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Terror Fears; Open Border; Troop Strength; Making the Grade?; Cuban Connection; Alleged Atrocity; Iraq Kidnappings; Attackers in Uniform; Same-Sex Marriage Ban?; Politics of Partnership; State of the Union; Happily Ever After?

Aired June 5, 2006 - 23:00   ET


JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: And we begin with an alleged terror plot that appears to be growing, both in size and scope. Seventeen people, all said to be inspired by al Qaeda, are accused of trying to give Canada its own 9/11 by blowing up buildings in the Toronto area.
The investigation is expanding. Overseas and right here in the United States where, according to at least one official, two of the suspects had ties to U.S. citizens who were arrested on terrorism charges.

CNN's Jeanne Meserve has the latest for us.


MIKE COTE: Well, this is basically their lean-to. This is where their camp underneath there. You can see they've got these branches here. They've pull this had maple over. This here was just a tent over the top of here.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the remote Ramara Township, 90 miles north of Toronto, Mike Cote says he came across a group of men in what he called segue camouflage. The men told him they were doing extreme camping, but he suspected they were up to something more dangerous and alerted police, who told him they already had the group under surveillance.

COTE: You just hear about, you know, what's going on in the rest of the world, and, you know, you do put two and two together. I guess it's stereotyping in its own way.

MESERVE: Canadian officials allege the men Cote saw were part of an al Qaeda-inspired group training to blow up targets in Canada with three tons of ammonium nitrate, the fertilizer that fashioned into a bomb devastated the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Police seized ammonium nitrate in raids over the weekend, along with what appeared to be a detonator.

MIKE MCDONELL, ROYAL CANADIAN MOUNTED POLICE: This group posed a real and serious threat. It had the capacity and intent to carry out these acts.

MESERVE: Of the 17 being held in the probe, 12 men face terror- related charges. The charges against five juveniles have not been released.

Canadian authorities say the arrest capped a two-year investigation, and officials said today more arrests are possible.

MCDONELL: We're following every investigative lead that we have right now. And anybody that was involved in aiding, facilitating or participating in this terrorist threat will be arrested.

MESERVE: Family members and attorneys for the suspects dispute the charges.

ROCCO GALATI, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: No criminal past whatsoever.

MESERVE: Two of the men now charged with terrorism were already in custody for allegedly trying to import firearms and ammunition into Canada from the U.S.

And a U.S. counterterrorism official says two of the Canadian suspects had e-mail communications with two U.S. citizens arrested this spring on terrorism charges.

Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee had allegedly videotaped locations, including the U.S. Capitol and a fuel tank farm. CNN was unable to reach their lawyers.

U.S. officials say some of the Canadians also had contact with British terrorism suspects arrested last fall. And with Islamic militants in Bangladesh, Bosnia, Denmark and Sweden.

The arrests have further heightened concerns about local terror groups working independent of al Qaeda. Official say they are much harder to detect and stop.

JOHN MILLER, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, FBI: It's a real challenge. If you look at the old model where you focused on the camps, the base, the leadership and thought, if we look at this right, we'll see the threads of whatever comes out of their coming towards us, the new model is much more disparate.

MESERVE (on camera): Officials say Customs and Border Protection has increased scrutiny of people and vehicles coming into the U.S. from Canada out of an abundance of caution.

Jeanne Meserve, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: We don't know if the suspects were planning anything inside the United States, but if they were, the trip would be shockingly easy, at least in some parts up north where border crossings are often open and completely unguarded.

CNN's Gary Tuchman reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's late afternoon, rush hour in many places. But not here. On this desolate roadway in the Canadian province of Manitoba, where a monument separates Manitoba on the left from Minnesota on the right, a sign warns that you're about to arrive to the official U.S. border checkpoint. And then there it is. The Jim's Corner Immigration Customs Reporting Station. Which looks like a shack and operates on the honor system.

Two sheriffs on the American side are not happy about it.

(On camera): What percentage of people in general do you believe check in there?

DALLAS BLOCK, SHERIFF, LAKE OF THE WOODS COUNTY: I believe it's less than 30 percent. Maybe even far less than that.

TUCHMAN (voice-over): When we entered Lake of the Woods County, Minnesota, from Canada, we went through the rather unorthodox process.

(On camera): Push the call, push the American flag.

Inside the shack, a videophone connected to a border agent 50 mile as way.

Hello, U.S. Customs. I'm at the Jim's Corner. My name is Gary Tuchman. I think you'll find I have a clean record.

The agent looks at you through the camera, and you look at the agent. What is your name?


