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American Morning

Iraq War Ends; Road Home Through Kuwait; Payroll Tax Cut Extension Compromise; Ganging Up on Gingrich; From Junk to Jewelry; Iraq War Ends; Corzine Testifies Today; Florida A&M Fraud Investigation; Payroll Tax Cut Extension Compromise; Iraq Handover

Aired December 15, 2011 - 06:00   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Over and out. The U.S. military lowers the flag in Baghdad. The final U.S. troops leaving Iraq with pride and putting a fragile nation in the rear view mirror.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news for your paycheck. Big compromise on Capitol Hill that could put $1,000 or more back into your paycheck next year.

COSTELLO: "Occupy" Gingrich. Newt gets heckled by Wall Street protesters. They get it back on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROMANS: Good morning, everyone. It is Thursday, December 15th. Welcome to AMERICAN MORNING. Good morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: Good morning, Christine. Good morning to all of you.

Up first, it's over. Just minutes ago, U.S. forces lowered the flag in Baghdad and retired the colors to mark the end of the nearly nine-year Iraq war.

The final few thousand U.S. troops are leaving Iraq ahead of the New Year's Eve deadline to get out.

ROMANS: Remember that, it is a war that started with shock and awe. And after a quick success, walk into an insurgency and a sectarian blood bath, and today the departing soldiers are remembering more than 4,000 who did not come home alive.

COSTELLO: We're set up at points all along the military's long journey home. First, let's get to Barbara Starr. She is live in Baghdad. Barbara, the big question this morning is what happens after we are gone?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Carol, there will be what they call an Office of Defense Cooperation here in Baghdad. The U.S. military will continue in a very small way to assist Iraq and find weapons, helping to get their training programs up to speed.

But really today this is all about it being over. They have begun with (INAUDIBLE). It has ended with just a couple hundred Americans, civilians, military troops, behind these glass walls in Baghdad.

You see the ceremony wrapping up behind me paying tribute to the more than 4,000 that died and more than 30,000 who were wounded. But we didn't see any Iraqis here, perhaps a small handful of Iraqi officials. This is about the U.S. packing up and going home as was agreed to between President Obama, Congress, and the Iraqi government.

That was the plan all along to get out by the end of the year. Only a few thousand troops left. A couple of bases in Iraq. The convoys are moving south every day to Kuwait. Everyone will be gone in the coming days.

You may remember, it was back in 2003, President George W. Bush stood on that carrier next to the banner that said -- mission accomplished.

There's a lot of debate and will be debate for years, was the mission accomplished? But today it really does matter because for U.S. troops the mission is over -- Carol, Christine.

COSTELLO: It is hard to believe, isn't it? It just seems to have gone on forever. Barbara Starr reporting live from Baghdad this morning. Thanks.

ROMANS: Yes, really, a whole generation. This was the war that defined them for a decade, really. I mean, the final few thousand U.S. troops are heading home right now. Kuwait was the starting point for the war that began nearly nine years ago.

CNN's Martin Savidge has been with the troops and a long and dangerous road out of Iraq. He joins us live from Camp Virginia in Kuwait.

Martin, good morning. You know, the soldiers, you talked to there, do they leave with a sense of victory or is it -- more reflection of where they have come from and where they are going to now?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, it's more of the latter. There is a strong sense of reflection and a strong concern about the future of the Iraqi people because after all, the U.S. invested a great deal of treasure and a great deal blood.

And many of the soldiers that come out of this conflict, they get to see to it to the very end and they realize that they are here for a moment in history. They are looking at it from the point of view that they feel they have accomplished their goals.

They have done the best they can to train and prepare the Iraqi military and the Iraqi police and to plant the seeds of democracy for the government. They essentially say look, it is now up to the Iraqi people.

They believe it is time for the U.S. to stand down, security wise and for the Iraqis to stand up to the security challenges they face. I had a conversation with a young specialist last night by the name of Michael Lang. Right after the president gave his speech and he expressed his feelings about what was accomplished and what he did in Iraq. Listen.


MICHAEL LANG, SOLDIER: Pretty good. We did a lot this tour, my last tour. We're helping the Iraqi people a lot. We do whatever we could to help. I mean, there's only so much you can do. We helped them as much as we could.


SAVIDGE: So these soldiers are not coming out saying victory. They are not saying we won. There is a sombre sense, a sombre realization, that this country, Iraq, faces a very difficult future. That they believe the U.S. has done its best to prepare the Iraqi people for that destiny they now take on themselves -- Christine.

