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Bullied to Death; RNC's $2,000 Erotic Club Tab; Ninth Militia Suspect Arrested

Aired March 30, 2010 - 08:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: March 30th, Tuesday morning. Thanks for joining us in the Most News in the Morning. Good to have you with us.

I'm John Roberts.


This is the most sunshine you're probably going to get today if you live along the northeast part of the country because we are talking rain, and a lot of it. Rob Marciano --

ROBERTS: Is there any sunshine out there?

CHETRY: No. Not (INAUDIBLE). There was there (ph) in Key West, maybe.

ROBERTS: But you're a lovely ray of sunshine.

CHETRY: Thank you. Same to you.

ROBERTS: That will beat back the rain, don't you think (ph)?

CHETRY: Later, the big stories we're telling you about in the next 15 minutes.

First, nine Massachusetts teens are facing some pretty serious charges for allegedly bulling -- bullying a 15-year-old classmate so relentlessly that she killed herself, and now it looks like teachers and students chose to look the other way until it was too late.

ROBERTS: The Republican National Committee is investigating how nearly $2,000 of its campaign account was spent at a racy adult nightclub in Hollywood. Now, Chairman Michael Steele is under fire. The political donor who racked up the bill is gone. And Republicans say he will repay the money.

CHETRY: And a state of emergency in Massachusetts. They're calling it a life-threatening flood threat in Rhode Island. And a storm -- this is the third major one this month alone -- threatening to dump another seven inches across parts of the Northeast.

Of course, we want to hear from you. The amFIX blog is up and running. You can join the live conversation right now. Go to And we'll be reading some of your comments throughout the morning.

ROBERTS: We start off this morning with nine high school students in western Massachusetts today facing criminal charges. Prosecutors say they bullied a 15-year-old classmate so mercilessly, they drove her to take her own life. And plenty of people at the school apparently failed to speak until the young girl was gone.

Alina Cho is tracking this developing story for us.

It looks like another case where a lot of people knew about it but just chose to look the other way.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Kiran, I know you spoke to someone in the last half hour who said, either administrators were asleep at the switch, or these kids received some sort of preferential treatment. Either way, neither is an excuse, guys.

You know, the victim, Phoebe Prince, and her family had just moved to Massachusetts from Ireland in the past year. Some believe that part of the reason she was abused was because she was new and she was from another country. Prosecutors say she took her own life following an especially torturous day in which she was verbally harassed and threatened with physical abuse.


ELIZABETH SCHEIBEL, DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The harassment reported to have occurred that day in the school's library appears to have been conducted in the presence of a faculty member and several students but went unreported to school administrators until after Phoebe's death.

CHO (voice-over): Phoebe Prince was just 15 years old when she hanged herself in a stairway in the building where she lived with her parents, South Hadley, Massachusetts, about 100 miles from Boston. Prosecutors say it wasn't an accident, that she was driven to suicide by relentless abuse.

SCHEIBEL: The events of January 14th were not isolated. Rather, they were the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally abusive, assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm towards Phoebe on school grounds by several South Hadley High School students.

CHO: Nine students were indicted. Three will be prosecuted as adults. Among them, 17-year-old Sean Mulveyhill, facing charges of statutory rape and a violation of civil rights resulting in bodily injury; 18-year-old Austin Renaud, also faces statutory rape charges; and 17-year-old Kayla Narey -- she'll answer to criminal harassment and civil rights charges.

Phoebe and her family had recently moved to western Massachusetts from Ireland. Students say the torment she endured was harsh. Books routinely knocked out of her hands. Her face scribbled out of photographs on school walls. Threatening text messages constantly sent to her cell phone.

The D.A. says the alleged bullying --

SCHEIBEL: Appears to have been motivated by the group's displeasure with Phoebe's brief dating relationship with a male student that had ended some six weeks previous.

CHO: At South Hadley High School, students were stunned.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Until you guys came around, I had no idea.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think they need to be prosecuted. You know, it's not right at all.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think they should face charges?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If they had anything to do with it, they should.


CHO: Phoebe Prince isn't the first student in the area to commit suicide in recent months. Just last year, an 11-year-old boy -- an 11-year-old -- subjected to harassment also killed himself. Now, after that happened, the Massachusetts legislature actually stepped up work, guys, on an anti-bullying bill. But so far, that bill has not passed. Forty-one states around the country do have some anti-bullying laws.

But the thing is, as Kiran pointed out -- I mean, how do you really enforce it? Really, what it requires, at this bill in Massachusetts floating around, is that you report it, that administrators look into this alleged bullying.

