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A Dangerous City, a Deadly Bomb; Why Did White House Give in on Letting Condoleezza Rice Testify?

Aired March 31, 2004 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: A dangerous city, a deadly bomb. Today, the death toll in Iraq spiking again.
Why did the White House give in on letting Condoleezza Rice testify before the 9/11 Commission? And what will be the most heated subjects when the questions start flying?

And the politics of Michael Jackson. The singer visiting members of Congress, but not everybody wants to meet him.

Those stories ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.

ANNOUNCER: From the CNN Broadcast Center in New York, this is AMERICAN MORNING with Bill Hemmer and Soledad O'Brien.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: All right, welcome to Wednesday, good to have you with us today.

Other stories this hour. The latest twist in the Scott Peterson case, an in-court confrontation between Peterson's attorney Marc Geragos and a potential member of the jury.

You're not gong to believe this. We can't make it out. We'll get to Jeff Toobin on it in a moment and shake it out for you.

O'BRIEN: Also this morning, a secret military plan called Operation Desert Badger that could trigger a massive U.S. military strike against Iraq long before March 2003.

Barbara Starr has been working on this story. She's going to take a look at what exactly it would have taken to spark a confrontation there.

HEMMER: All right, we'll get to that. Jack Cafferty, good morning to you.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: How you doing? It's a red-letter day here in America. Air America, that communist radio network, starts broadcasting in a little while.

O'BRIEN: It's not communist.

CAFFERTY: It's not?



O'BRIEN: Liberal.

CAFFERTY: Well. Aren't they synonymous?

We'll talk about what that means, and whether we really need another liberal media outlet.

I mean, if you don't like "The New York Times" or CBS News, or Peter Jennings, this might be just the ticket for you.

O'BRIEN: We're only a minute thirty seconds in.

CAFFERTY: Well, Bill just said let's have a good Wednesday. I'm trying to do my part over here.

HEMMER: That's right, you make it very up close and personal.

O'BRIEN: I should have called in sick today, you know what? I was on the second step (ph). I didn't.

CAFFERTY: You're feeling better, though. I can tell.

O'BRIEN: I'm feeling a little better, but I should have called in sick, because I can tell how we're going, already.

HEMMER: 7:02 here in New York. Good morning. Top stories now.

Other news today. A senior official says national security adviser Condoleezza Rice could testify before that Commission as early as next week.

President Bush announcing yesterday that Rice would testify in public, and under oath.

The president making that decision after getting a written guarantee that this would not set a precedent for future Congressional investigations.

A lot more on this story throughout the morning. In fact, this hour as well.

From the Middle East today, Israeli soldiers shot and killed two Palestinians near a settlement in Gaza.

Meanwhile, some Israeli settlers have reportedly chained themselves inside a building in Palestinian-controlled East Jerusalem. About 15 Israelis move into the neighborhood today, prompting Palestinians to throw rocks.

Israeli police and soldiers fired tear gas at the demonstrators, and a half-dozen were taken into custody there.

This country now. Connecticut -- three southbound lanes of Interstate 95 now reopened. Live picture for you of the morning commute. Crews worked during the night to try and replace an overpass in Bridgeport. Shut down a week ago due to a fiery crash. We've been following that story -- an absolute mess for commuters.

Officials say the temporary bridge is safe, but are urging commuters to stick to the 45-mile-per-hour speed limit there.

Michael Jackson met with several leading black lawmakers yesterday on Capitol Hill. The singer wanted to talk about his upcoming mission to help fight AIDS in Africa. Jackson is in D.C. to accept an award for his work in helping to fight the disease overseas.

Jeff Toobin in a moment joins us to talk about -- a little bit later, rather, about where the legal case against Jackson stands back in California.

NCAA basketball. The Tennessee Lady Volunteers -- the Lady Vols -- off to the Final Four now for the third straight year. Tasha Butts scored with less than two minutes left -- make that two seconds left.

62-60 the final. The victory over Stanford last night. The Lady Vols play LSU on Sunday.

Equal time. Talking about the men for weeks now. The lady's are out there, too. So...


