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AMERICAN MORNING

U.S. Soldier Kills 5 Comrades in Iraq; Dealing with Combat Stress; Gates Fires Top Commander in Afghanistan; Budget Deficit: More Red Ink; Freed U.S. Journalist Speaks

Aired May 12, 2009 - 08:00   ET

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


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome, once again. We're coming up on 8:00 right on nose here in New York. It is Tuesday, May 12th. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, I'm John Roberts. And here's what's on this morning's agenda, stories that we'll be breaking down for you in the next 15 minutes. This is new video just in to CNN. A freed Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi, in an about-face Iran released her from jail after she was convicted of spying and now she is speaking out about her ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROXANA SABERI, IRANIAN-AMERICAN JOURNALIST: Of course, I'm very happy to be free and to be with my parents again. And I want to thank all the people all over the world, which I'm just finding out about, really. Who, whether they knew me or not, helped me and my family during this period. I don't have any specific plans for the moment. I just want to be with my parents and my friends and to relax. Thank you very much. All of you.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: A new report surfacing this morning, Saberi's lawyer said she had a copy of a classified Iranian document with her when she was arrested and that was the key piece of evidence Iranian officials had against here.

An American soldier in custody in Iraq, accused of gunning down five fellow soldiers at a counseling center for U.S. troops in Baghdad. The Pentagon promising a thorough investigation.

We're taking a closer look coming up in just a moment at a psychological toll of war.

And this morning, a fresh set of eyes for the war in Afghanistan. The White House replacing the top American commander there less than a year after he took over. We'll take you live to the Pentagon for a look at the new American strategy.

The White House pointing to deeper budget deficits this year with the government borrowing almost 50 cents for every dollar it spends. Our CNN money team is here to break down the primary reasons for the exploding deficit and what it means for your money. Well, this morning, the U.S. military is gearing up for an in- depth investigation into a tragic incident of a soldier-on-soldier violence in Iraq. A U.S. soldier in custody today accused of killing five others in a shooting spree at a counseling center inside Camp Liberty in Baghdad.

The military officials say he was a patient at the clinic. The attack raising new concerns about the psychological toll of war. CNN's Jason Carroll looking into that for us this morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. A lot of folks in the military dealing with this. I spoke to one former soldier who is still dealing with combat-related stress. He said there is a stigma associated with asking for help. Part of a military culture that exists for those on active duty and veterans as well.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL (voice-over): As news spreads about the shooting at Camp Liberty in Iraq, thousands of miles away in Colorado, Alan Pitts questioned whether the soldier in custody was fighting the same kind of battle he deals with every day.

ALAN PITTS, FORMER SERGEANT, U.S. ARMY: It's not the first time I've heard about this. I've had friends that have, you know, committed suicide back in the states or, you know, did other horrible things to other people.

CARROLL: 2004, western Iraq. Insurgents attacked, killing his driver and shooting Pitts. He recovered physically, but not mentally.

PITTS: Sleepless nights, flashbacks, hearing things that aren't there. It's just hard to deal with people that don't understand or have never seen the things I've seen or gone through the things I've seen.

CARROLL: Five years ago, Pitts was discharged. He continues treatment under a doctor's care. A recent study found one in five veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan reported PTSD symptoms like depression and aggression.

A separate Army study more alarming. It found a record number of suicides, 143 in 2008.

HEIDI KRAFT, FORMER NAVY PSYCHOLOGIST: It still has a long way to go.

CARROLL: Heidi Kraft wrote a book about soldiers in combat, and treats combat trauma patients. She says overcoming the stigma associated with needing help is a major obstacle.

KRAFT: It's a longstanding culture that has had no tolerance for anything that looks like less than emotional perfection.

CARROLL: Military leaders acknowledge more needs to be done. ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: It does speak to me, though, about the need for us to redouble our efforts, a concern in terms of dealing with the stress. Then it also speaks to the issue of multiple deployments.

CARROLL: PTSD experts say military leaders have to better prepare soldiers for the psychological effect of combat.

STEVE ROBINSON, PTSD EXPERT: We have not broken through to our military leaders that understanding how your brain and your body works in war and recognizing the signs and symptoms of distress is as important as knowing how to use your weapon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CARROLL: And the military has put out a public service announcement to talk about the stress that servicemen face, and they've set up a Web site, Communityofveterans.org.

I've checked out that Web site. Veterans can go there to get information about mental health resources and a transition back to home life. In terms of treatment, experts say it's on active duty. It may mean getting off. Regardless, they say, talking to a qualified therapist as soon as possible is key to the treatment there.

ROBERTS: You know, we had Paul Rieckhoff, who is a veteran of both wars, in, you know, an advocacy group. And I said to him, what about security? Because this fellow was relieved of his weapon. He went out and found another weapon, and came back and shot up the place, allegedly. He said there are just too many weapons everywhere. There's just no way you can police that.

CARROLL: And, you know, when I was listening to one other expert who was talking about that. And, you know, there is a sense of them not wanting to take away the weapon immediately because you want to build some sort of trust with the person who is coming in for treatment. It's a tricky situation.

