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AIG Seeks Government Blessing Over Bonuses; Report Says Michael Jackson's Staff Helped Singer Obtain Drugs; Allegations of Racism Reported at a Pennsylvania Swim Club; Obama to Visit Ghana, Kenyans Feel Snubbed; Tabloid Accused of Phone Hacking Celebrities

Aired July 10, 2009 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Thanks for being with us on this AMERICAN MORNING. It's Friday, July 10. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Joe Johns in for John Roberts, and quite happy to be here on a Friday.

CHETRY: A Friday that's July. But in New York, it feels more like November.

JOHNS: Absolutely. Isn't it strange?

CHETRY: It's a little cold out there.

JOHNS: I know.

CHETRY: Sixty-two degrees right now.

JOHNS: Let's all go to Texas.

CHETRY: That's 104 for a high. Wow.

We have several stories developing this morning. We're going to be breaking them down for you in the next 15 minutes.

There's some new outrage over published reports. You remember the whole outrage that happened in March over those AIG bonuses after the company took bailout money from the federal government?

Well, now it looks like there is another plan in the works to give millions in executive bonuses. This time, AIG seeking some political cover from the White House after bonus payments back in March set off a national uproar.

JOHNS: Also this morning, a story you'll only see on CNN. Exclusive information from a police report detailing Michael Jackson's staggering use of prescription drugs plus a surprising allegation by Michael's father, Joe, about the death of his son.

CHETRY: Also, more protests met with violence in the streets of Iran. Hundreds now arrested by the government since last month's election. Ahead, we're going to be speaking with a journalist who was jailed for weeks in Iran. He discusses his ordeal.

We begin, though, with stunning news, some would say, that insurance giant AIG, which needed $180 billion of your money to survive now plans to pay millions in bonuses to dozens of top executives. "The Washington Post" is reporting that AIG is asking the president's new so-called compensation czar to approve these payments. AIG came under fire back in March for handing out $165 million in bonuses.

CNN's Christine Romans is "Minding Your Business." She's here with more details for us.

Is this going to be what we saw in March or have they learned any lessons?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It's a much smaller amount of money. And it might very well be part of bonuses that have earlier already been argued over in the media and also with the Treasury Department. But it's a payment of $2.4 million.

This is all according to "The Washington Post." "The Washington Post" is saying that AIG, you know, which took so much heat last March for giving out millions in bonuses, in that case, to people who actually ran the division that took the company down. Now it looks like these are $2.4 million in bonuses for about 40 high-ranking corporate officers at AIG. And AIG has gone to the government according to "Washington Post" to try to get the blessing of the new pay czar to make sure that the public and the treasury and everyone is OK with how this is working.

So this is what -- according to "The Washington Post" AIG is saying. "Any time we write a check to anybody, it is highly scrutinized. We would want to feel comfortable that the government is comfortable with what we're doing."

Now, where is this in terms of the Treasury Department? In a statement to CNN, the treasury said that the companies that have received exceptional assistance, that would be AIG. They need to convince Mr. Feinberg, that, of course, is the pay czar. Frankly, they have struck the right balance -- that they have struck the right balance to discourage excessive risk taking and reward performance for their top executives.

So I want to be clear here. It's $2.4 million for about 40 corporate executives. It may very well be part of another chunk of money, $9.6 million that was paid off in installments. We don't know exactly what the position is with the Treasury Department now, whether they're going to try to stop it, whether they're going to let it go.

But remember, it is very politically tricky here because they know the outrage that people felt back in March when we found out American taxpayer dollars were essentially going to pay bonuses to a company that had been so critically damaging to the American economy.

JOHNS: They're also going to argue, aren't they, that this is much less than some of those other huge bonuses where your tens of millions of dollars -- the figure was much bigger.

ROMANS: Oh, it is much less. And I want to be clear, I'm not sure if these are new bonuses or these are paying out the bonuses we've already been hearing people so angry about. But it would essentially be, according to "The Washington Post," money going out.

And remember, our money has propped up this company. So it would be our money going out to some of these executives. We also don't know if they're the executives who helped get this company in trouble, or if they're the people who have come in who are trying to clean it up. And they have made some progress in cleaning things up. You do want to reward this in some cases, right, because we also own this company? So we do want them to do a good job and we want to make sure we're rewarding executives who are trying to get some payback for us.

CHETRY: All right. Well, we'll continue to follow this throughout the morning as we get more details.

Christine, thanks so much. And, of course, we want to know what you think about the latest round of bonuses for AIG executives. Call our show hotline, 877-MY-AMFIX.

