Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Teens Arrested for Plot Against School; Iraqi Police Clash with U.S. Troops; Truck Driver Suspected in Serial Murders; Newspaper Mogul Convicted of Fraud; David Beckham Signs with L.A. Galaxy; TB Traveler Sued

Aired July 13, 2007 - 13:00   ET


KYRA PHILLIPS, CO-HOST: He's a long-haul trucker who says he's a serial murderer. Today, police in four states are scrambling to figure out whether he's demented or deluded. We'll have a live report.
DON LEMON, CO-HOST: All the smart money used to say 2008 was John McCain's year. So how did he run out of campaign money and what would seem momentum in 2007? Iraq may be only part of it.

PHILLIPS: He's a newly signed mid fielder for the Los Angeles Galaxy. You know him better as Becks. Or maybe you don't. But you soon will. David Beckham makes his L.A. debut, and you're going to see it live this hour.

Hello, everyone. I'm Kyra Phillips at the CNN world headquarters in Atlanta.

LEMON: And I'm don lemon. You are in the CNN NEWSROOM.

And we start this hour at the CNN NEWSROOM with some breaking news. This is just into the CNN NEWSROOM.

Two teens -- this happened in New York, in Suffolk County, to be specific. Two teens have been arrested for plotting an attack on their school district. And this is according to the Suffolk County School Police Department. There was a press release that was just released to CNN just moments ago. I need to tell you that they are planning a press conference in the 2 p.m. hour, 2 p.m. Eastern.

But here is what happened, according to police. They said they arrested the two teens for conspiring to injure staff and students at Connetquot High School. And that is in Bohemia, located in New York. Now, this is on July 6.

July 6, authorities from Connetquot High School came into possession of a handwritten journal, they tell us, containing explicit threats on shooting and bombings to take place at the school in the future.

Again, there's a press conference that's going to happen in the 2 p.m. hour. But I want to tell you that two of the teens, one is charged with fifth -- conspiracy in the fifth degree. And then the other one faces similar charges in that. So a warrant has been placed for one of the 15-year-olds, his computer, as well, to be checked. We're going to have a press conference, again, in the 2 p.m. hour, and also efforting (ph) our Jason Carroll from our New York bureau to report on this story. But again, two teens have been arrested in Suffolk County, New York, for plotting an attack on their school. Details to come.

PHILLIPS: Also, happening this hour, he was supposed to be the man to beat in the Republican presidential race. Now he's just trying to keep his campaign afloat.

Senator John McCain has seen his fund-raising falter to a reported $250,000. His top campaign aides resigned and his standing in the polls take a slide.

Now at this hour, he's in New Hampshire giving a speech on the issue that some say has contributed most to his troubles: U.S. policy in Iraq. We're keeping an eye on that and his planned meeting afterward with reporters.

And later in the NEWSROOM, we're going to talk with political analyst John Mercurio about where McCain goes from here.

LEMON: Calling Iraq. President Bush and his security council met via satellite today with Baghdad. The subject? Reconstruction.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today my security council here had an opportunity to not only speak with our ambassador in Iraq, but also five members of provincial reconstruction teams, three civilians and two military, colonels. They have briefed us on the grassroots effort to improve services, to improve the economy, to encourage local government, all aiming at enhancing this concept of reconciliation from the bottom up.


LEMON: An interim progress report released yesterday gave higher marks to military gains in Iraq than to political gains.

Well, they had the day to digest the good and not so good assessment of the state of Iraq. Today, we hear from the two top military leaders, the chairman of the joint chiefs and the secretary of defense. Let's get straight to the Pentagon now and our correspondent Barbara Starr -- Barbara.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, Secretary Gates and General Pace are about to meet with the Pentagon press corps in about 45 minutes, our first opportunity to ask both of them publicly about this interim report that was unveiled yesterday, both the military and the political progress.

While there has been some military progress, the overall security situation in Iraq is really far from improved.

Just one indicator in the report yesterday: sectarian violence. Some indicators that sectarian violence is down. The sectarian killings are down in some areas.

But the report also expressing a lot of concern that militia movements are still permeating much of Iraq's Shia movements, much of the security services in Iraq. And that still is a deep cause for some of the sectarian violence. So we'll be asking about all of that and seeing what both men have to say, Don.

LEMON: So Barbara, we're hearing about an incident in Iraq between Iraqi police and coalition forces. What you can tell us about that?

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, that's just an excellent -- the most recent indicator of this possibility of not only sectarian violence, but very serious questions about Iran's influence in Iraq.

At dawn today, U.S. forces were on a raid in Baghdad where they were going after a man who was both an Iraqi police lieutenant and had suspected ties to the Iranian al-Quds force, the Iranian elements operating inside Iraq.

