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Commissioner Defends Officer in Gates Arrest; Obama Encounters Setback on Health Care Timeline; Insight on Iran Protests; American Volunteered for Al Qaeda Suicide Bomb Mission; ESPN Reporter Fights Circulation of Nude Video; N,Y., N.J. Politicians, Rabbis Arrested; Jackson's Doctor Target of Investigation

Aired July 24, 2009 - 06:00   ET


KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. It's Friday. It's the 24th of July. I'm Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm John Roberts. Thanks for joining us on the Most News in the Morning.

We're following several developing stories for you today. We're going to be breaking them all down in the next 15 minutes to make sure that you stick around for all of that.

No regrets, but President Obama softening his criticism of the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police department in the arrest of black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. What the president is now saying about the racially charged incident and our exclusive interview with the Cambridge police commissioner.

CHETRY: Also a bit of a setback for President Obama's health care timeline. The Democratic leader of the Senate saying that getting a reform bill passed by the August recess cannot be done. We're live at the White House with reaction.

ROBERTS: And it sounds like something right out of "The Sopranos." A massive corruption crackdown in New York and New Jersey. The stunning arrests including mayors, lawmakers and religious leaders. There was even a plot to sell human organs. We're following all the latest developments in that.

CHETRY: And we begin, though, with a story that's erupted on talk radio, the blogs, and water coolers around the country. The arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates at his own home. He was mistaken for a burglar after a passerby called the police. Tempers flared and Gates ended up in handcuffs.

At his news conference Wednesday night, President Obama said the police acted "stupidly." In an interview with ABC's "Nightline," the president softened his tone but stood by his comments.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm surprised by the controversy surrounding my statement because I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don't need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man, who uses a cane, who's in his own home.

I think that it doesn't make sense with all the problems that we have out there to arrest a guy in his own home if he's not causing a serious disturbance. From what I can tell, the sergeant who was involved is an outstanding police officer, but my suspicion is probably that it would have been better if cooler heads would have prevailed.


CHETRY: Well, CNN's Don Lemon is live in Boston. You had a chance, Don, to speak exclusive with the Cambridge police commissioner, Robert Haas. What does he have to say about it, his department being thrust into the national spotlight over this controversy?

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kiran, he has a lot to say about it, as well as officers here in Cambridge and around the area. Everyone is talking about it. As you said this is a water cooler talk on the cover of the "USA Today" today. It is the professor, the police officer and the president.

When I spoke with him exclusively yesterday after he announced that he is going to establish some sort of panel, a review panel to look at this, he said that he was very disappointed by the president's remarks and he feels the president not only singled out the sergeant but the police officers here in Boston, but police officers around the country. Take a listen to part of what he said.


LEMON: So, commissioner, when you look at this in the paper and you see the president here and it says Obama scolds Cambridge police, what do you think of that?

COMMISSIONER ROBERT HAAS, CAMBRIDGE POLICE DEPARTMENT: I think that you need to understand about this police department and this community. It's very private. They're very proud about its diversity within its community and how hard we worked over the years to build a strong, solid relationship with the department and the community.

And I have to tell you the officers take that very personally and basically feel hurt by that comment. We truly are trying to do the best service we can to the community and sometimes we make mistakes. We're human. We learn from those mistakes. We move on.


LEMON: Now, other officers say that it is an insult to the men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line every day and that the president simply didn't have all the information before he made those comments. As you know, Kiran, the police department dropped the whole thing. They said that they simply wanted to move past it.

I asked them, the police commissioner in my interview whether or not he thought that was some admission of guilt. Take a listen.


LEMON: Why did you drop all of it then?

HAAS: We basically were approached by Professor Gates' attorney and asking -- and representing to us that Professor Gates wanted to put this behind him. And I felt that was the appropriate thing to do.

LEMON: Some may look at that as an admission of wrongdoing or something went wrong during the whole process.

HAAS: No, I don't view it that way at all. I just believe that we can't be distracted and that we have to move forward and we have to stay focused on what our mission is here in the city.


LEMON: Now, what is interesting he said that Professor Gates's attorney, Charles Ogletree, said that they thought it was the best way to move on, and now we're hearing and from Professor Gates on our air that he is going to sue. So, is that moving on? We're not exactly sure.

We have reached out to Professor Gates and his attorney, and so far they have not responded to that. But here's the interesting part, Kiran. We're hearing that there is police tapes, police traffic, radio tapes and they're supposed to come to light and that may shed some more information on exactly what happened.

And according to the police department, that will help the officer. They believe that this will, in some way, solidify the officer's story that Professor Gates was acting out of control, and that's why he was eventually arrested, Kiran.

CHETRY: Wow. And as you said, there's a lot of sides to the story. Maybe the tapes will help clear up some of it.

But meanwhile, it really is lighting up our phone lines. And, Don, we're going to check in with you a little bit later on the show, as well.


CHETRY: Thanks so much for that exclusive. Great to get the perspective of the commissioner there.

