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American Morning

CIA Tape Destroyed: Administration Facing Questions Today; Global Warming Fight: Can States Sue the Feds; Campaign Trail Mix: Dems Make Pitch In Iowa; Operation Reindeer: How to Protect Yourself While Holiday Shopping

Aired December 21, 2007 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Today and it could lead all the way to the west wing. A hearing on the destroyed CIA interrogation tapes will happen just a few hours from now in Washington. There are questions about how high the discussions went. There are already reports that top Bush administration officials were involved in discussions about what to do with those tapes.
A federal judge wants to find out whether the CIA ignored his order to hold on to evidence related to torture. Justice correspondent Kelli Arena has got the latest for us live from Washington. Good morning, Kelli.

KELLI ARENA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. The justice department did not want those CIA tapes discussed in an open court proceeding. As you know, John, it's conducting an investigation and it had asked the court to stay out of this matter for now, but the judge ignored that plea and DOJ lawyers will stand before him later on this morning.


ARENA (voice-over): Judge Henry Kennedy did not elaborate. He simply ordered the government to appear before him this morning. Justice department officials had warned that a court proceeding could complicate or even disrupt its ongoing investigation into the destruction of CIA tapes. Apparently, Judge Kennedy didn't buy it.

TIM HEAPHY, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: If it goes the next step and Judge Kennedy allows the plaintiffs in the civil suit to subpoena representatives of the CIA who have personal knowledge about this destruction, that is a very damaging fact for the department.

ARENA: Back in 2005, Kennedy ordered the government to safeguard all evidence of possible torture or mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Now word the CIA destroyed interrogation tapes, some question whether the government violated that order. The Bush administration says it did not. That's because Al Qaeda operatives who were taped were being held in secret locations in 2005, not a Guantanamo Bay.

David Remes, who represents several detainees at Gitmo requested today's hearing.

DAVID REMES, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: As far as the government is concerned, it wants to keep the foxes in charge of the hen house. It only wants the justice department and the CIA to look into this question of document destruction.


ARENA: Now even if the government didn't violate the court order, legal experts say that it could be guilty of breaking other laws regarding evidence -- John.

ROBERTS: Kelli, so this is as we said, related to Guantanamo Bay. If the judge determines that these tapes were destroyed against his order, could he possibly seek an obstruction of justice charge?

ARENA: Well, he could. I mean, it's very unclear. The judge was very vague. All he did was issue a one-sentence order and said be there. He did not say what the hearing would cover, what questions he would ask so this is really going to be interesting to see where he takes this today, John.

ROBERTS: All right. And you'll be watching it for us this morning.

ARENA: Sure.

ROBERTS: Kelli Arena live from Washington this morning. Kelli, thanks -- Veronica.

VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN CO-ANCHOR: And breaking news in Pakistan to talk about now, where a bombing at a mosque kills at least 50 people and injuries at 100 others. There are some of the first pictures we're looking at now. This is the scene in Trepau (ph). It's about 25 miles northeast of Peshawar.

Police say the bomber was praying alongside others when he set off his bomb packed with ball bearings and nails. The blast happened at a mosque on a property of Pakistan's former interior minister. It is the second attack targeting the man in eight months. He was not injured.

ROBERTS: California's Republican governor is battling with the president over global warming. Arnold Schwarzenegger is hot over the Bush administration's rejection of his states efforts to tighten rules on greenhouse gases. Schwarzenegger says he's going to file a lawsuit to challenge the EPA'S denial of a waiver that would have allowed California to cut greenhouse gas emissions from cars and trucks faster than a new federal plan the president just signed.


GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER (R), CALIFORNIA: It's another example of the administration's failure to treat global warming with the seriousness that it actually demands.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The director, in assessing this law and assessing what would be more, you know, more effective for the country, says we now have a national plan. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERTS: Sixteen other states want to follow Schwarzenegger's lead and get more aggressive on emissions. New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine called the EPA's decision "horrendous and based on crazy reasoning." It is shaping up to be a fierce political and legal battle.

Let's turn now to AMERICAN MORNING legal contributor and former prosecutor Sunny Hostin. What California wanted to do was go back to 1990 greenhouse gas levels by the year 2020. The EPA's own staff recommended it.


ROBERTS: And the EPA administrator put the kabosh on? Is that legally defensible?

HOSTIN: Well, the EPA legal staff and the technical staff are saying it is not legally defensible, and what's interesting is that they told him that. They briefed him and he went the other way. He ignored his staff's recommendation. It's highly unusual, and it's interesting that the Governator is saying we're going to take you to task on this. We're going to court and by all accounts they will likely win that appeal.