They captured the man. But as the U.S. troops were leaving the area, they got into an intense fire fight. They came under fire from several locations, but, Don, one of those locations was an Iraqi police station. Men in Iraqi police uniforms, firing at U.S. troops.

No U.S. troops killed. But just another incident that raises very serious questions about the loyalty of Iraqi security services.

LEMON: CNN's Barbara Starr. Thank you, Barbara.

No more patience, bring the troops home. That's the -- that's the message from the House of Representatives voting yesterday to withdraw most U.S. troops from Iraq by next spring. The Senate and the president's desk lie ahead. And there are much bigger hurdles.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told voters that Iraq war hampers more important missions elsewhere.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Was in Iraq is an obstacle to our having a full-fledged war on terrorism with a focus on Afghanistan and other places. With this legislation sponsored and led by -- authored and led by Chairman Skelton, we are taking a giant step forward and bringing that war to an end.


LEMON: Minimal party line jumping on this vote. Only four Republicans joined Democrats to pass it. Ten Democrats broke ranks and voted no.

PHILLIPS: Six murders, four states, one truck driver. Add it all up, and police say you get the work of a serial killer. Right now, Bruce Mendenhall is charged with one homicide in Nashville, Tennessee. But as police investigate that crime, they're finding links to several others.

Reporter Jeremy Finley joins us now from Nashville. He's with CNN affiliate WSMV.

What have you been able find out, Jeremy?

JEREMY FINLEY, WSMV CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, sources tell us this morning that Mendenhall's victims are all women in all the states, and all are suspected of being prostitutes.

Here's what we know about Mendenhall. He's 56 years old from Albion, Illinois. He's a truck driver that obviously travels all around the country.

What police believe is that he stopped at these various truck stops -- again, he's charged with the death of one woman that we know has been charged with prostitution. There's another woman here in Tennessee that he's also been charged -- that is also known as a prostitute. Those are the two women here in Tennessee that they know that he has admitted to being connected to in terms of his crimes.

The other four women and the other parts in the other states that he has admitted involvement with, again, they are all believed to be prostitutes, as well.

This is a case that, from the very beginning, investigators now tell me that they suspected was the work of someone who is a ritual killer. When they first discovered the body here in Nashville, it was at a truck stop, and the investigators tell me that there was evidence on the scene that led them to believe that this was not the first time that this person had killed. So they began investigating immediately that they were dealing with possibly a serial killer.

They're not being really forthcoming at this point about what that evidence indicates. But again, they say that they knew from the get-go that there was evidence on that scene that led them to believe that they were dealing with a serial killer.

Here's what happened yesterday. Veteran police officer, veteran detective here in the Nashville Police Department, Pat Postiglione, was continuing to investigate this case. So he went back to the truck stop here in Nashville to try and get a little more clues.

That's when he recognized a yellow truck with a yellow cab, that that was the truck that they had been looking for. They approached the truck, talked to him and then said, "Can we look inside your truck?" Here's what he had to say.


PAT POSTIGLIONE, NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE, POLICE DEPARTMENT: I asked if I could get up inside the cab to have a visual look around and he said OK. At that point, we got consent to search. I got up inside the vehicle, and I saw some more evidence that I considered incriminating at that time. And then we stopped at that point and we felt very strongly that we were probably in the right truck. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FINLEY: Now, investigators say they've been talking with between 50 and 60 different police agencies across the country this morning. All of these departments have had cases of missing or murdered prostitutes. They're looking to see if there is a link -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: All right. Jeremy Finley is our affiliate, WSMV out of Nashville there. We'll continue to check in with you as you work this story. Thanks, Jeremy.

LEMON: Now, Kyra, back to our top story. This just in. Two teenagers arrested for plotting on their school in New York, specifically in Suffolk County. Let's head to our New York bureau and Jason Carroll with the very latest on this -- Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And Don, this all allegedly taking place at Connetquot High School in Long Island.

Apparently, in terms of what we're getting from authorities, this all unraveled on July 6. That's when authorities acquired a journal from a 15-year-old student. His name not being released because he is a juvenile.

That journal allegedly contained plans to attack the school. It was written by the student, who was on some sort of long-term suspension. The plan included threats to attack students, staff and ignite explosives.

Authorities also seized that student's computer, where they found plans where he tried to buy some sort of a semiautomatic weapon as well as Black powder for explosives.

This 15-year-old student also allegedly recruited a 17-year-old to help him with this plot. They have released the name of that 17- year-old student. His name, Michael McDonough. He has been charged with conspiracy, and he will be arraigned later today.

We should point out that at this point, school is not in session. We're expecting to have a press conference on this a little later this afternoon. We're expecting to get some more information about this -- Don.

