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Mental Health Madness; Americans Unhappy with the War In Iraq, President Bush, and Alberto Gonzales; New Study on Driver Death Rates; Modern Living; Cho Family Apologizes; Johnson Space Center Shootings

Aired April 21, 2007 - 12:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN NEWS ANCHOR: Investigators in the Virginia Tech shootings are looking for a connection between Seung-Hui Cho and one of his first victims. They want examine Emily Hilscher's laptop and cell phone.
Meanwhile, Cho's family apologizes and members of the Virginia Tech band are in Georgia, this hour, to play at a memorial. Brianna Keilar joins us live from Blacksburg, Virginia -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Fred. Investigators are checking to see if there's a connection between Seung-Hui Cho, the killer, and Emily Hilscher. She was one of the first victims here on Monday. She was one of two students killed in that dorm shooting, the first shooting here on the Virginia Tech campus. And according to a search warrant, investigators are looking at her laptop computer and her cell phone to see if there is any connection between the two students.

Meanwhile yesterday, a day of mourning here and in Virginia and all across the nation. It was on this day that we heard first word from Cho's family, they been in seek seclusion since Monday, but Cho's older sister, Seung-Kyung Cho came out with a statement from the family that said in part about her brother, "He has made the world weep. We are living a nightmare...Our family is so very sorry for my brother's unspeakable actions. It is a terrible tragedy for all of us. Our family will continue to cooperate fully to help authorities understand why these senseless acts happened." And she also added that the family is praying for all of the victims and all of the victims' family members.

And meanwhile President Bush who was here for a convocation on Tuesday focused on the Virginia Tech tragedy in his radio address today.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Our society continues to wrestle with the question of how to handle individuals whose mental health problems can make them a danger to themselves and to others. Colleges and state and local officials are now confronting these issues and the federal government will help. I've asked top officials at the departments of Education, Justice and Health and Human Services to provide the Virginia Tech community with whatever assistance we can. And to participate in a review of the broader questions raised by this tragedy. (END AUDIO CLIP)

KEILAR: We've also learned that the FBI's Behavioral Analysis Unit is going to be helping out in the investigation of this shooting. They look into the how and the why of this crime. And they have been called out to help in prior school shootings investigations before, investigations that included Columbine -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And also Brianna, clearly it's difficult to resume any kind of normalcy, but I understand next week that campus is going to try as best they can to do exactly that.

KEILAR: That's right. And right now, a lot of students are gone. They've been gone for this week since classes have been cancelled, but a lot of them had told us they're going to return on Monday, they're going to finish out the school year, and we have been seeing the occasional sign of normalcy, Fred. I was surprised yesterday after the moment of silence on the drill field I saw students playing Ultimate Frisbee; they were out with their dogs -- playing with their dogs. And apparently, according to students, it's really -- it pales in comparison to what you'd normally see on a Friday after classes with such beautiful weather, but certainly something we haven't been seeing the rest of the week -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brianna Keilar, thanks so much -- in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Also, this afternoon, some 100 members of the Virginia Tech marching band are gathering in the small town of Evans, Georgia, they are there to play at a memorial service for Ryan Clark, one of Cho's first two victims. Clark was a member of the college band and ceremonies are expected to begin at 4:00 Eastern, today. CNN does plan live coverage.

Security or the lack of it. Both are under investigation this morning at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. This after the hostage situation left two people dead, our Gulf Coast correspondent Susan Roesgen has the latest from the Johnson Space Center.


SUSAN ROESGEN, CNN NEWS GULF COAST CORRESPONDENT: There were two hostages and only one survived, a secretary, Fran Crenshaw. The gunman was a contract engineer, Bill Phillips, he shot and killed a NASA engineer, David Beverly, and then Phillips killed himself, the rest of the story from the Houston police chief.

CHIEF HAROLD HURTT, HOUSTON POLICE: We believe what happened was that David, the other engineer, was shot during the period of time when the first two shots was heard and someone called the Emergency Center. After a period of negotiation and the hostage situation, when the one shot was heard, we think that that's when the individual killed himself, and then shortly after that, Fran called the Emergency Center and set everything in motion.

As I understand the chain of events, she was very courageous, a calming influence in this whole issue, and apparently was a very positive relationship between her and the suspect, because he had no, at no time that we know of, threatened to do injury to her.