ROBERTS: Now under the Clean Air Act, there are four criteria that a state has to meet in order to ask for a waiver. One is that is not a capricious or arbitrary act. The rules have to be tougher than the federal rules. It would seem that California qualifies on that.

HOSTIN: Absolutely.

ROBERTS: It has to be technologically feasible, which seems to be OK, but it also has to prove it's got a unique and compelling case.


ROBERTS: Is that the potential difficulty for California if they launch a suit?

HOSTIN: Well, I think so and it's interesting because it does -- the Clean Air Act does allow a state to enforce its own air pollution standards if it can demonstrate this compelling and extraordinary circumstance. Look, for the past 40 years, California has been granted these types of waivers and has a lot of present --

ROBERTS: But how does California say, we're more deserving than another state is or another country is?

HOSTIN: Well, there's certainly the leader. We know there are a lot of emissions there. I think that is really going to be the tough legal hurdle, but by all accounts they will likely be able to get over that hurdle and we're going to be hearing a lot of this. This is a hot, hot topic.

ROBERTS: This will be an interesting one to watch.

HOSTIN: We'll be watching.

ROBERTS: Sunny, thanks.

HOSTIN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Veronica?

DE LA CRUZ: New this morning. As many of you set out to travel this holiday weekend, another close call in the skies to tell you about now. The FAA says that two Chicago air traffic controllers are to blame for putting a Southwest Airlines 737 and a Beechcraft Super King 200 too close to each other in the air. It happened near Springfield, Illinois, on Wednesday morning.

And according to documents, the two planes came within 3.6 miles of each other horizontally. Minimum spacing between planes is five miles horizontally. This is the second controller error reported at the Chicago Radar Center this week.

And the four suspects accused in the murder of football star Sean Taylor will be arraigned in Miami today. The four men all entered written pleas of not guilty to charges of first degree felony murder and armed burglary. That means they will not in person at the arraignment. Police say at least two of the men have confessed.

And a Missouri man accused of kidnapping and molesting two young boys will make one final court appearance today in St. Louis. Michael Devlin will be sentenced for child pornography and transporting a minor across state lines for sex. He's already been hit with 74 life sentences.

Police found 13-year-old Ben Ownby in Devlin's apartment last January, and there was another surprise. A 15-year-old who told police he was Sean Hornbeck. Devlin had been holding Hornbeck captive for four and half years.

Four people are in the hospital this morning in New Orleans after protest against a plan to tear down 4,500 public housing units turned violent.

Police used tear gas and tasers on the crowd. Protesters say they fear the local and federal government won't guarantee certainly affordable housing to be built in their place.


TRACIE WASHINGTON, ATTORNEY: It's a race issue because the public housing developments were 100 percent black, and these are the people who are not being allowed to return to the city.

ARNIE FIELKOW, CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT: Not only are we going forward for the future, but we have safeguards in place in the interim that are going to allow us to make sure that HUD and Hanel (ph) perform what they promised. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DE LA CRUZ: The units were set up after Hurricane Katrina council members claim they are ridden with crime. Fifteen people were arrested.

All right. Check this out. There could be some spectacular fireworks in space next month. NASA scientists say Mars may be hit by an asteroid. Right now, the space rock is speeding towards the red planet at a blistering eight miles per second, and there is a one in 75 chance it could hit on January 30th. The asteroid is said to be about the same size as an object that struck Siberia in 1908, causing a blast equivalent to a 15 mega ton nuclear bomb -- John.

ROBERTS: Incredible.

DE LA CRUZ: I know.

ROBERTS: Eight minutes after the hour, and time now to check in with our AMERICAN MORNING team of correspondents for other stories new this morning.

A New York law will change how passengers are treated when they're stuck on the tarmac for long delays aboard aircraft. Ali Velshi at the business update desk with that. Good Friday morning to you, Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And good Friday morning to you. We were just speaking yesterday about the year that it's been in air traffic delays. Well, a New York State law has been upheld in court late last night. It's going to be the country's first passenger bill of rights. New York State is going to be first state with a passenger protection law to go into effect January 1st of 2008. And what it does is it allows the state to sue airlines that break these rules for up to $1,000 per passenger.

Now, what are the rules? Fairly complicated. It's not going to allow the state to make airlines deplane passengers. That's not something the states have jurisdiction over, but if they're going to if they have substantial delays, provide adequate snacks and drinking water, fresh air and light, and waste removal for on-board restrooms.