Meanwhile, we'd like to hear from you as well, 877-MY-AMFIX. Here's a little bit of what you guys are saying.


CALLER: I think the professor from Harvard was absolutely right and the mayor from Cambridge absolutely wrong. There's no reason to sit down with the parties. This is obviously a rogue cop that took the advantage and the opportunity to be rogue. CALLER: Henry Louis Gates, the professor of Harvard, is using this as a race issue himself. When anybody is seen going into a house, how does the policeman know that that's their house?


CHETRY: There you go. And we want to hear more from you. You can call our show hotline 877-MY-AMFIX. You can also head to our blog, And we're on Twitter at KiranChetry.CNN and JohnRoberts.CNN.

ROBERTS: This morning, President Obama dealing with a dose of political reality in his campaign-style push to get health care reform through Congress by the August recess. His point man in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, says there will be no vote by the president's deadline.


SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I think that it's better to have a product that is one that's based on quality and thoughtfulness rather than trying to jam something through, but we're going to do it. We'll come back in the fall.

OBAMA: I have no problem if I think people are really working through these difficult issues, in making sure that we get it right. But I don't want to delay just because of politics. And I have to tell you, sometimes delays in Washington occur because people just don't want to do anything that they think might be controversial.


ROBERTS: The president will meet again with Reid this morning about the overhaul. Our Suzanne Malveaux following all the development from the White House. Got a technical issue, so she's on the telephone with us this morning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Hey, good morning, John.

ROBERTS: Suzanne, I guess the only thing you can say about what's going on at the White House there is a roro (ph).

MALVEAUX: Well, you know, that obviously it's a disappointment. And despite the fact that, you know, the president says that this is OK, they're going to keep talking. They're going to keep pushing. They set this deadline of August to try to get something done before the recess. Clearly, that's not happening anymore. But the president is going to be meeting, once again, with Senate majority Leader Harry Reid, as well as Senator Max Baucus in the Oval Office today. They're two players in moving this thing along or slowing it down. And he wants to assess where Congress is on this, what kind of compromise is on the table, and what needs to be done.

And we are going to see some differences and changes here. We will see that the president, he's going to continue to go out and speak directly to the American people. But as we saw yesterday, and as well as the press conference, he's going to be speaking in kind of ordinary, plain language here.

He's going to be using examples to show that the American people illustrate why this impact them, that this is beyond kind of this Washington back and forth and that this process goes on, but that this is a way that he'll be able to get folks on his side.

And we know now that the country is pretty much divided on whether or not this is a good idea and, so, he's going to be speaking and using those kinds of examples. He's also, as well, John, going to be talking about those who have health care insurance. There has been lot of discussion about the 46 million or so who do not and how to get them onboard. But there are a lot of people who have health care insurance. They're afraid of losing it. They're afraid that their taxes are going to go up and that they're going to be paying more, and those are the kinds of things the president needs to address, as well. And that's' the kind of thing that Democrats have brought to the president and said they're concerned about.

ROBERTS: This issue of how to pay for it is a huge one, I know, among Blue Dog Democrats in the House, as well. And we'll be talking to one of them coming up in our next hour.

But is the White House worried, Suzanne, that if this thing does get slow walked through August into September, maybe October that it will just kind of die?

MALVEAUX: Yes, yes. There's definitely a push to make this happen sooner as opposed to later. There'll be much less of an appetite for this obviously for lawmakers, that the closer we get to the mid-term elections, congressional mid-term elections.

And so, while the president says this is not political, this is -- he's rushed because he gets letters on his desk every day saying how people are suffering. That may all be true, but there's very little chance that they see this happening next year.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux from the White House for us this morning. Suzanne, good to catch up with you. We'll get that technical problem resolved.


ROBERTS: We'll see your smiling face next hour.

MALVEAUX: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Thanks.

MALVEAUX: Oh, see you.

CHETRY: (INAUDIBLE) Baghdad, Kenya, but sometimes we have a little bit of a difficulty. It isn't easy.

ROBERTS: Sometimes down the street is the hardest part to get a signal from.

CHETRY: Well, other stories new this morning. Chronic signal trouble may have led to that deadly crash in Washington's metro system last month. Federal safety investigators say that the system that detects a train on the tracks has been malfunctioning for the past 18 months. Nine people were killed. More than 70 others injured when a metro train slammed into another that was stopped on the tracks near the Maryland state line.

ROBERTS: It's a good day for millions of American workers, not just because it's Friday, they are also getting a raise. The federal minimum wage jumps from $6.55 to $7.25 an hour today. It is the last of three minimum wage increases that were approved by Congress back in 2007.

Some economists, though, are concerned about the increase's impact on small businesses who may be forced to lay off the same workers that the pay hike was meant to help.

CHETRY: And it's the running of the bulls, but on Wall Street. The Dow shooting past the 9,000 mark for the first time since January. The investor excitement was driven in part by a third straight monthly increase in home sales and also some stronger than expected earnings reports.