ROBERTS: Yes. But, what about the school administration? If you know that one of your students is being harassed or bullied, you step in and tell the people who are responsible to stop it.

CHO: That's right. I mean, and I think that's why there's so much outrage and so much attention on this case because it appears at this point that school administrators, teachers, other staff members, a lot of people knew about this and nobody did anything about it, that it happened on school grounds.


ROBERTS: Just in a general sense, not speaking with this case, but don't hide behind the law or procedure, take charge.

CHO: Right.

CHETRY: There's a couple of other elements. Parry Aftab, who we were speaking to before --

CHO: That's right.

CHETRY: -- who was trying to crack down on cyber-bullying said that some -- a couple of teachers did speak up and it largely fell on deaf ears.

CHO: They were ignored. Right.

CHETRY: But also, how do you police the Twitter, the Facebook, these social networking sites outside of school where apparently she was also being harassed?

CHO: Yes, there are a lot of -- there are certainly a lot of questions. But it is quite extraordinary. It's sad that this is the case, but it is extraordinary that these charges are being brought against these nine students. We'll have to watch this case very closely and see how it moves forward.

ROBERTS: Alina, thanks so much.

CHO: You bet.

CHETRY: Well, also new this morning, the Republican National Committee under fire after Republicans confirm that the committee paid a bill for nearly $2,000 expensed by a political donor in late January. Why? Well, it was a tab from a racy Hollywood night club called Voyeur known for having topless dancers. Even though he says he didn't know about it, Chairman Michael Steele is in the hot seat as the GOP says that this is not how their money should be spent.

Tom Foreman has the political fallout now from Washington.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As California hotspots go, Voyeur is on fire right now. YouTube is full of videos from of the hip crowd poring in. The club features risque live floor shows with lesbian and bondage scenes.

But a visit there by a political consultant has put Republican National Committee boss, Michael Steele, in the hot seat, because federal records show his committee, that's right, the RNC, paid for it.

Andy Barr with "Politico" has been investigating.

ANDY BARR, THE POLITICO: And the whole thing is just kind of weird. The RNC is saying that Michael Steele was not at the nightclub. They are totally denying that. But at the same time, they're not offering a lot of proof for what did or didn't happen.

FOREMAN: Federal Election Commission records show Erik Brown, a Republican donor, was reimbursed almost $2,000 for a night that included a visit to the club where topless dancers perform. The committee says the incident is being investigated.

But none of it bodes well for Steele, who's been under fire from a wide range of Republicans ever since taking the top party post -- by conservatives, after he attacked Rush Limbaugh and later apologized; by moderates for suggesting he would lead a right-wing attack against them; and by some of the party faithful for his spending and because they fear he is not positioning the GOP well enough to hammer vulnerable Democrats in upcoming elections.

BARR: He is a huge distraction for Republicans who want to win this fall.

FOREMAN: The RNC says Brown will give back the money for that night at the nightclub, but for Steele, the incident has laid bare another problem.

(on camera): We called Erik Brown and received no response. But the RNC is suggesting that he, too, may have been caught up in an ill-considered move by some staff members who are no longer with the committee.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


ROBERTS: Also new this morning, it is a day of mourning in Moscow. But investigators are not resting after two female suicide bombers attacked a pair of subway stations during yesterday's morning rush hour, killing 39 people. That number is up from yesterday. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is vowing to destroy terrorists in the aftermath. Russian authorities believe terror groups in the North Caucasus region carried out the talks.

These groups have a history of using women, so-called black widows, as human weapons. Coming up at 8:30 Eastern, we're going to talk to terrorism analyst and Harvard professor, Jessica Stern. How is Russia's war on terror different and in some ways the same as our fight against al Qaeda?

CHETRY: Federal investigators are so baffled by the cause of Toyota's runaway cars that they're turning to NASA for help. Transportation officials plan to ask nine space agency scientists to answer questions about Toyota software, hardware and other potential electronics issues. A separate panel from the National Academy of Sciences will also begin a 15-month review of vehicle electronics and also incidents of unintended acceleration across the auto industry.

ROBERTS: Many homeowners afraid that they'll lose everything again. It's been pouring for more than a day in the Northeast. And forecasters say the third major storm this month has at least another day and a half in it. There's a state of emergency declared in Massachusetts.

But neighboring Rhode Island may be under the biggest threat, with the National Weather Service predicting serious and life- threatening flooding on the Pawtuxet River.

CHETRY: Right now, we're going to check in with Rob. It's nine minutes past the hour. He's been monitoring all of this.

