Return to Transcripts main page

CNN Newsroom

Holiday Travel; Destroyed CIA Tapes; Last-Minute Votes; American Man Released in Nicaragua; International Leaders Pledge Afghanistan Support; Hamas Drafting Temporary Cease-Fire

Aired December 22, 2007 - 12:00   ET


T.J. HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: That poor girl.
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: We don't have maps.

HOLMES: It's tough to watch.

KAYE: It's just as hard to hear her say "the U.S. Americans."

HOLMES: Poor girl. Well, she's going to go onto a fine education at an Ivy League school, I'm sure.

KAYE: Yes, she will.

HOLMES: Fredricka?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Don't tase me, bro! I think that's my favorite. Don't tase me, bro.

All right, you guys have a good holiday. I know you're both going to be traveling. And oh, traveling is really nasty right now. Let's hope it clears up for you guys.

All right, well the holiday crunch is in full swing and we'll try to help you avoid the travel Grinch as you head out in this weekend before Christmas travel rush.

More than 65 million Americans will be on the move this holiday. AAA says most will be hitting the roadways. For some, that'll be a little challenging, however, as you see in these pictures right here from Minneapolis, so pack your patience.

And you'll really need that patience if you're traveling by air, as well. Flight delays are already greeting some airline passengers this holiday weekend. Weather, of course, being blamed.

Robby Backwell (ph) of affiliate WLS talks to some families going over the river and through the woods.


ROBBY BACKWELL, WLS REPORTER (voice over): The Moralez family is scrambling to get to grandma's house in San Diego for Christmas, the start of their journey in Madison, Wisconsin, and have chosen to fly to Phoenix tonight, after which they'll drive for four hours.

(on camera): What's the first thing you're going to do when you get to your grandparents' place?

CRUZ MORALEZ, TRAVELING TO SAN DIEGO: I'm going to say hello to all of my cousins and give them their gifts, then stay up all night.

BACKWELL (voice over): The delays are not bothering travelers too much, and people are prepared.

LIZ DAY, TRAVELING TO COSTA RICA: I've got it down to a science, because I actually travel for a living. And so you know, I've got everything real planned and real organized. So you know, it's not stressful for me.

BACKWELL: Evelyn Livaditis is taking her mother on her first holiday trip.

(on camera): Do you think that we worry and get all wound up about holiday travel more than we should?

MARY LIVADITIS, TRAVELING TO NEW YORK: I do, anyway. But nobody else does!

I freak out. Especially you call me, tell her, oh, we're going to take the stuff out, take care of you. I was running around the house like a nut.

BACKWELL: People are accepting the sea of yellow on flight information screens, indicating delays or worse, flight cancellations, and taking advantage of free gift-wrapping after passing through security.

DEBBIE RABEOR, CHICAGO DEPT OF AVIATION: We've been very busy. I expect to wrap at least over 30 presents within just a few hours. So, it comes in waves, but it's a great program, it's been going on for four or five years now, and we're happy to provide the service for the passengers.

FRANKIE BEECROFT, TRAVELING TO ST LOUIS: It's amazing, and I had no idea about it. It's like Christmas come early.


WHITFIELD: All right. Really nasty travel out there, weather- related. Reynolds Wolf, you got your hands full today, and I know it's going to be hard to be the bearer of good news, right?

REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The good news is that this is all part of going to see your loved ones, and what could be more important than that? I mean, the trip that's -- you've got to look at it, you've got to have a good attitude about this. It's all part of the fun. Doesn't this look like fun behind me?

We've got nearly 6,000 planes in the air, landing, taking off or in mid-flight. This is our Google Earth. And each one of these little specs you see, that happens to indicate an airplane. It looks like North America badly need of a shave right now, no question about it.

What we're getting in terms of delays, well, we got them for you. No surprise in Chicago, grand delays of two hours and 10 minutes, and New York where everything is increasing, your departure delays are an hour and 15 minutes. Over an hour in Philadelphia, Teterboro, hitting up to two hours some spots. We do have some good news, though, out of Milwaukee that things are decreasing. Delays are now much longer, now only 45 minutes and dropping. So, give it another 10 to 15 minutes, and things should shorten more, we hope. That's the way it's going to look.

However, you're going to also be looking at delays on the roadways in parts of the central and south Plains. We've been talking about the snow there this morning. Not just snow on the ground, but the snow that's being pushed around, the blowing snow. We had blizzard conditions in parts of Kansas. Not so much now, but still in Wichita, back over to Emporia into Kansas City, you're going to be dealing with the snowflakes.

Same story in the Twin Cities, although now we've got the area of low pressure, at least most of the moisture is moving north in Duluth back over to Ashland. Here in Phelps, give it some time, you're going to be dealing with a combination of rain first, then the sleet, then the snow.