ROESGEN: The secretary, Fran Crenshaw was not hurt. The police say that the gunman, Bill Phillips, bought that gun just three days ago. They also say that they're now reviewing the security procedures here at Johnson Space Center. There were no metal detectors or surveillance cameras in the area of the shooting.

Susan Roesgen, CNN, Houston.


WHITFIELD: And now it is back to earth for billionaire space tourist Charles Simonyi. Simonyi returned from his jaunt to the International Space Station about three-and-a-half hours ago. The software engineer paid $25 million for his trip onboard the Russian capsule.

Well, the biggest question hanging over U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales right now is will he keep his job? Gonzales testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday about the controversial firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Even Republican senators showed little support for the embattled attorney general.


SEN JEFF SESSIONS (R), ALABAMA: Well, I guess I'm concerned about your recollection, really. Because it's not that long ago it was an important issue and that's troubling to me.


WHITFIELD: Sessions is usually a reliable ally of the Bush administration, but Sessions tells CNN Gonzales should take time to think about whether he can effectively reconstitution the attorney general's office.

Well, staying on the job or leaving it are central conversation at the White House, this weekend. Our Elaine Quijano is there with more on the fate of the attorney general.

And Elaine, what are you hearing there?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN NEWS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, the president is certainly standing by his attorney general, Alberto Gonzales. A White House spokeswoman has reiterated that a number of times in the past couple of days saying that the president does have full confidence in Alberto Gonzales, but privately certainly there was disappointment inside the West Wing over the attorney general's performance on Capitol Hill.

Source involved in the discussion with the administration say two senior aides describe the testimony as going down in flames and a prominent Republican compared watching that testimony unfold to seeing someone club a baby seal.

Nevertheless, spokeswoman Dana Perrino praised his work at the Justice Department saying he has done a fantastic job in fighting crime and Gonzales himself is reportedly in good spirits. According to a senior Justice Department official, he reached out and spoke to some senators yesterday including Republican Senator Arlen Specter. He's also got some public events scheduled in the coming week. This Justice Department official, Fredricka, saying that the attorney general is eager to get on with the business of the Justice Department -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So, Elaine is the White House saying anything about the kind of disappointment, perhaps, the White House is feeling that they're also losing a lot of Republican support, not just for Gonzales, but for the White House, as well?

QUIJANO: Well, I talked to a senior bush aide about the lack of GOP support on Capitol Hill for Gonzales. And he says look, it's not a surprise. This is in fact Washington, that's the way Washington works. At the same time this official did not deny there is disappointment over the fact that what you saw on Thursday was not Republicans rushing to Gonzales' defense, but instead you saw them piling on. And in fact, just yesterday, a prominent Republican congressman, Adam Putnam, adding his voice to the chorus of those calling for Gonzales' resignation. He is the third ranking Republican in the House and he said yesterday he thinks it's time for the attorney general to step down. He said that Gonzales did not distinguish himself in the hearing and he said that there remains a cloud at the Department of Justice -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: And then you have to wonder, too, what the response is from the White House when you talk about the loyalty that President Bush has among many of his appointees, namely his relationship with Gonzales goes back many, many years to their Texas days.

QUIJANO: Yeah, that's exactly right. It's important to keep in mind here, that Alberto Gonzales is not just the attorney general, he is also a long-time and trusted friend and confidant of this president. You're right, their history stretches back more than a decade, back to their time in Texas together. They've known each other for that long. The president has given Gonzales five jobs over the years.

But he did say last month that the attorney general had some work to do on Capitol Hill to smooth things over with lawmakers to clarify what exactly his role was in the dismissals of the eight federal prosecutors. Judging from the reaction, the harsh reactions from both Democrats and Republicans, they don't feel he got the job done. The question now does the attorney general feel he got the job done? Does the president think he got the job done? And whether or not they feel as though the attorney general can weather this political storm and move on to other things, it will be interesting to see how the next couple of days and weeks unfold -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Elaine Quijano, thanks so much from the White House. Meantime, a California hog farm now under quarantine today, that's because the pigs ate tainted pet food. California's state veterinarian says there is no evidence that humans ate pork from those hogs, still the state is trying to track down pigs sold from the farm. The pet food fed to the hogs contained melamine. That's the chemical that prompted the massive pet food recall last month. It's common for pet food manufacturers to sell seconds and leftovers to feed lots.

