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American Morning

Attorney General Mukasey Collapses During Speech; Clinton Secretary of State Nomination on Track; No Deal for Detroit Automakers; A Felon Senator's Farewell

Aired November 21, 2008 - 06:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Two major breaking stories now. First, Hillary Clinton, the offer, secretary of state.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: We now have three sources saying, in fact, that Hillary Clinton is on track to be nominated as secretary of state.

ROBERTS: The question -- will she accept?

Then, up on stage right in front of their eyes, the collapse of the attorney general.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh no, oh no. Oh, my God.

His condition right now on this AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Good morning. Thanks very much for being with us. It's Friday, it's the 21st of November. We got some disturbing news to tell you this morning about the attorney general.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: Yes. It was shocking that he went down like that, right as he was giving a speech, and we have it. CNN was there when it happened, and we ill bring it to you this morning.

Aides close to President-elect Obama, meantime though, telling CNN that he is on track to nominating Hillary Clinton secretary of state after thanksgiving. The best political team on television is standing by with breaking developments.

First, though, a dramatic scene involving America's attorney general, Michael Mukasey. He's in the hospital this morning. He collapsed last night while giving a speech in Washington, a speech that CNN was videotaping at the time. Here's a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, my God.


CHETRY: There you see people quickly running to put their arms around him to make sure he didn't fall. After that he was rushed to the hospital, George Washington University Hospital.

Our CNN's Jeanne Meserve is live in Washington with the latest on the condition and what's going on with the attorney general.

Hi, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Kiran. The attorney general was kept at George Washington University Hospital overnight as a precaution. Last night, the Justice Department issued a statement which said in part, "The attorney general is conscious, conversant and alert. His vital statistics are strong, and he is in good spirits. He is receiving excellent care and appreciates all the good wishes and prayers he has received."

Doctors will keep him overnight for further observation. A Justice Department official tells CNN there is no reason to believe that the attorney general had a stroke. This official described him at the hospital last night as being feisty, as telling jokes, as being in good spirits. They say keeping him at the hospital was "a precaution."

Now, as you mentioned, this happened when the attorney general was giving a speech to the Federal Society, a conservative legal organization. He was speaking at the Marriott Hotel here in Washington. One of the people who was at that speech gave a description of what they saw.


AARON SILLETTO, EYEWITNESS: He was giving a very impassioned speech. He was fairly well into it. It seemed like he was kind of winding down. It was near the end of his speech, near the end of his remarks.

He started kind of stuttering and repeating himself a couple of times, and kind of lurched forward and hit the rostrum. And before he could fall to the ground, someone came to his aid.


MESERVE: The attorney general is 67 years old. He's described as being in good health. He worked out regularly. Nothing like this had ever happened before. We're waiting this morning to get an update from the hospital or the Justice Department about his condition. Back to you.

CHETRY: Good to know that he is conscious and alert, though. Jeanne, thanks so much.

Well, there's more now on Attorney General Michael Mukasey in an "AM Extra."

As Jeanne said, he's 67 years old, a native of New York. He was nominated for attorney general by President Bush and then confirmed by the Senate a year ago this month. Mukasey replaced Alberto Gonzales who resigned, you may remember, amid controversy over his role in the firings of U.S. attorneys. Before moving to Washington, Mukasey served as a private attorney as well as a federal judge in New York.

Coming up in just about 20 minutes, though, we're going to be speaking with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He is a neurosurgeon. A closer look at the medical factors that could have caused Michael Mukasey, the attorney general's collapse.

ROBERTS: Well, now, to our other breaking story this morning. Senator Hillary Clinton is on track to get the nomination to become the nation's next secretary of state. And she could get it very soon.

CNN's Jessica Yellin has been working her sources. She's live in Chicago for us this morning. And what are you hearing behind-the- scenes, Jessica?


Multiple sources are telling CNN that this is moving forward. They say that no formal offer has been made to Senator Clinton, and that is the way this works. They wait for the entire vet to be complete before there's an official discussion, formally offering the job in which case she could accept it.

So that has not yet happened, we're told. But the momentum is moving in the direction of Senator Clinton being in a position to accept this job. The vet is the bottom line in this situation, John.

As we reported earlier, former President Bill Clinton had to make some major concessions in order for this vet to move forward and he did. He agreed to let his foundation work come to review, reveal who his major donors are. He even said he'd step away from day-to-day responsibility for his foundation should his wife become secretary of state. Apparently, that was enough to clear the hurdle and Team Obama is feeling good about this.

We should make it clear, though, that does not mean it's a done deal. Lots of things can fall apart on the way to the altar. But right now, it looks like they're headed to the altar -- John.

