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American Morning

Extreme Weather: Significant Airline Delays; E-mail Trail: Rove and U.S. Attorney Firings; More U.S. Troops to Iraq; Terror Confession

Aired March 16, 2007 - 08:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're watching that bitter blast, that late winter punch to the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast right now. There are storm warnings, lots of snow, and already hundreds of canceled flights.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: The architect facing new political heat. The e-mail trail inside that decision to fire those U.S. attorneys puts Bush confidante Karl Rove into the political maw. A battle brewing with Congress over whether he will testify.

S. O'BRIEN: And another increase. Three thousand more troops are heading to the front in Iraq, in addition to the ones who are already being sent.

We're live this morning from New York, from the Pentagon, and in Iowa, all on this AMERICAN MORNING.

M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, Friday, March 16th.

I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Thanks for being with us.

Let's begin with that winter storm hitting the Mid-Atlantic, right up to New England right now. A winter storm warning in effect from West Virginia to Canada. Storm watches for all of New England. You could see eight to 10 inches of snow today.

Many flights already delayed or canceled. Closures at major airports are possible.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Alina Cho is live for us at LaGuardia airport.

Good morning to you, Alina.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey. Good morning, Soledad.

We have some additional cancellations to tell you about this hour. If you are heading to Costa Rica, Phoenix, Indianapolis, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Raleigh-Durham, New Orleans, Orlando, or Fort Lauderdale, call ahead. If you are flying on American Airlines out of LaGuardia airport, some of those flights have been canceled.

We have also learned that Delta airlines has canceled 100 flights today in anticipation of the bad weather.

Let's talk about the other airports in the area.

Over at Newark, 132 outbound flights canceled today, 118 inbound.

Over at JFK, let's talk a little about JetBlue. We all remember that operational meltdown that the airline had last month during that infamous Valentine's Day storm. Well, today the airline has protectively canceled 230 flights, most of them in or out of New York's three major airports.

Earlier this morning, I spoke with two young women who are still hoping to make it to Dallas in time for St. Patrick's Day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're a little delirious, I think, from the lack of sleep. But, you know, the person at the desk was really, really nice. And, I mean, we can't help the weather. So it happens. You know, at least we get to go.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. We're hopeful. We're definitely still hopeful.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We woke up this morning, looked out of the window, saw the snow coming down, and was wondering if our flight would be canceled or not. But so far, so good.

CHO: You got lucky.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we got lucky.

CHO: Well, you're beating the weather.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to beat the weather. It's a good time to get out of New York City.


CHO: Now, it is still snowing very lightly here in New York City. Now, normally, that wouldn't have a big effect on air travel. But because of what happened last month with JetBlue, I think a lot of airlines are taking extra precautions today. One bright spot, Soledad. If you're flying on American to Miami, that flight is leaving six minutes early.

S. O'BRIEN: And even better news, you're in Miami when you get there. All good.

CHO: That's right.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Alina Cho for us this morning.

Thank you for watching it, Alina -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Nothing bad about that part of the story, is there? All right. We're following the e-mail trail inside the White House decision to fire those U.S. attorneys. The traffic makes it clear the president's top political adviser, Karl Rove, was involved earlier than the White House first said. Rove denies it was all a political vendetta.


KARL ROVE, SR. WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: These are reasonable and appropriate disagreements where the administration is justified in acting. Now, we're at a point where people want to play politics with it, and that's fine. I would simply ask that everybody who's playing politics with this be asked to comment about what they think about the removal of 123 U.S. attorneys during the previous administration and see if they had the same super-heated political rhetoric then that they're having now.


M. O'BRIEN: CNN White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux has more on the e-mail trail.


SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The e-mail shows that Karl Rove raised the idea of firing all 93 U.S. attorneys nearly a month before the White House previously acknowledged. The electronic conversation between two White House officials dated January 6, 2005, says, "Rove stopped by to asked how we plan to proceed regarding U.S. attorneys. Allow all to stay? Requests resignations from all and accept only some? Or selectively replace them?"

So the White House is sticking by its claim that it was Harriet Miers who originally suggested getting rid of all 93 U.S. attorneys and that Rove dismissed it as a bad idea. However, the White House has provided no documentation supporting that.

So, why does this matter? Democrats, like New York Senator Chuck Schumer, pounded on this newly-surfaced e-mail, saying this is just another example of the White House not being up front about Rove's role, and that he is insisting he be compelled to testify before Congress. The White House says this is more partisan politics aimed at damaging the administration.

