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Three Men Charged Over Terror Plot; Obama Sets New Precedent; Taliban Leader Predicts U.S. Defeat

Aired September 20, 2009 - 08:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: From the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia, this is CNN SUNDAY MORNING for this September 20th. Hello to you all. I'm T.J. Holmes.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. Good morning, everybody. Thanks for joining us. I'm Betty Nguyen.

There's a lot of news developing this morning. It is 8:00 a.m. here in Atlanta, 6:00 a.m. in Denver, Colorado -- where we begin our day. Why? Because the FBI has arrested three in a terror probe right near in the U.S. -- father, son, out of Aurora, Colorado, you're looking at them, Zazis. The son there right in that video that we're seeing. Also, a man in Queens, New York, has been arrested.

HOLMES: And they are arrested in regards to this terrorism probe, but they are not yet facing terrorism charges.

Let's head to our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, who is in Denver with the details for us.

Good morning to you, again, Jeanne. Explain exactly what these men are facing.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, these men are facing charges of lying to the FBI during a terrorism investigation.

Let me tell you who they are. Najibullah Zazi -- he is the 24- year-old limousine driver who's been the center of this investigation. But also taken into custody last night, his father, Mohammed, and also in New York, an acquaintance named Ahmed Afzali. He's an imam in Queens. He runs a Muslim funeral service.

According to the court documents, the elder Zazi and Mr. Afzali lied to the FBI about a series of telephone calls which alerted Najibullah Zazi to the fact that he was under investigation by the FBI. But the charges against Najibullah Zazi are different. They concentrate on a JPEG, which was nine pages of handwritten documents all about explosives, bomb-making. It had to do with putting explosives together, detonating systems, fusing systems.

Apparently, Najibullah told -- according to the court documents -- Najibullah Zazi told authorities that he had not written these, he had not seen this. If these were on his computer, they had got there inadvertently when he downloaded a religious book. However, according to these documents, FBI forensics, on the computer and also handwriting analysis indicated that, in fact, Najibullah Zazi had written these.

So, these three men now in custody, not terrorism charges, but they can be held and questioned as investigators continue to try to develop this case, which now is in the U.S., Pakistan, -- and according to investigators -- other places around the globe.

Back to you.

HOLMES: All right. Jeanne Meserve for us in Denver, we appreciate you this morning, Jeanne.

NGUYEN: Well, this investigation is far from over according to arrest affidavits. Asians are looking into a possible plot to detonate improvised explosive devices or bombs right here in the United States. And we are also hearing more arrests are likely.

CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen joins us now by phone.

And, Peter, you know, we spoke with you a little bit earlier. We have three arrests so far. Not anything related, specifically, to this terrorism plot that is under investigation, but for making false statements. And there are other arrests that are likely.

Does this tell you this is a wide-ranging probe with a lot of players?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST (via telephone): Well, it seems to be. And, you know, we've seen a lot of allegations about terrorist plots in the United States. One thing that makes this plot a little different is that the younger Zazi actually traveled to Pakistan -- and according to court documents -- trained at an al Qaeda training camp. That's a pretty unusual allegation and indicates, you know, more than just simple aspiration, but an attempt to carry out some form of operation, particularly in combination with the nine pages of notes that Jeanne Meserve just talked about.

NGUYEN: How large scale are possible al Qaeda cells in the U.S.? I mean -- and we're not saying that this indeed is one, but there is a connection to Pakistan and there were talks of possibly training at a terrorism training camp there. How big are these cells? Indeed, are they in the U.S.?

BERGEN: Well, you know, compared to countries like England, I think the problem is much smaller. In England, we've seen, you know, any number of terrorism cases leading back to al Qaeda. Some cases where plots were actually carried out -- for instance, the July 7th, 2005 terrorist attack on the London transportation system that was the biggest terrorist attack in British history and also the attempt -- you may remember, Betty -- to bring down seven Canadian-American airliners in 2006 with liquid explosives.

Now, if those plots were traceable to al Qaeda, the situation in the United States is a little different. American Muslims tend to be better integrated than their European counterparts, higher incomes, higher levels of education and less amenable to the al Qaeda ideology.

But we have seen a lots here of cases that are sort of disturbing -- whether it's the cases of sort of Somalis from Minnesota traveling to Somalia and hooking up with an al Qaeda-link group there, or this case, or another case in Long Island where the allegation is that somebody from Long Island trained in Pakistani training camp in the tribal regions where al Qaeda was located in 2008.

NGUYEN: Peter, let me ask you this. We're hearing from officials today, and I'm going to quote right here, "that they have no specific regarding the timing, location, or target of any planned attack." And we're also learning that there could be other arrests in this case. But that being the situation right now -- is there some fear or worry that if, indeed, this plot is under way, it could be carried out before all these arrests could be made and officials could thwart it?