ROBERTS: All right. Jessica, you know the Clintons and you know during the Clinton administration and the political campaign, they had perfected the art of the head fake. Could this potentially be a head fake to try to get her something better in the Senate because we have heard Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid say over the last couple of days, well, maybe we could create some sort of new leadership position for her?

YELLIN: Yes. He has said that. And I've talked to a number of aides in the Senate who say that this stemmed from a conversation she had with the leaders before Barack Obama made the offer saying, look, she wants something in leadership if she's going to stay in the Senate. So now, they're coming back and offering something, it's vague, but it does seem like Clinton has an option, an appeal and option in the Senate if she should decide to turn down the secretary of state offer or secretary of state progress. So who really knows what's going to happen? As you say with the Clintons, you don't know until it's done -- John.

ROBERTS: Exactly. What about this other story that's out there that an old cell phone of the president-elect's was hacked and the people grabbed some of the numbers that were on it.

YELLIN: Right. We actually found out about that from a viewer tip because it was from Verizon Wireless. The company notifying its own employees that this had happened and some people have been put on leave. They're investigating it internally.

The Obama team says they're not really concerned since it is an old phone number, but it does raise those old privacy concerns for everybody and Verizon says that they will take necessary action. But again, Barack Obama, this is what the third sort of invasion of his privacy after some of his other records have been breached. So everyone is on the lookout for this.

ROBERTS: Make sure when you hand those cell phones in, you absolutely wipe their memory. I favor the sledge hammer technique.

All right. Jessica Yellin --

YELLIN: I'd like to see that.

ROBERTS: Jessica Yellin for us in Chicago. Jessica, thanks.

CHETRY: I'm more in favor of the bathtub drop. You're not finding anything after that one either.

Well this morning coming on the heels, the Dow's 445 point loss yesterday. Well, the major indices overnight holding tough.

In Asia, the markets were able to bounce back after some early losses. Hong Kong also closing up near three percent, and Japan's Nikkei up more than two percent. Also in Europe where trading is underway, markets across the board are in positive territory.

Well, amid the economic gloom, a ray of hope for families struggling to make their mortgage payments. Mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announcing that they'll suspend nearly 10,000 foreclosures through the holiday season until January 9th. And during that time, qualified borrowers, families will have time to try to modify their loans.

Also this morning, Detroit's big three have 11 days to come up with a plan if they want a penny of the $25 billion bailout. Yesterday, lawmakers laid out their demands and also deadlines after the CEOs of the big three spent two days pleading for help but failed to convince Congress that they're worth it.


SEN. GEORGE VOINOVICH (R), OHIO: What we're asking for is a viability plan that will guarantee viability of the companies and guarantee that to the best of our ability the loans are going to be repaid and that we're not wasting taxpayer money. RON GETTELFINGER, PRESIDENT, UNITED AUTO WORKERS: It is not our fault that the economy is in the tank, that consumer confidence is low. And what we need is a low interest bridge loan to get us through this very difficult economic time in our country.


CHETRY: Now, Congress plans to return in mid-December if and only if the big three's proposals are acceptable, John. So still a big if they're getting that money.

ROBERTS: All right.

This morning as prices, profits and your investments fall, what's it going to take for Wall Street to get back up on its feet? We're "Minding Your Business" today. Our Christine Romans is here.

And Hillary Clinton's next step. Some insiders say now is not the time for Clinton to surrender her New York Senate seat. They'll tell us why.

It's eight minutes now after the hour.



DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Well, listen, here's how bad the economy is. Today, Oprah Winfrey on her show gave everybody in the audience a car company. Honest to God.



ROBERTS: Well, we're not giving away cars this morning but there are lots of reasons to watch and one of them is sitting right here with us this morning.

Christine Romans, it's good to see you.


CHETRY: Unfortunately, you always bring bad news of late.

ROMANS: I know. That's only because you needed that, not because I'm bringing only the bad news.

ROBERTS: Who could deliver the bad news better than her?

ROMANS: Look it, it was a horrible day yesterday. It really was a horrible day. Two bad days. And people keep asking me, you know, what's going to turn it around? What changes things, John and Kiran?

And there's one word. It's confidence, and there isn't any confidence. And no one knows what is the thing that's going to bring that confidence back.

When you have car companies leaving Washington empty handed, you know, without the money that they went to get, when you have all these questions about whether this bailout, the $700 billion bailout is working, all these questions about are banks lending? Will they be lending more? Did we do the right thing in capitalizing the banks?

You know, the banks since they got all that money from us, they agreed -- the big ones agreed to take, you know, $125 billion. The stocks have almost been cut in half some of them.

