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American Journalists Held in North Korea Heading Home; Gym Shooting in Pennsylvania, 4 Dead, Including Gunman; Obama Takes His Economic Message to Elkhart, Indiana; Congress Members' District Meetings Become Shoutfests; Terror Ringleader's Comments on Tape

Aired August 05, 2009 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And a good Wednesday morning to you. Thanks very much for joining us on the Most News in the Morning on this Wednesday, the 5th of August. I'm John Roberts.

KIRAN CHETRY, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Kiran Chetry. We start with some breaking news this morning.

American journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee are now free and they are now on a plane with former President Bill Clinton. They're expected on the ground in California in a little more than an hour. We're live with that. Plus, the White House also releasing some new information on the back channel discussions that helped to get those women out of North Korea.

ROBERTS: A deadly shooting spree inside a gym in western Pennsylvania. Police say the gunman strolled into an exercise class and started spraying bullets killing three people before taking his own life. CNN's Susan Candiotti is live at the scene in suburban Pittsburgh for us this morning.

CHETRY: And President Obama taking his economic message to Elkhart, Indiana today. It's a town in desperate need of some help. The recession has rocked the so-called RV capital of the world. Ed Henry is live in Elkhart as well to preview the president's visit.

ROBERTS: We begin this morning with the breaking news the two American journalists held in North Korea are right now heading home. Euna Lee and Laura Ling are no doubt counting the seconds until they touch down in Burbank, California. You will see their emotional reunion with their family right here on AMERICAN MORNING.

And it took some star power diplomacy to secure their release. Former President Bill Clinton swoop into Pyongyang yesterday. Less than 24 hours later, he was back on the plane with the journalists at his side.

We're all over the story this morning. Foreign affairs correspondent Jill Dougherty is live in Washington. Thelma Gutierrez is live at the airport in Burbank, California awaiting their arrival. We're also going to speak with CNN's chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour. But first, let's start with Jill. And, Jill, we're learning new details from the White House this morning on how this full thing came to pass. And it took a number of weeks to put it all together.

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John. You know, there's really a fascinating back story to all of this and those details are beginning to come out. But starting with the most immediate thing, you know, these senior administration officials are saying that President Obama did call the parents of Laura Ling and Euna Lee between 8:30 and 9:30 last night. He congratulated them. And the good news is that they are in good health.

Also, in North Korea, it turns out wanted Bill Clinton right from the beginning. And we're told that North Korea told these women -- and they were actually able to call their parents while they were there from time to time, they told their parents that North Korea was willing to grant them amnesty and release them if an envoy in the person of President Clinton would come to Pyongyang and make the case for their release.

And then another interesting point is that President Obama never spoke with former President Clinton directly about this issue. And that, of course, is that they're trying to keep these issues separate, the journalists and the overall relationship which as you know is very tense -- John.

ROBERTS: So we see so many things coming out of this meeting. I think they met for about -- for almost 3 1/2 hours between a meeting that they had, a little bilateral meeting and then they had dinner as well. We saw those pictures. I guess you can call them the status shots for Kim Jong-il seated side-by-side with President Clinton. He being very stoic. President Clinton and Kim Jong-il smiling about the whole thing.

So, he got that status picture. But we also wonder too where all of this is going. President Clinton said he was over there on a humanitarian mission. But, you know, aides who were involved in this briefing last night suggested that, you know, nuclear disarmament has been a big topic for President Clinton and it's likely that that came up in a meeting that was supposed to be only about the release of these two people.

DOUGHERTY: Yes, although, John, you have to say that they're being very careful. They're not saying that Bill Clinton negotiated anything. They're saying he was there. He talked about the journalists, he wanted them freed. But, he expressed we understand some of his opinions about denuclearization. The fact that the U.S. and the rest of the world, practically, believes that North Korea should give up its nuclear program but it's two tracked. They're not going to let those combine in any way.

ROBERTS: And so we all wonder where this goes from here. And I guess we'll see in the coming weeks and months. Jill Dougherty for us live in Washington this morning. Jill, thanks.

CHETRY: And as we mentioned, Euna Lee and Laura Ling are flying over the Pacific as we speak and they're expected to land at the airport in Burbank, California in a little more than an hour. CNN's Thelma Gutierrez is live at the airport and I'm sure these families are waiting eagerly to finally be reunited. What have you heard from them this morning?

THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kiran, we're still waiting for them to arrive. But I can tell you there are lots of preparations that are going on right here at the Bob Hope Airport. Now, this section of the airport where we're standing right now is where the private planes land and take off. Lots of high-profile people and executives use this airport.

Now, you can see lots of media gathered out here right in front of the gates. We're waiting for those gates to open so that the media can be escorted in to hangar 25. That is the area where we understand that the news conference will take place and where this reunion will happen.

