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American Morning

Couple Crashes White House State Dinner: Uninvited Guests Could Face Legal Trouble; How to Score a Deal on Black Friday; Cash or Credit at Red Kettle

Aired November 26, 2009 - 07:00   ET


JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Wake up. Get that turkey cooking. Put the pies in the oven. It's time to rock and roll. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Christine Romans. I'm in for Kiran Chetry.

JOHNS: I'm Joe Johns in for John Roberts.

ROMANS: That's right. It's Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 26th.

Here are some of the top stories we'll be telling you about in the next 15 minutes while you cook your turkey. A North Virginia couple crashes Tuesday's White House State dinner, somehow slipping past the secret service and even rubbing elbows with the Vice President. The latest developments on a stunning breach of security in Washington ahead.

JOHNS: President Obama heads to West Point next week to lay out his new Afghanistan strategy, and this morning, we're learning how a possible troop escalation will go down, and what these troops will need to do once they hit the ground.

ROMANS: And you've finished the turkey, you fallen asleep on the couch, all the relatives have gone home, except Uncle Louie, which can only mean Black Friday is soon upon us. Gerri Willis is watching your money for the very best deal. There are some good deals out there.

JOHNS: Uncle Louie, but first, a shocking security breach at the White House is our top story this Thanksgiving morning. A couple from Northern Virginia described as socialites looking to land a reality TV role somehow crashed Tuesday night's state dinner, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, then posted the pictures to prove it on Facebook. The pair slipping passed the security checkpoint to rub elbows with the white house chief of staff and even the vice president.

Dan Lothian is live at the White House. Dan, the Secret Service has already confirmed the breach. What else can they say?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Listen, I talked to the Secret Service and they told me that this investigation continues. They're still in the process of interviewing additional employees.

But I'll tell you, it really is an amazing feat to get in here into the White House. First of all, long before you arrive here, a lot of personal information is gathered. You have to give your Social Security number, your date of birth.

And then once you get here, you have all that information, that gets you on to the list. If your name is not on the list, you can't get in. But somehow this couple got around the system on one of the biggest nights this year at the White House.


LOTHIAN: They sure did make a grand entrance. It's not clear if they ever got a seat at a table or got to eat some of the potato and eggplant salad. But they managed to plant themselves next to the most powerful people in Washington.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi posted a dozen pictures on Facebook. Here they are with Vice President Joe Biden and the White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel. Michaele even got up close and personal with a few marines.

But here's the one place the couple didn't show up, on the official guest list. The only person who seemed to have sensed something was wrong was the reporter who broke the story.

ROXANNE ROBERTS, "WASHINGTON POST" COLUMNIST: When I saw them come in, I went -- I thought to myself, what on earth are they doing here?

LOTHIAN: So how do you crash a party at the White House? A spokesman for the couple would only say the two had full clearance to attend the dinner.

The Secret Service confirmed it was investigating a breach and said initial findings suggest at least one checkpoint did not follow proper procedures.

And once inside, the couple apparently just blended in.

ROBERTS: The assumption that everyone had, presumably, the staffers, were that these people were meant to be here. They wouldn't have been able to get in unless someone had said it was OK.

LOTHIAN: The pair is described as polo playing socialites from northern Virginia, and they're also reported to be in line for possible roles on the upcoming reality TV show, "Real Housewives of D.C."

CNN national security contributor Fran Townsend says they might now have an even harsher reality in their future.

FRANCES TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: If they lied their way to get in, and it seems they would have had to have been done that, that's a federal felony, a false statement to a federal official. And so this is a pretty serious crime.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LOTHIAN: Now, the Secret Service was very clear in pointing out to me that this couple did go through the metal detectors and through other additional security screenings, as did some of the other guests that came to the big event.

But I'll tell you, a lot of questions this morning how this was able to occur here at the White House. And this investigation continues, Joe.

JOHNS: It's really pretty extraordinary, especially given the fact that the White House Christmas parties are coming up pretty soon and just about everybody and their mom gets into the White House.

LOTHIAN: You're right.

JOHNS: Thank you so much, Dan Lothian. In less than ten minutes, we'll be joined by Fran Townsend. She's a former Homeland Security adviser to President Bush. You just saw her there. We'll talk to her about the security breach and just how much legal trouble those two White House party crashers could be facing.

CHRISTINA ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: I've never been invited to the White House.

The White House is ending speculation, concerning that President Obama will go to a major climate change summit in Copenhagen next month. The president will lay out plans to cut greenhouse gas pollution over the next decade by 17 percent from 2005 levels.

This visit is one day before he travels to Norway to accept his Nobel peace prize.

This all comes as president Obama prepares to finally outline his long-awaited strategy for the war in Afghanistan. He'll do it on Tuesday in a primetime speech at West Point. A large-scale escalation is expected, but it won't be easy getting these soldiers and marines into the war zone.

Our Elaine Quijano is live at the Pentagon. Elaine, what are you learning about this morning?

