Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Killer Storm; TV Station Crash; NJ Tire Fire; Holloway Case; Text Message Crackdown; Ron Paul & "Pork;" Holiday Sales; White-Out Christmas; Faith Based Politics; Ski Suit

Aired December 24, 2007 - 07:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Highways cut off, airports closed and thousands without power. The latest on a deadly winter storm this morning.
Open all night, overnight shoppers get an early start on last- minute bargain hunting. Will it be enough to save a sluggish season?

Plus on air crash.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All that much more -- whoa!

ROBERTS: Cameras rolling as a mini van slams into a street side television studio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All that much more -- whoa!

ROBERTS: When the news becomes the news on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: So good we had to show it twice.

ROBERTS: This is why we have our studios here on the fifth floor here at the Time Warner Center.

CHO: Sorry to laugh, that was scary.

ROBERTS: The whole video later on this hour. Welcome back. It's Monday the 24th of December, Christmas Eve. Thanks for being with us. I'm John Roberts.

CHO: One more shopping day until Christmas. Good morning, everybody. I'm Alina Cho. Kiran has the morning off.

ROBERTS: Home for Christmas, that's the problem, if only in their dreams. This morning lines are already forming at airports, people are preparing to spend Christmas Eve, some of them in the terminal. All because of a deadly winter storm, blinding snow, 80 mile-an-hour wind gusts, subzero wind chills across the plains and the Midwest. The roads resembled ice rinks in many areas. Trees toppled over, some of them falling into houses, others as you can see here, landing on and snapping power lines. Police say 11 people died as a result of the wild weather. Tens of thousands are coming down to the Christmas stretch without heat and light here.

Ice and whiteout conditions caused a half-mile-long pile-up in the Texas panhandle over the weekend. One man was killed in the wreck which started when a tractor trailer lost control and flipped over. 15 other cars and trucks followed. Alina?

CHO: What a mess.

A different kind of chain reaction at the airports from coast to coast. Here's a live look at New York's La Guardia Airport, there are flights from the Midwest to the new York city area, took hours to get off the ground f they did at all. Ground zero is Chicago's O'Hare, where the wait was averaging close to four hours. The airlines there already canceled 300 flights today because of fog and the high winds. Bonnie Schneider at our weather update desk is tracking all the extreme conditions, snow, snow, snow. That's the biggest problem in some places, right, Bonnie?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Alina. We want to see snow for Christmas but not when you're looking to head anywhere for Christmas Eve.

I want to show you because the volume increased a lot. Take a look at this picture. About 1,400 planes in the sky right now but it didn't quite look that way at 3:00 this morning. We'll show you a time lapse of Around 3:00, wasn't too bad, the traffic was moving along and then we saw starting at 6:00 a.m. Another 400 planes take off, which is good, but this animation shows you where we are with that.

Let's take you to expected delays now as we come back to our graphics and show you we are anticipating delays even though we have none now. High winds will slow you down in and around JFK, some wind gusts 35 miles per hour, Boston as well so expect delays at Boston's Logan airport. More delays for Chicago after a rough day yesterday with delays over three hours. This time it will be winds and low clouds that may slow you down. Atlanta will bring about some volume as well that will be a slow you down, too. For Seattle we're looking at light areas of low clouds as well and into Denver, maybe some light snow.

Lake effect snow warning continues for Watertown, blowing snow for Rochester. The wind gusts yesterday were absolutely fierce, some topping well over 75 miles per hour and Metz, Indiana, we had wind gusts of 83 miles per hour. The winds subsided a bit, even though in Buffalo it's cold. The wind-chill factor is 13 degrees. It's snowing right now and that's not the only place that's cold. Look at your current temperature in New York it's 38 but up further north in Albany it's 23 so the wind-chill factor very cold this morning, pretty much wherever you are doing your last minute holiday shopping.

CHO: I definitely wore my hat coming in this morning at 3:00 a.m. All right. Bonnie Schneider, thanks. We'll check back with you later. John.

ROBERTS: Watch this. A mini van plows into a Chicago television studio as the news is on the air. The crash itself isn't caught on tape but the anchor's reaction certainly was. Take a look.

RAVI BAKEWELL, WLS ANCHOR: The rescue work all that much more -- whoa!

ROBERTS: Whoa is right and kabang! You can see WLS anchor Ravi Bakewell being startled by the crash. He was just about 15 feet away from the point of impact in their storefront studio there. He later showed viewers the broken glass. One witness says the driver appeared to drive into the studio deliberately.


RYAN KAMPLAIN, EYEWITNESS: I saw a mini van that kept on doing about four or five u-turns and he was yelling out the window the whole time saying "move out the way" asked for something and then I saw him park on the side, across the street and then all I heard was him just speed up and heard a big boom and the window, and I just heard a big crash and watching the news.


ROBERTS: The driver stayed in the van until the police arrived. He was arrested by the way. No one in the studio was injured, but they certainly were, as you could see by that video, pretty startled about the whole thing.