Again, you had mentioned that former President Clinton and Vice President Gore and the journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, are scheduled to land here within the next one to two hours. You just have to imagine what their families are going through. They haven't seen each other in 140 days. March, they were arrested. And then June, they were sentenced to 12 years of hard labor. And here we are, in a couple of hours, these families will be united.

Now, Doug Ling, whose the father of Lisa Ling and Laura Ling, spoke to reporters right outside of his house yesterday. He said that this was going to be the happiest day of his life. He said this was the worst time that he had ever gone through but he never gave up faith.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Did you know President Clinton was going?

DOUG LING, LAURA LING'S FATHER: I had a good idea that he was going.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Describe your journey today here?

LING: Well, I'm more excited. I'm more excited and I'm looking forward to seeing her. Well, I waited for five months now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you going to tell your daughter when you see her?

LING: I love you. Give her a big hug.


GUTIERREZ: Now, Euna Lee's husband, Michael Saldate (ph), her 4- year-old daughter, Hannah, are expected to be here along with Laura Ling's husband of 12 years, Ian Clayton. All will be here waiting for this very joyous occasion. And again, you will see it all live right here this morning. Kiran, back to you. CHETRY: All right. Thelma Gutierrez for us. Thanks so much.

And stay with us. Coming up this morning, 6:12 Eastern, we're going to be speaking to CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. She was last year granted unprecedented access to North Korea's nuclear facility. She's going to weigh in on what the fallout is from this release of the two girls, the prisoners, and how it can affect long-term negotiations between the United States and North Korea down the road.

Also at 6:32 Eastern, we're going to be speaking to former Defense Secretary William Cohen who served under President Clinton. Find out why he thinks the former president was tapped to secure Euna Lee and Laura Ling's release.

ROBERTS: Now to the breaking news out of Pennsylvania, a deadly shooting at a gym in suburban Pittsburgh. Police say a gunman opened fire, killing three people before taking his own life. At least ten others were wounded, some of them critically. It happened in Bridgeville, Pennsylvania. It's not far from downtown Pittsburgh.

CNN's Susan Candiotti traveled there overnight. And, Susan, you're getting new information at this hour. What can you tell us about what happened last evening?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: John, some of the new information includes this -- the gunman, it turns out, was a member of this club and that he walked in and pulled this off without saying a word. Also new, he had a note in the gym bag that he was carrying and he got off as many as 50 rounds according to the police before taking his own life.

Now, the gym was crowded at 8:15 in the early evening after the dinner hour when we're getting chilling details of this methodical killer. As he walked into an exercise room according to witnesses, he stood there for about a minute, put the gym bag down, took out two guns, then turned out the lights and started shooting. There was pure pandemonium.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They were in a Pilates class or something like that. And they turned the lights out and all of a sudden the shooting started. So, she said she saw one of the guys had a black hat on and that's all she knew.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She shut the lights off in the aerobic room. And by the time I realized what was going on, I looked over to the aerobic room and I could see flashes in the dark, and that's when I realized that someone was actually using a firearm inside of there.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I took my headphones off because I had my headphones on. And then I heard a loud banging noise repeatedly like three or four. And that's when I kind of knew what was going on, you know, that someone was shooting the place up with a firearm.


CANDIOTTI: Now the "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" quotes two sources as saying one of the victims is an ex-girlfriend of the shooter. The police chief wouldn't comment on all that. Three people died at the scene, one other died at the hospital. At least ten others wounded. And the police chief wouldn't say what was in that note that was found in the bag. And then he added this of the gunman -- he did what he set out to do and I don't think anyone could have stopped him -- John.

ROBERTS: Susan, 50 rounds fired? Do we know what kind of weapon he was using?

CANDIOTTI: We don't. Those are the details we're also waiting for. Two handguns, one was described as maybe a short rifle. But still waiting for those details.

ROBERTS: Susan Candiotti for us outside of Pittsburgh this morning. Susan, thanks so much for that.

CHETRY: Also some other stories new this morning, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad officially beginning his second term in office. He was sworn in overnight, pledging to move the country forward and blasting those who claim he stole the June presidential election. Hundreds of protesters gathered in the streets of Tehran. Riot police fired tear gas at the crowd.

ROBERTS: If you're a homeowner struggling to avoid foreclosure, you're not alone. A progress report on the Obama administration's $50 billion plan to help you found only nine percent of eligible borrowers received modified loans and the bulk of those modifications came from just a handful of lenders.

CHETRY: And Paula Abdul out to be "American Idol" judge confirming the rumors last night on her Twitter page that she will not be back for the show's ninth season. Abdul said she'll miss nurturing new talent and being part of the show she "helped from day one become an international phenomenon." Audiences for the new season -- auditions actually for the new season of "American Idol" actually begin tomorrow.

ROBERTS: I'm sure she'll miss the paycheck as well.