HEMMER: That's right. Tennessee still playing.

O'BRIEN: All right Tasha.

HEMMER: You go, girl.

O'BRIEN: Yes, exactly. There you go.


O'BRIEN: Well, it's been another deadly day in Iraq. An attack in Fallujah has left two -- on two vehicles, rather --has left one person dead.

Several members of the American military were killed by a roadside bomb west of Fallujah -- west of Baghdad, rather -- near Fallujah.

Jim Clancy is live for us in Baghdad with more on those attacks this morning. Jim, good morning to you.

JIM CLANCY, CNN: Good morning, Soledad, there in New York.

This is -- this attack really marks the largest U.S. death toll in any single incident since January. The military confirming now that five U.S. soldiers were killed when a bomb exploded beneath their vehicle as it was traveling in a convoy near Fallujah, that a hot spot in the Sunni triangle. We know no other details about what branch of the services these five soldiers may have been with. The U.S. Marines have control now of Fallujah. They just took over that control about two weeks ago -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Jim, we have reports out of Fallujah as well about civilians being killed. The details I know are a little bit sketchy, but some of this videotape is absolutely brutal. What can you tell us about that, Jim?

CLANCY: It is showing videotape, and it shows some of the sentiment there in Fallujah, which is really at the center for violence. Anti-coalition violence in Iraq today.

Two vehicles, this according to a CNN source, and we've talked with eyewitnesses there in Fallujah -- two vehicles came from a military base east of Fallujah, they came into the town, they were set upon by armed gunmen who threw hand grenades that ignited those vehicles. They then sprayed the vehicles with gunfire.

A mob, by the time you see this videotape, a mob has converged on the scene and at least several young men are seen to be hurling rocks or hurling chunks of cement at the cars.

Venting their rage against the occupation. At the same time, there are reports and there is videotape that they've dragged some of the bodies and body parts through the streets of Fallujah.

Gruesome details, exhibiting really the fury of some of the Iraqis in these areas against the occupation. Coalition officials have said it was going to get worse before June the 30th. Iraqi officials agree and it seems to be borne out by the events on this day.

O'BRIEN: Jim, do we have any details on who exactly these civilians were at this time?

CLANCY: Not right now. There are reports that one U.S. passport was found there. The clues would indicate that they may have had something to do with the Coalition provisional authority.

They were said to be wearing bulletproof vests. That would indicate perhaps they were civilian contractors. Perhaps they were members of the military, not in uniform. Perhaps they were even journalists.

But the details, I don't want to make any -- give any speculation here because we don't know what the firm answers are there. It's going to take some time, we're going to have to be patient, but a terrible incident caught on videotape.

O'BRIEN: Of course we'll update everybody when we do get some more details on that. Jim Clancy for us this morning, Jim, thank you.

These latest attacks come as the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, which has suffered nearly daily casualties in fighting the insurgency, has handed over responsibility for north-central Iraq.

Soldiers from the division were among those who found Saddam Hussein hiding in that famous spider hole near Tikrit.

Major General Ray Odierno is the commander of the 4th Infantry Division. He's now back from Iraq and he joins us from Ft. Hood Texas, which is of course the home of the Division.

Nice to see you, sir. Thanks for being with us.


O'BRIEN: Good morning to you. You just heard Jim Clancy's report.

The five military personnel killed, and then also this very brutal attack on civilians which was videotaped.

Apparently, as Jim said, the bodies being dragged through the streets. Is it your sense that the violence there is getting worse?

ODIERNO: I think it has to do with desperation. I think that what they're trying to do is they want to influence the future government of Iraq. They see it coming aboard, they see it making progress. They don't want that to happen. These people have everything to lose.

What I would emphasize it is a small percentage of the total population of the Iraqi people.

O'BRIEN: We've heard General Kimmitt make clear distinctions between insurgents and terrorists. Do you see those distinctions, and what exactly are the distinctions and how do you change your battle plans for fighting each group?

ODIERNO: Well, again, while we were over there every single day I would tell you we reevaluated how things were going because of the successes we had, they would then change their tactics.