You have some rainfall totals for us, just unbelievably large amounts of rain falling in such a short period of time.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, especially for eastern parts of New England. That's where the winners are right now, or the losers, depending on where you live, really.

Check out some of the numbers. Three inches on -- yes, you bet, just for 24 hours. You talk about storm totals. We got to update, they are closer to four or five inches.

And then once this is all said and done, six, seven and in some extreme cases, maybe eight inches -- all the way from the eastern tip of Long Island down to Virginia, Connecticut and Rhode Island, and certainly, eastern Massachusetts as well.

Here's the moisture again. It's mostly east of, say, Trenton- Newark. That's where the heaviest amounts of rain are, but that low hasn't gone anywhere too quickly. So, we're still in it again today.

Winds, as well, and that's going to slow down air travel for sure and just make life in general pretty miserable. And as you guys mentioned, the flood warnings are in effect for much of Connecticut and especially Rhode Island, in Cranston where they have had evacuations there. That river expected to crest a foot above the record, which was set just two weeks ago. So, for the second time in less than a month, these people are evacuating their homes for fear of the rising river which will crest later on tonight. But by then, they will probably have set another record.

That's the latest from here guys. We'll talk more about this and track the rainfall as it comes down and shows no sign of letting up, at least right now. We'll see you in about 30 minutes.

ROBERTS: All right, Rob. Looking forward to that. Thanks so much.

And coming up next on the Most News in the morning: more on that Christian warrior militia. Another suspect arrested yesterday accused of plotting to kill police. What was the group up to?

It's 11 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. It's 13 minutes past the hour right now.

After intense standoff -- late night standoff -- with the FBI, the ninth man accused of belonging to an anti-government militia group is now behind bars. Twenty-one-year-old Joshua Matthew Stone is due to appear in court today.

ROBERTS: The FBI says that he is part of his father's so- called Christian warrior militia, the Hutaree. The group is accused of plotting to kill police officers.

CNN's special investigations correspondent Drew Griffin is live in Adrian, Michigan, for us this morning with our "Security Watch," and he's got a whole more on the Hutaree, who they are and what they were up to.

Good morning, Drew.


I think the most interesting part of this whole case is what the federal government says this group -- this small kind of family Christian-based group -- was planning to do. This was the plot that the federal agents believe could have been carried off in April, just a couple of days from now, right?

They were going to kill a police officer, either lure him by a fake 911 call, kill him at a traffic stop, or kill him or her and her family -- create this kind of murder of a police officer and then plot to attack the funeral procession -- you know, those large processions that they have any time an officer is killed, and then that would somehow create this kind of war that would be erupt into a war where this group would then slink back into the woods, fight a defensive war as other militia would come in to aid them in this -- in this battle.

It's really bizarre. But that is exactly what the Federal indictment reads, and that this group based here in Adrian, Michigan, of all places, was plotting.

CHETRY: How is it possible, though, that these neighbors can say they had no idea at all that this was going on?

GRIFFIN: Kiran, especially when you look at the videos, the training videos that was going on. The kind of fire power that was taking place. We went out to the area yesterday obviously. The neighborhood really is farm country.

So the closest true neighbors, I say, live about a quarter of a mile away. The neighbors say, look, this is a hunting area. We do a lot of target practicing here. They even mentioned that there is a fireworks factory that often does some testing but even so, I talked to two people, Bruce and Jane Wholy, who live just about a half mile or so down the road from these people. They went on to a Web site. Here is what they said. They just couldn't believe that this group, these friendly neighbors that they had, were doing this kind of training.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There are things on the Web site showing all this training. It is obviously. We can pick out landmarks. It was done in our neighborhood.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One shot is them walking down the street with all their guns and everything. It's like, how did we not know? How did we not know?


GRIFFIN: Bruce and Jane Wholy have been living in that house of theirs for 17 years. They have known this family. The two children who are charged in this actually grew up there. They saw them as toddlers growing up, walking down the dirt roads, waving to them, sitting at a counter at a local market, chitchatting away. To say that they were stunned is just, you know, it's hard for them to even believe this was going on.

ROBERTS: Drew, this idea that this Hatari militia would have other militias join up with it, in this fight against the government. Is there anything to back that up? We talked earlier with a member of the South Eastern Michigan Volunteer Militia. He said, hey, we did some training with these guys, but when we learned what they were all about, we didn't want to have anything to do with them.