ROBERTS: That was pretty good.

Christiane Amanpour, our chief international correspondent, coming up right after the break to talk about North Korea, the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling, and what all of this might bode for the future between our relations between the United States and North Korea. Stay tuned for that, coming right up.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news. CHETRY: We have new developments this morning at 12 1/2 minutes past the hour of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling. They are now on their way home flying somewhere over the Pacific as we speak, and they're expected to arrive in Burbank, California in little more than an hour.

Former President Bill Clinton secured their release after meeting with North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il. So what if anything did both sides have to give up? And what if anything did either side gain in all of this?

We're all over the story this morning. Joining me now on the phone is CNN's chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour. You may remember Christiane was granted unprecedented access to North Korea's nuclear facility last year.

Christiane, thanks for being with us this morning.


CHETRY: Now, of course, we know the breaking news headline out of all of this is the release of these two young women who were held there. They were reporters detained after crossing the border, apparently, between China and North Korea. But on a larger scale, the diplomacy that perhaps took place here, what are your thoughts on what the former president may have accomplished by going to North Korea?

AMANPOUR: Well, of course, all sides maintaining that this was a purely private and humanitarian mission. And clearly what's being gained in the immediate is the release of two U.S. journalists. Now, this is very important. But also what's significant is that President Clinton put his prestige and that of the presidency on the line when he went there. It was clear that he went there with at least the expectation of success -- otherwise it's unlikely that a former president would have made that high-stakes gamble to go over there.

What's very interesting is that all sides say the president did not take any message from President Obama to Kim Jong-il, but that he did have a long weekend with Kim Jong-il, perhaps more than three hours including dinner that photos were released and that this was at least something that North Korea wanted to promote. We don't know whether Kim Jong-il may have sent a message back with President Clinton.

What's also interesting is that President Clinton was met when he landed in Pyongyang by among other Kim Kye Gwan, who is the foreign ministry official and is the chief nuclear negotiator of North Korea, someone who I had exclusive meetings with when I visited North Korea along with a few other journalists back a year ago. And also we did have unprecedented access to the nuclear facilities at the time. They had closed them down, stopped operating and stopped reprocessing plutonium and we also were able to see the explosion of North Korea's nuclear cooling tower.

All to say that Kim Kye Gwan and others did tell me that North Korea, at least their faction was interested in resolving these outstanding issues with the United States. Obviously things have been complicated over the last year by the failing health and presumably power struggle of Kim Jong-il and the North Korean leadership -- Kiran.

CHETRY: And, Christiane, I want to ask you about that because in the picture, I mean, there has been so much speculation about the state of North Korea's leader, his health. Talk of possibly pancreatic cancer among a litany of other ailments. In these pictures, what are your thoughts on how he looks and how he appears standing next to the former president?

AMANPOUR: Well, I'm not going to speculate on his health. I'm just going to say that what's obvious is that he's obviously still there. He's obviously still in a position of leadership. He met with President Clinton and President Clinton will have a lot more to say on how he found Kim Jong-il.

If you speak to people who have met him, for instance, the last senior American official to do so was Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President Clinton's secretary of state, and she told us and she said many times that she found him to be incredibly engaged, incredibly aware of the dynamics, obviously, not only in North Korea- U.S. relations but North Korea relations with the rest of the world. And he is not closed off in some kind of hermit situation without access to global information. He has access to Internet, CNN, satellite, and the like. And she found him incredibly plugged in.

Again, it's going to be very important to see whether any message came back because right now, North Korea is under U.N. sanctions again because of its testing of the nuclear device and its firing of ballistic missiles between April and May. And it has said publicly that it doesn't want to restart the Six-party talks. However, president -- or rather Kim Jong-il, apparently, according to the journalists themselves who called home in the summer in July, said that they would be granted amnesty if such a high-profile emissary such as President Clinton would come to North Korea.

Perhaps there was a message transmitted. Perhaps there would be some room back into the Six-party talks with the U.S. and the others to those talks, are very interested in getting under way again to continue the disarmament of North Korea's nuclear program.

CHETRY: All right. So we'll see whether or not this is one step forward in perhaps coming to some sort of international agreement down the road or whether this was just an isolated incident for the two families.

Christiane Amanpour, CNN chief international correspondent on the phone from France this morning. Thanks, Christiane.

ROBERTS: President Obama making a return visit to the RV capital of the world. Our Ed Henry is there live and he'll be joining us coming up next.

Eighteen minutes now after the hour. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. President Obama turns his attention back to the economy today. He travels this morning to Elkhart, Indiana, otherwise known as the RV capital of the world.

The town has been hit hard by the recession. Unemployment there is down but still nearly -- get this -- 17 percent. That is, however, a big improvement.