The Airlines Air Traffic Association had fought this saying this is not state regulation. It's a non area the state should be involved in, but the federal court in Albany upheld the law last night. So as it stands, this is going to go into effect on January 1st and perhaps other states will follow, John.

ROBERTS: You know, Ali. You would think that those would just be things that they would do.

VELSHI: Those are basic. You wouldn't think you'd need a law for that.

ROBERTS: Yes. Incredible. Ali, thanks very much. We'll see you again soon. And some heavy weather throughout Louisiana and Mississippi yesterday. That whole thing is now moving east. Reynolds weather -- Reynolds weather? -- Reynolds Wolf at our weather desk this morning checking on the extreme weather. Who is getting hit today? REYNOLDS WOLF, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it looks like parts of the southeast right now, but we got a good part of the country that will be affected by all different kinds of weather beginning again in parts of Georgia and the Carolinas. Let's go to that now.

As we zoom in on those locations, scattered showers and storms this morning from the outer banks of North Carolina southward to Wilmington to Myrtle Beach. Even into Charleston this morning, you're getting a little bit of a rumble of thunder. Savannah, Georgia, getting some rainfall as well, and that's a welcome sign. Georgia still mild in that drought. South of Tampa, and now into Cape Coral we're seeing the rain drops and up into the Great Lakes, it is a touch of light snowfall, more from a southwesterly breeze that is moving in across Lake Michigan. Some of that forming in the spells and snowfall right near parts of Sleeping Bear Dunes and Traverse City.

Now take a look what we have for you as we make our way through the rest of the weekend. Big trough in the jet streams is going to provide for some cool and wet conditions for the eastern third of the country, the southern and central plains. But in the central plains going toward the western half, the Great Lakes mainly some snowfall and the pacific northwest, John, it looks like it is going to be mix of everything -- rain, sleet and snow. The snow in the highest elevations of the cascades and perhaps even the Sierra, Nevada. That's the latest. Let's send it back to you.

ROBERTS: Is that jet stream flow going to bring milder weather to the northeast? Looks like it's bringing it from the south?

WOLF: It might be a little bit. You might see a little bit of moderation in temperatures as far north as Charlotte, North Carolina, but not the 70, 80 degrees temperature, we'd love to have in parts of the nation.

ROBERTS: Well, some people want a white Christmas.

WOLF: There you go.

ROBERTS: All right. Reynolds, thanks very much.

WOLF: Any time.

ROBERTS: Veronica?

DE LA CRUZ: Well, they're shaking hands, kissing babies, anything to put them over the top in Iowa. We're on the trail with the presidential candidates, finding out what issues matter most to the voters. We're going to take you behind the scenes.

Plus, holiday shoppers headed back to their cars, arms loaded with gifts. They're a prime target for thieves. Susan Candiotti goes on a stakeout with police on operation reindeer keeping shoppers safe. It's all straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


DE LA CRUZ: Welcome back. It's 15 minutes after the hour. Some of the best shots of the morning in our "Quick Hits" now.

China and India kicking off its first ever joint anti-terror military training program. And this demonstration, take a look. A Chinese soldier smashes bricks on another soldier's head. The exercise is meant to teach soldiers to withstand pain. Both countries say the goal of the program is to boost bilateral relations.

Back in the U.S. now, volunteer firefighters are cleaning up after a tornado in Brook Haven, Mississippi. At least three people were hurt. Dozens of trees and power lines were knocked down and homes were damaged in two counties.

And the largest ever drug bust now in Salt Lake City, drug enforcement agency using 450 pounds of a rare African drug called cot. They say the stuff was meant to be distributed among African immigrants in the area. The leaf is chewed like tobacco and can cause hallucinations -- John.

ROBERTS: Sixteen minutes after the hour. Rudy Giuliani is back home in New York this morning and says he feels great after his stint in the hospital. The Republican presidential candidate was released yesterday afternoon after undergoing a series of tests. He was checked in on Wednesday, after he started experiencing headache pain so severe that his charter plane bound for New York, had to turn around and land again in St. Louis.

Giuliani's spokesperson says doctors have given the former New York mayor a clean bill of health, but the campaign won't share what tests he underwent. Giuliani has postponed a series of events that were planned for today in New Hampshire.

And John McCain has picked up another high profile endorsement, once again from his opponents hometown. "The Boston Herald" is joining "The Boston Globe" in supporting the Republican's campaign for the White House. Fellow Republican and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has now been snubbed by both Boston newspapers. First, "The Herald Column" did not even mention Romney.

Presidential candidates are getting up close and personal with voters in Iowa, less than two weeks now before the all-important Iowa caucuses. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards neck and neck and neck with nearly half of Democratic caucus-goers still undecided.

