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CNN NEWSROOM

Let the Health Care Debate Begin; Three Mile Island Radiation Leak; Walking Out of Sit-Ins; Patrick Kennedy vs. Bishop; Michael Scott's Death Raises Questions

Aired November 22, 2009 - 19:00   ET

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


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Anyway, thank you for joining us tonight. I'm Don Lemon at the CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta.

The next hour of the CNN NEWSROOM starts right now. This is the top of the hour.

So we're going to begin this with health care. U.S. Senators are heading home for the Thanksgiving holiday, but they have an enormous task waiting for them when they return.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. CHRIS DODD (D), CONNECTICUT: On this vote, the ayes are 60, the nays are 39; three fifths of the senators duly having chosen, sworn and having vote in the affirmative. The motion is agreed to.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: Well, guess what, last night along strictly party lines, the senate agreed to open debate on a health care reform bill; 60 votes neutralizes the threat of a GOP filibuster, but those 60 votes only agreed to debate the issue. Passage of a final bill is far from certain in this.

And one of those 60 votes is now getting a lot of scrutiny right now. Senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana was a last-minute holdout who finally agreed to open debate. But language added to the bill calls for up to $300 million in Medicaid payments to her state, hard-hit by hurricane Katrina.

Landrieu went to the floor of the senate yesterday to deny her vote was being bought.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. MARY LANDRIEU (D), LOUISIANA: It is the number one request of my governor who is a Republican and it is unanimously supported by every member of our delegation Democrat and Republican. I'm proud to have asked for it. I'm proud to have fought for it and I will continue to. That is not the reason I am moving to debate...

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So now time for the fallout. Earlier today on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION" a fellow Democrat said that the perception of a quid pro quo is not pretty here but sometimes it's necessary to get anything done in Congress.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D), OHIO: Nobody likes these kinds of -- any kinds of deals. I think anything that's done needs to be in the best interests of those states and this country. I think those probably helped.

If that in fact really happened I have no way of really knowing if it did. I suppose that helped a lot of people in Louisiana that don't have insurance.

And so I think we move forward; and we do what we need to do within ethical bounds. We do what we need to do within practical bounds.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: All right, so Dana Milbank is of the "Washington Post." He has been taking a closer look at this bill, and what it meant, or means, for Louisiana, and he joins us tonight from Washington. Good to see you, Dan.

I heard the senator talking yesterday about this and she asked on the floor for extra time and she said, "Let me get this one point across about this. Our state is still poor. We're still recovering from hurricanes Katrina and Rita. This was the biggest natural disaster that the country has seen."

So what does this mean here?

DANA MILBANK, "WASHINGTON POST": Well, I don't think anybody is saying that Louisiana doesn't deserve this or this was a bad policy, but as that clip you played from Sherrod Brown makes clear it's the perception that there was some sort of a quid pro quo going on, the sort of a selling of a vote, not for the senators own sort of a self- financial interest but for her state.

It looked a bit unseemly there and a lot of people had fun you know, calling it the "Louisiana Purchase". In fact, this one Mary Landrieu came out and said, "Hey, it wasn't just $100 million as the critics were claiming. I got $300 million for my state," which actually makes it 20 times what's Thomas Jefferson paid for Louisiana in the first place.

So she subjected herself to a great deal of ridicule for this and it's really just one of many things that we're going to see, because the...

LEMON: Let me ask you this.

MILBANK: ... margins are so tight.

LEMON: Dana before we move on but is it -- is there a right or wrong here? Some people say that's how it works in Washington. It she can get that in to help the people in her state then good for her. MILBANK: She's certainly not going to pay for it at home in Louisiana. As she noted, the governor wanted it, Republicans wanted it. It's only good for her in her state. The question is, is that a good way to make policy.

LEMON: It's a matter of perception.

MILBANK: Well, exactly. You can't have 60 Democrats all saying I need this project for my district, it's just -- the whole process becomes un-wieldy.

LEMON: So this bill took two pages to spell out so what could have been said, I mean, in one sentence here, were Democrats trying to hide this concession to Louisiana? Were they trying to hide it? I man, she was out in the open about it on the floor.

MILBANK: I don't think they were particularly hiding it. She pretty much put it out there in the public view and hers one of many others we had Blanche Lincoln from Arkansas. She was boasting that, as a condition for having her vote they have to have this 72-hour waiting period.

LEMON: Hey Dana, do you think it'll see the light of day? This provision?

MILBANK: Well -- I suspect it probably will in one form or another. The problem is you're now going to have everybody and their uncles saying, hey wait second. My state needs this...

LEMON: Yes.

MILBANK: ... that and the other thing.

LEMON: Let me put this in. Dana Milbank, "Washington Post". Thank you sir we appreciate it.

MILBANK: My pleasure.

LEMON: I want to bring in our deputy political director now, Paul Steinhauser. Hello, Paul.