ROBERTS: Definitely.

All right. Jason, thanks so much for that.

CARROLL: All right.

CHETRY: Well, this morning, there is a new man in charge of overseeing 45,000 troops -- U.S. troops, as well as the international forces in Afghanistan.

Defense Chief Robert Gates making the call to replace Gen. David McKiernan with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a specialist in counterinsurgency and special operations.

CNN's Barbara Starr is live at the Pentagon.

Just speaking from a standpoint of what we might notice that's different in the way that we fight the war in Afghanistan. What do you think?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, what is clear is Defense Secretary Robert Gates did want to make a change and all the signs are pointing to more emphasis on counterinsurgency and special operations tactics.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STARR (voice-over): A grim-faced Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced he was firing General David McKiernan, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, but struggled to explain his reasons.

ROBERT GATES, U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: First of all, I would say nothing went wrong, and there was nothing specific.

STARR: Gates says he wanted to see a new commander in a war going badly. Some criticized McKiernan for pressing too hard for more combat power. But when we talked to him last November, he made clear Afghanistan needed more attention.

GEN. DAVID MCKIERNAN, U.S. COMMANDER FORCES IN AFGHANISTAN: This is more than just a matter of bringing additional military capabilities to Afghanistan, although we desperately need additional military capabilities. It's also about, ultimately, a political solution.

STARR: But still, Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, says he told Gates McKiernan had to go.

ADM. MICHAEL MULLEN, JOINTS CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: I thought there was a need for new leadership.

STARR: The new leadership? Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, a senior official on Mullen's staff with vast experience in counterinsurgency warfare, which many say is urgently needed in Afghanistan.

McChrystal commanded covert military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He led the group that killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Retired Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt has known McChrystal for decades.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET.), FORMER U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR PLANS AND STRATEGY: I believe that Stan was selected for the job because of his fundamental leadership competence, whether it's in counterinsurgency or special forces.

STARR: McChrystal's challenge is the new counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, which means winning the hearts and minds of the people, while killing off the growing Taliban threat once and for all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

STARR: So new tactics, a new commander at the head. Now this really, Kiran, is President Obama's war, win or lose -- Kiran. CHETRY: Sure is. All right.

Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon this morning. Thanks.

Also this morning, we have more on the new man in charge in an "AM Extra." Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. A graduate of West Point, he has a background in covert operations, as Barbara said. And his leadership was credited with the capture of Saddam Hussein back in December of 2003. McChrystal was also in charge of the 2006 mission that killed top al Qaeda operative Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

ROBERTS: New this morning, after all the controversy surrounding Miss California, her comment about gay marriage, the topless photo, will she lose her title today? Donald Trump says he is going to make that call.

So, what do you think, crown or no crown? See if you can find any clues in how he answered Larry King last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST, CNN'S "LARRY KING LIVE": You do not know the decision yet?

DONALD TRUMP, BUSINESS TYCOON (via telephone): I do not know what we will be deciding until -- I won't know until tomorrow.

KING: OK. In your life, you've made many decisions, some major, some minor.

How difficult is this one?

TRUMP: Well, it's difficult. I had a similar situation not so long ago with Tara Conner. She was having a tremendous difficulty with alcohol and drugs. And I gave her a second chance. And, frankly, that was very controversial, that second chance, as you remember.

KING: Yes.

TRUMP: But it worked out very well. I'm very proud of her. That was a year and a half -- almost two years ago. And she's remained 100 percent clean. And she's really doing herself very proud.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: King of second chances there, Donald Trump. He's going to announce his decision in a press conference at 11:00 a.m. Eastern this morning.

Now, I mean, Tara Conner, you had second chances. She was going down a road in her life...

CHETRY: Right. She did some heavy partying.

ROBERTS: That was destructive.

CHETRY: Right.

ROBERTS: This woman, though, was involved in a completely different process than that.

CHETRY: We'll see happens.

ROBERTS: And some people would say, second chance? What do you mean talking about second chances? What did she do wrong?

CHETRY: Right. So, he's wading into what he knows is going to be a big political firestorm either way.

ROBERTS: This will be a really controversial decision either way.

CHETRY: That's right. So, call us, Donald. We'd love to get a preview.

ROBERTS: Yes.

CHETRY: Well, meanwhile, speaking of calls. We've been getting all kinds of calls from our viewers since we rolled out our 8-77- MYAMFIX viewer hotline. Here's a call.

This is just for John that could have actually been made to your classic -- your favorite classic rock station.

Let's listen.

ROBERTS: I can't hardly wait.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CALLER: I want to hear John Roberts play some more Led Zeppelin. I watch you every morning, and I was shocked when I heard -- saw you played Led Zeppelin so bring on some Zeppelin.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: All right, Leslie.

ROBERTS: I brought my guitar in, because I was taking it with me on a trip, and remember, I was noodling away and just playing over the hills and far away.

CHETRY: You have many talents. We'll tell you that.

ROBERTS: Most people would like me to play "Far, Far Away."

CHETRY: All right. We have a clip. Let's hear it.