ELAINE QUIJANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine, as President Obama does get ready to announce that Afghanistan strategy next week, we are learning some new details about the military's plans.


QUIJANO: The first wave of additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan will start deploying in late December according to a U.S. military official.

CNN has learned soon after President Obama's announcement next week, Defense Secretary Robert Gates will get the paperwork to deploy 1,000 marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Those will be the first of the roughly 34,000 troops anticipated to be added to Afghanistan over the next year. But getting any additional military personnel into the country will take time. For his 2007 Iraq surge, President Bush added 28,000 troops. It took five months to get them into the country. By contrast, when President Obama ordered 21,000 combat troops to Afghanistan, it took eight months to get them there.

LAWRENCE KORB, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: You have to develop the facilities to house them. I mean, that's -- I think people forget that. You can't just drop them over there. And you've also got the winter coming.

QUIJANO: Once additional forces arrive, the to-do list is daunting.

FREDERICK KAGAN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: The Taliban now currently has the momentum, that I think the Taliban is winning.

QUIJANO: Military analyst Frederick Kagan helped develop the idea of 2007 Iraq surge. He said one lesson the U.S. learned, you need to convince the local population you can turn the tide against the Taliban.

KAGAN: And whether we're going to win or not, because they don't want to line up with us and then have us bail on them and then have the enemy come and kill them.

QUIJANO: The immediate focus, protecting population centers and prying loose Taliban strongholds, like the southeastern city of Kandahar.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think, basically, to secure more of the south and the east, so if you can secure more of that, that will prevent the Taliban from increasing their foothold. And then once you do that, I think you'll able to start the reconstruction and training the Afghan security forces.


QUIJANO: And officials say training those Afghan security forces has been a main focus at those White House strategy meetings. Ramping up, really, that training is a big challenge here, trying to ensure, Christine, that afghans will eventually be able to keep hold of any security gains that the U.S. makes. Christine?

ROMANS: Elaine Quijano, thanks, Elaine. Of course, CNN will have live coverage of the president's announcement Tuesday night at 8:00 eastern from west point.

ROBERTS: Also this morning, the crew of the space shuttle Atlantis is having Thanksgiving in space, although their commander decided to forego the turkey. They'll spend the day orbiting planet earth, prepping the ship for tomorrow's landing at Kennedy space center.

Seven prior missions dating back to 1985 have spent turkey day in orbit, some with the thermo-stabilized trimmings, even cranberry sauce packets.

ROMANS: In an effort to jumpstart peace talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has halted the building of new homes in Jewish settlements across the West Bank.

The move was applauded by President Obama but rejected by leaders of the Palestinian Authority who had demanded a freeze in settlements in east Jerusalem as well as the West Bank.

ROBERTS: And now to Thanksgiving in Baghdad. Soldiers from the 37th infantry brigade combat team made up of members of the Wisconsin National Guard celebrated the holiday with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

This thanksgiving there are 117,000 American troops stationed in Iraq, 68,000 in Afghanistan. According to the U.S. Air Force's Web site, the military prepared 63,000 pounds of ham along with 193,000 pounds of turkey for service members in Iraq and Afghanistan. That is a lot of food.

ROMANS: That is a lot of food.

And we're going to switch from that party to another party, a party that happened a couple days ago in Washington, D.C., the first state dinner for the Obama administration, where apparently two party crashers managed to get their picture taken with a lot of notables and quotables, managed to be announced and walk in front of the paparazzi, if you will.

ROBERTS: Just amazing.

ROMANS: It really is.

Fran Townsend, you know, she's going to tell us about the national security implications of such a breach. That's live after the break.


ROMANS: Now to that couple who crashed a White House state dinner this week. Bold doesn't even begin to describe it.

Tareq and Michaele Salahi somehow managed to slip pass Secret Service and then snap photos of themselves with the vice president and the White House chief of staff, who, by the way, knows everyone. So how did they pull it off and what kind of trouble could they be in?

ROBERTS: Absolutely. Right now, Fran Townsend, CNN National Security contributor and former Homeland Security adviser to President Bush there in Washington.

I guess, first question is, we were talking in the break, you said the Secret Service has actually referred this to their office of professional responsibility. So that would suggest to you that they think they know where this problem originated, right? Could you talk about that a bit? TOWNSEND: Sure, Joe. Happy thanksgiving to you and Christina.

Let me start by saying, late last night I learned from a senior secret service official that they had done a quick preliminary look at what happened. They did put out an announcement last night that said it happened at a Secret Service checkpoint.

What they told me last night on background was that, yes, they referred this to their office of professional responsibility, which is their internal watchdog. They actually think that this is a problem that was on the uniform division side of the Secret Service and not involving the White House staff or the social secretary's office.

We should tell people, though, even though these people got past the Secret Service checkpoint, they did go through magnetometers. But inside the event, there would have been non-uniformed, the guys you are used to seeing with ear pieces and suits, they would have all been inside the tent and around all the protectees, the president, the first lady, the vice president, the secretary of treasury.