But meanwhile, back over to Watertown, even into Brainerd, things are still winter, very cold for you. That northwesterly breeze is just going to come roaring over into the next couple of days, where we'll have wind chill factors that are going to be around 30 to 40 degrees below zero for the northern Plains, so bundle up. It's going to be brutal for you.

The Pacific Northwest, a combination of rain, sleet and snow. Meanwhile, for much of the southeast, including Atlanta, cool and wet through the weekend. That is a check on your forecast, and Fredricka, we're going to have so much more, plus on this side of the screen, this side, flight delays on the bottom, five-day forecast.

WHITFIELD: I snow, I see.

WOLF: Got you covered.

WHITFIELD: This is good, and this is just the beginning, because we're going to be checking with you again later in the hour and I know that there's still ground you didn't get to cover in that span of time.

WOLF: Absolutely. You bet.

WHITFIELD: All right, thanks a lot.

All right, for people driving into the U.S. from Canada or Mexico or coming in by ship from the Caribbean, some rather comforting news. They will not have to show their passports, at least comforting for those travelers. Congress has delayed that requirement. It won't take effect until at least 2009, if President Bush signs the bill. That's one year later than the Department of Homeland Security actually wanted. Passports are still required for anyone flying, however, into the country.

New developments concerning those destroyed CIA tapes. The "New York Times" reports that former members of the 9/11 commission made repeated and detailed requests to the CIA in 2003 and 2004. The commissioners were looking for documents concerning how al Qaeda operatives were being interrogated. The "New York Times" says the panel was told they had been given everything they requested. Next half hour CNN national security adviser John McLaughlin will join us live to discuss this latest development.

The presidential candidates are doing some last-minute shopping today, but they're shopping for votes ahead of next month's Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. Democratic contender Hillary Clinton met with a group of undecided mothers and daughters in Manchester, New Hampshire, just a couple hours ago. Also in the Granite State today, for a town hall meeting, Republican candidate Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani made his first campaign appearance in New York last night after a brief hospital stay in Missouri for flu-like symptoms.

Well, with the Iowa caucuses less than two weeks away now and the New Hampshire primary coming on January 8, just how are the candidates stacking up? Well, it's pretty hard to tell, as senior political analyst Bill Schneider reports, lots of potential voters are also still shopping.


BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST (voice over): The Iowa and New Hampshire campaigns have been going on for nearly a year, and look how many voters are still undecided. In Iowa, 34 percent of likely Democratic caucus-goers and 40 percent of likely Republican caucus-goers say they're still trying to make up their minds. The numbers are even higher in New Hampshire, 38 percent of democrats and 45 percent of Republicans still haven't decided who they're going to vote for.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know it would be Democrat, but I haven't made a final decision.

SCHNEIDER: And talk about procrastinators, consider this -- as of last weekend, according to an online survey, 2/3 of Americans had not finished their Christmas shopping. Retailers say over the past few years, people have been waiting longer and longer to do their Christmas shopping. Some stores are staying open all weekend to capture those last-minute shoppers.

Campaigns can't shut down for the holidays, either. They need a big sales pitch to capture those late deciders. Who are they? They're more likely to be strong partisans than independents. Partisans know what they're looking for, independent voters not so much. They don't do much shopping.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm an independent voter, and I think I'm either going to go for Ron Paul as a Democratic candidate or else Dennis Kucinich as a Democrat.

SCHNEIDER: Voters are taking longer to make up their minds for the same reason shoppers are waiting until the last minute, not because they're lazy, because even with all those candidates to pick from, nobody's been able to close the sale.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think a lot of the candidates have good ideas, but I'm not 100 percent sold on any of them.

SCHNEIDER (on camera): More and more shoppers are buying gift cards, which is a way of saying I can't make up my mind, let somebody else decide. Can voters do that? Well, they can just stay home and let others decide for them.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


WHITFIELD: Well, perhaps you want the most up to the minute political news anywhere available. Well, is your one- stop shop. It's the Internet's premiere destination for political news,

Well, now in hiding until he can return home, a family spokeswoman is reporting threats against American, Eric Volz. He was released from custody in Nicaragua and quickly left the country four days after a court overturned his sentence and 30 year sentence in the death of his Nicaraguan girlfriend. Prosecutors are appealing Volz's release. His mother, meanwhile, is still trying to take it all in.


MAGGIE ANTHONY, MOTHER OF ERIC VOLZ: You know, it hasn't hit me yet. It just -- we have been living on the edge for over a year now, and I just haven't had time to just digest. I'm sure the minute I get home and fall into my husband's arms and see my daughter, it'll hit me and it's just going to be incredible. We are so, so thankful for this gift.