Lots of returning rubber, smoke and flames in New Jersey. Fueled by as many as 300,000 tires on a site that was once a gravel pit. 55 crews are fighting that fire. Officials say it could burn for a long time. 150 nearby homeowners were notified about the inferno but they were told that they didn't have to evacuate.

CHO: Also new this morning, one of the former suspects in the Natalee Holloway disappearance says he wishes the case would have gone to trial. Jordan Van Der Sloot tells a Dutch newspaper that there was no new evidence indicating he was involved and that he wants everything out in the open. He says his re-arrest in November was a way to please the American media. According to prosecutors, one of the main suspects in the case said Natalee was dead in an internet chat message. It was not enough evidence for a trial. Holloway vanished in Aruba in 2005.

In China, a fight over gossip via text message. Listen to this one. Watch dog groups are fighting a law in Beijing that would punish people caught spreading rumors or endangering public security. People caught violating the law could be detained for up to ten days.

Representative Ron Paul is known as Dr. No on Capitol Hill in part because of his votes against all kinds of government spending and he's running for president with the promise to cut the pork. But Sunday on "MEET THE PRESS" Paul was forced to defend himself against charges that he, himself, earmarked $400 million of federal money for his district in Texas. The congressman says it's different, because he doesn't vote for the spending bills, he just takes home the cash.


REP. RON PAUL (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Take our money from us, and the congress has the authority to appropriate not the executive branch, and I'm saying I represent my people. They have the request. It's like taking a tax credit, and I put it -- the whole process is corrupt.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let me ask you this.

PAUL: I vote against everything, I vote against it so I don't endorse the system.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When it passes overwhelmingly you take the money back home.

PAUL: I don't take it. That's the system. I'm trying to change that system.


CHO: Well, the projects range from expanding a hospital cancer center to promoting the Texas shrimp industry. Paul has voted against things like medals for Pope John Paul II and Rosa Parks because of the cost to taxpayers. John?

ROBERTS: Also new this morning, a debt crisis. More Americans missing their credit card payments. Experts say it's going to get worse after the holidays. A report from the Associated Press finds credit card accounts that are 30 days late are up 26 percent over last year. Accounts that are 90 days overdue are up 50 percent and complete defaults are up 18 percent.

How will December rate in the retail world? Stores are hoping it will be a profitable holiday season for them but they're unsure how it will shake out. Analysts say any increase over last year will probably be small. Some stores like Macy's are trying to make the most of it, keeping their doors open throughout the night. Jim Acosta is in the Flagship Macy's store at Herald Square in Manhattan. When we checked in with you last hour you were pretty much all by yourself except people walking out the front door without having the security tags removed. How is it looking now?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well John, I have to tell you. There's something slightly insane about walking into a Macys's department store about 5:00 this morning and seeing shoppers here and there are shoppers in the store right now, walking through the camera as we speak, mainly because this place is starting to open up for business and people are responding to what is essentially a holiday shopping season gimmick. The store is open 24 hours. It's been open 24 hours for the last two days while it's closing at 6:00 tonight. They are trying to give shoppers every possible last second to gobble up as many gifts as they can for their loved ones and this is actually not a bad time to come. We were here over the weekend, and it was sort of a shopping mosh pit, wall to wall people and a Santa-palooza, if you will, so this is not a bad time to come.

The reason why retailers like Macy's are pulling out all the stops, the sluggish economy, whether it be the gas prices, or the housing crisis, people are very much worry the about their, what's in their pocket books and trying to stretch their dollars as much as possible and retail stores are predicting that the growth in sales will be somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 percent this holiday shopping season. That's versus the 4.8 percentage mark that retailers typically see this time of year, and so that is enough of a hit where retailers are worried. Many people are doing their shopping online.

Many people are buying these gift cards so it won't be until after the holidays are over when people stop walking through my live shot, when they'll tally up all of the totals here and figure out exactly how much or how well these retailers did, and if I'm not mistaken, John, I do hear Santa's sleigh warming up. It is almost Christmas, but there are still some hours left for shoppers to get out there and put something under the tree for Johnny and Susie.

ROBERTS: Jim, you've had a chance to look around the stores. You said you were there over the weekend. How much of the merchandise is on sale?

ACOSTA: You know, I would say roughly half of what we're seeing in the store has some sort of sale sign over the top of it, and that is indicative of what we've been hearing all along this holiday shopping season that retailers are basically willing to tear off their right arm to get shoppers in the stores, and this is, this Macy's department store is actually, I mean, if you can believe it, crawling with people and it's only 7:00 in the morning. I guess we've even seen the kids carrying around those grande double espressos this morning so people are juiced up and ready to go.

ROBERTS: As long as they tear off their right arm and not yours, so keep it out of the sales bin there, Jim. Thanks. Check back with you later.

ACOSTA: I'll hang on to it.

CHO: And you know my policy, never too tired to shop. We'll get back to our top story now.

The nightmare holiday travel this Christmas Eve, a snowy, icy, windy, foggy mess in the upper Midwest and great lakes. Major delays in airports there are having a ripple effect on flyers across the country and the roads are bad, too. Tom Murray of WTMJ is live for us at Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee. Tom, how is it this hour?