There were a lot of protectees in that tent, so there were a lot of non-uniform presidential protective service folks in there with the protectees.

ROMANS: So there's still an awful lot of security very close to these people.

We should note that their publicist, a publicist for the couple, Fran, wrote an e-mail to CNN saying that the couple had, quote, "full clearance to attend the state dinner."

And then Michaele Salahi on her Facebook page said -- she basically thanked the White House for the invitation. So it sounds like they're spinning this a little bit differently.

But what we're getting from the White House and from the Secret Service is that this was a party crashing. Is this just a bold -- you know, bold move. Is this a national security issue, or is this just embarrassing for Secret Service and the White House?

TOWNSEND: Well, Christine, it's all those things, in addition to which, it turns out to be a federal felony, because the only way -- look, if they were not on the list and they were not invited, they had to get in there somehow.

The only way that could have happened is they would have been asked, why are you here? They were dressed appropriately. And one or both of them would have said to an official, a federal official, that they had been invited.

If they did say that and it was not true, that's a false statement to a federal official, which is a felony, which is a pretty serious offense. So I hope, in addition to their Facebook account, they have good lawyers.

ROBERTS: We hear about the spoofers and all that ... ROMANS: The balloon boy.

ROBERTS: Exactly.

ROMANS: You've got the guy who pretended he was a climate change expert and he was from the chamber of commerce at the national press club and he wasn't. It's interesting the things people do to get their 15 minutes.

ROBERTS: And for you, Fran, you've been very close, is this completely unheard of in a White House environment? Have you ever heard of anything like this? I seem to remember a couple other examples of people getting close, maybe cooks and that kind of thing.

TOWNSEND: That's right. But the notion that they got this far in, that they penetrated the -- the various perimeters and checkpoints and got that close -- I mean, one of the pictures has got Mrs. Salahi with her arms around the vice president, with Rahm Emanuel. I mean, it really is a pretty serious security breach.

And for no other reason, look, it may be sort of at some level funny that they were able to do it, but in the end, remember, you know, there are bad guys around the world watching this, learning from it, and understanding it. You can be sure that when somebody gets that close, and after all while they were screened for weapons, and they did have security personnel in the tent, there are knives and forks and certainly somebody could have done harm to the president or the first lady, God forbid, if they had had that sort of intent.

ROMANS: Right.

TOWNSEND: And so this is a pretty serious national security breach. And you can be sure, Joe, to your point, those people going to Christmas parties better leave plenty of time to get screened.

ROMANS: Right.

TOWNSEND: Because things are going to tighten up.

ROMANS: Well, it definitely sends a message to anyone who is crazy. You know, there are a lot of people who are just attracted to the White House anyway, who are constantly around the perimeter. There are people who want to do harm.

But one thing that I think is interesting about it as well, like if you want to send a package or send a pizza or send flowers to somebody who works in the West Wing, they say thank you. It's put in a log. It's taken out, and blown up somewhere else. I mean, it's very hard to do some things at the White House and then incredibly easy to do this. That would suggest to me that they have to really review their procedures. Right, Fran?

TOWNSEND: Oh, that's absolutely right, Christine. And they were doing that yesterday. As soon as this story broke, they had begun a preliminary fast review to see what they could tighten up immediately. And now as the Secret Service has told me, they're doing a comprehensive review. They'll go through all of this to see exactly where it went wrong and how they need to fix this.

ROMANS: All right. Fran Townsend, thank you so much. Thanks for joining us.

TOWNSEND: Thank you.

JOHNS: Thanks, Fran.

Wondering who else has been visiting the White House this year? I guess you might be.

The administration released publicly the names of 2,000 plus guests in the name of transparency, they say. Oprah, of course, has been at the White House twice. Also stopping by 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue this year, actor George Clooney and General Colin Powell. Showing up three times on the list, CNN's own Wolf Blitzer. I wonder if he has any sources over there.




JOHNS: Could be.

ROMANS: All right. Coming up next, it is Black Friday. We're going to tell you, first of all, what does that mean, Black Friday? Also, what are the great, great bargains on Black Friday and how you get them for the least amount of effort. The door busters that are worth busting the door. Gerri Willis is next.


JOHNS: What will they think of next? Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Live pictures of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. And what a day for a parade.

Temperatures in the mid-50s, no rain, light wind, and for the first time ever in the parade's history, it will bypass Broadway as it makes its way downtown. First time to bypass Broadway.

ROMANS: And when it comes to Thanksgiving, it's all about the traditions, right? The parade, the Turkey and the trimmings? But those dishes could depend on where you live.

The folks at "The New York Times" tracked what regions looked up what recipes and this is what they found.

The southeast apparently big fans of sweet potato casserole. The pumpkin pie belt stretches across the northwest. And when it comes to pecan pie or pecan pie, depending on where you live...

JOHNS: That's what I'm talking about.