BERGEN: I sort of doubt it. It seems that the FBI is all over this case. And it seems that while there may have been, you know, the intent to do this, it doesn't seem to be anything like the assembly or explosives or something that would indicate that, you know, the plot is really imminent.

NGUYEN: All right. Peter Bergen joining us by phone this morning -- as always, Peter, we appreciate your insight. We'll be chatting with you a little bit later this morning.

BERGEN: Thank you.

HOLMES: And President Obama -- just a few hours away from setting a new precedent when it comes to presidents and appearances on television. But this, some say, comes with a bit of a risk.

NGUYEN: Yes. If you haven't heard what he has to say about health care lately, well, you'll have plenty of opportunities this morning. The president is going on five -- yes, count them five -- Sunday morning talk shows. And one of his stops -- with our very own John King, who is the host of CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION." He joins us live.

And I imagine one of the main topics -- as we all know -- had to have been health care.

JOHN KING, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": We did spend some time -- Betty and T.J., good morning to both of you -- we spent some time on health care, we spent some time on the economy, we spent some time on Afghanistan and the many global challenges facing the president of the United States.

It was fast ending conversation. We ran almost 20 minutes long. We did it at the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

So, he was in pretty good spirits. But you could tell how much he's wrestling with these decisions on health care, this decision he will make soon about sending more troops possibly into Afghanistan. We also spent some time, guys, though, on the issue that has been generating such emotional debate here in the United States. When you see a congressman scream "You lie!" at the president during his big speech, when you see some of these protests around the country and see signs with swastikas or Afro-socialism and stuff, some have said, including former President Carter, that there's some racism motivating opposition to this president's policies.

And that's one of the questions I put to the president.


KING: In recent weeks, people have raised some pretty serious questions. The big rally in town, signs talk about Afro-socialism, swastikas with your name and your picture on them, "You lie!" shouted at you during a nationally-televised addressed. And former President Carter says he sees racism in some of this. Do you?

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, as I've said in the past, you know, are there people out there who don't like me because of race? I'm sure there are. That's not the overriding issue here. I think there are people who are anti-government.

I think that there are -- there's been a long-standing debate in this country that is usually that much more fierce during times of transition, or when presidents are trying to bring about big changes. I mean, the things that were said about FDR are pretty similar to the things that were said about me. That he was a communist, he was a socialist. Things that were said about Ronald Reagan when he was trying to reverse some of the New Deal programs, you know, were pretty vicious as well.


KING: So, you can sense from the president there, yes, he sees some racism -- but he's trying to be very careful here, trying to say he thinks most of it is just a broader anxiety, some opposition to his policies, some economic anxiety in the country. It's interesting conversation. He is very confident -- you will hear him -- when he comes to the health care debate. We go through some of the specifics there.

And it's also very clear, Betty and T.J., that he wants to slow down, if you will, the big debate about how soon he should make that decision about more troops in Afghanistan. The president understands the gravity of that one. And you'll get a sense when you hear the full interview -- he wants to take some time on that one.

HOLEMS: And, John, for the sake of our viewers, some of this stuff is inside baseball to us, because we deal with this in our business. But help the viewers understand how this process worked.

With the president doing all these interviews, back to back to back, he taped them on Friday, the White House had restrictions on what you could even say, what you could talk about, how much you could release until this Sunday -- help the viewers understand why the White House used this process, why they picked the certain networks -- they left FOX out of this thing -- just try to give them a little insight into why and how this whole process worked to get them on all of these shows this Sunday.

KING: It's a great question -- because when we agreed to these things, you know, we should clearly explain them to our viewers.

The White House initiated this. They decided, as a political strategy, they wanted the president to have a full sweep, if you will, of Sunday news shows. They did leave FOX out of this. It's for the White House to decide how it wants to answer that question. It's obviously had some disagreements with some of the personalities on FOX.

It did choose Univision, which is a significant move, appealing not only, you know, to the traditional media, the English-speaking news media, but to the Latino and Spanish-speaking media there as well.

How was it arranged? The president was in the Roosevelt Room, you saw out there. It's one of my favorite rooms over at the White House. We went back to back to back to back, about a five to 10- minute break between each interview, as the president went through all of the Sunday shows.

And then, what the White House said is that we could release one piece of sound -- and you just heard the one piece we at CNN chose to release, and that everything else was embargoed until 9:00 a.m., until the start of "STATE OF THE UNION" on Sunday morning -- the White House wanting to do that so that it would be new and fresh for Sunday morning. The president essentially trying to take up most of the oxygen of the Sunday news shows, because he knows he's having some trouble in the health care debate. He knows there are profound questions about the mission in Afghanistan and he wanted to essentially dominate the news cycle on this day.

And so, they insisted that if we did the interviews on Friday afternoon, we could only release a little bit of sound. The rest, 9:00 a.m., just a few minutes away here on Sunday morning.