We've got two live reports from Des Moines this morning. Dana Bash is following the Republicans. We're going to hear from her in just a little while. But right now CNN's Jessica Yellin has a closer look at what some voters are asking on the campaign trail. Jessica, it's always interesting to pay attention to the horse race. But voters there in Iowa, people who go to the caucuses, they're looking at the issues. JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They really are, John, and we hear questions on the campaign trail on everything from what will you do to solve the home mortgage crisis, to whatever happened to the drug war? But the issues here are the same as the leading issues around the nation.


YELLIN (voice-over): In Iowa, Democratic voters' top concerns are clear. The economy, health care and Iraq.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I heard there was more money allocated. I'm not sure how much. I was just wondering how you voted on this issue and why?

JOHN EDWARDS (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: There's a reason the Democrats were put in charge of Congress in November of 2006, and that reason was to stand up to Bush on this war in Iraq.

YELLIN: They call it retail politics. The candidates understand. In Iowa, they have to let the caucus-goers get to know them.

PAMELA FANGMAN ELKADER, IOWA VOTER: I want to find out more information on which candidate's going to work best for me and for my needs. You know, not just for our country, but what's going to help us out individually.

YELLIN: At Obama events you often see college-age voters who like his message of hope. At Clinton gatherings, you get a lot of older women who like her tough pragmatism. Edwards tends to draw union members, who find his populist pitch appealing. Still, those are generalizations and every event is different. As are the reactions.

DEBRA DEGENHARDT, HILLARY SUPPORTER: It was very personal. It was like she was talking to me, you know, not just something on TV that you watch, and I was glad I came.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I love him. I think he's terrific. I haven't felt this way about a candidate since probably Jimmy carter.

DENNIS GOLDFORD, PROFESSOR OF POLITICS, DRAKE UNIVERSITY: They do get good crowds at this stage of the campaign, and their job is to whip those crowds into excitement to turn out. Because it doesn't matter what your opinions are, if you don't show up, caucus night, it doesn't matter.


YELLIN: And a lot of these members, these audience members, John, they're really still candidate shopping. You know, our poll show voters are undecided. About half of them in the Democratic race say they could change their mind right up to caucus night, and we really see it when you talk to those crowds. They come in saying they don't know and sometimes they leave saying they're still not sure. ROBERTS: Yes. That's the great thing about the Iowa caucuses. You can change your mind even after you walk in the door so -- and as you said, turnout is going to be all-important as well. Jessica Yellin this morning in Des Moines. Jessica, thanks.

We're going to check in with Dana Bash traveling with the Republicans in Des Moines a little bit later on this hour. A lot of things going on in the Republican side that you don't want to miss -- Veronica.

DE LA CRUZ: Barry Bonds returns to court today. Your "Quick Hits" now. The indicted slugger is scheduled to make a short court appearance at a hearing to determine whether he can keep his lawyers in the government's perjury and obstruction case against him. The judge will decide if the lawyers have a conflict of interest because they previously represented other athletes who testified in the government's investigation into performance-enhancing drugs.

And three of the five men accused of setting a fire in Malibu last month will be arraigned today. The fire destroyed 53 homes and six firefighters were injured while fighting it. The men are accused of setting the fire while drinking and partying in Malibu State Park.

Going out this weekend for some last-minute Christmas gifts? Well, you want to be careful. A couple of grinches out there can have their eyes on you. We're going to show how police are keeping shoppers safe this holiday.

And it's a dubious distinction for the transportation security administration. We'll tell what you a new poll says about the airport picture, so it's coming up in just a bit on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Now twenty-five minutes after the hour, and here's our "Hot Shot" of the morning. This house in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts is decorated with about 500,000 Christmas lights.


ROBERTS: It's quite a sight, but the city council is worried about two things. It could be a distraction to drivers passing by the house. Also, you see that crown up there? They said that's an illegal structure, and they wanted the owner to take it down. So why do the owner of this house put up so many lights as he does every year? Well, we'll go right to the horse's mouth. We'll ask him a little bit later on at this hour.

DE LA CRUZ: I can't wait.

ROBERTS: Pretty incredible display.

DE LA CRUZ: It is.

ROBERTS: Early (ph), he's got a commercial electrical system in his house to support all of those lights. DE LA CRUZ: You know, you got to wonder how much this guy pays in electricity. What does his electric bill look like?

ROBERTS: I think -- what was it last year or was it earlier last month? $2,100 for a month of electricity is what he paid.

DE LA CRUZ: Hmmm, but it's worth it.