GRIFFIN: Yes, that seems to be the sentiment of even members of the group who left. They thought this group since 2008 kind of got scary, that the leader of the group, the father, the patriarch, you might say, there was a turning point his ex-wife said, where he went from handguns to big guns. That's where it got scary. Others who came in or trained with them or at least conversed with them saw something they didn't like and stayed away from it.

So, we're really trying to drill down on that angle today in our reporting and certainly when they are back in federal court tomorrow. But it doesn't appear they had any support whatsoever from any other group, whether it be a, quote, unquote, legitimate militia or any other real fringe groups. We don't see them attracting a big crowd here.

CHETRY: All right. Drew Griffin for us this morning, doing more digging on this story. Thanks so much.

ROBERTS: So when he was selling health care reform, President Obama said it was going to be the only way to get the deficit under control. But now that the bill has been signed, what effect might it have on America's fiscal health. Fred Hiatt, who is the editorial page editor of the Washington Post has a very, very interesting column about it. He joins us next to talk about where we are headed in terms of the deficit and the debt, and you are not going to like where we are going. 18 and a half minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Twenty- one minutes past the hour right now. Time for "Minding Your Business." After a year of back and forth, health care reform is now law. The president says it will reduce the national deficit by some $138 billion dollars over the next ten years.

ROBERTS: But some people say we are headed for a fiscal disaster that the president's budget plan is an absolute long shot, particularly in this economy and that projected government spending cannot be sustained. Fred Hiatt is with us now from Washington. He is the editorial page editor for "The Washington Post." He wrote about this.

Fred, we are just beginning now the implementation of the health care overhaul. We had the president selling this and the idea the only way to get control of the deficit was to reform health care. If you see some major pitfalls ahead, how is this going to play out, do you think?

FRED HIATT, EDITORIAL PAGE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, some people don't believe the health care bill will help the deficit. Some people think it will help the deficit. My point is, even if it saves all the money over the next ten years that Obama is predicting it will, that's a drop in the bucket of the debt that his ten-year budget plan runs up. So the health care plan, good or bad, is not nearly enough to deal with what we are facing.

CHETRY: Right. And as you have pointed out, and if this CBO estimate is right, the $138 billion dollars savings is only 1% of the $12.7 trillion dollar deficit going from this year into 2020. So what's the bigger picture here? What needs to be done to be able to get a handle on what we are facing?

HIATT: You know, it is no secret. What needs to be done is the government needs to spend less. And it is going to need to tax more. The longer we wait to deal with it, the harder it is going to be to deal with. This is something that liberals, nobody likes to talk about it, Democrats don't, Republicans don't, because it is hard stuff.

But liberals should care because if we don't deal with it, it is poor people who are going to suffer the most, who depend on government programs. Conservatives should care because the government is going to take a bigger and bigger share of the economy and we all should care because we are going to become more and more dependent on China and Saudi Arabia and other lenders, until they stop being willing to lend to us.

ROBERTS: You cited yesterday, Fred, CBO numbers --which I have always been fascinated by the deficit and the debt and the budget, a walking geek that way. I have a friend who is even obsessed with it. Tell us what the numbers are showing, where we are going to be fiscally in 2020?

HIATT: The scariest thing is the gap between -- the numbers are hard even for someone like you or me, they are hard to comprehend. It is $9.8 trillion over the next ten years of debt. Maybe the easiest way to look at it is we are going to be spending, if we follow the Obama budget plan, more than a quarter of GDP of the national economy, and taking in less than a fifth in taxes. That's a 5.6 percent gap and it's just not sustainable. It would mean that we would be spending just on interest, 4.1 percent of GDP by 2020.

CHETRY: It's just something that nobody likes to talk about. Nobody wants to pay more taxes, especially if more than 15 percent of your income is already going to taxes. You don't want to deal with that. At the same time, you don't want to cut these social programs. But, facts are facts. Nearly 60% of federal spending is on entitlements, like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, other social programs. Who is going to cut those? So, what do we do? We have a national sales tax?

HIATT: You know, you could have a consumption tax of some kind. The first thing I would say is you ought to let the Bush tax cuts expire as they are scheduled to do this year. That would raise $2.5 trillion dollars over the next ten years. One thing alone isn't going to do it. You will have to make changes in the entitlement programs. You are going to have to make changes in tax cuts. The gasoline tax should go up. There are a lot of many unpopular things. The first thing is, Obama has to start talking about it, I think and preparing people for what we face.

ROBERTS: You know, we have you on this morning everywhere every second, words come out of your mouth, Fred, has been tax, tax, tax. There are conservatives, fiscal conservatives, who are going to say, wait a minute, you can't just tax your way into fiscal sanity, because that's going to have an impact in the economy. What else could be done?