ROBERTS: Well, baseball fans are buzzing this morning about a historic performance in Chicago. White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle throwing a perfect game against the Tampa Bay Rays. His pitching gem, though, was preserved by another masterpiece.

CHETRY: That's right. Check out the ninth inning catch by Sox center fielder Duane Wise. Actually there you go, climbing the wall to turn a home run into an out.

The ball popped out of his glove just a bit coming down and then he grabbed it again with his bare hand. See that. Well, the perfect game is the first, by the way, since 2004. An 18th in major league history. Buehrle is already in the record books for throwing a no- hitter two years ago.

ROBERTS: After the game, he got a congratulatory phone call from the White Sox first fan. President Obama telling him that he should probably buy his center fielder a big steak dinner for saving the game for him.

CHETRY: Yes. It's true.

ROBERTS: Yes. And still with sports. Erin Andrews seems like a rising star at ESPN, 31 years old, lovely woman, apparently the victim of a peeping tom at a hotel room.

CHETRY: Yes. She was secretly videotaped naked in her hotel room. These pictures leaking out. She's fighting back and some are asking, what's going on here? Carol Costello is taking a look.

Eleven minutes past the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. In Iran, a ban on public gatherings has been in place since the country's disputed presidential election last month. But that does not mean that the movement has disappeared.

Just this week there were new clashes between security forces and protesters. And joining me now is Roger Cohen. He's a columnist for "The New York Times," one of the last western reporters to leave Iran. You stayed after your permission ran out. I'm wondering why, and what did you see in the time that you were still there?

ROGER COHEN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": My time to report was rescinded. The events in the street, John, were so extraordinary with these thousands, even millions on one day of kids out there protesting what they were convinced was a fraudulent election. I thought it was my responsibility to stay as long as possible, and I stayed until the last minute of my visa which happen to be a little longer than most people.

ROBERTS: You know, we heard about this crackdown by the Basijis and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. What did you see?

COHEN: Well, I saw Basiji plainclothes guys. They're been given helmets and clubs by the state, and they were beating women in front of me and these are sights that I will never forget. When you see a woman being beaten by some guy as the license of the state to do that, and she's bleeding, and she goes back into the fray because she believes so passionately in greater freedom for the country, these are images you just don't forget.

ROBERTS: You know, the image that we have been seeing, some images coming out of Iran and these are fairly recent, the ones that we're looking at here. But it certainly hasn't been the same volume that we saw a number of weeks ago.


ROBERTS: But at the same time, does there appear to be increasing defiance of the supreme leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, and the president, Ahmadinejad, who I guess will be inaugurated next month.

COHEN: Well, I think the anger is such, John, that it's not dissipating. People really believed in this election. They believed Islamic republic. They believe the republic there actually meant something, and this campaign was very vibrant, very open, even vitriolic. And then suddenly, this is what made the whole thing there so surreal, in the night of June 12 to 13, this festival turned into a putsch. And there were security forces everywhere, beating people.

And so I don't think the anger is going to disappear quickly. That said, President Ahmadinejad has a pretty powerful security force behind him and they've been pretty effective in spreading fear which is why we now see fewer people in the streets than before. But that doesn't mean the anger has gone away and there are also greater splits within the revolutionary establishment, religious, political, than there have been at any time since the revolution in 1979.

ROBERTS: You had a recent column recently which you seemed to suggest that some of these reform-minded people like Rafsanjani, Hashemi, Mir Hossein Mousavi are upset that their country is looking like a joke in the eyes of the world. One of the things you wrote in that column was, "What sort of country invites hundreds of journalists to witness an election only to throw them all out? What kind of revolutionary authority invokes ethics and religious democracy as it allows plainclothes thugs to beat women?"

So, part of the resistance to the leadership now, is it because -- you know, here is a country with a rich history. As you pointed out in your column, it's not a third world country, yet it appears so in the eyes of the world.

COHEN: Iranians are very proud people and I think when they see their country being needlessly made a fool of as they see it with President Ahmadinejad, there's an anger there. They're very sophisticated people. Sixty-five percent of Iranians are under 35, John. And they're online. They're connected.

I think one of the major changes and this will be important going forward is that the image of Iran has changed. You say Iran to an American two months ago and probably they've got the image of a bearded mullah, maybe with his finger on a nuclear button. Now you say Iran, and you got the image of Neda Agha Soltan (ph), the young woman whose murder was captured on film, on video that went viral. Now you have YouTube and Madonna dedicating songs to Iran. You wouldn't have had that two months ago.

So I think that changes the framework going forward. And, of course, there are huge problems that the Obama administration confronts with the Iranian nuclear program and how, if at all, to engage with Iran which was, of course, the president's originally objected.

ROBERTS: The story far from over and in some ways, I guess just starting.

Roger Cohen, it's great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

COHEN: Thank you, John.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks.