WHITFIELD: Volz's mother says she'll worry about him until he is on u.s. Soil.

The war in Afghanistan front and center today for two international leaders, French president, Nicolas Sarkozy and new Australian prime minister, Kevin Rudd, both officials pledging political and military support for the long haul. Sarkozy met with Afghan president, Hamid Karzai and spent time with some of France's more than 1,900 troops deployed in Afghanistan as part of the NATO force.

Rudd also held talks with Karzai and spent time with some of the more than 900 Aussie troops in that country.

Well, have you finished your holiday shopping? Well, apparently, a lot of people haven't even started. Store managers are getting pretty worried, too. We'll check in live at one of the most famous department stores in the country straight ahead.


WHITFIELD: And now to stories making news "Across America." A jury in Michigan convicts Stephen Grant of second-degree murder. His wife's body parts were found in their garage and at a nearby park. Grant faces life in prison, but could be eligible for parole. His sentencing is set for February.

And mourners in Indianapolis are paying final respects to Democratic representative Julia Carson. Carson was the first woman and first black person to represent the city in Congress. She died of cancer last weekend at the age of 69.

And giving thanks to car Santa. Have you heard of car Santa? Terry Franz is giving away nearly 300 cars to needy families in Kansas and Missouri this year. He does it with the help of donations and calls it the greatest job in the world and so do a lot of the recipients.

Later in the hour, the story of somebody very similar. They call him "Secret Santa." His name is Larry Stewart. We'll be talking to an author of a new book about him and his legacy. And later this hour, we'll look at how that Santa lives on. He did his -- or rather he hid his identity while handing out 10, 20, even $100 bills to those in need.

Meantime, many of Santa's little helpers are still shopping today. You know who you are. Our Jim Acosta is in the mix at Macy's in New York.

And I imagine in between live shots, Jim, are you getting a little shopping done, too, or are you done?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm getting a little shopping done, that's right. I picked up a set of Ginsu Knives for you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Oh gee thanks. You heard of what a good cook I am.

ACOSTA: It slices and dices, exactly. No, we're on 34th Street, and you couldn't find a better place for a Miracle on 34th Street for retailers this year. They're desperate for one this time of year, and that is because while the shoppers are bundled up out here, they're not exactly spending a bundle this time of year.

The retail stores are doing what they can, as I try to make my way through the hustle and bustle of Manhattan, here. Stores like this Macy's department store are staying open 24 hours on these final days before Christmas. Many are slashing prices, all in an effort to lure in those last-minute procrastinators.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice over): Retail stores are pulling out all the stops to make sure this final holiday shopping weekend won't be the nightmare before Christmas. The industry is looking to last-minute shoppers to save the season.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I intentionally like to go late, you know, sort of last-minute, because it creates more excitement, enthusiasm, and fun.

ACOSTA: Fun is not in the forecast for the nation's retailers. They're predicting a disappointing, four percent increase in sales this holiday season, nearly a full point lower than the 10-year average.

SCOTT KRUGMAN, VICE PRES. NATL RETAIL FEDERATION: The reason for the slowdown, we're seeing a more conservative consumer. Clearly, the housing market, the credit crunch, rising energy costs, and inflation is certainly taking its toll.

ACOSTA: Even the red-hot online shopping sector is seeing a drop-off, although Internet sales are expected to jump by 20 percent, that's down from last year's performance.

GIAN FULGONI, CHARIMAN, COMSCORE: I think it's pretty clear that there is a lower level of confidence this year, a hesitancy to spend, and, you know, that's dropped the growth rate somewhat. All of that said, 19 to 20 percent growth rate's nothing to sneeze at.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

ACOSTA: One soft spot in the economy that actually can help retailers, the weak dollar. Foreign shoppers are opening up their wallets, treating glitzy U.S. department stores like bargain basements.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Our money's gone a long way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's gone a long way, yeah. We've still got quite a bit left of it.

ACOSTA: Analysts say a strong finish to the holiday shopping season would give the economy some much-needed good cheer.

DANA TELSEY, TELSEY ADVISORY GROUP: Months in shopping and retail, you want a good holiday season in order to kick off 2008 on a better platform.


ACOSTA: And while there is reason to be somewhat pessimistic about the economic outlook this time of year, we should point out that a consumer spending report just came out that says in the month of November spending actually was up, actually really up for the first time in about 3-1/2 years. So the retailers are concerned this time of year, but the picture is not entirely gloomy, there is a silver ling out there -- Fredricka. WHITFIELD: But it does seem like overall when so many different shoppers have been polled, people are spending less money, because money is tight this holiday season for so many reasons, you know, so many different kinds of economic situations that this country has been facing.