Now, this battle comes to a head later today, with the Senate deadline for White House lawyers to decide whether Rove, Miers and other White House staff will testify before Congress or whether the White House will invoke executive privilege.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Washington.


S. O'BRIEN: The battle comes to a head today with a Senate deadline for White House lawyers to say whether they're going to Rove, Miers, and other staff to testify before Congress, or whether they're going to invoke executive privilege.

The latest now on the fight for Iraq. The Pentagon using the words "civil war" to describe some of the fighting. And the U.S. commander in Iraq says he needs more troops.

Barbara Starr is live for us at the Pentagon this morning.

Good morning, Barbara.


Well, that so-called troop surge keeps surging. Now, an additional 3,000 troops are going to head to Iraq.

This is a request from General David Petraeus, the top commander. He has said he needs another combat aviation brigade.

What are we talking about? About up to 3,000 troops with dozens of helicopter gun ships, troop transport helicopters, that sort of thing. All of it now to support the higher level of troops on the ground.

They are moving the troops around rapidly as they continue this security operation and security sweep. So they want more helicopters. And that's not even the biggest problem right now.

Soledad, they are looking at how they are going to sustain this higher level of troops, at least through early 2008. Some Army sources say they are preparing to extend the tour of duty for still more units on the ground -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Wow. That will be interesting, the fallout from that.

Have they said exactly when the unit is going to leave for Baghdad?

STARR: Well, you know, it's interesting. It was going to leave in June. By all accounts, Defense Secretary Robert Gates signed orders speeding it up yesterday. It will now leave possibly as early as May, just as soon as they can. That's how urgent the need is right now for more troops in Iraq -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right. Barbara Starr for us at the Pentagon.

Thank you, Barbara, as always.

Back on Capitol Hill, Democrats are trying to force a troop withdrawal, facing another fight and another defeat. A bill in the House calls for troops to leave Iraq by September 1st of 2008. In the Senate, a resolution failed. That one called for troops to come home in four months -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Terror analysts are pouring through the alleged confession of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Pentagon documents show he's admitted to planning, training and financing 9/11 and 30 other attacks.

CNN's Tom Foreman takes us inside those shocking revelations.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Investigators already knew about his involvement in 9/11, the death of Daniel Pearl, the Indonesian nightclub bombing, and so much more to which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed. So, what anti-terror officials are most interested in learning from this former North Carolina college student is how terrorists think.

PAUL BUTLER, FMR. U.S. ATTORNEY: How do they move that thought into action and to operationalize things?

FOREMAN: Paul Butler, a former U.S. attorney, previously handled terrorism cases, including this one for the government.

BUTLER: What do they do to segregate different parts of an operation so that if one person is caught -- they may not know about who the other people are? How do they finance themselves? All the things that the intelligence community and the law enforcement community are trying to use to stop active plots.

FOREMAN: For example, the United States toppled the Taliban government in Afghanistan because it was harboring al Qaeda. Mohammed, however, in edited court documents provided by the Pentagon, says in his broken English, "Many Taliban do not agree about why we are in Afghanistan. They have never been with al Qaeda."

Intelligence sources have told CNN Mohammed was at one time subjected to intense interrogation techniques, including sleep deprivation, forced standing, and water boarding. How much that affected his testimony is unknown, but he talks about how al Qaeda pursues military, economical and political targets. That could suggest strikes on purely civilian targets maybe less likely than some fear.

(on camera): Investigators, of course, take nothing that Mohammed has said at face value, but they compare all these tiny details with the testimony of others and with facts they already know about al Qaeda.

(voice over): They weed out deliberately misleading information. And in the end, they hope what they have left is a clearer picture of the worldwide terror network and how it really works.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


S. O'BRIEN: The Straight Talk Express heads straight through Iowa. Can John McCain reenergize his campaign by taking it right to the people? Candy Crowley will take a look. That's coming up next.

And swear you know (ph) who? A member of Congress says he believes in democracy, but not in God. What do voters think about that?

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.

Valerie Plame is heading to Capitol Hill in just a little bit. She's testifying about ways to protect the identities of CIA agents like herself.

And yes, we've bee talking about it all morning. There is a major winter storm in the Northeast right now. But we're also hearing that this has been the warmest winter in recorded history.

Let's get right to Chad for an update on that.


