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American Morning

New Faces; Capitol Ideas; Hussein Execution Fallout; What People Think; Subway Rescue

Aired January 04, 2007 - 06:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A developing story. New videotape surfaces of American contractors kidnapped in Iraq. The clues that tape holds about where they are and how they're doing.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Car trouble. Even worse news for American automakers, with Toyota gunning to pass the big three.

O'BRIEN: And history on Capital Hill today. Democrats retake Congress, their plans to clean house and the reality about what can really get done, all on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. We're live from Washington, D.C., this morning.

And welcome, everybody. It's Thursday, January 4th. I'm Soledad O'Brien live from Capitol Hill.

Hey, John, good morning.

ROBERTS: Hey, good morning to you, Soledad.

I'm John Roberts in our Washington bureau, in for Miles O'Brien. Thanks very much for joining us on this big day, the opening of the 110th Congress. And a big change today, Soledad, with the Democrats taking control.

O'BRIEN: Yes, absolutely, it is. No question. It is a historic day about to dawn really on the building that's right behind me. The first session of 110th Congress convenes at noon. Ten new faces in the Senate, 29 in the House. The power, of course, belongs to Democrats now. They're going to control the majority of the House and the Senate for the first time since 1995.

And women making a mark on this congressional class. Two of the new senators and 10 of the new representatives are women. Nancy Pelosi is also the first ever woman to become speaker of the House.

Religious firsts as well. A Muslim and two Buddhists are among the lawmakers taking office today.

CNN's Andrea Koppel is with us this morning with a little bit more on the House newcomers.

Good morning.


Well, do you remember this? Back in college we would have called this a face book for the new freshmen. And just like college, the 42 new House Democrats and the 12 new House Republicans, their faces and bios in here. They are also called freshmen. And for many of those Democrats especially who say they road to power on a wave of public anger. They say the days leading up to today have been exhilarating.




WALZ: I'm pretty excited.




WALZ: Look. Look it.

KOPPEL, (voice over): As he walked into his new Capitol Hill diggings for the very first time, Minnesota Democrat Tim Walz, a father of two, could hardly contain his excitement. Until recently, Walz had been a teacher and high school football coach with no political experience.

WALZ: I have my own restroom, which is something new because you would share it with the students at school.


KOPPEL: Just down the hall, another political newcomer, Florida Democrat Tim Mahoney was also getting the lay of the land.

MAHONEY: You know, it's almost surreal.

KOPPEL: Both Mahoney and Walz just two of 42 newly elected House Democrats poised to take control of the House. While in the Senate, eight new Democrats will be sworn in, giving their party a one seat majority. Many of these new faces elected in conservative districts now determined to push for change, putting them on a possible collision course with President Bush. On issues like Iraq and talk of sending in another 20 to 40,000 troops.

MAHONEY: Adding more troops on top of quicksand, I don't see how that's going to get us to where we need to be.

KOPPEL: And on making tax cuts permanent.

WALZ: I don't believe so right now.

KOPPEL: But some Congress watchers predict an even bigger obstacle for these new Democrats could come from within their own party, especially on social issues like abortion and gay marriage. AMY WALTER, SENIOR EDITOR, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: There's a reason that the Democrats leadership picked issues like ethics reform, like increasing the minimum wage, like stem cell research in their first 100-hour agenda. They have broad consensus in their party, pretty easy to get past, at least on the House side.


KOPPEL: The same cannot be said for those measures on the Senate side were they're anything but a slam dunk, but those are stories that we'll be covering in the weeks and months to come. For today, Soledad, the focus, at least for Speaker Pelosi, will be to lead her flock to pass new rules banning gifts, banning travel, banning various -- or having earmarks that are spelled out clearly as to who sponsored them, things of that nature.

O'BRIEN: All right. A big day ahead today. Andrea Koppel for us this morning.

Thanks, Andrea.


ROBERTS: Looks like a nice morning over there, Soledad.

The Democrats taking charge are promising action. The party buzz words are the first 100 hours. Minimum wage, stem cell research, prescription drug negotiation. How much can they really get done. Our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider, joins us now with a look at how much they can get down.

Good morning, Bill.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, the new Democratic agenda for the House of Representatives is in place, but does it match the public's agenda?


SCHNEIDER, (voice over): The new House Democratic majority is all set to hit the ground running. How far will they get? The Democratic majorities are small. One vote in the Senate. They can't do much without Republican support.

THOM MANN, BROOKINGS INSTITUTION: The reality is, those items have to clear the Senate where super majorities will be need and then be signed by the president.

SCHNEIDER: A super majority? Democrats need the support of 60 percent of the Senate to bring an issue to a vote. And two-thirds of both the House and the Senate to override a presidential veto. According to a recent CNN poll conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation, many items on the Democrat's agenda are favored by voters from both parties. Allowing the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices, raising the minimum rate, cutting the interest rate on student loans, implementing the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, ethics reform.