LEMON: All right. CNN's Jason Carroll on top of this story for us in the NEWSROOM here. And Jason, you know, we look forward to you joining us with that press conference. Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Well, if Hollywood had an official glitz-o-meter, it would probably rupture today. Scooter over, Paris; make room, Britney. Here's something brand new.

Live pictures this hour. Globa -- global, rather, mega star David Beckham being officially introduced as a member of soccer's L.A. Galaxy. He actually just a few minutes ago stepped up to the podium.

But he's just half the package. The other half is his pop star wife Victoria, otherwise known as Posh Spice. They arrived in the states from London last night. It wasn't quite, you know, the Beatles touching down in New York, but it wasn't that far off either. You should have seen all the paparazzi and all the fans.

Beckham has signed a five-year deal with the Galaxy, so this is just the beginning. We're going to have more of it later on.

LEMON: A campaign seems in danger of collapse. A staffers abandon ship and coffers run short, can John McCain keep his presidential hopes alive?

PHILLIPS: First came the uproar. Now comes the lawsuits. Fellow passengers go after the TB traveler for potentially exposing them to a dangerous disease.


PHILLIPS: Our Jason Carroll is working this story, as well, but we have more now from Suffolk County in that school threat that's taking place.

We can just tell you right now that officials at Connetquot High School in Bohemia, the police there of Suffolk County have arrested two teens for conspiring to injure staff and students at the high school.

Apparently, officials there at the high school came into possession of a handwritten journal containing explicit threats of shooting and bombing that they were going to participate in sometime in the future there at the high school. The journal contained a lot of terrorist threats, plans to attack the school. There were some dates written there.

Apparently, it was written by a 15-year-old that went to that high school who is on long-term suspension from that school. Part of the plans including threats to shoot students, staff and ignite homemade explosions.

Two arrests made. We're following the story. Our Jason Carroll is all over it.

LEMON: It is 16 past the hour. Here are three of the stories we're working on for you right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A truck driver arrested for murder in Nashville, Tennessee. But this could be just the beginning of this case. Police say he's implicated himself in several other deaths in the south and the Midwest.

Is John McCain's presidential campaign on its last legs? Well, sources say his war chest is down to -- get this -- $250,000. And we expect to hear from him in the next few minutes.

And we're waiting for a Pentagon news conference. Defense Secretary Robert Gates and joint chiefs chairman Peter Pace, well, they both are expected to talk about Iraq and a lot more at 45 past the hour.

PHILLIPS: Conrad Black is best known as one-time head of a newspaper empire. Today, he's a convict. Just a short time ago, a jury in Chicago convicted Black of mail fraud and obstruction of justice. Still, the verdict could have been much worse.

Our Kyung Lah is in Chicago with the very latest -- Kyung.

KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kyra, this is certainly a stunning downfall of a media tycoon and a man who really ran around the circles of the rich and powerful.

This morning, he arrived to hear the verdict. Let's give you a look at Conrad Black there in a beige suit as he arrived here at the federal courthouse in Chicago.

He looked very, very calm. He certainly had almost no reaction as he walked among the cameras, walking into the courthouse and that was his similar reaction.

As you heard the verdict from the various jurors, convicted. Three counts of mail fraud. One count of obstruction of justice. He was, though, acquitted of nine other charges.

His three associates and three fellow defendants, they were found guilty. Three counts of mail fraud.

Black does face a maximum jail time of 35 years in prison and a maximum penalty of $1 million.

The prosecution says that what Black basically did, the prosecution's argument, was that he stole directly from the company's coffers, and he stuck $60 million right into his and his friends' pockets, basically stealing directly out of the company.

But what the defense said, what he said, was that the board of directors, among them Henry Kissinger and the former governor of Illinois, that they knew and they gave him their blessing. But at this point, the jury certainly did not buy it, Kyra.

PHILLIPS: So let's just put into perspective who Conrad Black is. And give us an idea of who he was at his peak.

LAH: You know, he's not really somebody who you at who many of you at home may have certainly known at all just by looking at him or even heard his name. But he's someone who may have directly affected you, because he may have published the paper that you're reading. He is a media mogul.

At one point in the '90s, he owned many, many newspapers, the third most powerful, largest newspaper company in the world. He owns 60 percent of candidates' newspapers. Here in Chicago, he owned the "Sun-Times". He also owned a paper in London, and he also owned a paper in Israel.

So yes, you may not directly know him, but he certainly probably had some sort of affect in your life at home.

PHILLIPS: Kyung Lah, live from Chicago. Thank you.

LEMON: All right, Kyra. Listen up. This story is about David Beckham.

A lot of folks -- we're going to take you now to that press conference where he just got his jersey. As you know, he's becoming an official member of the L.A. Galaxy. He has crossed the pond from the U.K. to the U.S., specifically to L.A., where he's going to be an official member of the Galaxy.

