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Rove Off the Hook; Tropical Storm Alberto

Aired June 13, 2006 - 08:00   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Surf's up in Clearwater Beach, Florida. Live pictures right now. Tropical Storm Alberto moving right through there now, the season's first named storm bringing heavy winds and rain. Thousands of Floridians already forced to higher ground. We will check the storm's path ahead on this AMERICAN MORNING.
Good morning to you.

I'm Miles O'Brien.


M. O'BRIEN: Let's get some breaking news in first this morning.

CNN has learned White House senior adviser, the deputy chief of staff, Karl Rove, has been told he will not be charged with any criminality in that CIA leak case.

Let's get right to the White House correspondent right now, Ed Henry, who is in the mountains of Maryland outside Camp David -- Ed, good morning.


Good morning, Miles.

We were supposed to be here talking about Iraq, but instead that news being overshadowed by some good news for this White House. The president obviously meeting today. More on his summit. But finding out that, in fact, one of his chief advisers, Karl Rove, his attorney, has been informed last night that Karl Rove will not be charged, will not be facing criminal charges in the CIA leak case.

His attorney, Robert Luskin, got that official word last night in a phone call and a letter from the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald.

The letter says -- this is now a statement from Robert Luskin saying: "On June 12, 2006, Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald formally advised us he does not anticipate seeking charges against Karl Rove. In deference to the pending case, we will not make any further public statements about the subject matter of the investigation. We believe the special counsel's decision should put an end to the baseless speculation about Mr. Rove's conduct, of course, a reference to the fact that there has been rampant speculation that Karl Rove could be facing charges of perjury, obstruction of justice for his role in the CIA leak case, the outing of Valerie Plame as a CIA agent.

Rove has been under a cloud. Now, he gets to focus instead on the 2006 mid-term elections. As you know, President Bush has dubbed Rove the architect -- for being the architect of the 2000 and 2004 election victories for the president. You can hear Republicans all across the country breathing a sigh of relief that now Karl Rove can focus on what they think he does best -- winning elections -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Ed.

Let's talk about the other person implicated in all of this, "Scooter" Libby. In this case, he's been indicted.

What does this -- is this -- are there any implications for him in all of this?

HENRY: Well, short-term we don't know the legal implications but certainly politically, all the focus, all the heat now on "Scooter" Libby, Karl Rove getting that heat off of him. We know that Libby has a bit of time here to mount his defense. And he's been aggressive about that because, as you know, the trial has been delayed until 2007. That can help Libby to give him more time in terms of mounting his defense.

But also for Republicans, that means his trial does not happen before the mid-term elections. So the twin deals there were Libby does not face a trial until 2007, as we've known for some time. But now we're learning that Karl Rove will not face charges before the mid-term elections. Big news for Republicans -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Ed Henry near Camp David.

Thank you very much -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get right to our other top story this morning.

Tropical Storm Alberto breaking down a little bit. Still strong, though.

CNN is your hurricane headquarters.

We've got complete coverage of severe weather.

Second counties in Florida are under mandatory evacuation orders and our reporters are positioned right in the path of Alberto.

Rob Marciano is in Cedar Key; Dan Lothian in Steinhatchee, Florida; Susan Candiotti in Clearwater Beach; Susan Roesgen on St. George Island and severe weather expert Chad Myers is at the CNN Weather Center.

Good morning to all of you -- Chad, let's start with you.

Where exactly is the storm right now?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: I made a map for you behind me there, Soledad. Fifty miles from Apalachicola, 75 miles from Cedar Key. Right there in Appalachia Bay, really pushing a lot of water into Appalachia Bay now. The winds are coming in from the south here from -- all the way from Steinhatchee through Cedar Key.

I'm concerned now that this water will be piling up here into St. Marks, maybe even as far west as St. George Island.

The storm, though, is still 65 miles per hour. There are still hurricane warnings posted from the Ochlocknee River down south to almost Tampa Bay.

Now, that area there could see some hurricane conditions, although probably more like tropical storm conditions for the next probably 24 hours before the storm pulls far enough away, on up into Georgia, that it finally goes away.

