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Storms Blanket Midwest; Insurgents Launch Full-Scale Attack on Iraqi Police

Aired March 21, 2006 - 07:00   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everybody. I'm Soledad O'Brien.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm John Roberts, in this week for Miles O'Brien. Good morning to you.

O'BRIEN: Storms, take a look at these pictures, have blanketed the Midwest. More than a foot of snow in some places. The storm now moving east and causing some big trouble. We've got the severe weather forecast just ahead.

Insurgents launch a full-scale attack on Iraqi police. More than a dozen people are dead. We will be in Baghdad with the very latest.

Congress takes a break and another and another. Is your member of Congress working hard or hardly working? We'll take a closer look at that ahead.

Plus, a stunning twist of fate in suburban New Orleans. Tens of thousands of dollars found stacked behind the walls of a home damaged by Hurricane Katrina. We'll have more on this amazing story this morning.

Plus, did Tom Cruise use his clout in Hollywood to kill a planned rerun of "South Park" because it mocked Scientology?

ROBERTS: Blame Canada.

O'BRIEN: We'll take a look at all of these stories ahead, on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Marching in like a lion, out like a lamb, right? Winter has turned to spring.

ROBERTS: Beware the ides of March.

O'BRIEN: Exactly. That, too.

Monday in the nation's midsection, the weather was anything but tranquil.


O'BRIEN (voice-over): On the first day of spring, a powerful storm dumped more than a foot of snow in the Plain States. Hundreds of schools closed in Kansas, Colorado, South Dakota. Twenty-five inches of snow reported in central Nebraska. It shut down parts of Interstate 80.

LT. MARK DETERDIN, KANSAS HIGHWAY PATROL: It looks like we're going to get a storm that might break a lot of records. It's very heavy snow with a lot of moisture, so it takes quite a bit to move and slows us down a little bit.

O'BRIEN: Low visibility also closed Interstate 70 in northwest Kansas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have had numerous slide-offs, have had vehicles go across the center line and hit other vehicles head-on.

O'BRIEN: In Texas, three days of heavy rain was too much, even for an area that desperately needed it. Nearly eight inches fell around Dallas-Ft. Worth on Sunday and Monday, turning street into rivers and leaving cars submerged.

Strong winds may be to blame for a roof collapse in Lubbock that killed one person, injured nine others. Winds there were clocked at 60 miles an hour. In Georgia, and other parts of the south, the rain fell and flash flood warnings went up.

And as the whole weather mess moves east, public works crews in Indiana and Ohio are getting prepared for what could be coming their way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to be having 65 dump trucks and about 17, 18 pickup trucks overnight. Our goal is to keep any ice from bonding to the pavement before that heavy accumulation comes.

O'BRIEN: And in New York City's Times Square, with temperatures in the low 30s, it felt like winter. But that didn't stop this slow New Orleans-style jazz funeral from officially trying to bury winter and mark the first day of spring.



O'BRIEN: Devastating weather to tell about Down Under as well. Residents of northeast Australia are picking up after Cyclone Larry hit early on Monday. It was the most powerful storm to hit Australia in decades. One officials estimates that 7,000 people have lost their homes. Food, water and other emergency supplies are being brought in by Australian troops. Barbecue and vegetables are being served up free this morning by store owners. They say they don't want all that the meat and produce to go to waste, after power knocked out in several areas. No deaths reported from the storm. Millions of dollars, though, in the region's banana and sugar cane crops have been lost.

ROBERTS: Nice of everybody to pitch in for the recovery.

In Iraq today, at least 15 officers killed in an attack on a police headquarters. The attackers freed more than two dozen suspected terrorists. CNN senior international Nic Robertson joins us live from the Iraqi capital.

Nic, what happened there today?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTL. CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, we're just getting new details in about that attack, about 65 miles northeast of Baghdad, in the town of Muqdadiya. We are told, we have word from U.S. military officials that one U.S. soldier was injured in this attack by insurgents on a police headquarters.

What happened is about 100 insurgents, we're told, launched an attack using rocket-propelled grenades, heavy machine gun fire, killing 15 policemen, wounding four others.

Now in the gun battle, we're told in the gun battle 16 of the insurgents were killed, 10 wounded.

Now that is according to Iraqi security sources. U.S. military sources put the insurgent death toll at two dead and several captured. The U.S. military got involved in this attack as the attack was under way. They brought in helicopters. U.S. Army and Iraqi army came to support the police. By the time they could do that, more than 30 insurgents being, or suspected insurgents, being held in that police headquarters were freed. The insurgents made their get-away, detonating bombs and taking some of their dead with them -- John.

Nic, you reported from Muqdadiya last year. What were your impressions of the overall security situation there?

ROBERTSON: It was a situation that was becoming less intense. The U.S. military was staying off the streets. Iraqi army and Iraqi police leading the security in the area, mixing relatively freely with the people in the area that we could see, and working with relative ease, not a very high security presence, but still, out on the streets. It's an area that symptomatic of the change that's happening in Iraq, where U.S. military is handing over security control to Iraqi security elements -- John.