PAUL STEINHAUSER, CNN DEPUTY POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Hi, how are you?

LEMON: Let's talk about this public option. We were talking about the bill last night. We've got the Mary Landrieu thing out of the way.

But this public option, some of this -- some key Democrats say they will not go along with the public option if it shows up in the final bill; two of the holdouts, Lincoln and Landrieu that we're just talking about.

STEINHAUSER: Yes and add Ben Nelson of Nebraska another moderate Democrat who was a holdout until Friday and add Joe Lieberman as well, the independent senator from Connecticut who votes normally with the Democrats and is one of those 60 votes.

All four of them has said that if this public option, which we know is a government plan that would compete with private insurance, if it is in the final bill when they get there and have a final vote on it, they will vote against it.

LEMON: Yes.

STEINHAUSER: So this is a road block.

LEMON: And just how razor-wired (ph) this was, because both independents have voted for this. Had it not been for the independence and you know, it would have been a different -- different vote and a different outcome.

STEINHAUSER: Very much so. And the other independent, Saunders from Vermont, has said just the opposite. He said if there is no public option and there are a few other liberal senators now on the Democratic side who are saying are this. If there is no public option they will vote against the bill as well.

So one way or another, this could be a stumbling point for the Democrats.

LEMON: Ok, so debate between now and Christmas. And it's not a lot of time between now and Christmas. So if you have your crystal ball, can you tell us when we might see a final bill here?

STEINHAUSER: You know originally the president has said, he wanted something on his desk by Christmas. That is very unlikely. Maybe the full senate will vote by Christmas but then you have to take a Senate bill, a House bill, try to put them together, then votes on that bill in both chambers.

I guess they're trying to push it back now and try to get something to the president by the State of the Union address which is in late January. We'll see if we get there -- Don.

LEMON: All right, thank you, deputy political director, Paul Steinhauser. I appreciate it.

And we're learning of another radiation leak to tell you about at Three Mile Island, the site of the most significant commercial nuclear accident in U.S. history.

Here's what Exelon, the operator of that Pennsylvania Nuclear plant -- here's what they're telling us right now.

Around 4:00 yesterday afternoon a radiation leak was detected inside a containment building for the unit one reactor. The area was shut down for routine maintenance, re-fuelling and upgrades when the leak was detected. 150 to 175 workers were sent home. Around 20 reportedly were treated for exposure and officials are assuring the community there that there was no threat to the public.

Meantime, they are still investigating. Steve Letavic -- Letavic is the town manager of Londonderry, Pennsylvania -- Londonderry Township -- I should say in Pennsylvania, thank you so much for joining us. I hope I said your last name correctly.

STEVE LETAVIC, TOWN MANAGER: Well, the last name is Letavic.

LEMON: Letavic -- Letavic, thank you sir.

First your reaction to the reassurances from Exelon, are you ok about that?

LETAVIC: Yes, we have a very positive working relationship with Three Mile Island. And we have a very open communications. In fact, we were notified, the public officials and emergency management coordinators were notified within minutes of the occurrence. So we are very -- we have a very strong feeling that the Three Mile Island is handling this very capably and doing so under the direction of the NRC.

LEMON: When did you hear about this and how long after the actual alarm?

LETAVIC: We were actually notified within minutes. When the alarm went off and when TMI was sure what was going on, it was very shortly thereafter that they contacted the public officials and the emergency management coordinators.

LEMON: So as a town manager, then do you -- how, then, do you notify the people in your area? Do you?

LETAVIC: Well, the Emergency Management Coordinators do. That's what would happen.

LEMON: Ok.

LETAVIC: So what happens is we get notification from Three Mile Island that there is an issue or an unusual event, they notify the Emergency Management Coordinators. And at that time if it is deemed to be a substantial threat, then the Emergency Management Coordinators...

LEMON: So we're hearing that some people in the town though, are wondering why they weren't notified about it? And that's really their concern. They believe that ok, if Exelon is saying everything is ok, the Nuclear Regulatory Agency saying everything is ok, why did it take so long for us to be notified? We just like to know, just in case.

LETAVIC: Well I think, look, clearly, there was an onus on us and on Emergency Management Coordinators to respond. But I think we also we have to be sure that they are responding with pertinent accurate information. So the delay in response was only so that they could make sure exactly what had happened and if there was a threat to the community before they responded.

LEMON: All right, Steve Letavic, thank you so much, he's town manager there in Londonderry Township, Pennsylvania. We appreciate it.

LETAVIC: Thank you.

LEMON: All right.

Earlier I spoke with Diane Screnchi of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and asked her about the timeliness of the accident report yesterday at Three Mile Island. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DIANE SCRENCHI, SPOKESWOMAN, NRC: We were notified within several hours of the incident happening yesterday afternoon. That it began when the containment radiation alarms sounded. The company's done a number of things since then. All of the workers were -- evacuated from the...