TOM MURRAY, WTMJ REPORTER: Well, you just heard that things are busy at the mall. Things are busy here at the airport here in Milwaukee as well and the big story now is the lines. I imagine this is the same story for folks traveling across the country that they can expect long lines if they're coming to the airport.

Now there are some people that are arriving at the airport this morning, this will be the third consecutive day that they are showing up here in Milwaukee, trying to catch their flight out. You see we had dense fog for about two days over the weekend, and hit with another snowstorm yesterday, making it really difficult for a lot of flights to get in and out. So some folks just had flight after flight canceled. The good news this morning is that the runway seemed to be cleared. There's no precipitation, and the fog has lifted, so a lot of the flights should get out on time. Hopefully for about an hour south of us in Chicago, where they had 250 flights canceled yesterday. But a lot of people are here this morning, and it looks like they're going to get out on time. Back to you Alina.

CHO: All right. Tom Murray of affiliate WTMJ in Milwaukee, thanks for the update.

ROBERTS: Faith and politics, how religious voters could impact the outcome of the Iowa caucuses. That story is coming up.

And he's just 8 years old and he got served. Why a kid has to go to court for something that happened on the slopes.

Stay with us. AMERICAN MORNING will be right back.

But first a holiday greeting from some of our men and women serving overseas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is specialist anaconda happy greetings, holidays and merry Christmas, my wife, Trina, son Cody, daughter Dominique, Nouve and Maggie, love you, mom. Happy holidays.


CHO: Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

Faith-based voters were a big reason why President Bush won in 2000 and again in 2004 and religion is already playing a major role in 2008. One candidate has had to take the podium to explain his beliefs, Mitt Romney, another Mike Huckabee, had to explain a bookcase that looked like a cross in a Christmas message playing in Iowa.

With us now to talk about faith and politics, the author of the new book, "Heroic Conservatism," Michael Gerson. He was President Bush's chief speech writer from 2000 until last year, joins from us St. Louis. Thank you for joining us. You've been called the president's spiritual rod. You write about politics in your new book. When you think about politics and faith two names come to mind, Romney and Huckabee. Is religion playing a bigger role this time around do you think and how is it playing out?

MICHAEL GERSON, AUTHOR "HEROIC CONSERVATISM": Religion played an important role in politics in American history, behind the abolition movement and the civil rights movement. The problem comes when candidates use sectarian beliefs for political purposes and that's I think the questions being raised about Mike Huckabee. Is he using his faith, calling himself a Christian leader, in order to appeal to a certain condition stitch wincey of the Republican Party, and that would be coming up pretty close to a lie.

Mitt Romney has an entirely different problem. He represents an unfamiliar faith, something that people aren't familiar with and he needs to prove that Mormon values contribute to American values, family and faith and hard work and I think that that's true. He's got a good case to make.

CHO: I want to talk about Huckabee in a minute. A quick question about Romney because he recently came out and spoke about his Mormon religion, yet in that 20-minute speech or so, he only mentioned Mormonism once. Is that a problem?

GERSON: Well, I don't know. I mean, when John Kennedy gave his speech on church and state in Houston, when he ran for president, he didn't talk about the specific sectarian beliefs of Catholicism. He talked about the American tradition and the important role of religion in that tradition. I think that Huckabee -- I mean Romney took a similar approach and probably a good one.

CHO: Let's get to Huckabee. He was on "FACE THE NATION" and when asked if he'd be a president for Christian America, he responded by saying he'd be the people's president, and he cited his record as governor of Arkansas. Let's take a listen.

GERSON: People look at my record and they didn't see that I put a tent out on the capitol grounds and had healing services and didn't replace the dome with a steeple.

CHO: Here's a man who also is governor of Arkansas, hung a copy of the Ten Commandments in his office in the state capitol, so can you really separate how you govern from who you are?

GERSON: Well, I don't think at some level you should. You know, great presidents like, you know, Franklin Roosevelt and others, they talked about their own beliefs about human dignity and human rights, leaders like Martin Luther King, leaders like Jimmy Carter from the democratic party talked about their faith. I don't think you should have to separate that out, but I think you shouldn't exploit those beliefs for political purposes.

That's been the problem raised when Huckabee talks about, say that his momentum is somehow the result of divine intervention. That was one quote that he used. I think some people are concerned about that aspect of his message. He also pairs this, of course, though, with a very strong populist economic message that also appeals to a broad range of people, talks about economic mobility. He talks about helping the poor in a way that a lot of the other republicans don't. So it's not all the religious appeal on Huckabee's part. He has kind of a more complicated message than that.

CHO: Certainly he says it makes him more empathetic to everyone. Michael Gerson author of "Heroic Conservativism," thank you for joining us.

GERSON: Great to be with you.

CHO: John.