A couple are favored by Democrats but not Republicans. Maintained Social Security without private accounts, funding embryonic stem cell research. Neither Democrats nor Republicans favor reducing federal tax breaks for oil companies and changing the rules so that Congress can create new spending programs only if taxes are raised or spending on other programs is cut. Message to Democrats, be careful about taxing and spending.

Americans voted to end the partisan bickering. Republicans are complaining that by suspending regular House procedures, cutting off committee hearings and floor debates for the first 100 hours, the Democrats are using their new majority to run over them. The Democrats' response?

REP. NANCY PELOSI, (D) HOUSE SPEAKER: All of these have been vetted through the committee process. Some of them have even passed on the floor.


SCHNEIDER: To voters, the most urgent priority is Iraq. Are House Democrats running away from that issue? It's not on their 100- hour agenda, but Iraq will be the focus of committee hearings in the House and in the Senate. And that, not what happens on the floor, may be where the real action is.

ROBERTS: And we should also point out this morning, Bill, that 100 hours isn't necessarily 100 hours running on the clock, is it?

SCHNEIDER: That's right. Don't start looking at your watch. It's 100 legislative hours, which is hours of actual work. And that can take two and a half, three weeks.

ROBERTS: And they're not planning on starting the clock on that until next Tuesday, correct?

SCHNEIDER: Next Tuesday is when the clock starts.

ROBERTS: All right. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.


O'BRIEN: Thanks, John.

Happening in America this morning.

The nation's intelligence czar is switching jobs. John Negroponte is resigning after just two years as the director of national intelligence to become deputy secretary of state. A government official tells CNN that retired Admiral Mike McConnell is expected to be nominated to succeed Negroponte.

In Colorado and neighboring states, an all-out lift to feed livestock trapped by deep snow. National guard helicopters and planes are dropping hay on remote areas that ranchers can't reach. Thousands of head of cattle are still missing and haven't eaten in a week. States are asking President Bush to declare a federal disaster area.

In Michigan, former President Gerald Ford laid to rest on the grounds of his presidential museum in his home town of Grand Rapids. The sunset service included a 21-gun salute and a 21-aircraft flyover.

In North Carolina, those two Duke lacrosse players, cleared of rape charges, are now being invited back to school. Collin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were suspended while facing charges of raping a stripper at a team party. They, and another teammate, still face sexual offense and kidnapping charges. Lawyers for Seligmann and Finnerty said their clients are still trying to decide about whether they'll return to Duke.

And a UFO, an unidentified falling object, in New Jersey to tell you about this morning. A mysterious metallic thing kind of crashed through the roof of a home in Freholds (ph) Township. It's about the size of a golf ball. It weighs as much as a can of soup. Nobody is quite sure what it is. The FAA says it is not from an airplane. That's just kind of weird.


ROBERTS: And it doesn't look like it fell off of an airplane.

Thanks, Soledad.

Two pieces of video-making news out of Iraq this morning. New pictures have surfaced of five contractors who were kidnapped back in November. And CNN is confirming that a second guard is now being held by the Iraqi government, in addition to the man it says shot the cell phone video of Saddam Hussein's final moments. CNN's Arwa Damon is live in Baghdad now. She's got the very latest for us.

Good morning to you, Arwa.


And the Iraqi government is now also saying that it is not to blame for the behavior during Saddam Hussein's execution. Also saying that it is not to blame for that highly controversial cell phone footage.


DAMON, (voice over): These chilling, uncensored images of Saddam Hussein's final moments are at the center of an awkward Iraqi government investigation into itself and all that went wrong with the execution of Saddam. The government has said that it detained two security guards it says could be responsible for filming and distributing these images. The guarding are employees of the prison where the execution took place. The former military intelligence headquarters under Saddam, located in Khadmiye in northern Baghdad. Others might also be detained as the investigation continues.

It was meant to be a day that the government would hail as a success. In fact, the day of the execution, Iraq's national security adviser, who was present as Saddam fell to his death, told CNN . . .

MOWAFFAK AL-RUBAIE, IRAQI NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: There was absolutely no humiliation to Saddam Hussein when he was alive and after he was executed.

DAMON: But we now know that not to be true. The audio of the last words that Saddam heard.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada.

DAMON: And other Shia slogans taunting the former dictator, forced the Iraqi government to confront the truth of what happened in the gallows. And now Iraq's national security adviser is saying this.

AL-RUBAIE: We are disgusted by this. We are very irritated. We are going to leave no stone unturned.

DAMON: Some government officials believe that the cell phone fallout is being blown out of proportion, vowing the same mistakes will not happen again. But it's already paying the price as pro- Saddam demonstrations gain daily momentum and what could have been one government promise fulfilled, Saddam brought to justice before the end of the year, is forever stamped as an act of Shia revenge.