TUCHMAN: Hello, Officer Johnson.

(Voice-over): Officer Johnson would have no way of knowing if people were just driving by the shack without stopping, which indeed often happens because many honorable people can't be bothered with the videophone that often doesn't work.

(On camera): I'm going to hold you up my passport first. Can you see it?


TUCHMAN: That's me.

(Voice-over): We were approved to enter the U.S. in a most unusual tourist town called Angle Inlet. It's actually an enclave not physically connected to the rest of the U.S. You have to drive 40 miles within Canada to the northern side of the Lake of the Woods to get there.

There are far more deer than people who live here. The town is the state's only remaining one-room public schoolhouse. But amid the charm of this tranquil town, the sheriff of Lake of the Woods County says drug dealers drive past Jim's Corner, and then take boats in the summer or snowmobiles in the winter into the heart of the U.S. And he says there's even more.

(On camera): It is your professional opinion that terrorists have gone through Angle Inlet into the mainland United States?

BLOCK: Yes, it is.

TUCHMAN: And that's through intelligence you have?

BLOCK: Yes. We have pretty accurate, pretty reliable intelligence that that has happened. I don't think Osama bin Laden's going to check in there, but. So you're really on your honor system.

TUCHMAN: It's 6:00 p.m. on a chilly day. So most of the boaters have gone back to shore for the evening. This lake is very empty. But even in the summer in the middle of the day, it is very uncrowded on this lake, which makes it easy for people who might be up to no good to go relatively unnoticed.

(Voice-over): Some of the year-round residents are concerned all this talk could scare away tourists. Jerry Stallock owns a restaurant.

JERRY STALLOCK, OWNER, JERRY'S RESTAURANT: I personally don't think this is as big a threat as some of the other people.

TUCHMAN: But the sheriff says in this post-9/11 world, one cannot be too careful. Although he does admit to a transgression.

Do you stop at the border station?

BLOCK: I do. Sometimes.

TUCHMAN: U.S. Customs and Border Protection tell CNN its officers who periodically visit this border area will start making more frequent visits. And better technology will be added, including cameras providing surveillance over the area, not just inside the shack. We did encounter one man from Manitoba who did stop at the videophone.

Any luck?


TUCHMAN: But it didn't work, so he called on a pay phone.

FUNK (ph): Yes. John Funk (ph), reporting in at Youngs -- Jim's Corner.

TUCHMAN: To report his arrival into the United States of America.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Angle Inlet, Minnesota.

(END VIDEOTAPE) ROBERTS: Safe to say that many people who cross the border, especially our southern border, aren't going to call in advance to say they're coming. Their goal is to get in undetected.

Down south, President Bush vowed to put thousands of National Guard troops on patrol to keep illegal immigrants out. It's called "Operation Jump Start." And it begins in about two weeks' time.

One group of National Guardsmen from Utah arrived on the border this weekend. The Pentagon initially said they would be part of "Operation Jump Start," but today said that's not the case, and they were launched earlier.

CNN's Jonathan Freed reports on their mission and what it might say about the "Jump Start" program.


JONATHAN FREED, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If nobody told you otherwise, you'd almost think they're building a false front for a movie set. But this fence is actually the front line of defense in the battle to control America's borders. Fifty-five National Guard troops from Utah find themselves in less familiar territory, on the Arizona-Mexico border, outside San Luis, about 25 miles south of Yuma.

LT. GEN. STEVEN BLUM, HEAD OF THE NATIONAL GUARD: What we will be doing is actually bringing military skills, military equipment, military expertise and experience.

FREED: These soldiers are doing the same kind of work President Bush will soon have other guard troops doing. Many more troops, starting in a couple of weeks. The president is sending 6,000 National Guard members to the four southern border states.

Their mission? Doing things like extending the fence, improving roads, and installing high-tech lighting. All of it so United States Border Patrol agents can be freed up to better police the frontier.

The idea is troops won't deal directly with illegals. And as the White House promised Mexico, won't militarize the border.

CAPT. TALON GREEFF, UTAH NATIONAL GUARD: Those law enforcement activities, we don't want them to be confused, and so it's the Border Patrol's responsibility, and we take care of the construction side.

FREED: These Utah troops arrived over the weekend and managed to build several hundred feet of fence, despite heat that topped 100 degrees.

SPEC. NATHAN LILJENQUIST, UTAH NATIONAL GUARD: Just with the little fence that's been up so far, they told us they've already seen a drastic change in people coming over.


FREED: Well, not everyone is convinced. On the streets of San Luis, Jose Navarro, who immigrated legally, believes more fence will not mean fewer illegal crossings. More people cross illegally into Arizona than any other state.