HIATT: I agree with that. You should point out that this ten- year forecast assumes the economy is going to be growing. So if it is not, it looks even worse. I think it is right. You can tax so much that you begin to slow growth. You are going to have to look at other things like do people who really can afford their own retirement, should they get full social security or full Medicare benefits or are we going to have to begin to, you know, scale back based on your income level.

CHETRY: None of this sounds pleasant. Bottom line quickly before we go. Do you think we -- it became a very loaded phrase, the public option. Did we miss an opportunity here passing health care reform without being able to put things in place like a government to compete with private interests, price control with private industries, price controls, other things that would have ultimately brought the cost of health care, not necessarily insurance down.

HIATT: I'm not sure the public option was the answer. I think if you tax expensive health care plans, that, which Congress was very reluctant to do, that would probably have a bigger effect.

ROBERTS: Fred Hiatt, it is great to see you this morning. None of what you said was very comforting.

HIATT: Sorry to bring you such cheerful news.

ROBERTS: Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

HYATT: Thank you.

CHETRY: Well, we're going to take a quick break. When we come back, women as terrorist weapons. We know the situation that took place in Moscow where the government says that it was two female suicide bombers that killed 38 people. Is this a growing trend and what's behind it? We are going to talk about that. Twenty-seven minutes past the hour.


CHETRY: Half past the hour. Welcome back to the Most News in the Morning. Your top story is a couple minutes away. Fist though an A.M. Original, something you will see only on "AMERICAN MORNING." Over the past several months, we followed the story of recruit Will McClain through basic and advanced training.

ROBERTS: Well, next he is headed to Fort Stewart in Georgia. But today we are with Will for graduation day. Our Jason Carroll here with our A.M Original Series, "A Soldier's Story." Good morning.

JASON CARROLL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have seen him go through a lot. Now, it is coming to an end. He has met all of the qualifications, all of the hard work and discipline for Will McClain has paid off. But that was not the case for everyone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Next, come on over.

CARROLL: When Will McClain looks in the mirror these days, he sees a different person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Put your watch back on.

CARROLL: In his 15 weeks of training, he has dropped 54 points. He tackled the physical challenges, the mental, the psychological, and completed weapons qualification.

Now, the day has come for Will and the other members of his company to graduate and move on to their next assignments. Will is ready.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want nothing to do with Missouri. I want out of here.

CARROLL: This is the last time members of Alpha Company, 35th engineer battalion will stand together.

CARROLL (on camera): We are backstage. Will is just about to do his ceremonies. We're just a few minutes away. How are you feeling?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm feeling good. You wait so long for it and now it is finally here where we are graduating and getting ready to move on.

CARROLL: Any butterflies for you guys?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't wait to get this over with.

CARROLL (voice-over): Will knows his family won't be there to share in his accomplishment -- the cost of travel from California, too much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We should have been there.

CARROLL: So we showed Will's mother the tape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He looked great in that video. I am very proud. He achieved something that was all him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Private William McClain, Rosemont, California.

CARROLL: It was another soldier Will missed on this day as he received his combat engineer crest, his battle buddy, Demetrius Daniels, the recruit assigned to him for every step of the training back in the barracks.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wasn't able to participate. Hopefully, everything will pull through in my favor.

CARROLL: His graduation hanging in the balance, Daniels was disciplined for disarming an alarm to sneak off base to play pool. His future plans continuing on with Will to Fort Stuart, now uncertain.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was a very immature decision. If I could turn back the hands of time, I wouldn't have actually did it.

CARROLL: Does it hurt when you think about Will, your battle buddy, and some of the other guys going through what they went through today.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely. The hardest part is disappointing myself, drill sergeants, and people who have faith in me.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We all make mistakes. Hopefully, he will be all right from it. He is a smart kid. He just made a bad choice.

CARROLL: As Will says his good-byes, he can't leave without thanking Drill Sergeant Ricks, who pushed him and the others every step of the way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No screams today. They are just doing their jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You really get to see people transformed and become soldiers. It does give you a lot of pride in what you do.

CARROLL: After 15 weeks, Will McClain and the others leave as soldiers. Will's new life as a combat engineer is about to begin.


CARROLL: And 174 recruits started, 156 ended up graduating. According to his superiors, Demetrius Daniels is considered to be a very good soldier with strong skills. I'm told that will be taken into account while the army decides his fate.

Back to Will, what a miraculous change. We want to show some pictures of what he looked like in the beginning and what he looks like now. He dropped 54 pounds. There, you can really see the difference.