ACOSTA: Absolutely, which is why we're standing right here on 34th Street, Fredricka. We're hoping for that miracle to happen. But no, you're right. With all of these problems with gas prices, you know, we were talking to a shopper earlier without prompting that person...

WHITFIELD: Foreclosures.

ACOSTA: Exactly.


ACOSTA: The housing crisis, it's all adding up to -- and many retailers feared the domino effect would snowball on top of them. We're going to have to wait until after these holiday numbers are tallied up to figure out exactly what happened out here, if all these shoppers are doing their job or if they're keeping their hands in their pockets.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jim Acosta, thanks so much. Right there in New York, right outside of Macy's.

Well, there is so much to do, so much Christmas-related shopping stuff to take care of, a lot of pressure out there. But perhaps if money is pretty tight for you, maybe you need to do yourself a favor and just stop for a minute and listen to this. Our shopping pro has a list of things you might want to hold off on until after Christmas to buy them.


JENNIFER WATERS, CONSUMER REPORTER: Things like apparel, like I said, are going to be hugely discounted. We're going to see some other -- you know, we'll see some electronics stuff be discounted, toys will probably be a big, hugely discounted, too, because the toys sales -- I mean, FAO Schwarz has said, sales are up for us, but not up where we thought they would be. Toys "R" Us said most of the same thing.

So we'll see big discounts on those, as well. I think what we'll also see discounts on is footwear, for example, and other accessories. We'll see a lot of discounts on those as well.


WHITFIELD: All right, and we want shoppers to also be aware of a new toy warning. This time it's not lead, it may be asbestos. The maker of the CSI: Fingerprint Examination Kit, that one right there, is asking stores to actually stop selling it. Tests show asbestos in some samples from the kit's fingerprint dust that you just saw. The company is investigating whether it imposes, indeed, a health risk.

Serving your country, a long way from home is always tough, especially at the holidays. Next, a soldier's family reunion took place right here on CNN.


WHITFIELD: Well, few stories have resonated with CNN's viewers as much as that as Youssif, the 5-year-old Iraqi boy who was severely attacked by attackers who set him on fire with gasoline. Well, now in the United States he's begun a series of surgeries to undo the damage. CNN chief medial correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta tells Youssif story in a documentary airing Christmas Eve. Here now is a preview.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SR. MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Dr. Grossman let me scrub in to observe. He showed me how he hopes to undo much of what an unspeakably cruel act has done to this 5-year- old boy.

DR. PETER GROSSMAN, GROSSMAN BURN CENTER: We'll basically be excising this thickened scar tissue around here.

GUPTA: He planned to remove scar tissue from around Youssif's nose and insert tissue expander, small balloons under the healthy skin in Youssif's cheek and neck. Over time, Dr. Grossman hoped to stretch the healthy skin so it could replace the heavy scars on Youssif's chin, jaw line, and next to his ear.

GROSSMAN: Now it's time to operate.

GUPTA: All right.


GUPTA: Dr. Grossman took Youssif's case for free and expected to perform half a dozen or more operations over the next year. How Youssif's faired in this initial operation would play an enormous role in how well the boy heals and how much evidence remained of the attack that disfigured his young face.

For me, it was a fascinating, close-up view of state of the art burn surgery. For Youssif's parents it was an ordeal of waiting.

GROSSMAN: This is not a sure thing.


WHITFIELD: Well, Youssif's life-altering surgery was made possible because of an outpouring of donations and support from you, the viewers. The whole story from Baghdad to southern California premiers Christmas Eve, 10:00 Eastern in CNN's first "Impact Your World" special, "Rescuing Youssif."

Straight ahead, I'll speak with a former director of the CIA about reports the agency withheld interrogation tapes from the 9/11 commission.


GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR (voice over): A new way to catch some Zs on this week's "Modern Living." If long commutes cut into your sleep time, there is a jacket designed to help you rest comfortably on a plane, train, or a bus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was trying to make a fashionable piece of clothing that also has a great transformation property too to it, where it also changes and transforms and tightens to create a sleeping cocoon.

WILLIS: The jacket has a collar that becomes a sleeping mask, the lapels turn into pillows and the sides tighten up around your torso to keep you from leaning, making it easier to sleep while sitting up. Gail hopes to bring the jacket to market by the end of the year.

With this week's "Modern Living," I'm Gerri Willis.



WHITFIELD: Happening right now -- Israeli media report the militant Palestinian group Hamas is drafting terms for a temporary cease-fire with Israel. Israeli radio quotes Hamas as officials saying the group is in talks with other armed Palestinian factions to win their support of the idea. A senior member of Islamic jihad says they've had discussions with Hamas about a limited truce.

