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Sound and Fury in Najaf; Some of Kerry's Former Comrades Roll Out New Attack Ad

Aired August 20, 2004 - 13:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Military patrols and Friday prayers as the standoff at an Iraqi mosque goes on. We're live from Najaf with the latest.

JOE PONDER, SWIFT BOAT VETERANS FOR TRUTH: The accusations that John Kerry made against the veterans who served in Vietnam was just devastating.


KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: Politics of the (UNINTELLIGIBLE)... a new shot fired in the swift boat war -- a new ad attacking John Kerry's Vietnam record. Are voters paying attention?

WHITFIELD: Over a barrel -- crude oil prices hit another record high. How will that affect what you pay at the pump?

PHILLIPS: She had a heart of glass, but hits of gold -- the princess of the new wave, Blondie's Deborah Harry says call me, so we did. She's live this hour. From the CNN Center in Atlanta, I'm Kyra Phillips.

WHITFIELD: And I'm Fredricka Whitfield in for Miles O'Brien, and CNN's LIVE FROM begins right now.

Up first this hour, sound and fury in Najaf. In a bizarre turn of events, capping two weeks of brutal fighting, officials in Baghdad announced Iraqi police had breezed into Najaf's sacred Imam Ali mosque without firing a shot. Soon, however, that report was shot down, and the standoff, pitting a renegade cleric against the powers that be, was right back where it began. Or was it?

CNN's Matthew Chance reports via videophone from a sea of confusion in the heartland of the Shiite Iraq.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT, NAJAF, IRAQ: Fredricka, thank you. And a great deal of confusion here in Najaf about what exactly is happening inside the holy city. Certainly, we know that a big offensive is underway right now. I can hear warplanes in the skies overhead pounding positions of the Mehdi army inside Najaf itself. And so clearly, the fighting is not over.

Earlier, though, hopes were raised that the situation may be coming to a head, with reports -- an appearance and a statement from the member of the interior ministry, saying that the Iraqi police forces have taken over the Imam Ali shrine, arrested 400 people, and were bringing the matter to a close. But that does not seem to have been the case.

I've been speaking to the U.S. Army and Marine intelligence forces here that are on the ground, reconnaissance missions. They're saying they've seen no evidence that the Mehdi army has actually left the shrine, and so it seems within the interior ministry they're getting ahead of itself, although there's a lot of speculation about what sort of plans that are in the offing. At the moment, the battle for Najaf, though, is still very much on.

WHITFIELD: Now, Matthew, overnight, there were some air strikes around the mosque. What did that do?

CHANCE: Well, very ferocious fighting, not just air strikes, but also troops moving into central Najaf backed by tanks, helicopter gunships, AT-130 gunships as well, striking at these suspected positions of the Mehdi army. We've had some casualty figures coming from hospital sources inside Najaf itself. They're saying that in that 24 hour period, at least 77 Iraqis were killed as a result of the fighting; another 70 were injured.

That's an indication of the ferocity of the fighting that, as I say, is still continuing tonight as well.

WHITFIELD: Matthew Chance, thanks for that report via videophone from Najaf, Iraq. Kyra...

PHILLIPS: A kidnapped Western journalist reports he's alive and relatively well.


MICA GAREN, KIDNAPPED JOURNALIST: I'm an American journalist in Iraq, and I've been asked to deliver a message.


PHILLIPS: That's Mica Garen. He was snatched off the streets in Nasiriyah (ph), in southern Iraq, a week ago today. He's a French national who also holds a U.S. passport. Among those working for Garen's release are aids to Muqtada al-Sadr, who supposedly have been assured that he'll be freed within hours.

Three alleged moneymen for the militant group Hamas are under U.S. indictment this hour, and two are in jail. Allegedly, the three conspired to funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars from Muslims in America to the group known best for attacks against Israel and activism in the Palestinian territories.


JOHN ASHCROFT, ATTORNEY GENERAL: The United States makes no distinction between those who carryout terrorist attacks and those who knowingly finance, manage, or supervise terrorist organizations. This case would have been much more difficult to bring were it not for information sharing authorized by the USA Patriot Act. Information gathered by the intelligence community, and now shared with law enforcement, was critical in completing this investigation and bringing this indictment.