ROMANS: All right, Martin Savidge. Thank you, Martin.

ROMANS: President Obama marked an end to the Iraq war at Fort Bragg in North Carolina saying U.S. troops are leaving with their heads held high.

But he stressed that America still has an obligation to its returning heroes. Many of whom are suffering from the invisible wounds of war.

David Mattingly live at Fort Bragg for us this morning. David, the troops are coming home to an uncertain bad economy. Let's just put it in stark terms like that. They will be looking for work. Do they think about that?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, for the last nine years, so many soldiers here at Fort Bragg had been departing for Iraq over and over again.

Now that they are back home, when the president was speaking here yesterday, there was one big question on their mind -- and that was what is going to happen to us now in the years to come?



MATTINGLY (voice-over): Soldiers out of Iraq and home for the holidays. That alone is worth celebrating. But troops at Fort Bragg are looking for more. Assurances from the president their sacrifices will not be overlooked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's a lot of stuff behind the scenes that we will never understand, but we do know that the government is going to do its cutbacks.

MATTINGLY: After eight years in Iraq and budget cuts at home, soldiers worry about holes opening and safety nets, pensions, medical support, and treatment for PTSD.

(on camera): How much pain are you in right now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quite a bit. I mean, on day to day -- aches and pains and studs and needles.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): Iraq Vet Wesley Dodd came home in 2008 with a painful knee injury, PTSD and eventually an addiction to pain medication. Today, he's medically retired and in a methadone program.

(on camera): Do you consider yourselves lucky?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely. I'm alive. I came home alive. I can't say the same -- I have a number of these bands. This Corporal Ryan Woodwer, he was killed on a mission while I was there.

Sergeant Brian Tutton, he was in my platoon and he was killed while I was there. So there are a lot of people that don't come home. It is not easy.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But Dodd was also arrested for forging a prescription. He's now on probation. He believes as more troops come home, there will be more like him, in pain and in trouble.

Since the war in Iraq began, Fort Bragg and the army have also had to find new ways to deal with long term problems of domestic violence and suicide.

In just the last week outside Bragg, there have been two murder suicides involving Iraq soldiers. One killed a sheriff's deputy. Another killed his wife.

These female Iraq vets tell me military families demand for access to counselling and treatment could go on indefinitely.

(on camera): What's the biggest problem had you when you came back immediately?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Problem sleeping. Lord that was --

MATTINGLY: Nightmares?


MATTINGLY: How long did that take for that to go away?


MATTINGLY (voice-over): But troops with questions about their future seem to get their answer, a pledge from the commander in chief.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: You stood up for America and America needs to stand up for you.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MATTINGLY: That revolving door of deployment that's been going on here for almost a decade here at Fort Bragg continues to turn with the war continuing in Afghanistan.

The sense here is among the soldiers that they have one big job that's done, but still many sacrifices they may have to make in the future -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Such an emotional piece, David. You know, just -- hope for the best in the New Year and hope 2012 will be the best year ever for many of those troops coming home.

ROMANS: David Mattingly, thank you.

So how is -- how are we leaving Iraq different than the Iraq of just a few years ago? Coming up at 6:40 eastern, we will speak to retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt. He was the spokesperson for the U.S. military in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.

COSTELLO: At 7:10 Eastern, Brett Mcguirk will join us. He is a former adviser to three U.S. ambassadors in Baghdad. (INAUDIBLE) as the U.S. leave Iraq, is the country ready to stand on its own? What exactly did we accomplish in that country?

ROMANS: All right, a big confession in the battle to extend the payroll tax cut. A source tells CNN, Democrats are working on a new proposal that drops their demand for a tax hike on millionaires.

Taxing millionaires to pay for an extension of tax relief for the middle class and has the two parties talking, House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Reid, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell meeting privately for about an hour in the capitol last night.

The 160 million American workers are facing a thousand dollar tax hike on New Year's Day if Congress can't come up with a compromise.

COSTELLO: Also new this morning, tragedy averted at an Idaho mine. Emergency crews overnight rescued seven miners from the Lucky Friday Silver Mine in Northern Idaho.

A mine official says the miners were trapped after a rock burst more than a mile underground. Seven were treated for nonlife threatening injuries. Two fatal accidents happened at the mine this year.