LEMON: What Diane, what I'm asking you is, had you been notified a little bit earlier, even if the company believes that it didn't -- they weren't in jeopardy? People weren't in jeopardy of being exposed to high levels of this stuff?

SCRENCHI: Right. We believe that the -- when the incident happened, it was -- it was over very shortly. Our technical experts were there and we agree with that assessment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: I want to give you a little background now as to why any sort of leak at Three Mile Island gives many people reason to pause. On March 28, 1979 a cooling malfunction in the Unit Two reactor led to a partial meltdown of the core. Some radioactive gases were released, but not enough to cause injuries to either employees or those living nearby.

But America's nuclear energy industry would never be the same after that. The accident prompted sweeping changes in nuclear plant design, operation and oversight. And by the way, the Unit Two reactor at Three Mile Island still shut down and mothballed to this very day.

Tuition shock in California; students sit in, in protest, they plan to raise tuition because of a state mandated budget cut. Well, we'll talk with two of the students who were there. There they are right there. They're going to join us live.

And Congressman Patrick Kennedy banned from taking communion. Well tell you why about that as well.

And we want you're feedback, I'm checking it now; on Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, iReport.com. If you had my e-mail, e-mail me. I'm not giving it out though.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: An escalating fight over higher learning in Mississippi for students at the state's historically black colleges. Governor Haley Barbour has laid out a plan to merge Jackson State, Akron State and Mississippi Valley State Universities; a controversial move in a state carrying baggage from its civil rights past in a decade's long battle over under-funding at those schools.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No merger! No closure! But adequate funding now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Mr. Governor, will you sell the soul of a state for your personal power when it deals with an economical versus an ethical debate?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Same time I know a lot of people be losing the tradition of their schools and most of our school's tradition is the history between our rivalries with the other schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: So under Barbour's plan, no campuses would close but they would all merge into Jackson State. The governor says restructuring could save the state $35 million.

LEMON: Go to the University of California Web site and it says, "The campuses open their doors to all who work hard and dream big". But it turns out dreaming big will cost you. Tuition will cost over $10,000 for a year after a 32 percent price hike. Keep in mind, this is for public schools.

Public schools and student protesters are up in arms. Campuses across the state are staging protests, marches, sit-ins. At UC Santa Cruz, they took over the main administrative building for 4 days, finally giving up their posts just this morning.

Well, the board of regents says they blame California's budget hole but the students say they can't shoulder that burden any longer. It's too much money.

So we have Victor Sanchez, he's the president of the UC Student Association. Raise your hand so viewers know who you are. There he is, on right of your screen. And Evan Williams, a grad student at UC Santa Cruz, and a protester -- see, already did it without me telling you. Both of them joining us tonight from Mountain View.

A lot of anger out there; A lot of action over the last few days here. So listen, you guys left the office -- the protesters left the office, that were you doing the sit-in, in. Why did you do that?

EVAN WILLIAMS, GRAD STUDENT, UC SANTA CRUZ: The protesters left the administrative building because the situation had escalated and because of the sort of mass support of faculty members, of workers, of other students who understand that this was a rational protest. This came out of real widespread discontent about what was happening.

The administration gave the chance for students to leave basically, to leave out the back door of the building without being arrested or without being detained by police. People understood that this was victory of moving towards a non-violent solution of something that had already gotten quite confrontational and threatening to a number of those standing there in solidarity.

LEMON: So Evan, Mr. Williams, let me ask you, if the school has put a freeze on negotiations, then what do you do you now? Do you have any recourse?

WILLIAMS: We continue from here. I mean, the bargaining power in this is not bargaining as to say an organization but as a number of people, as a real emerging collective voice. We're looking at a different kind of democracy here. We're looking at something that's emerging out of individual students who maybe don't know it before but who have gathered together around something like this, around a real issue that's going to make education unaffordable and start to exercise a collective voice of real power in this situation.

LEMON: You understand, though, Mr. Sanchez, you understand that -- I mean, California is really suffering right now, as are many other states and California hit really hard. There are budget crises going on in the country. You understand the school and the board of regents' side a little bit, I'm sure?

VICTOR SANCHEZ, PRESIDENT, UC STUDENT ASSOCIATION: Oh, yes. We definitely do, but at the same token it needs to be a collective responsibility. I mean, it's a kind of jointness of mismanagement on behalf of the University of California, but also a lack of priorities for the state of California.

You know human capital is going to be the next big crisis that we've seen. And right now the future of this state and quite frankly the nation as well is going to be at stake right here.

We need -- there's a need to search for alternative forms of revenue. There's a need to seek out those hard sought solutions.

We've been doing it as students for years but there's just -- there's a continued discontent with the administration and them not willing to come on board with us.