ROMANS: Yes. The honor falls to the Midwest. It was the cooks in the southwest that showed the most interest in mashed potatoes, although mashed potatoes I think are a national trend.


ROMANS: Well, in the southeast, it was mac and cheese. As for yams, it was far and away the most searched for recipe in the west. There you go.

JOHNS: Making me hungry.

ROMANS: I'm starving.

JOHNS: Also new this morning, could cyber Monday soon become a tradition of holidays past? The term was coined back when most homes didn't have high-speed Internet and many people relied on their company's computers to shop. But now with 60 percent of U.S. homes sporting high-speed Internet access, many online retailers are no longer waiting for Monday to roll out deep discounts.

ROMANS: That's because they want your money. And why wait for cyber Monday or Black Friday? Several major chains are open today, including Wal-Mart, Kmart, even TGI Friday.


ROMANS: Nothing like a turkey burger. Toys "R" Us is opening most of its stores at midnight tonight, hoping to lure customers with those door busters sale.

JOHNS: And cash or credit? Many of the Salvation Army's iconic red kettles are now taking plastic? The wireless credit card readers are in an effort to raise more money these tough times.

And stay with us. Our Jim Acosta digs deeper into how the Salvation Army is cashing in with those high-tech kettles.

ROMANS: Right. There's no need to get up at the crack of dawn. The battle bargain thirsty shoppers on Black Friday, you don't have to do, because Gerri Willis is here to show you how you can score the best deals while you're still wearing your bunny slippers.

JOHNS: Bring it on.

GERRI WILLIS, CNN PERSONAL FINANCE EDITOR: So we are wearing our bunny slippers. You can't tell, but Joe Johns is wearing bunny slippers.


ROMANS: We are having turkey day in your bunny slippers. These are how you get these deals.

WILLIS: I'm sorry. OK. We (INAUDIBLE) -- I tell you, it just made me laugh.

So let's give you some Web sites here. If you're going to shop online, this is going to save you money. Check comparison shopping Web sites. Let me say that again. Comparison shopping Web sites, You can compare over 30 million products offered by 100,000 merchants. Type in what you're looking for like "bunny slippers" and you'll get a listing of how much it costs at various retailers., compare prices and set price alerts for yourself. You're going to like this, Christina. You set the price you want to pay for the product, and once it reaches that price, then you get the e-mail alert.

ROMANS: It's kind of like putting in a stop-loss order for a stock.

JOHNS: Yes. Right. Forty-inch big screen TV.

WILLIS: I will buy it at $14.99.

JOHNS: $29.00.

ROMANS: Joe -- this is a recession, but it's not that bad.


WILLIS:, compare the current price to what it was charged over the past six months. So this is important, because, you know, we saw those ways you can -- you know, how they're going to be advertising these prices. They're doing the dollar figure. You don't know if it's a good thing or not. That will help you figure out, is it less than it used to be.

ROMANS: OK. There are some other ways too. Kiran likes this retailmenot. She says there are other ways to find coupons and coupon codes. There are other ways to do it too.

WILLIS: Yes. I have lots of them actually. OK, so plenty of sites offer coupon codes. That is just a printable coupon that's all that really means for online and brick and mortar retailers,

ROMANS: Oh, you've got retailmenot.

WILLIS: Yes. Offers coupons for more than 40,000 stores plus a community. For tips and deals, you can talk to other people who are also shopping. I don't know if that's a good idea or not.

And then they e-mail you the week's best coupon, which I actually think is useful., another site where you can browse coupons by retailers.

ROMANS: I like that.

WILLIS: ... you want to know the free shipping. And just a few words of caution here if you are shopping online, be careful. OK. You don't want to shop at your local coffee shop, use the Wi-Fi there or a public computer because you'll be vulnerable to hackers. Make sure you don't click on the pop-up ads. They can be bogus at this time of the year. And use a credit card.

I know this is crazy, me saying using a credit card at Christmas, but the reality is, it's going to be easier to return things if you use a credit card rather than a debit card and it's easier to say, hey, I didn't make that purchase if you use a credit card rather than a debit card. Those big electronic items, if you have a problem with them, credit card is your best option.

ROMANS: Do you agree, someone told me recently, that if it's 20 percent off, that's not enough for the holiday season?

WILLIS: Depends on what it is, but I agree.



WILLIS: We're seeing 40, 50 now.

ROMANS: Right.

WILLIS: And, you know, today's Thanksgiving.

ROMANS: Don't be lured by just a little discount.

WILLIS: Big, luscious, fat discount.


ROMANS: That's what I want. Gerri Willis, thanks.

Talking about going from skid row to hanging out with the Oakland Raiders, our Thelma Gutierrez. We're going to meet Kenneth Chancy and hear that amazing story.

JOHNS: And it is amazing, indeed. Stay with us.


JOHNS: It's almost time, right here in New York City. The balloons are blown up. The marching bands are tuning up their instruments, and people are lining up all along the Macy's parade route. We'll tell you why it could be a problem for balloon handlers. Say that three times fast. Right now on the Most News in the Morning.

