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American Morning

Lobbying Reform on Capitol Hill; Life Support Struggle; Lobbying 101

Aired January 18, 2006 - 06:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: New information this morning on a possible plot to kidnap one of Tony Blair's children. Is it just a prank?
A lobbying scandal in Washington has lawmakers looking at ways of cleaning up the system. Both parties are now set to make their case.

And fallout from chocolate city remarks. Mayor Nagin says he misspoke. Can he really take it back?

ANNOUNCER: You're watching AMERICAN MORNING with Soledad O'Brien and Miles O'Brien.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Did you see the stuff on the Web on Mayor Nagin? They had him in the Willy Wonka -- the Willy Wonka thing.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Because there was a lot of stuff following his remarks.

M. O'BRIEN: There was a fair amount of stuff there, yes, for your perusing out there. Good to have you with us this morning.

S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Lots to talk about this morning, especially this lobbying scandal and the fallout and the attempts to clean it up, I guess.

M. O'BRIEN: All of that is on our minds this morning. As a matter of fact, Republicans are trying to clean up the city, trying to change the rules. Of course, Democrats have to come out with their own version of things. That's what's going on. Both plans seem laced with a dose of election year politics, dare we say.

CNN's Ed Henry has more from Capitol Hill.


ED HENRY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Republicans are under heavy political pressure from Democrats, who are planning today to roll out an aggressive lobbying reform plan and also plan to hammer this issue from today until the November elections.

So, yesterday, Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert tried to get out ahead of that by taking the bold step of calling for the ban of all privately-funded travel for members of Congress and congressional staffers. He also wants to cut down on gifts from lobbyists. Currently the limit is $50. He wants to cut it down to $20. That would put a serious dent in all of those expense account lunches and dinners.

Senator John McCain, who's been pushing for these changes to no avail for several years, finds all of this very amusing, the stampede for reform on all sides. McCain said, it just shows that if you live long enough, anything can happen.

Ed Henry, CNN, Capitol Hill.


M. O'BRIEN: Lobbyists are the normally unseen hand that shapes so much of what gets done in Washington. Just ahead, Bob Franken is going to tell us how they work and how far they go to get members of Congress to do what they want.

Carol Costello in with more. Let's go across the pond. An interesting story over there.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: You're not kidding. Good morning, everyone.

Britain is all abuzz with reports of a possible kidnapping plot against Prime Minister Tony Blair's youngest son. The "Sun" newspaper claims a fathers' rights group was planning to snatch 5-year-old Leo as a publicity stunt. The group has denied any involvement. No arrests have been made.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is out of another surgery. Doctors have fitted him with a new breathing tube after a technical glitch with the old one. The prime minister remains in serious but stable condition two weeks after a major stroke. He's still in a coma. He had a tracheotomy done on Sunday. Doctors say they hoped it would help him breathe better.

We're expected to hear more this morning about how Randy McCloy is doing. He is the sole survivor from the West Virginia mine explosion. McCloy was moved out of intensive care on Tuesday, but doctors say he remains in serious condition. And he still hasn't regained consciousness. Doctors and a family representative will hold a news conference in just about four hours.

Robert Davis is set to appear in court this morning. Of course, you remember him. He was the man beaten by New Orleans police last October. The arrest caught on tape. Davis is accused of public intoxication and resisting arrest. He has pleaded not guilty. He's set to appear in court in three hours. The three officers involved have been suspended without pay pending an investigation.

Also in New Orleans, Mayor Ray Nagin is saying he is sorry about that whole chocolate thing. The mayor is apologizing for what he calls a bad analogy. On Monday he called for rebuilding a chocolate New Orleans. The phrase has outraged some, but other say it's just plain goofy. One Web site is even selling t-shirts with the slogan, "Willy Nagin and the Chocolate Factory."

The world's largest cruise ship could be heading back out to sea after problems with one of its motors. The Queen Mary II docked in Florida. More than 2,500 passengers are on board. Not exactly a great start to their vacation. Crews are inspecting the underbelly of the massive ship. It may have hit something under water. If all goes well, though, the ship will head back out to sea today.

And, you know, there is nothing more touching than the love story between a man and his car, unless a thief gets in the way. But this tale has a happy ending. Almost four decades and 60,000 miles later, Customs found the 1968 Corvette inside of a shipping container on its way to Sweden. New York detectives tracked down the original owner, Allen Poster (ph). Do you think he's excited? Oh, you bet. Allen Poster (ph) is actually going to be a guest in the next hour of AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: I'm dying to talk to him about this.

COSTELLO: Isn't that something else?

S. O'BRIEN: Forty years.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

COSTELLO: And it seems to be in great condition, the car.

S. O'BRIEN: It looks like it's in great shape, doesn't it?

COSTELLO: I mean, I wonder where it's been.