LEMON: Well, let me ask you this, then, and you talked about it a little bit, to look at other revenue stream, and what have you, other cutbacks. What's a compromise? In any negotiating, any bargaining there has to be compromise on usually both parts. Where do you compromise here?

SANCHEZ: Well, you know, I think it's tough. You know, for us, it's really about just kind of making sure that we move forward in a collaborative way. You know, we don't really want to look at it as compromising. We can't take 32 percent as a compromise. I mean, that's an extra almost $3,000 that our students have to fork over that a lot of them really cannot afford to do.

LEMON: Victor, let me ask you, are you going to stay in school? Are you going to drop out since you said you can't afford it? SANCHEZ: You know, I'll be graduating, so I'll be having to pay the midyear fee increase but it will be increasingly difficult. My parents had to take out a second mortgage on the home; the home that they worked hard to kind of achieve and obtain and now that's really on the line. For me to finish what is supposed to be a public education...

LEMON: That's a sign of the times. What about you Evan?

WILLIAMS: I'm a graduate student here, so as a teaching assistant, I'm watching a lot of people struggle through this. My concern is not just with the fee increase but this is one more step of naturalizing a crisis. We've been told that these are cuts that have to happen. These are hikes that have to happen. These are layoffs that have to happen.

We refuse this. We know there are other possibilities which require real structural change, we're willing to work forward to that and stop being hold that we can't participate in this. I think that's what students are angry about.

LEMON: Evan Williams and Victor Sanchez, you definitely got a lot of people's attention around the country this week.

Thank so much and best of luck to you ok.

SANCHEZ: Thank you.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

LEMON: An escalating crisis of fate for a Rhode Island Congressman Patrick Kennedy, he is barred from taking communion by the Catholic Bishop of Providence because he supports abortion rights. That's quite a dilemma for the son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, a devout Catholic and a champion for health care reform.

For months Congressman Kennedy has been criticizing bishops for opposing reform unless there are tighter restrictions on abortion. But Bishop Thomas Tobin actually asked Kennedy to stop taking communion back in 2007, a secret until the Congressman opened up to the "Providence Journal" this weekend.

The bishop's been quick to answer his statement that he released. And here's what it says:

"On February 21st, 2007, I wrote to Congressman Kennedy stating, 'In light of the Church's clear teaching, and your consistent actions, I believe it is inappropriate for you to be receiving Holy Communion and I now ask respectfully that you refrain from doing so.'"

He continued: "I am disappointed that the Congressman would make public my pastoral and confidential request of nearly years that sought to provide solely for his spiritual well-being."

So why make this public now? Whatever happened to turning the other cheek? Well, I put the question to senior Vatican analyst John Allen last hour. And here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN ALLEN, CNN SENIOR VATICAN ANALYST: I think that is the $64,000 question, and in many ways we don't know, because the Congressman has declined further comment on the story. But if you want to look at this through a political lens, there seems to me two pretty good reasons for him unveiling this at this moment. I think it's all about the health care debate and it accomplishes two things.

One, it's a reminder that the bishops don't necessarily speak for every Catholic in America, in terms of their position on the health care reform process. On the other is that it manages to cast the bishops in this case Bishop Tobin in a fairly negative light, because, of course, we're a culture that prizes tolerance and anything that makes the bishops look somehow intolerant doesn't add up to good PR.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: That was John Allen, Vatican analyst here.

We're going to talk about a mystery in Chicago. Why did the president of the school board take his own life, or did he? I went to Chicago to find out some answers here.

If a child refuses to take a shower, do you call the cops? Next thing you know, there's a taser involved in this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Well, this is a case that sent shock waves through the country; A little girl, sexually assaulted and murdered. Her own mother accused of selling her for sex. A funeral was held today for 5-year-old Shaniya Davis in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

She was reported missing on November 10th from the trailer park home that she shared with her mother. After days of searching, police found her body dumped near a rural road. The suspect, Mario McNeill, is charged with first degree murder and rape. According to a search warrant he allegedly took Shaniya to a hotel, the last place that she was seen alive.

Boy.

In Chicago today, a public memorial service was held just a short time ago for school board president Michael Scott. Scott, who was 60 years old died, last week in an apparent suicide. Hundreds turned out yesterday to pay respects at his funeral. Among those attending was Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who used to be the CEO of Chicago public schools.

Well, even though the medical examiner has ruled Scott's death a suicide, many people in Chicago have serious doubts about that. Scott was caught up in a federal probe about admissions to the city's coveted charter schools and I went to Chicago last week and discovered there was much, much more. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON (voice-over): On the banks of the Chicago River, life ended for one of the city's elite. But the mystery of Michael Scott's death is just beginning.

DR. NANCY JONES, COOK COUNTY MEDICAL EXAMINER: The gun was held directly against the head and actually pressed against the head which is something that we see in suicide.

LEMON: Many here, including Alderman Sharon Dixon don't buy it.