JOHNS: We're also following new developments this morning in the Michael Jackson investigation. The singer's father, Joe Jackson, is speaking out for the first time since his son's memorial service while the family waits to learn how Michael Jackson died so suddenly at the age of 50. Details ABC's Nightline he feels certain his son's death was not self-induced.


JOE JACKSON, MICHAEL JACKSON'S FATHER: I just couldn't believe what was happening to Michael because I just couldn't believe it, you know? And I do believe it was foul play. I do believe that, yes.


JOHNS: That assertion from Michael Jackson's father coming on the same day Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton told CNN investigators have not yet determined whether Michael's death was an accident or a crime.


CHIEF WILLIAM BRATTON, LOS ANGELES POLICE CHIEF: Well, the inquiry into the death of Mr. Jackson is continuing. We still await corroboration from the coroner's office as to the cause of death. That is going to be very dependent on the toxicology reports that are due to come back. And based on those, we'll have an idea of what it is that we're dealing with.


JOHNS: So it's not over yet. The coroner's office says it will take another two weeks before their report is coming out.

CHETRY: All right. And also new this morning, new details about Michael Jackson's suspected drug use. CNN has obtained a confidential police document that says Jackson relied on staff members and doctors in several states to provide him with a staggering supply, powerful prescription drugs, and it really paints a disturbing portrait of a desperate superstar. Here's CNN's Randi Kaye.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Joe and Kiran. I have right here a confidential police document from 2004. It's from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department. And I can tell you that we are not naming the people involved in this document. But these interviews were done with two of Michael Jackson's former security guards.

This is a confidential document, so we're not going to name those guards. But according to the document, one of them told investigators that Michael Jackson was taking "ten plus Xanax pills a night." And he said that when he expressed concerns to another one of Jackson's employees, he was told "Jackson was doing better because he was down from 30 or 40 Xanax pills a night -- 30 to 40 Xanax pills a night.

Now, one of the security guards did tell investigators that he would get Xanax prescriptions at pharmacies for Michael Jackson under "fictitious names" actually, including even the security guard's own name. He also named three other employees who he said were doing the very same thing.

Now, the other security guard questioned in the document that we have also backs that up. According to him, he said that he had also picked up prescriptions for Michael Jackson in someone else's name.

Now, we're not going to name the doctors who are mentioned in this, but I can tell you that one of the security guards interviewed by investigators named five doctors that he said were writing prescriptions for Michael Jackson. Again, not all of those prescriptions in Michael Jackson's name.

The security guard said in several states across the country including New York, California, Florida, he personally drove Jackson to different doctor's offices to get prescriptions. That really paints a picture here of doctor shopping.

Now, that is also in line, of course, with what our sources are telling us that he told us that investigators want to interview every doctor who Michael Jackson ever really came into contact with.

Also, I want to mention that one of the security guards described Jackson as sharp and "in tune" before he went into the doctor's office for those visits then afterwards, the security guard said he would come out and he was "out of it and sedated."

That is all from this confidential document from the sheriff's department where two of Michael Jackson's former security guards were interviewed. That is the very latest on the Michael Jackson investigation -- Joe, Kiran.

CHETRY: Randi Kaye for us. Thanks so much. Well, other stories new this morning. A potential blow to drug companies that could mean cheaper prescription medications for you. The Senate approving a plan to allow Americans to order low-cost drugs from Canada over the Internet. It was included as an amendment to a Homeland Security funding bill. Critics say it would expose us to online scams and unsafe drugs. It's not clear whether the measure will actually survive House-Senate negotiations on the bill.

JOHNS: Boston's Logan International Airport stepping up efforts to prevent bird strikes, like the one that forced a US Airways jet to crash land in the Hudson River. They're testing out a bird radar system that's now being used by the Air Force and NASA. The radar is able to locate birds more than four miles away.

CHETRY: Also, transportation officials are reporting an improvement in on-time performance by the nation's 19 airlines. The numbers, though, can be deceiving. 80.5 percent of all flights in May officially arrived on time, which is up a percent and a half in April.

But analysts are quick to point out that fewer flights are being scheduled right now and also airlines have lengthened the estimates for flight times. That makes it easier for them to report being on time.

It's nine minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." It's 11 minutes past the hour.

New this morning, President Obama wrapping up meetings at the GN8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy. The economy as well as climate change dominated those talks.

And later today, the president and his family will then travel to the Vatican. They'll be meeting Pope Benedict XVI for the first time. From Italy, the president and the first lady will depart for the last leg of the trip, Ghana, Africa.