ROMANS: Florida A&M University in more trouble. Smack in the middle of a hazing investigation. Authorities find evidence of possible financial fraud. State officials say they are looking into financial irregularities in the school's sports administration and band departments.

The school's band is already in hot water. Last month, a drum major was killed in a suspected hazing incident and this week three band members were arrested in another alleged hazing and sent a woman to the hospital with broken bones.

COSTELLO: It is the silent movie that could the artist is likely to earn a Golden Globe nomination when the nominees announced in Los Angeles in just about two-and-a-half hours from now. We will bring you the ceremony live.

ROMANS: All right, still to come --

The Republican frontrunner getting it from all sides now. How occupiers and conservatives alike are ganging up on Newt Gingrich.

COSTELLO: He gave it right back, though.

ROMANS: He sure did.

COSTELLO: Yes, CNN in depth giving you the inside story, the controversial oil pipeline that Republicans attached to their payroll tax cut extension.

ROMANS: And terrifying moments at a Tennessee convenience store. A truck plunges through the glass. The driver wasn't finished there. It's 12 minutes after the hour.


ROMANS: Welcome back.

GOP frontrunner Newt Gingrich has been called many names and has done some name calling of his own during his long combative career, of course.

COSTELLO: He has. But the former House Speaker seems determined to take the high road this time around no matter what his opponents may be saying about him.

Jim Acosta is on the campaign trail in Iowa City, Iowa, where it seems everyone is ganging up on Gingrich.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Carol and Christine, remember that plea from Newt Gingrich for all the GOP candidates to stick to a positive campaign? Never mind.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: (INAUDIBLE). We are here to protest your speech today!

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a nasty taste of what's to come for Newt Gingrich after Occupy Wall Street protesters interrupted his speech at the University of Iowa, a man in the audience attacked the former speaker's personal life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It seems like you have -


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- you have been cheating on your wife -

GINGRICH: (INAUDIBLE) - other than - other than personal hostility.

ACOSTA: Gingrich is now under fire from all sides. Mitt Romney launched this web ad featuring the Former Speaker and Nancy Pelosi in their now infamous plea to combat climate change. A pro-Romney pack put it this way in its own ad.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Barack Obama's plan is working. Destroy Mitt Romney, run against Newt Gingrich.

ACOSTA: Just days after Gingrich called on his fellow GOP contenders to steer clear of negative attacks, Romney blasted away to the "New York Times."

MITT ROMNEY (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Zany is not what we need in a president. Zany is great in a campaign. It's great on talk radio. It's great in the - in the print. It makes for fun reading. But in terms of a president, we need a leader.

ACOSTA: But Gingrich, who responded to Romney's attacks earlier in the week, said he wasn't taking the bait this time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you're not going to respond to these -

GINGRICH: No. Look, I understand what all the consultants are doing. That's fine. They should run their campaign the way they want to and I'm going to run my campaign the way I want to.

ACOSTA: In Iowa where conservatives have doubts about both Romney and Gingrich, the rest of the field sees an opening. Rick Perry just launched a Faith, Jobs and Freedom Bus Tour that will crisscross the state with a slew of stops.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So many people vote for a flashy smile and charisma rather than substance.

ACOSTA: And don't count out Ron Paul, who sports the busiest campaign headquarters in Iowa. At least Gingrich has his old House subordinate and current Speaker John Boehner to count on. Or does he?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), HOUSE SPEAKER: It will be hard to describe Newt as not conservative. I'm not sure he's as conservative as some people think he is, but Newt is a conservative.


ACOSTA: Gingrich promised to stay positive will be tested once again when the GOP candidates speak for yet another debate here in Iowa later tonight. It could be the former speaker under fire all over again - Carol and Christine.

ROMANS: All right. We're going to hear more about the tense exchange that you just saw between Newt Gingrich and an Occupy protester in Iowa yesterday. Because at 7:30 Eastern, we are going to be joined by Marl Heck (ph), the man you heard confronting the GOP president.

COSTELLO: His name is really Heck and he was a heckler.

ROMANS: That's true.

COSTELLO: How weird.

Let's head to Atlanta to check in with - with Reynolds Wolf. Rob has the day off. Good morning, Reynolds.

REYNOLDS WOLF, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good morning. I wish we could heckle some of the rough weather we've had in parts of the Eastern Seaboard.