SHARON DIXON, ALDERWOMAN, 24TH WARD: That doesn't sound like Michael and I don't believe for one moment that Michael took his life.

LEMON: And police.

SUPT. JODY WEIS, CHICAGO POLICE: We know what the ME ruled but there's still a lot of questions that exist out there.

LEMON (on camera): Do you think it's something fishy, something underhanded, something sinister?

DIXON: I don't know. The details have been sketchy. As a matter of fact there have been very little details given to the public.

LEMON (voice-over): Scott was both school board president and a longtime player in Chicago's politics. His body was found early Monday morning, partially submerged in these murky waters underneath a deserted railroad bridge. One gunshot to his left temple; a .380 caliber handgun, a smear of blood and his car nearby.

Cook County board president Todd Stroger was his friend.

TODD STROGER, COOK COUNTY BOARD PRESIDENT: Michael was part of the fabric of our city and our county. He was -- even he was not an elected official, he really was affecting the lives of everyone who comes in this region.

LEMON: Why would a close and longtime confidant of the mayor take his own life?

(on camera): Was there anything bothering him that you saw over the last couple days or months?

MAYOR RICHARD DALEY, CHICAGO: No. I just saw him last week and the week before, and, you know, he's just such a person that he was always upbeat all the time. I mean you couldn't -- any time you saw Michael you knew he was trying to help other people. That's the way -- he tried to help everyone else.

LEMON (voice-over): Lately, Michael Scott did have some troubles. The "Chicago Tribune" obtained a subpoena from federal investigators ordering Scott to appear before a grand jury investigating possible misconduct in placing students into the city's highly competitive Magnet Program.

Scott denied any wrongdoing. Mayor Daley believed him.

(on camera): Nothing with the schools?

DALEY: Nothing at all.

LEMON (voice-over): The beating death of high school honor student Derrion Albert was another problem. Last week attorney Chris Cooper filed a lawsuit naming Scott and Chicago public schools for failing to protect students like Albert.

On the very morning Scott's body was found, Scott was due to see Cooper in court.

CHRISTOPHER COOPER, ATTORNEY: I believe that in his role as the school board chief, it doesn't matter what was happening in his life and other realms. He had a responsibility to these children. These children need an education.

LEMON: And then there are these lots, about two dozen or so, right in the shadow of a possible 2016 Olympic venue. If Chicago had won that Olympic bid, this neighborhood and Scott would have done well.

Because Scott had bought land here and was trying to secure more. He was also on the committee bidding for the games. That had raised questions of a conflict of interest. A conflict Scott denied. And no one knows whether any of these issues were worrying him.

DIXON: What we had in common was that he wanted to enhance the community.

LEMON: A community still questioning the death of one of their own.

HAROLD DAVIS, COMMUNITY ACTIVIST: We believe that somebody hit him in the head. We believe that somebody put his finger around the trigger and pulled it for him.

LEMON (on camera): Murder?

DAVIS: Yes, sir. That's what we believe.

LEMON: An emotional hunch, but no evidence, as many struggle to make sense of this mystery.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And during Saturday's eulogy, Mayor Richard Daley called Scott, quote, "my best friend."

She was accused of cutting the line at Walmart; now she's doing some cutting with the legal system, copping a plea. But allegations of racism aren't going away. And why did three decorated Army sergeants murder three Iraqis at a Baghdad canal? Did the Army's own rules may play a role? CNN's Special Investigations Unit checks it out.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: This is a - wow. This story - check it out. All right. Was it OK for a police officer to shoot a 10-year-old girl with a stun gun because she wouldn't take a shower? The FBI is now trying to answer that question. It happened last week in Ozark, Arkansas. The girl's mother called the cops and said her daughter refused to take a shower and was getting violent. Well, the officer was suspended for a week with pay for not having a video camera attached to his stun gun.

Four days in jail rather than a possible 15 years in prison. That's part of the sentence for the woman involved in a Wal-Mart scuffle that led to allegations of racism, and CNN's David Mattingly caught up with her outside of Missouri in a courthouse after the matter was settled.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An 11-hour plea deal helped Heather Ellis avoid serious jail time and a permanent felony record. But the attention generated by allegations of racial bias surrounding the case means Kennett, Missouri may have a more long-term problem.

MORLEY SWINGLE, PROSECUTOR: Kennett is a town where it's just like anywhere else in the United States. This is not a racist environment. As I said in closing argument -

MATTINGLY (on camera): There were clearly people around this crowd, supporters of her that do not believe that.

SWINGLE: Well I think a lot of the people are not residents of this area. They came from other parts of the country hoping to find racism that wasn't here.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Nearly three years after Heather Ellis was accused of cutting in line at the local Wal-Mart, caught on tape, shoving away another customer's items, questions remain over why the moment escalated into such a high-profile arrest. Ellis pleads guilty to resisting arrest and disturbing the peace, charges of assaulting two police officers were dropped.