It's the president's second visit to Elkhart since taking office. He was there back in February. CNN's Ed Henry live there this morning in the Barcalounger with a preview. Obviously, you are living the dream here of the RV capital of the world, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. That's right, John, and good morning.

I think this is the base of the original man cave. I'm here at a La-Z-Boy. We've got a flat screen TV here, reading the paper, full dining room, a kitchen with a sink. They've got a couple of ovens. But obviously people are hard hit here. An RV like this with all the amenities goes from $50,000 to $70,000.

Obviously people are not buying that right now. They don't even have the money to go on vacation, but there are tiny rays of hope. You open up the "South Bend Tribune" this morning, they've got a story about the president. But right beneath it, story that an RV supplier that makes these very refrigerators, is saying they're going to hire more than 350 people in the coming months. And I can tell you folks here in this small city say they think the stimulus is starting to work.


HENRY (voice-over): The recession has absolutely rocked the RV capital of the world. Elkhart, Indiana's unemployment rate peaked at 19 percent, twice the national average, as dealers of recreational vehicles struggled to stay afloat.

ROB REID, GREAT LAKES RV CENTER: It's been the most difficult thing I've done in my 42 years of life. It's -- it was a struggle. It -- nobody saw it coming.

HENRY: Rob Reid says he's using less electricity each day to pinch pennies at this location after closing his other dealership, forcing him to lay off a dozen employees.

REID: Being a smaller or medium-sized company, they become your friends, you know, because we're with them even more so than we are our families a lot of times.

HENRY: At city hall, Democratic Mayor Dick Moore says traffic at local food banks has never been so intense. And donated backpacks are pouring in for kids going back to school. Still, the mayor believes Elkhart is getting back on its feet, thanks to a $14 million in stimulus money, though he cautions the president can't get too optimistic.

MAYOR DICK MOOORE, ELKHART, INDIANA: That's what I would say to him. You know, thank you, Mr. President. This program is working here in Elkhart, Indiana. Now, the problem with that is the guy that's standing here in your place that's unemployed, he doesn't buy that at all.

HENRY: The mayor insists stimulus money spent around the country is trickling down to his city as people are starting to buy RVs again.

MOORE: It isn't an Elkhart, Indiana stimulus program. It isn't a state of Indiana stimulus program. It's a stimulus program for the United States of America. So when you talk about how the money flows, somebody gets money in California and one of our factories shares supplies and parts for that company in California, we benefit from it.

HENRY: Back at the RV lot, Rob Reid agrees sales have picked up, and so has his outlook.

REID: I also feel optimistic because if you start to feel it then, your customers are going to feel it. So, you know, we're optimistic no matter what happens because we don't want the economy or the doldrums of Elkhart right now to set the tone for our business.


HENRY: And they're optimistic here at the Great Lakes RV Center because they say, look, unemployment is about 16, 17 percent here. It used to be 19 or 20 percent. It's gotten better. But obviously, that's still bad. Sixteen, 17 percent, much worse than the national average of 9.5 percent.

And you've got a lot of Republicans back in Washington like Congressman John Boehner saying, look, the stimulus is not working quickly enough. It's not the jolt that the president promised. And the fact of the matter is they don't think it's done quite enough. But folks here on the ground, John, they say they're patient. They say they think the federal government is doing as much as they can, and they think it is starting to turn around. They're seeing some rays of hope here, John.

ROBERTS: All right. Well, we'll see how it goes. Ed, I've got to tell you, I'm jealous of you today. The RV you're in is bigger than my apartment in New York.

HENRY: It's not bad.

ROBERTS: Now, is that a self-propelled RV or is that a trailer?

HENRY: It's self-propelled.

ROBERTS: Really?

HENRY: They've got, actually, a bedroom with a shower and a bathroom up front. And then they've got the whole engine and then the driver's seat and it's self-propelled.

ROBERTS: That's 50 to 70 grand for that? That's a good price.

HENRY: Yes. MSRP is $82,000. They've got a deal for you, John. In fact, I can probably talk to the owner.

ROBERTS: I may just come out there, Ed.

HENRY: Take this on the road for AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: I'll give you a power of attorney.

HENRY: Take it on the road for AMERICAN MORNING.

ROBERTS: It'll be a great idea. Ed, thanks so much. We'll talk to you a little bit later on.

HENRY: See you --

ROBERTS: All right. We'll be talking with Elkhart's mayor, by the way, Dick Moore, in our next hour, 7:30 Eastern here on the "Most News in the Morning."

Wow, that's -- I thought that those were like $200,000.

CHETRY: And they can put you in one of those today, John. You can have it before you interview the mayor.

ROBERTS: You know, I'm used to -- you know, I've seen some of those NASCAR RVs.


ROBERTS: $1 million for those ones. But that's a pretty good deal.

CHETRY: You can park it in your space here at the Time-Warner Center.