PHILLIPS: One of the suspects was picked up overnight in Chicago, the other in Washington. The third is deputy chief of Hamas' political office in Damascus, Syria.

WHITFIELD: Controversy, competition, and catastrophe -- it's a busy Friday for the Democratic candidate for president. Still fighting a group's claims that he lied to win some of his medals, John Kerry took his message to the politically unfriendly waters of North Carolina. That state leans heavily Republican, but recent polls show Kerry-Edwards moving up. John Edwards, as you know, is North Carolina's senior senator.

From Charlotte, Kerry flew to Ft. Myers, Florida to see the damage from Hurricane Charley. As the firestorm over swift boats -- some of Kerry's former comrades today rolled out a new attack ad, this one targeting Kerry's post-war activism.


WHITFIELD: Well, the Kerry camp has bought its own airtime to fight the swift boat ads, which Kerry accuses President Bush of implicitly endorsing by not denouncing them. How is this influencing voters? The National Annenberg Election Survey finds a majority of Americans have either seen or heard about the anti-Kerry ads; 4 in 10 have not. Of those who have, 46 percent find the ads at least somewhat believable; 49 percent find them at least somewhat unbelievable. Statistically, that's dead even.

Joining us from the Annenberg Survey is Talia Jomini Stroud. She joins us from Philadelphia. Good to see you, Talia.


WHITFIELD: Well, remarkably, your survey shows that 41 percent have not seen the ads. But of those who did, it is a very close call. How did you get these results?

STROUD: The results were from a random sample survey of 2,209 Americans over the age of 18. The calls were made between August 9 and August 16, and respondents were asked whether or not they'd seen the ad, whether they found the ad to be believable, and whether or not they felt that Kerry earned his medals or not.

WHITFIELD: And you look at some of your poll results and they look awfully similar to some recent poll results putting Bush and Kerry in a dead heat. So how much of these results do you believe are strongly partisan? STROUD: I believe these results are a great deal partisan. You see that there's quite a split between those people seeing them as believable or as unbelievable. And looking at that based on partisanship, you really do see that those people who find the claims in the ad believable do tend to be those that unfavorable toward Kerry, while those people who find the ad believable -- or excuse me, find the ad unbelievable are those who have more favorable opinions toward Kerry.

PHILLIPS: Well, can you glean from these results that the ads have been remarkably influential? In other words, do you have a before and after gauge of what these who are polled believe?

STROUD: No, we don't have a before and after gauge, so it's not possible, from our polls, to tell whether or not the advertisement has had an influence on the electorate.

PHILLIPS: So then, doesn't there seem to be some contradiction, then, if it's neck and neck over believability, then how do some of these folks who are polled, 59 percent saying Kerry earned his medals -- because isn't that apparently at the core of the debate of these ads against Kerry?

STROUD: I definitely think, yes, the central claim of these advertisements is whether or not Kerry did earn his medals. And according to our survey results, 59 percent of the electorate do believe that. But again, if you look at this based on partisanship, those people who are unfavorable toward Kerry believe that he did not earn the medals. In comparison to those people who believe he did earn the medals, those are the ones that find the claims in the ad not very believable.

PHILLIPS: At the same time, your polls do show, or you're trying to demonstrate that there is some influence from the ads, particularly because you say in people polled between July 30 and August 1, Kerry had a six point lead, while now you're showing that there is a three point margin between them. So is it your conclusion that it is directly related to these ads?

STROUD: The National Annenberg Election Survey does not release information about which candidate is in the lead or not. While the results of this survey do show that those people who saw the ad tend to be more likely to believe that Kerry did not earn his medals, we can't conclude from the poll whether that is actually as a result of the advertisement, because those people who recall seeing the advertisement actually tend to be more Republicans and more disfavorable toward Kerry. So it's not possible for us to make any conclusions about the influence of this ad from this poll.

PHILLIPS: All right, Talia Jomini Stroud, joining us from Philadelphia from the Annenberg Survey. Thanks so much.

STROUD: Thank you.

PHILLIPS: The Bush camp swears it's focused on the future, not the past, and that includes the Republican Convention, still a week and a half away. The president's preparing at his Texas ranch right now. CNN's Jill Dougherty is nearby with an update. Jill...