HEATHER ELLIS, DEFENDANT: I was responsible for my action, and I was able to say what I did wrong, and I think that it's important that everybody else step up to the plate and admit their wrong, too.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Ellis testified she was taunted by one police officer who told her, go back to the ghetto. It was the only racially charged moment of the three-day trial. But witnesses from the scene, customers, police, employees, described Ellis as the one who was offensive. So all the people who testified that you were cursing, that you were abusive, that were you threatening, they were not telling the truth?

ELLIS: They were not telling the truth. When cross-examined they were coming up with things they were not in their reports. There were even than they wrote freshly, when the event happened three years ago. They've all been schooled on what to say.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But in closing arguments, the prosecutor told the jury is was Ellis who was telling a lie. A lie that dug her deeply into a hole when the case attracted so much attention. The plea deal punishment includes probation, four days in county jail and anger management classes.

David Mattingly, CNN, Kennett, Missouri.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Major Nidal Hasan will stay where he is for now, in a hospital room in San Antonio. We'll tell you how that decision came about.

And she's earning rave reviews for a heartbreaking role, but she couldn't be further from her on-screen alter ego. We're going to introduce you to the woman who brought "Precious" to life.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: The accused Ft. Hood killer stay in a military hospital in San Antonio for now and he'll stay in custody until he's court- martialed. A magistrate made that ruling yesterday in Army Major Nidal Hasan's hospital room. He is charged with 13 counts of pre- meditated murder. It is not clear yet where Hasan might be moved once doctors release him. He's paralyzed from the waist down.

A CNN Special Investigation, "Killings at the Canal: The Army Tapes," it airs tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN. It's an extraordinary story about the murders of four Iraqi detainees by three decorated Army sergeants at a canal in Baghdad. The revealing one- hour documentary will examine the reasons behind the murders and the role of the Army's own rules for handling detainees.

It's already prompting thousands of comments on cnn.com from around the world. And our special investigations unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau joins us here with a little preview of what we're going to see tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

ABBI BOUDREAU, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, Don, during this investigation, we obtained 23 and a half hours of Army interrogation tapes which including a murder confession from one of the sergeants, you'll hear why the soldiers shot and killed the four Iraqi detainees.

All three sergeants were convicted of premeditated murder and are in prison right now. In our documentary, you'll also hear why their wives think their husbands have been punished enough.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

My first sergeant comes up to me, and asks if I had a problem, would take care of him. I told him, no.

BOUDREAU (on camera): And what do you think he meant by that?

To kill him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You shot - just say you shot him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is going to be ugly. Cause it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You wouldn't have so much question in your mind right now if you didn't know what happened.

BOUDREAU: Did you ever think that your husband was capable of killing like this?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I said, honey I'm going to tell you something and I understand if you don't forgive me, but I'm not a good person.

BOUDREAU: Why didn't you report it right away?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Fear.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I were Sergeant Cunningham I'd be worried that having broken the band of brothers, something might happen to me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I did the right thing.

BOUDREAU: These men were convicted of pre-meditated murder.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.

BOUDREAU: But you still call them heroes?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Of course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to say I didn't hit them because I'm (INAUDIBLE).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You're saying you witnessed people taking those detainees out -

(INAUDIBLE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't consider myself a murderer. I made a huge mistake in my life but I know I have to accept the consequences for it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think a lot of soldiers were betrayed. The wrong thing was done for someone's ego.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not a good person, because I murdered someone.

BOUDREAU: This was premeditated murder. You thought you could keep this a secret?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Uh-huh.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: And all three of the sergeants right there at Ft. Leavenworth. And you spoke with all of their wives, and how did the wives react to what happened?

BOUDREAU: They're all reacting so differently. We have one wife who just basically put her entire life on hold, because she says she just is waiting for her husband. She doesn't really know what else to do. We have another wife who refuses to let herself cry, because she has to be strong for her husband. She has to be strong for her 19- year-old son who's fighting in Afghanistan right now.

And then you have the other wife who is basically can't help but cry, because she has three young children. And she's having such a hard time just making it. She's legally blind. Her husband did everything for her and she needs them home. These wives want their husbands home, of course, it's going to be a long road ahead.

LEMON: The more you talk about it, the more I want to see it. You know, you kind of - it tugs. We're saying it was murder and what have you, but you're in those circumstances. Unless you're there, you don't understand what's going on. Not that's an excuse. But I mean, on both sides here.

Listen, we saw a little bit, Abbie, of the army interrogation tapes. Tell us a little bit more about what we're going to see tonight in this?

BOUDREAU: Well, you can expect to see and hear a lot more from the tapes. Hear a lot more from the soldiers. These tapes are interesting because you haven't seen tape like this before. This is the first time people are seeing these kinds of tapes and it's emotional to watch, because these soldiers, you're watching them as they're being questioned by interrogators.