M. O'BRIEN: Senator John McCain reaching into an 8-year-old bag of tricks, finding the keys to his bus, and hitting the road. It's the Straight Talk Express, the sequel, in the real River City this morning, Mason City, Iowa.

Candy Crowley has a ticket to ride, and yesterday she was shooting the bull with the candidate yesterday.


SEN. JOHN MCCAIN (R), ARIZONA: I think that a lot of people, no matter what they -- what they say, are not that focused on the campaigns yet. But that's what campaigns are all about. In 1999, we weren't even on the radar at any time at this time.


M. O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley joining us live now from Mason City.

It is a lot harder to be driving the bus out front, isn't it?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SR. POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is. And there were so many expectations as John McCain came into this race. Everyone thought he would be the front-runner. So he suffers from the fact that not only is he not the front-runner, he is trailing Rudy Giuliani by double digits.

But as you heard, McCain says, look, this is spring training. This doesn't matter. We've had a plan. Our plan was to bring the bus out all along at some point to sort of try to recreate the 2000 race.

But the fact of the matter is, for John McCain, this is a very different time. And one of the major issues that is plaguing him right now is the war. Now, he says, listen, his support for the war is going to have to affect the campaign or not. But he has no intention of backing off from it. And I can tell you, one of the interesting things about this campaign is that the war is the first thing that comes up, and John McCain is the guy that brings it up.

So he is trying to address the issue head on -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, it's interesting. The bus is kind of a two-edged sword for John McCain. It reminds people of what they really liked about him back in 1999. But at the same time, points out kind of some of the differences. And you allude to the war as being one of them.

CROWLEY: The war, and also there's been -- he's kind of gone mainstream over the past couple of years. He made up with evangelicals that he dissed during the 2000 campaign. He's been reaching out to Bush supporters, Bush fund-raisers, Bush voters, and it's sort of taken that shine off of him that a lot of people liked.

They say, listen, you know, I really liked that maverick, and he's not the maverick anymore. But I tell you, I brought that up to him, and he said, "People tell me all the time, I want you to be the person you were then. I want you to be that maverick." And he said, "We didn't win."

So, obviously he's walking this fine line, because he said, "I haven't changed a bit as far as my policies, how I look at things." So he's walking this fine line, trying to still be the maverick, but still bringing in some of that mainstream support that he needs.

M. O'BRIEN: I wonder if you can drive a bus on both sides of the road that way. It will be interesting to see.

Now, on the other side of the aisle here, another front-runner. Let's talk about Hillary Clinton.

Metaphorically, at least, Bill Clinton is her bus, because, in a sense, it reminds people of what they like about the Clintons and also gives people a reminder of how, by comparison, she has a bit of a political tin ear. I was watching with great interest, Candy, and I know you did this week, as she tried to parse her way through some tortured language about the issue of homosexuality.

She was asked -- and this was all in the wake of Joint Chiefs of Staff general Peter Pace making those comments about homosexuals in the military. She was asked on ABC about that, and she said this: "Well I'm..." -- whether it's immoral to be homosexual -- she said, "Well, I'm going to leave that for others to conclude."

And then she followed up yesterday with this: "I've heard from many of my friends in the gay community that my response to a question about homosexuality being immoral sounds evasive. Homosexuality is not immoral."

It's got everything but the aforementioned and the (INAUDIBLE) in there.

Do you think -- is she missing opportunities here to play to some of her strongest supporters?

CROWLEY: Well, you know, I think they will certainly remain her strongest supporters, because there's not many other places to go, certainly on the Republican side. I mean, I think what you're seeing here, Hillary Clinton is a very cautious player. She is not as good shooting from the hip as her husband is.

And I think what happened was, you have something that took her a little by surprise and she gave a very cautious answer. Then as you heard, publicly and privately, she heard from what's a very important constituency for her. And she came out with that second statement. So I think what you're seeing, really, is the result of her cautionary tone that kind of permeates her campaign.

M. O'BRIEN: All right. Before you get away, I've got to ask you about the U.S. attorney firing flap.

This morning, a lot of e-mail traffic heading toward the Blackberry, at least, of Karl Rove. Give us a sense of the political dimensions to this. Do we really understand how big this can be yet?

CROWLEY: Well, I don't think we know where this is going, but we certainly have seen e-mails that head directly to Karl Rove.

This is huge for Democrats. I mean, after all, this is the man that President Bush called the architect of his campaign. He has always been a lightning rod in this administration.