The insurgents are individuals who are what I always called nationalists that were really associated what they don't want any foreign individuals within Iraq -- they want to take over control, continue to have power in Iraq.

The terrorists are individuals who want to just conduct terrorism throughout the world, and they use Iraq as just one other forum to conduct their terrorism.

O'BRIEN: So of those two then, which do you think is the bigger threat right now in these hotspots, these areas in Iraq?

ODIERNO: I think in the hotspots it's still insurgents for the most part; I think they are trying to influence the outcome of the government being turned over and the future government of Iraq. I think the terrorists will continue to try to establish their base in Iraq in order to conduct attacks against Western forces. However, I believe we've been able so far to interdict most of that and I think we'll continue to try to do that.

O'BRIEN: I know that training an Iraqi civil defense corps was a really big part of your mission, training the police as well.

Are you finding that the police or people who want to be members of the police force are still coming in to sign up in spite of the -- this spate of attacks against them?

ODIERNO: I found -- I left about two weeks ago, Soledad, and up until that point about a week before I left, we had an attack up in Kirkuk on a police station with a suicide bomber. And it killed about eight police officers.

The next day we had 30 to 50 people came forward who wanted to replace those eight police officers. Throughout we've had about a six to one ratio in the last three months here to join the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps for the police force.

The Iraqis want to move forward, the majority of the Iraqis want to move forward. They understand democracy, they understand having their own choice and they want to be a part of it.

Unfortunately, we have these individuals who want to do everything they can to unhinge this because they have everything to lose in this battle in Iraq.

O'BRIEN: Major General Ray Odierno, joining us this morning.

He is of course the commander of the 4th Infantry Division. And nice to see you, sir.

Thanks so much for being with us, we appreciate it.

ODIERNO: OK. Thank you very much.

O'BRIEN: Bill.

HEMMER: The OPEC Oil Cartel may be making it a bit more expensive for drivers in this country.

Ministers meeting in Vienna, Austria say they are likely to approve a cut in production despite U.S. calls for a raise in output levels. OPEC's likely move comes with prices at the pump here in this country at or near record highs.

In the latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, 69 percent say gasoline prices are an extremely important election year issue.

President Bush supports filling the nation's strategic petroleum reserve despite the spike in prices. The White House says filling that reserve to its maximum $700 million barrels is a matter of national security. About $25 million more barrels are said to be added to the reserve before Election Day.

O'BRIEN: Still to come this morning, in giving the OK for national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify, is the White House bowing to political pressure? We'll take a look at that.

HEMMER: Also, what is the CIA's new chief weapons inspector saying about the search for WMD in Iraq? We'll get an exclusive report on that also this morning.

O'BRIEN: And, saving up for that summer vacation. What you need to be doing now to make the most of your vacation bucks. Those stories are all ahead as AMERICAN MORNING continues right after this.


HEMMER: President Bush has agreed to do what he said he would not do for weeks, that is allow the national security adviser Condoleezza Rice to testify in public under oath before that 9/11 Commission.

In a deal with the bipartisan panel, Rice's testimony will not set a precedent of White House adviser's testifying for future investigations of Congress.

President Bush and the vice-president Dick Cheney also agreeing to meet privately with the entire Commission. Previously the president had agreed to meet only with the panel's chairman and vice- chairman for about an hour's time. But the White House yesterday the president talked about his decision.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've ordered this level of cooperation because I consider it necessary to gaining a complete picture of the months and years that preceded the murder of our fellow citizens on September the 11th 2001.


HEMMER: That was late yesterday afternoon. Our senior analyst here Jeff Greenfield with us. Nice to see you.


HEMMER: Much doubt here that the political pressure, the steam, was just getting too warm in the White House?

GREENFIELD: No, the two decisions were announced on the same day -- that the president and vice-president agreeing to meet with all ten commissioners instead of just the chair and vice-chair.

Hearing from Rice under oath. It's as clear as sign as you can get the White House just wants to stop the criticism that's come from all over the place. John Lehman, former Navy Secretary, a commissioner, a staunch Bush supporter called it a political blunder -- as just about every Republican -- and what the president said yesterday is just very clearly a sign that look, we want all the facts to come out -- we have nothing to hide.