CHETRY: And you would have no commute.

ROBERTS: Go see America.

CHETRY: You could just live there. All right.

ROBERTS: I live here anyway.

CHETRY: Yes, I know. That's what I'm saying. Instead of your couch, you've got the RV in the basement.

Well, we're going to be talking about these hecklers. I don't know if you heard...

ROBERTS: Amazing what's going on. CHETRY: ... at some of these town hall meetings across the country. People weighing in on health care. And Carol Costello is joining us to just be saying -- she says that, I don't say it as well as she does.

Where's the civil debate? What's going on at these things?

Twenty-six minutes after the hour.


ROBERTS: Twenty-eight and a half minutes after the hour and checking our top stories.

Right now, two families about to be reunited. Laura Ling and Euna Lee a little more than an hour from touching down in Burbank, California. They left North Korea last night after almost five months in captivity. Senior administration officials say their release involved weeks of preparation. And while they stressed that it was purely a humanitarian effort, one official did say that he's sure that President Clinton shared his views on denuclearization with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il. We are all over this story this morning.

CHETRY: Meantime, a U.S. missile strike has reportedly killed two relatives of a top Taliban leader in Pakistan. Pakistani military and intelligence officials say that the missile destroyed their home. The attack is the latest in a series of strikes in recent weeks targeting militants in South Waziristan along the Afghan border.

ROBERTS: And not since the days of the Cold War has the United States seen Russian subs patrolling the waters off the east coast. But they're back. Pentagon officials say they're not too concerned and Russia has a right to perform naval exercises in international waters.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The rights of the people. The voice of the people.


ROBERTS: That's Wisconsin Congressman Steven Kagen getting an earful at a town hall meeting on health care. And he is not alone.

CHETRY: That's right. It's a make or break month for health care reform as we've been talking about. Democratic lawmakers are trying to sell the president's plan in some of their districts. They're being heckled and harassed at local town hall events. And the meetings are drawing a crowd.

In fact, we have a CNN/Opinion Research poll showing 41 percent say they're very likely to attend a town hall on health care, 30 percent somewhat likely. Another 29 percent say they're probably not likely to attend. But there are a lot of questions about whether this town hall hostility is spontaneous or if it's organized outrage. Our Carol Costello is looking at it in her segment "Just Sayin'" and she joins us from Washington. Hey, Carol.


CHETRY: Someone got really, you know, nasty.

COSTELLO: Oh, yes, it's not nice. I mean, you lawmakers can't even speak. The crowd drowns them out. But in theory, it sure sounds like a great idea.

Town hall meetings are being held across America now that lawmakers are on their August break. Voters can ask questions. They can get answers about health care reform except that some describe it in some districts, those town hall meetings have turned into kind of a town hell. "Just Sayin'," can't we all just get along?


COSTELLO (voice-over): In a few cities across the nation, you cannot escape them.

CROWD: Just say no!

COSTELLO: Sometimes there are dozens, sometimes hundreds. Their mission -- you decide. That's Democratic Congressman Lloyd Doggett trying to talk to a constituent about health care reform. He says it was impossible.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D), TEXAS: The crowd certainly was angry. I suppose some might have had a negative reaction to the poster that said "Lloyd Doggett, traitor to Texas, devil to all people." But I found it more amusing than I did something to be fearful of.

COSTELLO: But he did call the crowd a mob, and he also claims it was orchestrated by the Texas Republican Party. After the state GOP, it did admit to having a camera in the crowd thanks to an anonymous tip, but denied organizing what it called a grassroots event, also telling me, "Doggett owes us and them an apology for calling the crowd a mob." "Just Sayin'," can we talk civilly?

MAX PAPPAS, FREEDOMWORKS: We don't want them to yell and shout down people. We want them to try to talk to the Congressman.

COSTELLO: But some Democrats say Max Pappas's conservative group, FreedomWorks, doesn't want that at all. Some claim it urges its thousands of members to participate not in a discussion about health care reform, but a shoutdown.

PAPPAS: You get some instances where people are so passionate about what's going on that they get caught up in the emotions. And instead of having a civil discussion, they do start yelling or chanting, but that's only because they're passionate about this.

COSTELLO: But Democrats say plenty of like-minded organizations want it to work out that way. That's why lists where town hall meetings will be held or why Operation Embarrass Your Congressman celebrates making lawmakers look foolish, though you could argue those sites don't leave out Republicans. There is one senator who was shouted down himself at a town hall meeting who says all of this doesn't matter.

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (D), PENNSYLVANIA: My preference would be to have it more sedate. But listen, democracy is robust. It can be rough and tumble, and nothing really surprises me anymore.


COSTELLO: I'm sure it doesn't. Senator Specter's been around for a long time. Other lawmakers like Congressman Timothy Bishop of New York are adjusting, though. They're holding teleconferences instead of town hall meetings and talking one on one to constituents at places like senior citizen centers. They say they want an intelligent conversation. They don't want to be shouted down.