NGUYEN: Yes, and we are looking forward to it, a 20-minute interview, and watching it in its entirety. Before we let you go, John, what else is coming up on the show?

KING: We're also going to have just out of the president, we're going to have the top Republican in Congress, Mitchell McConnell, because we will hear the president's perspective and we think it's only fair that we then get some Republican perspective. We will do that with the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell.

And we're also going to have James Carville and Mary Matalin. You see them together only on "STATE OF THE UNION." We'll get their first impressions in our 9:00 hour and they'll be act at 11:00 when they go through extensively -- not only the president's interview with us here, but we'll look at all the others too and pick out any interesting nuggets that appear on those other shows. NGUYEN: Fantastic. Looking forward to it. See you, John, at the top of the hour.

And just a reminder for our viewers, President Obama does appear in less than an hour on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King. Look for that just after our show at 9:00 a.m. Eastern.

HOLMES: A killer is on the loose in Washington State -- a legally insane killer. Police say Phillip Paul -- there he is -- he is escaped Thursday during a mental hospital field trip to a county fair. Police say he took a backpack of clothes to the fair with him on this trip. That suggested that maybe he was planning this escape.

And the state is now reviewing hospital policy that allows patients to take these types of trips. Paul was committed to this mental hospital after killing a community activist in 1987. He said he believed that community activist was a witch.

NGUYEN: Well, this is such a shocking story for so many people. I mean, these were people that were, you know, committed to a mental hospital, who knew they took field trips to the county fair?

HOLMES: It sounds just unfathomable for us, but it's something they obviously do on a regular basis. And to think that he -- who knows who else was in the group? You know, he's a confessed killer, but 33 of these inmates were being watched by 11, I believe, employees at a county fair. It just seems...

NGUYEN: And then the local authorities even said, even the county fair officials, that we weren't even made aware that they were going to be there. So, extra security precautions could have been made. It's a fascinating story and he is still on the loose. We'll continue to follow that for you.

Also this -- there is much-needed relief in parts of the South. If you live here, you know. In some spots, it has been raining every single day for a week and we're going to show you where flood risks are very high at the moment.

HOLMES: Also this morning, when it comes to presidential appearances, some saying that you can go a little overboard. We're going to be breaking down the way the White House is using the media to spread its message, and certainly, they are trying to spread it today with the president making his big five appearances -- count them, five -- on the Sunday morning talk shows starting at 9:00 Eastern Time. Stay with us.


HOLMES: All right. We've been talking about this rain. Karen Maginnis is sitting in for our Reynolds Wolf.

My goodness, Karen.

NGUYEN: Could it just stop already?

HOLMES: This is a lot.

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, it really is. This is not a radar image. This is from the National Weather Service. One- day rainfall amounts spread across the southeast -- very impressive amounts, especially across Alabama and into Mississippi as well. You see right along the border here with South Carolina and Georgia, some of these areas have seen just yesterday between three and five inches of rainfall, and an additional two to four likely.

An area of low pressure was stuck back here. It is moving this direction, but not with a great alacrity. It's very slow.

Well, what's going to happen in the forecast? This is where we have our flash flood watches as well as flood warnings out across Alabama and into Georgia -- again, generally speaking, two to four inches, some places will see a little bit less.

But here's the problem, the ground is absolutely saturated. So, some of these river basins are looking at a little flooding right now, but definitely, some of those low-lying neighborhoods. Yesterday, one of the neighborhoods just to the northeast of Atlanta, they had a problem as far as a sinkhole was concerned. Because it was private property, it's going to be the homeowners that have to take care of that.

An area of low pressure on the move, but it's just not going to do it very swiftly. So, showers and thunderstorms are now pushing up into the Ohio River Valley.

Here's a big deal going on across the northwest. Cooler temperatures now in places like Billings and Bozeman, Kalispell, Great Falls. Temperatures that had been in the 90s, record-setting highs, it's a lot cooler going into this afternoon, and also into Monday -- 50s and 60s.

But right around the Bay Area, this is where we're looking at the potential for lots of 90s. I need to show you this real quickly. We're expecting 90s for today.

So, T.J. and Betty, that fire danger goes up very, very quickly. Back to you.

NGUYEN: Yes, that's not what they need there, Karen.


NGUYEN: All right. Thank you for that.

HOLMES: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Well, there is much more ahead, including the update on our top story. That being three men charged in an alleged terror plot, but they've been arrested on making false statements. We'll give you those details.

HOLMES: Also this morning, was there actually a plot to conceal the gender of South Africa's biggest track star? New e-mails say team leaders knew more than they've admitted.


HOLMES: President Obama is making his United Nations debut this week.

NGUYEN: Yes, he's spending the bulk of his week in New York, in fact, focused on global and economic issues.

And CNN deputy political director Paul Steinhauser fills us in on the president's schedule.


PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Betty and T.J., call it a big road trip this week for the president.

Mr. Obama is expected to speak out on the economy on Monday in a stop in Troy, New York. That's during the afternoon. And later, he heads down to New York City where Mr. Obama joins David Letterman on late-night TV. The president is supposed to be Letterman's only guest Monday night.

The next day, Mr. Obama gathers with other world leaders at the United Nations. This is his first visit to the U.N. as president. During his three days there, Mr. Obama will deliver his first speech to the United Nations General Assembly. He also goes one-on-one with the Chinese and Russian presidents, and meets the Japanese prime minister for the first time.

Thursday, the president heads off to Pittsburgh where he hosts the G-20 summit. That's a gathering of leaders from the world's top 20 economies.

Now, back here in Washington, the battle over health care continues. All eyes are going to be on the Senate Finance Committee, the last congressional panel with a shot at a bipartisan agreement on health care reform. The real work begins now on a bill introduced last week by the committee's chairman, Max Baucus.

Betty, T.J.?


NGUYEN: All right.

HOLMES: Thanks to our Paul Steinhauser there.

Well, that terror plot we've been talking about this morning -- a terror plot suspect, his father, and his acquaintance, all are being arrested. Those details in our top story are just ahead.

NGUYEN: Also, one country is reminded of the high cost of fighting terror. We'll have the latest on their sacrifice and on a new message from the Taliban.


HOLMES: Some of our top stories to pass along to you.

First, a breaking story still. Three arrests made by the FBI in connection with a terrorism probe, although the three men arrested are not yet facing terrorism charges. They're actually charged with making false statements to the FBI. You're seeing video of one of the men being arrested. It was a father and son arrested just outside of Denver, in Aurora, Colorado; another man in Queens, New York, also arrested in connection with this case. All three of these men expected to be in court on Monday.

We'll continue to follow this story, and bring you those breaking developments and possibly more charges and more arrests in the case. That information as we get it.

Also, a ceremony to tell you about in Rome. Here it is. Italian service members are holding the flag-draped caskets. Six Italian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan on Thursday. Italy's president touching each casket.

Our Nic Robertson was there for this ceremony. He told us -- among the relatives, dignitaries and friends, there was a baby, the child of one of the paratroopers who was killed. He was wearing his father's maroon beret.

NGUYEN: Well, a defiant online message today attributed to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. And he predicts the defeat of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

We want to take you live now to our Atia Abawi in the Afghan capital of Kabul.

So, what else did he predict in this message?

ATIA ABAWI, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Betty, Mullah Omar directing this to various people, including the West and Afghans themselves. He's telling U.S. and foreign troops to get out of Afghanistan, that they will not be victorious in the country, as history has proven with other superpowers.

He's also directing the message to the western audience, telling them that President Obama calling the Afghan war a "war of necessity" is not true. He says that, in fact, it's a ploy by the western nations to spread colonialism and Christianity in a Muslim nation.

Then he goes after the Afghan people, trying to reassure them that once the foreigners do leave, that he has a plan for the country -- for infrastructure, for an educational system -- and he says that his main goal is for independence in Afghanistan and a strict Islamic law.

And he says, quote, "That he will consider any option that can lead to the achievement of this goal."

And what is interesting here is that we've heard from western diplomats in the past stating that they're willing to sit down and negotiate with certain Taliban elements. President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan actually stating that he would sit down with Mullah Omar to bring some sort of peace to the Afghan people. This is the first time we're hearing from Mullah Omar to say that he is willing to negotiate. Just to see how he can get back to Afghanistan, to have a sort of Taliban rule again.

But what we have to remember is that this is not the same Taliban from 10 years ago, the Taliban that ruled Afghanistan under one government. We have different Taliban groups now. And for the most part, a lot of Taliban militants, Taliban groups will listen to Mullah Omar, but there are still many who will not -- Betty?

NGUYEN: Very interesting though that he is offering to negotiate. We'll see how that goes down, if, indeed, it does.

Atia Abawi joining us live from Kabul today -- thank you.

HOLMES: Muslims around the world celebrating the end of Ramadan today after a month of fasting and prayer. It's also a time when Muslims remember the less fortunate. Over the past month, the president and several government agencies have participated in events that helped to observe Ramadan. The celebrations will continue for another three days.

NGUYEN: Well, up next, does the White House run the risk of Obama overload?

HOLMES: Yes. We're digging deeper into the way he's getting his health reform message out to the public.


HOLMES: Hello, again, everybody. And welcome back to the CNN SUNDAY MORNING. I'm T.J. Holmes.

NGUYEN: Good morning, everybody. I'm Betty Nguyen.

All right, let's get right to it, it is a high-stakes week for the president. On Wednesday, he faces world leaders as he gives a speech at the U.N.

HOLMES: Yes, but this morning, it's all about getting his message out to anyone who is standing within 100 feet of a television.