ROBERTS: 19 minutes after the hour. They will not be home for Christmas but troops are doing their best to spread holiday cheer in Afghanistan. Caroling at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, one caroler said it made him feel a little more like home. The celebration also includes four days of church services and Christmas trees in the base's cafeteria.

"Quick Hits" now and some extra presents under the tree for Oregon residents. The state is giving out more than $1 billion in tax rebates. Most people are getting about $600 back but Nike cofounder Phil Knight averaged nearly $800,000. Under Oregon law, rebates are automatically collected with income taxes, more than two percent higher than expected.

Stocks are expected to open slightly lower this morning for a session cut short by the holiday. Trading is expected to be light as investors wait for a final report on holiday shopping. The season ends or the session ends at 1:00 this afternoon. Markets will remain closed tomorrow.

He doesn't know what the word "sue" means. Now an 8-year-old kid is being called to court. What happened on the ski slopes of Colorado that has one guy going after him.

And was the 9/11 commission kept in the dark by the CIA before interrogation tapes were destroyed. The former co-chairman of the commission, Tom Caine, joins us live ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Coming up to 23 minutes after the hour. An 8-year-old boy from Colorado is facing a civil suit filed by a 60-year-old man, after the two collided on the ski slopes. Scott Swimm's father saw the accident. Scott was the uphill skier coming down a catwalk when he tried to pass the plaintiff, when the older man suddenly turned and stopped right in front of his son.

ROB SWIMM, SON SUED OVER SKIING ACCIDENT: Seems to have injured himself so badly that he needs to sue my now 8-year-old son. I didn't know what the word sue meant, Scott didn't.

ROBERTS: Apparently Scott skied over the man's tips of his skis. He fell backwards and wants $75,000 for suffering a torn tendon and lost vacation time.

CHO: Come on. 24 minutes after the hour. Jim Ellis of "Business Week" in for Ali Velshi "Minding Your Business." We're talking about the housing market. It is pretty bad but it could get worse?

JIM ELLIS, BUSINESSWEEK MAGAZINE: Unfortunately it will get worse in 2008. A lot of us thought that by now we'd see a recovery here but turns out most likely we're not going to see a decline or excuse me, upturn in the number of houses built, probably until at least mid year, and unfortunately also the pricing of houses, particularly existing homes will probably continue to decline all through next year and we won't see a recovery there until 2009.

CHO: People aren't building homes because people aren't buying them. I guess that's part of the problem. When do you think it will bottom out? Will it happen in '08?

ELLIS: No, 2009, I don't want to say it's recovery year, it's the year of the bottom and then we won't have a strong housing market until 2010. That is a big difference for a lot of, in the mentality of people about how they treat housing

CHO: Is it a good time to buy? John says yes.

ROBERTS: If you're not selling now.

ELLIS: If you're not selling a house it's a better time but actually you could wait simply because there's not going to be a lot of activity in the housing market before the middle of next year so why rush into it. You have a lot more inventory out and we also have a big number of resets and adjustable mortgages that goes in the end of the first quarter of next year. A lot of people will be desperate to unload houses then so it's probably a better price in the market mid year.

CHO: So wait a little bit but not too long.

ELLIS: There's no reason for a buyer to run out there right now. Sellers have to start thinking more realistically about pricing. A lot of people held off for a long time and now they're realizing that I'm not going to get the price I could have gotten two years ago. I'm not going to get the price I could have gotten three months ago.

ROBERTS: Seemed to suggest it may accelerate the first three months.

ELLIS: Basically the notion of housing as an investment is going out the window now. Basically a house is a place where you sleep in.

ROBERTS: It's going to make it tough for a lot of people. Jim, thanks. See you again soon.

Now to this morning's Quick Vote question. With higher gas prices, lower home price, other economic pressures what, did you spend this holiday season? More? Less? The same amount as in years past. Cast your vote for us this morning at We'll take a quick look. 9 percent of you said are' going to spend more. 14 percent the same. Look at that, 77 percent say that they spent less this year. I'm kind 1/2 that column. What about you?

CHO: I think I'm in the 9 percent.


ELLIS: Probably in the 9 percent.

CHO: I think so, unfortunately.

ELLIS: We're doing our part.

ROBERTS: Even though you try to spend less.

CHO: I mapped it out for the first time. I actually gave myself a budget and I think I'm spending more unfortunately.

ROBERTS: But go to our website, and click on the "Quick Vote" there and render your vote and we'll tally the results before 9:00 eastern this morning.

CHO: All right. We'll see if the numbers change.

Coming up, a quiet jog in Alaska soon turned into a dangerous situation for three women. A pack of wolves surrounds them and their dogs. We'll tell you how the women got away in just a minute.

Was it a top secret snub? Charges that the CIA kept the 9/11 commission in the dark about interrogation tapes, tapes that were eventually destroyed. A former commission co-chairman will join John live, that's next on AMERICAN MORNING.