He has so angered Democrats. And now they're looking at him. And they think, look, this is the point guy. This is where it started. At least that's what the e-mails are looking like now.

It seems that every day it gets bigger. One wonders what's going to come today and tomorrow. And obviously, you have the idea of whether Karl Rove is going to go up and testify on Capitol Hill today. So that looks like the biggest news, but one never knows with the e- mails. You've got to be careful what you write in those things.

M. O'BRIEN: Boy -- amen to that one. Candy Crowley -- they're never private, are they?


M. O'BRIEN: Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent, part of the best political team on television, and a certified bus driver.

Thanks for being with us -- Soledad.


S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, so help us God. A California congressman comes out as an atheist. What do voters think about it? We'll take a look.

And ready for your close-up, Red Planet? An amazing Mars fly- over, and you're in the cockpit.

Stay with us.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: A strange kind of contest unfolded in Washington this week. It was a search for the most powerful atheist inside the beltway.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Delia Gallagher is our faith and values correspondent with a little explanation.

This requires a big explanation. Tell me a little bit about this contest? Why?

DELIA GALLAGHER, CNN FAITH AND VALUES CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, it's a group called the Secular Coalition for America, a group of atheists and agnostics together who sponsored a contest, a thousand dollars if you can find the highest-ranking elected official who's an atheist.

Congressman Pete Stark from California...

S. O'BRIEN: We have a winner.

GALLAGHER: ... was the winner. He didn't get the thousand dollars. The person who nominated him gets the thousand dollars. But he came out and said, yes, it is true, I am an atheist.

S. O'BRIEN: And that was the winner. Now, he doesn't get the money...


S. O'BRIEN: ... but is there a big downside for him? I mean...


S. O'BRIEN: Politically, one would think.

GALLAGHER: ... politically, you can imagine this -- he served 18 terms as a congressman. He's 75 years old. I mean, he's had his political career. He's probably not worried about any potential fallout from it.

In fact, here's what he said about it. He said, "I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military, and the provision of social services." And in fact, his office says he's received over 200 e-mails of support. There was an ad taken out in "The Washington Post" congratulating him for this announcement. Not a whole lot of backlash from the religious communities that I've seen or heard. So, on the whole, possibly not a problem for him politically.

S. O'BRIEN: But maybe not for him, but for others. For example, if you look at all the presidential contenders, you hear them all talking in some way or shape about God and religion and faith in their lives. Mitt Romney was on "LARRY KING LIVE" last night with his wife, and, you know, he said a similar thing.

Let's listen.


MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think the American public generally would like to have a person of faith lead the country. They want somebody who fundamentally believes that every single person is a child of god.


S. O'BRIEN: You think that's true?

GALLAGHER: I think it's certainly true at this moment in our history, that the religion of a political candidate is very important.

There was an interesting poll taken a month ago asking, "Who would you vote for of the religious denominations?" Catholics -- 95 percent said, I'd vote for a president if he was Catholic. Jewish, 92 percent. Mormon, 72 percent. Atheist, 45 percent.

So, yes, it's almost half who say that wouldn't necessary be a problem for me if he was an atheist. That's an interesting number.

S. O'BRIEN: It would be an interesting number, too, to see if they put Muslim up on that chart.


S. O'BRIEN: And they left that one out.

All right. Delia Gallagher for us. She's our faith and values correspondent.

Thank you, Delia.

GALLAGHER: You're welcome.

S. O'BRIEN: Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, is it time to break out the whip inflation now buttons now?

Ali Velshi, what do you think? ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good question. We're going to find out in about seven minutes.

The inflation report comes out, the Consumer Price Index. It's the way the government uses inflation.

Why does it matter to you? Because your income, your rent, your retirement benefits, your alimony, how much tax you pay, all depends on inflation.

And how they do this, they take this basket of goods that they think the typical American is going to use. It's got housing, it's got food, it's got transportation, all sorts of things. And they calculate how those things increase month to month. It's pretty scientific because they take -- they go to 87 urban areas around the country and measure this.

Now, here's the problem. The problem is that many of the things in the basket are subject to wild swings -- food, when there's bad weather. We're talking about orange juice when it ruins a crop. Energy prices, we all know about that.

And in order to measure inflation properly, economists sort of remove the volatile things like food and energy, and they measure the core inflation index. Except that there's nobody around who doesn't consume food and energy. So that's one problem with inflation measurements.