ROMANS: That might get you in trouble.

October saw America's jobless rate reach 10.2 percent. That's nearly 16 million people out of work. That means more people who need help and fewer people who have the means to give it.

Our Jim Acosta is live in Washington with a closer look at the hard times this holiday season -- Jim.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. You know, we went out with a Salvation Army crew yesterday, and even though times are tight, people are still giving, which is a good sign. And we've said this time and again, economists may say the recession is ending, but too many Americans are not feeling it down on Main Street this holiday season. So charities, businesses, even government agencies are getting creative to help those in need.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a new sign of the nation's hard times during the holidays. Not the ringing of the Salvation Army bell --

Just like that.

But the credit card machine, that now comes with the kettle.

CAPTAIN BILL CRISS, SALVATION ARMY: It's one more tool for us to be able to use to help people, men and women, boys and girls, in our community.

ACOSTA: The Salvation Army has 300 of these cashless kettles stationed across the country, all in an effort to raise more money to meet a growing demand for assistance.

CRISS: Our requests for assistance are up about 50 percent over last year.

ACOSTA: Fifty percent?

CRISS: Our telephones ring off the hook all day long for people needing help with rent and utilities, medical care, things like that.

ACOSTA: So you can feel this recession?

CRISS: We have -- we feel it and we see it every day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This line is just like -- I haven't seen a line this long, ever. It's just mind blowing.

ACOSTA: Coast to coast food banks and other nonprofit groups offering turkey giveaways are being flooded with thousands of families, waiting in long lines, many hoping to put a thanksgiving meal on the table after being laid off.

CASSANDRA WOODS, FOOD BANK PATRON: If I don't come here, I don't have food. And I have to pay my rent and my utilities and try to stay out of being homeless.

TOM VILSACK, AGRICULTURE SECRETARY: Frankly, this is not just the government's responsibility. I think we all have a responsibility.

ACOSTA: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is trying to expand the use of his department's food stamps program, now known as SNAP. He even made a personal appeal to the warehouse discount chain, Costco, to get on board.

VILSACK: I actually called officials at Costco, asked them to take a look at a pilot project basis to see how it worked. We were convinced that it would be a good business decision for them.

ACOSTA: A good business decision because shoppers are --

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): ... to get on board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I actually called officials at Costco, asked them to take a look at, on a pilot project basis, to see how it would work. We were convinced that it would be a good business decision for them.

ACOSTA: A good business decision, because shoppers are already hitting the stores, while consumers are expected to cut back this year, Brian Burton found one credit card machine he just couldn't refuse.

(on camera): Are you going to be cutting back a little bit more this year, would you say, because of the economy and the recession?

BRIAN BURTON, DONOR: For the salvation army? No. But for everything else? Probably.


ACOSTA: Now, get this, 49 million Americans are what the Department of Agriculture calls food insecure in this country. Those are folks that have to scramble every month to feed themselves. And Secretary Vilsack says part of the problem is that many states simply do a poor job of administering federal aid to the hungry.

And Christine, the Department of Agriculture has been counting this number for the last 15 years. This is the highest number that they've seen since 1994, when they started counting what they call food insecure. It's one of those sort of arcane, bureaucratic terms in Washington. But what it means is just folks who can't get food when they need it.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: In the biggest economy, in the richest nation in the world. All right. Jim Acosta, thanks so much, Jim.

It's now 31 minutes past the hour. Here are this morning's top stories. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wraps up his tour of Latin America, visiting Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. He received a warm welcome with full military honors. Both leaders spoke out against U.S. "Imperialism" and they signed 12 cooperation agreements between their countries. Ahmadinejad has used this trip as a platform to defend Iran's nuclear program.

A NATO general says the Taliban is gaining momentum in Afghanistan and we need to slow them down. He made the comment in response to a message from the leader of the Taliban, claiming insurgents are winning the war. Mullah Omar also called on Afghans to break off relations with what he calls the stooge government of President Hamid Karzai.

And it's not just Chinese drywall. Some American drywall is now under the microscope. A spokesman for the Consumer Products Safety Commission says a small number of homeowners have reported problems with their U.S.-made drywall. They say it's causing the same rotten egg smell and corrosion problems as Chinese-made drywall. The drywall investigation is the largest in the commission's history. Joe -

JOE JOHNS, CNN ANCHOR: Something to watch for on the big Thanksgiving day game today when the Raiders take the field against the Dallas Cowboys this afternoon, pay close attention to number 21 on the Oakland Raiders' defense. That's all pro-quarterback Nnamdi Asomugha. He hits like a sledgehammer, we're told but he's also all heart.

Recently, the NFL star was touched by a story he saw right here on CNN about a homeless teenager in Los Angeles and he decided he had to do something to help. Thelma Gutierrez now with an "A.M. Original."


THELMA GUTIERREZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He's the highest paid defensive back in NFL history. And he's about to give this teenager the surprise of his life.