What we're going to be seeing today is some rain, scattered showers, even possibly a few thunderstorms in the Ohio Valley. But the top half of the system we might be seeing just a little something extra that might be some snow in parts of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Meanwhile, that rain scatters all the way back into parts of Texas, back out to the west and California. We're seeing some rain there. But in the highest elevations, we have that cold air aloft. And, you know the drill. They will be seeing some snow there. So great for skiers, not so much though for many of the drivers out there.

We have the storm system in the east. Right behind it some strong winds in the Twin Cities, may have some delays there. And then, of course, the Pacific Northwest, there's scattered showers in the Willamette Valley, but high up in the Cascades. You better believe this snow may be (INAUDIBLE), but really not that heavy. That's the good news there.

We've got that big trough in the jet stream. And with it, it allows that cold air to compile again in parts of the Central Rockies, even as far south as Albuquerque, 40 degrees for your high temperature, it's not the low, it's the high; 42 in Kansas City; 32 in Minneapolis; 50 in Chicago; 65 in Memphis and 71 in Atlanta; 59 in Washington and 54 in New York.

So plain and simple, what is that going to mean for you? It's going to mean this. Major delays from New York and Philadelphia, showers and wind are going to keep you grounded sometimes over an hour. So I'd say especially if the afternoon we're going to see those delays stack up. In Boston, Chicago, even in Cleveland and in Detroit, you might have a bit of wait. And then, yes, out to the west, in San Francisco, we showed you those showers. They may keep grounded there, coupled with some fog.

Not only in San Francisco but perhaps on the other side of the bay in Oakland, you might have to wait a bit. Major delays expected over an hour. OK. Speaking of delays, we've got further delays.

Let's send it back to New York. Back to you, guys.

COSTELLO: We were just trying to snap our fingers like you.

ROMANS: I know.

WOLF: Boom.


WOLF: Well, I got hands the size of aircraft carriers. I mean, you know, when I basically snap, I mean, it is like a thunderclap.

ROMANS: It would be a (ph) professional basketball career.


ROMANS: Reynolds couldn't decide.

COSTELLO: You chose wisely, though.

WOLF: One of those things.


WOLF: Yes, I think so, too.

ROMANS: All right. Still to come this morning, the official end to the Iraq War. Now that U.S. troops are out, can Baghdad stand on its own? We're going to speak to a retired Brigadier General about Iraq's future. It's about 20 minutes.

COSTELLO: And Mitt Romney filling his campaign cuppers (ph) with a visit to Wall Street and feeling the heat and not from Newt Gingrich but, of course, from Democrats.

It's 20 minutes past the hour.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Drink it, wear it. That's Kathleen Plate's motto. She takes empty bottles and makes them into wearable art. She calls it smart glass jewelry.

KATHLEEN PLATE, SMART GLASS JEWELRY: I decided I would only use glass and that it would primarily come from the recycled bottles. We come in the studio. We cut the bottles. We try different things. Just a lot of experimentation, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

BALDWIN: The bottles come from different sources, like restaurants or dumpsters.

PLATE: I'm not unaccustomed to dumpster diving. I guess whatever needs to happen to get the job done.

BALDWIN: Kathleen's passion is creating jewelry that has a dual purpose. PLATE: All things being equal, why not do it with a higher consciousness? Why not do it in a way that has less impact, that has a greater benefit? I want, you know - I make jewelry and I want it to be more than that. I want to have a story. I want to it have meaning, and it just feels good.

BALDWIN: Kathleen is planning to work on larger pieces next like chandeliers.

Brooke Baldwin, CNN, Atlanta.



ROMANS: Welcome back. "Minding Your Business" this morning.

Wall Street can't shake those concerns about Europe's ongoing debt crisis. Stocks took a hit yesterday for the third day in a row. The Dow, NASDAQ and S&P 500 were all lower, down one percent. U.S. stock futures this morning are trading higher.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is concerned that Europe's problems may spill over into the U.S. That's according to Republican senators who are briefed by the Fed chairman yesterday. They also say Bernanke assured them the Fed does not intend to bail out Europe.

Concerns about Europe have investors dumping gold and going into cash. The precious metal sank (ph) five percent yesterday. It's the first time gold has been below the $1,600 level in three months. Silver, copper and palladium were also down sharply.

In about two hours from now, we'll get a fresh read on the employment situation, the initial jobless claims report. Expected to show that 320,000 people filed for unemployment benefits for the very first time last week. And any time this number is below 400,000, though, it's a good sign for the labor market.