The second one, of course, is that we're not all the same. I was joking around earlier that you're kind of the one they look at. It's an urban measure of someone who consumes a lot of those kinds of things.

So, depending where you live, where you are in life, what stage you're at, how many kids you have, if you're kids are in college, if you've got parents who you're taking care of, education and healthcare both increase more than other things. So, inflation, the measurement will be important to the Fed, because they're making interest rate decisions, but we all know whether we're paying more or less.

M. O'BRIEN: It seems like there could be a more scientific way to do this.

VELSHI: Yes, there could. Economists often go for the simplest measure, as opposed to the one that might be the most accurate. So, it's not the only thing you have to take into account. But if people are -- if there's inflation, we're able to spend less with the money we earn, and bottom line, that's tough on the economy.

M. O'BRIEN: Ali Velshi, have a great weekend.

VELSHI: Thank you. And you too.

M. O'BRIEN: All right -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: The top stories of the morning are coming up next. This major winter storm that's hitting the Northeast, we'll get an update from Chad. It could be two feet of snow in some inland areas. We'll tell you exactly where.

Plus, we've all read about and seen pictures of the terrible suffering in Darfur. This morning we'll take a look at what's really being done to help solve that crisis.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.


M. O'BRIEN: Good morning to you, Friday, March 16th. I'm Miles O'Brien.

S. O'BRIEN: And I'm Soledad O'Brien.

Let's begin with the weather, shall we? A major winter storm is blasting the Northeast right now. Storm warnings are up. Hundreds of planes are down. They're grounded. We've got complete coverage straight ahead.

Also, we're waiting this morning from a word from the White House. The Senate Judiciary Committee set today as a deadline to decide if the presidential adviser Karl Rove and others will have to testify.

And why everyone should care about the mortgage meltdown. And we're hearing from Allen Greenspan about it. He's retired, but when he speaks we still listen.

Those stories ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

The latest on that major storm right now for you. Deep snow, dangerous ice, flight delays, cancellations at the major Northeast airports. It's a mess out there. Severe Weather Expert Chad Myers is a specialist on the messes.


S. O'BRIEN: Pressure now is being turned up on the Attorney General Alberto Gonzales as more e-mails come out between him and Karl Rove about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys. Rove, Harriet Miers, all of them could be subpoenaed. The Senate Judiciary Committee has set today as a deadline for White House lawyers to decide if they will willingly testify on Capitol Hill.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates is ordering up to 3,000 troops to the battle front. The U.S. Commander in Iraq General David Petraeus is asking for the help. He says he needs more helicopters to support ground forces. An aviation brigade out of Fort Steward, Georgia is likely to leave for Iraq come May.

M. O'BRIEN: This morning the United Nations is trying to figure out how to handle all the calls about what to do about the genocide in Darfur. More than 200,000 dead, 2 million forced out of their homes. This has been going on for years now. Senior United Nations Correspondent Richard Roth is here.

Goes on for years, we talk about it, and little action. Why?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN U.N. CORRESPONDENT: It's incredible, Miles. Yesterday the U.N. Security Council discussed Darfur over lunch. You can imagine that scene as ambassadors dined while discussing people who are struggling just to survive.


ROTH (voice over): Despite all the people dying painfully slow deaths from malnutrition and dehydration in Sudan, the world's leaders still have yet to do anything substantive to stop the genocide.

TONY BLAIR, PRIME MINISTER OF BRITAIN: It's scandalous, indeed. In terms of the suffering of the people there. And we cannot let this slip back down the international agenda.

ROTH: But the Darfur dilemma has now been on the U.N. radar for nearly for years, but still nothing.

BILL PACE, WORLD FEDERALIST MOVEMENT: This is a catastrophic failure of the international community, and the U.N. system in preventing genocides in the past.

ROTH: There have even been arguments over whether a genocide has been committed. Two Sudanese men have, in fact, have even been accused of war crimes. But Sudan isn't buying it.

ABDALMAHMOOD ABDALHALEEM, SUDANESE AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It's not a genocide. This is blown out of proportion.

ROTH: The United Nations estimates at least 2 million people displaced and 200,000 people dead.

ROTH (on camera): How many people do you think have died in Darfur?

ABDALHALEEM: Nine thousand.

ROTH: Only 9,000?

ABDALHALEEM: Nine thousand, yes.

ROTH: Other estimates say at least 300,000, 400,000?