ROBERTS: Oh, great. Of course, you do.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CHETRY: We got a little impromptu band session.

How about it?

That's John, as well as -- I don't know what Graham is doing. You're not -- just sort of pointing to the floor.

You're multitalented!

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: OK. Yes, there with me playing the end of the "Sopranos" there.

CHETRY: And I love how Shimone (ph) claps for you at the end. You know this is some -- you know what this is? This is a team- building exercise. We all chill out after a tough week.

ROBERTS: Some people climb up on the top of 40-foot poles...

CHETRY: Exactly.

ROBERTS: ... and swing out, you know, outward bound or a little like pick up a guitar around the camp fire here. You know, either way, it's team-building exercise.

CHETRY: Exactly. You never know what's going to happen around here.

Well, you can give us a call. You can sound off about any thing, any story and, yes, even request songs.

We'll try to play some.

877-MY-AMFIX. You can also send us a tweet. Follow the show Twitter.com/AMFix.

ROBERTS: All right. Going out to Scarsdale this morning.

Dick Cheney blasting the Democrats, the White House and Colin Powell, too. Is the former vice president an effective spokesman for the GOP? We'll talk with a former Bush speechwriter about all of that.

And could one of Detroit's Big Three be pulling out of the Motor City? We'll tell you what GM CEO has to say about the future of the carmaker and what that might mean for Detroit.

Eleven and a half minutes now after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Rocking this morning.

Fourteen minutes after the hour. Christine Romans "Minding Your Business," and she joins us. Everything OK over there?

CHETRY: Red Bull spills. Sorry. It didn't get on any equipment, guys. It's just the floor.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Oh, great!

(CROSSTALK)

ROBERTS: That's like spilling gold.

Christine Romans here "Minding Your Business."

Good morning to you.

ROMANS: Good morning.

And we're talking about the budget deficit. You know, we got some new numbers yesterday from the White House budget office that shows the deficit is a little worse than we thought. You can't really use the word little in the budget deficit, I guess. $1.8 trillion.

What is -- this is the difference, the big sea of red ink between what comes into the government coffers and what goes out. And this number, every time we look at it, it gets a little bit bigger. Why? Because less money is coming in because of the weak economy. Companies are paying less in taxes, so are people, and we're spending more for bailouts, for unemployment benefits, for all kinds of different things. Stimulus. A lot of different stuff. So as the economy slows, we're spending more money and were bringing less in.

Now, the president last week, he took to the cameras and he talked about 121 programs that he was going to cut or eliminate that was going to save some money. Every penny counts. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The 121 budget cuts we are announcing today with save taxpayers nearly $17 billion next year alone. And even by Washington standards, that should be considered real money.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: All right. So, pomp and circumstance...

ROBERTS: What he didn't say was?

ROMANS: That the erosion of the budget deficit that we saw yesterday is about five times that amount. Just because of the weak economy. Boom, like that, $17 billion kind of absorbed.

ROBERTS: So it's like, on the one hand, you're saving $17 billion, on the other hand, we're spending an additional how much? ROMANS: Well, it's like $89 billion or something more. You know, I mean, it's incredible these numbers. They're really, really incredible. Which brings me to the number of 46 cents on the dollar, the "Romans' Numeral" for today.

(CROSSTALK)

CHETRY: This is something you were doing every day on the show where Christine Romans gives us her numeral and it's just a sort of a pertinent number that has to do with something that's going on in the news and in business. And now, today, she gave us a hint -- it's 46 cents.

ROMANS: Yes. Any ideas?

ROBERTS: The amount of money that we borrow for every dollar we spend.

ROMANS: Boom, John. That's exactly it.

CHETRY: That was a good guess, John.

ROMANS: I know. I've been told I'm not supposed to give any hints.

CHETRY: You know, a couple of our Twitterers also guessed that. I got it wrong. I guessed 46 cents is how much goes to pay Uncle Sam on every dollar you make.

ROMANS: We borrow 46 cents for every dollar we spend. Think of that. I mean, that is -- just shows you this big, as I keep calling it, the big sea of red ink between what we bring in and what we spend.

So, just putting in a little bit of perspective. How do we pay for all of this? We borrow it. And so far, our debt has been very, very good. We always pay it back. People want to loan us money but we borrow it.

ROBERTS: Forty-six cents on the dollar. "Romans' Numeral" for the day.

Now, what about this talk of GM leaving Detroit? And what would that do to the Motor City?

ROMANS: I know. It would be devastating to a city that's already devastated. Yesterday, the GM, Fritz Henderson, the CEO, had a conference call with reporters. He told us, you know, about those rumors of leaving Detroit. We have no plans to do that right now, but basically everything is uncertain and he reiterated that everything is uncertain. Dealers are going to find out later this week who's going to be axed. 2,600. But a lot of talk about GM and even at the place in Detroit, for now the company says we're staying put.

ROBERTS: Amazing.

Thanks, Christine. ROMANS: Yes.

CHETRY: Thanks so much, Christine.

Clean up, aisle two.

ROBERTS: Pete is on the case down there. Again, the cost of that stuff, I'm sure, I'm surprised you're not lapping it up.