So where is the stability? Yesterday, I had an interview with Ken Rogoff, who's a former chief economist to the IMF and he's at Harvard. He's a guy who, the reason why I really trust what he says, four weeks before Lehman went down, he was in Singapore giving a speech saying a big investment bank is going to go down. We're not ready for it. You know, he predicted this. He said 300 (ph) crises and he says we're in the beginning of this crisis.

Confidence is the thing that has to come back and you can't buy confidence. So he says, hopefully, next year we can turn a corner if confidence comes back because of leadership of the new president, leadership of the new economic team. But he says we stand -- we could be, as he says, a day late and a trillion dollars short. We're behind the curve on all this.

ROBERTS: I think everything is in limbo until the 20th of January, and then maybe we'll get some sort of an indication of how things are going to go. But do you think the automakers, if they had come to Washington with a little more humility, do you think that they might have come away with something?

ROMANS: I think they might have come away with something, but I don't think that if they came away with something the stock market would have gone up.


ROMANS: I think you still could have seen a 400-point decline in the stock market. And that's the thing, trying to find the reason every morning why there was a big move. All of these support levels have blown out of stock.

Cash is king. How many people do you know who say to you, look, I'm out, I'm just out? I can't take it any more. People tell me that every single day. If those people cash out and move into cash, you know, it doesn't help the market. But, you know, there's a saying on Wall Street, you know, you don't ever want to catch a falling knife. You know, the knife is falling and anybody who steps in and tries to buy, they just -- they just find themselves lower again two weeks later.

ROBERTS: You know, what they do all day is just dream up these wacky metaphors for what the markets are?

ROMANS: Sit around. Well, you know -- yes. As a matter of fact, now, they sell stocks so they dream up wacky metaphors.

ROBERTS: Like a train going up the bank curve of a race track. Now, that's not --

ROMANS: Listen, it's all about confidence and there's no confidence. Consumers don't have confidence. Taxpayers don't have confidence.

CHETRY: Right.

ROMANS: They're just what will be that thing that brings it back. When it brings it back it's not like a bell is going to ring at the bottom and the stock market is going to take off.

We'll look back we'll say, oh, that's when confidence came back.

CHETRY: All right.

ROBERTS: They will eventually. Thanks, Christine.


CHETRY: Meanwhile, there's an urgent call to militaries worldwide after an alarming surge in pirate attacks. So just who are these thugs ruling the waves, and what can shipping companies do to protect themselves?

Also, it looks as if the president-elect has cleared the way to invite Senator Hillary Clinton into his inner circle. But could Clinton be using this long-drawn out process to position herself for something even bigger?

It's 14 and a half minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: All right. We have some breaking news this morning. Aides to President-elect Obama said that he is ready to bring Hillary Clinton on board as secretary of state. But a formal announcement will not happen until after thanksgiving, we're told. And while still unclear if Clinton even wants the job now, a lot of beltway insiders would love to see Hillary Clinton stay in the Senate.

So here to break it all down for us this morning, Jason Carroll joins me now. What's going on? If you do some of the reporting, it's that she was maybe leaning toward not taking the secretary of state.


CHETRY: Now, she's leaning towards it?


CHETRY: She's trying to get some goodies in the Senate, so what's the deal? CARROLL: The deal is this, she's got some great options ahead of her. You know, I mean, that's just the reality of it. Clinton has a lot of fans inside Washington and out. No matter what she decides, they say she is a political force to be reckoned with.


CARROLL (voice-over): The question of whether Senator Hillary Clinton wants to be secretary of state still unanswered. Not in question, her supporters say, her status in the Democratic Party.

HILARY ROSEN, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, HUFFINGTONPOST.COM: And Hillary Clinton is, frankly, a rock star wherever she goes.

CARROLL: But here's the reality. Clinton ranks 33rd in seniority among Senate Democrats. She has not had enough time in office to head a powerful subcommittee or committee. Technically, she's a junior senator.

But analyst say given her experience as a presidential candidate and the widespread support she earned, Clinton has all the political standing of a senior senator. So, if she stays in the Senate, political watchers say don't expect her to take a back seat to anyone.

ERIN BILLINGS, ROLL CALL: She's going to actually want to be if not driving the car, you know, riding shotgun so she can help get the credit and lay her fingerprints all over, whatever comes out.

CARROLL: Maybe that's why sources told CNN Clinton has already informed Democratic leaders she wants a new role if she stays in the Senate. As for whether she joins the administration, Clinton senior adviser says, "Any and all speculation about cabinet or other administration appointments is for President-elect Obama's transition team to address."

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: She has a larger than life presence. She is someone who is deeply respected by both sides of the aisle, and I think that if she decides to stay in the Senate which clearly, you know, that's not such a bad position.

