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American Morning

Crisis in the Middle East; CIA Leak Lawsuit; Bush & Putin

Aired July 14, 2006 - 06:30   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Happening this morning, the violence is escalating in the Middle East. Israel again bombing Beirut's airport. It had just reopened, in fact, following Thursday's airstrikes.
President Bush has promised the Lebanese prime minister that he's going to press Israel to halt the attacks on Lebanon.

President Bush is, in fact, in Russia now. He left Germany earlier this morning. He's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the G-8 economic summit which is taking place in St. Petersburg.

A state of emergency to tell you about in California. Firefighters are worried that huge fire in Yucca Valley could merge with another one in the San Bernardino National Forest. Combined, those fires have burned more than 56,000 acres.

Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm miles O'Brien. Welcome to Friday.

The bombs and rockets are still flying on both sides of the border between Israel and Lebanon. Israeli warplanes and ships firing on Beirut, destroying those just-repaired runways at Beirut's international airport.

These are new pictures coming into us right now.

Meanwhile, Hezbollah is launching more rockets into northern Israel. More than 100 rockets landing there already.

Nic Robertson is in the midst of this in Beirut with more -- Nic.

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Miles, Al Manar, Hezbollah's TV station here, has just announced that they fired Katyusha into Nahariya in northern Israel. It's not clear what the impact has been and whether they were on target, but that's what a TV station is reporting.

The prime minister here has been appealing for help. He called Condoleezza Rice. He's also received a call from President Bush, who says he supports -- understands and supports the government's position at this time.

The ports in Beirut, the ports along the coast of Lebanon are blockaded, according to Lebanese officials. Tripoli, Saida and Tyre, further south, are all blockaded. The airport, as you say, there was a deal worked out to fly five Middle Eastern airlines' aircraft off the runway here, fly them out of Beirut's main international airport. That's the national Lebanese carrier.

The air strips were repaired from the bombing from the previous day. Their aircraft flew out, and then the runways bombed again.

Tunnels, bridges linking the city to the airport have been hit. Gas stations in the south, buildings in the south of the city, which is where the Hezbollah strongholds are in Beirut, have been hit. The main road linking this city to neighboring Syria and the capital, Damascus, has also been hit, hit overnight and hit again this morning -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, you know, it's interesting that they would pick that as a target. There's obviously some symbolism there because Israel blames Syria in many respects for what's going on there.

Help our viewers understand that, the Syria link to all of this.

ROBERTSON: Well, there are some -- there are some analysts who would argue that after Syria -- Syrian troops withdrew from Lebanon, then that really left the political space, the military space open for Hezbollah to gain strength and flex its muscles, which is certainly what it's been doing now. There are analysts who will say that behind Hezbollah's actions lie Syrian influence and Iranian influence, that Hezbollah would not act and cross the border into Israel to kidnap Israeli soldiers and kill others without some kind of pushing and prodding.

Now, that's only one analysis of the situation. But it is one that a lot of people here believe to be true. Certainly the Hezbollah has made it very clear through their leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, earlier this year that anyone that tried to disarm Hezbollah would be attacked -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Nic Robertson right in the midst of it in Beirut.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, former CIA operative Valerie Plame is going after the big names. She is suing Vice President Dick Cheney, former aide Louis "Scooter" Libby and White House political strategist Karl Rove.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Bob Franken live in Washington for more on this, this morning.

Hey, Bob. Good morning.


Still another shoe falling. We're knee deep in shoes on this CIA leaks case. But the people at the center of it, Valerie Plame and her husband, Joseph Wilson, are now suing, as you mentioned, a civil suit which is bound to keep this alive and has the possibility of bringing out more information about this investigation that has been going on for so long and has resulted in only one prosecution.

They are charging in their lawsuit that the defendants were, "motivated by vindictiveness and illegitimate animus" to reveal the identity of Valerie Plame as an undercover CIA agent. And they said that they concealed their role -- quoting again -- "... the defendants fraudulently concealed... by among other things giving false or misleading testimony to federal law enforcement personnel and/or the federal grand jury."

Now, that, of course, is suggesting a criminal charge. That has not been found in the investigation.

The two of them are holding a news conference at 10:00 which will be carried live on CNN. We'll get more of an insight into this, but the possibilities here are less than success for the lawsuit, but the possibility that more information that could come out damaging to the administration, an administration that is now considered an enemy by Valerie Plame and Joseph Wilson -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: What's the precedent here? Is there a precedent for suing a sitting vice president?