And that's been for decades in Washington -- that's the biggest concern that people have politically in a dust-up like this -- uh, oh, they must have something to hide. This is their way of saying no we don't.

HEMMER: In many ways, we see this as a confrontation between Condoleezza Rice and Richard Clarke. What did he say, what did she say. How likely will that play out or how will that play out do you believe?

GREENFIELD: Well, I think it's going to be what all of us are going to pay attention to, but one of the interesting things about this on a couple of these issues they really are arguing about what the same set of facts mean.

I mean, there's no question that Clarke presented a plan in January, the White House, the national security staff said well, we want a more comprehensive look at all this and on September 4 they got one. In Clarke's view that represents unconscionable delay and in Rice's view and her supporters it represents the attempt of a new administration to try to maybe develop a new policy.

On some of these things, they're not arguing black versus white.

HEMMER: We saw these poll numbers pretty much split between who they believe, President Bush or Richard Clarke. Can the White House win on this issue at this point?

GREENFIELD: I think, you know, this depends to me entirely on how this -- this conversation or this hearing with Rice takes place and I think the answer is in this.

I don't usually bring props -- these are the eight interim staff findings. The staff of the Commission. They are a dispassionate look mostly at what happened under the Clinton years because there were eight years of them and only eight months of Bush before 9/11 but there are a couple of things in here that I think represent the real challenge for Dr. Rice.

It's clear from the staff report to which -- and it's a bipartisan or non-partisan effort that in the summer of 2001 there was a clear spike in warnings.

There were two members of the counterterrorism center that were so upset about what they saw as the lack of urgency that they were considering resigning and going public with their fears and that's where you heard Richard Clarke say, you know, I kept hammering at them saying look, you've got to pay attention to this and his explanation or his charges they were too locked in a Cold War mentality, they were looking at anti-ballistic missile systems, new relations with the Soviet Union. They didn't understand and the Rice and the Bush administration says no, we were developing a policy -- it just -- it caught up with us. The events.

That I think is -- Bill -- is where this -- this conversation is going to be most dramatic. When the commissioners say to Dr. Rice did you take this stuff with the urgency you should have?

HEMMER: You're a student of history, first. Do you have any concern with breaking of the precedent here? When the president said I've got my advisers, they're off limits, they're not approved by the Senate and therefore you don't have the right to put them on your panel and question them?

GREENFIELD: Not really because there is a -- the precedent is when the White House feels the heat enough they waive executive privilege.

And they said look, this is a very special case, it's not a Congressional investigation, it's a Commission looking at the worst thing that ever happened to America, and so we're making an exception here. But it -- it's not that unusual.

The White House has always taken the position the Constitution won't let us do it and then if they say you know what? We'd better put our people out, they do.

HEMMER: Maybe next week we'll see it -- must see cable TV, as we like to say around here. Thanks, Jeff.

All right, at top of the next hour we'll hear from the chairman of that 9/11 Commission, former New Jersey Republican governor Thomas Kean is our guest. His thoughts again here on AMERICAN MORNING. Now Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, some words of optimism about -- from the CIA rather about the search for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

Weapons inspectors have failed to find any WMD in Iraq but in Washington yesterday the CIA's new chief inspector did not rule out finding them in the future.


CHARLES DUELFER, CHIEF IRAQ WEAPONS INSPECTOR: We continue to receive reports all the time that there are hidden weapons so it's something which we have to pursue that investigation.

There continues to be evidence presented to us that weapons are hidden but we haven't found any at this point in time.


O'BRIEN: Inspector Charles Duelfer told a Congressional committee that fear of retribution is still a major stumbling block in his investigation.

He believes that some Iraqis who may have information about WMD just aren't talking.

Still to come this morning, why is Michael Jackson meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill?

And another motion for mistrial in the Tyco case. We've got the very latest on those things coming up on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: Another mistrial motion in the Tyco trial. With a look at that and also a market preview is Andy Serwer whose "Minding Your Business" this morning. Hello.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning to you Soledad.