ROBERTS: Jonathan Freed is live in San Luis tonight and joins us. Jonathan, how long is the National Guard supposed to stay on the border?

FREED (on camera): Two years, John. They say it's going to give them enough time to get more Border Patrol agents hired and trained up down here -- John.

ROBERTS: And anybody saying anything about the idea that these are only going to be, when "Operation Jump Start" gets going, two to three week rotations as opposed to one set of Guardsmen and women staying there for weeks, maybe months at a time?

FREED: That's a good question, and that's part of our mission tomorrow, actually. We've already made arrangements to go out along the border where some of these people are building and extending this fence. And those are the things we want to talk to them about tomorrow, get a sense of how long do they really feel they're going to need to be down here in order to be effective.

ROBERTS: Jonathan, great story tonight. Thanks very much. We'll see you again soon.

FREED: Thanks.

ROBERTS: One state is turning to a virtual Border Patrol to catch illegal immigrants.

Texas Governor Rick Perry has plans to unveil hundreds of surveillance cameras along the Rio Grande. The cameras would cost about $5 million to install and would be trained on quote, "criminal hot spots."

Now here's the twist to this. The images are going to be posted on the Internet. So computer users who sit around their computers 24 hour a day can watch the border for Texas authorities and report to them.

U.S. customs and Border Patrol agents already use video monitors and other high-tech surveillance to watch the border. Here's the data for you.

The agency relies on 250 aircraft and 200 vessels as part of its air and marine program, which is the largest law enforcement force in the world with more than 500 pilots.

The 11,000 men and women of the Border Patrol also rely on some low-tech devices like horses, all-terrain motorcycles, snowmobiles, even bicycles.

Some of the people who slip past the Border Patrol actually go on to do great things in this country.

Coming up, we'll meet a real standout, a scholar at a top Ivy League school who now faces problems because of his immigration status.

Plus, executions and kidnappings in Iraq made possible in part because Iraqi police uniforms are literally up for grabs. The details when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: It's hard to foresee any end to the illegal immigration debate. There are just too many angles to the story. Some go unnoticed like the one that Tom Foreman found. An admitted illegal who is a classic American success story.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Even amid the storied towers and ivy walls of Princeton, Dan-El Padilla Peralta is special. Fluent in five languages, highly honored for his study of Greek and Latin classics. Not bad for a kid from a homeless shelter.

DAN-EL PADILLA PERALTA, PRINCETON STUDENT: My family wasn't able, for example, to afford toys. And so I would borrow books from the public library.

FOREMAN: But now his academic ambition has led him to a hard lesson in life. He has publicly admitted he is an illegal immigrant. And he may not be able to stay in America.

PADILLA PERALTA: I will take everything as it comes. And I will say that I worry about things, But I'm not afraid of them. And if that should happen, then that is what will happen. I hope that does not happen.

FOREMAN: Dan-El says his mother, Maria, came with him to New York from the Dominican Republic on a temporary visa for medical treatment when he was a toddler. But the visa expired, and they remained. Dan-El excelled at school. And when he was ready for college, Princeton was ready for him. Illegally here or not.

PADILLA PERALTA: He said that they would not look at that, that it would not matter in their decision. That they would admit me strictly on the merits and award me financial aid strictly on the merits.

FOREMAN: Now, however, Oxford University in England wants him to continue his education there. Here's the catch. If he leaves America, he will be banned from re-entering for at least 10 years.

In many ways Dan-El has nothing in common with the unskilled laborers at the heart of the illegal immigration debate. The fact is, under federal law, were he not here illegally, he might even be sought after because the U.S. encourages legal immigration by the academically gifted. (On camera): But Dan-El is united to all those others by a stubborn fact. Even though he had no say in coming to America and has scant memories of living anywhere else, he is here illegally.

PADILLA PERALTA: I can and I do often on an emotional level identify with people who are in my predicament simply because we are all being lumped together. As a result of that, we all sort of try to come to each other's defense.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Did he take a place at Princeton that could have gone to a legal resident? Absolutely. Has that given him a unique chance to argue for citizenship? Probably. Is that fair? Who knows?


FOREMAN: Nevertheless, Dan-El Padilla believes, like millions of other far less skilled illegals, he has earned a right to stay.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


ROBERTS: And now yet another angle on immigration. The old adage, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, has helped some would-be immigrants from Cuba. Some, but not all, because with immigration, there is always a catch.

Here's CNN's Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Have you ever regretted coming here?