He's also giving a press conference now, speaking. Let's take a listen to that.

DAVID BECKHAM, SOCCER STAR: And I've always looked for challenges in my career and something exciting in my life.

Now my family have now moved to Los Angeles. Something we're looking forward to. Something we're very proud of. And in our life, everything is perfect.

For me, the -- the most important thing is my family. The second thing is the foot -- is the soccer. I'll get used to that at some point. I'm sorry.

So on to my new challenge. This is one of the biggest challenges that I've ever taken on in my career. To move to a different country, the other side of the world, something that I'm looking forward to. I think it's -- potentially in the states, soccer could be as big it is everywhere else around the world.

And I believe -- and I'm very proud to be part of that, and going to be part of that, for the next five years and maybe a few more years later. So...


BECKHAM: I'm looking forward to starting training next week. I'm looking forward to the first game. I'm looking forward to the support that you've all shown me throughout my career, not just since I've been here in Los Angeles, but you throughout my career. Thank you to everybody that's made this happen, made my dream come true.

I'm looking forward to this. My wife is here; my family is here. So thank you very much, and good luck and keep supporting us.

LEMON: There you go. David Beckham, one-half of the Posh and Becks team. Very famous throughout the U.K., because soccer is very important over there. And it's now becoming famous in the U.S.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Antonio Villaraigosa...

LEMON: A movie that was -- if we can turn the natural sound down on that a little bit. Thank you. "Bend it Like Beckham", the movie, very popular over here. This deal that he's going to make, it's supposed to be worth $32.5 million over five years, the entire deal, $250 million. David Beckham getting his jersey there in Los Angeles.

PHILLIPS: All right. Living next door to Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes.


PHILLIPS: A small villa for a cool $22 mil, I'm told. Insiders say.

Well, straight ahead, did an Atlanta lawyer infected with TB infect someone else? A live report, straight ahead from the NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Tuberculosis traveler Andrew Speaker has got another problem to worry about. He's being slapped with a $1.3 million lawsuit in Canada. Eight passengers that shared a flight with Speaker from Prague to Montreal are suing him.

One man tested positive for TB on a skin test. But can he be sure that Speaker was the source?

Joining us now, CNN correspondent -- medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. First of all, what does all this mean right now at this point?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's interesting what they're alleging. They're not alleging that he gave them TB, which is what you might think. What they're alleging, and here are the words, they're alleging that they faced fear, isolation and loss of income since the flight that they shared with Speaker.

So basically, they're saying, "Hey, we didn't even need to have TB. The fact that we were on the plane with you and maybe got TB from you, made us fearful, made us isolated." I guess people didn't want to hang out with them. I don't know, I'm guessing.

And they say loss of income. It's not clear to me how they would have lost their income. You wouldn't get that sick from someone that quickly. So I don't know what the loss of income comes from.

PHILLIPS: Well, what about the one that -- that tested positive for TB? How does he or she know that he got it from Speaker?

COHEN: Well, what's interesting is the experts we talked to said that this guy, who already tested positive for TB, he tested positive for TB six days after the flight that he shared with Speaker, and the experts we talked said there is no way that he got it from Speaker. You don't test positive that quickly after being exposed.

In fact -- and here you can see the test that we're looking at. And then later they do chest x-rays. They said if he tested positive six days after exposure, he got TB a while ago. He didn't get it from Speaker.

PHILLIPS: So what about the other passengers? When will we know if they actually have TB or not?

COHEN: They're going to -- you want to wait at least two weeks after the flight, which was May 24. So presumably, these folks were tested sometime after the two-week period ended, or they're being tested now. We don't know.

But no one has said what those tests say. No one has told us that they're positive or negative. But basically, with TB, what you do, if you're exposed, you don't know for sure until two weeks after whether you got it from that person. You have to wait two weeks to see if you got it from that person.

PHILLIPS: My guess is this won't be the last lawsuit. This is going to turn into a domino affect.

COHEN: I don't think so. This has gotten so much attention. You can imagine anyone on that plane would say, "Well, gosh, here we go."

Now Andrew Speaker says -- he says, "I'm not a trust fund baby. I'm $7,000 in debt from law school." But apparently, these people don't care.

PHILLIPS: We'll see what happens. Thanks, Elizabeth.

LEMON: I want to update you on our breaking news story that we told you about at the top of this newscast. Police in Suffolk County, New York, saying they have arrested two teenagers who were allegedly plotting an attack on their school.

Now here's the crux of it. Police in Suffolk County say on July 6 authorities from Connetquot High School came into possession of a handwritten journal containing explicit threats of shooting and -- shootings and bombings to take place at the school in the future.