ROBERTS: It's very festive. If you've got a "Hot Shot," send it to us. The address is Be sure to include your name, where you're from, a little bit about the picture or video. And one more thing, make sure the image is yours and not someone else's.

DE LA CRUZ: Well, the holidays mean lots of shoppers at the malls and easy targets for thieves. Shoppers in New York are getting some extra time to pick up the slack. We're looking at some live pictures now. This is the Macy's flagship store in Herald Square right here in Manhattan. And just a few minutes, these doors will open and they are going to stay open around the clock until Christmas eve. All of their shoppers, other stores in New York, New Jersey, and one in Detroit all will be doing the same.

Carrying all of your gifts back to your car can be a dangerous thing. CNN's Susan Candiotti goes on a stakeout with police conducting operation reindeer, teaching shoppers some valuable safety tips.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Behind the melody, the cheer and the bargains --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The detectives are following two subjects that are walking around looking into people's vehicles.

CANDIOTTI: Criminals are looking to cash in on distracted, overly busy holiday shoppers.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): You didn't know your car was parked, did you?


CANDIOTTI: Admit it. Right? Right.


CANDIOTTI (voice-over): A few aisles over, we found this car with a purse sitting right there on the front seat. We waited for its owner to show up.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know it's stupid, I know, I'm an idiot.

CANDIOTTI: Lt. Norris Redding says people have to be aware of their surroundings. LT. NORRIS REDDING, HOLLYWOOD, FLORIDA POLICE DEPARTMENT: You see how the keys are just running back and forth. You have the daughter just about five steps in front of the mother. The little son is behind the basket. She's pulling the basket. It's not a safe way to do things.

CANDIOTTI (on camera): Doesn't it look like she has the keys in her hand?

REDDING: Doesn't have the keys ready. I don't know if you have alarm on your car?


REDDING: You do. Try to punch it just before you get to it.


REDDING: So your doors and everything are ready to be opened.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): An undercover team with the Crime Suppression Unit of the Hollywood Florida Police Department is doing what police all over the country do this time of year, run holiday surveillance operations. They use watchtowers like this one with blackened glass, but nothing, they say, replaces common sense.

REDDING: A lot of times the crime actually starts on the inside, and why does it start on the inside? They're watching you count your money.

CANDIOTTI: And police say there is safety in numbers. We watched this family leave an elderly man on his own.

REDDING: He has to be at least 75, 80 years old. He's a potential victim.

CANDIOTTI: Lieutenant Redding makes sure his family understands the danger.

REDDING: Stay with them.


REDDING: We have a lot of problems up here with senior citizens. They're attacking you all. They're doing all of these things.

CANDIOTTI: It's a lesson for shoppers of all ages. Any time of year. Susan Candiotti, CNN, Hollywood, Florida.


DE LA CRUZ: And another good tip from several police departments around the country, lock all of your purchases in the trunk to keep them out of sight. You know, it seems like common sense but in a last-minute shopping rush it is definitely a tip that can be overlooked -- John. ROBERTS: These folks are always looking for ways to tag you, so you got to be aware of your surroundings.


ROBERTS: Minor health scare at one Connecticut town, schools shut down and hundreds of students told to stay down. The latest from health officials. That's coming up.

And caught on tape. American student in Israel is just yards away from the site of a rocket attack as his camera is rolling. More of this dramatic video and today's headlines when AMERICAN MORNING returns.


VERONICA DE LA CRUZ, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to the most news in the morning. It is 31 minutes after the hour. Nice shot there of the Manhattan sky line, still dark, waiting for the sun to come up. It is going to be a cloudy day today, 38 degrees. It is about 36 degrees right now. It is Friday, December 21st.

Good morning to you. I'm Veronica De La Cruz. Nice to see you this morning. I'm in this morning for Kiran Chetry.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, I'm John Roberts. Good to see you as well.

Bracing for a showdown in Washington over the CIA secret destruction of interrogation tapes. A federal judge has called a hearing just a few hours from now to find out if the agency wiped out evidence of torture, against a court order. There are questions about high how the discussions went. There are already reports that top Bush administration officials were involved in at least discussions about it. The House Intelligence Committee has also subpoenaed the former CIA official, the former director of operations who gave the destruction order. The White House says there was no cover-up.

DE LA CRUZ: More now on the breaking news out of Pakistan, where a mosque bombing killed at least 50 people and injured about 100. Police say the bomber was targeting the country's former interior minister. The second such attempt on the man's life in eight months. The former minister wasn't injured. Police say the suicide bomber was praying alongside others, when he set off his bomb, packed with ball bearings and nails.