And Republican presidential candidate, Rudy Giuliani is back on the campaign trail. He's attending a town hall meeting in New Hampshire today. Giuliani made his first campaign appearance in New York last night after a brief hospital stay in Missouri for flu-like symptoms.

Well, as we mentioned, new information about those destroyed CIA tapes now. The "New York Times" is reporting a recent review of classified documents by former members of the 9/11 Commission. It found that the CIA withheld tapes about the interrogations of al Qaeda operatives. The "New York Times" says a top CIA official had told panel members they had been given everything they requested in 2003 and 2004.

Well, joining us now with his take on all of this, former acting CIA director and now CNN's National Security Adviser John McLaughlin. Good to see you, John.


WHITFIELD: All right, so the 9/11 Commission requested the review of what they're calling classified documents. Should these videotapes have been considered classified documents?

MCLAUGHLIN: I don't think so, Fredricka. In fact ...


MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I think it's ludicrous to suggest in fact, that we withheld anything of consequence from the 9/11 Commission. Our sole intent was to provide them everything they needed to complete their inquiry in the best way possible, and if you look at their report, they stress the cooperation they got from the CIA, and I think it would have been literally impossible for them to reconstruct the plot, as successfully as they did, without the information.

WHITFIELD: But why would a request for classified documents not include videotapes? Isn't that considered a classified document of sorts? It is documenting the interrogation of these alleged operatives.

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, let me explain. What we did in the case of the 9/11 Commission is to give them on paper the results of all of the interrogations of all of these detainees. In fact, we went so far as to solicit questions from the 9/11 Commission, specific questions they wanted to ask of the detainees and then put those questions to them and then transmitted the answers.

So, the tapes in a way were irrelevant to their inquiry. In fact, the "New York Times" story -- the implication is that we were somehow sitting around and waiting and hoping they didn't ask us for these tapes. In truth, these tapes never entered our minds as we were supplying information to the 9/11 Commission. We were giving them everything that was relevant from either tapes or interrogations for their inquiry.

WHITFIELD: Well, why wouldn't that enter the mind because it would seem that these tapes would be relevant to their inquiry. And these commission members are now saying that you directly, as former deputy director as well as the rest of the CIA intentionally were impeding this federal inquiry. So, how do you respond to that, and what would be the consequences of interfering with this kind of federal investigation?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, it's very disappointing to me that people like, whom I respect, like Congressman Hamilton and Governor Kaine, would now be saying that after expressing earlier their confidence that we cooperated fully with them and the value of what we'd given them.

Again, I would just stress to you that there was nothing on these tapes that was relevant to their inquiry. Anything that was on the tapes that would be relevant to their inquiry was given to them in writing, and the tapes would have simply not advanced their inquiry at all.

WHITFIELD: Well, even if the material -- whether the material would be relevant to the inquiry or not, where are you on the destruction of such tapes? I mean, clearly, there was a purpose, there was a reason to have these interrogations and to videotape them. Why destroy the tapes? MCLAUGHLIN: Well, I wasn't there at the time they were destroyed, so I want to be careful about what I say about that, since there may be some legal proceedings associated with it, and I don't want to prejudice those at all.

WHITFIELD: Do you think such tapes should be destroyed?

MCLAUGHLIN: Well, what I would tell you at the time is, you know, the implication, again, in the "New York Times" story is that we had somehow decided not to destroy them because we thought they might ask for them. This is just flat wrong. We had decided not to destroy them, period, and they were just -- they were there. That's all there was to it.

WHITFIELD: And so John, this now kind of raises another concern that people might have. We got a short conversation interview with a senior U.S. intelligence official who was quoted as saying "As you know, the Commission's mandate was to examine the facts and circumstances surrounding the September 11 attacks, identify lessons learned and provide recommendations to safeguard against future acts of terrorism. It wasn't to investigate interrogation techniques."

So, this is almost implying that there is a CIA mantra which says, we can carry on our interrogations or investigations any way we want to and no one, not even the 9/11 Commission has the right to question or inquire. Is that the mantra?

MCLAUGHLIN: No, I don't think so, but I think it is true, literally true, that their mandate was not to examine interrogation methods. It is literally true their mandate was to reconstruct the plot, take lessons from it and make recommendations. And in fact, the plot was most well understood by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed about whom there were no tapes. There were no tapes of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and they got everything that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had to say, including responses to their questions.

The tapes were of two other individuals who had knowledge of the inner workings of al Qaeda, but not as clearly as Khalid Sheikh Mohammed did of the 9/11 plot. So, from that point of view, I really think they got everything that they needed here supplied in full.

WHITFIELD: All right, well, something tells me this exchange of words and views of exactly what happened, what should have happened might go on for a bit longer.