The journal contained numerous terrorist threats and plans to attack the school on a future date and was written by a 15-year-old juvenile who was on long-term suspension from the school.

They're planning to have a press conference at 2 p.m. Eastern in Suffolk County. And CNN will have live coverage -- 2:30 p.m. Eastern in Suffolk County. And CNN will have live coverage for you, right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.

PHILLIPS: Records broken on Wall Street, Gains like we haven't seen in years. So are investors keeping yesterday's momentum going? Stephanie Elam at the New York Stock Exchange with a look at the numbers.

Hey, Stephanie.


LEMON: Campaign cash is tight and staffers -- well, they're bailing out. Does the John McCain campaign have a future? That's the big question.

We'll talk with Political Analyst John Mercurio straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


LEMON: America votes 2008, lets get you live to Concord, New Hampshire where John McCain is giving a speech on Iraq. And right now, he's taking questions from reporters. Let's listen in.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN,(R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: ... blame. I'm taking responsibility, because it's my campaign and that's the only appropriate way to handle things. That's the way I was brought up in the military. You take responsibility when are you in charge.


MCCAIN: Oh, please. I've had -- I've been friends with Rick Davis for 15 years. These are close personal friends of mine. They are not -- they are friends of mine, they work in Washington. They -- some of them do, some of them don't. I would never, ever allege that their lobbying interests are in any way an impact on mine.

In fact, in the case of one of them, he hadn't been a lobbyist in three years, so I categorically reject any allegation along those lines. People who are lobbyists are legitimate people. It's people who are corrupt lobbyists, you think we'll pass a law against lobbyists that's one thing, people are corrupt, just like there are corrupt politicians. And so, these are honorable people and I'm proud to be associated with --.


MCCAIN: It's very tough. We're good friends. It's very tough.

QUESTION: Senator McCain, are there any circumstances under which you could imagine yourself not still being a presidential candidate when the New Hampshire primary fell?

MCCAIN: Contracting a fatal disease.

QUESTION: Anything short of that?

MCCAIN: Not that I know of. But, you never know. You never know, I might. I was in Iraq. You never know.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) failures on your part as a candidate?

MCCAIN: Well, I think the fact that my position on immigration was obviously not helpful. The Republican base, I think that my position on the war in Iraq is obviously at least not been helpful with independents, but I take responsibility for those positions, as well as taking responsibility for any "problems" that we had within the campaign functioning (ph).

QUESTION: Without changing those positions, do you think your political position can improve?

MCCAIN: Oh, sure.

LEMON: All right. John McCain there responding really to what we're going to talk about in a minute, talking about his campaign troubles and how he possibly alienated some of his base, because of his stands on -- his stance on immigration and the war and what have you.

Earlier, he was asked about the trouble with his campaign, about top staff members resigning, many of his top staff members resigning, and also only having about $250,000 in his campaign coffers.


MCCAIN: We go to the town hall meetings, we fix our financial difficulties and we win. I'm very confident. You can see the response we get here today. The people of New Hampshire they know me, they will not go through any prism, but direct contact I'll have with the people in New Hampshire and South Carolina and Iowa, and we'll win.


MCCAIN: Oh, sure. We've always had a relatively small staff and we've never been able to compete on money. We'll win the same way we almost won in 2000.


LEMON: All right, John McCain responding to reporters there about the troubles in his campaign. Let's go now to John Mercurio, he joins us from Washington, he's a Senior Editor for "The Hotline" and a contributing writer for You heard him John, speaking about how he possibly alienated some of his base. It seems like he knows what's happening, but there's nothing he can really do about it at this point.

JOHN MERCURIO, SR. EDITOR, THE HOTLINE: I mean, it's not really rocket science, exactly. And he's a very good political scientist. He knows exactly what's going on. He's been heavily supportive of this war, and he supported an immigration reform bill, neither of which are popular.

The war with the independents like he said, and the immigration bill with the conservative wing of the party. That's I think the biggest factor, the biggest challenge that he faces. Unlike John Kerry, who a lot of people are comparing him to, who faced his own campaign troubles in 2003.

Kerry, had a very positive issues landscape, and McCain I think, suffers from the fact that even outside of his campaign structure, there are challenges for him looking ahead in this race.

LEMON: And, John it seems like Kerry's campaign troubles happened later on as it got closer to the campaign, this is happening very early on for John McCain. Usually when, I guess independent voters one would think would get energized early on, but he seems to be alienating them really at the start of his campaign.

MERCURIO: At the start of his campaign, and those are the same voters, the independent voters that he relied heavily on in 2000, when he won the New Hampshire primary against President Bush, so those are the voters I think in a Republican primary, he was going to be relying heavily on or at least expecting to rely on.