CARROLL: Harold Ickes, a former Clinton aide, has known her for many years. His thoughts? Take a position in the Obama administration and lose your independence. You must in a sense tow the party line. Stay in the Senate, keep your independence.

HAROLD ICKES, FORMER CLINTON AIDE: My advice is, Hillary you have to decide what's best for you. That would be my going in and going out advice. I tend to value more independence.


CARROLL: It is clear that Clinton has come into her own as a political figure. That leads some analysts to say if she accepts the secretary of state job, she has the political backbone and the independence to maneuver herself within the Obama administration.

CHETRY: What do you think? You think head fake.

ROBERTS: No, no. I mean, it could be a head fake because they're famous for it. It's kind of like you want a better job you tell the people who are employing you now. Hey, I got this great offer over here.


ROBERTS: And so, they sweeten the pot. She -- I think she'd probably love to do the job. There is that interesting potential conflict between her husband's work overseas and the world leaders that he engages with, and the amount of work that he does, what she would do. Also, her vision of foreign policy versus Barack Obama's. Could those, you know, be at odds with each other or would they integrate very nicely?

CARROLL: Well, it's very clear that --

ROBERTS: It's a really, really fascinating idea.

CARROLL: Well, it's very clear that, you know, that she's a skilled politician but whatever she decides to do it seems very clear at least at this point that she seems to be gravitating toward the secretary of state position versus, you know, the Senate position. So either way she's going to win.

CHETRY: It's also clear that until she makes the call she's sucking the oxygen out of the room for the Obama transition team.


CHETRY: So it's also a question as to whether or not that's -- they're willing to deal with that.

ROBERTS: I think the hardest decision for her is if she stays in the Senate, she'll be elected senator from New York forever for the rest of her life. People love her here. She'll eventually become the senior senator. A real good shot that she could become the Senate majority leader. So does she want to give all that up for what typically is a one-term shot?

CHETRY: Four years.

ROBERTS: It's (INAUDIBLE) many secretaries of state in modern history, they don't want another term.

CARROLL: You know, but she's rewritten so many political stories.

ROBERTS: And where are they now?

CARROLL: Yes. That's true.

CHETRY: All right.


CHETRY: To be continued. Thanks, Jason.

CARROLL: All right.

CHETRY: Senator Ted Stevens, by the way, gets a goodbye on the Hill but his colleagues' tribute not what you'd expect for somebody who was convicted of a felony.

Also, breaking news, America's attorney general is in the hospital this morning collapsing during a speech last night. How is he doing this morning?

We're going to be speaking with our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

It's 22 minutes after the hour.



SEN. TED STEVENS (R), ALASKA: I don't have any rear-view mirror. I look only forward. And I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me.


ROBERTS: Disgraced and defeated, convicted Senator Ted Stevens delivering his swan song from the floor of the Senate. As he left the chamber, Senators were nearly tripping over themselves praising the longest serving Republican who used his position in some ways to get free gifts.

CNN political contributor Dana Milbank at the "Washington Post" joins me now.

And, Dana, you would think that there will be a lot of people saying, hey, Senator Stevens, don't let the door hit you on the butt on the way out. But they gave him a standing ovation.

DANA MILBANK, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Standing ovation. There were about 30 senators in the room. I literally saw grown men weeping as he gave his farewell address there and that's because Senator Stevens has done some time not yet perhaps in the cooler but he's done 40 years in that body. And, you know, it was sort of a passing of that generation. Robert Byrd on his 91st birthday was giving this tribute to Stevens and you sort of saw the old bull (ph) lining up to say farewell to one of their own.

ROBERTS: As you said there and as you pointed out in your column, been in the Senate for 40 years, and then you write, "that it's shocking that he would chuck it all for massage chairs and Christmas lights and a deck for his chalet."

I mean, he's not the only guy that's prone to corruption. But why would you take a lengthy and storied career such as his in the Senate and throw it all away for some renovations on your house? MILBANK: This is the perpetual mystery of politics why these very powerful figures do things. They sort of penny anti-corruption here.

This is a guy who controlled billions and billions of dollars and at most the prosecutors say they're talking about $250,000 worth of, you know, a new deck here on the chalet, the Shiatsu massage lounger from Brookstone. So it's just inexplicable to those of us who have not held this position of power and then presumably find themselves and think that they're invulnerable, that they live by a different set of rules.

ROBERTS: Yes. Like the governor from Connecticut. He went down on renovations to his house as well. Do you think with the incoming administration, the new Congress, people, you know, talking to the caucus and saying look, end the corruption now? Are things going to be different going forward or will this just sort of like be papered over for a few months and then it will be business as usual.