S. O'BRIEN: For the last 40 years and the last 60,000 miles.

M. O'BRIEN: If that Corvette could talk.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: What tale would it tell?

COSTELLO: It would write a memoir.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes, it would. It might embellish it. Then it would get sued in a class-action -- oh, that's...

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, that's all one...

M. O'BRIEN: I'm sorry. I digress.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Carol.


S. O'BRIEN: Well, Massachusetts' highest court has cleared the way for a brain-damaged child to be taken off life support. The girl's stepfather who allegedly abused her has been fighting to keep her alive. Now, the court's decision could lead to a murder charge for him.

We get the story now from CNN's Dan Lothian.


DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Eleven-year-old Haleigh Poutre is in what doctors call a permanent vegetative state, a shadow of her former self.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: She was so full of life before and loved people.

LOTHIAN: But everything changed last September when authorities say Haleigh's adoptive mother and stepfather abused her, allegedly kicking and beating her with a baseball bat and causing a clot in the brain.

Her birth mother wants the suffering to end.

ALLISON SUDYKA EVERETT, HALEIGH'S MOTHER: I don't want to see her suffer anymore. And she -- this is no life. I mean, there's things keeping her alive. What kind of a life is that?

LOTHIAN (on camera): The Massachusetts Department of Social Services, which has legal custody of the child, agrees. But in its effort to have her removed from life support, the agency met legal resistance from Haleigh's stepfather, Jason Strickland, who could be charged with murder if she dies.

What makes this case even more complicated is that the birth mother and the adoptive mother are sisters.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This case involves the tragic plight of an 11-year-old child.

LOTHIAN (voice over): Strickland's lawyers had argued before the state's highest court for parental rights and a say in her medical care. But that argument was rejected. Life support can now be removed.

EVERETT: It's a bittersweet feeling knowing that she won't have to suffer anymore. But at the same time it's the loss of a child.

LOTHIAN: Strickland's lawyer said he's deeply disappointed and maintains his client was never motivated by the prospect of a murder charge.

As for Haleigh's adoptive mother, Holly Strickland, she was also charged in the beating but was found dead in this home, along with her own grandmother, not long after the 11-year-old was hospitalized. It's being investigated as a murder-suicide.

Haleigh remains in a Massachusetts hospital attached to a ventilator and feeding tube. DSS says it will consult with her doctors, but no decision yet on when life support will be removed.

The young girl's birth mother remains haunted by the day she gave up her daughter to her sister seven years ago.

EVERETT: I'm sorry.

LOTHIAN: Dan Lothian, CNN, Boston.

EVERETT: I'm just so sorry.


S. O'BRIEN: Meanwhile, Strickland remains free on bail. He's awaiting trial on assault charges. His lawyers say they have not decided whether they're going to take any further legal action -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's check the weather forecast now. Chad Myers at the weather center.

Chad, I'm a little curious. Oh, you're up in the Northeast. I am a little curious about Florida today. If you can get that in at some point, because of the launch, the New Horizons launch.

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, I e-mailed that to you this morning. I don't know if you clicked on that. We have...

M. O'BRIEN: I couldn't get in. It requires a password.

MYERS: Oh, I'll send that to you.

M. O'BRIEN: But it doesn't look so good. As a matter of fact, it looks worse than yesterday.

MYERS: You know, there is a jet stream over Florida, and I don't know how this is going to affect it. But at 30,000 feet, there's going to be a wind gust up there to 109 knots.

M. O'BRIEN: Yikes!

MYERS: So, I don't think they want the rockets to be knocked over, you know, at 109 knots. We'll have to see. I don't know what that is. All they ever tell us is what they expect on the surface and what they need at the surface. And then yesterday they actually cancelled it because of some winds aloft. So there are other parameters that they're not even telling us about yet.


M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, a royal phony. A guy tells some Minnesota high school kids he was British royalty. Was it the Earl of Cleveland, the Duke of Detroit or something like that? And they bought it, at least for a little while. And then they got kind of wise to the whole thing. And it turns out he's not royalty. That's...

S. O'BRIEN: And more.

M. O'BRIEN: And there's -- but wait, there's more. S. O'BRIEN: There is.

M. O'BRIEN: There's a shocking discovery.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you. I wasn't selling it enough, was I? That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: One of the big stories today, congressional efforts to clean up lobbying rules. Lobbyists are often called the fourth branch of government. But little is really known about what they actually do.

Here with an explainer, AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken, live, where else? In the lobby of the Willard Hotel. That's actually where it all began, right, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The term came here because as Republicans and Democrats now are trying to reform lobbying once again. Republicans had their proposal yesterday, the Democrats today.