Well, companies in California and Pennsylvania are recalling thousands of pounds of beef possibly contaminated with E. coli bacteria. The products include frozen ground beef patties produced by California's Richwood Meat Company and distributed in California, Arizona, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. They were produced from April to May of last year.

They were sold under these brand names: Fireriver, Chef's Pride, Ritz Food, Blackwood Farms, California Pacific, California Pacific Associates, C&C Distributing, Golbon, and Richwood. A beef recall also is in effect in Pennsylvania where five people were sickened in an E. coli outbreak and officials say the illness is linked to steaks produced by HFX Incorporate and a sold Hoss's Steak and Sea House Restaurant. A lot to keep in mind, today.

Well, a message for the Iraqi leadership.


ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm sympathetic to the challenges that they face, but by the same token, to pick up General Petraeus's theme, the clock is ticking.


WHITFIELD: Defense secretary Robert Gates straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.

And five days later, more fuel for a wildfire already out of control. That's coming up next in the NEWSROOM.

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: And what they could use in parts of Georgia and the eastern half of the country could be some rain, but unfortunately none in the forecast for today. Meantime in the central plains, there will be the possibility of strong storms, I'll tell what you they can expect coming up in just a few moments right here on CNN NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Happening right now, the campaigning is over and voting is underway in overseas territories in the French presidential election. Final opinion polls show right-wing candidate Nicholas Sarkozy leading a field of 12 contenders. Voting on the French mainland begins tomorrow morning.

And dozens of people are dead and many more wounded in fresh fighting in Somalia. Reuters quotes witnesses saying over 70 people were killed in the capital of Mogadishu in the escalating war between Islamic militants and allied Somali and Ethiopian troops.

Defense Secretary Roberts Gates is putting pressure on Iraq's government to stop the sectarian violence. He warns that American troops won't be there forever. Here's CNN's Jamie McIntyre.


JAMIE MCINTYRE, CNN SR. PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT (voice over): In Iraq, a speeding ambulance carries a victim from the scene of the latest deadly suicide attack, less than a half a mile from the Baghdad home of President Jalal Talabani. The bombing killed at least a dozen people and follows the deadliest day since the surge began. Upwards of 198 people were killed in six separate bombings Wednesday.

It was an unwelcome welcome for the U.S. defense secretary, Robert Gates, who, as he left for his unannounced inspection tour, warned that American patience is not unlimited.

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I'm sympathetic with some of the challenges that they face, but by the same token, to pick up General Petraeus' theme, the clock is ticking.

MCINTYRE: Gates met with General David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander, who has been given what some see as mission impossible, getting the Sunni and Shia to stop fighting while defeating al Qaeda forces whose strategy is to keep the civil war raging.

GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE, IRAQ: Clearly, these sensational attacks can't be anything other than viewed as setbacks and challenges. And it does show that the enemy has a vote.

MCINTYRE: Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to put the best face on the effort, releasing statistics that purport to show attacks and civilian casualties are actually down over the past six weeks, 50 percent down in Baghdad, with casualties across the country down 24 percent, and attacks countrywide down 17 percent.

But the Pentagon briefer did not mention that U.S. casualties are running at an all-time high, with more than 80 deaths a month.

MAJ. GEN. MICHAEL BARBERO, U.S. ARMY: I meant to present a balanced picture in that we are seeing, as I said, some early indicators of some progress. However, we should have -- we should realistic expectations. These high-profile attacks are going to continue.

MCINTYRE (on camera): The Pentagon is battling not just the reality of Iraq, but the perception as well. So, the new CENTCOM commander is dumping the phrase "the long war" coined by his predecessor.

Admiral William Fallon has directed his staff not to use that description anymore, saying it sends the wrong message that U.S. troops will be staying in Iraq a long time. The characterization, he says, is unhelpful.

Jamie McIntyre, CNN, the Pentagon.