CHETRY: He cleans up nice.

CARROLL: He cleans up well, doesn't he? You can see the difference there in the very beginning when we met him and what he looked like on graduation day.

CHETRY: What did he say was the most challenging part of basic training? We remember watching through the tear gas when they had to stand in that room for 30 seconds with their masks off.

CARROLL: The toughest part for him was the running. He used to play football. He was used to getting in there and doing short drills. That was a challenge for him.

ROBERTS: He hated those rollovers, too.

CARROLL: A lot of tough challenges for him, but good to see he made it through. And a lot of people pulling for Demetrius as well.

ROBERTS: Coming up tomorrow, Jason has the next installment in our series, back to basic training with a brand new recruit. Her name is LaTrisha (ph) Rose. We're following this wife and mom as she starts her new life in uniform. That's a soldier's story tomorrow right here on the Most News in the Morning.

CHETRY: Time for look at the top stories this morning.

Happening right now, rivers rising across the northeast, a state of emergency in Massachusetts. And the national weather service predicting serious, life-threatening floods in parts of Rhode Island. Forecasters say the third major storm could dump another seven inches of rain.

ROBERTS: Nine Massachusetts teens face criminal charges this morning for allegedly driving a 15-year-old classmate to suicide by relentlessly bullying her. Phoebe Prince hanged herself in January. Three of the students are being indicted as adults and could face life in prison.

Prosecutors say many students and teachers were aware of the bullying but failed to intervene.

CHETRY: The Republican National Committee is in the middle of a firestorm after nearly $2,000 of its campaign account money spent at the racy adult nightclub Voyeur in Hollywood. Now Republicans are criticizing Chairman Michael Steele even though he says he didn't even know about the party.

The political donor to racked up that bill is now gone and the party is promising to repay that money.

ROBERTS: They are known as the black widows. Terror experts say they are a group of female suicide bombers who have targeted Russian civilians in several attacks. And Russian authorities say they hit again yesterday, blowing themselves up in the middle of rush-hour in two subway stations, killing a total of 39 people.

CHETRY: What is the mind-set behind using female suicide bombers to carry out the attack? Jessica Stern is the former director for Russian, Ukrainian, and Eurasian affairs at the National Security Council. She joins us from Boston. Thanks for being with us, Jessica.


CHETRY: I think there is a lot of intrigue surrounding the situation when you hear of female suicide bombers. In this situation, the Russian authorities are saying it was possibly the, quote, "Black Widows" who carried out these attacks. Who are these women, and what is their motivation?

STERN: The name comes from women who had lost a significant, important relative, their spouse or perhaps their brother or perhaps their father, and that they then went and attacked to exact revenge against Russian authorities.

ROBERTS: I guess black widows have been used many times in attacks against Russian targets. There was the 2004 attack outside of the Russian subway station and the Moscow Theater back in 2002. In some ways, are female suicide bombers a more effective weapon of terror than men?

STERN: I think they are. They attract more attention. The very fact you are asking me this question is exactly what they are hoping to achieve.

And I think we will see more women involved in attacks around the world. It's a growing trend. It is not unique to the Chechen insurgency. Women have played a significant role in the Turkish PKK. This is a trend. It is not something new, although it is relatively new for Islamic terrorists.

CHETRY: You say you certainly don't use your most valuable people in your organization to carry out suicide missions because, obviously, you lose them. Is this sort of an indication of how women are valued in some of these groups?

STERN: I think so. Some people claim this is a form of women's liberation, that women are involved in suicide bombing campaigns. I don't see it that way at all. You certainly do not use your most skilled operative in a suicide bombing.

ROBERTS: What is it about Chechnya that we see such a high percentage of women involved in terror attacks? Again, going back to 2002, 19 of the 41 people involved in that were women, many of them suicide bombers.

And after the Russian authorities gassed the place to knock everyone out, the special forces went around and shot all of the women that for fear that when they woke up, they would blow themselves up.

STERN: Well, we don't really know because we can't interview the people who killed themselves in a suicide bombing. We believe that some of the women are doing this to exact revenge, as I said, but that some others are forced into it. Very young women are forced into it.

Either their family members donate them to this cause or actually the families are forced to turn over these young women.

CHETRY: Certainly, a disturbing notion as well. Jessica Stern, the former director of the National Security Council on these Russian, Ukrainian, Eurasian affairs. Thanks for being with us this morning.

STERN: Thank you.