ALINA CHO, CNN, ANCHOR: Now, we have a live view of the skyline in Detroit, Michigan, courtesy of our affiliate WDIV. Right now, 25 and cloudy. Later today, we expect a high of 31 with some flurries. Beautiful sky shot there. Good morning, everybody. Welcome back. It's Monday, December 24th. Christmas eve. I'm Alina Cho filling in for Kiran this morning.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN, ANCHOR: Good morning to you, I'm John Roberts. We're watching all the madness at the airports this Christmas eve. It could be a dark, cold and lonely Christmas for potentially millions of people. A huge winter storm has knocked out power, put roads and runways on ice from the plains to the Great Lakes. Thousands of flyers were grounded over the weekend. They may not get out today either with major backlogs expected at airports across the country. 300 flights were canceled at O'Hare International Airport in Chicago alone. Ice and whiteout conditions are being blamed for killing 11 people, mostly on the roads across the Midwest.

Bonnie Schneider at the CNN weather center tracking the extreme weather conditions and as well the extreme conditions at the airports and on the roadways today. How is it looking now, Bonnie?

BONNIE SCHNEIDER, CNN, METEOROLOGIST: We have no airport delays which is great news. I also want to show you something else that's positive about traveling on Christmas eve. Not so many people on the road, at least not right now. This live picture here is courtesy of And what you're looking at is the FDR at 78th street in Manhattan. Here's northbound traffic and here's southbound traffic. So northbound traffic headed out of town through the Triboro Bridge, not too many cars on the road. You don't usually see that this time of the morning in New York. So, that's some good news.

We are anticipating a lot of airport delays. And I want to take you through where they will be. They certainly will be in New York due to wind and also back out further toward the west, we are expecting airport delays as well. If you're heading up to Canada, for example, they could be as long as an hour, northward to Boston. Look out for light snow in and around Chicago, that may slow you down, up to an hour's time and high winds in Cleveland. The southeast for the most part looks good across Florida but once you start heading west we'll have visibility problems in and around San Francisco so that may cause a slowdown about 30 minutes.

Light snow once again for Salt Lake City and some delays are expected there, as well as the storm is kind of brewing in the Pacific northwest. So watch out for that if you're heading to Seattle or Portland. Later this afternoon, you may find yourself looking at some delays in and around that region. Speaking of snow, a lake effect snow warning continues for Watertown. We also have blowing snow in and around Rochester and Buffalo. And here is an example of what's going on. We had this snow coming in, lake effect snow. The wind gusts are now at 39 miles per hour. That's limiting visibility greatly. The temperature 29 with wind chill factor. Well, it's only about 8 degrees.

As for a white Christmas, we are looking at a good chance of it across much of the northern tier of the country. And incidentally, we're going to see for Chicago the first white Christmas since 2003 so maybe tough to get there but once you get there, it'll be a white Christmas.

ROBERTS: So, Bonnie, so far, no flight delays at the airports.

SCHNEIDER: Nothing yet.

ROBERTS: But with all the cancellations that happened over the weekend I'm sure some people will find it difficult to get on planes to make up the flights they lost yesterday?

SCHNEIDER: Yes, they probably will be that later on this afternoon. But so far for the morning flights, everything is going smoothly but I think once we get past the 8:00 hour, we'll start to see delays pile up again.

ROBERTS: All right. Bonnie Schneider for us this morning. We're counting on Bonnie for all the latest information this morning. We'll keep coming back to her and tell you just what's going on. Bonnie, thanks. Alina.

CHO: Thanks, John. This just in. Officials in Egypt searching the rubble of a collapsed building for survivors. No word on why the 12-story structure fell apart. The building was in an upscale neighborhood in eastern Cairo. The Associated Press is reporting at least five people were killed.

Saudi Arabia is announcing today that it has broken up a major terrorist plot aimed at the Hajj, that's the annual holy pilgrimage of Muslims to Mecca. Officials say they arrested 28 people. 27 of them Saudis. They would only say that the suspects were plotting acts to disrupt the Hajj. At least 2.5 million Muslims came to Saudi Arabia for this year's Hajj. John.

ROBERTS: 34 minutes after the hour.

A recent memo by the former executive director of the 9/11 commission suggests that the CIA denied its request to take a look at secret interrogation tapes. The same tapes that were destroyed in 2005, including videotaped interrogations of two high-profile Al Qaeda operatives but the CIA disputes the claims saying that they're without merit.

Former New Jersey governor and co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission Governor Thomas Kean joins us from Far Hills, New Jersey. Chairman Kean, good to be with you. The big question that everyone is asking at this moment is, did the CIA break the law when it destroyed those tapes? What do you think?

THOMAS KEAN, FMR. 9/11 COMMISSION CO-CHAIRMAN: Well, I'm not a lawyer and I'm not sure if they broke the law or not but what they did do is, I think, try to impede our investigation, because we asked for legitimate, anything to do with those detainees, because they were the ones who knew most about the plot of 9/11 and that was our mandate. We asked the CIA for everything having to do with those and we asked them not on one occasion but three and four and five and six occasions and those tapes were not made available to us.