CHETRY: Well, still ahead, we're learning some stunning new details about an American who pleaded guilty to aiding al Qaeda. Our Nic Robertson has uncovered some exclusive new information. Was this man planning a suicide attack?

It's 18 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. We're learning some stunning new details about an American who pleaded guilty to aiding al Qaeda.

Yesterday, we told you about 26-year-old Bryant Neal Vinas. Well, he allegedly gave terrorist leaders some information about the New York transit system and also admitted being part of an attack on a U.S. military base in Afghanistan. Well, CNN has now learned that he was ready to perform suicide bombing missions or a suicide bombing mission for al Qaeda.

Senior international correspondent Nic Robertson has our exclusive report. He joins us on the phone this morning in Brussels, Belgium. Good morning, Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Kiran. Well, the details that we learned from Vinas in his (INAUDIBLE) that he gave to Belgian investigators because they're investigating a Belgian terror cell that Vinas reportedly met while at al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan. The accounts according to them, Vinas volunteered. He told them to become a suicide bomber for al Qaeda, and al Qaeda's leaders told him that he needed more religious training. So he went away to get that religious training, and then they told him he needed more training. The indications there that al Qaeda had other plans for him to turn him into a suicide bomber.

In Afghanistan, he described to them how he attacked a U.S. military base in Afghanistan firing a rocket from across the border. He told them how he joined up and became a full member of al Qaeda.

So, what this really revealed is the first detailed look inside modern al Qaeda in the past few years. And it reveals new tactics and he was getting sophisticated training, training was being given on breaking and entering, the kidnapping for assassinations, new tactics for al Qaeda.

There were discussions of attacks on mass transit systems in Europe, attacks on football matches inside Europe and soccer matches inside Europe. He also gave detailed accounts to the investigators of many of the people that he met, many of the alleged Belgian terror cells that he met and just today, right now, his information is so vital to Belgium prosecutors that the chief magistrate here has been briefing defense lawyers defending that alleged Belgian terror cell that he met in Pakistan -- Kiran.

CHETRY: So he is giving vital information, as you said, to prosecutors, hopefully giving them an inside look on some of the new tactics of Al Qaeda.

Nic Robertson for us in Brussels, Belgium this morning where that investigation is still under way.

ROBERTS: It's Friday and you know what that means. It's time for the "Wingnut of the Week." Our John Avlon joins us coming up in just a few minutes to tell us who gets the prize this week. So make sure you stay tuned for that.

It's 24 minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. ESPN reporter Erin Andrews is fighting back after someone secretly videotaped her naked in her hotel room.

CHETRY: She and the sports network are promising legal action against the people responsible as well as any organizations that show this video. But this morning, some are questioning it's much more than just one perverted peeping tom.

CNN's Carol Costello is live in Washington with more on this. Good morning, Carol.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, it's time for "Just Sayin'." We want to just know what you think about this story.

It has been fascinating to sit back and take in reaction to what many call a horrific invasion of privacy. But illicit nude pictures taken of ESPN reporter Erin Andrews are more than that. Many women call it sexual assault, even a form of rape. And there are plenty of men who call it that, too. Some of whom blame themselves for what happened. Just saying, who is to blame for what happened to Erin Andrews?


ERIN ANDREWS, ESPN REPORTER: All right, guys, thank you so much.

COSTELLO (voice-over): If you didn't know who Erin Andrews was, you do now. It seems everybody is talking about an uninvited videotaping of the ESPN reporter.

WHOOPI GOLDBERG, CO-HOST, "THE VIEW": Erin Andrews -- she was the reporter that was secretly taped by a peeping tom in her hotel room.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No idea there's a pervert at the door.

GOLDBERG: A nude video ended up on the Internet.

COSTELLO: Andrews's attorney is threatening legal action if anyone continues to post the videos online, but a French Web site persists. Andrews, it seems, has lost control over who has the rights to her body. And while her attorney wants whoever took the pictures to be criminally prosecuted, others say many more are guilty. Just saying, who is to blame?

JESSICA VALENTI, FEMNINISTING.COM: Do you think that we're all complicit in a culture that objectifies women, that is interested in seeing titillating videos of women who don't know they're being filmed?

COSTELLO: And if you think people aren't interested in that kind of thing, Google says searches on Erin Andrews have gone up 5,000 percent in the past five days. The blog site Sports Media Watch isn't surprised. It says for years there's been a national stalking of Andrews online by those who turned her into a body that exists for leering at.

And inadvertent ESPN shot of Andrews' behind that had a million hits on YouTube. And while ESPN calls Andrews one of the premier sports reporters in the business, some charged it stoked the fire, too, by playing up Andrews's looks and some of those she interviewed, well, they didn't help either.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Create them like this.



ANDREWS: All right.

COSTELLO: And then there was this at a college football game. Through it all by many accounts, Andrews dealt good-naturedly with those who objectified her. And some say while Andrews is definitely the victim here, it's time she pushed back.