And they have such a strong bond within this unit. So it's very difficult for them to talk to the interrogators and tell them, you know, what really happened at the canal that day and to reveal the truth. But ultimately the truth does come out.

LEMON: Let me ask you this. There are some stories. You know, we do this all the time. But there are some stories that just tug at your heart, or just affect you, and you know, in a certain way. Is this one of those for you? It may not have been.

BOUDREAU: Absolutely. And we've been working or this story for so long now. For six months. You know, this is one of those stories that is not black or white. This is a challenging story to report. Especially from hearing from so many people that are out there who are letting us know what their opinions are on this one.

I mean, this is a hard story to report. We find it to be so incredibly important considering our circumstances in our country right now.

LEMON: Thank you. Thank you, Abbie. And you know, people who lost their lives on the battlefield and then you have young lives now, they're in prison. So, boy, it's a tough one. Thank you, Abbie. I want to tell you, that Abbie's Special Investigations runs tonight. "Killings at the Canal: The Army Tapes." It airs in just about 15 minutes here on CNN. You want to stay tuned for that. I will be watching it.

You know, the "Twilight " saga take as big bite out of the box office. The new vampire flick, "New Moon" smashes records and lures moviegoers. We'll tell you just how much it made this weekend, hold on to your wallets. And Jacqui Jeras keeping an eye on weather for the holiday travel. Hey, your mom said hi.

JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: She did. She said hi right back at you. Hey, a lot of people going see their mom or grandma or dad, right? Over the rivers and through the woods, as they say. Your travel forecast. You don't want to miss it. We got some trouble spots already. It's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: Jacqui Jeras, time now to hone in on what's important, and that's spending time with family and loved ones. Right?

JERAS: Yes.

LEMON: So a lot of us going home next week or people will be visiting. So what can we expect?

JERAS: Well, you know, the good news is, right now there's not a major storm system that's going to be impacting your travel, but there are going to be a series of storms that will be traveling west to east across the United States, which are going to cause some delays. Now, the worst of the weather from today happened real early this morning. In fact in the overnight. We just got fresh video coming in.

I want to start sharing some of the video with you from the Pacific northwest. This is from our affiliate KGW, out of Portland. This is just up i-5 in Longview, Washington where winds were gusting beyond hurricane strength, believe it or not. Causing power outages, knocking down trees, thousands of people still without power at this hour. An incredible storm. This is the second in a series of three storms making their way on to the coast. Just a heads up to get ready for that next storm, which is going to be arriving late Wednesday and into Thursday.

There you can see the rain and the snow still coming down onshore flow. One to two and half feet total by the time all of these stops. But the good news is it is going to stop shortly and starting to taper off eve be as we speak. Now our other weather nuisance system is here into the southeast, and we've been seeing occasional rain showers from Georgia through the Carolinas up into parts of Virginia. We've also had some heavy rains here into central Florida, including you in Tampa and some sprinkles into Orlando.

Now if you've been traveling today already, and a lot of you have, just some minor delays here. 35 minutes for you. If you're trying to arrive in Atlanta. Now by the roadways, we've had multiple problems and we wanted to highlight Chicago at this hour. We'll zoom in and show you a real-time traffic. Whenever you see the red dots, that's the bad news for you and you can see i-90, 94. We've got some big slow-downs and then we also have some slow-downs here along Lake Shore Drive leading up towards Soldier field. Of course, that's because the Bears are getting ready for kickoff shortly.

Tomorrow's forecast showing that you we'll see some occasional rain showers here in Minneapolis so a little bit of a slow down there. And our storm in the southeast starts to make its way a little further up to the north. So you folks in D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, as well as into New York City could have some delays or some slick streets and we'll fast forward to Wednesday, Don, of course, that is the big travel day.

The big money maker if we could fast forward that one for me and I'll show that you we'll have a new system that makes its way here into the plains. Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, going to be seeing some snow.

LEMON: It's very important stuff. Very important stuff. So listen, I'm getting hungry by the second, thinking about going home. I know we have to run but are you going to see your parents? Or are they going to see you?

JERAS: I am. Well, my mom and sister still live here. So we're all getting together. And I want to know what people are doing on their Thanksgiving, by the way.

LEMON: That's right.

JERAS: And whether or not weather is going to be impacting you. How is it impacting you this week? So your assignment is to send me a picture, tell me your story.

LEMON: I-report, right?

JERAS: Travel adventures. Yes. Send it to i-report.com. Or you can Facebook me or twitter me. And we're going to put these on next weekend and don't forget to include your number one item you have to have on the Thanksgiving table. And I know yours is turkey.