A Palestinian rocket attack on Israel is caught on tape by an American student visiting the region. You can see and hear just how close he was to the impact.

20-year-old Benji Davis was in the town to help document how people live with the daily threat of rocket attacks. The California student captured one such rocket bomb just yards from where he was standing. Later, townspeople gathered around the crater left by the rocket. Davis described seeing all of the chaos firsthand.


BENJI DAVIS, VIDEOTAPED ROCKET ATTACK: First, I was just so in shock I didn't know what to think. I was just, I started calling people, telling them what happened and after that, like the rush in my heart, beating so fast, I felt like bursting out and I don't know, I just want to lie down. I can't do anything right now. I'm in shock. It was so -- like this is so foreign to me, like this would never happen to me at home. I'm glad -- this really shows how messed up the situation is here.


DE LA CRUZ: Israeli police say the rocket fell 40 yards from a school. 12 students were treated for shock. John.

ROBERTS: A virus spreading through a middle school means time off for students in East Lyme, Connecticut, in the southeastern part of the state, the town for which Lyme Disease was named. 20% of the school students who were out sick on Wednesday, 15% yesterday. That prompted the school board to close classes district-wide today. Health officials don't think the virus is serious.

And one of the three kids who was rescued with their father from the California mountains on Wednesday is back in the hospital today. 15-year-old Lexi Dominguez was taken back to the hospital yesterday after complaining of foot pain. Doctors say it's a minor case of frostbite in her toes and they're treating her for it.

We were planning to have the whole Dominguez family on AMERICAN MORNING today. They were supposed to be here in New York but because of Lexi's condition they weren't able to travel and therefore won't be joining us.


DE LA CRUZ: Congestion in the skies may not be what's causing all of the flight delays. Analysis by "USA Today" found the airlines themselves are responsible because of things like pilot shortages, longer refueling periods and mechanical breakdowns. The average delay for airline-caused glitches was 55 minutes, compared to 47 minutes for congestion delays.

If you thought no government agency is less popular than the IRS, think again. According to a new Associated Press poll the Transportation Security Administration is tied with the IRS as one of the least liked federal agencies. The more people travel, the less they like the TSA. FEMA is the only government agency to rank lower on that list.

That brings us to this morning's Quick Vote question. What is your least favorite federal agency? Is it FEMA? Is it the IRS or is it the TSA? Cast your vote right now. Logon to and we'll have the first tally in the next hour.

ROBERTS: Is this house an example of holiday cheer or a danger to drivers and passers-by as well? We'll talk to the owner of the house about the controversy surrounding his unbelievable Christmas light display.

Into the home stretch in Iowa and the republicans who want to be president, facing small crowds can tough questions; we have a complete roundup ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Turning back to the race for the White House, with just 13 days now before the first votes are counted in the Iowa caucuses, contenders in the race are making a final campaign push throughout the state. They are facing small crowds with tough questions.

Last half hour we heard from Jessica Yellin with the democrats. Dana Bash is on the trail with the republicans and she is live right now in Des Moines. What's going to be the big story in the campaign trail today?

DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, everything and anything, John. All of these candidates are going to be making their way to meet just about as many voters as they can. We're about two weeks away from the Iowa caucuses. What's fascinating is that sometimes the candidates meet voters over coffee and cinnamon rolls, sometimes in shopping malls but what makes Iowa so amazing, it has this up close and personal campaigning.


BASH: It's called ask Mitt anything, the question Iowa republicans ask Mitt most?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If I had to pick one of the most important things to me to talk about, it's illegal immigration.

MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We're going to have to have; we're going to have to have a way to turn off the magnets that bring in the illegal aliens.

BASH: Mike Huckabee opened it to voters at nearly every Iowa stop and sometimes tough questions.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Also how is that going to ensure the 47 million people who are uninsured in the United States?

MIKE HUCKABEE (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: First of all from the intervention base to prevention base. That's the biggest problem in our health care system. It's not a health care system.

BASH: Fred Thompson takes part in Iowa tradition, too, and not afraid to disappoint. One voter wanted a bigger federal role in prosecuting sex crimes.

FRED THOMPSON (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The federal government is never had a federal police force, and I don't think they ever ought to have one.

BASH: What's most striking about Iowa, republicans looking to lead a nation of 300 million, often speaking to rooms of 30, who come for Thompson, a lot of undecided GOP voters like Mike Demeroy.

MIKE DEMEROY: No one else has really captured my attention yet either, and that's sad.

BASH: Mitt Romney draws a mix of supporters and undecided.

Huckabee was a long shot but his recent surge has drawn more crowds than expected.