(on camera): When we first aired your story, so many people wanted to help you.


GUTIERREZ: But there was one person in particular who came forward who wanted to meet you. Do you have any idea who it is?

CHANCEY: No. I keep on hearing.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): We met Kenneth Chancy and his little sister, Stephanie, earlier this year.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to [bleep] you up. [ bleep ] you!

GUTIERREZ: They lived on skid row in a shelter in downtown Los Angeles, where life is uncensored, but a step up from what it used to be.

CHANCEY: I lived in a van. Let's see, my mom used drugs. My step dad used to hit me.

GUTIERREZ: What makes Kenneth's story so extraordinary is that this homeless teenager is president of his high school. He's a straight "A" honor student and an athlete.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has proven he is up there with the rest of the top corners in the NFL. And he might just be the best.

GUTIERREZ: Kenneth is a starting running back at Helen Bernstein High School. He's going to college.

(on camera): Give me a list of the top schools. Where do you want to go to college?

CHANCEY: Harvard's still on top.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): From skid row to Harvard. Lofty ambitions that moved this NFL star to ask us to arrange a meeting.

(on camera): This is Nnamdi Asomugha. He's with the Oakland Raiders.

CHANCEY: Yes (INAUDIBLE) awesome. They were just talking about - the coach was talking about you yesterday.

GUTIERREZ: What was the reason that you wanted to be here to meet Kenneth?

NNAMDI ASOMUGHA, OAKLAND RAIDER CORNERBACK: Well, we saw the story, you know, on CNN and you know, I was just blown away by it. Just your drive and everything you were trying to do and you were playing football and all that kind of stuff. So I was relating, you know, a little bit to that. So I said, there's got to be some way that I can, you know, get in touch with him.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Number 21, Nnamdi Asomugha is an all all-pro cornerback with the Oakland Raiders. At 28, he has his own foundation, the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars.

(on camera): This is a serious student, right?


GUTIERREZ: Does he qualify for your tour?

ASOMUGHA: Absolutely. He might over qualify for the tour.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Each year Asomugha hand picks a group of inner city school high school students and takes them on a week-long all-expense paid trip to visit different universities.

(on camera): Education's number one for your families, and I understand, with all due respect, I do understand you're the least educated in your family.

ASOMUGHA: I am. Yes. Because I have one degree.

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Asomugha's mother has a PhD. His sister is a pediatrician. His other two siblings have graduate degrees. Nnamdi only has one. A degree in finance from U.C. Berkeley.

CHANCEY: And then we have my dad, Gordon Castelo (ph) here.

GUTIERREZ: The next college tour for Asomugha's kids, Washington, D.C..

ASOMUGHA: I knew how much you were a big fan of school and education and that stuff, so I wanted to invite you along for the tour. CHANCEY: Oh, are you serious!


CHANCEY: Oh, my god!

GUTIERREZ (on camera): So what's in store for Washington?

ASOMUGHA: You know who we're working on now?


ASOMUGHA: We have to.

CHANCEY: Oh, my god!

GUTIERREZ (voice-over): This spring, the NFL star will take Kenneth into the heart of the nation's capital.

ASOMUGHA: My pitch to you, President Obama, please give us some time while we're in D.C., these kids will go crazy if they meet you. You'll inspire them.

GUTIERREZ: But first, Kenneth takes the Oakland Raider on a tour of his own to skid row, in downtown Los Angeles, where he lived.


JOHNS: We'll be right back with the second half of this story. After the break, we tag along with the Oakland Raiders star and his new friend. Stay with us.


JOHNS: Welcome back to the "most news in the morning." We've got more now on the story of NFL star, Nnamdi Asomugha, reaching out to befriend a homeless teenager after seeing the young man's story right here on CNN. We catch up with him now on L.A.'S skid row. Once again here is Thelma Gutierrez.



GUTIERREZ (voice-over): Skid row in downtown Los Angeles.

CHANCEY: You see the bottles sitting over there?

GUTIERREZ: -- is one of the last places you'd expect to see an NFL star and a straight "A" honor student.

ASOMUGHA: Just walking to school, walking back from school.

CHANCEY: This is just walking to the train to get to school.

ASOMUGHA: Anywhere you go, you got to go through - CHANCEY: Yes, we have to go through this.

GUTIERREZ: But the pursuit of education brought them here together.

ASOMUGHA: We used to come down in high school and like feed the people out here during Thanksgiving.

GUTIERREZ: Nnamdi Asomugha plays for the Oakland Raiders and is the highest paid defensive back in NFL history. Kenneth Chancey is 17, a starting high school running back, who aspires to study medicine at Harvard University.

CHANCEY: I'm student body president.

ASOMUGHA: And you had to organize -

CHANCEY: To feed the homeless.

GUTIERREZ: What no one knew was that this accomplished high school senior who organized feedings for the homeless was actually living on skid row himself with his father and younger sister.