ABDALHALEEM: No, no, no. This is dramatization to serve their objective of calling for international troops to come and invade the country.

ROTH (voice over): But there is no cavalry to come to the rescue. Under U.N. rules if a country doesn't want troops to come in, the U.N. backs off. Sudan also has friends on the Security Council. China buys a lot of oil from Sudan and stands ready to block stiffer action against Sudan.

WANG GUANYA, CHINESE AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: We don't agree that at this stage sanctions is a way that will help the peace process.

ROTH: The current president of the Security Council is from a major African country, but can only offer sympathy.

DUMISANI KUMALO, SOUTH AFRICAN AMBASSADOR TO U.N.: It tears your heart apart. It makes all of this look like what are we doing?


ROTH: Sudan has invited the U.N. secretary-general to come to Sudan, but the two men met recently. And all that's happened, Miles, is more backtracking by the Sudanese government.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, at best, to the surface, there it looks like incompetence on the part of diplomacy there, at the United Nations. But is it something more sinister? Is there something going on behind the scenes we're not getting here? And for some reason, are people complicit in all of this?

ROTH: Well, the problem goes to the heart of the U.N. system. They don't want to do anything against one of their own governments. The internal affairs, you know, Iraq invading Kuwait, that's different. You have a situation where Arab governments don't want to do anything to stop an Arab government, such as Sudan. There's not enough support to help the people there, the black Africans. Even George Clooney has failed at this.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, it's a sad statement, though. Because if the U.N. cannot help in this case, what is its role in the world?

ROTH: Well, that's the problem. I think this is shows -- this is so pitiful, this has hit a new low for the U.N. If I hear one more world leader say we need to put this at the top of the agenda. I mean, it's incredible.

M. O'BRIEN: Yeah, it gets a little nauseating. All right, Richard Roth. Thank you. Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, a problem that hits close to home for millions of people, but affects actually many, many more. We'll tell you why the meltdown in the mortgage industry affects more people than you thought.

And Democrats get a warning from party leaders, "Beware of Colbert " We'll show you why. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. The most news in the morning is right here on CNN.


S. O'BRIEN: Well, he's retired, but still we're hearing a lot lately from the former Fed Chairman Allen Greenspan. This time he's saying he expects a fallout from the sup-prime mortgage crisis to spread to other parts of the economy, especially if home prices decline. We've already seen the markets plunging as a result of the sub- prime problems this week. CNN's Personal Finance Editor Gerri Willis joins us with all that.

Fill us in. What does it all mean?

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: Lots of bad news out there. We've already seen two dozen lenders go under, go out of business, or sell their loans to somebody else. What we're talking about here is sub-prime. Those loans that went to people who are having a hard time affording the loans.

What happen is, the mortgage lenders gave them money that was very difficult to repay. Their loan terms were onerous. They had very high interest rates. And now they're defaulting in record numbers. Bottom line, it's going to affect everybody in the mortgage market.


WILLIS (voice over): Goodman Griffin and Anne Ryner (ph), thought they had lined up a mortgage for their dream home. When suddenly it fell through their sub-prime lender decided to tighten its rules.

GOODMAN GRIFFIN, POTENTIAL HOMEOWNER: What we qualified for before was no longer available.

WILLIS: It's something that is happening more and more often all across the country. The mortgage industry is struggling because of homeowners unable to make their monthly payments on high-interest loans. Now experts say it's affecting the entire mortgage money machine. Here's why.

Homebuyers take out a mortgage from a lender. Lenders sell those loans to investors. When times are good, everyone benefits. But when borrowers default on their loans, lenders become stressed, which erases investor returns. Now new borrowers have to pay more to borrow money, and some don't qualify to borrow at all. All this leaves Robert Shiller, who accurately predicted the crash, to believe the housing market will be the next bubble to burst.

ROBERT SHILLER, PROF. ECONOMICS, YALE UNIVERSITY: We live in a very interconnected economy, and so in a very important sense, everyone is at risk.

WILLIS: Meaning, the ripples could extend to the economy as a whole.

SHILLER: A recession has a good chance of happening later this year and extending on into maybe 2008.

WILLIS: Not everyone is so downbeat. Nick Retsinas helped run the nation's biggest housing agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development during the '90s.

NICK RETSINAS, DIR., JOINT CTR. FOR HOUSING STUDIES: I think it's a little early to say "collapse". It's much, much too early in the process.