NGUYEN: An eye's shot of a TV.

HOLMES: Yes. The president will be on five Sunday morning talk shows, including our -- with John King, "STATE OF THE UNION," coming up in about 30 minutes. What's he going to be talking about? You can guess, it's going to be health care.

NGUYEN: Yes, something he's already talked quite a bit about and some Americans still don't seem to have a handle on what he's proposing, exactly.

CNN senior White House correspondent Ed Henry is standing by in Washington.

Ed, there's been some new developments in the debate. The Baucus plan, of course, is one. Do the president's renewed efforts have anything to do with that, per se?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. It's all about trying to get some momentum going here. You'll remember that over the last two, three months, most of the focus here in Washington has been, ok, the House is going to move forward on a bill.

Other senate committee's going to move forward on a bill, but it's really all about the Senate Finance Committee. Because that was the most likely place chaired by Max Baucus, as you see there, where you could find a bipartisan plan, where you might find some middle ground.

And instead, what we've seen this week, when Max Baucus finally unveiled this plan, which does not include a public option, much to disagreeing of liberal Democrats, that there's not a lot of enthusiasm on the Democratic side for this bill. And despite all the promise about maybe bringing over some Republicans, most of the Republicans are looking at this and saying, "We're unlikely to sign on."

They're still hopeful they'll get a moderate Republican like Olympia Snowe and there's going to be a lot of committee action this week where Republicans and Democrats hope to add amendments to sort of improve the bill. But at this point, there's not a lot of enthusiasm, not a lot of momentum for this legislation.

So part of what the president's trying today with this historic blitz is to try to get that momentum going, Betty.

HOLMES: But -- and Ed, what momentum are we talking about? Because people wonder, what bill is he selling? There are five out there now. This one, the Baucus Bill is supposed to be the big bipartisan when everybody could get by, it seems like there's just as much of a split on this one as there has been to the others. So what exactly is he going to be pushing, what bill?

HENRY: It's good question. He's trying to push the Obama plan in close that he laid out in that speech at the joint session of Congress over a week ago, but in fact, part of what I was talking about, with the lack of enthusiasm for the Baucus Bill includes the White House.

They put out a statement this week, saying this was a good step forward, et cetera. But they're not cheering for this bill, because they see and they've taken the temperature, obviously, on Capitol Hill. This doesn't have a lot of momentum.

So that's been part of the problem on this debate. There's all these different bills out there. None of them have really sort of stuck, have gotten momentum, or force behind them. And the president never laid his own actual legislative bill on the table. Instead, he has a plan. He's got principles, sort of broad principles. But it's hard to see where he's going to finally punch through with these interviews.

NGUYEN: Now, you're talking about momentum and punching through. We're seeing the president on five networks today, also, the First Lady getting involved in the debate. What's her role?

HENRY: She gave a speech on Friday at the White House. Tried to focus in on how health reform can affect women, can affect families. She's been out there previously talking about healthy living. And that is an important part of this debate as well.

We've heard from Democrats and Republicans that people have to make their own choices in their eating, their diet, et cetera, to try to lower health care costs long-term. And so now, you've got not just the President but the First Lady out there as part of this media blitz.

It's sort of reminds me one time I was at a dinner here in Washington and I think I heard Ted Coppell make a joke about Sam Donaldson, that if they had not created TV, Sam Donaldson would have gone door to door to sell his live shots. It's almost like the president, if this doesn't work today, he's going to go door to door next week.

NGUYEN: I kind of doubt that. But it's an interesting idea.

HENRY: It's always a thought.

NGUYEN: And if he does, you heard it first right here on CNN, right?

HENRY: Right.

NGUYEN: Attribute it to the Ed Henry influence. Thank you, Ed.

HENRY: Thank you.

NGUYEN: All right, so he is all over the television today. How is that going to play out, or is it just overexposure? That's some of the questions being asked.

HOLMES: Yes and let's bring in somebody who studies this stuff, media critic and CNN contributor, Howard Kurtz. Howard, it's so good to have you with us on this particular topic. We keep hearing this word, overexposure, but the White House sees it differently.

Is it really possible, that as much as this president has been making speeches, all the news coverage...

NGUYEN: Town hall.

HOLMES: ...Town hall, the Joint Session of Congress that Americans still don't know what he's talking about on health care and he thinks it's necessary to do this today?

HOWARD KURTZ, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, obviously, the White House officials, they tell me, for example, that they just believe in jamming the circuits, getting him out, the salesman-in-chief on as many venues as possible, not just the five Sunday shows today, but David Letterman tomorrow.

But I think this president is well on the road toward overexposure, to the point that it doesn't seem to be an event when he does "60 Minutes" for the third time last week or when he does Letterman, because he's already done Leno. And at some point I think, you reach the point of diminishing returns and the White House may be risking that outcome.