JILL DOUGHERTY, CRAWFORD, TEXAS: Hey, Kyra. Just this past hour, we talked, in fact, to the campaign, the Bush-Cheney campaign, about those attack ads -- a story that doesn't seem to go away -- and they are categorically denying that there is any connection between the campaign, between the White House and those ads. They say they are not advised by the White House or the campaign -- not directed by... in other words, no connection whatsoever.

And then, they went on. This spokesman, Taylor Griffin, from the Bush-Cheney campaign went on to repeat what they have been saying all along, that the president and the campaign condemn the so-called 527 ads that are financed by independent groups with soft money, and this spokesman saying that Senator Kerry is running positive ads because he knows that groups that are funded by the Democrats can run negative ads.

Now, President Bush, they say, again, has been the victim or the object, I should say, of $62 million in ads. And they point out that there have been negative ads against the president, specifically, one of the organizations, saying that the president was AWOL from the National Guard, and there have been others.

And Kyra, getting back to what the president is doing here, he has been taking a little bit of downtime, but he's also working on the speech that he's going to be delivering to the Republican National Convention. And some of the details, not necessarily of that speech -- we hope to hear that very shortly from his press spokesman -- but some of the details of the convention are coming out.

And essentially, what they're going to be trying to do is talk about the unprecedented challenges that the United States has been through -- obviously, a reference to 9/11 and the leadership of President Bush, and saying that this is a safer world... if there are two themes, a safer world and a more hopeful America.

And they're also, apparently, according to the campaign -- will be trying to depict John Kerry as out of the mainstream. Kyra...

PHILLIPS: Jill Dougherty live from Crawford, Texas, thanks so much. And so, will the swift boat veterans controversy sway your vote this November? Email us, email us your comments at We'll read them later in the show.

WHITFIELD: Well now, out to the West Coast. The lead detective who directed the search of Michael Jackson's Neverland Ranch is scheduled to testify today as a pretrial hearing in that case resumes. For the latest, we turn to Miguel Marquez, who's live from Santa Maria, California. Miguel...

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, SANTA MARIA, CALIFORNIA: Yeah, he did testify earlier this morning, and then left the stand as defense lawyers finished their questioning with him and the prosecution finished their questioning of him. Then taking the stand was a longtime employee of Michael Jackson called by the defense, Joseph Marcus. He was there the day that Mr. Jackson's Neverland Ranch was searched on November 18, 2003. This is the guy who was the property manager for Jackson's Neverland Ranch, reports directly to Michael Jackson, and has worked for Michael Jackson since 1988.

He says he was there on the day that the ranch was searched. And what defense lawyers are trying to prove right now is that the search investigators conducted at Neverland Ranch was broader than the search warrant actually allowed. The search warrant called for the search of the house, the main house, the security office and the arcade.

And this gentleman, Mr. Marcus, testified that an apartment, a garage, and Michael Jackson's personal office were also searched in addition to those other areas. The search also lasted from 9 AM to midnight, defense lawyers contending that the investigators never asked for permission to search at night, which takes extra permission from the judge.

One thing that they pointed out during today's testimony is that searchers took from Michael Jackson's master bedroom a Rob Report magazine with the number for Mohammed al-Fayed, the owner of Harrods in London, and the father of Dohdi (ph) Fayed, from his bedroom, saying, "Why would they take such a thing from Mr. Jackson's bedroom?"

The investigator on the case says they had somebody named "Al," so they saw al-Fayed, took the magazine into evidence. And it's those sorts of pieces of evidence that the prosecution, or the defense is looking to have thrown out of this thing. They've identified 120 different pieces of evidence that they have concerns with.

The judge is going to hear -- they're going to hear at least more evidence today, possibly into next week, but they may wrap it up today before the judge is able to rule on this part of the motion to suppress evidence. Back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, Miguel Marquez from Santa Maria, California, thanks so much. Kyra...

WHITFIELD: Look out below -- an amazing hailstorm caught on tape. Details on exactly what happened just ahead on LIVE FROM.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN, ATHENS: Coming up, we're going to talk swimming. The last couple of days of competition -- Michael Phelps, another gold medal to add to his collection. We're also going to preview the athletics. Somebody 20 years older than Kyra Phillips is going to be running in the semifinals of the 100 meters. We'll tell you who and how she got there. I'm Michael Holmes in Athens, coming up live.