FRANKEN: Well, the lawyers are going to argue that in 1982, there was a Supreme Court ruling that the president could not be sued for government action. But there's also -- involving criminal law, there is a memo that was written in 1973 that says the vice president, unlike the president, can be found guilty of criminal acts, unlike the president.

So the argument is going to be whether that applies to the civil law. As you can see, the lawyers are going to make your eyes glaze over just like I think I'm doing now.

S. O'BRIEN: Never, Bob. Never.

Bob Franken for us this morning in D.C.

Thanks, Bob.

And as Bob mentioned just a moment ago, we're going to hear from Valerie Plame and her husband, Joe Wilson, a little bit later this morning. CNN's going to have live coverage of their news conference. That happens at 10:00 a.m. Eastern Time -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Happening "In America" this morning, House Speaker Dennis Hastert to spend the weekend in the hospital. He checked into Bethesda Naval Hospital yesterday with a skin infection. Doctors say Hastert will be treated with antibiotics and be kept off his feet for 72 hours. They say he'll be up on Capitol Hill next week, though.

Dramatic new pictures of that explosion and building collapse -- there you go -- in Manhattan we told you about Monday morning. Security camera footage there. An even, silent and still frame like that, you can get a sense of what happened there. Fifteen people were injured when the four-story building, a brownstone, crumbled after an apparent gas explosion. Investigators say the owner of the building is in the midst of a messy divorce and was trying to destroy the property and kill himself to spite his estranged wife. He remains hospitalized.

Big-time tunnel trouble in Boston. Engineers investigating the "Big Dig" tunnels have found more than 200 problem spots where those tie bolts holding up heavy panels caused problems on Monday. One of those panels fell down, killing a woman in her car, was crushed when the panel fell down.

A ferocious 48,000-acre wildfire in southern California threatening to merge with another fire. The Yucca Valley fire's already destroyed 150 homes and buildings. It could link up with the 8,000-acre fire burning just a few miles away.

San Bernardino County under a state of emergency this morning, which brings us to the forecast and Rob Marciano.

And no rest for the weary out there, for sure, right?



MARCIANO: That's the latest from here, Miles. Back over to you.

S. O'BRIEN: A lot of people will be sweating in a lot of places, man.

MARCIANO: Yes. That time of year.


M. O'BRIEN: That's kind of gross. Do we really want to think about that? People are having breakfast.

S. O'BRIEN: Perspiring.

M. O'BRIEN: Glowing, in your case.

S. O'BRIEN: Glowing.

Thank you, rob. Appreciate it.

MARCIANO: See you guys. All right.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, we continue to follow breaking news out of the Middle East, the escalating violence. How far is it going to go? We're going to talk this morning to the former Israeli prime minister, Ehud Barak.

M. O'BRIEN: And President Bush, President Putin, they once claimed they were buddies. Their buddy film is going through that twist in the plot. The question is, will there be a happy ending? Stay with us for more AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Happening this morning, the Middle East on the brink of war. Israeli warplanes yet again bombing Beirut's airport. The airport had just reopened following Thursday's airstrikes.

Outed CIA operative Valerie Plame is suing top Bush administration officials. She says Vice President Cheney, his former aide, Scooter Libby, and presidential adviser Karl Rove conspired to destroy her career.

And President Bush is in Russia right now. He left Germany earlier this morning. He's meeting today with Russian President Vladimir Putin ahead of the G-8 economic summit in St. Petersburg.

President Bush puts a lot of stock in personal relationships when he does business. As we saw this week, it appears he has a new best friend in German Chancellor Angela Merkel. But now when he looks into the eyes of President Putin, he does not necessarily see a friend.

Here's CNN's Ed Henry.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice over): The Bush- Putin relationship started with so much promise.

BUSH: I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul.

HENRY: But now the Bush administration looks at Vladimir Putin and sees a president who may not be committed to full democracy in Russia after all.

During a May speech in Lithuania, Vice President Cheney charged Putin is restricting the rights of his citizens.

RICHARD CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No legitimate interest in served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail.

HENRY: Putin fired back this week with a barb about the vice president's infamous hunting mishap.

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): I think your vice president's expression there is like his bad shot on his hunting trip.

HENRY: President Bush tried to defuse the tension when asked about Putin's retort.

BUSH: It was pretty clever, actually quite humorous. Not to dis my friend, the vice president. HENRY: That caution may come from the fact that Mr. Bush needs the support of his Russian counterpart to get United Nations approval for sanctions against Iran and North Korea.