John McLaughlin, thanks so much, former CIA deputy director and now CNN national security adviser. Appreciate it.

MCLAUGHLIN: You bet, bye-bye.

WHITFIELD: Well, straight ahead, three men charged with setting a fire that burned dozens of homes in Malibu, California, have apparently pleaded not guilty. The men are accused of recklessly causing the Malibu Canyon fire late last month. Investigators say an illegal campfire touched off the blaze. The fire burned 4,000 acres and destroyed 50 homes. The preliminary hearing in this case is set for next month, and we continue to follow that.

And it's the season of giving, that you know, and one man became a legend by handing out $10, $20, even $100 bills. Larry Stewart was the Secret Santa of Kansas City, and when he was unemployed and hungry, a man gave him $20. Well, that act of kindness stayed with Stewart. So when he became a successful businessman, he returned the favor time and time again. Well, Stewart handed out more than $1 million over years to strangers that he met on the street, as well as at bus stations and at restaurants, anywhere he actually saw people in need.

We didn't reveal his identity until he was diagnosed with cancer last year, and that's when Stewart urged everyone to become a Secret Santa in their neighborhood.


LARRY STEWART, SECRET SANTA: We've got over 3,000 new Secret Santas that have gone to the Web site, and anybody can become one. It doesn't take money, any random act of kindness. Bake some cookies for the lady across the street. It's, of course,


WHITFIELD: Well, Larry Stewart died earlier this year, but his legacy lives on.

And joining me now is Donna McGuire, a reporter for the Kansas City "Star" newspaper, and one of the few people who actually got to witness Stewart's magic of handing out holiday blessings. You even wrote a book about him, "Secret santa."

Good to see you, Donna.

DONNA MCGUIRE, REPORTER, KANSAS CITY STAR: Hey, good morning, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Well really, you had an incredible view of the giving that this man carried out. Why did he allow you to accompany him in so many occasions when the idea was, you know, people not to notice this man, except when they received the cash?

MCGUIRE: Well, I think it was two reasons. One, he couldn't stay around long enough to get the people's stories. If he did, too many people came after him wanting money.


MCGUIRE: And by inviting journalists along, we could find out what they were going to use the money for and just how much it meant to them. And secondly, by letting us tell the stories like you have done last year, it spreads the message.

WHITFIELD: Yes, yes, it really does. It's inspired a lot of people, and we'll get to the inspiration and how his legacy lives on in a moment. But you know, I want you to kind of paint the picture for a lot of folks who heard about his story, whether it was through, you know, news reports or -- et cetera. But you know, what was it about him and how he identified those in need and how he determined, I'm going to give this person $20, I'm going to give this person $100, or $2,400?

MCGUIRE: Well, the first few years, it was $20 bills, but then even when he was fairly young, still, he started with the $100 bills, and it was because he had been poor and homeless himself and he knew to look for people with holes in their shoes, driving beat-up, old cars. He knew the look on their face, especially right before the holidays.


MCGUIRE: And so, he could go into a thrift store, laundromats, places where people with money would not go.

WHITFIELD: And so initially, when in a laundromat, say for example, when he approached them or started to pull out money, did they think he was crazy? Did they even believe it, did they think this was a joke -- a cruel joke?

MCGUIRE: Some thought it was a trap, some thought it was a joke. Others were just so stunned and amazed, they would cry, they would jump up and down in joy, wave the money, give him a hug.

WHITFIELD: Aw, and so now, here he has passed on, but people are still -- you and I are still talking about his story and the legacy of his giving, because it does carry on, right? There are people who have been inspired by his giving, and there are efforts under way to make sure it keeps going.

MCGUIRE: He trained four Santas here in Kansas City, who all hit the streets this last week, giving out $100 bills stamped with Larry's name.


MCGUIRE: So Larry Stewart, Secret Santa, on all of the bills. One of those Santas has also gone to San Diego, Phoenix, and Charlotte and handed out money, thousands ...


MCGUIRE: ...tens of thousands of dollars of his own money, and is training Santas in all of those cities to do the same thing.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's remarkable. So, it really will just go on and on for a long time to come.

MCGUIRE: Like the movie ...

WHITFIELD: Yes, it really is.

MCGUIRE: Like the movie "Pay It Forward." WHITFIELD: Well, it's a great book, as well, "Secret Santa." Donna McGuire, thanks so much for your time and happy holidays to you.

MCGUIRE: Same to you. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you.

Well, ringing in the holiday? How about New Orleans style?


ERIK TORKELLS, EDITOR, BUDGET TRAVEL: Delayed or lost baggage can really put a damper on your trip. So what can you do to insure that your bag arrives with you?