ALEX MORALES, MIGRANT: Oh, no, I will never do that.

CANDIOTTI (voice-over): As a young man, Alex Morales wind surfed his way from Cuba in search of freedom in America.

MORALES: There wasn't the right system for anybody, any human being at all.

CANDIOTTI: 110 miles away and 12 years later, Morales renovates homes in Miami and wind surfs semiprofessionally.

Yet with U.S. immigration battles in full swing involving other nationalities, Cuban migrants have mainly stayed out of the debate over who should go and who should be allowed to stay.

MORALES: It's really hard because we're all human beings. And it's -- you know, it's hard to say no to somebody when somebody says yes to you.

CANDIOTTI: Cubans are treated differently, thanks to Congress. But things can get desperate. These Cubans, some swinging machetes, try to fight off the Coast Guard. If intercepted at sea, they're sent back to Cuba. But unlike immigrants from other countries, if they reach land, they're home free. It's called the wet foot/dry foot policy.

Anti-Castro Activist and Radio Talk Show Host Ninoshka Perez insists different rules for Cubans are necessary.

NINOSHKA PEREZ, ANTI-CASTRO ACTIVIST AND RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: The conditions of repression and dictatorship in Cuba have not changed. There have not been a free and democratic elections in Cuba in the last 47 years.

CANDIOTTI: Migrant Alex Morales suggests the U.S. is responsible for not getting rid of Fidel Castro long ago.

MORALES: The only thing they do is say OK, if you manage to get here, we're going to give you a break.

CANDIOTTI: But other groups don't get a break. These Haitians making a dangerous trip in overcrowded boats are rounded up after making land and deported.

CHERYL LITTLE, FLORIDA IMMIGRATION ADVOCACY GROUP: You have a group like the Cubans who have certain special protections. You have the Haitians who basically have nothing. And it can be very divisive because it pits one group against the other.

CANDIOTTI: It does matter where people come from. Cubans like Alex Morales have an advantage enshrined in law. There's no sign others will get that privilege, whatever seas they've navigated.

Susan Candiotti, CNN, Miami.


ROBERTS: In Iraq tonight, bold and brutal. Gunmen dressed as Iraqi police carry out mass kidnappings. We'll have the latest on the investigation in a live report and show you just how easy it is for insurgents to get their hands on military uniforms.

Plus, the so-called "black widows." Why prosecutors say two elderly women are connected to hit and run deaths and an insurance scam when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: Recapping our breaking news about Marines accused of murdering a man in the Iraqi town of Hamandiya.

As Senior Pentagon Correspondent Jamie McIntyre reported earlier tonight, CNN has learned that some of the Marines now in pretrial confinement have made statements that the circumstances of the death were staged. If that is the case, a premeditated killing might have occurred. Meanwhile, today in Iraq, insurgent kidnappers struck various bus stations in what must be one of the most brazen acts of terror to date. Making it all the more troubling what the kidnappers were wearing.

CNN's John Vause joins us live from Baghdad with the latest.

What are you hearing, John?

JOHN VAUSE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hello, John. Well, what we know about this kidnapping, according to the interior ministry, these gunmen were dressed as Iraqi commandos. They were driving vehicles which had been painted to look like Iraqi police cars. They abducted at least 50 people from downtown Baghdad in what appears to be a well organized, well planned kidnapping. It took over an hour according to some witnesses.

The gunmen seemed to grab anybody they could find from three different transportation companies -- drivers, office staff passersby, passengers of buses, even some guy who was selling tea on the streets of Baghdad. Also taken was the owner of one of these transportation companies. It is the largest in Iraq. Also his two sons were kidnapped.

So far now almost 24 hours later there's been no word from the kidnappers. No ransom demand has been made. It's not the first time that gunmen have posed as Iraqi security forces. It happened about a month ago north of Baghdad near the city of Baquba where 13 people were kidnapped. And fake uniforms easy fairly easy to find here in Baghdad. They can be bought for as little as $25 -- John.

ROBERTS: John, was there any indication that a particular group of people was being targeted? Did this look like sectarian violence, Sunni on Shia or Shia on Sunni or were they from both sides of the camp here?

VAUSE: What this looks like, it was just a target of opportunity. This has all the hallmarks from what we've been told and what we've seen over the last couple of months here of some kind of kidnapping for financial reasons. The big clue to all of this is that the owner of the transportation company was taken. This appears to be criminal -- John.

ROBERTS: There was some confusion earlier yesterday, John, yesterday your time, today still our time, as to whether or not this was some sort of interior ministry exercise. Why did it take so long to get the details of this and the circumstances straightened out?