WILLIS: What's more, says Retsinas, the number of sub-prime loans isn't big enough to sink the entire market. For Goodman and Anne, and the dimming prospects of a new home, things couldn't get much worse.

GRIFFIN: You feel like they've got your life in their hands.


WILLIS: It's a sad story that's affecting more and more people as lenders decide if they're going to tighten their standards possibly for everybody, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: And if they go out of business and you've got your loan with them, what do you do?

WILLIS: That's a tricky situation. You know, typically what happens is that the loan is sold to somebody else. That's the good news. Also your terms should stay the same. However, they have to make this happen fairly quickly. They have to send you a letter in 15 days. And then you have a grace period of 30 days to get your payment to the right place. So there are some protections out there.

S. O'BRIEN: What do you do if you have a sub-prime loan right now? What do you think?

WILLIS: Get out of it. I say get out of it as fast as you can. Try to refi. Look, loans are at lows right now, 6 percent on a 30-year fixed. It's a good time to get a new loan.

And we'll talk more about this issue this weekend on "Open House" 9:30 a.m. Saturday morning, right here on CNN. We'll also talk about lowering your taxes. Another good topic for us, Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, we love'em all. Lowering your taxes. We could spend all week talking about that. Gerri Willis, thanks, as always.

Coming up at 45 minutes past the hour, Chad's been a busy guy.


M. O'BRIEN: A lot of cool stuff coming out of space this week. We've compiled it all. And submit for you, a fascinating tour of our solar system.

Let's begin with Mars, shall we? Jerry, you got the chopper noise? Imagine if you had a chopper. And you could fly it, over Mars. This is Victoria Crater, and this is the area where the Opportunity rover is. I want you to watch very closely here, if you look to your left, as the chopper zooms in here, Oh, a lot of traffic there on mars. There's Opportunity at the edge of the crater. It must be rush hour there.

This is compiled by taking some orbiting pictures from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, synthesizing it into this wonderful 3-D version.

Let's go to the other side of the planet, shall we? See how the traffic is there. This is Spirit Country. They call this the Columbia Hills. Just a fascinating sense of what it would be like there. Still got the chopper there, right? OK, good.

Once again, looks like traffic moving smoothly there. The weather, clear. Once again, this morning, we may be fighting snow, but OK on Mars.

By the way, those rovers now, four years into their stint, 11 miles on the odometer, in total; about 180,000 images. Truly the Energizer Bunnies of space exploration.

Above them, the Mars Express Orbiter, which is a European orbiter. Look at this image. It doesn't mean much to you, I know. I wanted to show it to you, just so you could see where it's orange, that means it's thickest. What are we talking about? The polar cap in the south pole of Mars. Now, look at the real picture from the Hubbell Space Telescope, shot a little while ago. This polar cap is the size of Texas. And certain parts of it are 2.3 miles deep. If it were to melt, it would create a pool 36 feet deep all across the planet.

And here's the real kicker. Most of that is water ice, not dry ice, carbon dioxide ice, as was previously thought. Scientists love it when they find water in any way, shape or form on any plant, because wherever there is water here, on this planet, you find life.

So, in hunting for signs of extraterrestrial life, finding a lot of water is a good thing.

On ward to Saturn we go. Cassini is our spacecraft now. This is a shot of Saturn no one has seen before, on this planet at least. There have been a couple of probes that have gone by, Pioneer and Voyager, were their name. They whizzed by, kind of off to the side like this. Nothing has given us a shot looking right down on the planet from the top. It is quite a spectacular shot.

A lot of questions about the rings this morning. Let's take a look. We have another image of the rings, a bit of a movie put together. The rings are 175,000 miles across. Their thickness is little more than 100 feet. Now, scientists, Soledad, have analyzed this, and that is roughly equivalent to the knowledge base of a TV anchor.

S. O'BRIEN: That's pretty funny. All right, Miles, that's pretty good. I totally disagree when you talk about me.

M. O'BRIEN: No, no, I meant me. I'm sorry.

S. O'BRIEN: CNN NEWSROOM is just a couple minutes away. Tony Harris is at the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead for them this morning.

Good morning, Tony. TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes, Soledad, don't quiz me later on all of that, that's for sure.

We have these stories on the NEWSROOM run down for you. Late winter blast, snow and sleet. Snarling air traffic in the Northeast today. American, Delta, JetBlue, among the airlines scrubbing flights.