MILBANK: It seems to me that it's just a matter of human nature that these, that this will happen. Certainly these old bulls are gone but then the young bulls will become old bulls and this sort of thing will occur all over again. It's just -- it has always happened and for reasons that sort of escape all of us watching it. It's constantly happening over and over again.

ROBERTS: You've been watching Washington for so long here, Dana. I mean, not to date you or anything like that. But you certainly have -- you certainly do have a vast experience in Washington. What do you think about this idea of Hillary Clinton becoming secretary of state? It looks like it's pretty much a done deal now.

MILBANK: That's the way it sounds. And certainly speaking as a journalist, this is a wonderful thing for all of us. Just when we were worried that the president-elect may be too earnest and boring in his role, we have a potential for all this palace intrigue. We have the potential for Bill Clinton to sound off at any moment.

So it's definitely going to make the next four years livelier. It may increase the president's headaches, but that will certainly make for a good story one way or the other.

ROBERTS: Do you think she's going to be the loyal foot soldier as Condoleezza Rice was? Or might there be sort of a George Bush-Colin Powell relationship where there was some tension between them?

MILBANK: When you see loyal foot soldier I think in the dictionary, they do not necessarily turn to Hillary Clinton first, but she's capable of doing many things. But, you know, the fact is now, maybe the joke is ultimately on her that when the 3:00 a.m. call comes into the White House that Obama just transfers it over to the State Department. She can deal with it.

ROBERTS: Phone rings in the White House. Barack picks it up and says Hillary, it's for you. Dana, good to see you this morning. Have a great weekend.

MILBANK: Thanks, John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, buddy.

CHETRY: Well, it's 30 minutes after the hour. We check our top stories. And what a way to start the weekend. Gas now two bucks a gallon for the first time since March of 2005. According to AAA, the average price for a gallon is now $1.99 a gallon. Back in July, you guys remember, we were paying four bucks or more a gallon.

Well, John just said President-elect Barack Obama appears set to nominate Senator Hillary Clinton for secretary of state. Now, aides to Obama say he'll announce the nomination after Thanksgiving. The news comes with word that both sides have reached an agreement on how to keep former President Bill Clinton's vast network of business and charitable dealings from posing as a conflict.

And Republican Senator Norm Coleman's edge over opponent Democrat Al Franken is slipping as the Minnesota recount enters its third day. According to yesterday's tally, Franken now trails Coleman by 129 votes. Coleman had a 215 vote advantage, heading into the recount. Still though, 60 percent of the 2.9 million ballots need to be counted.

And returning to our breaking news. Attorney General Michael Mukasey is in the hospital after he collapsed while giving a speech last night. It was really a frightening scene and CNN was there.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, no. Oh, no. Oh, my God.


CHETRY: So there you see it happening. America's Attorney General Michael Mukasey again collapsing as he was giving a speech. Our Sanjay Gupta has been able to view the video and he joins us now with more on what his condition could be.

Now, we're hearing he's OK and he's conscious and able to communicate this morning. A lot of people were asking, did he have a stroke?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. And that's obviously a very reasonable question watching that video. There's several things to sort of notice and if we can go through that once more. I know it's a little bit difficult to look at. A couple of things to sort of point out.

He starts to have difficulties with word finding at first. He was saying a word. He starts to repeat that word over and over again. And then he sort of falls a little bit to his right and then he slumps over.

So, three things -- the word finding difficulties, the slumping over to his right and then seemingly seems to pass out. That is suggestive that something sudden happened that's sort of in the brain. And when that sort of thing happens, it typically is associated with some sort of poor blood flow to the brain. So, one of the blood vessels in the neck may have become slightly blocked or something may have happened in the brain.

Now, Kiran, what you point out is important in that he was in good spirits when he got to the hospital. He was conversant. He was awake. He was alert. It sounds like whatever happened sort of resolved itself. And again, that's pretty important. It may have been more of a temporary or TIA sort of situation or mini stroke it's sometimes called. Doctors are probably investigating exactly what happened still this morning, Kiran.

CHETRY: So, what do they do going forward? I mean, he's a man in relatively good health, right? He is in his mid-60s. Are they going to be changing medication? Are they going to be looking at the carotid artery? I mean, what do they do in this situation to make sure it doesn't happen again?

GUPTA: Right. There's a few things. You want to figure out why exactly this happened. And it could be some of the things that you mentioned. Probably, they're going to get a CAT scan of the brain to try and find out if there's some sort of bleeding within the brain. It doesn't sound like it, given that he seems to be back to himself at least this morning.

Could it all to be one of the major blood vessels that goes to the brain? Could there have been a temporary blockage of one of those blood vessels? Sometimes, they'll just do an ultrasound test on the neck to see if there's a blockage.