DAMON: And, John, Iraqis here continue to also deal with that daily cycle of violence. Just earlier this morning, two car bombs exploded at a gas station in Baghdad killing at least 13 Iraqis.


ROBERTS: It's interesting to note, Arwa, that Iraqi officials weren't too disgusted by this whole thing until that video came out showing what was going on. There's also some new video of these five contractors who were kidnapped back in November. What's the latest on that?

DAMON: That's right, John. That video was obtain by a reporter who works for McCarthy newspaper and then given on to the Associated Press, who distributed it to their clients. In it we see the four American contractors, one Austrian contractor, who were kidnapped, if you remember, at a fake checkpoint manned by armed gunmen that were disguised as Iraqi police officers. Now in this video we do see four of the five abducted contractors seated. They all appear to be in good health. All are making statements identifying themselves and asking for help.


ROBERTS: Well, at least they're all still alive. Arwa Damon in Baghdad for us this morning.

Thanks, Arwa.

Soledad. O'BRIEN: John, a cold, new reality this morning for U.S. automakers. Toyota is now nudging DaimlerChrysler out of the number three spot. AMERICAN MORNING's Ali Velshi is in New York "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Hey, Ali, good morning.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Toyota's well on its way to becoming the number one car maker in the entire world. But in the Unites States it's been a solid four for a long time -- GM, Ford, Chrysler, now a part of DaimlerChrysler, and then Toyota. Well, Toyota has moved into the number three spot, unsurprising.

U.S. car sales are down for 2006. Down to about 16.5 million cars. You know, gas prices were high. I think there were a lot of people thinking, I might not buy that car, I'll take the bus for a while.

But really the brunt of it has been borne by General Motor and Ford. General Motors sales down by about 8.5 percent for the year. Ford down by about 7.6 percent. Both of those companies suffering from light SUV and truck sales. DaimlerChrysler down by 5.2 percent for the year.

But Toyota, look at that, up 13 percent for the year. That's the trend. It's beat Ford a couple of times for the number two spot this year. It's not likely to become the number one seller of cars in America for some time. GM still holds that spot by a big margin.

But as of 2007, Toyota will probably move into the number two spot in America and the number one spot in the world. This is all heading into the Detroit Auto Show this weekend. We'll be there and we'll be there live on Monday.

O'BRIEN: All right, Ali, thank you for the update on that.

Well, it's, you know, kind of nice and a little bit breezy here in Washington, D.C., but a big part of the country could be in for some heavy rain and strong storms this morning. Severe weather expert, Chad Myers, has the forecast for us straight ahead.

And here's a question for you. What do you want from the new Congress? The voice of the people, straight ahead on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING live from Washington, D.C. We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: Fifteen minutes past the hour. Let's get right to Chad Myers at the CNN Weather Center with the traveler's forecast.

I can give you the forecast from here. A little breezy, Chad.


ROBERTS: At noon today, a new era begins in Washington. The new Democratic controlled Congress convenes. But what are the expectations of the people who put this new Congress in office? AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken is in Baltimore, the hometown of incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, with a closer look at what people think.

And when you want to find out what people think, the place to go is a diner, Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You bet. No cliche to shameless for us. We are at the Sip & Bite, which has been on this corner in Baltimore for -- since 1948. It's only 40 miles from Washington, but it's really worlds away.


FRANKEN, (voice over): They're supposed to have some of the best crab cakes in Baltimore here at the Sip & Bite diner, which is really saying something. What they definitely do have is customers who are real crabby about Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like their puppets in the Congress. I don't know. It's like they're . . .

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. And we don't know who is controlling all of them (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Yes. Yes. It's just kind of bizarre.

FRANKEN: Whichever party?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For -- when they're both I don't even think it's a party and I don't even think it's a party.

FRANKEN: Our table included an administrative assistant, truck mechanic, the owner of a real estate agency and a clerk. While a CNN Opinion Research poll found that 61 percent of those surveyed expect that Democratic takeover will be good for Congress, our Sip & Bite diners weren't so sure.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, when the Democrats lost the House, everybody was tired of Democrats, so they thought Republicans can do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they would make a difference.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And they would make a difference. So Republicans were in for 12 year and so now the Democrats come back around. So it's going to go back in the same cycle. Democrats will stay in for eight, 12 years, if they don't screw up. Republicans will say, we can do better and the people will vote them in and that's . . .

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's been going on for over 200 years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And that's true. FRANKEN: What about corruption? Will it be any better under the Democrats than it was under the Republicans? Our poll shows that 49 percent say it would make know difference. The Sip & Bite commentators agree.