CHETRY: Also this morning, diplomacy through music. The New York Philharmonic invited to play two concerts in Cuba in October. Despite the U.S. embargo, Washington will allow the Philharmonic to travel there. The performance comes more than a year after the orchestra made a similar trip to North Korea.

And Olympic swimming champ Michael Phelps needs a new to-do list. He broke the world record in the 100-meter butterfly at the U.S. National Championships in Indianapolis last night. Of the eight gold medals he won at the Beijing Olympics, the 100-meter butterfly was the only one where he failed to set a world record. So now he's done it all.

JOHNS: That's amazing. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. There are disturbing allegations of racism at a swim club in suburban Philadelphia. Members of the private club accused of making racist comments about black and Hispanic kids from a visiting summer camp.

CHETRY: Yes. And the camp's director claims that their swimming privileges were cancelled because of the color of their skin.

Right now, Susan Candiotti is following the developments for us from Huntington Valley, Pennsylvania just outside of Philadelphia.

And, Susan, this is a story that has a lot of people talking this morning. What are you hearing?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Kiran. What a controversy. We're outside that swim club just outside Philadelphia this morning. And you can see on the gates of the swim club just behind me, there are some homemade signs left behind by protesters. In fact, one of them reads, "Could Sasha and Malia swim here?" Of course, President Obama's two daughters.

Now, the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission has launched an investigation into these allegations that the kids were asked to leave. Some kids were asked to leave because of the color of their skin.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): Swimming once a week at the spacious Huntington Valley Club near Philadelphia. It sounded ideal for 65 kids described as black and Hispanic at Creative Steps Day Care summer camp.

ALETHIA WRIGHT, DAY CARE DIRECTOR: I was excited. The parents and children were excited.

CANDIOTTI: But when the youngsters showed up at the pool June 29, after the day camp signed and paid a $1,900 contract, this happened.

WRIGHT: The children came running down and they said, "Ms. Wright, Ms. Wright, those people up there are saying, 'what are those black kids doing in the pool?'."

CANDIOTTI: Twelve-year-old Marcus Allen is her son, says he was sitting outside the pool and heard white adults say this.

MARCUS ALLEN, DAY CARE CAMPER: They were like, "Why are these black kids here?". They didn't even say, "Oh, I'm afraid they might do something to my children because, I don't know, they might try to steal some of my stuff, or might try to like harm my children."

And I'm like -- I was, like, amazed that they would say something like this because, really, I'm just a kid. We're just like your kids.

CANDIOTTI: Mrs. Wright says the swim club's director told her he was embarrassed, held an emergency board meeting and called her back the next day to say they could not come back.

WRIGHT: And he said the membership says that the chips fall where they may.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): You know, Marcus, I see tears coming down your face. Why does this make you cry?

ALLEN: Because, this is kind of, like, sad that people are still thinking like this when I felt like these days were over.

WRIGHT: This is 2009. Children should not be subjected to that.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): The swim club's director is quoted by local media saying the day camp kids changed the "atmosphere and complexion of the club." A club member reacted.

JIM FLYNN, CLUB MEMBER: I'll be asking for the president of the club's president's resignation today, because I think the comment that he made, although taken out of context, was probably one of the stupidest comments I ever heard.

CANDIOTTI: He claims the club was simply overcrowded, not racist. He said two other unidentified day camps, both nonminority also got the boot.


CANDIOTTI: And the Valley Swim Club has issued a statement saying its decision to cancel the contract was based on space, not race. "We underestimated the capacity of our facilities. Our Valley Club deplores discrimination in any form."

You know, we also talked with some white members of this club who said that they think that what happened here was, in fact, shameful. Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: And also as we understand it, though, others in the community are trying to step in and help these campers out. They've been getting some other offers.

CANDIOTTI: That's right. In fact, we talked with one college in particular that did offer to have its facilities open up to these kids. They're in negotiations to try to work that out.

And you saw the pictures of those kids frolicking in the pool. Well, they already have contracted with the Jewish Community Center and they are going there twice a week. But they did that before this even happened.

Back to you, Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Susan Candiotti for us on the story. And again, let us know what you think, We'd love to hear your thoughts on this one.

JOHNS: It's 16 minutes after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHNS: Welcome back to the "Most News in the Morning." Today, history will be made when President Obama visit Africa. He'll become the first U.S. president with African roots to set foot on that continent.

He'll arrive in Ghana this evening and that's sure to set off wild celebrations. But in Kenya, the birthplace of the president's father, many are feeling snubbed.

CNN's David McKenzie is live in Nairobi, Kenya. David, why the disappointment?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I like the music you chose there. but people aren't really dancing here in Kenya today. But they will be in Ghana. It's a historic trip by President Obama to Sub-Saharan Africa.