ROBERTS: Muslim Americans urged to participate in the U.S. census. Many of them are not. Why? Is it a lack of privacy? Some worry about that in the first population count since 9/11.

Our Richard Roth is looking into this for us this morning. He has a report coming right up.

It's 20 minutes now to the top of the hour.


ROBERTS: It's 43 minutes after the hour.

The brainchild of the founding fathers, and it's underway right now, the census count of 2010. The government is now mailing an 1.6 million census forms to addresses that it missed the first time. Almost half of the people who have received the form have sent it back.

One challenge for the census bureau is urging skeptical Arab Americans why it is so important to be counted. Richard Roth joins us now with more on this. The census bureau is really canvassing all influential organizations to try to get Arab-Americans to fill out the form.

RICHARD ROTH, SENIOR U.N. CORRESPONDENT: Everyone, John. Recently, New York mayor Michael Bloomberg said in some neighborhoods in the city not one resident had returned a census form. Now the rate of return has stepped up since then, 31 percent citywide. New York typically lags the rest of the nation -- 46 percent nationally.

In the borrough of Queens, which is a United Nations global mix, to try to increase returns by Arab-Americans who are hesitant, religion and education are called upon.


ROTH: The traditional Muslim call to prayer -- this mosque is also issuing another call for compliance with the United States census.

AMANDA QUESADA, DAR AL-DAWAH MOSQUE: It is very important for us to educate our community, how important the census is.

ROTH: The mosque says it is important the Muslim community in Queens is counted and represented. Institutions like these play an important role in persuading a wary population to take part.

IMAM MOHAMMED ELBAR: The census is something that is so important to me, personally. And I think it is a religious duty to do so.

ROTH (voice-over): However, there is fear and concern in neighborhood like these. Suspicion of government questions runs high. These men from the census bureau spent the winter hitting the street spreading the census message.

AHMED SHADED, U.S. CENSUS BUREAU: I came to this country almost 30 years ago. And I know the fear. I know how people think. And I am one of them. Believe me, trust me.

ROTH: The census workers stress the questions are private and there are only ten, which should take ten minutes to answer but reaching out to the Muslim community can be difficult.

AYMAN GHALY, CENSUS BUREAU: So in some of them, the community is Middle Eastern. They are Muslim. And you can't go to knock on the door. And the female is there trying to answer to a male -- so that's not going to happen.

RAMI NUSEIR, AMERICAN MIDEAST LEADERSHIP NETWORK: Anybody knows what -- show of hands -- what is a census?

ROTH: In this Islamic school, a special census briefing.

NUSEIR: The more they know about us, the more they know that we exist, the more money we can ask the government to give us.

ROTH: Census counters hope the children will prod their parents to answering the census.

AMIRELSAMAD ISI, STUDENT: Everyone is scared off. But I think when you explain the positive effect, now I think it's going to be good, they'll learn and they could tell all the people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like simple questions can actually bring the whole United States together.


ROTH: The last census said there were 1.2 Arab-Americans living in the country but the Arab-American Institute says the number is too low. Surveys say it could four million. If people fill out the census, John, maybe they will know.

ROBERTS: And you know -- that's what they were saying it's important to be counted because -- certain things flow from the number of people that are filling out the census.

But let me ask you this question. You said at the beginning, the return rate in New York City was somewhere in the 40s.

ROTH: No, it is in the 30s. Well, yes, it's trailing the United States. And that's typical.

ROBERTS: Ok so, are there any examples of places where -- New York obviously is a big city -- any example of places across America where they have 100 percent return rate?

ROTH: I'm glad you asked. There is a 100 percent return rate in Badger Town, South Dakota and Chest Springs, Pennsylvania, two of some of the 100 percent return town in America.

ROBERTS: Population, do we know?

ROTH: I don't know. I think more than ten.

ROBERTS: Might it be somewhere like Dixville Notch? What does that have, 16 permanent residents?

ROTH: Yes the first to vote in the primary.

ROBERTS: Yes, exactly. Richard Roth this morning for us, Richard thanks so much -- Kiran.


Well, still ahead, we're going to be talking about the weather woes taking place across the Northeast. We have heavy rain, we have flood warnings, we have states of emergency, bracing for record flooding. Rob Marciano covering all of it for us.

It's now 47 minutes past the hour. We'll be right back.


CHETRY: Well, if you're waking up and looking at that shot, don't you just want to pull the covers back over your head and go to bed. It's not going to be the best day here in New York. But if you are going to venture out, bring your rubber boots and your umbrella because it is raining heavily. It's 41 degrees right now; a little bit later, heavy rain and 51 degrees.

