. Now she's talking about severe weather happening...

Is this is Texas or in Florida, Bonnie?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It's in Texas right now, Don. We're getting reports of tremendous amounts of rain in the Galveston area, six inches in just three hours. And at Houston-Hobby Airport, 4.77 inches in the last three hours. That's more than the ground can hold. And because of that we have flash flood warnings in effect for a good portion of the Houston area, well into Beaumont, Texas. You're like to see this stretch all the way out to those southwestern parishes in Louisiana.

As we take a look at the radar picture, you'll see the heaviest rain is sliding over I-10 right now. And this is going to be problematic as we go through the evening hours, all headed in this direction. We're watching for not only heavy downpours of rain, but frequent lightning strikes. With all the rain, we're getting very length airport delays. We have a tornado watch in advance of the system and we also are watching for airport delays that are very long. They've just reduced to about an hour, but moments ago, we had delays of over four hours in the Houston area. So we're seeing some incredible delays right now in Houston.

LEMON: Listen, the tornado warning that you told us about, that was a warning not a watch, right? What happened with that, Bonnie?

SCHNEIDER: I'm sorry, can you repeat that?

LEMON: The tornado warning you told us about at the beginning of the newscast, is it over?

SCHNEIDER: That expired. That only had a few minutes to go, but we'll bring you the tornado warnings as soon as we get them, Don? LEMON: Great. Thank you.

SCHNEIDER: Sure.

LEMON: Bonnie Schneider in the Severe Weather Center.

Each year millions of acres of tropic rain forest disappear as farmers clear more land to grow more crops. Tonight's "CNN Hero" began a one-woman crusade to rescue the forest and feed the hungry all at the same time. How does she do it? Here it is.

(CNN HERO)

LEMON: Well, if you would like to help Erika Vohman, or if you know someone who deserves to be a "CNN Hero," why don't you tell us about them? All our heroes are chosen from people you nominate, cnn.com/heroes.

"The Situation Room" is straight ahead.

Wolf Blitzer, tell us what you have for us.

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, "THE SITUATION ROOM": Don, a lot coming up right at the top of the hour in "The Situation Room."

The new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, on the piracy crisis, also what's going on with North Korean.

We'll also speak with the New York state Governor David Paterson on his efforts to legalize gay marriage, and the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg on gun law loopholes.

Also the dog whisper, Caesar Milan, on the first puppy over at the White House. What's going on, on that front?

Much more coming up right here in "The Situation Room."

Don, back to you.

LEMON: All right, Wolf, thank you very much.

Very cute dog, everyone's been talking about it.

Wolf Blitzer right at the top of the hour in just a few minutes.

The raw truth about how one woman lost more than 100 pounds. Here's the hint. She doesn't need her stove anymore. It's got to be raw, that's what it has to be.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: A woman diagnosed with a lazy thyroid is 160 pounds lighter, all thanks to a little raw food. Here's our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, with tonight's "Fit Nation."

(FIT NATION) LEMON: Wow. Very interesting. I did a raw diet. Man, it was tough, tough, tough to stick with. I don't do it anymore though.

Here's what you all are saying.

Andreporter says, "I am so disappointed but not surprised to read about Roxana Saberi's conviction. Seems Iran's government is far removed from its people.

ActsofFaithblog says, "Isn't gay Republican an oxymoron or just moronic. Let's be clear, these are mostly white men jockeying for power."

Nuggz503 says, "The tobacco tax is just ridiculous. I feel that by me choosing to use tobacco, they can treat me as a second-class citizen."

We will be talking taxes and the tea parties at 7:00 p.m. tonight. Make sure you join us with your feedback, Twitter, Facebook, MySpace or iReport.com.

Also coming up tonight, we're digging deeper into the dramatic rescue of Captain Richard Phillips, 7:00 p.m. eastern. I'll see you then.

BLITZER: Pirates off Somalia, a defiant rocket launch off by North Korea, international hot sports flaring for the Obama administration, how should Washington respond? The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, she's here in "The Situation Room."

Also, an American journalist on trial for spying in Iran. What is her fate? What's she going through right now? Gerald Stive (ph) of the "Wall Street Journal" has been in her shoes. I'll ask...