Do you feel that the Democrats are going to be any less screwed up?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think (INAUDIBLE) have to filter everybody out (INAUDIBLE) them years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel that they're all corrupt.


FRANKEN: Well, when it comes to politicians, that's a tough crowd here at the Sip & Bite. But I think it's fair to say, John, that that's pretty much the way it is in the entire country.

ROBERTS: Yes, I think that a lot of people are, you know, skeptical, if not cynical, about what's going on in Congress. Certainly the ratings would seem to suggest that. The fact, Bob, that Nancy Pelosi is a hometown gal from there in Baltimore, are people, you know, looking to her for more than they might expect from somebody else? Is there going to be a lot of pressure on her to perform?

FRANKEN: Well, I think that there's a lot of pressure on her anyway, but she's certainly getting off to a good start here. On Friday, just a few blocks from her, they're renaming a street in Little Italy. She was raised Nancy D'Alesandro. The daughter and then the sister of two different mayors in Baltimore. They're going to be naming a street, Nancy D'Alesandro Pelosi Via (ph).

ROBERTS: By the way, Bob, what have you got there? It looks pretty good.

FRANKEN: It's probably the least healthy meal I've eaten in at least eight hours.

ROBERTS: Well, pass some our way too. We're hungry here.

Bob Franken up in Baltimore, thanks very much.

Coming up, a look at the Dow's first day of the New York. Ali Velshi's "Minding Your Business" straight ahead.

Then more about that dramatic rescue we first told you about yesterday. Now the nation knows him as the subway super hero, next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Breaking news in Iraq this morning. At least 13 people are dead and 22 injured after overnight bombings near a gas station in Baghdad. And a miracle in the midst of tragedy in Indonesia. Twelve people, including a six-year-old boy, found alive on an oil rig after that ferry accident that killed hundreds. The group swam to safety on live vests and debris.

O'BRIEN: A little bit more now on a story we first told you about yesterday. A real life hero is now the toast of the town in New York City and across the nation too after he risked his life to save a total stranger. We've got his story this morning from CNN's Randi Kaye.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, (voice over): So you take this train every day.

WESLEY AUTREY: I take this train every day.

KAYE: Same time?

AUTREY: Same time.

KAYE: But Tuesday's commute would be different. This 50-year- old Navy veteran noticed Cameron Hollopeter having a seizure on a platform near him.

AUTREY: I think he meant to lean on this, but when he came this way, he went like this, bumped off and fell backwards.

KAYE: Wesley Autrey jumped on to the track to save a man he'd never met.

AUTREY: I hopped down here, one feet there, one feet there. I looked. I see an oncoming train.

KAYE: Cameron was still struggling in this gutter between the live rail. The train was blowing its horn. Brakes were squealing. Time was running out.

AUTREY: And he was slipping. Each time I got, I look, the train getting closer, train getting closer, getting closer. So the last time I was -- the train was about right there where that wood is and I'm like, you can't get him up, go for the gutter. So I just grabbed him like this, fell on top of him and locked my legs around his, both of them, and held him down, put my head over here and leaned in the gutter.

KAYE: So he was on his back and you were on top of him.

From the time Wesley jumped down on the tracks, he thinks he had only about seven seconds before the train was on top of him.

Four cars rushed over them, so close they grazed Wesley's hat. Cameron's recovering in the hospital. Wesley doesn't like being called a hero, but to Cameron's family that what he is.

LARRY HOLLOPETER, CAMERON'S DAD: Mr. Autrey's instinctive and unselfish act saved our son's life.


KAYE: Hero or not, Wesley's in demand. David Letterman wanted to interview him. Donald Trump is giving him 10 grand. His kids have been offered a trip to Disneyland. And the New York Film Academy, which Cameron attends, surprised Wesley with a $5,000 check, plus $5,000 in scholarships for his children. Wesley says he doesn't care about the money, he just wants others to know . . .

AUTREY: You know, live is worth saving.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, New York.


O'BRIEN: Oh, I love this story and I love when he kisses the dad. Now Autrey admits now that the dramatic subway rescue might have been a little, well he called it something pretty stupid considering his two little girls are standing on the subway platform while the train was rolling over him, but the Navy vet says he has no regrets because he acted to save a life.


ROBERTS: Well, that's what makes it such a great act of heroism, is the fact that now in retrospect he thinks, maybe I shouldn't have done it. But in the spur of the moment, you know, he did the right thing. Congratulations to him.

O'BRIEN: Yes, great story. I love that story.

ROBERTS: It is. I love it too.

Thanks, Soledad.

Wall Street tried to rally on the first trading day of the new year, but then worry took over. Twenty-six minutes after the hour now. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business."

Good morning, Ali.

The Dow goes up, the Dow goes down, huh?

VELSHI: Good morning, John.