John and Kiran, they actually want to answer questions that constituents have.

CHETRY: You know, it is interesting looking at our own polling that CNN did, they say it's a very passionate issue for people, that regardless of which side you fall on it, you have very strong feelings. They say a third are strongly opposed, and about 25 percent are strongly in favor of it. So, there are a lot of emotions out there.

COSTELLO: Well, and you're so unsure of how it's all going to come out. I mean, what are there, three different versions of this huge bill. We don't know how we're going to pay for it. So, there's a lot to be passionate about.

We want to know what you think about these town hall meetings and these hecklers, though. Are they helping? Are they hurting? Can we just talk, or can we come to some sort of compromise where we can actually sit down and listen together? Write me on my blog -- We want to see what you think about this this morning.

CHETRY: All right. Carol, thanks so much. Also coming up a little bit later, you can grade your leaders on the second 100 days of the Obama administration as well. Cast your vote at, and then we'll get the results with the Best Political Team on Television. CNN's "NATIONAL REPORT CARD" tomorrow night 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

ROBERTS: Well, returning back to our top story now and former President Clinton's secret mission to secure the freedom of Laura Ling and Euna Lee in Pyongyang. It's safe to say that we'll be learning a lot more when they touch down. It should be a little more than an hour from now.

But what do we know? North Korea -- what we do know, rather, North Korea wanted Clinton to come to Pyongyang. So, why Clinton and not another dignitary? Joining me now from Washington, former defense secretary William Cohen. He served under President Clinton. He was the secretary of defense. He now runs The Cohen Group.

Mr. Secretary, it's great to see you this morning. Thanks for stopping by.


ROBERTS: So, we learned last night in a background briefing that sometime in July, Euna Lee and Laura Ling were told by North Korean officials that, hey, we might be willing to grant you amnesty if President Clinton were to come here and visit for a little while, and he could probably take you home. It would seem that they -- North Korea was anxious to get the highest-profile non-administration official that they could involved here. What do you think their goal was?

COHEN: Well, I think they're flashing back to the year 2000, when President Clinton gave very serious consideration to flying to North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-il. There were serious questions raised at that point to have the president as the country was going into an election -- whether it was so close to the election period, whether it would seem to be too political, and taking advantage of that to try and sway the election one way or the other. That's the first point.

Second point was that what do -- what was President Clinton going to get out of this? In other words, you don't send the highest- ranking person in the country over to North Korea and to come back empty-handed.


COHEN: The North Koreans took the position, come over, and once you're here, we'll work things out. We took the position, a number of the agencies, tell us what we'll work out and we'll be over. So, it didn't come about.

Then after the election, President Clinton did not want to make the trip because he didn't want to really put the next -- his successor in any kind of a limited box of operations as such. Him going after the election, making some kind of a deal with Kim Jong-il would have or could have put President George Bush in to some kind of a straitjacket in terms of what he wanted to do. So, to his credit, President Clinton decided not to go.

ROBERTS: Yes. And you know, Mr. Secretary, when you take a look at the photograph that -- or the photographs that came out of yesterday's meeting, you see a beaming Kim Jong-il sitting beside or standing beside -- well, actually, he's a little stoic in this picture. There are other pictures where Kim Jong-il's got a big smile on his face.

But he got the status shot that he was looking for, sitting right beside President Clinton. And just in contrast, his father back in 1994 had a visit from former President Carter, and that's a visit that led to talks on denuclearization. You know, so the father got President Carter, the son got President Clinton. Certainly, that picture has got to be worth a lot to him.

COHEN: Well, I think it's a lot to him domestically. I'm not convinced that any of the countries in the region, neither China, Russia, Japan, South Korea will -- and the U.S. will have any change of heart in terms of what the regime represents to the world. But it does, at least, offer some kind of an opening, potentially an opening to have the North Koreans get back to the bargaining table, see if we can't negotiate an end to that nuclear program they have.

ROBERTS: You know, this briefing called it -- the White House had last night, they were very careful to say this was only a humanitarian mission. It was not about the other issues that are out there. They were very clear about what this was about and what it was not about.

But then when asked, the briefer said, well, I expected President Clinton probably did talk to Kim Jong-il about the denuclearization issue. So, you know, just thinking about what you just said there, could this potentially reset the situation between North Korea and the United States? We know the rancor that we've seen in the last few months. Could this potentially bring them back to the bargaining table in the six-party talks framework?

COHEN: Oh, I think it could. I think precisely these types of meetings and resolutions of difficult issues does tend to open the door for a repeat performance, namely that President Clinton can come back, he can take -- and bring a lot of intelligence with him, make an assessment of the strength of Kim Jong-il, make an assessment of the body language that's being used, signals being sent that don't necessarily involve verbalization or some written document, but comes back with intelligence saying, we think that there are some real opportunities here.