Though sometimes, they'll get an echocardiogram of the heart as well to see if there's any blood clots that are coming from the heart and going to various parts of the body.

You need to do all these tests. It may be simple for him in the end as saying you need to be on an aspirin, you need to be on a slight dose of a blood thinner, some sort like that. It's hard to say exactly what they're thinking. But given that he seems to be back to his normal self this morning, it's probably very good chance that he'll be out of the hospital within a day or so and follow up with some of these tests. Maybe change the medication to a blood thinner.

CHETRY: All right. I mean, it was just really shocking to see that video. You know, when you're actually watching that happen, especially in a public place like that. Thank goodness, somebody was able to catch him. If you weren't with somebody and you fell, it could -- you know, on top of that injury, he could have really hurt himself.

GUPTA: Absolutely. And you know, I got to tell you, even as a neurosurgeon, you rarely see video like that because it is not commonly caught on camera. But to see sort of that sequence of events, again, sort of the loss of words. He was sitting there talking, but he couldn't find the word, sort of fell over to his right, which is just -- the right side of his body was a little weak and then the slump over completely. You saw. I mean, it's a rare look at sort of the evolution of what was likely a mini stroke.

CHETRY: All right. Sanjay, thanks for being with us this morning.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ROBERTS: A perfect storm more than three years after Hurricane Katrina. Why no one wants to return to New Orleans. Our Soledad O'Brien has got the story that no one wants to tell. She's got it coming right up. It's 35 minutes after the hour.

CHETRY: The perfect fry. A dream come true for kids. McDonald's tries to sell moms on the golden goodness of the French fries.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The most important thing that I learned was that McDonald's really wants to know what moms want.


CHETRY: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: 38-1/2 minutes now after the hour. It's been more than three hours since Hurricane Katrina wiped away law and order in New Orleans. But the city still has the highest murder rate in the nation. And fear of crime and corruption is slowing the return to normalcy. Thirty percent of residents have stayed away from New Orleans for various reasons. Our Soledad O'Brien spent some time with some of the homicide detectives who are trying to clean up the streets. One crime at a time.


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): April 17th, Guy McEwen is murdered in broad daylight just one block from an elementary school. He had just turned 20. On a big case like this, lead detective Harold Wischan and his partner Anthony Pardo can expect to work a 30-hour shift.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I have ER? I have a number for the Signal 30.

O'BRIEN: Signal 30 -- cop lingo for homicide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He was shot multiple times.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Got it. Here we go.

O'BRIEN: There are witnesses and plenty of evidence. AK-47, a 9mm pistol rounds are scattered across the crime scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whoever finds, whoever's first, let's take him down.

O'BRIEN: Detectives Wischan and Pardo hope to make an arrest tonight. They go house to house in search of a murder weapon.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Could be a crack house. Could be a crack house. Police.


O'BRIEN: Open doors lead nowhere. Around 3:00 a.m....

SGT. JOSEPH CATALANOTTO, NEW ORLEANS POLICE: It's over for tonight. We have some specific things that we need to do that can't happen tonight, that can only happen in the morning. And so we go on and refuel.

O'BRIEN: Wischan and Pardo ran into a wall of silence.

(on camera): So how many eyewitnesses would you estimate you had on this block?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: From the information we received, that's probably maybe 15 people outside.

O'BRIEN: 15, 20 people?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody will say anything.

O'BRIEN: Really? What do they tell you?

I didn't see anything.

O'BRIEN: Why do you think they are reluctant to talk?


O'BRIEN: Yes. Retaliation?



ROBERTS: So, New Orleans has always had a violent history.


ROBERTS: What's driving it now?

O'BRIEN: Well, you know, they lost the infrastructure basically in Hurricane Katrina and so they've been trying to rebuild that infrastructure three years later. But I think it's a lot of what we saw before the storm. You have huge social problems. You have a police department that is struggling to really control areas, where some people abandon their homes and they no longer have a neighbor looking out for neighbor. So you saw at some of that videotape -- some of those are stash houses. It's very difficult to have a home that's standing -- a stash house, a home that's standing. So, there are logistical challenges for the NOPD. You have the D.A.'s office where, literally, evidence sometimes is there, sometimes it's not there.

And you have people who refuse to testify, who say they're going to testify, who change their mind on the stand. And people on the street who say, you know, shooting in broad daylight, I didn't see anything.

And all those are big challenges for bringing the city back. And I think, plus a sense of corruption around the city has sucked a lot of the money out.

ROBERTS: Real challenges. It's such a shame that three -- more than three years after the hurricane that they're still beset with such huge problems.