They say he's going there because of good Democratic track record, economic development in that country. But, of course, because of Obama's connection to Kenya, Kenyans are bitterly disappointed.


MCKENZIE (voice-over): A trip to foreign shores has always been a way for U.S. presidents to reward America's allies. And a visit by President Barack Obama, one of America's most popular leaders, is a very big deal for some.

For his first presidential trip to Sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Obama has chosen Ghana, saying the country should be rewarded for its stable democracy and political reforms.

The visit has generated excitement in Ghana, but it's specially disappointing for another African nation, Kenya.

MCKENZIE (on camera): It's worth remembering that Kenya is the center of Obama-mania. His father, of course, is from the country. His grandmother lives in the west. He has family members all around, including his half-brother right here in Nairobi. And in the lead-up to the election, Kenya was the center of major parties for the president. So many had hoped he had come here.

(voice-over): Some Kenyan analysts believe that President Obama's decision was meant as a message to Kenya's leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For anybody of average intelligence will know that he's trying to make a statement. That he may not be happy to be identified with Kenya because of the situation that is prevailing. We seem to be yo-yoing. We are moving forward and backwards, forward and backwards and we're not getting anywhere.

MCKENZIE: The prevailing situation is that of endless political bickering. And like Ghana, Kenya recently conducted disputed elections that led to violence. And despite calls from the U.S. and others for reform, this party's African nation seems stalled. Ordinary Kenyans are in two minds about Mr. Obama's decision.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should come to Kenya fast as a place of his homeland or his origin. If he didn't come, maybe that is one reason.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's better to go to a country, the African country that has maybe the same character like him. The leader should have the same character like him.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact that he has some roots in Kenya doesn't mean that he's bound to do anything for Kenya.

MCKENZIE: Whatever the Obama's administration's reasons for not coming to Kenya first, Kenyans are unlikely to bear grudge against their favorite son. And should the U.S. president hit these shores, the party will surely just start up again.


MCKENZIE: Well, John, you know, the party is always here for President Obama should he decide to come as you saw there. But, you know, the people here aren't really angry at President Obama. They're more irritated at their leaders hoping that the changes can be made here to reflect the changes in Ghana and perhaps he'll come in in the future -- John.

JOHNS: David McKenzie in Nairobi. Thanks for that report on the president's first visit to West Africa.

Right now, CNN's Anderson Cooper is on his way to Africa for an exclusive interview with President Obama and you can see right here on CNN Monday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

It's 23 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. A British tabloid is coming under fire this morning. The "News of the World" newspaper accused of hacking the phone messages of thousands of public figures and celebrities. They're basically trying to break into their voicemail.

JOHNS: Oh, this is not good. Now lawmakers in London are demanding answers. Our Atika Shubert has the story.


ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It reads like a who's who on the red carpet. Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law, supermodel Elle Macpherson (ph). Just some of the thousands of public figures whose private phone messages were allegedly hacked by British tabloid "News of the World." (on camera): Now paparazzi-style journalism is not exactly a surprise among Britain's notoriously aggressive tabloids.

(voice-over): In 2007, a "News of the World" reporter was jailed for illegally breaking into the voice messages of members of the royal household. But British newspaper, "The Guardian," now says "News of the World" authorized the hacking of thousands of personal messages of public figures that was not investigated by police.

NICK DAVIES, "THE GUARDIAN": You've got a very, very worrying picture here and an unanswered question about why this policy inquiry starts then appears to stop short of its goal. And I don't know what the answer is that because I'm not saying the officers who were running the inquiry did something bad. But it worries me that somebody very senior may have said, let's not get into a fight with this very powerful newspaper group. Will you please stop your inquiry?

SHUBERT: That powerful media group is News Group, owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. News Group maintains that it had no knowledge of any alleged phone hacking. "News of the World" has refused to comment on the latest allegations.

Britain's metropolitan police has said it would review the case. Reopening a police investigation may have a serious impact, not just on "News of the World" but on other papers as well, says Andrew Neil, former editor of "The Sunday Times" also owned by News Group.

ANDREW NEIL, FORMER EDITOR OF "SUNDAY TIMES": I think it's one of the most significant media stories of modern times because it suggests that a whole newsroom was corrupted by the use of private investigators. It suggests that there was widespread illegal activity and it suggests that the whole journalistic effort was dominated by trying to break into people's voicemails and use of private data in order to get stories.

SHUBERT: "News of the World" used to dishing the dirt on public figures now finds itself under scrutiny.