But the president of the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, who has clashed with Putin, contends there's also pressure on the Russian president to compromise.

PRESIDENT MIKHAIL SAAKASHVILI, GEORGIA: Russia wants to be a respected member of the international community. Russia doesn't want to be a rogue state.

HENRY (on camera): Mr. Bush insists he will not shy away from being critical of his counterpart at the G-8 summit on Mr. Putin's home turf of St. Petersburg, but he believes it will be more effective to press the case behind closed doors instead of embarrassing Mr. Putin in public.


M. O'BRIEN: That was CNN White House Correspondent Ed Henry reporting for us from Germany -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Still to come on AMERICAN MORNING, bombs and missiles falling in Israel and Lebanon. The violence is escalating to some new proportions. We're going to talk this morning to former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak. That's coming up next.

Then later, two major wildfires, and they are on a collision course in southern California. We're live on the scene. We'll have a live report right at the top of the hour.

Stay with us.


M. O'BRIEN: Well, the way things are going, GM could soon stand for Ghosn Mega Company.

Andy Serwer is here with more.

You like that?

ANDY SERWER, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, "FORTUNE": I like that, Miles. Very good.

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: A big sit-down today between GM CEO Rick Wagoner and Carlos Ghosn, head of Nissan and Renault. Get this, in a private and undisclosed location.

M. O'BRIEN: Is Dick Cheney there?

SERWER: Don't want any prying eyes there. That's exactly what we were thinking. Both are talking nice right now, though there is at least one controversial issue. Sources say that Kirk Kerkorian, the big GM shareholder, is unhappy that Wagoner is negotiating with Ghosn. He would rather that the board or special committee of the board negotiates with Ghosn.

This, of course, about a possible alliance between the U.S. automaker...

M. O'BRIEN: What's the problem with that?


SERWER: Well, because he's wondering if Wagoner would be objective...

M. O'BRIEN: Conflict of interest.

SERWER: ... because -- right, conflict of interest, saying that perhaps this would be undoing in terms of his job. So would he be negotiating objectively that the board really controls the company or should?

Now, Ghosn yesterday saying a couple things interesting. First of all, saying that he doesn't need a management role in this new alliance or new company, if there was to be one. And he also said...

M. O'BRIEN: Well, wait a minute. What's the point of that?

SERWER: Yes, I don't really understand it...

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.

SERWER: ... because that apparently is what GM really wants, is his management expertise. So...

M. O'BRIEN: He is this great Svengali. You want to use him, right?

SERWER: Well, maybe he would be sort of an outside consultant, but really in the mix. That sort of thing.

S. O'BRIEN: I mean, I thought by saying, "I don't need a management role," is really solidifying yourself as the top dog in management.

SERWER: Right. Right.

M. O'BRIEN: Passive aggressive.

S. O'BRIEN: Like, I don't need the title. I'm in charge.

SERWER: See, she knows this business stuff. She always comes in with that.

S. O'BRIEN: I should have been in business. Don't you think? Doesn't that make sense?

SERWER: Yes. I think that's right. Now, you could very well be on target there.

He also said that Renault and Nissan would need to take an equity stake, need to buy part of GM for this to work. So very interesting.

We'll probably hear later in the day what the outcome of those talks are. Don't expect anything right away, but at least we'll get an idea for where things are headed.

Other auto news to tell you about. Ford slashing its dividend in half from 10 cents to 5 cents, saving $92 million a quarter, and also cutting directors' fees in half.

Analysts kind of lukewarm on this, saying that's pocket change, $92 million a quarter, for this company. And their turnaround plan is not going fast enough.

Also, some saying, you know, this company needs a partner more than GM does. That its problems are actually as severe or more severe.

So, you know, difficult times for U.S. automakers, trying different strategies to make things work.

M. O'BRIEN: Who would they partner with, though? That's...

SERWER: Well, not Nissan and Renault.

M. O'BRIEN: They're kind of busy with that, yes.

SERWER: How about Toyota? That would be probably be a good idea, right?

M. O'BRIEN: That would be something. That would be something.


M. O'BRIEN: What's next? What do you got?

SERWER: We're going to be talking about stocks and, you know, just the markets and what's been going on. Obviously with political events around the world, it has not been a good time for Wall Street.

We'll update you with that.

M. O'BRIEN: Thank you, Andy.

SERWER: You're welcome.