CHANCEY: So, imagine, you have a 13-year-old little girl walking through this every day.

GUTIERREZ: Kenneth took the 28-year-old NFL star on an unsettling tour through a part of Los Angeles most never experience.

ASOMUGHA: Wow! That almost hit me!

GUTIERREZ: But a place Kenneth knows well. His academic success, despite all of this, is the reason Nnamdi Asomugha is here.

ASOMUGHA: My thing is reaching out to people like Kenneth that have their back against the wall, that have a lot of obstacles that they have to face and they're still overcoming. You know, you never want them to stop.

GUTIERREZ: Four years ago, at the age of 24, Asomugha started his own foundation called the Asomugha College Tour for Scholars. For one week each year, kids like Kenneth have a chance to leave their neighborhoods and experience different universities and cities. Kenneth is Asomugha's latest recruit.

CHANCEY: We used to live in that corner room.

GUTIERREZ: Asomugha wanted to see where he came from, so Kenneth took us to the Union Rescue Mission where he lived.

CHANCEY: Here there was no room. There's a lot of people in back of me, but I feel worse for the two-year-olds and three-year- olds. They haven't even started the pressure.

GUTIERREZ: Here, the kids can't play in their rooms, they're too small. They can't go outside, it's too dangerous. So Kenneth says he'd come here to the roof of the shelter to study. You see the contrast right here.

CHANCEY: Yes. Like this, oh, this is so nice - yes.

ASOMUGHA: That's amazing. He was explaining it. He said, when you come up, it's kind of like, just keep your head up and you see all the good things. And once you look down, he's absolutely right. Was that your mantra that you basically used while you were up here, keep your head up?

CHANCEY: That's what I use in life. I just keep my head up. OK, I'm dealing with this now, five years from now, I'll be at a university studying this, this, and this. I'll be graduating and getting a degree.

GUTIERREZ: Then Kenneth says he'll give back too, just like Asomugha, the all-pro cornerback who graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has done so much to change the lives of disadvantaged scholars, just like Kenneth.

Thelma Gutierrez, CNN, Los Angeles.


JOHNS: You know, that's a really incredible story. Number one, a guy making all that money, reaching out to actually try to give something back. You don't see that as much as people would think you would.

ROMANS: But that kid Kenneth, he did it himself first, and then people noticed and are now helping him. But that kid, I mean, there's something in him that made him want to be successful and strive and you know, keep his head up, like he said. That's incredible.

You can see more stories of inspiration on CNN tonight at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. It's our hero's all-star tribute. It's Anderson Cooper, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Hudson, and many, many others honor the top 10 people who inspired us in 2009. It's been called the Oscars of giving.

JOHNS: That's fantastic. It is 43 minutes after the hour.


JOHNS: Good morning, New York City! Thanksgiving morning. As a matter of fact, there you are looking at a brand-new, actually refurbished balloon, Spiderman.

My kids Logan and Avery (ph) would just love to see that. They have a terrible fascination with this guy. Both of them went - and during Halloween dressed up as Spiderman and Spidergirl.

Now there is a fantastic shot. That long super zoom lens, looking at the Macy's stars and all. This is a big day here in this town, a lot of people coming out for it.

ROMANS: And then it finishes up with Santa. You know - you know it's over when Santa comes around the bend.

All right. Happy Thanksgiving, folks. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning.

It's down to the wire for the start of the Thanksgiving Day Parade, down to the tether for hundreds of balloon handlers who are dealing with a new route this year.

Deb Feyerick is out there right now to tell us about it. Hi, Deb.


Look, I'm a balloon handler. I've got my own balloons.

Actually they're giving these out all along the parade route. You can see all these folks down here. The balloons are getting into position, everybody getting out here early.

Just take a look over here. This is the new Spiderman. He's a lot more buff than he was in past years. They're slowly letting the balloon out, and if you see - if you take a look at the - at the rope here, this is how they begin to let the balloon out, slowly, slowly, slowly. That's how they control it, all the balloons that are handled.

Tim and Michael come up from Florida every year to do this. It's your seventh year. What's the thrill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so exciting. You walk around the corner, it's so quiet and then you go - you're greeted by 3 million people walking down Central Park.

FEYERICK: There's a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm along this parade route. How do you describe it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Excitement. It's just - everyone's just so excited.

FEYERICK: And you really feel that. You feel that sense that people definitely want to be here. It's a beautiful day out today, a little overcast, but for the most part very warm, not the five-degree day that we sometimes experience here on the parade route.

It's a different route this year. How is that challenging?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be a little bit longer, but we don't have rain and it looks like the wind is staying away, so I think we're going to be all right.

FEYERICK: Exactly. Wind. Wind is the big enemy of the balloons. There are 15 of these large ones, a lot more of these small ones, and then 35. There's confetti, there are clowns.

You can see, if you look back, there are the turkey. That turkey sort of sets the tone. Everybody's totally jazzed about the parade this year, the 83rd parade - Christine and Joe.