Yes. You know yesterday morning we had a lot of news that was going to send the Dow up. Home Depot shot up afternoon news that Bob Nardelli was quitting the company after a year of trouble. Wal-Mart went up after it disclosed that its sales were doing well for December. So it looked like a pretty positive day. And the Dow was way up, actually, for much of the day.

And then the minutes from the last Fed meeting came out. Now, you know, we all think that the Fed's worried about housing. We're all kind of worried about housing prices. But this confirmed it. The Fed releases its minutes weeks after its meeting and it said that it was, in fact, concerned about how fast house prices had pulled down. That's why it decided not to raise interest rates at its December meeting.

Of course, when the market got confirmation of that, that's kind of what the market had been thinking already, so I'm not sure why it sent the market down. The Dow didn't really lose a lot. The Dow ended up closing 11 points higher to 12,475. So no records on the first day of trading for the year, but it did hit a record intraday high. Remember, as January goes, typically so goes the year.

The other thing to remember is, crude oil down, way down, $2.73 lower to $58.32. That's almost 18-month low, mostly attributed to the warm weather.


O'BRIEN: All right, Ali, thanks.

Top stories coming up this morning, including some new developments to tell you about in the Duke lacrosse sexual assault case.

And crime does not pay unless you're a convicted former member of Congress. And then it actually does pay. In fact, we're all still paying Duke Cunningham's salary to the tune of $64,000 a year, even while he sits in prison. We'll explain straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: A developing story this morning. New videotape surfaces of American contractors kidnapped in Iraq. The clues that tape holds about where they are and how they're doing this morning.

ROBERTS: Back on campus. Duke University throwing a new twist into the case of two lacrosse players accused of assaulting a stripper.

O'BRIEN: And entitled to outrage. Former lawmakers convicted of crimes but still cashing in on our tax dollars. Will the new Congress crack down?

A closer look on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING. We're live from Washington, D.C., this morning.

Welcome back, everybody. Good morning. It is Thursday, January 4th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien, and I'm live from Capitol Hill this morning.

Hey, John.

ROBERTS: Hey, good morning to you, Soledad.

I'm John Roberts, just across the street in our Washington bureau, in for Miles O'Brien this week.

Thanks very much for joining us.

Soledad, that's such a nice scene behind you.

O'BRIEN: Beautiful.

ROBERTS: And as the sun begins to come up, that's going to be the shot of the day, no question.

O'BRIEN: It is a beautiful -- it's actually a beautiful day. It's over 40 degrees here. I was concerned it was going to be a little bit nippy. The wind is blowing a little bit, but, of course, we're all here because a historic day is about to dawn in Washington, D.C.

The first session of the 110th Congress will convene at noon, with 10 new faces in the Senate, 54 new faces in the House. The power, of course, belongs to the Democrats now. They'll control the majority in the House and the Senate for the first time since 1995.

Women are also making a mark on this congressional class. Two of the new senators and 10 of the new Representatives are women. Nancy Pelosi is also the first-ever woman to become speaker of the House.

There are some religious firsts as well. Muslims and two Buddhists are among the lawmakers who will be taking office today.

We're going to have coming complete coverage of the Washington power shift from the very best political team on TV all morning.

First, though, a quick look at what else is happening across our nation.

This newly released videotape giving all of us a look at five security contractors that are being held hostage in Iraq. Four Americans, one Austrian kidnapped from Basra on November 16th. They all appear healthy, and some were asking in the videotape for the U.S. to pull troops out of Iraq, which they say will bring them home safely.

Iraq's government has now detained two security guards who were present at Saddam Hussein's execution. The government says one of them actually shot that cell phone videotape that's caused so much controversy. The video shows Saddam Hussein was taunted with pro-Shia slogans before he was hanged.

No charges yet. We're told that more arrests could be coming in this case.

Police are now investigating a deadly bus crash near London's Heathrow airport. Two people were killed last night when the bus overturned on its way from London to Aberdeen, Scotland. Nine other people were seriously injured in that crash.

Indonesia now. A top aviation official says that plane that crashed over Indonesia did not send a distress signal before it disappeared off the radar. They're also losing any hope that they're going to find the wreckage since the emergency beacon on board loses its signal just after a couple of days.

Let's turn to Colorado now and some neighboring states as well. An all-out blitz to try to feed the livestock that's trapped by deep snow. National Guard helicopters and planes are dropping hay on remote areas that the ranchers can't reach. Thousands of head of cow still missing and haven't eaten in a week. And some states are asking President Bush to declare a federal disaster area -- John.

ROBERTS: Soledad, thanks.

There's good news this morning for two Duke lacrosse players accused of assaulting a stripper last year. They were once charged with rape. The university now is inviting them back to school for the spring semester.

CNN's David Mattingly in live in Durham, North Carolina, for us this morning.