NGUYEN: And you're talking about risk. Talking to the three broadcast networks, also CNN and then Univision, but nowhere in there is Fox News. Calculated move or dumb move?

KURTZ: Well, I think it was a misstep on the White House's point. Now, obviously, there are a number of commentators, Glenn Beck and others on Fox News who smack the president around day after day, so there's no love lost there.

But on the other hand, Fox News has an audience that the White House could reach had Fox been included in this Sunday rotation. But I don't think the president needed to do five Sunday shows. He could have just come on "STATE OF THE UNION," for example, and he would have been on the front page of all the papers tomorrow.

But here is the other risk for the president, T.J. and Betty, he wants to talk about health care. Secondarily, he wants to talk about Afghanistan. Four of the networks released clips on Friday. These interviews took place at the White House on Friday...

NGUYEN: Yes, and what do they deal with, Howie?

KURTZ: They all dealt with race.

NGUYEN: Race, absolutely.

KURTZ: The very subject that Barack Obama does not want to be talking about right now. But of course, when you expose yourself to these interviews, you've got to answer whatever questions the hosts throw at you. And they all want to talk about this question of, are some of the president's critics motivated by racism.

HOLMES: Howie -- a couple things here. One on that point, do we lead that -- does that lead us to believe, since it's all about race, that maybe there's nothing new we're going to hear from the president that's going to make news on health care?

And also, it's one thing to get overexposed to the general public and then maybe they get tired of seeing Obama, but does he run a risk also with the media? We can be kind of a fickle bunch here. And they keep giving rules and restrictions and here he is again.

And we've got to keep chasing him around, you've got to cover the president, but always being built up as another event that we have to cover and we have to do. Does he run a risk of quite frankly upsetting some of the media? KURTZ: Well, it's an awkward position, frankly, for journalists. Because while a number of people, including me, have done or are doing these overexposure stories, they're all sending in their request to the White House, oh, please have the president come on my show, please have him come to my newspaper.

So I don't think he has to worry -- look, we usually complain about not having sufficient access to a president.


KURTZ: Not a problem here.

As far as the general public, you know, if he doesn't have a good sound bite or headline. If he's just kind of restating the case that he made in the speech to Congress, in the fourth prime-time news conference of his young presidency, I think some people might turn the channel or maybe just go outside and not watch TV this morning.

HOLMES: And you speak of turning the channel, we have a graphic here that shows how much people have been watching at some of the events he has done, I guess just since February, some of the speeches he made, it shows in millions how many people have been watching.

NGUYEN: There it is.

HOLMES: Some would say it's a -- I mean, he started with some pretty big numbers with some of those speeches and maybe it's been diminishing a little bit like you speak of there, Howie, but -- but again, the audience this morning, you can't miss the president.

But, again, if he doesn't have anything new to say, it's one thing to see him so much, but again like we're saying, if there's no new message, is that what's just going to make it be a yawner for some folks?

KURTZ: This is a president who talks a lot about the 24-hour news cycle and all the chatter here. I think the coverage of health care is frustrating to him because he's had a hard time getting his message out.

But he also -- there is a bit of the Constitutional law professor in Barack Obama. And he tends to speak in detailed paragraphs about this plan, which I sort of admire. But it doesn't always produce the headline...


KURTZ: ...the thing where you say, hey, did you see what the president said? And that's what he needs right now, is a way to drive home a very simple message on a very complicated topic, health care. Whether he gets it on ABC, CNN, CBS and all the appearances he's making. I'll have to wait and watch those interviews.

NGUYEN: Yes, that's a big question considering there are a lot of places for people to watch him today; five different networks. We'll see if it makes a difference.

Howard Kurtz, as always, we do appreciate your analysis.

KURTZ: Thank you.

NGUYEN: Thank you.

HOLMES: All right, and we're 20 minutes away from seeing the president, "STATE OF THE UNION," the interview with our John King coming your way. And again, 20 minutes just at the top of the hour.

Meanwhile, three men investigated for an alleged terror plot. They have been arrested.

NGUYEN: Yes, been arrested. And we'll tell you why police are holding them when we update our top stories.


HOLMES: Updating you now on one of our breaking stories this morning: three arrests have been made in a terror probe. The three men: a father and son who live in Aurora, Colorado, outside of Denver and another man, their acquaintance in Queens, New York, all under arrest.

Not arrested and charged with any terrorism charges but they are now facing issues of lying to the FBI. However, they could be facing some more charges a little later; also, the Justice Department saying more arrests are possible. All three men are expected to be in court tomorrow.

Also, a story that just has a lot of people shaking their heads this morning: police in Washington still hunting for that man, Phillip Paul. He's a legally insane killer who has escaped from a mental institution during a field trip to a county fair. The trip was organized by his mental hospital.