And 3,000 more American troops heading to Iraq. These on the fast track. That brings the buildup to 31,000, almost 10,000 more than the president first announced.

Outed CIA Agent Valerie Plame scheduled to answer questions in front of C Congress this morning. We're live when that happens Heidi Collins joins me in the NEWSROOM. We get started at the top of the hour; 11 minutes from now. Right here on CNN.

Soledad, back to you. Good Friday to you.

S. O'BRIEN: Thank you and likewise.

HARRIS: Thank you.

S. O'BRIEN: We'll see you later.

Coming up this morning, "Beware the Colbert Rapport". Politicians say it may not be the place to be. Jeanne Moos will show us why. You're watching AMERICAN MORNING. Back in just a moment.


S. O'BRIEN: You know what they say, there are few places more dangerous to be than between a politician and a TV camera. They might just run you right over. Why are some people steering clear of a harmless comedy show? CNN's Jeanne Moos shows us.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Beware of Colbert, the eagle in the show's open won't get you, but the host might.

STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": You've said that by looking at your voting record, you seem like a black woman.


Congressman, are you a black woman?


MOOS: The segment known as:

COLBERT: "Better Know A District"

MOOS: Makes shows like "Meet The Press" and "Face The Nation" seem easy to face. You'll never catch Tim Russert asking:

COLBERT: Then why are you undressing me with your eyes Congressman?



MOOS: Which explains why the chairman of the Democratic Caucus confirms he steering Democrats away from appearing on "The Colbert Report".

COHEN: At some point, Congressman Emmanuel said to me, "I wouldn't go on that show. I wouldn't do it."

MOOS: Too risky for Democrats, even if the host is a parody of a right wing bloviater.

COLBERT: You tried to join the Congressional Black Caucus. Doesn't that make you one crazy honky?

COHEN: If you thought that was funny, if you would have seen what they cut out, I would have had an Emmy.

MOOS (on camera): Not only did Congressman Cohen completely ignore the advice not to go on "The Colbert Report". He even put out a press release announcing his appearance.

(Voice over): And even though things got hairy, he said he had fun. Is there such a thing as too much fun? Florida Congressman Robert Wexler was unopposed for re-election.

COLBERT: Let's say a few things that would really lose the election -- if you were contested.

I enjoy cocaine because...

REP. ROBERT WEXLER, (D) FLORIDA: I enjoy cocaine because --


COLBERT: You have to say it without laughing because then people will think it's a joke.

WEXLER: Oh. I enjoy cocaine because I think it's a fun thing to do.


MOOS: And when real TV news shows did stories on the coke comment --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're calling it foot-in-mouth disease.

MOOS: Colbert rose to Wexler defense.

COLBERT: Vote Wexler. The man's got a sense of humor, unlike, evidently, journalists. MOOS: In Wexler's words, "There was no real fallout. Some of the media took it too seriously."

Politicians are drawn by the demo, the young audience.

REP. BRAD SHERMAN (D) CALIFORNIA: The porn industry is not in the San Fernando Valley, sir.

COLBERT: Have you ever been to your district?


MOOS: Colbert ended putting Congressman Brad Sherman in a mock gay porn film.

And Republican Congressman Lynn Westmoreland, who tried to put the 10 Commands in the capitol, ended up getting quizzed on them.

COLBERT: What are the 10 Commandments?


MOOS: Thou shalt not appear on Colbert, unless you're prepared to leave the audience howling. Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


M. O'BRIEN: Oh, boy.

S. O'BRIEN: I thought the Wexler thing was so funny.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, people just sometimes --

S. O'BRIEN: They don't get it.

M. O'BRIEN: don't get the joke. I think the 11th commandment would be do not appear on Colbert.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, have a sense of humor. Come on.

M. O'BRIEN: You know, for some of these guys. I'm just talking about them.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah.

M. O'BRIEN: I think it's good fun.

S. O'BRIEN: Yeah.

M. O'BRIEN: Here's a quick look at what's going on in the NEWSROOM this top of the hour.

HARRIS: See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM. Federal prosecutors fired. E-mail digging White House advisor Karl Rove deeper into the controversy. It's suggested he was involved earlier than admitted. A six-year-old boy, missing a week in Georgia, found dead in a garbage bag. Four suspects expected to face murder charges.

A family stranded 10 months in an airport, now refugees finally make it to their new home. You're in the NEWSROOM, 9 a.m. Eastern, 6 Pacific.