The only thing else that really is new, the pressure has not changed. Hurricane hunters are in the storm. Pressure 995. Really, a pretty discontent tropical storm pressure, but certainly not a hurricane type pressure.

We are watching the storm push squall lines to the east of it, though, and we will be watching for tornadoes. They could be all the way from the Carolinas right on down through and into Florida. That's why tornado watches are posted -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, let's get you on the ground, now.

CNN's Rob Marciano is in Cedar Key, which is along the coast, about halfway between Tampa and Tallahassee -- how does it look there, Rob?

ROB MARCIANO, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, it looks like the worst of the storm surge is over as far as the tide now beginning to recede. The winds not quite as strong as they were, say, two or three hours ago.

But we continue to get squalls that move through. We just had one about five minutes ago, with a heavy downpour and some gusty winds.

So, this storm paralleling us and just passing us now to our west. We still have, you know, the lower right corner of this storm to go through, even though is not going to be featuring as much heavy rain and probably as heavy wind, we're still going to get that.

Flooding downtown here in Cedar Key a problem. Knee deep to, at points, waist deep flooding. The area here, the island, it actually kind of dips in the middle. So the parts that flood the most in this sort of situation are actually in the middle of the island, the downtown, the business district. And this is fairly typical.

As the tide begins to recede, which it's doing now, and the winds eventually subside, this water will drain back out into the Gulf of Mexico. But a slow go, as you can imagine, here in Cedar Key. We're getting reports of 10 to -- at least 10 counties in this area, schools are closed and kids are happy about that. But power is still on here at Cedar Key and, well, the wind is still blowing. We suspect that it will continue to be the case here for the next several hours -- Soledad, back to you.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, Rob Marciano for us this morning in Cedar Key, Florida.

Thanks Rob -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: let's move up the coast.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Dan Lothian is in Steinhatchee, where there's a mandatory evacuation order, as well -- good morning, Dan.


We're seeing some of the same conditions that Rob was talking about, where you have these periods of calm and then the wind picks up and the rain picks up. We're in that moment now where we've been getting hit by 20 plus miles per hour winds and then that sideways rain, as well.

Officials here, emergency management officials in Taylor County still a little bit concerned about the storm surge. They have been sending out teams to assess the damage, telling us that so far all they've been able to find are some scattered power outages, some areas where some trees have fallen. But they're terming it basically minor damage, is what they're calling it.

But there's still, as I mentioned, concern about the wave of water that could move into the area. They had some problems with that eight to 10 feet during Dennis last year. And so they're saying we're not out of the woods yet. They're warning folks to stay away from the area. Some 2,000 people were ordered to evacuate. They are in the low lying areas. We don't know how many of those actually left, but they're warning those folks not to come back for at least the next five hours -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Dan Lothian, who is in Steinhatchee, Florida.

Thank you very much.

Let's go back to the south now, Clearwater Beach, the Tampa Bay area.

Susan Candiotti is there, where it's turning out to be, well, if you've got a surf board and you live in that part of the world, you might want to go find Susan and the surf's up, right?

SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We saw some surfers out a little while ago but they seemed to have moved on. I guess they found a better spot.

Right now, we are getting whipped by some fairly strong winds and you can tell that the seas are really kicking up. Estimated to go up to about six feet or so.

And off in the distance, you can see probably the trailing end of the storm. And it is passing us by over in this direction.

However, the sun-is out, blue skies. It's a gorgeous day except for the high wind. So far, the only reports of any kind of damage are reports of some wires being down, but we're not hearing anything about any power outages or, so far, we have not had any reports of flooding.

About 22 people took shelter here in Pinellas County. I would assume they would be able to go home fairly shortly.

So for now, they seem to have come through the storm in fairly good order, except for a construction barge that overnight, about 3:00 in the morning, slammed into the Howard Franklin Bridge. But there was no structural damage, no injuries and, in fact, the traffic is running again on that bridge without any problem whatsoever -- Miles, we'll see what else the day has to bring to us as they assess whether there was any kind of damage at all to this area -- back to you.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, Susan Candiotti in Clearwater Beach.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Let's get right to Susan Roesgen now.