WHITFIELD: And this very bizarre story we're following out of South Florida off the Cudjoe Key, there. You're looking at new video that's coming in after a plane crash yesterday just off Cudjoe Key. Onboard, three people, you're looking at the search efforts there, which eventually turned out to be futile because the three people believed to have died in that. They're still looking for the bodies of the three who were onboard that plane. But this is what makes it that much more bizarre. It is believed that this plane seemed to have strike a tether wire that was connected to a blimp that was in the area. And after the contact between that plane and that tether wire, that plane obviously went down and now you're seeing the results of the rescue efforts and the search efforts underway, but again, sadly, it's not believed that the three people on board that plane survived because their bodies have still not been recovered.

Meantime, dry conditions and gusty winds are fuelling wild fires that have charred nearly 58,000 miles of forest in southeastern Georgia. Forestry officials say southward winds kept the largest fire from spreading toward Waycross, a city with more than 15,000 people. That blaze covers about 35,000 acres. Officials say the fire was started Monday when a tree fell on a power line and the fire has destroyed 18 homes, there. Officials say now it's about 33 percent contained.

Our Reynolds Wolf is in the Weather Center.

And give the fact this has been a very dry winter, really across the country, hasn't it?

WOLF: Well, at least for the eastern third of the country.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, this may be a sign of other things to come in terms of wildfires and the drought...

WOLF: Yeah, you know, you're absolutely right, you know, it's something we really don't want to deal with. And what they can really use in parts of south Georgia and especially northern Florida is rainfall.


WHITFIELD: All right, that's nice weather across the eastern seaboard.

WOLF: We look at the big picture here.

WHITFIELD: Yeah, especially after last weekend.

WOLF: Yeah, no question.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much, Reynolds. Well, speaking of last weekend, that storm is gone now but now the clean-up resumes, the damage and destruction left behind by that big nor'easter.

Also a deadly or at least potentially deadly discovery in Iraq. U.S. soldiers find bomb making materials inside a home. It was all by happenstance, really.

And car drove into, not next, to the gas pump. It was a close call for that other man pumping gas right there, more of that in the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: While politicians argue over whether the Iraq war is already lost, U.S. troops are in the streets of Baghdad, hunting an elusive enemy that hides behind terrorize civilians. Our Arwa Damon is with them as they uncover a bomber's house.


STAFF SERGEANT BRIAN HOOD, U.S. ARMY: What do we have here? Oh, wow, this what they put inside the IEDs to kill us? Look. This is what does our casualties right here.

ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Staff sergeant Brian Hood scoops out ball bearings, nuts and bolts, there are also timers, wires, cell phones. The items spread out here look harmless, bits an pieces you could easily find in your home, but what was going on here was s chilling.

HOOD: That's what times the IEDs that kill us. Oh, you got all the stuff.

DAMON: Someone was in the process of putting together triggers to set off roadside bombs, the No. 1 killer of U.S. troops in Iraq.

HOOD: They see us coming through, they'll call the cell phone number that'll activate the IED and it will detonate on us. That's the biggest thing they use. They're cheap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's your blasting caps.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right there it is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, don't touch it with your fingers, man, maybe we can get some fingerprints. Oh, this is great.

DAMON: What brought the U.S. Army to this house was dumb luck. Trying to get around a parked car, one of the Bradleys accidentally hit this wall, when the soldiers go inside to make sure the owner is compensated for the damage, they find the house trashed and all this in the living room.

(on camera): The insurgency will use just about anything that it can get its hands on, here, even using pieces from a toy car to assemble a remote control to set off a roadside bomb.

(voice-over): It appears the bomb makers left in a panic, the phone left off the hook, a watch and wallet with an id left on the table.

HOOD: This crazy.

DAMON: looking for bombs, they dig through the yard. In the background, the usual Baghdad sounds.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's RPG fire. I think we made somebody mad.

DAMON: They find a buried bucket often used to store explosives, gut nothing in it.

HOOD: These people could not have been here maybe more than 48 hours. They have not been here long. They'll force a family out and they'll set up the operation like this, make their IEDs and then they'll leave. And then they'll move to another house, force that family out. The just do the cycle all over, keep us chasing them.

DAMON: The culprit may be running, but this time he left his deadly toys we behind.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


WHITFIELD: In this country, a gunman takes a hostage then barricades himself inside a NASA building. Two people died. What police say led to that deadly dispute. All that coming up.