And David, how soon could they be back at school?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, those spring classes begin here on campus next week, and when they do, two students could be coming back here after a very widely publicized absence.


MATTINGLY (voice over): Duke University is allowing two lacrosse players accused of sexual offense to return as students in good standing for the spring semester. Colin Finnerty and Reade Seligmann were placed on administrative leave after their indictment for assaulting a stripper at a team party last year, but Duke's president said Wednesday in a statement, "The circumstances in the case have changed substantially, and it is appropriate that the students have an opportunity to continue their education."

Last month, the Durham D.A. dropped rape charges against Finnerty, Seligmann, and a third player, Dave Evans, who graduated in May, after the woman said she couldn't recall details of the alleged attack. An attorney for Colin Finnerty says Duke's offer is a vindication.

WADE SMITH, ATTORNEY FOR COLIN FINNERTY: I think it helps the legal side of the case because I think it's an announcement to the world that this important institution has confidence in these boys. We'd like to have them come back.

MATTINGLY: Wade Smith says his client hasn't decided whether to accept Duke's offer to return.

SMITH: I'm sure that Colin loves Duke and would want to come back at some point, but we'll just have to wait and see. All of the circumstances surrounding this case would bear upon any decision to return. The most important, of course, is the fact that the case is still pending.

MATTINGLY: Finnerty, Seligmann and Evans are still charged with sexual offense and kidnapping, but Durham district attorney Mike Nifong has been heavily criticized for his handling of the case. Nifong was sworn in this week for a second term in office and he says he'll do his talking in court.


MATTINGLY: And he may soon get that chance. Defense attorneys say they will be arguing that the D.A. improperly conducted lineups in which their clients were identified in this crime. They say if they are successful in convincing a judge to throw out that evidence, then the prosecution's case could be in very serious trouble -- John.

ROBERTS: Yes, you've got to wonder if this is going to continue to unravel.

David Mattingly for us this morning in Durham.

David, thanks -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: All right, John. Thanks.

As the 110th Congress convenes for the first time today, let's take a look at some former congressmen, shall we? They're now convicted criminals.

So what if we told you that they're actually collecting a small fortune in congressional pension money and you are footing the bill?

CNN's Drew Griffin gets to the bottom of that.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an unwritten law that says crime doesn't pay. But don't tell that to these guys.

Every single one of these former members of Congress either pleaded guilty to or was convicted of at least one serious crime. Yet, every one of them is estimated to be receiving that dollar amount next to their picture every year, their congressional pension based on their years in office, you, the taxpayers, paying the pension of crooks.

(on camera): Even if they take you out of Washington in handcuffs and throw you in prison, Congress still gets its pension.

(voice-over): Case in point, Randall "Duke" Cunningham -- he pleaded guilty to using his congressional office to accept bribes, kickbacks, money from the contractors he was voting to give government business.

Cunningham right now is sitting in this federal prison in North Carolina, and getting his government pension, an estimated $64,000 a year, sent to a congressional felon sitting in the can.

JOHN BERTHOUD, NATIONAL TAXPAYERS UNION: Cunningham has to be the classic example.

GRIFFIN: John Berthoud is president of the National Taxpayers Union. It's a watchdog lobbying group, mostly interested in cutting the size of government, cutting waste and cutting taxes.

Because federal pensions are secret, all of the figures you've seen in this report are estimates based on the Taxpayers Union's calculations. Berthoud can think of no better example of government waste than sending $64,000 a year to Duke Cunningham.

BERTHOUD: But all of us are still paying this guy $64,000 a year, roughly, while he sits in prison. You know, I think the vast majority of Americans think that that is really, really wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Congressman, what are you going to tell the judge today?

GRIFFIN: And Cunningham is hardly alone.

JAMES TRAFICANT, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: I'm not going to admit to crimes I did not do.

GRIFFIN: James Traficant, the Ohio congressman convicted of bribery and sentenced to eight years, is collecting an estimated $40,000 a year sitting in this federal prison in Minnesota.

Traficant and Cunningham didn't respond to our letters, and former Minnesota congressman Dave Durenberger didn't want to talk to us either.

DAVE DURENBERGER, FORMER CONGRESSMAN: The Department of Justice has charged me...

GRIFFIN: He pleaded guilty to fraud in 1995, did a year's probation and paid a fine. Now we pay him an estimated pension of $86,000 a year.

(on camera) And who among the convicted felons of Congress is getting the most out of his retirement? That would be the guy who lives in this Chicago building and owns this car.

Take a look at the license plate. Retired member of Congress. That big "R" stands for the big guy, Chairman Daniel Rostenkowski, usually not shy about talking to the media, except when it comes to his estimated $126,000 a year taxpayer funded pension.

(voice-over) The former chairman of the powerful ways and means committee told us on the phone he has nothing to say. And in fact, Rostenkowski, who was sent to prison for mail fraud, may have good reason not to answer his door.