She's on the western side of the storm's path, on St. George Island -- hey, Susan, good morning.


I wish I had some of Susan Candiotti's blue sky. It is still gray here. We've seen some lightning, heard some thunder here on the beach on St. George Island.

The rain is still coming down, the wind is still out, as you see. And there is the possibility that the bridge, the four mile bridge that connects this island to the Apalachicola coastline, could be a little tricky to drive on.

Now, again, no major problems in this area. You do see the wind coming down, some good surf.

I found a boogie board here on the beach for you, Soledad, if you want to come out and give it a whirl. We don't see anybody out on the beach yet. Across the way, I see some people sitting in lawn chairs. They probably think I'm the stupidest person in the world for being out here in the wind and the rain. But, hey, this is Florida, and this is what you take, tropical storms are just the price you pay when you live in paradise -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Oh, man, we've heard that a bunch. And I've got to tell you no thanks to the boogie board. I believe in watching all these things from a safe distance.

Susan Roesgen for us this morning. Thanks, Susan.

And, as always, CNN is your hurricane headquarters for the very latest forecasts and information as well.

Still much more on Tropical Storm Alberto is straight ahead. We're going to take you live to the National Hurricane Center in Miami for an update on the storm.

M. O'BRIEN: Also ahead, the future of Iraq now that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is dead.

Who will take over as the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq?

S. O'BRIEN: Plus, we're going to tell you why an airport in Florida was shut down by a bag full of honey.

That's ahead.

Stay with us.

You're watching AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: We are tracking Tropical Storm Alberto.

For a time, there was some concern that Alberto might strengthen into a category one hurricane. That didn't happen. The stars didn't come into the right alignment.

Let's check in again with the National Hurricane Center in Miami and see where this storm is headed.

Max Mayfield, who's been burning the candle at both ends, working double duty.

I saw you up late last night, Max, and I know Ed Rappaport is under the weather, so to speak. I guess you use that term there.

Let me ask you this, Max.

This storm, there was some concern last night about it strengthening into category one land.

What happened to change that?

MAX MAYFIELD, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER: Well, we're not absolutely sure. What we think happened is the upper level winds were strong enough to provide that wind shear to keep it from strengthening to a category one.

Miles, we've been very, very honest with people in saying, you know, for several years now, and telling Congress, that we have real limitations in (UNINTELLIGIBLE) forecasting. You know, this could very well have become a category one hurricane. And it looks like that's not going to happen.

Although, I might just note here that the western semicircle here, the eye wall looks like it is filling back in here. So we're not down with the storm surge over in that extreme northeastern Gulf of Mexico.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, so we shouldn't trifle with this one, even though it hasn't reached category one. We're talking about gusts upwards of 65 miles an hour. This is a storm that can cause some damage?

MAYFIELD: It is. And, you know, the biggest concern, really, was the storm surges around the Crystal River, Cedar Key, Steinhatchee, Cedar -- the Nicole Beach (ph), Keaton Beach (ph) area in that extreme northeastern Gulf. I'm glad that a lot of those people heeded those mandatory evacuation orders. It was absolutely the right thing to do.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, let's talk about that, because, you know, here we are early in the season on the heels of a season we'd all like to forget, if we could.

Are people sort of primed and ready and listening to the warnings? Do you have that sense?

MAYFIELD: Well, that is certainly my sense. And we've been talking with the emergency operations center in Tallahassee and the county EOCs here all through the weekend and yesterday. So we were on the same page. I think that, you know, people are more aware.

But this is just the middle of June, as you know, and we've got a long way to go, another five-and-a-half months of the hurricane season. And the peak of the season really doesn't even start until the middle of August.

M. O'BRIEN: All right, what people want to do in all of these storms is start reading tea leaves. A storm of this strength at this time means X...

MAYFIELD: No. Not very much.

M. O'BRIEN: What does it mean? Anything?

MAYFIELD: It doesn't mean anything, Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: All right.