Also, reduced death rates for drivers across the country. A new report that shows what is working and what isn't. That's straight ahead in the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back to the NEWSROOM, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happening right now, NASA is conducting a security review after two people were killed in a hostage standoff at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Police say a male worker got a handgun into the space center and used it to kill another man before shooting himself.

And it's back down to earth for billionaire space tourist Charles Semoni (ph), he returned from a 13 day visit to the International Space Station a few hours ago. Semoni paid $25 million for his trip aboard a Russian capsule.

Investigators in the Virginia Tech shootings are looking for a connection between Seung-Hui Cho and one of his first victims. They want to examine Emily Hilscher's laptop and cell phone. Meanwhile, Cho's family is deeply apologetic and members of the Virginia Tech band are in Georgia at this hour to play at a memorial service this afternoon for fellow band member Ryan Clark. CNN will cover portions of that service live beginning at 4:00 Eastern time.

Many people who knew Seung-Hui Cho were worried about his strange behavior. He was examined at a psychiatric hospital more than a year ago but was released in order to undergo outpatient treatment.

Well, Pete Earley is a former "Washington Post" reporter. He began investigating the mental health care system after his own son who was also in college had a breakdown. The result is a book called "Crazy," a father's search through America's mental health madness."

I spoke with him earlier in the week and asked about his first reaction to the shootings.


PETER EARLEY, AUTHOR, "CRAZY": It was horrifying. We called Evan first thing in the morning and it was funny, he was asleep in his dorm and he thought we were calling because he had a cut a class. And we told him what was going on, and he immediately locked the door.

Then my second thought was all the poor victims, two of the girls who were murdered are from my home area. And also the shooter is from my neighborhood.

And then my third thought was, is this someone who has a mental illness? Is it a psychopath? Or is it someone who has a chemical imbalance like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression, someone who is not responsible for his actions because he's sick. The heart gets sick, the brain gets sick.

WHITFIELD: And so now we're all still trying to piece it all together. And we don't know all the details about Cho's problems but clearly there was some kind of mental instability going, some sort of mental illness that some were trying to get addressed.

And as you hear about all this, and the different steps that were taken prior to the shooting taking place and then knowing what you went through in the discovery and trying to get help for your son, are you seeing any real parallels when it comes to the difficulties, the challenges of trying to get someone who has a mental illness, especially when they're a young person, to try to get them the right kind of help?

EARLEY: Absolutely. The National Mental Health System in our country is abysmal. Fairfax County where the shooter is from has a two-month waiting list if you're in crisis to get any kind of treatment, six months to get a case manager, eighteen years to get housing. Can we expect someone who is in crisis, who needs help to wait for two months?

In my case, my son became psychotic. He had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. He had been hospitalized, he went off his medication. I rushed him to the Fairfax County Hospital. And when I took him in and I explained the situation, the doctor said look, he's not in imminent danger. Bring him back when he tries to kill you or kill someone else. I took him home and I can't describe the pain I went through watching him, he had taped aluminum foil wrapped around his head, he thought the CIA was trying to read his thoughts.

WHITFIELD: And what pain as a parent you're going through, you're seeing your son struggle, your son, Mike at this point, and you're trying to reach out to all the places and people that you would think have the resources to help address it and you both got a blind's eye.

EARLEY: It was a civil rights argument. When do you intervene, when do you say someone is dangerous? Now my son slipped out of the house, he broke into a stranger's house to take a bubble bath. Luckily no one was there.

The police wrestled him down, and they took him, and they said to me, look Mr. Earley, your son's clearly psychotic, he's broken into a house, but we will not be able to help him. We can't put him in a hospital unless you tell the psychiatrist that he threatened to kill you. And I said he hasn't. And then they said well then, we'll take him to jail. So I went in and I lied. And that's what got him into the hospital for 48 hours. And then he was charged with two felonies.

And this is what is happening. We've changed this from a medical problem, a chemical imbalance problem into a criminal justice problem. We have over 300,000 people with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, major depression, in jails and prisons, 500,000 --

WHITFIELD: And so your point is instead of getting treated, they're getting punished.

EARLEY: Right. We have to change the barriers, the restrictive laws that prevent people from getting help. Then the other side, yes, this guy was deemed dangerous in 2005. I don't know what happened after that.