M. O'BRIEN: Also ahead on the program, today is the last day before the Discovery crew undocks from the International Space Station. Next destination, Monday morning, planet Earth, if all goes well with the weather. So how are the astronauts doing? Are they nervous? We're going to talk to them in just a little bit. We'll ask them about a lost putty knife in space. Yes, they lost a putty knife.

SERWER: Is that the grout we were talking about?

M. O'BRIEN: Yes.


M. O'BRIEN: That's coming up.


S. O'BRIEN: Israel again today bombing a runway at Beirut International Airport. And Israel's defense minister says they will not allow Hezbollah to return to Israel's northern border.

These are just some of the developments this morning we're telling you about as we follow this crisis that is happening in the Middle East.

Ehud Barak was Israel's prime minister in 2000 when that country pulled out of Lebanon. He is in Jerusalem this morning.

Nice to see you, sir. Thank you for talking with us.

There's word this morning from the Lebanese prime minister that he had a conversation with President Bush and that President Bush told him that he's going to press Israel, in fact, to halt the attacks on Lebanon.

If, in fact, that's the case, what will your response be to that?

EHUD BARAK, FMR. ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER: You know, I ordered, as you mentioned, the pulling out of Lebanon to the last square inch. Sharon ordered the pullout from Gaza to the last square inch. The response of our neighbors were abduction of soldiers and a rain of rockets.

So, we will never, ever yield to terror, period. And it's time for the Lebanese government to implement the U.N. Security Council assurances, of which the United States is a permanent member, and implement those resolutions that call for dismantling of Hezbollah and deployment of the Lebanese armed forces along the border.

If President Bush, together with President Putin -- they are together now in St. Petersburg -- and Chirac and Blair and the others will issue a clear call to the Lebanese government and to the Syrian government, who is behind the scenes backing the Hezbollah, to do exactly what the U.N. Security Council demanded, that could lead, together with the release of abducted soldiers, to a solution.

S. O'BRIEN: Well, it's unclear if that's going to happen, but what is clear and what the president has said, specifically yesterday when he was talking to the German -- talking with the German chancellor, was that Israel, while she has the right to defend herself, also has to be careful because you could topple the Lebanese government.

Are you heeding that advice? Are you going to be careful because that's a big risk?

BARAK: We are not -- we do not intend to push down or to topple the Lebanese government. But basically, the right way for the international community is to apply its pressure on both the Lebanese government -- it is not totally paralyzed and not that fragile and weak -- and especially the Syrians in Damascus who host the Hamas leadership and offices in daylight, openly in Damascus, to educate them.

That government should govern. The time has come to action. And if they cannot impose the monopoly on the use of force to government and restrain it, and if Israel will be attacked from foreign -- foreign territory and foreign sovereign ground, Israel will respond. We'll have no choice but to do this.

S. O'BRIEN: You're blaming Damascus, and other Israeli officials have blamed Syria, in fact, for the kidnapping of the two soldiers.

Is Syria a target now, frankly? Are you going -- is Israel going to bomb Syria?

BARAK: No. We are not bombing Syria. I assume that you would have seen it on the CNN screens if and when we do it.

S. O'BRIEN: I'm asking you if it is a target, potentially? Is Syria a target?

BARAK: No. I hope not. It depends on the continuation.

But Syria is not the body that abducted them. It's the Hezbollah. But Hezbollah got all the support, all the munitions, all the rockets, all their (INAUDIBLE) through Syria. And Bashar al- Assad, he's responsible in a way to what happens now between us and the Hamas, and between us and the Hezbollah.

But now, for the time being, we are attacking infrastructure of the Hezbollah and targets that has to do with the logistic support of them and with the Lebanese government, freedom of a movement that they are given. And I think that it's time. You know, we are -- we are -- we fully understand their worry about this weak government, but government is useless if it cannot govern.

The time has come for the Lebanese government, with the backing of the world community, to implement what the U.N. Security Council demanded from them years ago when we pulled out from Lebanon, and once again after the assassination of Prime Minister Hariri. It was President Bush and President Chirac who demanded loud and clear for the Syrians to pull out from Lebanon and establish this fragile, new emerging democracy in this country.

S. O'BRIEN: Former Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak with us this morning.

Thanks for talking with us -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Let's get a check of the forecast now.

Chad Myers is off, having a long weekend. Rob Marciano is in.

Hello, Rob.

MARCIANO: Hi, Miles.