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, "USA TODAY": Play to the 12-year-old girl and her mom and dad on a couch. Don't play to the frat house. Do everything you can to make sure that those whackos do not interfere in my life.


COSTELLO: A blogger from a site called Deadspin, which linked to the month-old video last week, put it this way: "Was it ever over the line with Coach Bruce Pearl when he hugged her? Was ESPN when they realized that attractive women on the sideline helped ratings? Did I contribute to this awful thing that happened? Did all of us? I don't think so. But if I ran into her on the street today, I'm not sure I could look her in the eye. I'm not sure anybody could."

COSTELLO: We want to know what you think about the story. Who is to blame for what happened to Erin Andrews? Email us at I'd really love to hear your comments on this because it's such a complicated story and, of course, you know, whoever took those pictures, John and Kiran, still out there somewhere.

ROBERTS: Yes. And, you know, kudos to you for not showing anything to do with those pictures in this piece. You know, when you talk about them being spread around the Internet, they are also some of the local newspapers here in New York during the past week. I mean, that's just perpetuating it, too.

CHETRY: Right. And in fact...

COSTELLO: And they were on some television networks, too, right?


COSTELLO: It was just appalling.

CHETRY: The interesting thing also is that ESPN actually banned "New York Post" staffers from appearing on any of their program because of the fact that their paper did run those pictures. So, it continues. And as you said, would like to hear what you think about it. Carol, thanks.


ROBERTS: Just about half past the hour now and checking our top stories.

Police in Jakarta, Indonesia say a third bomb was set to go off before two others that exploded at the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotels last week. The twin blasts killed nine people, including at least two presumed suicide bombers. Authorities say a bomb discovered in an 18th floor room at the Marriott was armed and timed to detonate but malfunctioned.

CHETRY: Well, court documents are revealing Michael Jackson's personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, is now the focus of a manslaughter investigation in Jackson's death. The documents show samples of a weight loss drug, also a muscle relaxant. These are among the items taken from the Dr. Murray's Houston clinic. Murray was with Jackson when he died.

ROBERTS: And actress Angelina Jolie is in Iraq trying to bring attention to the millions of Iraqis displaced by sectarian violence. She spoke exclusively with CNN while visiting a makeshift settlement on the outskirts of Baghdad.


ANGELINA JOLIE, U.N. GOODWILL AMBASSADOR: This region of the world -- the stability of this region is important to all of us. There are still 3 million people displaced innocent families. We have still many young men and women from our country who are fighting every day. There are many men and women from all countries who have lost their lives.

And this is a time to try to make some positive change. And so we have to -- this is -- this is in working in Cambodia and other areas of the world that I have worked in, so often you find that these countries years on have all these little problems because it was this moment that wasn't given enough attention. There was this moment that we didn't have enough support, that they didn't have the right education and -- so -- so this is the moment.


ROBERTS: This is Angelina Jolie's third visit to Iraq, by the way, as the United Nations goodwill ambassador. CHETRY: All right.

And now to politics in our segment, "Wingnuts of the Week." Every Friday, independent analyst John Avlon calls out someone on the right and the left who he says has taken political name calling to the extreme. John is columnist for, also the author of "Independent Nation." And he joins us this morning with the new additions to his ring of dishonor, I guess you could say.

So, let's get right to it. Who did you select as this week's wingnut?

JOHN AVLON, COLUMNIST, THEDAILYBEAST.COM: It's been a busy week on the wingnut front. But this week on the right, I went with Erick Ericsson. He's a Macon, Georgia council member better known for being the managing editor of And this week, I noticed that he called former President Jimmy Carter one of the worst -- history's greatest monster is the quote.

Let's look at his full quote to put it in some context, quote, unquote.

"Does anybody really care, he wrote, that history's greatest monster, the man who laid hands on, endorsed and applauded many of the most heinous regimes of the last part of the 20th century, has left the Southern Baptist Church? And he did so because of, among other things, the role of women in the Church? Carter wants to be free to live as he wants, not as God wants him to."

CHETRY: And so he made his comments after Jimmy Carter, the former president, announced that he was going to have to break his ties and it was very hurtful because he felt that the Southern Baptist convention was not being fair to women.

AVLON: Right. Actually, to make the story even more sort of belated blog, it was nine years ago that Jimmy Carter had left the church, but he had reiterated his departure in an op-ed piece for the "Observer."

CHETRY: So, when it comes to this, how influential is the Redstate blog and also we heard stuff like this from Erick Erickson before.

AVLON: Sure. The Redstate is a very influential conservative blog. I check it out. It's definitely part of the conversation on the right, but this statement went well over the line. This is somebody who has no sense of historic perspective. When you talk about history's greatest monsters, think of Hitler, Stalin, Mao. Pretty sure Jimmy Carter is not in the top ten there.

CHETRY: All right. Let's get to your wingnut on the left this week.