MAYFIELD: This is very, very typical, to have a storm form in the northwest Caribbean in June. It happens about every other year. I wouldn't read too much into that. But we are forecasting a very active season so this, again, is just the beginning.

M. O'BRIEN: Max Mayfield, thank you for your time.

MAYFIELD: Thank you.

M. O'BRIEN: Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: All right, let's go now to a look at what's in America this morning.

America, we've got an update on some of the top stories we're following for you this morning.

The wife of a Tennessee minister who was found shot to death is now facing murder charges. Mary Winkler is her name. She was indicted on Monday. Authorities say she confessed. They haven't revealed a motive, though. Her husband, Matthew, was found dead in his bedroom in March when he failed to show up for evening service.

It was a pretty sticky situation in Florida. A bomb scare temporarily shut down the Tallahassee airport. Security screeners ordered a three hour evacuation on Monday after they discovered a suspicious package. It turns out the package, though, was in a bag which belonged to a food editor and inside was some gear, some batteries, some seasoning rub and a bag of honey.

Two bulls escaped from a trailer in Houston early on Monday and caused chaos on several major roadways. One bull was hit by a truck, injured so badly they had to put that bull down. The other one, though, eventually caught. First, though, he rammed a patrol car. The officer, a little scared, had to jump out. Everybody is OK.

And scientists have discovered a new species of hammerhead shark off the coast of South Carolina. Researchers say the newfound species could be at risk of extinction. In fact, the yet to be named species is considered so rare, it might breed in certain South Carolina bays only -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Well, Zarqawi is dead.

Who will fill the vacuum for Al Qaeda in Iraq?

We'll take a closer look at his potential successor.

Plus, the NFL quarterback Ben Roethlisberger -- Roethlisberger, I should say -- seriously hurt in a motorcycle crash. Why in the world wasn't he wearing a helmet? We'll have that plus an update on his condition ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


S. O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody.

Take a look at the screen there. We're tracking Tropical Storm Alberto for us this morning.

There's no longer concern that it's going to become a hurricane. It is lessening. The biggest concern now -- tornadoes that spin off and also high wind. As you can see, we've got reporters in the field monitoring this story for you.

A short break just ahead as we continue right here on AMERICAN MORNING.


M. O'BRIEN: Al Qaeda in Iraq claims it has a new leader to replace now killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. An Islamist Web site says the new most wanted man in Iraq is Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Muhajir.

Senior Arab affairs editor Octavia Nasr live now from the CNN Center with more -- Octavia, first of all, does it matter that nobody knows who this guy is?

OCTAVIA NASR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Experts are saying it doesn't really matter because, you know, the insurgency in Iraq is made out of hundreds of groups, literally. And we don't know who leads these groups. We don't know if they die and they're replaced.

Al Qaeda in Iraq, because of Zarqawi and because of what experts call his vanity and his love to show off and send out tapes and really look like bin Laden, he attracted a lot of attention to his group. So that's why we know about him. We know -- we have much background about him, pictures, videos, statements.

But experts are telling us it doesn't really matter who leads Al Qaeda in Iraq. As a matter of fact, the postings on the Internet already are calling for people to unite. They're telling them if you fight for Zarqawi, Zarqawi is dead. But if you fight for god, god is not going to die.

M. O'BRIEN: Tell us, Octavia, what kind of reaction there is on the Web and elsewhere to that announcement?

NASR: You know, there was shock and basically people were upset. If you look at the Islamist Web sites, we're talking about radical Islamist Web sites. These are people that go on the Web and really celebrate when an IED explodes and kills, you know, dozens of people. These are Web sites that post messages. They post beheadings, post hostage video.

So on those Web sites, there was shock and sadness.

As a matter of fact, this morning they started pages on several Web sites of people going in and pledging allegiance to this new al Qaeda leader. And basically they will say things like as god is my witness, I pledge allegiance to the new leader and may god give him power to follow in the footsteps of Zarqawi. And a lot of hate language, the same rhetoric that we're used to hearing from Al Qaeda in Iraq and the other groups in Iraq.