ROBERTTS: Statements that I've seen out of the CIA in the past few days would seem to indicate that they were waiting for to you to ask specifically for those tapes. A spokesman says that the tapes were not destroyed until after the 9/11 Commission had completed its work, just in case you asked for them. You had a meeting with your co-chairman, Lee Hamilton and Director George Tenet of the CIA back in December of 2003. Did you specifically ask for videotapes, because they do seem to be parsing their words fairly finely here.

KEAN: well, they can parse their words all they want. We asked for every single thing that they had, and then my vice chairman, Lee Hamilton, looked at the director of the CIA in the face, even if we haven't asked for something if it's pertinent to our investigation, make it available to us and our staff asked again and again of their staff and the tapes were not given to us. So there was no question.

ROBERTS: Were you aware of the existence of any videotape?

KEAN: No, we weren't, and we were not - they should have told us about them to begin with, but they didn't, and so we weren't aware they did tape anything.

ROBERTS: Now, the former acting director of the CIA, John McLaughlin dismisses these claims. He insists that the CIA was completely forthcoming about all of the information that you requested. Here's what he said. Take a listen.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, CNN, NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: I think it's ludicrous to suggest that, in fact, that we withheld anything of consequence from the 9/11 Commission. Anything that was on the tapes that would be relevant to their inquiry was given to them in writing, and the tapes would have simply not advanced their inquiry at all.

ROBERTS: Well what, do you make of that, Chairman Kean that the tapes would have not advanced your inquiry at all? Do you agree or disagree with that statement? KEAN: Well, it's hard to tell, because the tapes have been destroyed, but we should have seen them and made that determination ourselves. I mean no, question that we again and again and again asked for everything, and we needed it, and we weren't given it. And so the only conclusion we can draw is it was withheld from us, and that can only be seen to me as an attempt to impede our investigation.

ROBERTS: So, where does this all go now?

KEAN: Well of course we're no longer in existence as a commission, so it goes to either the attorney general's office, the Congress, the congressional committees and they'll make determinations as to what to do with it. All we can do is tell them the facts. Our staff has gone back to the congressional records and the congressional library and looked at all the records. We can make them available to the congress or any other investigating committee.

ROBERTS: Will you make yourself available to any committee that would seek testimony from you?

KEAN: Of course. Of course. Anybody who needs me in any way I'm available.

ROBERTS: Let me finish up by asking you this question. In the 9/11 Commission report, you praised the CIA for its cooperation. Do you want to revise that statement now?

KEAN: Well, perhaps a bit, because we thought they had given us everything as they told us they had given us everything so we had no knowledge whatsoever there might be some tapes or anything else that they're withholding.

ROBERTS: Tom Kean, it's always good to talk to you. Thank you, sir. Merry Christmas to you.

KEAN: Thank you and Merry Christmas to you also.

ROBERTS: Appreciate it. Alina.

CHO: All right. Thanks, John. Time is running out and Mitt Romney and John McCain are running neck and neck in New Hampshire. Will a newspaper's anti-endorsement decide the race? We'll have that ahead.

A nightmare for three joggers in Alaska, when a pack of wolves surrounds them and their dogs and it's not the first time the wolves have attacked. We'll have that story coming up on AMERICAN MORNING as well.

But first a holiday greeting from some of our men and women serving overseas.


PRIVATE BASSMORE: This is Private First Class Bassmore from Camp Anaconda, Iraq. I just want to send seasons greetings to my wife, Michelle, my kids, j Jalen, Thea and C.J. from Porthills, Oklahoma. I look forward to seeing you next Christmas.


CHO: Beautiful shot of our studio here on this Christmas eve. Welcome back to the most news in the morning.

A quiet jog in Alaska quickly turned into a life or death situation for three women. Listen to this, a pack of wolves surrounds them and then attacks. The pack circled three women and their dogs last Thursday. It happened near Anchorage. The women actually pepper sprayed the wolves as they slowly retreated. The pack got within feet and bit one of their dogs. One of the victims describes the harrowing ordeal.


ALYCIA BELERGROHSLEIN, ATTACKED BY A PACK OF WOLVES: I was rainbowing my pepper spray, and they fell back a little bit but as soon as we would turn our backs to try to go, they would run up on us. And then we would turn around and start screaming again and I would spray my pepper spray.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just kept going and they're so big and so many and they started howling, and we thought they were circling us, and it got us really panicked but we just kept screaming.

CHO: Well, that kind of illustrates just how scary it must have been. Fish and game officials say the same pack of wolves may have actually killed a dog hours earlier. Wildlife experts say they may have learned that dogs are easier prey than wildlife in the woods. John.

ROBERTS: 43 minutes after the hour.

It is the final stretch for the presidential candidates, the Iowa caucuses just ten days away now. The first primary in New Hampshire, falls just a few days later. And a new "Boston Globe" poll shows just how tight the republican race is. Mitt Romney leads with 28%, just three points behind him now is John McCain with 25%, followed by Rudy Giuliani and Mike Huckabee.

CNN's chief national correspondent John King is live in Manchester, New Hampshire, for us this morning. John McCain really starting to come on there. What are the issues that are driving his numbers up, and we saw that he won in 2000. Could lightning strike twice?