But in Virginia, it's very hard to get good old mental health services. There's no money, there's no programs, there's no hospitals. There's no hospital beds. There's no place to put someone as they get worse and worse and worse.

So we've set up a scenario where we have people who are walking around who can't get treatment, even if they want it, and they are waiting for something like this to happen. And that's wrong.

WHITFIELD: Well, these discoveries are just mind boggling but how courageous for you as well as your son Mike to agree to you helping to tell this story which you did so eloquently and it really is so in your face when you read the passages from your book, "Crazy."

Pete Earley, thanks so much for sharing your story and hopefully everyone can learn something and perhaps everyone will learn that something concrete really needs to be done to address the problem that so many young people are facing.

EARLEY: Well, maybe if something had been done, 32 students would be alive.


WHITFIELD: Tomorrow night, beginning at 7:00, CNN honors the Virginia Tech students and teachers whose lives were lost. "AMERICAN MORNING's" Kiran Chetry hosts "32 Lives to Remember." Then at 8:00, Soledad O'Brien and CNN's Special Investigations Unit takes you inside the mind of the killer. Don't miss our SPECIAL REPORT Sunday night beginning at 7:00 Eastern.

Senate leader Harry Reid sets off a political firestorm after declaring the Iraq war is lost. He'll square off with Republican opponents next week over war funding and take some solace that his assessment reflects the polls.

Our Senior Political Analyst Bill Schneider follows the numbers.


WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST (voice-over): Americans do not want to fight an unwinnable war. That's why back in 2005, President Bush said --

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we'll accept nothing less than complete victory.

SCHNEIDER: The president speaks about the war a little differently now.

BUSH: It's really important as we -- that we have a sober discussion and understand what will be the consequences of failure.

SCHNEIDER: Pessimism about Iraq has continued to mount, even before the news of Wednesday's bombings in Baghdad. In a CNN opinion research center poll taken last week, 69 percent of Americans said things are going badly for the United States in Iraq. That's the most negative assessment yet recorded, up from 54 percent who though things were going badly last June and 62 percent in October. The public's view -- it's not working. Senator Reid put it bluntly.

SEN. HARRY REID, (D-NV) MAJORITY LEADER: As long as we follow the president's path in Iraq, the war is lost.

SCHNEIDER: Senator McCain objected.

VOICE OF SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R-AZ) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: That's not the view of the men and women who are putting their lives on the line as we speak.

SCHNEIDER: Do Americans believe the U.S. is winning the war in Iraq? Last month they said no by better than two to one. Do Americans believe the U.S. will win? No. Do Americans believe the U.S. can win? The public is split. They're not sure. So Reid said --

REID: But there's still a chance to change course and we must change course.

SCHNEIDER: Which side does the public take in this standoff? It's not even close. Sixty percent of Americans say they side with the Democrats in Congress, thirty-seven percent with the president.


SCHNEIDER: The public's view is if it isn't working, change course. President Bush seems unwilling to do that and that's why the public says they side with the Democrats in Congress -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: So Bill, you have to wonder how long is the president unwilling to do this? Because at some point, you would think even though he's only got another year-and-a-half or so in this presidency, that he may have to buckle to public opinion?

SCHNEIDER: No. Well, this president is famous for digging in his heels and not being very responsive to public pressure. The Gonzales issue right now, there's a lot of public pressure on the president. He says he feels as if he's establishing his legacy and he believes that history will judge him much better than the polls do right now.

So he's got a wall there that he puts up that keeps him separated from the immediate public judgments.

WHITFIELD: And this is a very loyal president. And I'm talking about his loyalty and his very long and lengthy friendship with Alberto Gonzales but you have to wonder if the president is weighing this friendship with his legacy. Indeed, how long does he stand behind Gonzales?

SCHNEIDER: The question is how much political damage is Gonzales doing to the president, to the White House? Will people be able to get to the president and say, as long as Gonzales is in office it's like Donald Rumsfeld, there's just incredible political damage being done because of the widespread belief here that politics was allowed to interfere with law enforcement.

You know, the president defended Donald Rumsfeld over and over and over again, refused to fire him and finally there was an election in 2006 and the message from that election got through and immediately after the election, Rumsfeld was let go. The question is there's no election now until 2008, so how will the message get through this time?