CHETRY: This was not in his job description. Here, I have the trash can. This is why we are klutzy on this show, so we're ready to clean up at a moment's notice.

Thank you, Petty (ph).

I'll squeeze those paper towels into my mouth later.

(LAUGHTER)

I was kidding. It was gross.

ROMANS: Gross.

CHETRY: It was pretty gross, I know.

Colin Powell says that the Republican Party is in, quote, "deep trouble and could do without Rush Limbaugh." Well now, former Vice President Dick Cheney is firing back. We're going to take a look at the political war of words. Is this helping the GOP?

Also, she says that her hospital leaked details about her fight with cancer to the tabloids. Now, Farrah Fawcett is speaking out and fighting back. Her story just ahead.

It's 18 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHETRY: All right. Well, welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

We're 20 minutes past the hour right now.

And the political war of words still brewing this morning. Rush Limbaugh standing up for former Vice President Dick Cheney after Cheney took aim at the White House, Democrats and even Colin Powell. Powell suggested that Republicans need to move toward the political center to survive, while Cheney took a shot questioning whether Powell was even a Republican anyway anymore. Here is Rush Limbaugh weighing in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: What motivates Dick Cheney? Love of country. National interest. He doesn't need this abuse. He's the lone voice. But if we're going to moderate and try to make ourselves look like we're on the same page as Obama, well, he's going to get all the credit for all the good, we're going to get the blame for the all the bad, and there's going to be no reason to ever vote for Republicans.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHETRY: So joining us now from Washington -- David Frum, conservative columnist and editor of the NewMajority.com, also a former speechwriter for President George W. Bush.

Thanks for being with us this morning, David.

DAVID FRUM, EDITOR, NEWMAJORITY.COM: Thank you.

CHETRY: So, how troubling is it, though, when you have two very polarizing figures in Rush Limbaugh and former Vice President Dick Cheney taking up a lot of the air time for the Republican Party? As a Republican, does that concern you?

FRUM: Look, Dick Cheney is a great man and one of the most effective and knowledgeable people in the Bush administration and all of Washington. The country owes him a great deal. But this kind of dispute reminds me of those T-shirts you sometimes see at boot camps and things like that -- the beatings will continue until morale improves.

CHETRY: We used to say that in school.

FRUM: You know, the firings from the Republican Party will continue until the party gets bigger. I don't think what we need is a fight between Dick Cheney and Colin Powell. A party has to -- Republican Party is not big enough to include Colin Powell. That's not a very big party, especially since many people inside of Washington think of Colin Powell as a figure -- it's about domestic politics, but in the eyes of America, he is the general who won the only unequivocal victory this country has seen in any war since World War II.

CHETRY: Right.

FRUM: So, if you want to say, we don't have room for him but we have room for all the generals from the losing wars, but we don't have room for the general from the winning wars. And I don't think that's a very appealing message.

CHETRY: No. And you just said that Dick Cheney is a great man. And I'm not questioning whether or not, you know, he's a good man or not. But the problem is, is that he's wildly unpopular with the general public. He has, I think, a 19 percent favorability rating. Even among the GOP, I think it's 50 percent. And when he goes out there and takes shots at someone like Colin Powell, he said -- questioning whether or not he's even a Republican, how does that help the GOP brand?

FRUM: Well, look, we've got to break down here in some of the conventions and etiquette of one administration to another. You know -- I don't know if most people understand this.

The U.S. government isn't very good at preserving a memory between one administration and another. You have to get on the phone sometimes. The new president has to call the old president. The new vice president has to call the old one. And if you are shooting at each other, it makes it impossible for that kind of conversation to happen. And that the country loses.

At the same time, you have the Obama administration talking about prosecuting people from the Bush administration for actions done in the course of their public duties. And that's unprecedented, too.

I think we all need a new drink of cold water. And we need to understand the president. The old president and old vice president should not be criticizing the old administration, and the new administration should not be threatening to prosecute the old administration.

CHETRY: Right. Agreed. Well, on his radio program yesterday, Limbaugh said that the GOP needs to show this strong contrast, not look like Democrats. It's so funny. You just go back in recent memory and this was the exact thing that, you know, Democrats were asking themselves during, you know, the better times in the Bush administration.

But what he said is that if we do that, then Republicans can't be blamed for President Obama's failures. His quote there. What's your response to that? That you've to stake out some sort of ground that's not necessarily, we agree, but here's the slight places we disagree with the president?

FRUM: Well, he's right on the principle. A party wants to draw a contrast between itself and the other party. Sharpen the choice. But you want to do it in a way that puts the larger share of public opinion on your side and the smaller share on the side of the party you're fighting.

We seem -- Rush Limbaugh seems bent on determining the opposite. You know, there are only about one out of five Americans who strongly disapprove of the job that President Obama is doing. There's a larger group have some anxieties and doubts about it. You need to talk to them. You need to talk not just to your core 20 percent, but to that bigger group in order to get to 51.

About a third of the country describes itself as conservative. And that would be a great base for a political party...