Why do you trust him so much?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's a god-fearing man.

BASH: Even a vendor who claims his button sales predict Iowa winners.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are at 45% and Romney is at 20.

HUCKABEE: You go by John and get a chest full of these!


BASH: At times how a candidate reacts to impromptu moments that tell voters more, most about the candidate, because what's interesting, John, is that as much as issues matter and they certainly do matter, because they have these intimate settings, you talk to Iowa voters, they say likability and trust matter to them almost as much.

ROBERTS: Dana, I love the way you answered my opening question when I said what's the big story? You said, anything and everything. It's getting like that, isn't it?

BASH: Oh, yeah.

ROBRETS: Dana Bash for us this morning in Des Moines, thanks very much. Veronica.

DE LA CRUZ: Former Senator Bob Kerrey is apologizing to Barack Obama for raising the issue of his Muslim heritage. Kerrey remarks came last Saturday after an event in which he endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. He hopes Obama continues to serve the public and that his Muslim heritage can help him do just that. Kerrey sent a letter to Obama meaning he didn't mean to insult the candidate. Obama is not a Muslim but his father was.

Well, Terrell Owens changing his tune on his teammate's new girlfriend. We're going to tell you why he doesn't blame Jessica Simpson for the Cowboys' loss Sunday. That's all straight ahead.

And a Christmas controversy. One man spends thousands of dollars to light up his house for the holidays but his neighbors and even the city council have problems with his display. We'll talk to him straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) ROBERTS: 12 minutes to the top of the hour. Is it holiday cheer or a public nuisance? Every year Dominic Luberto turns his Boston home into an illuminated winter wonderland. People passing by marvel at the spectacle. But his neighbors are shouting bah-humbug.

DE LA CRUZ: Live pictures we're looking at. The city council has been worried that people driving past the house could cause accidents by slowing down to look at all of the lights. Dominic Luberto joined live from outside of the home in Jamaica Plains. Dominic, thanks for your time today.

DOMINIC LUBERTO, DECORATES HOUSE WITH 500,000 LIGHTS: Good morning, Veronica. How are you?

DE LA CRUZ: I'm wonderful. Thanks, good morning to you. Quite an amazing display there. How many lights are on your house and how long does it take to you set that up?

LUBERTO: It's a half a million lights. I started in August, creating, putting together the crown, as you can see, you know, I don't know if you can see the crown, it took me 46 days to build it. It's ten feet tall, 23 feet in diameter and weighs 650 pounds. The reason why --

ROBERTS: Go ahead, Dominic.

LUBERTO: Sure. The reason why I built it, the reason why I built the crown is because we celebrate the birth of Jesus and since he is the king, I just want to put a crown to celebrate him.

ROBERTS: Let me ask you about that crown. When you built, that crown the city said that's an illegal structure take it down. Some council members are saying the whole house is a hazard because it's a fairly busy street in front of your house there. They're concerned people will slow down when they see the light display and crash into each other. What do you say to all of that criticism?

LUBERTO: Well, there's no accidents here. It never have been. They just, I would say, I would put it this way. It's kind of jealousy. Because I just bring cheers to the kids around here. All of the parents bring their kids here and you know what happened? The kids don't drive themselves in. The parents bring them in. This is a two-way street, in other words, you can go two cars one way but it also has a breakdown lane, and that's where they stop the cars.

ROBERTS: Gotcha.

LUBERTO: Yesterday morning there was an accident at 7:45 in the morning. There was a total, two cars were totaled and it wasn't about the lights.

DE LA CRUZ: Dominic ...

LUBERTO: Last week -- yes?

DE LA CRUZ: What do your own kids say about this? How many kids do you have?

LUBERTO: I have eight kids, 16 grandkids and two great granddaughters.

ROBERTS: You spent $2,100 in electricity last December and the light display was half of what it is this year. How much do you expect to spend and last year you said I'm going to make this year better. You made good on that promise. What are you going to do for next year?

LUBERTO: That's correct. I don't know about next year but however, I spent $2,100 last year and I had my reasons for it. The lights were on at 3:30 in the afternoon and went on until 1:30 in the morning and the reason was this. I want the parents to bring their kids here and I was worried about the third shift parents that work third shift.

ROBERTS: You want to make sure everybody could see the lights, yeah.

LUBERTO: That's right, that's right. No, no, no the reason why I shut off the lights at 1:30 is because I want those parents, when they come back from work to see the lights so they can bring the kids on the weekend. I don't have to do that anymore.

ROBERTS: It's a really spectacular display you got there and based upon what we saw this year, certainly looking forward to next year. Dominic, thanks for being with us. Good luck to.