Just a month ago, the state of Illinois used its felony conviction clause to take away the pension of former governor George Ryan, who was convicted and sentenced to 6 1/2 years for mail fraud, money laundering and extortion. But that's state law.

Under federal law, the only grounds for stripping a congressman of his pension is if he's convicted of treason. The National Taxpayers Union for years has been calling for a tougher conviction clause.

A simple change says Taxpayers Union president Berthoud, if you are convicted of any felony while in office, you forfeit your right to get paid.

BERTHOUD: It's hard unless maybe, you're a member of Congress or a former member of Congress, for anybody to understand how on earth you could ask taxpayers to pay pensions for people like that.

GRIFFIN: Now two dozen watchdog groups have joined the campaign, sending this letter to the incoming Democrats who vowed to drain the swamp, asking them to at least drain the felons from the swamp.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Washington.


ROBERTS: Your tax dollars at work.

Heavy rains are in the forecast for a big part of this country this morning. Severe weather expert Chad Myers has got your forecast coming up.

Plus, time running out, but a rescue possibly closing in for a sailor from California lost at sea



ROBERTS: Developing news from Iraq this morning. At least 13 people are dead, 22 injured after overnight bombings near a Baghdad gas station.

And 12 people, including a 6-year-old boy, found alive on an offshore oil rig in Indonesia. They were on board a ferry that sank last week killing hundreds.

O'BRIEN: There's a dramatic rescue under way right now hundreds of miles off the tip of South Africa. A California man is injured, and he's stranded in his sailboat. Now, there's hope that a commercial fishing boat might be able to reach him tonight, but all his nervous family can do right now is wait.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence has our report.


CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): From a dying satellite phone half a world away, Ken Barnes manages to reach his daughter. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I love you, dad.

LAWRENCE: Barnes is adrift at sea 500 miles off the coast of Chile. A vicious storm blew out his engine and destroyed the mast and steering wheel. Barnes' leg is bleeding, his boat taking on water. The cell phone is almost finished.

CATHY CHAMBERS, GIRLFRIEND OF ADRIFT SAILOR: He has no way of recharging it, and he's running out of batteries.

LAWRENCE: In Newport Beach, California, his girlfriend and twin daughters wait hours between his short 60-second calls.

CHAMBERS: Well, I thought, you know, I haven't heard from him for several hours. You know, has that boat rolled and is he alive?

LAWRENCE: Barnes set out from Long Beach at the end of October. He headed south as Mexico and Peru, trying to circumnavigate the Earth alone.

(on camera): Barnes had hoped to cover more than 100 miles a day, arriving back here at home sometime between April and June.

(voice over): A search plane spotted him Wednesday and dropped off supplies.

CHAMBERS: Did you get the lifeguard (ph) from the communications? Were you able to retrieve it?

LAWRENCE: No, he tells Cathy Chambers, but he appreciates the attempt.

CHAMBERS: Seeing the plane and him waving at the plane was giving him a ray of hope that, yes, they are coming after me.

LAWRENCE: Three ships are fighting through 20-foot swells, racing to save him before another storm hits Friday. And the man who dreamed of sailing around the world would now settle for just coming home.


O'BRIEN: That was Chris Lawrence reporting for us. Obviously, we'll continue to monitor this story for you.

It is now 45 minutes past the hour. Chad Myers at the CNN weather center for us. He's got a look at the traveler's forecast.

Good morning, Chad.



ROBERTS: Coming up, to watch or not to watch, why some were riveted to the uncensored video of Saddam Hussein's execution and others wouldn't dream of looking it up.



O'BRIEN: Right now in Iraq two security guards are being held and being questioned in connection with that grainy cell phone video of Saddam Hussein's execution. Now, we're not going to show you that video in its entirety. Of course it's all over the Internet. But all of that got CNN's Jeanne Moos thinking very seriously about whether you should look or not look.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Execution uncut, unedited. Graphic, a rating of three and a half stars. There may be a question of grammar: hanging, hanged, hunged, hung. But death is at your fingertips if you're dying to see it.

(on camera): Have you looked at the Saddam Hussein execution tape, the raw version?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't want to see it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: A definitely intimate moment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought it was absolutely gross, inhumane to show it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sure that his neck was broken. I don't need to see it for myself.

MOOS (voice-over): But others do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In some crazy way, I wanted to see the method.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He got what he deserved.

MOOS: The Iraqi government version was silent and sanitized of the actual moment of death, but not the cell phone video.


MOOS (on camera): To look or not to look?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, I'll be with her. I'll be looking, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I knew it was on the Internet. And it took me a while to finally say, "OK, I'm going to look at this."

MOOS (voice-over): It also took him a while to answer this question.