CHETRY: Right.

FRUM: ...in Italy but not in America.

CHETRY: I hear you.

FRUM: In America, you need that 33 percent plus another 18, and those are the people Republicans need to be talking to now. CHETRY: Listen. And you're right. And, look, we did the "The Washington Post" poll, where 21 percent of people identified themselves as Republicans, just 21 percent. We have 35 percent who identify as Democrats. And 38 percent who say they're independents.

If you had your dream face right now of the people we'd be talking about for the Republicans, not necessarily Rush Limbaugh, not the former vice president, who do you think we need to keep an eye on? Who do you think we need to hear from more?

FRUM: The Republican Party will recover from the state. That's where its strength always comes from. I'm very excited about governors like Governor Huntsman in Utah, who's got some very interesting environmental ideas. He's pro-life, but he's open to a softer line on some of these more contentious social issues like same- sex unions.

Governor Crist in Florida who's accomplished one of the most important environmental achievements of any politician in America by reclaiming the Everglades from the sugar industry.

Those are two exciting leaders. We have a lot of others. Governor Pawlenty. Governor Jindal, I think, is very promising.

So that is where our rescue will come from -- from actual governance, actual achievement at the state level. That's the history of the party.

CHETRY: David Frum, editor of NewMajority.com, great to talk to you this morning. Thanks.

FRUM: Thank you.

ROBERTS: The White House and the health care industry promising $2 trillion in savings. It sounds nice, but one man is spending millions of his own money to stop universal health care. He says you need to hear the horror stories first.

It's 26 minutes after the hour.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Coming up now on 29 minutes after the hour.

And here are the top stories that we're tracking for you this morning.

Freed Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi is speaking out about her ordeal. This video came into CNN just a short time ago. Saberi spoke briefly to reporters, thanking everyone who worked to get her out of jail. Iranian officials releaser her yesterday in a surprise about-face after she was convicted of spying.

Back in the United States. Firefighters in southern California are racing to wipe out flames still burning in Santa Barbara. Winds picked up again last night after cool and humid weather gave firefighters an edge on the flames yesterday. Officials say the fire is now about 80 percent under control. It has damaged or completely burned down about 80 homes and other buildings since it began a week ago.

And your health care on the agenda at the White House today. President Obama is sitting down with top business executives to discuss skyrocketing costs, a day after the industry promised to staggering 2 trillion in savings over a decade.

Earlier on AMERICAN MORNING, I asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius whether all of the numbers actually match up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Wellness, as some critics have suggested, be a recipe, particularly in this troubled economic times where we're running deficits of $1.8 trillion, will it be a recipe to bankrupt the nation?

KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think just the opposite is the case, as does the president. You can't fix the economy without fixing health care. Individual families, business owners, government agencies understand that the current health trajectory, the cost rising dramatically every year ahead of any other prices, can't be sustained.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: The White House claims changes in the works will save the average American family $2,500 over the next 10 years. And here now live from Washington to respond to Secretary Sebelius and President Obama's healthcare plan is Rick Scott. He is the chairman of Conservatives for Patient Rights. He's putting up $5 million of his own money in raising other $15 million to oppose what he calls a government-run health care program.

This is of course the health care reform that Congress Mr. Scott will be dealing with in the coming weeks and months. Why are you so oppose to do what they are proposing?

RICK SCOTT, CHAIRMAN, CONSERVATIVES FOR PATIENT RIGHTS: Well, if you look at other countries that have had government-run health care it's really bad for you as a patient. You have long waiting lists and they deny you drugs. So we all want to improve the health care system and we want to get the cost down but we want to do it in a way that we take care of patients and government-run health care doesn't do it.

ROBERTS: All right. So far though the industry has not been able to bring down costs. The number of uninsured keeps going up. Are we at a point now where almost a hundred years after Teddy Roosevelt tried to do it, at a point where the government needs to step in because even though you might have denial of service of certain things and restricting access to drugs, better to have some health care than none?

SCOTT: Absolutely not. We can fix the system. But we got to let the private sector do it and take care of patients. We need to make sure patients have a choice for a doctor. We need to make sure providers give people prices so they shop for care.

ROBERTS: All right.

SCOTT: Give people tax break as employers get.

ROBERTS: All right. So how would you do it? Would you do it all with tax breaks?

SCOTT: I would do it where if the individuals I want to take care of, I would give them doctors to buy private insurance. Just like we do food stamps. Participate in a private sector which can do a much better job of delivering care than the government can.

ROBERTS: So, you know, some people, including the pro reform group Healthcare for America say you and your insurance company friends just want to make sure that you continue to make millions of dollars off the broken system that we have now. Richard Kirsch is the national campaign manager said, "those attacking reform are really looking to protect their own profits" and he, talking about you "is a perfect messenger for that. His history of making a fortune by destroying quality in the healthcare system and ripping off the government is a great example of what's going on."

What do you say to that? To folks who say that you just want to keep making money?