The nation's top CEOs remain cautious about the economy. According to a survey by the Business Roundtable, two-thirds say they don't plan to increase hiring in the next six months nor do they plan to spend more on large equipment. This is mainly because of sluggish growth here and Europe's debt problems.

Finally, some good news for the travel industry at least, according to AAA nearly 92 million Americans, that's about a third of the population are expected to travel at least 50 miles this holiday. That's up about a percent and a half from last year.

AMERICAN MORNING will be right back after the break.


COSTELLO (voice-over): Oh, the first sign of progress in days with tax relief for 160 million families on the line, Congress on the clock, your money at stake on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ROMANS: And welcome back. It's about half past the hour. Time for this morning's other top stories.

The Iraq War is now over. Earlier this morning, a ceremony in Baghdad brought nearly a nine-year long conflict to an end. Only a few thousand troops remain now in Iraq.

COSTELLO: New this hour, a French court convicting former President Jacques Chirac on corruption charges, giving him a two-year suspended prison sentence. The former French president was put on trial on charges dated back to his time as mayor of Paris. Chirac was accused of paying members of his political party for jobs that did not exist.

ROMANS: Signs of progress in the battle over how to extend that payroll tax holiday. Sources tell CNN Democrats are now working on a new proposal that drops their demand for a millionaire's tax. House Speaker John Boehner, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are meeting privately for about an hour in the Capitol last night.

COSTELLO: So, does that make you hopeful? Because Congress can't hammer out a compromise about 160 million working Americans will be socked with a $1,000 tax hike in just over two weeks.

Kate Bolduan is live in Washington.

Don't they just have one more day?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's until the government could potentially shut down. So things while that -- that tax cut expires at the end of the year, things are definitely moving up and it's a very important day today.

But this drawn-out stalemate over the payroll tax cut extending the payroll tax cut, I should say, before it expires at the end of the month, it's really now inching dangerously close to another government shutdown, as I said. Last night, Senate Democrats offered a major concession, though. Following a meeting with the president, according to a Democratic source, Senate Democratic leaders, they offered to drop the millionaires surtax as their preferred way of covering the cost of a payroll tax cut package. This is significant as Democrats and the president had really insisted that this millionaires surtax be included in any final deal and that's not surprisingly is something Republicans have been very much opposed to.

But even with this development, I have to caution that it's not clear what will break the stand-off, where they will find final compromise, and in the meantime, approval of a massive government funding bill that's been negotiated for months now is being held up while they continue this battle over the payroll tax cut.

And with the last short-term spending bill running out Friday as we have been talking about, that means Congress is now staring down a potential shutdown of the government. So today could be a very important day.

COSTELLO: I think that -- I think we've heard government shutdown or the threat after government shutdown so often maybe we're immune to it now, I don't know. But back to paying for this payroll tax holiday, if there is to be no surcharge on millionaires, is there any sign of how exactly it is going to be paid for?

BOLDUAN: We haven't gotten details of what Democrats in lieu of saying they want this millionaires surtax, what Democrats will propose as their pay-fors, as they're called on Capitol Hill, how they want to cover the cost of this tax cuts, because Republicans have been demanding all along that if they were going to go along with extend this thing payroll tax cut extension for another year, that it would need to be paid for. That had not been done previously but this time that's kind of part of the conversation.

So, it's not clear where they are going to be able to find that compromise. That's going to be an important part of the conversation and really will be looking today to see where leaders are going to be able to find somewhere to agree. We do know that last night for the first time as this battle really began that all the kind of main negotiations, Senate Majority Harry Reid, House Speaker John Boehner, as well as Republican leader in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, they all sat down for first time to speak face to face.

So, if we are going to take any good signs that we can take as a sign of progress, I guess.

COSTELLO: And they are intact this morning, so maybe that's a good sign.

BOLDUAN: Right, exactly. No blood, no bruises yet.

COSTELLO: Kate Bolduan, thanks so much.

BOLDUAN: Of course.

ROMANS: And, you know, it's so interesting, Carol, because the Democrats want to put that millionaires surtax on. The Republicans want it to freeze pay and growth for federal workers. Some critics have said, you know, Democrats want rich people to pay for it. Republicans want the middle class to pay for it, because federal workers are by and large the middle class. So, that was a big class battle in this.

Also, a big sticking point for Democrats and this has been -- this whole idea of the add-on of the pipeline -- provision that would speed the approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. That's why Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the bill dead on arrival.