(on camera): Did you feel guilty looking at it?

(voice-over): A pregnant, six second pause...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It upset me. I don't know whether I felt guilty looking at it. But it upset me.

MOOS (on camera): Then you didn't feel guilty watching it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did I feel guilty? No.



MOOS: A tinge of guilt. You know, I can say, "Oh, I'm doing it because it's my job."

(voice-over): For some, the Internet search prompted soul searching.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I just went today.

MOOS (on camera): You look like you feel guilty.


MOOS: Do you?


MOOS: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because I don't think we should be looking at it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Even signed up on to YouTube to do it, I'm embarrassed to say.

MOOS (voice-over): YouTube make us sign up and verify you're 18 if you want to see what one description referred to as "the director's cut".

(on camera): Suddenly the trap door opens and he's gone. But what struck me was the voices.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. That's exactly what I meant.

MOOS: The sort of clamor that...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The louder and the more violent it got. And I could feel myself sort of getting more and more agitated.

MOOS (voice-over): The TV networks didn't show all of it. We settled for our hanging noose graphic. It's a subject cartoonists couldn't help getting hung up on.

And already there's the "Dope on a Rope" doll selling for $25 on

The son of the woman who watched it said he wouldn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a person being killed.

MOOS: And it gave his mom second thoughts about supporting capital punishment.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought I believed in it. But, after this, I thought, "Wow, I'm not sure."

MOOS: Time ran out for Saddam Hussein. But his death lives on on the Internet.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: Well, coming up, a quick look at the morning's business news with Ali Velshi.

Plus, incoming House speaker Nancy Pelosi is promising an aggressive agenda. But can the Democrats deliver?

That's ahead on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING, live from Washington.


ROBERTS: Fire the CEO, but still pay him $50 million.

Fifty-six minutes past the hour now. Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" for us up in New York.

Good morning, Ali.


You know, we could really fill these segments just on news of CEOs and what they're doing right and what they're doing wrong.

Back in 2005, MassMutual Financial, a Boston company, fired its CEO. The board said that Robert O'Connell did a bunch of things they didn't like, including buying a condominium from the company at below market prices, using company aircraft for personal use. They fired him, and an arbitration panel subsequently found that he didn't violate a term in his contract that said that he could be terminated for willful gross misconduct relating -- relating -- resulting in material harm to the company.

The arbitration panel said he didn't do those things, so the company took it to court, and a judge has upheld that ruling and says that the company actually owes Robert O'Connell $50 million. There's obviously a lot more detail to this that hasn't come to light yet because it hasn't faced a trial. So the records aren't public, but the board thought that he did some things. Somehow he's convinced them he hasn't. And now he walks away with $50 million.

Don't know whether he did anything wrong or right. The only thing I know is the record seems to be in favor of people leaving their posts and getting lots of money -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly.

All right, Ali. Thanks.


O'BRIEN: Some of the top stories we're taking a look at this morning.

In fact, one of the most popular right now at, newly released FBI files say an angry President Richard Nixon wanted to clean house at the foreign service. There are documents that say Nixon questioned the loyalty of some career diplomats to his policies.

ROBERTS: From "The Washington Post" this morning, urban planners say New Orleans is making mistakes in the rush to rebuild, building houses in flood-prone areas that won't hold up in another Katrina-type disaster. Some houses are being reconstructed in areas that were covered by 20 feet of floodwaters.

O'BRIEN: Maybe not such a rush to rebuild, but chaos to rebuild.

"New York Times," take a look at this. A lab is now being barred from testing electronic voting machines. Federal officials say they weren't following proper quality control procedures.

As we come up to the top of the hour, let's get right to Chad Myers at the CNN weather center.


O'BRIEN: A new videotape surfaces of American contractors kidnapped in Iraq. The demands their captors are now making, we'll tell you.

ROBERTS: Change of heart. Duke University throwing a new twist into the case of two lacrosse players accused of assaulting a stripper.

O'BRIEN: And history on Capitol Hill. Democrats retake Congress today. Their plans to clean house and the reality about what can really get done, all on this special edition of AMERICAN MORNING.

We're live from Washington, D.C., this morning.

Welcome back, everybody. And good morning. It st Thursday, January 4th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien, and I'm live on Capitol Hill this morning. Hi, John.

ROBERTS: Hey. Good morning to you, Soledad.

I'm John Roberts in our Washington bureau, in for Miles O'Brien this week.

Thanks very much for joining us.

You know, there's a lot of determination on the part of the Democrats to get things done, Soledad. But can they get it done? That's the big question.

O'BRIEN: Well, there's certainly a lot of talk about it, isn't there?

In fact, we begin in Washington, D.C., this morning, because we're here. And of course, the countdown to history in the building behind me this morning, or really this afternoon, because the first session of the 110th Congress will convene at noon.