But it all started here during the presidency of Ulysses Grant, the president who was known to imbibe, would sit on a sofa right here -- it was a round rose-colored sofa called a poof, in case you're wondering -- that they only removed last year.

Anyway, he would sit here. And the lobbyists, as he called them, would bring him brandy and then ask for special favors.


FRANKEN (voice over): Now more than 130 years later, lobbyists, backed by the mother's milk of politics, money, prowl all the corridors of government. Hundreds are ex-White House aides or former members of Congress, like Bob Livingston, who left the House after 22 years.

BOB LIVINGSTON, PRES., THE LIVINGSTON GROUP: It's an adjustment from going from grovelee (ph) to grovelor (ph).

FRANKEN: The adjustment is made tolerable by the $10 million plus his Livingston Group billed last year lobbying for about 80 clients who felt that his connections were worth big money.

LIVINGSTON: You wouldn't go to an ignoramus. One presumably would want to hire an expert.

FRANKEN: In addition to expertise, lobbyists provide campaign money in many different forms, including fund-raising dinners. There is also the special treatment -- travel for government officials on corporate jets at cut-rate prices, choice seats at sports events, cushy junkets like golf trips to Saint Andrews, Scotland, arranged on occasion by the now-disgraced Jack Abramoff and his associates -- gifts that House Republicans now want to make illegal.

LIVINGSTON: Abramoff was an aberration. He did some very terrible things. But he's going to go to prison for it, because he was caught.

FRANKEN: Among the clients Abramoff has represented is Time Warner, parent company of CNN. Livingston says he has no special seats to offer, does not arrange fancy trips, does not provide corporate jets. However, he and his clients do make campaign contributions.

LIVINGSTON: The money doesn't go to buy a candidate. The money doesn't go to buy a congressman.

FRANKEN: What it can buy, say watchdog groups, is access without accountability.

ROBERTA BASKIN, CENTER FOR PUBLIC INTEGRITY: There is nothing wrong with lobbying. But it is -- it's become like the fourth branch of government, and the public doesn't get to see very much of what's going on.

LIVINGSTON: Lobbyist is not a curse word.


FRANKEN: Well, maybe not a curse word, but certainly there have been decades and decades of scandals and reforms. But about all that's really changed over all that time is that the lobbyists don't work so much at least out of the Willard Hotel -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Not so much. Bob, I'm fascinated by the history on this and President Grant. Why the Willard? Was that just the pre- eminent hotel at the time, and that's why he was there?

FRANKEN: Well, about the only other hotels around here were bordellos, I think. And we'll have to leave it to the imagination whether he made stops there. But the Willard is about a two-block schlep from here. So, my guess is that he would walk here, have his brandy and stagger back.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Close to the White House, which obviously helps, right?

FRANKEN: Right, right.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's -- try to give us a sense then of how -- we talk about the revolving door that's involved in all of this and all of the connections and how it's all kind of -- well, it's a pretty incestuous thing, isn't it?

FRANKEN: Well, there's a story about that. A lobbyist billed a client for about 5 minutes' worth of work, and the client was outraged. He demanded an itemized bill, and he got one. It said, phone call, 10 cents. Knowing who to call, $9,999.90. And it tells the story. M. O'BRIEN: Yes, yes. That pretty much sums it up.


M. O'BRIEN: All right, Bob Franken, thanks for the history lesson -- well, the history as well as some news. We appreciate it -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Access, priceless.

M. O'BRIEN: There you go. There you go.

S. O'BRIEN: Andy is "Minding Your Business." That's coming up just ahead.

What do you got for us?

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Soledad, it's every businessman's dream being able to write your own press releases. It's now a reality for billionaire Warren Buffett. Stay tuned for that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Here's a quiz.

S. O'BRIEN: Yes, go ahead.

M. O'BRIEN: Who is the short timer in that control room?


M. O'BRIEN: Right?

S. O'BRIEN: I didn't see what he was doing.

SERWER: The person playing that music.

M. O'BRIEN: He's doing the robot.


M. O'BRIEN: Or something.

SERWER: The guy is really moving.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm loving it.

M. O'BRIEN: Do it, Ted. What is that?

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, yes, yes. He's (INAUDIBLE).

M. O'BRIEN: More proof white men can't dance.


S. O'BRIEN: He said that with love, Ted, don't worry about it.

Some business news coming up with Andy in just a moment. First, though, a headline check with Carol.

Good morning, again.

COSTELLO: Good morning. And good morning to all of you.

The family of the kidnapped American journalist is pleading for her release. The Arab television network al-Jazeera aired a short video of Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist working for the "Christian Science Monitor." Her kidnappers say they will kill her unless the United States releases all female prisoners in Iraq. They also gave a 72-hour deadline when they issued that demand on Tuesday.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-Il is vowing to continue talks on its nuclear program. The announcement coming just a short time ago. The North Korean leader is now in China. He paid a so-called unofficial visit there. These are new pictures of that meeting just coming in to us. Kim hasn't been seen recently, and rumors had been swirling about his exact whereabouts.