VAUSE: Well, you have to understand that this government is always in a state of confusion at the best of times. When this story started developing, we made a number of checks with the interior ministry, which is responsible for the police. We spoke with the defense department responsible for the army. No one really knew what was going on. The defense department had no operation under way. The interior ministry had no operation under way, but there was always a suspicion that the other may be conducting some kind of official raid. They really didn't know.

It was only when we finally got hold of someone in the prime minister's office that we got confirmation that there was a brazen kidnapping, a mass kidnapping, under way on the streets of Baghdad. It seems that no one really knew what was happening, which is why the police didn't turn up, why this operation lasted for more than an hour.

ROBERTS: Well, John, I'm sure that you'll be following this story today. Thanks for the update. And we'll get back to you tomorrow our time. Thanks. Appreciate it.

As John mentioned just a moment ago, this is not the first time that insurgents have worn Iraqi military uniforms to carry out attacks.

CNN's Arwa Damon investigates that part of the story.


ARWA DAMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This man is one of the lucky ones. Rescued from the back of one of these pickup trucks. U.S. and Iraqi troops responded to a citizen's phone call reporting suspicious activity by people they thought were members of the Iraqi army.

LT. COL. TOM FISHER, U.S. ARMY: They were reporting that there were men in Iraqi army uniforms who were in the process of entering their village, and they were calling to see if these were legitimate army missions.

DAMON: They were not. Instead, insurgents wearing Iraqi uniforms were conducting an operation of their own.

Posing as a member of Iraq's security forces is easier than you would think. Just head to Baghdad's so-called thieves market. And as long as you have $23, you can walk into the market dressed as a civilian and walk out dressed like a member of Iraq's security force. The tailors here once made uniforms for Saddam Hussein's regime.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We've been making uniforms for 45 years. This street is only for uniform makers. We never make uniforms for anyone except for officers and those people who have special IDs.

DAMON: But the IDs are as easy to make as the uniforms themselves. These days the tailors, who declined to give their names, find themselves caught in the middle, targeted by both insurgents and the Iraqi government.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Now they want us to close our shops. It means that we will lose our jobs. Are they going to offer us other jobs?

DAMON: Finding these men jobs can be added to the long to-do list for Iraq's new government. Security is its priority. (On camera): The government has promised it will issue new hard to copy uniforms in June. One small step to fulfilling the much larger promise of a secure Iraq.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Baghdad.


ROBERTS: And here in the states, President Bush is throwing his weight behind a proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. The list of people who oppose him include some within his own party. We'll take a look at the bill's chances coming up.

And their love story shocked the nation and sent her to prison for seven years for statutory rape. Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau, in their own words. Coming up on 360.


ROBERTS: The Senate today took up a bill to put a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage. It has little chance of becoming the supreme law of the land, but it is, by any account, a highly divisive issue. One person who supports the ban is President Bush, as he made clear at a gathering of religious conservatives today.

CNN's Ed Henry was there.


ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Bush gave restless conservatives the red meat they've been craving.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Marriage is the most fundamental institution of civilization and it should not be redefined by activist judges.


BUSH: You are here because you strongly support a constitutional amendment that defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman. And I am proud to stand with you.

HENRY: Conservatives are frustrated that people close to the president have been lashing out at the proposed ban on gay marriage.

MARY CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT CHENEY'S DAUGHTER: Basically writing discrimination into the constitution of the United States is fundamentally wrong.

HENRY: While the president has been keeping his powder dry on an issue that helped deliver his re-election.

TONY PERKINS, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: Well, there has been some concern that this was an issue that was important enough to campaign on in the 2004 election cycle by Republicans in general, but it's not been important enough to act upon yet. HENRY: Liberals see a president down in the polls suddenly turning to a wedge issue that can drive conservatives to the polls in the midterms.

REV. ROBERT HARDIES, SENIOR MINISTER, ALL SOULS CHURCH: Let's be honest with ourselves. There isn't anyone here who is naive enough to believe that the introduction of this legislation now in two consecutive election cycles is anything but a politically-motivated effort to win votes by demonizing a class of citizens.

HENRY: The president insisted he's not lashing out at anyone.

BUSH: Every American deserves to be treated with tolerance and respect and dignity.

HENRY: But he responded sharply to critics, including his own vice president, who say defining marriage should be left to the states.

BUSH: The fact is state legislatures are trying to address this issue. But...


BUSH: ...but across the country they are being thwarted by activist judges who are overturning the expressed will of their people. And these court decisions could have an impact on our whole nation.