O'BRIEN: Yes, but, you know, they are trying to turn it around. Those detectives work incredibly hard. The D.A.'s office working, you know, I would long give up, but they're still going. And you see a number of people. They've got an Inspector General. And all trying to say this is a moment where we can recapture this city which has always had a high crime rate.

ROBERTS: To give some hope there. Definitely an eye-opening experience. Soledad, thanks for sharing it with us.

Don't forget, tune in this week as CNN presents "ONE CRIME AT A TIME," a critical look at the fear effect in New Orleans and endangering its future. That's tomorrow and Sunday at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And as always, we expect this one to do very well because people love to tune in to Soledad's investigative reports. Yes. 42 minutes now after the hour.

Paying off pirates.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an appalling situation -- paying money knowing that that will further enhance the capability of the criminals.


ROBERTS: The secretive and sometimes deadly transactions that free hijacked tankers on the high seas.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's become a very lucrative revenue stream for them.


ROBERTS: You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Well, this morning, major shipping companies are urging navies around the world to step up their crackdown of pirates off the coast of Africa. This comes as 17 cargo ships remain in the hands of pirates. But don't be fooled by the pictures. These ragtag rebels capturing the boats are actually part of a highly organized crime syndicate. And the way that they make the money is far more complex than just the brazen hijackings that we hear about every week.

CNN's international security correspondent Paula Newton is working this story, joins us live from London.

A lot of people are fascinated by this notion in general of who these people are and how they're able to pull this off time and time again.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: You know, Kiran, as you said, they look like ragtag folks. But as this business has become more and more lucrative, these new modern-day pirates have actually become very successful businessmen.


NEWTON (voice-over): The moment the Sirius Star was hijacked, it went from being a super tanker to a cash cow. Maritime security experts say it is now likely the only way to rescue the 25 hostages is to pay the pirates a multimillion dollar ransom. Negotiations on that payoff are already underway.

PRINCE SAUD AL-FAISAL, SAUDI FOREIGN MINISTER: We do not like to negotiate with either terrorists or hijackers. But the owners of the tankers are the owners of the tankers and they are the final arbiters of what happens there.

NEWTON: A maritime security source, now involved in ransom negotiations with hijacked ships, tell CNN after a lead negotiator gets agreement on a ransom, one of the most complicated and dangerous sticking points is how to physically transfer millions of dollars to pirates. Security experts say months ago, a complicated web of bank transfers, using offshore jurisdictions was preferred.

But now, pirates are demanding cold hard cash up front and it can involve many daring middlemen who in the past have been killed delivering ransom. And more and more, that money is being funneled through crime syndicates around the world who take their cut, transport the rest of the pirates and use their profit to bankroll even bolder attacks with bigger payoffs.

PETER HINCHCLIFFE, INTERNATIONAL CHAMBER OF SHIPPING: What alternative does the ship owner have? It is an appalling situation -- paying money knowing that that will further enhance the capability of the criminals ashore.

NEWTON: The key is how piracy is paying off on shore. Somali pirates are increasingly influential, well armed and even celebrated in Somalia.

CHRIS AUSTEN, MARITIME SECURITY EXPERT: It's become a very lucrative revenue stream for them and I think they'll be very reluctant to see -- to see it disappear.

NEWTON: Even with the world's most powerful navies now on the hunt for modern-day Captain Hooks, most pirates can still bank on a big payoff, which only emboldens them to take to the sea once more.


NEWTON: You know, at this very moment, we have more than a dozen negotiations going on to save the lives of probably upwards of 100 crew members. A lot of the payoffs, Kiran, expected to be in the multimillions of dollars.


CHETRY: A lot of this shipping companies choosing to avoid that area as well even though that's costing several thousands dollars as well. Paula Newton for us this morning. Thanks so much. It's 48 minutes after the hour.

ROBERTS: The summit snub.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He seems like the most unpopular kid in high school that nobody liked. You know, the one with the cooties.


ROBERTS: The internet buzz over a lonely-looking President Bush. Jeanne Moos gets to the bottom of a most unusual moment. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


ROBERTS: It was a moment interpreted on CNN this week as an international dissing of a U.S. president. Videotape of President Bush not shaking hands with anyone at the gathering of world leaders. But as Jeanne Moos explains, perception is everything but that's not always the truth.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the story of the snub that wasn't. Take one unpopular American president hosting a summit. Surround him with world leaders shaking hands with everyone but him. Next thing you know it's the diss heard around the blogosphere, link back to CNN.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: I want you to look at this video, all right? It seems almost sad.

MOOS: "The Daily Show" played it. It's the show closing moment of Zen. The White House probably wasn't feeling so Zen when it heard interpretations like this.

VOICE OF SANCHEZ: And he seems like the most unpopular kid in high school that nobody liked. You know, the one with cooties.