ROMANS: All right. And she's underneath the - the buff Spiderman. What a cool - what a cool assignment today.

All right, Deb. We'll check in with you in a little bit. Thanks.

JOHNS: Happy Thanksgiving.

This morning's top stories just minutes away, including who's the blond with her arm around the VP? How two uninvited guests got past the Secret Service and dined with the president and the serious trouble they could be facing now.

ROMANS: Countdown to Black Friday. The door-busters, the deals. Gerri Willis with ways you can save.

JOHNS: And text messages from ground zero. A website posts what it says are half a million texts from 9/11, with many "I Love Yous" and even more confusion.

Those stories and more at the top of the hour.



SARA SIDNER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, the fabulous news for families - all right.

Down, down, down, down!


JOHNS: So hard to believe it's been a whole year since all of that. Our Sara Sidner covering the terror attacks in Mumbai, right before our eyes here on AMERICAN MORNING one year ago.

No one covered those attacks from a closer vantage point than she did. For three days and three nights, witnessing a city held hostage by killers.

ROMANS: Hundreds of tourists were caught up in a nightmare, including an American couple who relied on Sara to get the latest information.

Our Sara Sidner joins us now live from Mumbai. And Sara, you - you caught back up with this couple?

SIDNER: Yes, it's true, Joe and Christine.

Basically, this couple was inside with other family members for about 40 hours. They were listening to terrible sounds and we have Carol - her name is Carol Mackoff, recall what happened and tell us about what she feels one year later.


SIDNER (voice-over): Carol Mackoff is a survivor.

CAROL MACKOFF, TERROR ATTACK SURVIVOR: To sit and worry about the - what happened or think about it or reflect on it on a constant basis is not helpful. To go back and resume your life and resume the pattern of your life and be thankful for what you do have, that's helpful.

So we - we just went back to work. Otherwise, they win.

SIDNER: The "they" she is referring to is the men responsible for this - and this - and this.

She and some of her family members were vacationing in India last year when India's version of 9/11 erupted all around them. They were staying in the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower on November 26th. They had skipped dessert that night and decided to go to their rooms. It was 9:10 PM. About 20 minutes later, the terrifying sound of a hostile takeover.

Above and below them, a massacre had been begun.

MACKOFF: That first night, in the middle of the night, I heard an American male voice screaming for help. "Help me. Help me, God! Someone help me, please. Please help me, somebody. Somebody help me," and it was screaming and it was American and it was male. And there was nothing I could do.

SIDNER: While fire and gunfire devoured the iconic five-star hotel, she could do nothing but wait, locked in a room with no clue how to escape alive.

MACKOFF: My best friend from college knew we were in India and called and said, "Please tell me you're on your way home." This was Thursday night - excuse me. This was Wednesday night. And I said, "No, we are actually trapped in the Taj Hotel, hiding from the terrorists. And from now on, please text message me. I don't want them to hear a phone ringing in the room." And he said, "I'm calling CNN, because they just said that everyone had been evacuated."

SIDNER: The authorities had given the media incorrect information. Then Carol herself contacted CNN. She and her family began sending text messages directly to the reporter on the ground, which happened to be me.

After 40 hours, she and her family made it out alive. Dozens of others had been killed.

Now back in Chicago, Carol Mackoff has a Hindu God on her desk, a reminder of the love she still has for India, even after the terror she experienced one year ago.


SIDNER: Tonight, there is a massive memorial being held right here, right outside the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, and certainly, India is remembering tonight what is now known as India's 9/11.

JOHNS: Sara, I remember watching you during all of that and I remember you became very emotional late in all of the developments. Could you talk a little bit about that moment where it sort of really touched you in the heart?

SIDNER: Joe, I remember speaking with you because at one of the times we were all ducking down on the ground and we were literally reporting from the ground. I think what happened that night to many of us, many of the journalists and reporters that were here standing in a line so close to this, we could literally feel those glass - you could feel it in your bones, they were so loud.

And day after day, it just didn't stop. There was - literally, it went on for some 60 hours. And so every time we thought things were quiet, suddenly your adrenaline would get pumped again. And hearing from this family throughout, as they started to text message and call, and then her family members would call me and say, "What do we do? What should she do? There's a fire now going? Where is she? Can she get out? Can you help her?" You know, I felt completely helpless out here, trying to guide someone when I had no idea what was going on inside.

So, certainly, at the end of 60 hours, you know, everybody was tired and emotions were very raw, including the journalists out here and it's very hard to keep that in sometimes when so much has gone on for so long - Johns.

JOHNS: Very stressful and emotional time, and remembering all that reporting and - and the very sad days in Mumbai.

Thanks, Sara. Sara Sidner.

ROMANS: An American woman wounded in the Mumbai attack lost her husband and 13-year-old daughter, but instead of anger, she's focusing on forgiveness and you can read her remarkable story on our blog,

JOHNS: And we will have the top stories coming your way in just about 90 seconds.