JOHN KING, CNN, CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, it's quite interesting because in 2000, he had the support of so many independents who decided to vote in the republican primary. The polling data still shows most of those independents are going democrat this time but John McCain is rising and why is that? The guy who wasn't in the lead for so long and still is narrowly. Mitt Romney is a former businessman at the time when voters care more about the economy. He passed a health care plan in Massachusetts that gave health insurance to 300,000 people and at the time voters care more about health insurance. So why is John McCain rising? If you talk to people at these events, John, just the same you talk to people at Mike Huckabee events out in Iowa. Number one, two candidates who are persistent, Huckabee and McCain. Number two the voters view them as genuine and authentic at a time when they're tired of a long campaign and they're tired of politics as usual.

ROBERTS: John, Mitt Romney was the target of a pretty serious negative endorsement by the Concord monitor saying he's got to be stopped. How much damage could that do to him there in the granite state?

KING: It was the buzz of political circles here across the granite state yesterday, John. The Romney campaign says "The Concord Monitor" and their right in saying this, it is a very liberal newspaper. It has a very liberal editorial perspective but it reinforces some of the earlier criticism of Mitt Romney. They not only say that he should be stopped, they called him a phony and said that his positions have changed on a number of issues. They attribute that to political calculation. The Romney campaign says it will wear that as a badge of honor but he has had to retreat, explain or amend several campaign statements even just in the past two weeks or so. So it feeds into the perception that this is a guy who sometimes plays loose with the facts and sometimes as a presidential candidate running from his record as governor. The Romney campaign is in a bit of a struggle right now. Remember, they were the stars of the summer, built a big lead in Iowa, built a big lead here in New Hampshire. Right now, they're in dead heat if not a little behind in both states, John. They are fighting a bit.

ROBERTS: Big article in the "New York Times" today, John, about Rudy Giuliani and how he's running into some troubled waters. How serious is the problem for him in the primary states that follow Iowa and New Hampshire. And was the strategy to avoid Iowa and New Hampshire and concentrate on the big states like New York and California and Florida a mistake?

KING: So many people think especially skipping New Hampshire is a huge mistake. Iowa is evangelical. Rudy Giuliani favors abortion rights. That is not his terrain. Here in New Hampshire most republicans favor abortion rights and many say this would have been a good state for Rudy Giuliani. One issue probably an exception, his support for gun control as mayor of New York City might not sell here. But he's dropped 13 points or so nationally in the last month. The things to watch over the next several days as we track Iowa, track New Hampshire. But what all those states, 15 or so after Iowa and New Hampshire, where Rudy Giuliani is running ahead, places like Connecticut, places like New York, New Jersey and Florida. Because of his national drop and it is conservatives peeling away from Rudy Giuliani, will there be a domino effect across the state? His campaign took a big risk on this late state strategy, John, and there are a lot of questions right now as to whether that was a huge mistake.

ROBERTS: All right now. On the democratic side and in some polls Obama ahead of Hillary now in New Hampshire. It's all going to be very close. Everybody taking Christmas day off, John?

KING: I'm going to try to get home to my children tonight, got some gifts to buy for a pretty girl and two great kids and hopefully we'll get it done.

ROBERTS: All right. Good luck to you. I guess we're not going to see the candidates on the trail either until Wednesday. So, Merry Christmas to you as well.

KING: A bright and Wednesday day. Thanks. Same to you, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks, John. Alina.

CHO: All right. Thanks. John will be back before we know it.

Actress Katherine Heigl gets hitched. That tops your "Quick Hits" now. says the "Gray's Anatomy" star married musician Josh Kelly in a small ceremony Sunday in Park City, Utah. Now, Kelly popped the question last summer, a little more than a year after Heigl was cast in one of his music videos.

Actress Michelle Rodriguez will spend Christmas in the slammer and then 177 days after that. The former law star started a 180-day prison term in L.A. yesterday, a judge sentenced Rodriguez in October for violating her probation on previous drunken driving and hit-and- run offenses and specified that she not be granted work furlough, early release or home confinement.

A mini van slams into a Chicago television station studio, as the news is on the air. It happened just 15 to 20 feet away from the news desk. We'll have that story coming up.

Plus rescuing Youssif. Dr. Sanjay Gupta with an update on the badly burned Iraqi boy's progress, and a preview of his special tonight. That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


CHO: This year we introduced to you to a young Iraqi boy named Youssif. An amazing story. He was savagely burned by masked men and badly disfigured. Since then CNN viewers have given more than 14,000 donations and hundreds of thousands of dollars. And with your help, Youssif has come from Baghdad all the way to California for ground- breaking surgery. Tune in tonight for the first CNN "impact your world" documentary, "Rescuing Youssif," hosted by CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN, CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Dr. Grossman let me scrub in, to observe. He showed me how he hopes to undo much of what an unspeakably cruel act has done to this 5-year-old boy.

DR. GROSSMAN: We will basically be excising this thickened scar tissue around here. And now, it's time to operate.