M. O'BRIEN: But the truth is, Zarqawi was an effective insurgent leader.

And it'll be difficult to fill that void, won't it?

NASR: You're right. And this is exactly what is being discussed. And, again, what experts on terrorism and experts on al Qaeda and Zarqawi say -- they call it the vanity problem that Zarqawi had. And basically they blame that vanity for him leading the coalition forces to his location and succeeding in finishing him.

Basically, they're saying it's very hard to find a terrorist, someone who is willing to lead an insurgency group, someone who is willing to blow himself up, who likes to be on camera and who likes to go around posting messages and basically attracting attention.

Many people believe that because of what al-Zarqawi did, hew was able to recruit more. He was able to attract more people to support the group, send them money, send them weapons. And in this sense, yes, it's going to be very hard to replace Zarqawi.

M. O'BRIEN: And just quickly, do we know if this new leader is Iraqi or from some other country?

NASR: You know, we don't know anything at this point about this leader. But in those groups, it is not rare that they would change their names totally. Zarqawi himself changed names every times that we know of. In Afghanistan he was called Abu Mohammed al-Arib (ph), "The Stranger." Later, he became Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. His original name is, of course, something totally different.

So it's not unusual to come up with a new name so that we on the outside don't know who this man is.

But it seems like, from the messages I'm reading on the Internet, it seems that he is a Jihadi, he is known in the Jihadi circles. And soon enough, we will start knowing more about him.

M. O'BRIEN: Sadly, that's probably true.

Octavia Nasr at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Thank you -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: A developing story out of Iraq this morning.

Just about two hours ago, Iraq's government announced a new security plan for Baghdad that calls for thousands of troops to begin patrolling the city.

Let's get right to CNN's John Vause.

He's live for us in Baghdad -- hey, John, good morning.


This plan comes after a spate of suicide bombings, car shootings, drive-by shootings and other attacks targeting police and Iraqi civilians.

The plan involves at least 70,000 troops on the streets of Baghdad alone. We are told two brigades of Iraqi police, two brigades of commandoes, two divisions from the Iraqi Army, as well, as emergency police. Coalition forces will also be involved.

It gets underway just after dawn on Wednesday, probably about a little over 13 hours from now, around 10:00 p.m. Eastern time.

We're told it's the largest operation since the U.S. handed sovereignty back to the Iraqis two years ago.

Now, under this plan, special uniforms will be issued to the Iraqi forces. They'll drive vehicles which will be specially identified to link them to -- or to show that they're the legitimate Iraqi forces, as opposed to insurgents who may be dressed as police or army officers.

Raids will also be stepped up against insurgent safe houses -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Also, John, some very bad and very violent news to report out of Kirkuk.

What can you tell us about that?

VAUSE: Well, that's right, Soledad.

Well, the prime minister concentrates on Baghdad. The worst of the violence today seems to be around the Kirkuk area.

Five explosions carried out over a period of just two hours, killing at least 14 people. The target here, again, appears to be the Iraqi police, in particular the Iraqi police chief up in Kirkuk. He survived, but his bodyguards did not -- Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: John Vause for us this morning.

He's in Baghdad.

John, thank you -- Miles.

M. O'BRIEN: Coming up, the latest on Tropical Storm Alberto and its path. The storm is closing in on Florida as we speak. We have reporters stationed all along the Gulf Coast, of course. And we'll check in with them.

Plus, star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wears a helmet on the field, of course. So why wasn't he wearing one in yesterday's motorcycle crash?

That's ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.



UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The best time of year to visit Alaska on today's Vacations Off the Beaten Path.

DONNA ROSATO, WRITER, "MONEY" MAGAZINE: We found one of the best ways to save on an Alaska vacation is to go at the tail end of the summer season. You're still going to get really good weather and it's going to be less crowded for you. In September, you're still going to get a lot of sunlight and see things that you won't see in the summer. It's easier to see the Aurora Borealis. You'll start to see some of the fall foliage. And you'll get to see animals preparing for the winter.




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