PHILLIPS: Oh, Michael is so kind. Determined dog -- well, we ran out of time for him yesterday, but hey, we're bringing him back. The story of that faithful pup that proves that two legs work just as well as four.


WHITFIELD: No, that is not snow you're seeing. It's dime-sized hail, and it pounded parts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on Thursday. The area also saw lightning and winds up to 60 miles per hour, and tens of thousands of customers lost electricity for several hours. More strong storms expected today in parts of the U.S. Let's check in with meteorologist...


PHILLIPS: Well, it's been a week since Hurricane Charley ripped up parts of southwest Florida. Since then, state officials say the death toll has climbed to at least 23. Damage to insured properties alone stands at an estimated $7.4 billion, and as of last night, more than 335,000 customers from Punta Gorda to Daytona Beach were still without power.

Even worse, much needed supplies have arrived but are stuck on trucks that are tied up in red tape. Tracey Severenson (ph) of our affiliate WFTS reports.


TRACEY SEVERENSON (ph), WFTS AFFILIATE, FLORIDA: Who got turned away in Punta Gorda?


SEVERENSON: Seventy-nine semis just at this one location, loaded with supplies and nowhere to go.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm going on three days sitting with water. It's probably boiling it's so hot in there.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I want to distribute this water to the people. They say that they don't need water.

SEVERENSON: We found plenty of hurricane victims who would disagree. While some comfort stations may be running low, staging areas like Lakeland Lindor (ph) Airport are overflowing with trucks, and FEMA says that's just how it works.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: You think it's not frustrating to us? We're very frustrated with the process, but the process has to take place. Ice is a critical situation. We have ice sitting here waiting for the victims.

SEVERENSON: FEMA is waiting on the General Services Administration to find government-approved warehouse space so these trucks can unload. Until then, the clock is ticking, and the price of water is going up.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We're getting $975 a day to stand here whether we move or not.


PHILLIPS: Well, that was Tracey Severenson of our Ft. Myers affiliate WFTS reporting. Thanks so much. Straight ahead, recovery mission -- more than 40 years after naval aviators crashed, search and recovery teams are able to bring their bodies home. We're going to talk with the man who led that search.

Record prices for oil -- will that translate into higher prices at the pump? That's just ahead. Oh, yeah, and we're pumped. Blondie's Deborah Harry in the house and ready to talk us one way or another.


PHILLIPS: Why the Blondie music, you ask? Well, Deborah Harry's in the house. We're going to talk to her coming up. But first, making the grade. Many of the nations colleges provide an A plus education, but which ones are the best of them all? U.S. News and World Report has released its latest rankings.

It puts Harvard University and Princeton in the top spot for the second year in a row. They're followed by Yale and the University of Pennsylvania. There's a three-way tie for fifth place: Duke University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Stanford University share that spot.

WHITFIELD: Oil prices continue to hit record highs, but what does it mean for your wallet...


WHITFIELD: Now in the news, the Iraqi police say they have not taken control of the Imam Ali mosque compound in Najaf. U.S. officials say U.S. and Iraqi forces still surround the complex. The forces are pressuring fighters loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr to surrender. We'll have another update in about 30 minutes.

About three hours ago, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced the indictment of three men. They are accused of laundering money to Hamas. The Islamic militant group has been designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization. Two men already are in the U.S. and in custody. The third is a Hamas leader believed to be in Damascus, Syria. The latest in a live report in about 35 minutes from now.

The atrium at the Citigroup center in New York opened to the general public this morning for the first time in three weeks. U.S. officials called it a potential al-Qaeda terrorist threat on August 1st. That's the same day the U.S. raised the terror alert status for financial institutions in New York, Washington, and northern New Jersey.

PHILLIPS: They were preparing to hunt Russian submarines during the cold war more than 40 years ago. Twelve naval aviators boarded a P2V Neptune headed for a recon mission over Greenland. But in the face of fierce weather and conditions, and very young crew, that plane crashed. The cause is still unknown.


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