Atika Shubert, CNN, London.


CHETRY: All right. Now, it is 28 minutes past the hour. We check our top stories.

And there are some stunning new allegations about Michael Jackson's drug use. In a confidential police document obtained by CNN, Jackson's former employees admit getting prescriptions for the singer under fictitious names or even using their own names.

One security guard says Jackson traveled to different states including New York and Florida to get prescription drugs. And the L.A. police chief now says that the Jackson investigation could turn into a criminal probe. JOHNS: Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has been cryptic about why she's quitting before her term is up. But her daughter's former fiance, Levi Johnston, thinks he knows why -- money.

Johnston lived with the Palin family for about a month late last year, and says he heard the governor talk about how nice it would be to take advantage of the lucrative deals they were being offered including a reality show and a book deal.

CHETRY: Judge Sonia Sotomayor's confirming hearings are set to begin Monday. And we have a new CNN/Opinion Research poll that was just released this hour about how Americans feel about her confirmation.

Forty-seven percent polled say the Senate should vote in favor of Sotomayor's confirmation. Forty percent are opposed and 13 percent not sure. Six out of ten expect a major fight between Democrats and Republicans during these hearings. Thirty-eight percent, though, believe there will be bipartisan agreement.

And you can follow those hearings live on CNN Monday.

Now to politics in our weekly segment where our independent analyst John Avlon calls out someone on the left and the right who, according to John, tried to divide us rather than unite us. And he calls them "Wingnuts of the Week," subjects are taking political name calling to the extreme.

John Avlon is a columnist for and author of "Independent Nation" and he joins us now. Thanks for being with us this morning.


CHETRY: All right. So who got your dubious honor on the left this week?

AVLON: Oh, my dubious honor on the left, we have influential California Democratic Congressman Henry Waxman, who's been quarterbacking congressional efforts on cap and trade, in health care and other reforms, but resorted to some rhetoric that we've more recently heard on the right in recent years in an interview with NPR. Let's listen.


REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: It appears that the Republican Party leadership in the Congress has made a decision that they want to try to deny President Obama success, which means, in my mind, they're rooting against the country as well.


CHETRY: You're right. I mean, we have heard this. So, if you're not -- if you don't agree politically, you're rooting against America. AVLON: That's right. You're rooting -- you want the country to fail. You're rooting against the country. Well, that seems like "wing nutty" stuff to me. That's demonizing the opposition.

And the idea that Republicans just have to get in line, that there can be no reasonable opposition based on principle, but rather going de facto against someone's patriotism. Well, that's wingnut stuff. We called that out when the right has done it in the past and it's only right to do it now against the left.

CHETRY: The other interesting thing about this is the Cap and Trade Bill that you talked about. Waxman admits that even though he did sponsor it, he did not read it in detail. And that's one of the things that we hit both sides on, right? It's that -- you know, you're putting this stuff forward to essentially change our policy, and you got a 1200-page bill that no one's read.

AVLON: Yes. And if Henry Waxman doesn't know what's in the Waxman-Markey bill, then who does?

This is -- this is the job of legislators. This is why folks are getting frustrated. They're laying the seeds of a big backlash and it should be a big wakeup call for Democrats coming down the pike.

CHETRY: The other interesting thing, though, is that he is a pretty influential player on Capitol Hill. He chairs the energy and commerce committee. And so when you call him out as a wingnut this week, is this an isolated incident for Waxman?

AVLON: No question Henry Waxman is on the left wing of the Democratic Party, but he's -- you know, he's a respected man. Sometimes reasonable people say unreasonable things. When you say that the opposition is rooting against the country, that's an unreasonable thing. That's a wingnut remark.

CHETRY: All right. Let's turn to this week's wingnut on the left -- on the right. Who did you pick?

AVLON: This is an amazing story. Talk about demonizing the opposition. Well, our next candidate, Audra Shay, is running to be chairman of the Young Republicans, a vote that will take place this weekend.

Well, she has called no less than President Obama anti-American repeatedly in the past. But her campaign became infamous this week when excerpts of a Facebook conversation became public before they were taken down. Let's take a look at what she said.

A Facebook friend, Eric Piker, wrote, "It's the government making us commies." Then he went on to say, "Obama Bin Laden is the new terrorist. Muslim is on their side. Need to take the country back from these mad coons and illegals."

To which Audra replied eight minutes later, "You tell them, Eric. LOL. CHETRY: Which is "laugh out loud." Then apparently there were some -- there were some people who really, on her Facebook page, took issue with the comments that this Facebooker, Eric Piker, put on there.

And what happened?