ROBERTS: You didn't put a southwestern on the deal with that.

CHETRY: Well--

ROBERTS: So any ways, we did a little research here. And the two towns that Richard was talking about Badger, South Dakota, 144 is the population there and Chest Springs, Pennsylvania, population, 110. So, a 100 percent census returning in those two towns.

CHETRY: Hey, let's see if we could add some more to that one this year.

ROBERTS: There you go. So Dixville Notch better be in there because the population is a whole lot smaller.

CHETRY: That's right it's sure is. What is it -- 16 people, 16 or 17?

ROBERTS: Well, I think it's got 16 registered voters.

CHETRY: Yes. But it can because they -- ok. Maybe right there. Let's check in with Rob Marciano. Rob, what about Gobbler's Knob where Punxsutawney Phil lives?


CHETRY: Do you think Punxsutawney Phil is part of the census?

MARCIANO: I sure hope so. I mean, he's a big player in the census I'm sure but groundhogs for the most part are well represented. I mean, you've got Punxsutawney. You've got the General Beauregard Lee. They're several -- they're well represented across the country, especially on February 2nd.

Listen, those that said we were going to have a flooding spring across the Northeast, I don't think any rodent predicted that. And that's what we're seeing right now. The Northeast, including Rhode Island, that's really where most of the bad news has happened.

This is the Pawtuxet River which is already in major flood state, expected to crest at 16 feet. That's above the record which was set less than two weeks ago. That's expected to crest later on tonight at about midnight but being that it's expected to be worst than what they saw two weeks ago. Obviously residents there are not happy with it. They've had to evacuate in -- twice now in the last month.

All right, this low, not really moving as quickly as we would like; so, this needs to get out of here. But it's kind of drifting up to the north. You see the influx of moisture heading that way. So a little bit more rain I think today than we would -- than we saw yesterday.

I'll tell you that and the winds as well. So that's going to kind of clock down some of the travel delays. We're already seeing two-hour delays at LaGuardia at Newark, 2:45. And Philly, seeing an hour, 45-minute delays and we're not even into 9:00 hour. So if you're traveling through the airports today it is going to be a rough go.

Traveling out West, boy, we've got a strong system out there as well. High winds and high elevation snows but in between, temperatures in the 70s and 80s and some of this warmer and dryer air, a lot of it actually is going to get to the East Coast eventually. But we've got to get through the next day and a half, two days of really wet stuff before the nice stuff comes this weekend -- John, Kiran.

ROBERTS: All right, Rob, thanks so much.

CHETRY: We just have to hold on a couple more days.

ROBERTS: Dixville Notch, population, somewhere around 75.

CHETRY: Oh, 75?

ROBERTS: Yes, 26 registered voters in 2004, still checking for 2008. CHETRY: There you go.

ROBERTS: What's the toughest university to get accepted to? A new record for competitiveness. We'll tell you which one it is, coming right up. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Welcome back to The Most News in the Morning. It's time now for your "AM House Call", stories about your health.

Health officials are in Georgia investigating an increase in the number of people hospitalized with the H1N1 virus across the southeast. In the first two weeks of March, Georgia had 70 to 80 people hospitalized with swine flu. That is the most since last September.

CHETRY: All right. Well, also the FDA is meeting today to investigate the harm of menthol cigarettes. Critics say that the minty cigarettes actually mask the harsh taste and that they're specifically marketed to young and black smokers who have the highest rates of smoking-related disease. Although a ban is unlikely, the FDA could demand lower menthol levels, added warning labels or even higher prices.

ROBERTS: If your kid got turned down from Stanford, here is some news that will make them feel better. There are 29,722 people just like them. The university set a new standard for high standards this year. Stanford says it only accepted a little over 7 percent of the 32,000 students who applied there and that include early admission as well.

CHETRY: Take that, Ivy League schools.

ROBERTS: 7.2 percent.

CHETRY: How do we get into Stanford? Well.

All right. Well, that's going to do it for us for right now. We are going to take a quick break. It is 57 minutes after the hour.


CHETRY: Well, that's going to do it for us. By the way, Gobbler's Knob is just a part of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

ROBERTS: I'm sure your groundhog gets every bit of town that you ever need.

CHETRY: That's right. But you don't need to fill out your census form. Staten Island, Chuck, you're in the clear as well.

Meanwhile, continue the conversation on today's stories, go to our blog

ROBERTS: We'll see you again tomorrow morning. Meantime, the news continues on CNN with Kyra Phillips in the "CNN NEWSROOM." Good morning, Kyra.