AVLON: Yes, OK. On the left, we have an epic bid of politically incorrect awkward theater from Senator Barbara Boxer. She was holding a hearing this week. Well, let it speak for itself. Let's listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D) CALIFORNIA: John Grant, who is the CEO of 100 Black Men of Atlanta...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Madam Chair, that is condescending to me. I'm the National Black Chamber of Commerce and you're trying to put up some other black group against me.


BOXER: If this gentleman -- if this gentleman were here, he would be proud that he was being quoted...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He should have been invited.

BOXER: Just as he would be proud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is condescending to me.

BOXER: Just so you know, he would be proud that you are here. He's proud, I'm sure, that I'm quoting him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Proud, proud. Oh, that's condescending, and I don't like it, it's racial.


CHETRY: Right. There you go. This exchange quickly circulated on the Internet. A lot of hits on YouTube, as well. What's going on here that you gave her the wingnut on the left?

AVLON: Well, she was proceeding from good intention, but what she revealed is a classic liberal condescension, especially on issues of race. And it has reinforced her reputation as one of the more polarizing figures. Obviously, a great liberal senator from California, but a polarizing figure in the Senate. And this really, for a lot of people, just pulled the veil back on what a condescension when it comes to race. And, boy, did she get called on it.

CHETRY: And this is interesting because the exchange not only hitting a nerve for people, center and right on the political spectrum.

But "Politico" did an article, and it was very interesting about some Democrats being concerned. They said, "For Democratic staffers, the incidents underscored the danger of having an outspoken partisan liberal in charge of making the kind of compromises needed."

And I'm talking about this vital committee that she chairs when it comes to climate change. What is the long-term impact for Senator Boxer?

AVLON: Well, the long-term impact is -- I mean, you know, she -- is that it reinforces a lot of the stereotypes of the left-wing Democratic Party, which is precisely what you don't want when you're trying to move legislation forward in a bipartisan fashion.

And this exchange, I think, symbolizes a lot of her associations with the left. I think it also underscored how much growing we have to do on all sides before we get to that place where people are judged by the content of their character and not the color of their skin.

CHETRY: And this is also interesting. What is the lesson? Is there a common thread in the wingnuts this week?

AVLON: I think the lesson is get a sense of perspective, people. When you're writing about a former president of the United States, he's not one of history's greatest monsters.

And when you're talking to an individual in a committee about energy, don't feel the need to compare them with other members of his race. Racial characteristics and political persuasions, not the same thing.

CHETRY: All right. We've enjoyed all of you, guys, -- all of your comments on this and we also love when people write in.

AVLON: Absolutely.

CHETRY: They give you some ideas for things that they've heard throughout the week that may qualify as the wingnut, right?

AVLON: Have a conversation.

CHETRY: John Avlon, great to see you., if you want to check out more of John and his wingnut selections, and also weigh in on our blog.

ROBERTS: So, mayors arrested, state legislators, rabbis, money laundering, organs for sale, badabing, what's going on? We'll find out, coming up next.

Thirty-seven minutes after the hour.


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

Dirty politics leading to the arrest of more than four dozen people in New Jersey. It includes mayors of three cities, two state legislators, even rabbis. And even for New Jersey, a state with a long history of corruption, the list of charges is staggering, ranging from money laundering to selling organs to, perhaps worst of all, fake Gucci handbags.

My goodness, just everything.

CNN's Deb Feyerick following the story for us.

I mean, this is a crazy story.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Have they no shame, John. ROBERTS: It's just incredible. They've done fake Gucci handbags.

FEYERICK: Fake Gucci handbags. To be honest, nothing is staggering.

ROBERTS: Nothing is sacred anymore.

FEYERICK: Nothing at all.

You know, in one case, it does involve this dependent selling (INAUDIBLE) apparently paying people $10,000, turning around, selling those organs for $160,000, but, I digress.

The feds cast a very wide net. They caught a number of people who allegedly had no problem breaking the law.


FEYERICK (voice-over): It began as an investigation into international money-laundering allegedly by a handful of prominent New Jersey rabbis with ties to Israel. It turned into a far-reaching probe of public corruption in New Jersey as nearly 30 politicians and public officials, Democrats and Republicans, were rounded up in what prosecutors call the largest sweep of its kind.

WEYSAN DUN, FBI SPECIAL AGENT: This case is not about politics. It is certainly not about religion. It is about crime, corruption, it is about arrogance. It is about a shocking betrayal of the public trust.

FEYERICK: The two cases are linked by a single cooperating witness posing as a real estate developer, but, in fact, working for the government says New Jersey's top prosecutor.

RALPH MARRA, JR., ACTING U.S. ATTORNEY: "I don't donate, I invest." The C.W. would say in meetings, in parking lots, at restaurants, luncheonettes, diners, offices, basement boiler rooms and bathrooms. And the politicians willingly put themselves up for sale.

FEYERICK: Prosecutors say public officials including mayors, deputy mayors, councilmen and a New Jersey assemblyman brazenly took envelopes stuffed with thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for political favors.