AVLON: Well, she defriended the people who took issue with the comments, but kept Eric Piker on for a few hours before this whole thing blew up and started getting publicity on Web sites like

Thirty-six hours later, she issued a formal apology, which we will read. She said, "I responded supporting the individual's first post to continue the fight against big government spending. I was not aware of the racial comments until sometime later. In no way are the comments posted by other individuals a reflection of me or my beliefs."

CHETRY: What do you think? So this was -- this was just one of those things where in the Internet world she responded to an earlier post? Or do you think that she was responding after the criticism grew louder?

AVLON: There were eight minutes. The nice thing with the Internet is we know exactly what happened. There were eight minutes between her comment and the previous post calling President Obama bin Laden and referring to mad coons who were derailing the government.

That seems to be a cause and effect. We got a problem with this and the Republican Party. We've seen a whole series of racist e-mails even in the last month. And signed up Republicans and Young Republicans this week have a chance to confront and deal with because this is just a distraction from any hopes they have of reviving themselves as a party. They can represent the full diversity of Americans.

CHETRY: All right. What's the takeaway from these wingnuts this week?

AVLON: You know, your political opponents are not your enemies. Stop demonizing people who disagree with you. That's what the American people are sick and tired of. We got serious problems. They want serious solutions and civil dialogue. This demonizing people who disagree with you, not only disrespectful. You know what's un- American? Is calling people un-American.

JOHNS: So, she's still going to be elected?

AVLON: Unclear. We've got race this weekend. It's wide open. She -- it's a conventional wisdom front-runner going in. It's going to be interesting to see what the Young Republicans do this weekend. I think it's a real crossroads in the wilderness for the Republican Party.

CHETRY: All right. Well, keep us posted on that. And by the way, you can join John for a discussion on the wingnut of the week right after this interview. He's posting a blog. He'll also be twittering about it. So you can send him suggestions about some people that you may have heard make some "wingnutty" comments, as John puts it. All of that on

John, thanks for being with us. We'll see you next week.

It's 35 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

A quick check now of the "AM Rundown" at 38 minutes past the hour. These are the stories that are coming up in the next few minutes.

We're tracking extreme weather right now. We're going to check in with Reynolds Wolf to find out whether it may impact your weekend travel plans.

Also, improvised explosive devices or IED. They proved deadly to troops in Iraq and now they're taking a toll in Afghanistan as well. What is being done to help combat this growing threat there? We're going to take a look at that.

Also, a desperate search underway for a group of immigrants in Texas. They're being held against their will, reportedly, with no food or water.


JOHNS: In Iran, days of calm have been shattered. Thousands of demonstrators filling the streets of Tehran yesterday to protest last month's presidential election. Since the protest began, more than 1,000 people have been arrested, including some reporters.

Iason Athanasiadis is a freelance writer and photographer who was covering the Iranian election when he was detailed by the government. He was held for 20 days before being released. Iason joins us now from Athens, Greece.

Good morning. Thanks for coming in.


JOHNS: Just start at the beginning. It was about June 17, was it not, when you were detained? Could you walk us through it?

ATHANASIADIS: Well, it was the last day of my press visa -- of my seven-day press visa. And I was exiting the country with very mixed feelings because it was right in the middle of the most serious demonstrations. Heading to the airport I was picked up after passing through passport control by a gentleman who wasn't wearing a uniform, but said to me that I wasn't going to be flying tonight and that there were a couple of other gentlemen coming from Tehran who wanted to interview me.

JOHNS: So you've actually lived in Iran for about three years. You're familiar with the people in the government. You have associations with them. So was this -- given the circumstances, a surprise to you or was it pretty predictable?

ATHANASIADIS: I figure that I was one of the most vulnerable people on the ground there because I didn't have a proper affiliation in the sense that I freelance for "The Washington Times" and a number of other newspapers. I also knew that because of my two-and-a-half years of having lived in Iran, I would be considered of particular interest to the intelligence services.

But by the same token, I felt that this meant that they knew me pretty well. I had several exhibitions of my photography there. I'm not just a journalist but I'm also an artistic photographer and I think that they knew that I've been giving a lot of talks in the U.S. last year trying to explain Iran to a foreign audience. So I thought it was quite unlikely that they would be charging me with espionage or anything like that.

JOHNS: You were detained, you were questioned, you were also taken to the Evin Prison. Could you sort of describe that? It's notorious to people who were familiar with Iran. And give us some sense as to whether this is the kind of thing that would happen to demonstrators and protesters.