Take digital photos of the bag and its contents. If your bag does get lost, you'll be able to show the airline staff what it looks like. It's also a good idea to put a copy of your itinerary and contact info inside the bag, so if it's delayed, they can track you down.

Tie a bright ribbon to your bag or place a bumper sticker on it. At a baggage claim, it's easy to accidentally take someone else's black wheelie bag. Even if you think you know your bag, the person across the way might not be as smart as you.

When it's clear your bag didn't make the flight, file a report with the airline and ask for compensation. Most airlines reimburse up to a certain amount for essentials purchased in the first day or two. Just save your receipt.

If your suitcase is completely lost, the most an airline is required to pay is $3,000 for domestic flights. However, the claims process is cumbersome and getting full reimbursement is unlikely.



WHITFIELD: This especially is the time of the season to count our blessings. For some, blessings may be pretty hard to find, but New Orleans photojournalist Kevin Myers (ph) found inspiration in a woman who lost everything to Hurricane Katrina, everything but faith.


JANICE JOHNSON (ph), SALVATION ARMY BELL RINGER: Hi! How are you all doing? Jesus loves y'all!

I'm Janice Johnson. I'm a Salvation Army bell-ringer!

Hi, how are you today? You are so beautiful! Now you can ring your bell so the angel can get their wings. Whoa! They got their wings. God bless you! Merry Christmas!

I have a double job. I'm in the Salvation Army and I'm in the army of the Lord, so I'm just a soldier right now, fighting for souls. Hallelujah!

My story about Katrina, I lost everything. I lost all my furniture. I didn't have a house to go to. I didn't know -- I could have gave up, but no, I found peace in Jesus, and that's what motivated me and made me go do it!

OK, you ready? Set, whoa! Very good! You have a blessed day! Merry Christmas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You too, thank you.

JOHNSON: Merry Christmas, everybody! Because Jesus is the reason for the season! Hallelujah! Merry Christmas from the Salvation Army!


WHITFIELD: Well, reaching out to an injured Iraq war vet.


JEROME LEE, FATHER: He's been through a lot, and we just want to get Lex home.


WHITFIELD: So one family finally is able to get an early discharge for their new best friend.


WHITFIELD: A son is killed in Iraq and now, his family is fighting through military red tape to save their son's best friend. CNN's Rusty Dornin has the story.


RUSTY DORNIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An old pro going through his paces for the last time, at least for his military career. This eight-year-old German Shepherd, Lex, was the canine bomb sniffing companion of Marine Corporal Dustin Lee. Lex was at Lee's side when his handler was killed in an attack last March in Iraq that also wounded the dog.

2ND LT. CALEB EAMES, U.S. MARINE CORPS: Corporal Lee was found on the ground and Lex was right beside him. In fact, Lex had to be pulled away from Corporal Lee in order to -- for the medical staff to attend to him.

DORNIN: When Lee's body came home to Quitman, Mississippi, it was a welcome worthy of a hero. Tearful townspeople lined the streets for a young man known to be a patriot. When the marines brought Lex to see the family, Lee's younger brother Cameron played for hours with the dog. It was then the family began its fight to get an honorable discharge for Corporal Lee's faithful companion. JEROME LEE, FATHER OF MARINE KILLED IN IRAQ: Since Dustin's death, we've been trying to get his dog, Lex, from the Marine Corps, and needless to say, we've had difficulty there.

DORNIN: Lex still had two years of service left until his mandatory retirement at age 10. That was a problem for the Marines. Lex was an active duty dog. The request went from the base colonel to the commandant of the Marine Corps and even had to go through the Air Force which controls all military dogs. It took nine months. Finally, the Marines relented.

EAMES: This is the first time that a family of a handler has been allowed to adopt a working military dog prior to his retirement.

DORNIN: Marine Corps officials say it costs thousands of dollars and man hours to train dogs like Lex. Often, the dogs are adopted by their handlers after retirement or given to local police departments. To the Lee family, Lex is a priceless gift whose leash was handed over to them in a ceremony at the marine base Friday. But for the Lees, Lex is not just a dog.

RACHEL LEE, MOTHER: A spiritual connection knowing that Dustin would be very proud.

DORNIN: The brother and sister of the fallen marine wasted no time taking advantage of their newfound friend.

J. LEE: To have a part of Dustin, to have a companion for Cameron and Maddie. The children will have a part of Dustin to be able to play with, and he will always be a part of our family.

DORNIN: A four-legged military hero, now ready for play time as a civilian.

Rusty Dornin, CNN, Atlanta.


WHITFIELD: And here is the icing on the cake. There are pictures from Albany, Georgia, where Lex the dog there was united with the Lee family. After you heard in the piece, the family got the approval to adopt the dog, and there's a ceremony taking place with the dog being handed over to the family. Of course, a very bittersweet moment. We're glad to be able to bring you the happy news there.