We see the North Koreans make a gesture. They were the ones who wanted to make this deal come about. They wanted President Clinton to give them high visibility for their own purposes. And the Obama administration wanted to make sure that it had enough separation between the person they were sending over and the administration, so that its critics could not claim that for negotiating the release of these two people, we had compromised our very strong position of no negotiating with the North Koreans under the circumstances.

Sanctions are coming. They're going to be intensified unless we see some turnaround on the part of the North Koreans.

ROBERTS: Yes, so no appearance of a quid pro quo there.

COHEN: Right.

ROBERTS: Right. Mr. Secretary, it's great to catch up with you. Thanks for joining us. We'd love it if you would hang around with us as well for a little while and be with us when Laura Ling and Euna Lee arrive in Burbank, California, along with the former president. It would be great to have you around for that.

COHEN: OK. I'll be happy to stay around. ROBERTS: All right. We'll see you in a little bit.

CHETRY: Yes, that's right. This could happen within as early as 50 minutes or less.

ROBERTS: Depending on the tailwind, yes. Could be earlier or later. We'll see.

CHETRY: The families are probably just beside themselves with excitement about it.

ROBERTS: I'm sure they are, yes. It's been a long time.

CHETRY: We're going to be seeing all of that live again, as we said, here on AMERICAN MORNING.

Meanwhile, one big city's mass transit goes green. They're trying to trade in cars, subways and buses for bikes. We'll show you how it's working and where. Forty minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Forty- three minutes past the hour now. Going green in Montreal. The city's new public transportation system is trading in taxis and electricity- sucking subways for handlebars and pedal power.

CNN's Gary Tuchman has more on "The Edge of Discovery."


GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Downtown Montreal has the hustle and bustle of many modern cities. But there's a new public transportation system here that's taken an old-fashioned approach. It's called BIXI, a combination of the words bike and taxi. And the citywide system is gearing up in hopes of becoming a big hit.

ALAN FAWCETT, MONTREAL RESIDENT: The bike is really sturdy and it's really easy to manage. That's perfect for getting through the traffic much more quickly than I could in a car.

TUCHMAN: Users can buy a yearly pass for $78 or get one-day access for 5 bucks. Then they just grab a bike at the conveniently located stations and pedal to their destination.

ROGER PLAMONDON, BIXI: The customer base really goes right across the spectrum. We have had the casual tourists, businesspeople are doing the trips, short trips, the dedicated bicyclists.

TUCHMAN: The stations run on solar power. Officials estimate that in the two months since the BIXI system rolled out, riders have taken over 300,000 trips, saving 40,000 gallons of gas. They're hoping Montreal's strong start sets an example that catches on around the world.

PLAMONDON: We have submitted proposals from city of London and the city of Boston. We have given ourselves an objective to set the bar, and the reaction shows that we have indeed set the bar.

TUCHMAN: Gary Tuchman, CNN.


CHETRY: Not a bad idea.

ROBERTS: They tried something similar in New York once. They had these yellow bicycles that they left all around. They were all stolen.

CHETRY: Oh, no.

ROBERTS: Yes. In a heartbeat.

CHETRY: Well, what are these cars that -- the cars that you can just pick up anywhere. What are they called?

ROBERTS: What are they called? Flexcars?

CHETRY: Yes, Zipcar or something? Yes.

ROBERTS: Zipcar, Flexcar, something like that. Zipcars. Right, yes.

CHETRY: Tiny little things racing around the city. Leave the keys.

ROBERTS: A place like Montreal, that could actually work. Place like New York City, forget about it.


CHETRY: All right. Well, we are watching extreme weather this morning. There were some storms on the radar. Interesting note -- sorry -- because it's been a very quiet Atlantic hurricane season.

ROBERTS: Good thing that wasn't a dart in your hand.


CHETRY: You've got to watch yourself around here.

Our Rob Marciano has details for us. It's 46 minutes past the hour.


ROBERTS: It's coming up on 49 minutes after the hour. Rob Marciano at the weather center in Atlanta tracking some extreme weather across the country. Got some flooding in Kentucky, is it?


CHETRY: El Nino. You guys love the El Nino. ROBERTS: Could it be? Could it be that subtropical jet is like not allowing those hurricanes to form. I'm sure you and the hubby talk about that all the time.

CHETRY: Knock on wood, though, because it's been nice and quiet.

ROBERTS: Yes, that's good. Fingers crossed.

CHETRY: Not much to talk about. Kidding. Tons to talk about all the time.

ROBERTS: That's what marriage is all about.


Well, listen, we're going to take you live out here to Burbank, California, where there are two families and friends of the families who are so excited because within the hour, we could see the two journalists who were in North Korea for months land there within the hour.