SCOTT: Well, if you look at what we did, health care inflation was 16 percent when I started in 1988. When I left in 1997, it was 0.8 of one percent. We had better outcomes, we had better patient satisfaction in the rest of the industry. If you look at now, we built a urgent care company where you can walk in and see a board certified practitioner, one-sixth of the cost of an ER visit for the same service if you have insurance or one-tenth if you have insurance. So the private sector can do it and take care of patients.

So that's what you have to focus on. No one really wants to focus on how you fix it. They want to attack people and unfortunately what is happening. But we can fix this industry and we're going to do it.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, we'll see what happens. Some sort of private public sector partnership seems to be in the works. So we'll see how far that goes. Rick Scott for us this morning. Rick, thanks for coming in to talk to us.

SCOTT: Thanks a lot.

CHETRY: Well, a developing story now. Republican sources are telling CNN that Florida Governor Charlie Crist will run for Senate in 2010. Crist is considered a moderate republican who supported President Obama's stimulus plan. He is very popular with voters in Florida but a recent poll found that most would rather he seek re- election as governor as opposed to trying to move into the Senate. We expect an official announcement via e-mail coming up in the next half hour.

Iran releases a U.S. journalist after convicting her for spying. It's leaving a lot of people asking why? We're breaking down Roxana Saberi's story with our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. This is new video that came in just this morning as our program was airing of Roxana Saberi. This is the first time we're going to hear from her about how she feels. I imagine a tremendous amount of relief knowing that she will be free. It's 34 minutes after the hour.

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CHETRY: Just in to CNN right now, the latest numbers on the U.S. trade balance. Christine Romans is pouring over the details and she joins us right now. Hey, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. This is the latest number on our big trade deficit. You know, last month it was actually the narrowest in about nine years and now it has rebounded a little bit. That trade deficit widening in the month. The U.S. is exporting less to the rest of the world and the U.S. is importing less. But those exports dropped again more than our imports did and that means the trade deficit widened.

Also the trade deficit with China widened. The trade deficit with China increased meaning we are still buying a lot more from China than we're selling. That of course is a political sensitive number. Again, so these are the trade numbers. They are reflecting, essentially, a recession that is biting the United States and the world. We are exporting much less and we are importing less and you're seeing that in these numbers.

CHETRY: All right. Christine Romans for us, thanks.

ROMANS: Sure.

ROBERTS: Chasing storms in tornado alley. Our Rob Marciano getting a firsthand look at these powerful and deadly storms. We'll tell you where he is. Maybe we won't because it's actually a secret but we'll definitely tell you what he's doing, coming up. 38 minutes after the hour.

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ROBERTS: Waking up Chicago this morning where it's fair and just 44 degrees. Later on today though, it's going to be sunny with a high of about 68.

New this morning, boy, that really added up. Airlines took in a record $1.1 billion in baggage fees last year, according to "Bloomberg News." That is more than double their total from 2007 as more airlines try to pass off the cost of record fuel prices to you. But when the price of gas went down, did they pass off the savings to us or did they continue to charge for baggage? I can't remember. Well here is a new way an airline can lose your luggage. How about a plane eating it all up? Authorities at L.A.X. says the engine of a Japan Airlines, a 747, sucked in one of those huge metal baggage carts as it was leaving the gate. 245 passengers were on board at the time and they left the plane after the pilot announced there was a problem with engine number 1. Everyone said to be OK. The luggage, though, probably not in as good shape.

And not again! The FAA refused clearance for the Navy to fly a P3 Orion down the Hudson River along New York City yesterday. FAA officials admitted that the turbo prop aircraft flying at 3,000 feet down a common flight path probably wouldn't attract all that much attention, but they are taking no chances after the now infamous presidential jet flyover that terrified people in lower Manhattan and New Jersey.

CHETRY: There you go. Well it may be the most ambitious weather experiment ever. A team of scientists launching the Vortex 2 project to help unravel the mystery of tornadoes from the inside out. Our Rob Marciano is getting a firsthand look at how they are going to operate. He's with the team. It's at a secret location in tornado alley in Oklahoma.

So, first of all, pretty cool that they even let you ride along and experience this but what are they hoping to figure out?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: Well, they did this mission about 15 years ago and they were able to document from the entire life cycle of a tornado but there's a lot of unanswered questions. Why some tornadoes are stronger than others and why some stay on the ground longer than others. And they just basically want to try to figure that out. It's like the (holy grail)ph of severe weather forecasting so that they can better predict when a tornado will touch down. So they can get people out of the way.

Day one pretty much a strike out. The atmosphere wasn't setting up right. Day two, today, might not be any better. We'll find that out shortly. Either way, an international contingent of scientists have rolled in here to chase these storms for five weeks. We caught up with one and he describes exactly what he is looking for when he drives into a thunderstorm like what we hope to see.

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MARCIANO (on camera): What are you looking to find when you get close to these things?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When we get close to the storms, each of these vehicles has a specific position in the storm and our mission is it is to come in from the west, get close to the tornado, not too close, turn around and head back out west and penetrate a feature that we call the hook echo.