HENRY (on camera): A leading conservative, Dr. James Dobson, told me he thought the president hit all the right notes saying, quote, "I don't think he could have said it any stronger."

Ed Henry, CNN, the White House.


ROBERTS: But the lingering question is, are Americans listening to what the president says? Up next, how the issue is playing politically for Mr. Bush and his party.

And what's in a name? Barbie, for example. Would you ever confuse this trim figure with a plate of sizzling beef? The connection when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: You can ask any number of questions about same-sex marriage, and just as many about legislation or even a constitutional amendment to ban it. But for many, on all sides of the issue, Democrat and Republican alike, one question stands out above all others. Why now? Some answers and a look at what Americans think about it all from CNN's Bill Schneider.

BILL SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says the issue is urgent. SEN. BILL FRIST (R), MAJORITY LEADER: As we speak, there are nine states whose law is protecting the traditional definition of marriage are being challenged in court.

SCHNEIDER: Does the public share that sense of urgency? A majority of Americans polled say same-sex marriages should not be recognized as valid. But does the public favor a constitutional amendment to ban them? They're split. The public is reluctant to tamper with the constitution.

Congressional Republicans want to save their majority by rallying social conservatives who feel seduced and abandoned.

The Family Research Council has been lobbying for the amendment.

PERKINS: This was an issue that was important enough to campaign on in the 2004 election cycle by Republicans, in general, but it's not been important enough to act upon yet.

SCHNEIDER: A constitutional amendment is unlikely to pass, so Republicans can show faith with their base without threatening those who disagree. But social conservatives could end up feeling disillusioned. Why vote for a Republican Congress if it can't deliver? Why not just stay home?

The amendment's supporters are running another risk. Ask Americans what issues they care about right now, and Iraq, the economy, immigration, and gas prices top the list. That's what they want Congress to debate. Debating the definition of marriage, critics say, is a diversion.

SEN. JOE BIDEN (D), DELAWARE: It seems to me it's designed to avoid debating energy policy, designed to avoid pointing out that we have not met the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission and Homeland Security.

SCHNEIDER: This debate is unlikely to produce a result, except to reinforce the image of a Congress that is out of touch with the people's real concerns.

Bill Schneider, CNN, New York.


ROBERTS: More now on the political factors at play. We spoke earlier this evening with Former Presidential Adviser David Gergen.


David Gergen, what's the political calculation here for President Bush and Republicans? Because even conservatives are criticizing what they call a hollow effort here.

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, the conservatives are criticizing it, but it's one way to get a message to the evangelicals, the white evangelical Protestants, that the White House and Republican Party have not forgotten them. They haven't done much for them in the last couple of years, that's for sure in terms of the evangelicals, but maybe they haven't forgotten and are trying to send a message.

ROBERTS: But do you think the president really is committed to this issue? One evangelical conservative that I talked to said that if the president were committed to this -- and he was quite angry about the whole thing, that the president would have given the speech three weeks ago not on the eve of this vote?

GERGEN: That's a good point. Now, "Newsweek" actually quotes this week a friend very close to the president, who says this issue is not on his moral radar screen. It's not something that matters to him. He doesn't talk to his friends about it.

And indeed, if you look at what the president told the "Washington Post" just after he was elected in 2004, he told them he didn't plan to lobby hard for a constitutional amendment. He said, listen, as long as there is a marriage -- the defense of a marriage act, it's on the books, and if a judge overturns that, then maybe I'll get the votes and I'll do something about it. But in the meantime -- he was saying himself, a year and a half ago, I'm not going to lobby hard. And his friends say it doesn't matter much to him.

So, I think that's why everybody thinks it's so transparently political, what's going on right now. It's all about votes, not a marriage.

ROBERTS: So is it a risk for the president to get into a wedge issue like this at a time when he's trying to unite the American people about Iraq, border security, immigration, all those other issues?

GERGEN: Well, I certainly say this. On a day when 50 people have been so brazenly kidnapped in Iraq, and there are so many other things going on that are overwhelming for the country, I do think it looks to a lot of people who are independents and people who don't care about this issue so much, that George Bush is being much more crass than he ordinarily appears.

He does ordinarily appear, you know, really sees through the central issues. On this one, it just seems like such a transparent reach for votes that I think it does -- it doesn't do much to ennoble it.

ROBERTS: And he's being hammered by critics. He seems to have exposed himself to critics who are really getting on his case about this idea of where does same-sex marriage sit in our immediate priorities? Why is he going down this road as opposed to spending time on these other issues?