LEMON: We're killing our producers. I don't have anywhere else to go. We're out of time. Sorry. We like hanging out though. You like "Twilight," the movie, I'm sure, right? I'm going to give a story here. The new "Twilight" movie, Jacqui, a bona fide blockbuster. "New Moon" is the latest installment in the "Twilight" saga. It clips a one-day domestic box office record. It earned nearly $73 million in its first day on the screens across America. Even Friday's midnight screening took in more than $26 million. The previous record holder was a Batman film, "The Dark Knight." And its first three days in the theaters, "New Moon" raked in nearly $141 million, making at the third best opening weekend for a new release. We had that one.

Oprah signs off from her talk show in September of 2011. And her fans are already mourning the impending gap in their afternoon or morning schedules. But for the windy city, the end of the Oprah show is a real blow. She attracts legions of people to Chicago and a lot of money.

But the media mogul has plenty of projects to keep her busy. Her new cable network, own, and of course, her role as a movie producer. She co-produced "Precious," that's the name of the movie. The movie already getting plenty of Oscar buzz. And our Jason Carroll caught up with the breakout star in the movie.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

"PRECIOUS": My name is Clarice Precious Jones. I want to be on the cover of a magazine. I wish I had a light skinned boyfriend.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It has been called provocative and disturbing and has received an R rating.

"PRECIOUS": Don't nobody want you. Don't nobody need you.

CARROLL: "Precious" has already won awards. Oscar buzz surrounding Monique, who plays the abusive mother. Mariah Carey, the social worker, and newcomer Gabby Sidibe.

GABBY SIDIBE, "PRECIOUS": It certainly is a huge surprise.

CARROLL: It certainly is considering what Sidibe was doing just a few years ago.

SIDIBE: I was just a receptionist, a college student. I went to one audition and it turned into this.

CARROLL: Over coffee, we talked with Sidibe about the movie's graphic subject matter and the audition that almost wasn't.

SIDIBE: A friend of mine called me and told me about the audition. I didn't really want to go because I had class the very same day at the very same time.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can we talk about the abuse?

CARROLL: Based on the novel "Push," director Lee Daniels tells the story of Precious, an illiterate 16-year-old living in Harlem who was sexually and physically abused.

"PRECIOUS": Nobody loves me.

SIDIBE: I've known this girl in so many different people in my life. I've known her and friends and family and in people I didn't want to know.

CARROLL: Sidibe hopes the film will help real life Preciouses.

SIDIBE: People carry these secrets because they think that they're alone. I think the film shows that you're not alone.

CARROLL (on camera): But some black scholars who say, you know, I'm not quite sure this is the image of the African-American family that should be being put out there. What do you think?

SIDIBE: I think that it's, it certainly is an image. Does it speak for all of the black community? No.

CARROLL: Despite those critics, just walking down the street -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I have a picture with you?

SIDIBE: Sure.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excellent movie.

SIDIBE: Thank you.

CARROLL (voice-over): You'll see Sidibe has many fans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to see the movie.

CARROLL (on camera): How old are you?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like eighth grade.

CARROLL: Eighth grade, 13. Do you think you're old enough to see a movie like that?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My mom really wants to go see it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We talked about it but I don't know the content of the movie itself.

CARROLL: Well, Gabby, what do you think?

SIDIBE: Maybe 12 is old enough to see it. But with a strong conversation afterwards.

CARROLL (voice-over): Sidibe hopes the conversation afterwards will be about hope.

SIDIBE: She doesn't let life knock her down and keep her down. She keeps moving. And that's where you can see the hope.

CARROLL: Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEMON: Guess what, we're unveiling the 2009 CNN hero of the year, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: He is giving Filipino street kids a chance to, at education and a way out of gang life and towards a brighter future. The life with a brighter future. Your votes have made Aaron Penaflorida the 2009 zero of the year.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

EFREN PENAFLORIDA, CNN HERO OF THE YEAR: It's surreal. I could not explain how I'm feeling right now. My knees are shaking. I'm freezing. I totally cannot believe this is happening. This is really God's blessing not just for me but for the kids that we are helping who are now determined to learn.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LEMON: There were lots of great entertaining guests last night. Singing sensation Leona Lewis is one of the stars at the gala. The event honoring Penaflorida and nine others CNN Heroes who are all making a difference here. There were nearly three million votes cast online at cnn.com. I want to tell that you can watch all 10 of our heroes being honored, Thanksgiving night, right here on CNN.

Anderson Cooper hosts "CNN Heroes, All-Star Tribute," 9:00 p.m. Eastern. So don't miss it. So listen. I have a little bit of time here so I'm going to read some of this. I don't know if you can see them but you don't have to. I tell you what they are, there's a camera guy who runs over here. We got extra time. Just came in from seeing "Precious." The movie was so serious. The leading actor did an amazing job. That's from (INAUDIBLE). After all the time she pleads guilty, talking about the lady, the Wal-Mart lady. OMG. So a lot of people responding to that and to health care and also to the thing that happened in Pennsylvania with the nuclear plant, Three Mile Island.

I'm Don Lemon at CNN World Headquarters in Atlanta. See you back here at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.