We're following it live for you. Euna Lee and Laura Ling as well as former President Bill Clinton on their way back after that successful mission to bring them home. It's 51 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 53 minutes past the hour now. An unflattering and actually disturbing image of President Obama has gone viral online. It morphs the president's face into that of Heath Ledger's Joker character from "The Dark Knight." Not everyone's laughing about it.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the words of the Joker...


MOOS: You'd look serious, too, if you were the president of the United States being portrayed as the Joker.




MOOS: Goodness and the Joker don't usually go together, but on conservative Web sites, this image is the latest thing. Someone took "Time" magazine's cover and transformed it. "Hope" was changed to "Joke." The image is making its way on to T-shirts and on to posters alongside a highway ramp in L.A., accompanied by the word "socialism."

The image got Rush Limbaugh's attention.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, HOST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW": It is becoming cool to make fun of Obama.

MOOS: Maybe not quite so much in New York City.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Extremely disturbing.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Seems kind of childish.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whether you like the guy or not, you still don't do that to anybody.


MOOS: Shame doesn't seem to be inhibiting critics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bravo, Mr. President. Bravo.

MOOS: The White House had no comment on the Joker image. What do the Joker and socialism have to do with one another anyway? Writer and Joker fan Robert Dougherty points out that the Joker supports anarchy.

ROBERT DOUGHERTY, CONTRIBUTOR, ASSOCIATED CONTENT (via telephone): I think if you're going to call Obama a socialist and then compare him to an anarchist, I think that undercuts your point.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "THE DARK KNIGHT": The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.

MOOS: Obama critics cold counter, the president and the Joker tend to give away money.

JACK NICHOLSON AS THE JOKER, "BATMAN": Hubba hubba hubba, money, money, money, who do you trust?

MOOS: To cash in, the Web site Herobuilders plans to sell an Obama Joker action figure for 50 bucks apiece. For some, the image is downright disturbing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I do have a problem with the white face. It makes me think of blackface.

MOOS: Back when President Bush was in office, he got the Joker treatment. So did Hillary Clinton. But when it comes to the current president...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a right-wing spin. It's disgraceful. And you shouldn't even bring any attention to it. Have a nice day. Bye.

MOOS: According to the Obama socialism wall clock, maybe it's time to give the Joker joke a rest.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: Jeanne heard it from that woman.


ROBERTS: There you go.

CHETRY: Creepy.

ROBERTS: Well, we've got chilling new details in the case of seven North Carolina men suspected of plotting a violent jihad overseas. Wait until you hear what one of them said. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve joins us with that coming up. It's 56 minutes now after the hour.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. There are disturbing new details this morning in the case of the seven North Carolina terror suspects. Authorities say they had the ringleader on tape saying, "I love jihad." And he had guns and an FBI playbook. Here's CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve.


JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John and Kiran, guns, money, documents, secret recordings, All part of the government's case against an alleged terror group in North Carolina. One suspect is still being sought, but seven others will appear in court again today.

(voice-over): The men are charged with conspiring to wage jihad overseas. But as they left jail for court Tuesday morning, they seemed unconcerned, even smiling. In court, they sat shoulder to shoulder, with Daniel Boyd, the alleged ringleader, in the center.

An FBI agent testified that a search of the Boyd home turned up guns, including an assault weapon, more than 27,000 rounds of ammunition, including some that pierce armor; a trench under the deck, purportedly to hide weaponry; a possible lookout perch in the yard; documents promoting jihad against America; a book the government describes as its playbook for responding to terror attacks; and $13,000 in cash.

And when authorities moved in to arrest Boyd, the FBI testified, Boyd went for his gun, which he had a permit to carry, though in a later law enforcement interview, Boyd denied reaching for his sidearm. In court, five secretly recorded audiotapes were played. In them, a man identified by the FBI as Daniel Boyd discusses financing and waging jihad: "Allah knows I love jihad," he says.

Dozens of family members and friends gathered at the court to hear the details of the government's case.

KHALILAH SABRA, MUSLIM AMERICAN SOCIETY FREEDOM FOUNDATION: What we're trying to do is to make sure that there is due process. We're not coming to any conclusion about guilt or innocence.

MESERVE: But Boyd's wife has already made her opinion clear.

SABRINA BOYD, WIFE OF DEFENDANT: We do own guns in our home as our constitutional right allows us, and I don't think there's a crime in that. But as far as the other allegations, I find them false, and I know that my husband and son are free of guilt.

MESERVE (on camera): The government discussed at some length the overseas travel of the suspects allegedly to wage jihad. The government argued that because they could try to leave the country again, the seven should be held without bail. The judge is expected to rule today.

John and Kiran, back to you.


ROBERTS: Jeanne Meserve reporting for us this morning. Jeanne, thanks.