GERGEN: Well, I guess that's right. But you know, there is an old saying in politics that you've got to dance with the girl who brung you to the dance. And you know, the evangelical Protestants did deliver votes for him. They did carry Ohio, a pivotal state, and it appeared on this issue. Some would debate that, but it appeared it really made a difference in Ohio, the turnout for Republican voters.

So in that sense, he does owe. And that does happen in politics. The presidents have to pay some of their debts.

ROBERTS: Well you might not have to dance with the girl that you brought to the dance unless, of course, it's your wife, but he does need to dance with all sides of the Republican party here. And now we seem to be in a situation where evangelical Christians are upset at him for only giving them lip service. Some people have even said they were betrayed on this issue.

And now moderates are looking at this and saying well we feel a little bit disenfranchised here because how is he not paying attention to the issues we want him to pay attention to.

So he seems to have problems on both sides of the fence here.

GERGEN: Well, that's an illustration of his weakness because of the fundamental problems facing the country such as Iraq, such as the high gas prices, such as all the other litany we know about. And that's why until he solves or addresses and gets some success on some of the fundamental underlying issues, to move to these issues that most Americans think are pretty marginal compared to Iraq or high gas prices or immigration, until he gets success on the major issues, I think he's going to face a fractious electorate. I think in the long run these kind of diversionary tactics don't pay off.

ROBERTS: David Gergen, always a pleasure, and remind me never to go to a dance with you, not if you're going to ignore me all night. Thanks.

GERGEN: Thank you.


ROBERTS: Two old ladies accused of some vicious crimes. We'll tell you what they did in just a moment.

But first, Erica Hill, from "HEADLINE NEWS," joins us now with some of the business news we're following tonight.

Hey, Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, a terrible start to the week on Wall Street. The Dow tumbling nearly 200 points today after indications that the Federal Reserve will continue to hike interest rates. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke says he's concerned about inflation and slowing economic growth. The NASDAQ was also down by nearly 50 points. The S&P lost close to 23.

Another major impact on the markets, oil prices which are up again, up 27 cents to $72.60 a barrel. The increase comes after Iran's supreme leader threatened to disrupt global supplies if the West punishes his country over its nuclear program.

All right, if you use your company's e-mail system, listen up. A new survey released today says nearly one in three U.S. companies has fired an employee for violating its e-mail policy in the past year. The e-mails that typically got employees in trouble contained information about the company or obscene or offensive material. Watch out.

And the creators of the Barbie doll have lost a Supreme Court battle in Canada. Toymaker Mattel had sued a Montreal restaurant chain called Barbie's Resto Bar, citing alleged trademark violations. Canada's Supreme Court ruled the Barbie doll is superficial and bland and is unlikely to be confused with the restaurant chain's sizzling steak. Ouch!

ROBERTS: Who knows, maybe you'll have Morton's Barbie or something like that.

HILL: It's only a matter of time.

ROBERTS: And back to the e-mail, you know what they say, never put anything in e-mail that you wouldn't want to read on the front page of "New York Times."

HILL: And get this, they say 44 percent of companies now actually pay people to go through your e-mail. So there are plenty of people watching.

ROBERTS: Guess who they're paying at CNN to do that?

HILL: John Roberts?

ROBERTS: There you go. Be careful.

HILL: Oops. OK John, have a great night.

ROBERTS: Good to see you.

HILL: Thanks.

ROBERTS: They are senior citizens accused of an evil plot. That story when 360 continues.


ROBERTS: The golden girls, they are not. Two elderly women are behind bars tonight, accused of retiring into a life of crime, charged with stealing millions in an insurance scam. It's a con that police believe may have turned the seniors into killers.

Reporting for us tonight, Peter Viles.


PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The two elderly ladies pleaded not guilty to fraud. 75-year-old Helen Golay in the glasses and the bouffant, and 73-year-old Olga Rudderschmidt, allegedly behind a scheme so twisted, it shocked even the cops.

DET. DENNIS KILCOYNE, LAPD: I'll tell you, I'm in my 30th year, probably 21 years in homicide, and this is -- this is pretty evil.

VILES: Death number one, a homeless man named Paul Vados killed by a hit and run driver in this alley way in 1999. No suspect was apprehended.

Death number two, a year ago, another alley, another hit and run, another dead homeless man, Kenneth McDavid. Again, no suspect. There was something weird about the McDavid case, though. Two old ladies kept bugging the investigating detective for information.

LT. LYLE PRIDEAUX, LAPD: He was suspicious in that these two women, with no apparent interest in this person were making all these inquiries and wanted copies of reports and things like that.