ROBERTS: All right, Nic Robertson in Baghdad, thanks. We'll get back to you a little bit later on this morning.

Attacks like the one north of Baghdad make the fight for Iraq certainly a tough one. Army Lieutenant Colonel H.R. McMaster led forces that removed insurgents from Iraqi city last fall. Can that operation be used as a model to defeat this insurgency? President Bush thinks so, and we'll ask McMaster. He's our guest at the half hour -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Jurors in the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui are going to hear from the al Qaeda member's former roommate today. They got a preview from the FBI agent who interrogated both of them. That agent dropped a bombshell on the prosecution during cross- examination on Monday.

CNN Justice correspondent Kelli Arena has our story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KELLI ARENA, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The FBI agent who arrested and interrogated Zacarias Moussaoui three weeks before 9/11 blamed FBI headquarters for obstructing the investigation. Minneapolis agent Harry Samit told jurors he believed at the time Moussaoui was a terrorist intent on hijacking an airplane, but said, quote, "What I believed and what I could prove are two different things."

Samit said his supervisors repeatedly blocked his request to obtain warrants to search Zacarias Moussaoui's belongings. It was later discovered those belongings contained contact numbers for a key September 11th planner, as well as short-bladed knives.

DICK SAUBER, FMR. FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: This was just bureaucratic bungling, and there were people at headquarters at the FBI who just didn't want to take the trouble, didn't think Moussaoui was for real, and didn't want to take the trouble to treat it as a serious terrorism case.

ARENA: Samit's testimony is important, because the government argues Moussaoui's lies prevented the FBI from stopping the September 11th attacks. The defense counters that government bureaucracy would never have allowed a swift response to anything Moussaoui said.

The testimony follows a one-week delay after allegations that government lawyer Carla Martin improperly coached aviation witnesses who were supposed to testify. The judge barred those witnesses, but ultimately agreed to allow testimony from other aviation experts untainted by Martin.

SAUBER: Whoever comes forward at this point in the case is probably not going to be as well prepared as the seven witnesses who are now thrown out would be. They're going to be more opportunities for cross-examination.

ARENA: Martin is supposed to explain her actions before the judge at some point.

(on camera): Law enforcement officials tell CNN the Justice Department is preparing to launch a criminal investigation into Martin's activities.

Kelli Arena, CNN, Alexandria, Virginia.


O'BRIEN: You want to stay tuned to CNN day and night for the most reliable news about your security -- John.

ROBERTS: In case you stopped paying attention after Team USA lost, the inaugural World Baseball Classic finished up last night. Japan beat Cuba, 10-6, to win the title, but Cuba almost didn't make the tournament at all. The U.S. government originally refused to let them in. Instead, they made it to the final game on American soil in San Diego. Japan avenged its loss to Cuba in the gold medal game of the 1996 Olympics, which was also played on American soil, in Atlanta.

If an airline ever lost your luggage, you're in good company. Just wait till you hear how many bags were lost last year and how many were recovered. We're "Minding Your Business" for you.

O'BRIEN: Also the numbers don't lie. We're going to tell you why this year's lawmakers are earning the nickname "do nothing Congress."

ROBERTS: And later on, we're going to talk to the U.S. commander who helped take back one Iraqi town from al Qaeda. He'll tell us why it could be a model for success in the rest of the country.

Stay with us.


O'BRIEN: On the floor of the house today, nothing. Over in the Senate, absolutely nothing. Yes, they are still on break for St. Patrick's Day. In fact, they took 10 days to celebrate the one day. The 109th Congress is on track to work fewer than 100 days this year.

AMERICAN MORNING's Bob Franken is on the job working. Working on the job in Washington this morning!

You have to be the only guy, Bob. Good morning.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATL. CORRESPONDENT: That's right. There is an echo in here.

Well, it was 1948 when President Bush Harry Truman campaigned against what he sneeringly called the "do nothing Congress." So welcome to 2006, and this Congress could be on track to do less than "do nothing."


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pursuant to that concurrent resolution.

FRANKEN (voice-over): Instead of St. Patrick's Day, Congress decided to honor St. Patrick's week at home this year, or at least not in Washington. And this holiday should not be confused with spring break. That's next month. They'll take off for 11 days.

When they return, they can look ahead to a few extended weekends in the mack daddy of holidays, the August break. Traditionally, the whole month of August, to beat the heat. Now there's air- conditioning, but it still means August somewhere else.

And we don't call them breaks, if you please. Their district work periods. That's because members are in their districts working, mingling with constituents, stuff like that.

Republican Frank Lucas was holding a series of town meetings Monday. He tried to do more than 50 a year. But others use some of the time to travel far away, courtesy of the taxpayer. Or somebody. So far, the House has been in session a grand total of 19 days this year. The Senate, 33. Congress is scheduled to adjourn on October 6th. That would total only 97 days in Washington, although leaders say it will end up being more like 120. President Truman's "Do Nothing Congress" did it in 108 days.