ATHANASIADIS: Well, the place was chock full with demonstrators and protestors. In fact, the third cell that I was moved to -- the last cell before I was freed was an old disused part of the prison that had been reopened in order to deal with the excess capacity.

And I couldn't -- I couldn't see around me when I was there because I had to wear a blindfold. I was initially being held in the intelligence ministry control part of the prison, so all the people there were supposedly undercover. I wasn't supposed to see them.

But I could see under the bottom of my blindfold that there were rows of prisoners sitting on the ground with their heads between their knees. There were other people were being interrogated in the corridors because there was just no capacity in the interrogator rooms. They were absolutely full to bursting.

And at some point, my interrogators turned to me and said the people that are being interrogated in the room right next to us are the terrorists who are in charge of trying to blow up one of the main mosques in Tehran.

JOHNS: As I read about this, it sounds like you were fairly assertive with the people who were holding you. Were you confident enough to -- to challenge them just a bit? And do you think that made any difference?

ATHANASIADIS: Well, perhaps there was a certain amount of naivete on my part because I was absolutely convinced that I had never done any kind of spying. My -- my -- my innocence would be proven and I would be allowed to go home.

Since I've returned, I've had some doubts cast on this, on the idea that I might have been used as a pawn for negotiations or anything like that. But certainly in terms of my second group of interrogators, who were really very objective people, I felt, and wanted to get a sort of deep psychological understanding of what motivated me, I had trust in them.

The first interrogator, I felt he decided that I was guilty before I entered the room, and all he wanted to do was find evidence against me. But in terms of the second and conclusive round, I felt they were pretty objective.

JOHNS: Iason in Athens. Thank you so much for that. Stay safe in your reporting.

It's 42 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: A lot of people would be shipping up to Boston, at least to Cape Cod and Nantucket this week. But there's a live look at Boston, thanks our friends at WCVB. It is 58. That's right, 58 in the middle of July, going up to 75. Lots of sun in the forecast, though.

Meanwhile, it's 45 minutes past the hour. Time to fast forward through the stories that will be making news later today.

The G-8 summit wraps up this morning in L'Aquila, Italy. And at 8:00 a.m. Eastern Time, President Obama will hold a news conference. We're going to have it for you live here on CNN and

At 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presides over a town hall meeting. It will be at the State Department. Expected to focus on the Department's approach to diplomacy and development around the world.

And also ahead this morning, 11:00 a.m. Eastern, after weeks of repair work to fix a hydrogen leak on the Space Shuttle Endeavour, NASA will be giving us an update --- Saturday's planned launch for the spacecraft. And, hopefully, we'll -- they had some problems not only with repair work but also with the weather. So, hopefully, it will cooperate for them if they try to get off the ground on Saturday.

JOHNS: Well, just ask the guy who knows -- Reynolds Wolf.

Reynolds Wolf, are you out there? What's going to happen in the shuttle launch? Are they going to be able to make it?


CHETRY: All right, Reynolds, have a great weekend. Thanks.

WOLF: You bet, guys.

JOHNS: You bet.

The thing about it is, when you look at that map, all the way on the southwest, it's blazing hot.

CHETRY: I know.

JOHNS: But here in the east, we barely got a summer going on.

CHETRY: They didn't turn the AC on last night.


CHETRY: The windows open, it was pretty cold.

JOHNS: At least it keeps the electricity bills down, right?

CHETRY: That's right. Sweater weather in July. Very odd. Well, we'll take it for now.

Forty-eight minutes past the hour.


JOHNS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. A sobering assessment now of the war in Afghanistan.

CHETRY: General David Petraeus yesterday warning there will be a long, tough fight. And adding to that challenge this morning, a huge spike in improvised explosive device attacks.

CNN's Chris Lawrence has the story.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Children going to school, Afghan police officers on the job. These are just some of the 25 people who died when a massive bomb exploded in Kabul, Thursday. The blast sent shrapnel flying a mile away. Explosives in Afghanistan now have more sheer power and often target American troops.

ADMIRAL MIKE MULLEN, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: The biggest threat is really from IEDs, the Improvised Explosive Devices which have become more and more sophisticated over time.

LAWRENCE: And more common. Just look at the month of June in Afghanistan. In 2005, there were 51 IED incidents. Two years later, that jumped to 234. And then last month, it skyrocketed to 736. That's an increase of more than 1,000 percent.

Admiral Mike Mullen saw firsthand the damage inflicted by IEDs as he watched the remains of American soldiers return home. Four of these men died Monday, when a roadside bomb ripped their vehicle apart in northern Afghanistan.

Humvees are light weight and have a flat bottom that absorbs blasts. That's why there's an intense push to get troops more mine resistant ambush protected vehicles.