GUPTA: All right.


GUPTA: Dr. Grossman took Youssif's case for free, and expected to perform half a dozen or more operations over the next year. How Youssif fared in this initial operation would play an enormous role in how well the boy heals, and how much evidence remained of the attack that disfigured his young face. For me, it was a fascinating close-up view of state of the art burn surgery. For Youssif's parents, it was an ordeal of waiting.

GROSSMAN: This is not a sure thing.


GUPTA: That's right. More than 14,000 donations, Alina, as you mentioned, that's hundreds of thousands of dollars, was able to take Youssif and his family from what you saw there in Baghdad to the Grossman Burn Center. He's getting treatment. What you're going to see tonight as you alluded to is the result of many of his operations. He still has a few more to go but I got to tell you, Alina, it's so interesting as a journalist to do a story like Arwa Damon did here and as a result of that story actually be able to take this boy's life and completely transform it. That's what happened to him, so it's a remarkable story I hope you'll watch.

CHO: It literally gives you chills to look at him and how he has recovered, but you know, I think a lot of people need to keep in mind he's just 5 years old. So how is he doing emotionally?

GUPTA: It's a great question, and you know, I have young children as well. I don't know how you sort of heal from that emotionally. Obviously the physical wounds, the physical scars will recover. I think that he's doing better. When I first met him he was this shy boy who wanted nothing to do with me. He was very withdrawn, very sullen. Over the past few months that I spent more and more time with him, he became a lot more open to me. He also is one of those things, Alina, you know, he just was so self-conscious of his face. I mean, it's so disfigured.

CHO: Of course.

GUPTA: And now, he's outside in the park playing. It was really heartening to see his emotional well-being improve, but it's not where it should be. He's got a lot of work to do still.

CHO: Yes. But when you see him kicking around that soccer ball, you think, boy things are getting better. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you. And Sanjay follows Youssif's incredible journey in an inspirational hour, the first "Impact your world special" "Rescuing Youssif" that's on Christmas eve at 10:00 p.m. eastern or Christmas day at 4:00 p.m..

ROBERTS: It's now 54 minutes after the hour.

Trying to prevent another college campus massacre. "Quick Hits" now, more than a dozen family members of wounded or murdered Virginia Tech students have signed a letter asking state lawmakers to make background checks stronger for buying weapons. The court identified the Virginia Tech gunman as mentally defective before he passed a background check, bought two handguns and then killed 32 people. Despite action by the governor, there are still apparent loopholes that allow people to buy weapons at gun shows even if they were referred for treatment.

A safer Los Angeles. Los Angeles is just days away from recording its lowest murder total in nearly 40 years. The city is expected to have fewer than 400 homicides, that's the lowest number since 1970. Police credit gentrification, better medical care and improved police tactics further the declined.

Well, Christmas celebrations are under way now in the holy city of Bethlehem. Tourism is up this year but merchants in the city are still worried. We'll have a live report from Bethlehem coming up just ahead.

And there are also worries about shoppers here at home. Retailers say they will meet their goals this year but just barely. Some stores are pulling out all the stops and keeping the doors open. A live report for you ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Stranded.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's absolutely crazy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of dangerous.

ROBERTS: A deadly winter storm makes a mess of getting home for the holidays. Everything you need to know before you head out this morning.

Last minute scramble, the all-nighter, shoppers skipping sleep to hit the stores.

Plus dramatic homecoming.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To see him moving, talking, joking now, it was tremendous.

ROBERTS: Doctors feared he would never walk again. A football player's emotional return to his home field on this AMERICAN MORNING.

And good morning, thanks very much for being with us on this Christmas eve, December the 24th, Monday morning. I'm John Roberts.

CHO: Less than one more day until Christmas. I'm Alina Cho. Kiran Chetry has the morning off. We're so glad you're with us. ROBERTS: Well, Christmas eve and it is shaping up to be the worst year since last year to get home for the holidays. A year ago you remembered Denver Airport was closed for two days. This morning, lines are already forming at other airports across the Midwest and people are preparing to spend Christmas eve, many of them in the terminal. All because of a deadly winter storm, blinding snow, 80 mile an hour wind gusts, sub zero windshields across the plains and Midwest. The roads resembled ice rings. Police say 11 people are dead. Ice and white out conditions cause a half mile long pileup in the Texas panhandle over the weekend. And police say one man was killed in the wreck. It started when a tractor-trailer lost control and flipped over. 50 other cars and trucks followed. Alina.

CHO: What a mess. A different kind of chain reaction at the airports from coast to coast. Flights from the Midwest took hours to get off the ground, if they did at all.

Ground zero, Chicago's O'Hare Airport there where the wait was averaging close to four hours and 300 flights were canceled this morning. As of right now, a spokesman says there are no weather- related delays at Midway or O'Hare. We'll have to see what happens. They expect a smoother day today and Christmas day. We'll have to wait and see. High winds are affecting the holiday travel and tens and thousands are coming down the Christmas stretch.