This man and several others who are also at that mental hospital got to go to a county fair. Paul's escape raises questions about security and public safety during these so-called supervised field trips. The department of Health and Services there in the state is now investigating that policy.

And just a gruesome discovery here: a mother and her five children found dead in their home in Naples, Florida. Police are now searching for that woman's husband. There he is. He's also the father of those five children. He's identified as 33-year-old Mesac Damas.

Police say he may be driving a black GMC Yukon Denali, with Florida license plate, M360PR. The police are calling him a person of interest. The ages of the children are 10, 6, 4, 2 You're asked to call authorities at the number you see there if you have any information about his whereabouts.

A horrible story there. One more to tell you about here; another top story to tell: South Africa's top athletics official -- you're seeing there -- is facing charges and calls to step down after he admitted to lying about gender tests on the track star Caster Semenya. That's according to the AP. Now, up until now, that official had said no tests were done on the runner in South Africa before she dominated at a race in Berlin.

Of course, the controversy came after that, after she blew away the competition. There were debates about whether or not she is actually a man or a woman. This man said, the athletic official, said he did it to protect her privacy.

NGUYEN: Want to get you back to our breaking news story. The alleged terror plot out of New York and Colorado. Agents are looking into a possible plot to detonate improvised explosive devices or bombs right here in the U.S. We're also hearing that more arrests are likely.

Let's get the latest on this now from CNN national security analyst, Peter Bergen, who joins us now from Washington.

Peter, one of the guys at the center of this, one of the three arrested is Najibullah Zazi. And he is originally from Afghanistan. And something that you point out as we spoke with you a little bit earlier today that that is a little odd, when we look at these kind of probes, especially from folks who have their origination in Afghanistan. Why is that odd?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: well, you would expect after almost eight years of war in Afghanistan that the Afghan- American community, there might be more people who would want to sort of protest the American involvement in their home country. And in fact, we haven't seen anything like that. So this is really the first case.

Afghans, generally speaking, have not been involved in any shape or form with al Qaeda, as this young man is alleged to have been. And we haven't seen Afghan-Americans being -- having any allegation of terrorism attached to their names since the 9/11 attack. So that makes this a little unusual.

NGUYEN: We've heard from the FBI, that this is the real deal when it comes to a terrorism plot. At the same time, there have been lots of interviews with Zazi. And the question is when was it going to be when he was arrested?

Well, he was finally arrested last night, but not for any specific connection to that plot, only for making false statements. Does that worry you at all as you're looking into a probe right here that could deal with detonations across the U.S.

BERGEN: Lying to the feds is a fairly serious allegation in and of itself. Martha Stewart obviously made that mistake and this may be just a preliminary charge. Certainly, a material support for a terrorist organization is possible with the younger Zazi who's alleged to have gone to an al Qaeda training camp. That is even more serious charge and you could easily imagine that that would be brought forward as the case develops.

NGUYEN: But how important is time right now? Is it of the essence when you're looking at a terrorism plot and the possibility that more arrests could be made? Is this something that's more aspirational than operational?

NGUYEN: Well, we've seen a lot of aspirational plots. I think this one's a little bit more operational, because you have an overt act which is going to an al Qaeda training camp. Some of the places we've seen in places like Miami or Detroit or New York have really been more about people talking about potential terrorist plots, not really doing anything very concrete to operationalize them.

But if you go to a training camp, if you have diagrams of explosives in your computer, as is alleged, that is something more serious. But I don't think there's some plot that's just about to explode somewhere in the United States, as we speak. I think the FBI seems to have taken very aggressive measures already to prevent that.

NGUYEN: All right. Peter Bergen joining us live, as always. We do appreciate your analysis and your insight into this. Thank you.

BERGEN: Thank you, Betty.

HOLMES: Up next, we'll be talking about tracking the terror investigation online.

NGUYEN: Absolutely. Our Josh Levs has much more on that. Hey, Josh.

JOSH LEVS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there to you guys. You can read the affidavits involved in these cases and see some pretty interesting details, including, apparently, some phone calls in which people think that they might be monitored. We're going to trace you through that and show you exactly where you can read it all, coming up.


NGUYEN: Well, we have been covering the latest developments for you in the arrest overnight of three men as part of a terror probe. Federal authorities have charged them with making false statements and the affidavits are online.

Our Josh Levs joins us now. What do they show you, Josh?

LEVS: Betty, it's interesting the details the federal authorities have put into these affidavits and we'll show you right now. We have a lot of video and information, all the latest details at We encourage you to check it out.

Also, I'll tell you in a minute where to find this. This is the link where the federal government has posted its affidavits involving all three of these men. And each is accused of the same thing.

This is what I want you see, "Did knowingly and willingly make a materially false, fictitious and fraudulent statement and representation in a matter involving international and domestic terrorism. That's what they're accused of. We have a lot to learn about what did transpire here.