One of the most damaging statements allegedly made, Hoboken Mayor Peter Cammarrano III, who allegedly took $25,000 in bribes telling the phony developer he would become a priority while, quote, "The people who were against us the whole way, they get ground into powder."

Prosecutor Ed Kahrer has been working the case for ten years.

ED KAHRER, FBI PUBLIC CORRUPTION DIVISION: Corruption is not only pervasive, it has become ingrained in New Jersey's political culture. FEYERICK: New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine criticized the corruption while asking one of his staff to step down after he was investigated but not charged.

GOV. JON CORZINE (D), NEW JERSEY: This morning I asked for the resignation of Commissioner Joe Doria, and he has agreed to resign.


FEYERICK: Now prosecutors say the same cooperating witness paying bribes to the public officials allegedly had earlier infiltrated the international money-laundering operation. The rabbis allegedly getting fees as much as 10 percent to launder tens of millions of dollars to their religious organizations.

ROBERTS: Oh my goodness. Here's a public official. This guy from Hoboken. Allegedly took $25,000 bribe, thrown away his political career for 25 grand.

FEYERICK: Absolutely. And he's only been in office three weeks. There was a run off election. That was the shortest probably mayoral, you know, run in history.

ROBERTS: Just never fails to surprise, does it, the Garden State?

FEYERICK: Never. You got to love Jersey.

ROBERTS: Deb, thanks so much - Kiran.

CHETRY: All right. Well, thanks, I guess.

Here's a quick check of the AM rundown. CNN is on the trail tracking the stimulus. We're finding out where your tax dollars, all of our tax dollars are going and who's getting the help.

Also, President Obama sparked a national debate on race relations when he weighed into and weighed in on what happened in Cambridge saying that police acted stupidly when they arrested Harvard professor Henry Gates. We're going to find out if the president is standing by his words today, and also some more fallout and reaction from what's happened.

And millions of workers are getting a raise today. It's because the federal minimum wage jumped to $7.25. But given the way the economy is right now, does that actually translate into more money. We're going to find out. Christine Romans tracking that for us.

It's 44 minutes past the hour.


ROBERTS: Good morning, New Orleans, where it looks like it's going to be an interesting sort of day, weather-wise. Clear and 79 right now. Later on today, storms and a high of 92.

I was there last weekend, and it was so steamy. Playing tennis in the mid-day heat like a crazy person.

CHETRY: Oh, that sounds fun.


CHETRY: What did you have, a down coat on at the same time?

ROBERTS: A parka. It's the "City of New Orleans," Arlo Guthrie, right?


ROBERTS: Got to give tribute to the guy that actually wrote that, Steve Goodman. He was riding on a train between Illinois and New Orleans, he and his wife were going to see grandma. His wife fell asleep, and he pulled out a pad of paper and just started penning the lyrics there.

CHETRY: That's some inspiration. That's right.

Well, meanwhile, our Rob Marciano is tracking all of this crazy weather for us. We're on par. It will be back-to-back months where we're top ten in terms of cold temperatures here. June and now July.


ROBERTS: All right, Rob. Thanks. We'll check back with you a little bit later on.

Now, 10 minutes to the top of the hour.


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

Investigators may be trying to build a manslaughter case against Michael Jackson's personal doctor, Conrad Murray, who was with Jackson when he died. This morning, we're learning more about what police found when they raided Dr. Murray's Houston office.

CNN's Randi Kaye is following that for us.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, Kiran, there were two search warrants filed in Houston related to Dr. Conrad Murray, Jackson's personal physician. We got these from our affiliate there. One was served on his medical clinic, the other on a storage unit he has in the Houston area. There were homicide detectives and federal drug agents taking part in these searches. The one at the clinic took more than two hours.

Let me give you an idea of some things that they found at the clinic. They seized a Rolodex card with FedEx information which could mean they are trying to track if drugs were FedExed out of the state, what drugs if so, and who they were sent to. Also, they also took personal e-mails, pamphlets from a sleep center in the area, some fax cover sheets and some drugs, including one vial of Phentermine, which is a weight loss drug, and one vial of a Clonazepam, which is used to reduce anxiety and in some cases to sleep.

At Dr. Murray's storage unit, the search warrant says detectives seized among other things, IRS documents, a suspension notice from doctor's hospital, two hard drives, a Texas Department of Public Safety registration for controlled substances and correspondents addressed to the same person the e-mails that they took from the clinic were addressed to.

What all this means in terms of zeroing in on Dr. Murray is still unclear. All we know at this point is that authorities are looking for evidence related to manslaughter and they're looking closely at Dr. Murray. They may interview him a third time as early as next week.

Also, I talked with Dick Gregory, a comedian and a good friend of Michael Jackson's. They did "The Wiz" together decades ago. He was with him during the second child molestation trial and he told me Jackson's parents called him and said Michael wasn't well, can he come and help. Well, a few days before the trial ended, Gregory told me he went back to Neverland with Jackson and Jackson hugged him and said, quote, "Please don't leave me, they're trying to kill me."