LEMON: Hey, John, how much of his press conference did you hear? Did you hear him speak there? Were you listening?

MERCURIO: Oh, I only heard what I heard on CNN.

LEMON: Well, he was -- yes. He spoke about -- someone said what would be worse than not being able to run for president? And he said something to the effect of about contracting a deadly disease. And it was a joke. And he does that often. Does that always come off -- I mean, really is it his mouth that gets him into trouble with the bomb Iran thing, and those kinds of comments?

MERCURIO: Well, you know what I thought was interesting about that comment? He is very -- he's a very unique candidate, in terms of his stage of life. We all know he's the oldest candidate. He would be the oldest president, if he is elected. But, that's one of the reasons -- one of the factors I think, that argues in favor of him staying in this race.

Look, he's not in his 40s or 50s, he's not looking at his future political viability and that's not factoring in to whether he stays in this race or gets out and banks his political capital for another campaign. This is it probably for John McCain. It's this last chance or none at all. So I think in some ways that is heavily influencing him. His age is influencing him to stay in this race and make a fight for it.

LEMON: The President mentioned yesterday, he says I believe Americans are suffering, and I don't want to misquote him, but I think he said suffering from war fatigue. And I remember just a couple months ago when John McCain went to Iraq, and he came back and said the situation was under control in Baghdad. Do you think that voters might think that he is out of touch with what's going on over there?

MERCURIO: Well, I think they definitely did when he came back and said that you could just stroll through downtown Baghdad without any problem whatsoever.

So, I think what you're hearing in his rhetoric, having returned again this week from Iraq is a very, very different assessment of what's going on, both in the streets of Baghdad and in the Iraqi parliament. I think you're hearing a much more critical, skeptical assessment of what's going on. Look, that's what he has to do, a barring some sort of major development in Iraq, he needs to -- while remaining supportive of the overall war effort, at least appear increasingly skeptical of at least the Iraqi government's contribution.

LEMON: And John, real quick, with all that's going on, what do you think his chances are? Is it only a matter of time now?

MERCURIO: You know, I've actually been one of the more optimistic people that McCain was going to be able to rebound. I think he did have the sort of the basic tools, the basic fundamentals, but you're seeing such staff defections, both in his main campaign headquarters and in Iowa. I almost wonder if he can compete in Iowa at this point. And if he can't compete in Iowa, I think it's, at this point, increasingly unlikely that he can win the nomination.

LEMON: John Mercurio, thank you.

MERCURIO: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: Live pictures in Austin, Texas right now. The LBJ Library and Museum actually taped just moments ago, along with the live bagpipes, the casket of Lady Bird Johnson. You remember, she's the woman who became the First Lady on one of the darkest days of U.S. history. She and her husband, Lyndon Johnson, side by side with the widow of JFK, right after the assassination. As time went on, she became the woman behind the man, when Johnson became president.

We're going to talk about her life and legacy. We're going to interview Jan Jarboe Russell, who wrote "Lady Bird: A Biography," of Mrs Johnson. Talk about everything from her activism within the Civil Rights Movement to all those wildflowers that we see across the states and how she championed environmental causes.

Also, do you want to know how she got the name "Lady Bird?" We're going to tell you, coming up.

LEMON: Oh, I want to know. Are you going to tell me?

al Qaeda said to be at its strongest in years. A comeback of a terrorist organization straight ahead in the CNN NEWSROOM.


PHILLIPS: Almost six years after 9/11, almost six years into the war in Afghanistan, more than four years into the war in Iraq, a U.S. government assessment concludes al Qaeda is flourishing and aiming for a new attack on America. How could that be?

CNN's Terrorism Analyst Peter Bergen looked at some low points in the war on terror.


PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST (voice-over): Mistake number one, a big one, letting Osama bin Laden go. U.S. special forces had bin Laden cornered in the Tora Bora mountains of Afghanistan in late 2001. The CIA commander on the scene asked for more forces to catch al Qaeda's leader, but was turned down. And bin Laden escaped.

Mistake number two, getting distracted. The United States ousted the Taliban and chased al Qaeda into Pakistan. But then it shifted its focus and manpower to Iraq, leaving just a handful of U.S. operatives to catch bin Laden.

Art Keller hunted bin Laden in Pakistan just last year, when he was with the CIA.

ART KELLER, FORMER CIA OFFICER: To use a medical analogy, it's like quitting a course of antibiotics too soon. You just leave a reservoir of infection even stronger to come back after you.

BERGEN: There are now more Americans on the ground in Pakistan. But the damage has already been done.

Mistake number three, misunderstanding the enemy. The Bush administration hoped that Iraq would draw terrorists to one place, making them easier to kill, the so-called flypaper theory. But the opposite happened. Iraq has strengthened al Qaeda. It's now a training ground for terrorists from around the world.