The Keystone XL is a proposed 2,000-mile pipeline that would connect Canada's oil sand fields to refineries in Houston and Gulf of Mexico. This pipeline would be capable of transporting over 500,000 barrels of oil per day. It requires President Obama's approval because it crosses an international border.

Now, proponents of the pipeline, like many Republicans, say that it's going to provide thousands of jobs to Americans and would lessen the U.S.'s dependence on oil from hostile nations.


ALEX POURBAIX, TRANSCANADA CORPORATION: When you boil down the debate on this project, I believe it comes down to a simple question for Americans: do they want secure, stable oil from a friendly neighbor in Canada? Or do they want to continue to import high-priced conflict oil from unfriendly regions such as the Middle East or Venezuela?


ROMANS: But opponents, many Democrats, say environmental concerns trump any economic or energy benefits in this proposed pipeline. They say spilled oil sands are far more damaging than crude oil and much more expensive to clean up.


JANE KLEEB: This pipeline is risky. It is massive. Literally have no long-term studies on how tar sands will affect our land, water and health.


ROMANS: So, the Obama administration played a -- delayed a decision on the pipeline back in November, saying that more environmental studies needed to be conducted, effectively pushing the decision until after the 2012 election. And then you saw Republicans trying to tuck it in there to the payroll tax holiday.

Many were saying what does the controversial pipeline have to do with the payroll tax holiday? Because that's how Washington works.

COSTELLO: Well, it appears to have worked, right? Since the --

ROMANS: Tuck it in there.

COSTELLO: -- Democrats dropped the idea of the surcharge on millionaires. I mean --

ROMANS: We'll see if they drop their pipeline in return, or how that's going to work out.

COSTELLO: Exactly.

ROMANS: Thirty-six minutes past the hour.

New this morning, signs that the death penalty may be dying a slow death itself in the United States. Just 43 people have been executed this year. That's according to the Death Penalty Information Center. That's down from 100, just a dozen years ago.

And the number of death sentences also hit a 35-year low. Texas by far led the way with 13 executions, Alabama with six and Ohio had five.

ROMANS: No criminal charges will result from the nationally televised basket brawl last weekend between Xavier University and the University of Cincinnati. After talking with coaches from both teams, Ohio prosecutors decided the situation could be handled more effectively by the schools internally rather than the criminal justice system.

COSTELLO: Spectacular crash caught on surveillance tape at a convenience store in Columbia, Tennessee. A pickup truck barrels right through the glass into -- oh, gosh.

Police say the driver was aiming for his girlfriend who had --


COSTELLO: Yes -- run inside the store and he pinned the store owner instead.

A Good Samaritan, who is also a nurse, saw it all happen. She called 911. She ran inside to help the owner. And then things turned bad for her.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's when I turn around and I noticed the guy out at my car. I'm like, oh, my God. He stole my car!


COSTELLO: But the driver foiled his own getaway running head-on into a bread truck. The suspect is now in the hospital and of course has been placed under arrest. He is charged with, among other things, attempted murder.

ROMANS: Wow. That's just one bad decision after another, all caught on tape.

All right. Still ahead, a formal end to a long-fought war. We'll talk to a U.S. Army general who served in a number of key roles during the military mission in Iraq.

It's 38 minutes after the hour.


COSTELLO: Forty-one minutes past the hour. Welcome back.

It's the mother of all handovers. At a flag-lowering ceremony overnight, the U.S. officially ended the military mission in Iraq that began nearly nine years ago. More than 4,400 American troops lost their lives.

Retired Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt was the U.S. military spokesman during the initial Iraq invasion and later served a as assistant secretary of state of political and military affairs.

General Kimmitt joins us now live from Washington.

Good morning, General.

BRIG. GEN. MARK KIMMITT (RET), U.S. ARMY: Hi, Carol. How are you?

COSTELLO: I'm good.

Four thousand four hundred eighty-seven troops died in Iraq. If I'm one of the lucky ones, one of the lucky soldiers that got out safe, and I'm coming home from Iraq right now, how should I feel?

KIMMITT: Well, I think every soldier has a number of mixed feelings about the last nine years. But everyone who participated should feel tremendously proud of the fact that they volunteered and as they take a look at what has been accomplished in Iraq over the last nine years, a functioning democracy inside that region, country no longer oppressed by a tyrannical dictator, they have a lot to be proud of what they achieved and what they've left behind.