FRANKEN: And there is another reason not to be in Washington, D.C. But to be home as much as possible. It could be, Soledad, because it's an election year.

O'BRIEN: Oh, gee, you think? Yes, shocking, shocking.

Let me ask you a question about the work week. I work Monday through Friday. That's my work week. And I know you're on the air Monday through Friday. But on the Hill, huh-uh.

FRANKEN: We seem to be in the wrong profession!

But the truth is, in fairness, when they're at home in the district, they are attending to a lot of meetings, at least that's what they say. They are running for reelection. They are doing that half of the job. And as a matter of fact, they say it is very hard work. It doesn't look like it from the outside, though, does it?

O'BRIEN: Congressman Franken, has a nice ring to it.

FRANKEN: The company would be in tatters.

O'BRIEN: Oh, you're a man to admit it!

All right, Bob Franken for us this morning, thanks.


O'BRIEN: Ahead this morning, we're going to talk to -- have you heard this story? A couple of college students literally found a hidden treasure in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We'll show you what they found, tell you about it.

Also, "SHOWBIZ TONIGHT's" Brooke Anderson takes a look at Scientology and Hollywood.

Brooke, good morning.

BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brooke Anderson. Scientology and the case of the disappearing "South Park" episode. What this mystery may say about the power of Tom Cruise and the faith he follows.


O'BRIEN: Did Tom Cruise kill an episode of "South Park?" the question alone highlights the power that big stars have, and in some cases, the religion that they put their power behind in some cases. CNN entertainment correspondent Brooke Anderson has our story.


BROOKE ANDERSON, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This episode of Comedy Central's "South Park" was set to re-air last week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We want to reveal to Stan the great secret of life behind our church.

ANDERSON: It makes fun of Tom Cruise.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Come out of the closet Tom, you're not fooling anyone.

ANDERSON: And his belief in Scientology.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cult? Scientology isn't a cult, Kyle.

ANDERSON: But the repeat was abruptly pulled from the schedule.

ANNE THOMPSON, DEPUTY FILM EDITOR, HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Well the firestorm is about whether or not Tom Cruise actually ordered that Comedy Central not air this particularly negative story.

ANDERSON: Tom Cruise does have leverage. News reports and entertainment blogs speculated he threatened not to promote his upcoming film "Mission Impossible III" if the episode re-aired. "M.I.3" is being released by Paramount, which is owned by Viacom, which also owns Comedy Central.

But Cruise's publicist and Comedy Central say the actor had nothing to do with the change of plans. Neither Paramount nor Viacom returned CNN's calls for comment today.

But "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone issued this unusual statement anyway. "So, Scientology, you may have won this battle, but the million-year war for Earth was just begun. You have obstructed us for now, but your feeble bid to save humanity will fail."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hello there, children.

ANDERSON: This comes on the heels of another "South Park" shocker. Isaac Hayes also a Scientologist, recently quit his job as the voice of the character Chef.

(on camera): Hayes said he left because of, quote, "inappropriate ridicule of religious communities." But it is this most recent controversy that's ignited the current questions about the power of Scientology in Hollywood.

TOM CRUISE, ACTOR/SCIENTOLOGIST: I think that there is a higher and better quality of life. ANDERSON (voice-over): Cruise makes no secret of his religion as in this interview from the "Today Show" last June. Other famous supporters include Lisa Marie Presley, Jenna Elfman, Giovanni Ribisi, Kirstie Alley, Erika Christensen, Kelly Preston, and her husband John Travolta.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You better start figuring it out.

ANDERSON: Travolta even made "Battlefield Earth" based on his Scientology beliefs.

THOMPSON: It is based on a novel by L. Ron Hubbard, who was the founder of Scientology. John Travolta, who is an avid believer in Scientology, was willing to star in a movie that turned out to be rather foolish to help the cause of Scientology.

ANDERSON: And consider the celebrity advocates who recently turned out for the church-sponsored opening of a new museum that takes on one of Scientology's favorite targets. It is called "Psychiatry: an Industry of Death."

JENNA ELFMAN, ACTRESS/SCIENTOLOGIST: America needs to know this information.

ANDERSON: But box office expert Paul Dergarabedian says the movie industry tends to overlook religious controversies unless they start to affect the bottom line.

PAUL DERGARABEDIAN, PRESIDENT, EXHIBITOR RELATIONS: I think the fact that Tom Cruise is a Scientologist is not going to hurt the opening weekend of "Mission Impossible III" at all.

ANDERSON: Brooke Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


O'BRIEN: That story first aired on "PAULA ZAHN NOW." You can catch Paula every weeknight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

Coming up this morning, a pretty incredible discovery to tell you about. It was found in a house ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. This morning, we talked to a pair of college students who literally found hidden treasure.

Plus, we also will talk to the U.S. commander who led a mission to take back one Iraqi town from al Qaeda. We'll find out why the operation could be a model for winning the war. That's ahead. Stay with us.


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