KELLER: People are going there to learn the tactics, and then come back.

BERGEN (on camera): A certain irony?

KELLER: Yes, it is. It seems like the reverse of the way the war on terror was supposed to work.

BERGEN (voice-over): Take suicide bombings, for example. Once unheard of in Afghanistan, now they happen at least once a week.

I met a failed suicide bomber in Kabul, who survived when his vest didn't blow up.

(on camera): Do you still hope to be a shahid, somebody who martyrs himself, when you get out of here?


BERGEN: Of course.

(voice-over): That's the mistake number four, the so-called Iraq effect, letting al Qaeda spread its ideas and methods around the world. It was evident most recently in the London and Glasgow botched terror attacks, where an Iraqi doctor is alleged to have been involved in a plot that could have killed hundreds.

Another mistake, to some intelligence officials, protecting an ally, rather than striking al Qaeda. "The New York Times" reports that Washington nixed an attack on al Qaeda's leaders in Pakistan in 2005, for fear that it would destabilize Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf. Some take comfort in the fact that al Qaeda still hasn't struck America again. But others say that's a false comfort.

KELLER: I think that the fact that we haven't been hit doesn't really tell us anything other than that there's a long planning cycle for terrorist acts.

BRUCE HOFFMAN, SECURITY STUDIES PROGRAM PROFESSOR, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: They have pinned their hopes on carrying out another spectacular operation, if not exactly like 9/11, at least along the same lines. And that's what they believe will once again catapult them back into prominence, as the undisputed head of the global jihadi movement.

BERGEN: Al Qaeda is patient, planning for maximum impact, looking for a way to top 9/11, taking its time. And the U.S. has given them exactly that, time.

Peter Bergen, CNN, Washington.


PHILLIPS: Live Q&A right now at the Pentagon. Let's listen in to Defense Secretary Bob Gates, also Chief of the Joint Chairs, Peter Pace taking Q&A from reporters, let's listen in.

SECRETARY OF DEFENSE ROBERT M. GATES: Couple of very brief introductory comments.

I would like to thank the Senate and Chairman Levin in particular for the confirmation of Secretary of the Army Pete Geren a little while ago. Been enjoying working with Pete. It's a little known factoid that Pete's grandfather designed all of the best buildings at Texas A&M University. And I don't know how Pete strayed from the true and narrow, but ended up not at Texas A&M.



We had a change in command at U.S. Special Operations Command on Monday. General Doug Brown, after four years of command down there and 40 years of service to the nation, retired and Admiral Eric Olson took over Special Ops Command.

It's a great opportunity to remind ourselves what an incredible job our special operators have been doing for this nation since this war began. As we sit here in air conditioning, they're in 114-degree heat strapping it on every day to take care of our nation's problems, and we deeply appreciate all that our special operations forces are doing for us.

GATES: I understand that one of your number is leaving after today, after 10 years of service here.

So, Pam, we'll give you the first question.

QUESTION: Thank you. And if I could take this opportunity to...

GATES: Unless, of course, you don't have one.



To sit for an interview in my new beat covering intelligence, if you wouldn't mind. I would like you to commit to that right now on the record with cameras rolling.



GATES: Commit to what?

QUESTION: An interview in my new beat on intelligence...

GATES: We'll certainly take it under advisement.


QUESTION: The question that I have, sir, actually has to do with that. You told us in May, and you told the Senate in May that Al Qaida had reconstituted itself.

And then that's obviously come out this week with the NIA reporting.

At the time, you also told us that you had asked for a report on the status of Al Qaida and Al Qaida affiliates around the world. And I was wondering if you could give us some insight into what you've heard on that, which countries have new Al Qaida affiliates, which countries have those cells that are looking to affiliate themselves with it.

GATES: I think that the area where there has been the -- in just recent months, in the last little while, the emergence of Al Qaida has been in North Africa.

And they actually -- this was one of those -- when I mentioned that a couple of months ago, what I was talking about was that I had asked for a map that showed me what countries had Al Qaida cells in them. Then in a different color what countries had terrorist cells of groups that were affiliated with Al Qaida. And then a third category, countries where were there terrorist cells that wanted to be affiliated with Al Qaida but hadn't gotten approved yet.

The Maghreb was an area in the second category. There has basically been a merger, or whatever you want to call it, of several terrorist groups there under the rubric of Al Qaida in the Maghreb. And I think that's probably the newest area where it has emerged as a reasonably coherent organization. QUESTION: Which category would you put Iraq in, and which color would you say that its terrorist cell's affiliated with Al Qaida or actual Al Qaida cells?