MOOS: Cooties? You can't shrug off cooties.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you very much.


BUSH: How are you doing?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm fine. Thank you.

MOOS: It turns out the president had already shaken everybody's hand earlier that same day. In fact, he had shaken most of their hands twice starting the day before. Responding to the where's the love perceived snub, the White House noted the president had already greeted all of those leaders prior to this picture, whereas the other leaders had not had the opportunity to greet each other yet that morning.

(on camera): When it comes to diplomatic protocol there is one unshakeable rule, shake hands no matter how much you like or dislike a leader, unless you're outright enemies.

(voice-over): The snub that wasn't occurred as the leaders were lining up for a group photo. They took the picture and they had to turn around and do it again, because Argentina's first female president arrived late. Oops. Take two.

Despite the snubber-in-chief talk, there was plenty of back slapping and patting at the summit. As for likening the president to --

SANCHEZ: The one with the cooties

MOOS: Tell that to Italy's prime minister. He and President Bush palled around like a couple of old coots.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.

ROBERTS: The collapse of the Attorney General.





ROBERTS: The latest on his condition now. Plus, Barack Obama's security breach. Who rifled through his cell phone records? Now someone knows all the phone numbers of the people the president-elect calls the most. You're watching the "Most News in the Morning."


CHETRY: Well, they are hot, they are crispy, they are golden and delicious. We're talking about McDonald's fries and maybe they are a guilty pleasure for you that maybe you manage to resist. But, they are not good for you, right? We all know that. Well, Carol Costello is live in Washington, looking at some McDonald's moms calling these spuds down right wholesome.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Moms talking to moms. What could be more effective? You know, Kiran, most companies are tanking right now, not McDonald's. In the words of the company, we're doing great. Two reasons why? Bad economic times means you got to buy cheaper food and maybe, just maybe, the McDonald's moms are making a difference.


COSTELLO: Hitting the McDonald's fries, arguably delicious yet so bad for your waistline.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I got my two sacks of McGoodness right here.

COSTELLO: What are they, really?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a fantastic fries. These fries are going to dump right in this jar.

COSTELLO: Morgan Spurlock who made the documentary "Super Size Me" famously demonstrated McDonald's fries never seem to decompose like other foods, even after three weeks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's right. There's some kind of fluke-a (ph) nature.

COSTELLO: That would give any mom pause until perhaps now.

Meet the McDonald's moms -- Gilda, Joanna, Tanya and the rest all real moms who volunteer at ambassadors for McDonalds. They are real moms who volunteer as ambassadors for McDonald's.

MONICA FUENTES, MCDONALD'S MOM: The most important thing that I learned from the last trip was that McDonald's really wants to know what moms want. They are giving us a voice.

COSTELLO: The moms visit the actual farm where McDonald's spuds are grown.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have the opportunity to actually ride on a potato digger.

COSTELLO: And they follow those potatoes through the factory all the way to the restaurant.

TARA HAYES, MCDONALDS: It's really giving them that transparent all access opportunity. So, you know, they can ask questions about everything along the way.

COSTELLO: The moms venues that transparency to visit moms across the country extolling the natural in McDonalds food. Some health experts worry this marketing campaign will give parents the wrong impression that McDonald's fries are actually good for you. Remember, a jumbo McDonald's fries has 500 calories and 25 grams of fat. Most of the parents we talked with say they are not fooled.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If a mom told you that McDonald's French fries would be good for your kid, would you believe her?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. No. Because I would never eat it. I would never feed it to a child.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would say McDonald's is out of its mind.

COSTELLO: Still, the thought at McDonald's fries really are real and yes they do have good stuff in them too like fiber and potassium. That is hard to resist.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm going to eat them regardless, so it doesn't matter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do your kids like it?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They ask for it?



COSTELLO: That's I do. You know, I talked with the McDonald's mom, Gilda was her name. She says she's not saying that McGiddys (ph) fries are ultra nutritional, but she does feel better about them now that she's seen how they are made and they are made from real potatoes. Her kids get a French fry treat only once a week. Oh, and she's also seen the chickens, Kiran, the chicken McNuggets are made of. She went to the chicken farm.

CHETRY: I hear you. Listen, I do it once a week, too. My 18-months- old, my daughter would point to the golden arches and beg to go there. I mean, it's so strange how the kiddies catch on very quickly that McDonalds is where they want to go.

COSTELLO: It's frightening. Like they put some secret ingredient in there that, that sort of like captures children forever.

CHETRY: I got to say I'm a sucker for the fries, too.

Thanks for giving us the calorie and fat counts this morning, Carol. Bringing us back down to earth.

Carol, good to see you. Thank you.