VILES: The women were Helen Golay and Olga Rudderschmidt. It just so happened they had taken out nine life insurance policies on McDavid, the homeless victim. When another detective heard that, he said, wait a minute. I remember those two from a cold case.

KILCOYNE: The cobwebs are cleared out, the file is located, and there's the Paul Vados 1999 incident, and sure enough, the same two little old ladies, Olga and Helen, were doing the same thing then.

VILES: What emerged was chilling, women who allegedly befriended homeless men, took out insurance policies on them, and then collected more than $2 million when the men died violent deaths.

COMMANDER HARLAN WARD, LAPD: We have refocused the death investigations of these two men on these two women.

VILES: They were arrested last month. Golay, near the beach in Santa Monica where she owns property; Rudderschmidt, in a modest Hollywood apartment complex. For now they're charged only with lying when they took out the insurance policies.

KIM SAVO, DEPUTY FEDERAL PUBLIC DEFENDER: They're charged with mail fraud. Mail fraud. It's a very boring federal offense.

ROGER DIAMOND, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: There's just no evidence of any murder. If they had evidence, they would have filed charges.

VILES: But police believe there were two murders and that the women are the prime suspects.

(On camera): Now, police are still investigating, and they're asking the public in Los Angeles for some help. The question, are there other homeless men who have suffered the same fate?

Peter Viles for CNN, Los Angeles.


ROBERTS: Turning now to one of the most controversial relationships of recent times. A 34-year-old schoolteacher has an affair with her 12-year-old student. She is charged with statutory rape, goes to prison for seven years and has two children by him. And when she gets out, they get married. And they're still married. Mary Kay Letourneau and Vili Fualaau spoke to Larry King.

Here's their story, "In Their Own Words."


LARRY KING, CNN HOST OF LARRY KING LIVE: How did you know it was love, Mary?

MARY KAY LETOURNEAU, MARRIED HER FORMER STUDENT: Well I definitely knew it was when we first came together. We wouldn't have come together if it wasn't.

KING: So up to that point, it was strong attraction, right?

LETOURNEAU: No, the attraction was the love. So...

KING: You loved him before you made love with him?

LETOURNEAU: Oh, I -- and I believe that he -- I believed him when he said that he loved me and was in love with me.

KING: Did you press it?

VILI FUALAAU: What do you mean by "press it"?

KING: Come on, Vili. Marriage, please. Mary, I like you. Mary, let's have dinner. Mary...


FUALAAU: It wasn't so forward like that. It was more...

LETOURNEAU: Yes, it was.

FUALAAU: No, no, no.

LETOURNEAU: I loved him. But I didn't want to -- it was hard for me to believe that he was really serious, that this was it for him.

KING: Rather than just some kid with a fling?


KING: No regret over anything concerning Vili?

LETOURNEAU: My gosh. No, we're so happy to be together.

KING: Do you have any regrets?


KING: None?


KING: Do it again?

FUALAAU: I'd do it again. Probably just -- next time if I did, I wouldn't get caught.


ROBERTS: There you go. Mary Kay and Vili told Larry King that they haven't yet fulfilled all of their ambitions as a family. They want to have another child and they're hoping that it's a boy.

The rest of that interview coming up at the top of the hour.

"On the Radar," tonight, Jeff Koinange's report on the rapes committed by Congolese soldiers, and what happened when Jeff confronted the country's president. There's a lot of response in the blog.

Barbara in Midland, Texas, writes, "I can't believe such sickness is being allowed. I am praying that this acting president does follow through with measures to stop the soldiers and bring them to justice."

Dave in Chicago says, hold on. "Why would he need to wait for an election to do something about "his" troops? He is the President right So it would seem he has the power to get the situation corrected."

And Suma in Laurel, Maryland, has a powerful bottom line. "This problem needs the involvement of the governments around the world," she says. "It's a scar on the conscience of every nation to allow these atrocities to continue. When politics trump human life, we are all worse for it."

On the blog and "On the Radar" tonight.

More of 360 in a moment. Stay with us.


ROBERTS: Tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," rising gas prices and the realization for many Americans that their reality has changed.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I've got to go to my job and everything. And it's like one morning I'll leave and it's a certain price, and I come home at night and it's increased another dime.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): The high price of gas is also pinching her husband Stuart's (ph) wallet.

STUART (ph): Yes, it has. It has. I mean, I guess you don't notice it, but I mean, we know we're cutting back.


"AMERICAN MORNING's" Dan Lothian is in Iowa. His series, "Paying the Price in the Heartland."

Tomorrow on "AMERICAN MORNING," starting at 6:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

That's it for 360.


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