And can you explain the relationship between Al Qaida in Iraq and this group, the umbrella group we hear about, the Islamic State of Iraq?

And what is the relationship between Al Qaida in Iraq to Al Qaida-bin Laden leadership in Pakistan?

GATES: I think -- let me describe it as I understand it.

I think in many respects Al Qaida has become a franchise organization.

And we, I think, have pretty good evidence that, for example, Al Qaida in Iraq takes strategic guidance and inspiration from the Al Qaida in the western part of Pakistan, Osama bin Laden's organization -- Zawahiri and company.

They get advice. They clearly are connected. But they also have, I think, probably substantial autonomy.

And I think that that's probably true of these other Al Qaida- related organizations, such as the one I just mentioned in the Maghreb.

And, in a way, I think what we saw -- and this is -- I'm not an expert on it, but this is my understanding.

I think what we've seen is, subsequent to the ouster of the Taliban in 2002, 2003, that almost as a means of survival, and given the primitive conditions in which Osama bin Laden and the other leadership live for quite some time, and basically being on the run, the kind of centralized control that they had had prior to 9/11 became almost impossible for a variety of reasons.

And so I think what you've seen is the evolution of Al Qaida into a much broader organization, but one in which there are a number of autonomous or semiautonomous organizations that are under this overall umbrella led by Osama bin Laden.

QUESTION: Mr. Chairman, the interim report concluded that the progress of the Iraqi security forces in becoming more independent over the last few months had been inadequate.

Given the importance of that in ultimately getting American troops home, how do you intend to rectify it as the months go ahead? And will it include going back to the idea we heard last year of increasing the size of the training teams at the tactical level to really give them the ability to push the Iraqi units out front more?

PACE: Well, it's certainly one of the things we'll be looking to General Petraeus for his recommendation when we get to September. We have about 6,000 U.S. troops, give or take a few, who are currently in the training mode over there. We do need to do more training with the Iraqis. We do need to have more opportunities to have embedded units with them.

So as we look at the progress to date, as we see where we are in September, that'll be part of the overall analysis that he'll come in with. It'll be part of the analysis that Admiral Fallon will come in with. It'll be part of the analysis that the chiefs and I will recommend to the secretary. And all that will become part of a dialogue as far as where are we in September, what's working and needs to be reinforced, what's not and needs to be changed.

QUESTION: Do you think -- just to follow up quickly -- that the training effort at the tactical level has had to take a backseat to some degree because of the focus on protecting Iraqi civilians in the last few months?

PACE: I wouldn't put it that way.

But I do think that we have an opportunity to assess whether or not the size of the teams we currently have with the Iraqis is adequate, and do we have enough teams with enough units in the field.

That is not independent of the ongoing fight. But I don't think it's been proscribed by the battle in Baghdad right now.

QUESTION: If you could just trace for us a little bit the exact numbers -- and, I guess, Mr. Secretary, if you could address what do you say to Congress, who seems to think that the Iraqis are actually backsliding.

Because the numbers we had as early as I think March was that there were 10 battalions operating independently. And it seems as though you guys either diminished or at least not increased.

And so, what do you say to Congress about how this isn't working so far and why it hasn't?

And can you be a little bit more specific about the numbers?

PACE: I can tell you the numbers that are in my head.

Last March, I think I said there were -- I did say, and there were, 10 battalions that were operating independently. And I think at the time I said there were another 88 operating in the lead.

Today, the numbers I saw were six battalions operating independently and another almost 100 that are operating in the lead.

So the question becomes, "OK, how do you go from 10 to six, and why those changes?"

And the answer is, quite simply, that as units operate in the field, they have casualties, they consume vehicles and equipment and need to come out of the line and be resupplied, just like our own units.

So the fact that a number may be changing within a very narrow band shouldn't be overly of concern.

PHILLIPS: Bottom line, when will Iraqis be able to secure their own country? That's the question. As the debate continues on the Hill on when troops should come home, how long they should stay in Iraq. Reporters continuing to ask the question from the man in charge there, the chairman of the joint chiefs, Peter Pace, side by side with the Secretary of Defense Bob Gates.

When will the Iraqi have enough battalions, enough men, foot soldiers, to secure that country. U.S. commanders on the ground saying they've got good battalions of Iraqi forces, but still not enough. So it's an ongoing debate in light of the question, when will U.S. troops be able to come home? You're hearing time and time again. It won't be until there's enough Iraqis to secure that country? So when will that happen? we still haven't been able to get an answer. we'll follow the briefing and, of course, the debate as it continues on the Hill and Iraq.

LEMON: Well, they were coming into for a routine landing -- check out this video -- until an urgent call to abort. Ahead in the NEWSROOM, 300 people can thank their lucky stars and a pilot's quick reflexes that they are here today.