COSTELLO: Martin Savidge, he is in Baghdad, he interviewed a number of soldiers. They say they -- they point out that the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein but none of them say we won this thing.

Is it possible to win wars anymore?

KIMMITT: In this case, winning will be judged in the years to come. Will Iraq remain a self-sustaining democracy, at peace with its neighbors, no long area threat to the region? If that's the case, then these soldiers can say yes, indeed they won.

There will be no victory parades. There will be no marching up and down Times Square. There will be no kiss necessary the middle of Times Square. But every soldier and their families should walk away extremely satisfied and proud of what they accomplished and what they left behind.

I just hope it can remain that way.

COSTELLO: I know. We all do. "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board is not so sure today. It warned today about abandoning Iraq right now.

This is what they wrote in an op-ed: "U.S. interests in consolidating alliance with Iraq have never been greater. With that alliance, the U.S. may find a pillar for its position in the Middle East, especially Egypt -- if Egypt abandons that role. Without the alliance, Iraq is likelier to fall prey to Tehran's encroachments or collapse into sectarian violence or again become a haven for a reconstituted al Qaeda."

Are they right?

KIMMITT: Well, it goes to the point, which is why it was felt necessary to withdraw our soldiers so quickly, we had a mission to complete. And many of us worry that the withdrawal by the end of this year rather than spend a few more periods developing in Iraqi security forces so we can be sure, so they can be sure their forces were ready to fill that security vacuum when they left, that's what's puzzling to many of us out here.

COSTELLO: So, you believe that we are leaving Iraq too soon?

KIMMITT: By their own admission, the Iraqi security force has a plan for fully being prepared to handle the external and internal threats by 2020. That's eight years from now. And in my judgment, we could have used the next few years training and developing the Iraqi security forces so that those hard-won gains our soldiers achieved would be permanent and not speculative.

COSTELLO: So, having said that, the troops may be leaving Iraq, but we'll still have a pretty significant presence there. We have this huge massive embassy in Baghdad, consulates (ph) in Basra and Erbil with (INAUDIBLE). There'll be 1,700 staffers, close to 10,000 American contractors. So, is that enough personnel to maintain our strong ties to that country and will these people be safe?

KIMMITT: It's certain the case that the diplomatic presence will be significant. I would note that most of those people inside Iraq are, in fact, security contractors which ought to give an indication that the country is not yet safe. We will leave behind 160 uniformed military from the 175,000 we had at one point.

Those 160 will be responsible for continuing the training and development of the Iraqi security forces. I think the numbers alone speak to the lack of commitment we have in terms of seeing the full maturation and preparation of the Iraqi security force.

COSTELLO: So, a final question for you this morning. We've gone from worrying about a weapon of mass destruction in Iraq to worrying about a weapon of mass destruction in Iran, but our approach to the two countries -- well, it's vastly different. I mean, has Iraq weakened the case for preemptive action? Or is it the other way around?

KIMMITT: I'm not sure that it has made the case either way. I think any president who recognizes that there's an existential threat to the United States of America must take the actions he deems necessary. If that requires preemptive strikes, so be it. But that's a very, very high measure and very, very high bar to achieve. And I don't think Iraq has proven the case either way.

COSTELLO: Gen. Mark Kimmitt, thank you so much for joining this morning. We appreciate it.

KIMMITT: Thank you. COSTELLO: Forty-six minutes past the hour. Still ahead, Mitt Romney meets Wall Street. The Republican candidate trolling for campaign cash in a neighborhood not foreign to Republicans or Democrats in a presidential race. We're digging deeper on that.


GABE SAGLIE, SENIOR EDITOR, TRAVELZOO.COM: Hi. I'm Gabe Saglie, a senior editor at TravelZoo. The seed to get up and go was planted in me from the time I was a little kid. It's a great way to get to know the world and be able to talk about it when I go on TV and radio. You will want to be a road warrior, think like a business traveler.

I think that loyalty makes a difference when you are a very frequent traveler. Otherwise, let the value, let the bargain drive your vacation. The new normal is we're paying for our bags. We're paying for the seats we want on the plane. We're paying for the food we eat and the entertainment we get onboard.

So, the more you can fend for yourself, the smoother the experience will be. This is basically my home office in the palm of my hand. I've got a wife and kids at home. Skype has really become something that's kept us connected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How is everything there?