But what you see as you read through this are some interesting details, including some alleged phone calls. One line -- I point you here -- "Listen, our phone call is being monitored;" some suggestions that some people might have known that they were being monitored. There's a lot in all these affidavits and we encourage you to take a look at that.

We are also here following the details from our affiliates, especially in Denver, where as you know two of these arrests took place. We can zoom back in here.

We have two major affiliates there providing us a lot of great stuff today, KDVR -- we have a lot of photos and questions which I think is a sense exploring this story -- and also our KMGH following this as well. We're seeing a lot of images come through; a lot of the details as well.

Let me show everyone where you can read these affidavits. Let's go to that screen. We have posted links for you on this graphic, -- that's our NEWSROOM blog, Facebook and Twitter. In both cases I'm at/Joshlevscnn. We've posted the links to all of these and the links to our affiliates and the links to the main CNN story.

This is the kind of story -- and Betty and T.J. you guys know this too -- this kind of story moves quickly. And all the latest details will continue to show up there and we will continue to follow any new information the government puts online for us right here.

NGUYEN: All right. We'll be watching.

Thank you, Josh.

LEVS: Thanks a lot.

NGUYEN: And we'll be right back.


NGUYEN: All right. Breaking news this morning: the FBI has made three arrests in a terror probe right here on U.S. soil. Father, son in Aurora, Colorado; also a man in Queens, New York, under arrest, all for making false statements.

HOLMES: That's the charge right now. More charges could come. All expected to be in court on Monday.

Homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve has been following this story for us from Denver. Again, the part we're trying to understand, there may be some more charges could come. Because right now, not necessarily terror charges that they're facing.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: That's right. But this allows the authorities to hold them, question them as the investigation continues. The three men in custody, Najibullah Zazi, he's the man here in Denver, his father in Denver, also arrested and in New York, an acquaintance of them, Akmad Afzali (ph). All are charged with lying to the FBI during a terror investigation.

In Najibullah Zazi's case, it has to do with a jpeg on his computer which included ten pages of handwritten notes detailing how to build a bomb. According to court documents, he told the FBI he didn't write them, he didn't put them there. But according to the document, FBI forensics indicate that he did write them and did put them there.

Also in these documents, we learned that Najibullah Zazi has admitted to authorities that he attended an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan where he got weapons and explosives training, this despite the fact that Zazi and his attorney said just yesterday that they had made no such admission to authorities.

As for the father and for the acquaintance in New York, they allegedly lied to authorities about a series of telephone calls in which they alerted Najibullah Zazi to the fact that he was under investigation. No specifics of any alleged plot are laid out in these documents and a justice department official says he still does not have the details on the targeting, the timing, or the location of any attacks. But this investigation, certainly still continuing here and around the world.

Back to you.

HOLMES: Jeanne Meserve for us, we do appreciate you this morning.

NGUYEN: And at the top of the hour, we have John King with "STATE OF THE UNION." In fact today, he sits down with President Obama, talking a number of things, including health care and race.

Take a listen.

HOLMES: Well, you're going to hear it here in a second, anyway. You're just minutes away from hearing it actually. The president's interview part of a series, I guess you can call them the series now, but Obama-palooza as some have coined it.

The president sitting on five network interviews, all going to be released; the country can hear them starting in just a couple of minutes. Had to be embargoed; they recorded these things, taped them on Friday.

Said they couldn't talk about them even, only could release a little snippet, but they all are going to be released at 9:00 a.m., just a couple of minutes from now.

NGUYEN: And we'll be watching for that.

In the meantime, listen to this story. This one's going to really get you. A legally insane killer on the loose in Washington State: police say Philip Paul escaped during a mental hospital field trip. Who knew they took field trips, and especially to the county fair?

Investigators have been searching for him since Thursday. The state is now investigating the hospital policy that allows patients to take these trips.

And President Obama hoping to play peacemaker: he meets Tuesday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That three-way meeting set to take place in New York while all three are in the city for a United Nations general assembly meeting.

Well, religious conservatives, they are right now wrapping up their annual Values Voter Summit in Washington. A vote taken at the event shows former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee is a favorite to be president in 2012. It also shows that the group's top issues are these -- abortion, religious liberties, same-sex marriage, and tax cuts.

Tina Fey, Jim Parsons and the cast of "Mad Men," among others who are hoping for an Emmy win tonight. Actor Neil Patrick Harris hosts the awards ceremony in Los Angeles. And producers say this year promises to be more entertaining than last year, which was one of the least-watched Emmys in history. So let's hope that it is more entertaining and more people are watching it.

And hopefully you'll stick around and watch "STATE OF THE UNION" with John King at the top of the hour. As we mentioned, he sits down with president Obama to talk a number of issues, including health care. It's a 20-minute interview. You don't want to miss it.

Right now, let's go to John King and "STATE OF THE UNION."