More twists and turns in the Tyco trial. On the one hand, though, the jury does seem to be doing its job deliberating on day nine which was yesterday. Today will be day ten.

Asking to have testimony read back. On the other hand, the circus continues given that the defense attorneys wanted another mistrial, a motion for another mistrial.

This time, you won't believe this, based on what's going on in Internet chat rooms.

And it all has to do with that lady, the mysterious juror number four. A lot of people very upset with her on AOL chat rooms and other places. All kinds of messages saying that she's -- well -- deluded and worse.

Here are some of them right here. But these people are filled with misinformation.

Look -- here's one: "They had photos on TV tonight and she sure as heck was making an "OK" sign." There are no photos. There are no photos.

HEMMER: In the drawing.

SERWER: There are no photos. How about this one.

"How hard is it for all of you out there to figure out that this one juror is being paid off? Look at her, she is an elderly woman in her late 60s -- actually she's in her late 70s, Soledad -- remember, she's 79, you reminded me the other day -- probably in need of some funds to retire on."

I don't think so. I think she's well off.

And other person saying all she wants to do is try to get on "LARRY KING." You know...



But, you know, the thing is if anyone paid attention to what they wrote about them in chat rooms I mean they -- you know -- it just...

O'BRIEN: They'd be wrong, anyway.

SERWER: So the judge has not ruled on that for the motion but so, we go on to day ten today.

O'BRIEN: What about the market this morning?

SERWER: Yesterday, first off, we did very well again; up a couple of days in a row here you can see 52 points on the Dow.

They call this "window dressing," it means money managers buying stocks at the end of the quarter they have in their portfolios that have gone up in the quarter.

That makes them go up even more. Today of course is the last day of the quarter so we'll be watching how things go.

But there's some optimism about earnings season coming up.

O'BRIEN: You bet. Andy, thank you.

SERWER: You're welcome.

O'BRIEN: We'll be talking with you in a little bit.


HEMMER: "Question of the Day." Back with Jack.

CAFFERTY: They are fired up out there this morning.

O'BRIEN: I wonder why?

SERWER: Who lit the match, Jack?

HEMMER: Stirred the hornets?

CAFFERTY: Yes, it's like hitting the beehive with a stick. If "The New York Times" and Peter Jennings and perhaps CBS News aren't enough for you, then you're going to love this. "The New York Observer" reports former vice-president Al Gore is close to the sealing the deal to buy a cable TV channel.

Gore's team says they will make the station a, quote, "youth oriented public affairs channel." Yes, that should sell pretty well.

Can you say liberal? And the liberal talk radio station Air America debuts today. They kick things off at noon; I guess they don't like to get up early over there. Comedian Al Franken is the lead off hitter and he's calling his show the O'Franken Factor.

Clever, no? His guests today will include filmmaker Michael Moore, never been interviewed I guess before, that's not exactly a big gamble.

Anyway, the question is, does America need additional "liberal" media outlets? And as Soledad so rightly pointed out to me, that is not synonymous with communist -- they are quite different.

O'BRIEN: That's right before I said I wish I had taken the day off. Because we kept going on in that vein and it started getting...

HEMMER: I think it's a good question -- I think there's a another good question here, too. Why hasn't a liberal radio station or TV network never taken off before?

CAFFERTY: We have them. Are you -- did you just get off a vegetable truck from the South Bronx? They're everywhere.

HEMMER: It is quite obvious the intent of the message from Al Franken, but there's a business decision in here too that goes back to this theory about why people -- advertisers -- why they'd link themselves with certain people and why certain others.

CAFFERTY: "New York Times" is making a few bucks for a few years; they're not exactly a right-wing fascist propaganda sheet.

O'BRIEN: You all can debate in the commercial because I've got things to do.

CAFFERTY: What do they call this station? The Clinton News Network?

O'BRIEN: It's hard for me to focus. Still to come this morning, still to come this morning. Planning a big summer vacation this year? Start saving for it right now. We've got some tips coming up on AMERICAN MORNING. Stay with us.



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