WHITFIELD: And you have to wonder, the conversations taking place in the White House, if the president does worry about his legacy, is the conversation, OK Gonzales, you resign or does his legacy need to reflect that the president would fire Gonzales if it comes to the man losing his job?

SCHNEIDER: Well, the president does have a tremendous sense of personal loyalty and obligation but sometimes that can be taken too far. You know, I remember in the Reagan White House, President Reagan was often criticized for that kind of stubborn obstinate loyalty and very often his wife, Nancy Reagan would have to come in and do the dirty deed when people were doing the president political damage.

Well, in this case, there are many, many people in the White House who are letting their views be known, often off the record to White House correspondents that they don't believe that Gonzales should stay, that they lost -- that the White House has lost confidence in him, so a way of getting the message to the attorney general that he ought to think about resigning even if the president doesn't request it.

WHITFIELD: Bill Schneider, thanks so much. And speaking of loyalty, you're going to join us again at 2:00 p.m. Eastern hour. We're going to talk about loyalty in a different form and that's talking about the World Bank leader, Paul Wolfowitz, very good friends with President Bush but now even Wolfowitz and his reputation, his job also on the line because of what many are saying was some pretty bad judgment.

So we'll talk to you again in the 2:00 p.m. Eastern hour. Thanks so much.


WHITFIELD: Meantime, wrong turn, and then this. Was it as simple as really just a wrong turn there at a gas station putting everybody's life in jeopardy? That is coming up next in the NEWSROOM.

But first, tomorrow is Earth Day and there is a lot that you can do to help protect the environment. Today, On the Go segment has some tips on traveling green.


ERIK TORKELLS, EDITOR, BUDGET TRAVEL: Did you know that some hotels you can park for free if you're driving a hybrid car? It's just one of the ways that hotels are trying to reduce (INAUDIBLE) environmental impact. They're also installing low flow shower heads, minimum (ph) recycling bins, and replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy efficient ones.

Hotels are making these efforts because each guest produces over two pounds of waste a day, and occupied rooms can use over 200 gallons of water. So use water sparingly. Ultimately, it's all about treating your hotel room like you would your house. You don't wash your towels and sheets every day at home right?

In most hotels, it's understood that if you fold your towel and hang it neatly, housekeeping won't replace it. When you leave your room, turn off the lights, TV and air conditioning. And if you like what you see, speak up, companies really do read our comments. If we encourage the ones who are doing the right thing, they'll be more likely to keep up the good work.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: Hello, again, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Happening right now, days after a powerful nor'easter dumped up to nine inches of rain across the north east, well, officials in New Jersey are still assessing the flood damage. In Somerset County, nearly 600 people remain in emergency shelters and damage is estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Reynolds Wolf is in the weather center and boy, it seemed like you know just a week ago, and the ripple effects continue. That was some storm.

REYNOLDS WOLF, METEOROLOGIST: Oh, yes, and there's no question about it. You know how frustrating it is for people in south Georgia who have been battling fire, all the rain they have in the northeast, they really could have used in places like Waycross, Georgia and near the Oak Key (ph) swamp.


WHITFIELD: All right, thanks so much, Reynolds.

WOLF: Any time.

WHITFIELD: Well, still to come in the NEWSROOM, safer cars save lives. A new report on changes that appear to be making a huge difference in crash tests, that's coming up next in the NEWSROOM.


WHITFIELD: Well, it sure seemed like an ordinary day, you're pumping the gas, then all of a sudden, bam, this truck comes out of nowhere and takes out a pump in a West Virginia convenience store. The driver didn't stop there, however, you see right there, he ended up crashing into the store, barely missing three people.

Well someone did keep their wits and quickly cut the power to the pump, avoiding what surely would have been a huge catastrophe. A few bumps and scrapes but no one was seriously hurt. So, you're wondering what really happened here? Well, apparently the driver of that truck fell asleep. Lots of close calls there, lots of lucky people.

Well, new auto designs are helping to save a lot of lives. That's the finding of a new study on driver death rates.

CNN's Greg Hunter reports.


GREG HUNTER, CONSUMER REPORTER: I'm at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crash test facilities. And one reason why death rates have gone down is because manufacturers have made cars better. A good example -- the Ford F-150 pickup.