Well, serving your country a long way from home, well, everyone knows that is tough, especially at the holiday season. Well, next a soldier's family reunion that took place right here on CNN.


WHITFIELD: Well, every day, but especially during the holidays, it's important to remember the U.S. servicemen and women deployed overseas. Well, this morning Army Private 1st Class Sarah Halick joined us from Iraq to talk about how troops there are getting ready for the Christmas season. She spoke with our Randi Kaye.


KAYE: What is the mood there in Iraq as we approach Christmas this year? Are people getting ready to celebrate, will you be celebrating?

PFC SARAH HALIK, U.S. ARMY: Oh, definitely. They've done a really good job. Everybody here is taken part in trying to decorate and keeping everyone's spirits up and they've done a really good job trying to keep everyone happy around here. And everyone wants to be home, of course, but you know, I have a lot of friends here and we're doing pretty well.

KAYE: And tell me what you miss most, Sarah, about being home on Christmas.

S. HALIK: Other than my dog, I miss the snow. Right now, I think they have about a foot of snow at home. So, that's something I definitely miss.

KAYE: Hey, when was the last time you spoke with your family and what would you want to say to them on Christmas?

S. HALIK: I try and talk to my mom quite a bit. I know they miss me right now. I miss them like crazy. I just hope they have a safe Christmas and that they have fun, even though I'm not there with them.

KAYE: Well you know, I happened to have had a conversation with your mom and your sister. They apparently really miss you, too, so much so that they decided to come into our studios here in Atlanta and speak with you this morning.

And we wanted to welcome both Christine Halik and Jenna Halik. Good morning to both of you.

WOMEN: Good morning.

KAYE: Why don't you -- you want to say something to your daughter?


S. HALIK: Oh, mom, I miss you, too!



KAYE: Jenna, do you want to say something to your sister?

J. HALIK: Hi, Sarah, we miss you. KAYE: Now, the funny thing about this, Sarah, is that your mom was telling me that you were texting her last night, telling her to watch CNN, that there's going to be some big surprise. Well, who really is the surprise on?

S. HALIK: I can't believe this! She never comes to surprise me like this. Usually, we're so anxious to give each other Christmas presents, it's like, oh, I got you something really nice, but just open it now. I can't believe she kept this a secret.

KAYE: Yes, I know it's hard for moms to keep secrets, for sure. Well, Sarah, why don't you say something to your mom and tell us what you would like to wish for your family this Christmas?

S. HALIK: Oh, I just hope you guys have a good time, and I miss you like crazy. Travis misses you like crazy, and just know that I'm safe and that I'll be coming home soon. Hopefully, you know, in the next couple months. It will go by fast, and I promise to get home safe.

KAYE: And if there was one thing that you would want for Christmas, Sarah, what would that be?

S. HALIK: I would definitely like to be home. I know my mom does a great job with Christmas. She's always decorated a lot. She's always cooked huge meals, even though there were only five of us to feed. She made enough for about 25 people, and I really miss that. I miss the atmosphere. I miss that feeling of being at home, but ...

KAYE: Yes, and we know you miss your dog as well.

S. HALIK ...if I have to be out here. If I have to be out here, I wish I had my dog.

KAYE: Yes, I'm sure. And of course, you know, we're pretty good at linking folks together here at CNN, but one person who we weren't able to get with us this morning, Sarah, is your brother. Tell us, if you would, Chris, where he's serving and how he's doing?

C. HALIK: He's with the Marine Corps. He's in Altacatum (ph), and he's also homesick I believe ...

KAYE: Yes.

C. HALIK: ...from when I've talked to him, I've sent several care packages to them and -- look, there's a great picture. Sarah went to the Marine Ball with her brother, so. Yes, I've sent them things and I already found out from them, they were already peeking at the presents. They did not wait for Christmas, they were already starting to open them.

KAYE: Well, you can't blame them there.


KAYE: Well, I'm sure it's nice at least to know that your children are safe, even if they can't be home this holiday, so.

C. HALIK: Yes.

KAYE: Thank you all. Sarah, we wish you the best holiday there that you can possibly have and Jenna and Chris, thank you both for coming in.

C. HALIK: Thank you.

J. HALIK: Thank you.

KAYE: We were happy to make this all work out for all you.

S. HALIK: Thank you.

C. HALIK: Thank you very much. I love you, Sarah.

S. HALIK: I love you too, Mom.


WHITFIELD: Wow, what a beautiful family. Well, all the best this holiday season and every day for the Halik family. Meantime, Halik is serving her second tour of duty in Iraq.