Gregory says he asked Jackson when the last time he ate was, because he didn't look well and that Jackson told him, quote, "They're trying to poison me." He says he asked him when the last time was when he drank water and he said Jackson told him again, quote, "They're trying to kill me."

Gregory says Jackson never said who he thought was trying to kill him or why, but his good friend say this really offers insight into Jackson's mental state and how desperate he was, at least at that time, for help.

John, Kiran, back to you.

CHETRY: Randi Kaye for us with the latest on that, and we're going to have much more as well at 8:30 Eastern Time. We're going to be speaking with Jackson's former nurse. You may remember, Cherilyn Lee. She appeared on our show several weeks ago and was the first one to raise the possibility of that highly potent sedative, propofol

Fifty-four minutes past the hour.


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

We have made it a top priority here at CNN to show you where the stimulus money is hitting the streets, where it's being spent, tracking down exactly where it goes and who it's helping.

Our Kate Bolduan with us now and one that she found is surprising.

Good morning to you. Welcome to New York, by the way. KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, thank you. You know the saying -- an ounce of prevention goes quite a long way. Well, sometimes the connection between stimulus money and jobs isn't so clear. And in this case in California, it's based on an idea that helping the homeless can help the economy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right over here in the back.

BOLDUAN (voice over): Uhuru Sawaba, who's 70 years old, has lived here in Fresno tent city for 2 1/2 years.

UHURU SAWABA, FRESNO RESIDENT: And I get tired of sleeping on the ground because they steal my stuff or (INAUDIBLE).

BOLDUAN: Sawaba does odd jobs at a local business, but has battled drug addiction and hasn't been able to get back on his feet.

SAWABA: It's been quite a while.

BOLDUAN: Until now. Sawaba is moving from tent city to temporary housing, courtesy of economic stimulus money from Washington.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has awarded $1.2 billion to Fresno and about 400 other communities across the country for homeless prevention and rapid re-housing.

GREG BARFIELD, FRESNO HOMELESS PREVENTION MANAGER: My phone rings constantly with individuals asking for assistance.

BOLDUAN: Fresno's homeless prevention manager Greg Barfield says while the stimulus money doesn't arrive until October, with unemployment above 15 percent, they can't wait. Knowing more money is on the way lets them spend more now and get more homeless people off the street.

BARFIELD: What we provided is a step up. It's a first step up and from the dirt into a house. And in that, we've wrapped case management and other services around the individual.

BOLDUAN: But is that the point? We took the questions straight to Mercedes Marquez, HUD's assistant secretary for community planning and development.

(on camera): The stimulus is about jobs, jobs, jobs. How does stimulus money going towards homeless prevention create jobs?

MERCEDES MARQUEZ, ASSISTANT SECRETARY, DEPTARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT: When you stabilize someone and when you create a job, it is that money that they put back into the economy that creates further stimulus and it stops the bleeding from continuing.

BOLDUAN (voice-over): The stimulus money can be used for short- term rental assistance and to help pay security deposits, among other things.

SAWABA: It's been so long since I had one of this.

BOLDUAN: And while his job prospects are uncertain, Uhuru Sawaba sees this as the best chance he's had in years.

SAWABA: I thank you all. The only thing I can do now is show the end results -- and I won't fail.


BOLDUAN: But is this an effective use of stimulus money? That's the big question. Sawaba is only getting four months rent and he acknowledges he just doesn't know really what's ahead for him.

The exact cost and payoff of this stimulus money is harder to measure. Fresno City leaders say they're still budgeting, but of the $1 million they have for rapid re-housing, they're targeting 200 people to start. They say it's still early but they had to move ahead because they had to get these people off the streets.

ROBERTS: Yes, it's great to get homeless people off the streets.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

ROBERTS: There's no question about that. But I didn't exactly hear an answer to your question when you asked the deputy secretary how this helps to stimulate the economy.

BOLDUAN: She did say, admittedly, it's a small number of jobs but she says that homeless prevention is one aspect of what HUD's job is. There are projects and infrastructure that they also oversee. They have $13.6 billion that they're overseeing of stimulus dollars. They say this is part of the process and she says simply it's a good thing and we need to do it.


ROBERTS: Sorry. Go ahead.

CHETRY: I just thought it would be interesting to follow him and see where he is. I mean, you know, he's such a heartfelt story. Four years -- four months down the road.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

CHETRY: Was he able to find a job? Was that, as you said, wrapping it around, you know, a case enough with those other services.

BOLDUAN: We are keeping tabs on him. And he's happy about it.

ROBERTS: And you're up here with another stimulus story. We'll see that soon?

BOLDUAN: We are following the money, yes.

ROBERTS: Excellent. Looking forward to seeing that. Kate, so great to see you, thanks.

BOLDUAN: Thank you, guys.