LUBERTO: Thank you so much.

ROBERTS: Wow, isn't that amazing?

DE LA CRUZ: He started back in August. Back in August and he has all those kids, eight kids, 16 grandkids.

ROBERTS: Does this every year, what a guy.

DE LA CRUZ: A possible pregnancy special on Nickelodeon, topping your "Quick Hits". Network executives are discussing whether to air a show to teach kids about sex and love. It stems from the pregnancy of their star, 16-year-old Jamie Lyn Spears, the sister of Britney Spears. The network is mulling over the future of Jamie Lyn's show "Zoey 101."

And Dallas Cowboys players was not happy at Jessica Simpson's present. He'll be saying the loss isn't her fault.

And a possible break-through in the fight against cancer. Could stem cells hold the answer? We'll speak with our Dr. Sanjay Gupta coming up next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: It's coming up to four minute to the top of the hour. Terrell Owens says he was just kidding when he called Jessica Simpson a distraction. That's what the Dallas Cowboys' wide receiver said he spoke to his teammate quarterback Tony Romo and told him he was only joking when he said that maybe Simpson should stay home next game. Simpson was at Sunday's game in one of the sky boxes and Romo had one of the worst games in his career in that horrible loss to Philadelphia.

DE LA CRUZ: It was similar thing when Carrie Underwood used to come to the games.

ROBERTS: He didn't play well that day either. We'll see if she's back this weekend.

DE LA CRUZ: Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business" this morning. Good morning.

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Just a few days before Christmas, any gifts, you might want to get chocolate, Godiva is being sold. Godiva is owned by Campbell. They own about 400 Godiva retail stores which account for two-thirds of the company sales. Annual sales in the company are about $500 million but it wasn't fitting in with what Campbell's wants to do with the rest of its food so Campbell sold Godiva to a Turkish company for $850 million. There was a lot of talk that Starbucks might be interested in buying Godiva because it would be a nice addition to the type of food and the cost that Starbucks sells things at but at the moment, looks like the deal is going to a Turkish company. If you want to get something, it shouldn't have any impact but just so you know you were buying Campbell's chocolate and now you'll be buying Turkish delight.

DE LA CRUZ: As long as it doesn't affect the product.

VELSHI: Something that might affect the product, we've been talking about inflation in the price of food. Milk is one of the things that is way up, 23% higher over the course of the last year.

ROBERTS: Is that tied to the cost of corn as well?

VELSHI: It is. Everything that animals have got to eat, the things that we grow, everything is grown is costing more money because we're putting all of our money into corn.

DE LA CRUZ: I paid $6 for a gallon in New York.

VELSHI: That's New York. A whole different economy.

DE LA CRUZ: Ali thanks, talk to you soon.

If you thought no government agency is less popular than the IRS, think again. According to a new Associated Press poll, the Transportation Security Administration is tied with the IRS as one of the least liked federal agencies. The survey finds the more people travel, the less they lake the TSA. FEMA is the only government agency to rank lower on the list.

And that's going to bring us to this morning's quick vote question, what is your least favorite federal agency? Cast your vote, logon onto want/al. 24% say it's the IRS. 76% say FEMA and not one person so far John is saying it is the TSA. Are you surprised?

ROBERTS: I'm surprised FEMA is leading the IRS.

DE LA CRUZ: We'll check back on those coming up later on in the next hour.

ROBERTS: There were fists, pepper spray and tasers as hundreds of protesters protested the tearing down of low-income housing in New Orleans. More of that video is coming up.

And could stem cells hold the key to fighting or curing cancer? We'll ask Dr. Sanjay Gupta about some promising new research. The next hour of AMERICAN MORNING starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: What did the White House know? Today a judge demanding answers about those destroyed terror interrogation tapes. Will the government be forced to reveal secrets?

No holds barred in New Orleans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Brutalized by the police. I got pepper sprayed and tasered.

Battle lines drawn over a housing crisis caused by hurricane Katrina.

ANNOUNCER: And they said he would never walk again. Now an NFL player who broke his neck is getting ready to hit the turf, just in time for Christmas, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: Good morning. Thanks for joining us on this Friday the 21st of December. It's not yet the first day of winter. That will be tomorrow. I'm John Roberts.

DE LA CRUZ: I'm Veronica De La Cruz. Nice to see you. Kiran Chetry has the morning off

ROBERTS: Who is in on the secret, a hearing on the destroyed CIA interrogation tapes will happen just a few hours from now in Washington. There are questions about how high the discussions went. There are already reports that top Bush administration officials were involved.