(voice-over): The 2001 Ford F-150 pickup was one of the worst performers in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash test. Look at the way the cab folds on impact, compare that to the redesigned 2004 model where the cab stays intact.

ANNE MCCARTT, INSURANCE INST. FOR HIGHWAY SAFETY: When we looked at driver death rates, what we saw was the newer F-150 had a death rate half that of the older model.

HUNTER (on camera): What an improvement.

MCCARTT: It's a dramatic improvement. This is a much safer vehicle now.

HUNTER (voice-over): The Institute compiles statistics on driver death rates for more than 200 vehicles between the years 2001 and 2004. The latest data available, ranking the best and worst according to class and size. Smaller cars had generally higher death rates. But some cars did much better than others in the same category. The Mini Cooper had one-third the fatalities of the Acura RSX.

(on camera): Does it have something to do with quality?

MCCARTT: Quality is definitely an important factor.

HUNTER (voice-over): Large, heavy vehicles tend to have the lowest death rates and SUVs, which have a tendency to roll over, are getting safer mainly because of the electronic stability control. But even in SUVs without electronic stability control, the death rates vary widely.

Take, for example, older models of the Honda Pilot. It had six times fewer driver deaths than the Chevy Blazer.

(on camera): Aren't some of these vehicles that have low death rates just built better?

MCCARTT: They are built better. They're built and what I mean by built better is they're built so that they do a very good job protecting occupants in the event of a crash.

HUNTER (voice-over): A General Motors spokesman criticized the study for not explaining such details as who drives the cars and driver behavior. A Honda spokesman told CNN the lower-rated Acura RSX tends to appeal to younger, less experienced drivers.

Ford criticized the study saying, "It fails to take into account some of the most critical factors related to fatality rates, including seat belt usage, alcohol consumption, and driving experience.

The Insurance Institute says those factors remain similar across categories of vehicles, making comparisons legitimate.

(on camera): The Insurance Institute says when a vehicle does well on its crash test, it will likely protect you well in a real world accident. For example, look at this brand of minivan. This did well in the crash test, you can see the driver's compartment stayed intact as opposed to this brand of minivan, the driver's compartment didn't stay intact, it crushed in. It did badly in their crash test and also does badly in a real world accident as well. If you'd like to find out how your vehicle did concerning driver deaths, click onto for a complete list. Greg Hunter, CNN, Rutgersville, Virginia.


WHITFIELD: And more from the NEWSROOM in a moment, but first, $300,000, that's a whole lot of money. Well, what kind of home can that buy in Detroit or perhaps Miami?

Chris Lawrence tells us in this week's edition of Modern Living.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We start our search in sunny south Florida with a single mom and first-time buyer.

DORIS CHERINO (ph): After working so hard, I think I deserve it.

LAWRENCE: Doris Cherino (ph) sees a three bedroom townhouse 20 miles from the ocean. For about the same price, she could afford a two bedroom condo two blocks from the beach.

CHERINO (ph): This is the range that I can pay for, $300,000.

LAWRENCE: But look what that same money gets you in suburban Detroit, four bedrooms on half an acre.

DAWN MUELLER, REALTOR: And that's quite a lot for this area.

LAWRENCE (on camera): Wow, you don't get this kind of room in Florida.

MUELLER: Oh, no, and certainly not in L.A.

LAWRENCE (voice-over): Realtor Dawn Mueller showed us a seven- year-old home with a classic front porch and a corner house with 2600 square feet.

MUELLER: I believe this area was selling right around the $320- 325 range a couple of years and this house is priced at $280 now.

LAWRENCE: Even with everything upgraded, she'd only offer $240.

MUELLER: And if they don't take it, we'll walk away and we'll do it to the next house.

LAWRENCE: With this week's Modern Living, I'm Chris Lawrence.



WHITFIELD: Hello again, I'm Fredricka Whitfield. A look at our top stories in a moment. "IN THE MONEY" is next. Here's your preview right now. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks. Coming up on "IN THE MONEY," see if you're safer on a college campus than in the town around it. Plus, the Congressman who wants big oil to explain why you're paying more for gas. And on this Earth Day weekend, put your car and yourself on a low carbon diet. All that and more after a quick check of the headlines.