MULLEN: From an equipment standpoint, there's no higher priority than to get these vehicles in theater as rapidly as we can.

LAWRENCE: There are less than 3,000 MRAPs in all of Afghanistan, and they don't work as well over its steep mountainous terrain. A new version is being built now, but the first ones won't arrive until October at the earliest.


LAWRENCE: But by December, the company will be pumping them out at a rate of about 1,000 a month. And they are not cheap. A Humvee costs less than $200,000. These are well over $1 million.

But how much are they needed? Of all the marines that are being killed right now in Afghanistan, IEDs are killing 80 percent of them. 80 percent.

Joe, Kiran.

CHETRY: And, you know, and Chris, a lot of people are asking why didn't they build these new vehicles before sending 4,000 more marines to the fight.

LAWRENCE: I think some of it was the fact that, A, you had to get these additional forces in that the commanders have been calling for ahead of the elections in August.

Also, it does take a lot of time to bid the contract into, especially test these vehicles. You don't want to go and spend $1 million each on these, bring them into the theater, and then find out, they don't protect the marines or the soldiers.

CHETRY: All right. Sad situation for sure. Chris Lawrence for us this morning. Thanks so much.

We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we're going to be talking about new exclusive details obtained by CNN on the search for prescription drugs in Michael Jackson's home.

It's 54 minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Checking the national news this morning. For three weeks, Boston's Logan Airport is testing out the same high-tech radar system that NASA uses to protect the space shuttle from bird strikes. The birds appear as red dots on the radar screen and the airport is testing the system for free. But buying the equipment for the entire airport would cost about $2 million.

More e-mails from the governor with the Argentinean soulmate. E- mails released by South Carolina's Commerce Department showed that Governor Mark Sanford wanted to keep a night free on a taxpayer-funded business trip to his mistress' home country.

Sanford admitted to the affair last month but told the Associated Press that he is trying to fall back in love with his wife.

Well, Nevada Senator John Ensign's fling with a former staffer was expensive for his parents, apparently. Ensign's attorney acknowledging that the senator's parents gave the woman's family a gift of close to $100,000. A statement said Ensign's parents found out about the affair from their son and decided to make that gift, quote, "out of concern for the well-being of long-time family friends during a difficult time."

JOHNS: Turning to a developing story in Texas. Police are on a desperate hunt this morning for a group of immigrants being held hostage for ransom, reportedly held for days without food or water. Two arrests have been made so far.

Our Ed Lavandera is working on this story from our Dallas bureau this morning.

Good morning, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Joe. Police got a tip because one of those immigrants is being held in a trailer in the small town of Dale, Texas, about an hour southeast of Austin, Texas. I was able to escape and reach some help, but now police say they are looking for one of the captors and perhaps as many as 20 other immigrants.

All of these immigrants, a group that was originally believed to be about 25 or so, were held captive in the trailer in a town of Dale, as I mentioned. This is about 250 miles north of the Mexican border. And obviously a place not used to dealing with this kind of international kidnapping and human smuggling rings.


TERRY PICKERING, BASTROP COUNTY SHERIFF: I mean, we've never had a situation like this before in Bastrop County, or very actively looking for him. And based on the information we have, I mean, we're obviously concerned about these folks' well being.


LAVANDERA: So as I mentioned, one of those captive -- one of those immigrants was able to escape and alerted authorities as to what was going on. According to that immigrant who was able to escape, that there was a group of 25 that were being held by three men with assault rifles. They went on to describe that they'd been held without food and water for quite sometime. That they were being extorted out of more money to be smuggled into the U.S. That they were making phone calls to these immigrants' families here in the U.S. to get more money out of them.

Police say that one of the captors along with a group of about 15 perhaps to 20 immigrants was able to get away before authorities arrived. So in essence they were able to arrest two of the captors and save about seven of these immigrants who were being held.

This is very interesting because this is very similar to the kind of scenario that has made Phoenix, Arizona, for example, been dubbed the kidnapping capital of the United States. This is very similar to what has been playing out there on those streets for quite sometime. So, very interesting that this happened in such a unique location. And authorities who have been investigating these types of cases for years say that it is never shocking that these types of situations are unfolding in places where they're least likely to appear to happen.


JOHNS: So the conditions don't sound very good for those folks. Do we know anything more about the conditions other than no food, no water?

LAVANDERA: No. Everyone appears to be OK. They were being treated and hydrated and fed last night. That was the last information that we heard. The whereabouts of that other captor and those other immigrants is unknown.

JOHNS: Thanks so much, Ed Lavandera.