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MARCIANO: Penetrate the hook echo. That is one of the most deadly parts of the storm. The closest to the tornado and he'll be doing it basically in a souped up minivan. So certainly a dare devil type of stunt but it's all for science. He does warn that there are a lot of weather enthusiasts who just want to chase for the heck of it but he certainly advises you better know what you're looking at.

CHETRY: Right. And that is why when we said we're not revealing the exact location that is the reason why. But I mean, we've seen, of course, homes, the roofs ripped right off homes, homes flattened, cars tossed in the air. I mean, how safe are these vehicles as you said? A souped up minivan going right exactly where everyone else is trying to get away from.

MARCIANO: You know, they know what they're doing, basically. And they try to layer their analysis of the storm itself. So they will actually set up pods on the ground. The mobile that he will be driving in along with a team of others will basically be surrounding the storm in a mobile fashion. And then the setup of radars that you see behind me also kind of layer out.

Some of them are closer than others and others are set back to analyze the storm as a whole. And gathering this data over the next five weeks, they hoped to unravel the mystery of why tornadoes do what they do and to make folks a little bit safer from the storms. We'll see what today brings. A media briefing coming or an atmosphere briefing up in about two hours. Kiran, back over to you.

CHETRY: Pretty neat. All right. Rob, keep us posted. Thanks. John.

MARCIANO: All right. You got it.

ROBERTS: Breaking news just in to CNN. Heavy fighting raging across the eastern Afghanistan city of Khost as U.S forces take on militants head on. Our Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us now live to break this all down. What is going on, Barbara?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, John we talked earlier today about how bad the war is going and that's why a new commander. Here's the latest indication. U.S. military spokesman confirming there had been running gun battles across the city of Khost for the last four hours or so. U.S. and Afghan troops involved in very heavy fighting, we are told, in this city, which has been a major Taliban stronghold and it all began apparently when some suicide bombers detonated their vests.

Some U.S. forces, initial U.S. tried to help with this situation. But the fighting became even more tough. A quick reaction force. U.S. ground forces and helicopters called into the city of Khost to try and get control of the situation. At this hour, we are told they believe that they have found most of the militants, most of the suicide bombers, several detonations across the city, but officially right now we are told the city of Khost is not considered secure. John?

STARR: Barbara Starr for us this morning from the Pentagon with that update. Barbara, thanks so much. CHETRY: Well, if you eat out a lot, you should watch this next segment here. Dr. Sanjay Gupta shows us just how much sodium is hidden in restaurant food and which chain restaurants are the biggest offenders. It's 46 minutes past the hour.

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JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": the post office has announce that the price of a stamp is going up to 44 cents. This is getting out of control, I mean, yes. If there is some other way to send written messages.

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CHETRY: He is right now on cnn.com trapped under ground in a West Virginia mine for 32 hours. Seven miners stay calm by carving coal they say as rescuers pumped out water from a broken pipe from at mine's exit. They did make it out OK in time for mother's day. Wow.

Miss California executives now lashing out at Carrie Prejean over her topless photos. They said that she entered the contest under false pretenses by failing to disclose that she posed seminude when she was 17. John?

ROBERTS: Also one of the most popular stories on cnn.com, hidden salt. The new report says that salt content at some restaurants is much higher than it ought to be. So how much are you really consuming? It's part of our "Fit Nation" series and Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks at hidden salt in restaurant food. Sanjay, is it true some meals that you eat a restaurant had three days worth of salt in them?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: They do. And, overall, we are getting far too much salt as a nation. It's one of the problems that we've talked about so many times on "Fit Nation," as you know. Let's just take a couple of examples here. Sometimes the examples really tell the story.

Overall, if you think about certain - we're not picking on any particular restaurants here but these are some of the ones in this particular CSPI focus here. This is from Red Lobster, it's called the Admiral's Feast, about 7.1 grams of salt, of sodium in this particular meal.

Now, there are other ones as well. For example, if you to Chili's. Chili's to go they have these buffalo wings fajitas. Maybe you had these John, Kiran. I think Kiran eats them all the time, about almost seven grams here and 6.5 grams there, lots of salt here.

And finally the last one we look at quickly is the Tour of Italy, I think it's called, 6.1 grams from Olive Garden. John, on average, you need about 2 to 2.3 grams. As you see there, as you mentioned, far too much salt in just one particular entree. Now, to the point that we're not picking on a particular restaurant here. A lot of hidden salts in all sorts of food. Tomato juice, you get a full gram there. A hot dog, a large one 600 milligrams. A medium frapuccino 300 milligrams. The point is these things can add up and they can lead or at least associate with all sorts of health problems including stroke, including heart disease, including high blood pressure. John.

ROBERTS: All right. So you've been answering questions on twitter all morning. We've got a twitter question here. It comes from twitter user @audrey222. Or at, sorry. She asks "my eight year old loves to add salt in everything. What level is unhealthy for a child?"

GUPTA: Well, it's amazing how early this starts as well. Our palette, especially in the United States really learns to crave salt. And you can see at a very young age. It's different for example, a lot of European countries are not just used to having that much salt in the food. They come here, their food tastes saltier.