SAGLIE: Good. New York is good. If there is a steamer available, I order it right way. Clothes get a lot of wear and tear when it's on the road. So, I got to keep them looking as crisp as I possibly can. When you're a guy, you can get away with one suit, change the shirt, change the tie. It's like a brand-new outfit.

Today, it's New York. Could be anywhere else tomorrow. Bye.



COSTELLO: Ten minutes until the top of the hour. Here's what you need to know to start your day.


COSTELLO (voice-over): The Iraq war now officially over. Earlier this morning, U.S. soldiers lowered a flag in Baghdad, officially bringing the nearly nine-year conflict to an end. Only a few thousand troops remain in Iraq right now.

Potential progress in the battle over how to extend the payroll tax cut. Sources tell CNN Democrats are working on a new proposal that drops their demand for a millionaire's surtax.

Lawmakers will again grill former New Jersey governor, Jon Corzine, today. He was the CEO of MF Global, a commodities trading firm that went belly-up in the nation's eighth largest bankruptcy. More than a billion dollars in client money is missing.

More trouble for Florida A&M. The university now being investigated for fraud. State authorities say they came across financial irregularities while looking into suspected hazing within the school's band. A drum major was killed last month in an alleged hazing incident.

A bad batch of moonshine kills more than 100 people in India, and police expect to find even more victims. Right now, at least 100 people are being treated at the hospital. Police raided liquor vendors, arresting four people they suspect of selling the illegal brew.

And it's a big, big morning in Hollywood for both movies and television. The Golden Globe nominations will be announced in less than two hours from now, and we will bring it to you live.


COSTELLO (on-camera): That's the news you need to start your day. AMERICAN MORNING back right after this.


COSTELLO: Good morning, New York and what a beautiful morning. It is 52 minutes past the hour. Welcome back to AMERICAN MORNING.

ROMANS: All right. It wasn't exactly hat in hand, but Mitt Romney turning to Wall Street yesterday for some campaign cash. Democrats use that occasion, of course, to attack him for it.

COSTELLO: But as CNN's Mary Snow tells us, in a presidential campaign, the street is an equal opportunity piggy bank.


MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney tapped New York donors for campaign cash, Democrats flew this airplane banner calling him out of touch, reminding New Yorkers of a $10,000 bet Romney made against Rick Perry at the last Republican debate.

The progressive group,, ceased on Romney's visit, calling him the poster child for Wall Street and the one percent. The Romney camp dismissed it as the White House being scared of facing Romney in the general election. Senior political analyst, David Gergen, says Democrats targeting Romney solely for raising Wall Street contributions is hypocritical.

DAVID GERGEN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Barack Obama raised tons of money on Wall Street the last time around, and he's going to raise the money this time. Wall Street has turned more hostile toward the president since he's been at the White House, but it's natural that Mitt Romney would go there.

SNOW (on-camera): When it comes to campaign cash from Wall Street, so far, Mitt Romney is leading with $3.8 million to $1.7 million for Barack Obama. And take a look at Goldman Sachs. Back in 2008, Goldman Sachs is one of the top contributors to the Barack Obama campaign.

So far, Mitt Romney getting about $367,000 from Goldman Sachs employees to $50,000 for Barack Obama.

(voice-over) Those numbers are compiled by Sheila Krumholz's nonpartisan group, the Center for Responsive Politics. She says in the 2008 election, the finance sector was the fourth largest donor to Barack Obama's campaign. And while many in the financial world complain about being portrayed as villains, Krumholz says Wall Street donors are not strangers to the Obama campaign this time around.

SHEILA KRUMHOLZ, CENTER FOR RESPONSIVE POLITICS: They are also hosting fundraisers and trying to draw in donors from Wall Street. They have a number of Wall Street representatives on their volunteer bundler list.

SNOW: One of those listed as a bundler fundraiser is Democrat Jon Corzine, former head of Goldman Sachs, former New Jersey governor and U.S. senator who's now being questioned about an estimated $1.2 billion missing from his former firm, MF Global holdings.

(on-camera) An Obama campaign official says Corzine is not currently fundraising for the campaign, and that it's been made clear that if Corzine or any other MF Global employees are charged with wrongdoing, their contributions will be returned.

Mary Snow, CNN, New York.


ROMANS: Very interesting. All right. Ahead next hour, marking the end of the Iraq war. After nearly nine years and more than 4,000 dead, is the country ready to stand on its own? We'll ask someone who helped negotiate the exit. It's 56 minutes after the hour.