She lived a life of turmoil for seven years, and today she will be laid to rest. A funeral mass is being held this morning for Nixzmary Brown, the girl beaten to death after allegedly taking a cup of yogurt out of the refrigerator to eat. Her mother and stepfather have been indicated on second-degree murder charges. They have pleaded not guilty.

If you're handing your car keys to your teenager this morning, some of those fears you have, well, they may be true. AAA says about a third of those killed in auto accidents involving young drivers were pedestrians or occupants of other vehicles. Safety groups say these latest statistics show the need for states to strengthen laws governing drivers' licenses. We're going to hear more about this study from AAA later on, on AMERICAN MORNING.

And music legend Isaac Hayes is in a Memphis hospital this morning. Hayes' song-writing partner tells a Memphis newspaper that Hayes is being treated for exhaustion. The 63-year-old is perhaps best known for his 1971 number one hit, the theme song from the movie "Shaft." More recently he was the voice of Chef in the TV program "South Park." Hayes was admitted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2002.

And, Chad, people probably remember him best now for his role as Chef on "South Park"...

MYERS: Oh, I know, yes, exactly.

COSTELLO: ... where he had so many funny lines.

MYERS: Oh, sure, absolutely.

COSTELLO: Delivering them perfectly.

MYERS: Good luck to him.


M. O'BRIEN: Billionaire-investor Warren Buffett is making some headlines. Andy Serwer is here with that.

Good morning, Andy.

SERWER: Good morning, Miles.

The ever acquisitive Mr. Buffett buys companies almost on a monthly basis, it seems. He owns Benjamin Moore Paint, Dairy Queen, Fruit of the Loom, as well as big stakes in "The Washington Post" and Geico.

But he has added again this morning -- and, you know, we rarely read press releases. In fact, we never read press releases on CNN. But I'm going to do it here this morning, because it's kind of amusing.

This is a Business Wire story. Business Wire. "Berkshire Hathaway announced today an agreement to buy Business Wire."

That's right. He's buying the company that writes press releases. And it's actually a pretty interesting company. They do about $127 million in sales every year. He bought it for a couple of hundred million dollars. A thousand press releases today, the Business Wire does, sending it to news outlets like CNN. They have an archrival, PR News Wire. So there are a couple of businesses here.

And the founder, a guy name Lorry Lokey, is a very wealthy guy who has given over $160 million in charity, mostly to Stanford University.

So an interesting acquisition there and a very profitable business.

I want to switch over and talk about the markets, because you really want to fasten your seat belts this morning. Not a good day yesterday. We'll talk about that first of all. A lot of red ink on Wall Street. You can see here down, down, down.

A couple of things are going on. First of all, weak tech earnings. Yahoo! and Intel to blame there. Oil streaking to $67.

And lastly and most problematically, the Japanese market has been tanking. In fact, it closed yesterday because of some problems there. And we're going to give you all of the details about that coming up in the next half-hour.

M. O'BRIEN: We will explain what Livedoor is. How about that?

SERWER: We will.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: Because I know a little bit about that.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: Just a little.

S. O'BRIEN: All right.

M. O'BRIEN: And speak Japanese if you don't mind.

SERWER: Exactly.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Andy.

S. O'BRIEN: Thanks, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, after being separated for 37 years, a man is reunited with his long lost love, his '68 Corvette, the Mako Shark version, all fiberglass. That was probably the best year for the Corvette ever, I think. So, how in the world did police track it down? We'll ask the happy owner on AMERICAN MORNING coming up.


M. O'BRIEN: Be sure to check out our Web sit,, for the latest on this morning's top stories. Of course, we've been telling you about the Nikkei sell-off and a company we had heretofore been unaware of called Livedoor, which is kind of like, we think, parsing through the Japanese, sort of like Yahoo! in Japan. And anyway, concerns about it sent a sell-off under way. What's going to happen on Wall Street today? A big deal.

And then a popular story, "High Noon For Winchester." This is the maker of the gun that won the West, so-called. New Haven, Connecticut, is the home of the -- I believe it's called the U.S. Repeating Arms Company. They're down to about 200 employees. They're on the ropes. They need a buyer. They're about to go south. There it is, the gun you'd see in the hands of Chuck Connors and riflemen or John Wayne. And it's all going by the boards.

S. O'BRIEN: News there.

M. O'BRIEN: Chad. Oh, you're doing Chad. Let's get Chad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, let Chad get an update before we get to the start of the next hour.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

S. O'BRIEN: Chad, good morning.


MYERS: The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.