An eight-year-old really is very similar to an adult in terms of how much salt is too much. What happens is the kidneys in some ways, John, get overloaded and as a result of having all of that excess salt they start to release these hormones called renin, r-e-n-i-n, and what that causes is a shrinking of the blood vessels.

When you shrink the blood vessels like that, that causes hypertension. And you're absolutely right, Audrey, you can start to see hypertension and you could start to see some of these problems in very young children. We hear about the carotid arteries, for example, of 10-year-olds being no different than those of people in their 40s. So we're starting to see some of these problems. This is one of the culprits.

ROBERTS: That is frightening, Sanjay. Yes, lower your sodium intake. Good tip. Dr. Sanjay Gupta for us this morning. Doc, thanks so much.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Kiran.

CHETRY: Well, Farrah Fawcett is fighting back. She is taking on a hospital and the tabloids over stories about her fight with cancer. Now we hear in her own words how she's doing, next. It's 53 minutes past the hour.

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CHETRY: 55 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to the most news in the morning. She is a legend of the small screen. Farrah Fawcett and she is going public with a very personal battle. You probably know her best for her role in "Charlie's Angels," as the show's original crime fighting blonde bombshell.

Well, now she is taking on a hospital as well as the tabloid media. All of this while fighting for her life against cancer. Our Alina Cho is on the story for us this morning. And you know, if you do look at the front pages of the tabloids, I mean, they are actually making it seem like she is close to death.

ALINA CHO, CNN, CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and she wants to set the record straight, guys. Good morning, everybody. You know for two and a half years we have watched her battle cancer and now Farrah Fawcett is speaking out for the first time in a riveting three-hour conversation with the "Los Angeles Times." An interview that was videotaped, too. Fawcett alleges the hospital where she was often treated for cancer leaked her medical reports to the tabloids and was paid for it. Explosive allegations that Fawcett says has taken a big toll on her health.

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CHO (voice-over): Farrah Fawcett.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are you feeling?

CHO: Under the microscope as she seeks treatment for cancer. Headlines all but announcing her death. Now Fawcett is speaking out, alleging the hospital where she sought treatment pressured her to donate money and, worse, sold her medical records to the "National Enquirer."

FARRAH FAWCETT: When my cancer came back, that's when I said to the doctor, I said, OK, you know and I know, I'm not telling my (Redmond)ph, I'm not telling Ryan, I'm not telling my father. I'm not telling anyone. So I knew that if it came out, it was coming from UCLA.

CHO: The "Charlie's Angels" star says the UCLA Medical Center initially did nothing to stop it. UCLA eventually did investigate and found one of its employees had been looking at patients' records but the hospital would not reveal the name to Fawcett's lawyers.

FAWCETT: She said we have the responsibility to protect our employees. And I said, "more than your patients"?

CHO: The interview with "The Los Angeles Times" was recorded last August, but held until now, timed with the release of the new documentary. In the interview, Fawcett said cancer becomes your life, it's all-consuming, and your quality of life is never the same. She places blame squarely on the tabloids for making public the story that she had hoped to keep private.

FAWCETT: It's like buying stolen goods. You know? You know that you're committing a crime.

CHO: UCLA Medical Center would not comment specifically about the case or whether Fawcett was even a patient. But it did release its policy on privacy stating in part "in the wake of past patient privacy violations, the UCLA Health System instituted an internal audit and has taken this opportunity to strengthen our internal systems. Our practice is one of zero tolerance." Yet, the 1970s icon is America's fascination, in sickness and in health.

HARVEY LEVIN, EXECUTIVE PRODUCER, TMZ: The beauty of Farrah Fawcett is in such stark contrast to what we're seeing now. I think it's that punctuation, that has really riveted people.

CHO: A spokesman for Fawcett's long-time companion, Ryan O'Neal says the actress remained stable and continues to fight. Just as her documentary, the most challenging role is set to debut.

FAWCETT: I'm holding on to the hope that there is some reason that I got cancer and there is something that may not be very clear to me right now, but that I will do.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHO: CNN has reached out to "the National Enquirer." We have not heard back. The "L.A. Times" reports that the person who leaked Fawcett's medical records was a UCLA administrative specialist. The paper says she was paid $4,600 by the "Enquirer" and that she ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges of violating medical privacy laws but before she could be sentenced, guys, she died in March of cancer. Just a bizarre twist of fate.

ROBERTS: Wow.

CHETRY: Certainly, we've been talking about her lengthy battle with cancer and how she has been trying to fight this. How is she now? I mean, is this a terminal situation for her?

CHO: Well if you read the tabloids she is down to 86 pounds. She ahs lost her famous hair. Nobody close to Farrah Fawcett will confirm any of that but Ryan O'Neal, her long-time companion, through a spokesperson says she is in stable condition, she remains a fighter and with family and friends, she remains hopeful. That's all they will say.

CHO: Alina, thanks.

ROBERTS: That's pretty much going to wraps it us for us. Thanks so much for joining us on this AMERICAN MORNING. We'll see you back here again, bright and tomorrow.

CHETRY: Sure will. Meanwhile, here is CNN NEWSROOM with Heidi Collins.