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Wall of Water Engulfs Maryland Motorists; Obama Releases Details on Blagojevich Contacts

Aired December 23, 2008 - 22:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again. I'm Erica Hill, in tonight for Anderson Cooper.
Tonight, president-elect Barack Obama is in the clear, at least according to his staff's own report on their dealings with disgraced Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich.

But, as you will see tonight, there is much more to this story, including Mr. Obama answering questions from the U.S. attorney.

Also tonight, Barack Obama as you have never seen him before. Is it a sign of a paparazzi presidency to come? We will take a look at the upside of charisma-driven politics and the drawbacks.

And, later, daring rescues, terrified drivers pulled from an icy, raging river that came almost out of nowhere.

But, first tonight, that long-awaited, long-promised Obama report, his answer to questions that have been out there ever since federal agents paraded Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich off to face corruption charges, the internal report apparently ready last week, but held back at the request of the U.S. attorney, at issue, just how much and what kind of contact did Mr. Obama and his staff have with Governor Blagojevich and his staff concerning the open Illinois Senate seat?

Well, today, we got the Obama version, and, as Ed Henry reports, a little surprise.


ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There was one bomb shell. Even before taking office, president-elect Barack Obama quietly sat down for an interview last week with federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to tell all he knew about contact with embattled Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, who is engulfed in a criminal investigation over whether he was auctioning off Obama's old Senate seat.

It's extremely rare for an incoming president to be interviewed in a criminal matter, but transition officials stress there was no absolutely wrongdoing by Obama or aides Rahm Emanuel and Valerie Jarrett, who were also interviewed by the U.S. attorney.

SEN. JOSEPH BIDEN (D-DE), VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT: I don't think there's anything to exonerate. HENRY: Obama officials note, their internal probe shows the president-elect had no contact or communication with the governor or his staff about the Senate seat.

Top Obama aide Rahm Emanuel did have one or two telephone calls with the governor, but one was a courtesy heads-up that he was going to be White House chief of staff. In the second call, Emanuel recommended Blagojevich appoint Obama friend Valerie Jarrett.

But the report says Emanuel did that -- quote -- "before learning, in further conversations with the president-elect, that the president-elect had ruled out communicating a preference for his successor."

Emanuel pulled back after Jarrett agreed to take a top White House job instead, and transition officials, from vice president-elect Joe Biden on down, stress the conversations were not improper.

BIDEN: It has been clear that the president-elect has had no contact with Blagojevich and/or anyone on his team, that he has asserted, and you will find in the report being released today that there has been no inappropriate contact by any member of the Obama staff or the transition team with Blagojevich.

HENRY: The report does reveal that, after Jarrett removed herself from consideration, Emanuel spoke several times with a top Blagojevich aide about the seat.

But the Obama camp maintains there was never a quid pro quo. The governor's aide "did not make any effort to extract a personal benefit for the governor in exchange for the Senate appointment."

Now the transition team is trying to turn the page. On the same day of the report's release, they scheduled a Biden event on the economy, not that they're trying to change the subject or anything.

BIDEN: We need a robust and sustained economic recovery package.


HILL: Digging deeper now on that report, the implications and where it all goes from here, along with Ed, senior political analyst David Gergen, and Roland Martin, a CNN political analyst, also with us.

Ed, I want to start with you, because this report, as we know, is a report by the Obama team for the Obama team about the Obama team. But we should point out it is not the last word on what involvement this team may have had.

HENRY: Clearly not -- you're absolutely right -- Erica, because the fact that the Obama team, about itself, is saying there was no wrongdoing is not a big shock.

The final word, as you point out, will come from the prosecutor in this case, Patrick -- Patrick Fitzgerald. He's known as a no- nonsense prosecutor. He was brought in as a special prosecutor in the Scooter Libby case. He's tough-minded, but also considered fair.

And, so, he's going to look at this, and it may play out for months, maybe a year or more. So, that could be politically difficult for the Obama White House when it does become the White House, in terms of letting various allegations play out. But we should point out that, at this point, Fitzgerald has shown no indication that there's been a hint of any wrongdoing, criminal or otherwise, by either the president-elect or anyone around him.

So, while there may be some sort of embarrassing revelations about sort of the seamy side of Chicago politics that will run counter to the change message that Barack Obama has talked so much about, we have to really stress there's not a single shred of evidence that there was any wrongdoing by anyone associated with him -- Erica.

HILL: Well, picking up on that, David, this continue -- this continuation, really, of what the Obama team has been saying, coming out today saying, look, there was no wrongdoing, you can't help but talk a little bit more about the timing.

What we did learn today, that the report wasn't released until today at the request of the prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald. When you look at the timing, Obama is on vacation, Rahm Emanuel on his way to a family vacation in Africa. They release this late in the day, two days before Christmas.

I mean, really, if there's nothing to worry about, why not, at least, make the players and part of that report more available and sooner?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: That's a decent question, Erica. I think they might have had someone go out and talk about it. They did have the vice president-elect obviously talk about it in his presser.

But I -- but I do want to say, you know, they -- they wanted to release this last week. They wanted to get this behind them last week. It was the U.S. attorney, Mr. Fitzgerald, who held it up.

And I think it's important to note this. Having written a lot of these white papers -- and always, of course, you put the best face you can on your team, and it's understandable that's exactly what they did today. But what's different about this and what gives this more weight is, this paper was actually held up at Mr. -- Mr. Fitzgerald's request, and, presumably, Mr. Fitzgerald has essentially passed on this paper, that he has -- it's been issued with his staff knowing what's in it.

I have never seen a white paper issued with that kind of implicit blessing. So, yes, I think Ed Henry is right, that we will have to wait and see whether there are any differences in recollections vs. the tapes. But I think this -- the fact that it was -- sort had this kind of Fitzgerald imprint on it, I think, takes a lot of the heat out of the story.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: But I also think, Erica, we have to reminded of several different things.

First and foremost, in that complaint that Fitzgerald initially released, the Senate seamy issues are not a part of the two charges against Blagojevich. OK? That's the sexy part. The two charters they leveled had nothing to do with the Senate seat.

And the second part in this whole issue as well, he also, Fitzgerald, has told the Illinois Assembly not to proceed, that he's not going to participate in their proceeding to impeach Blagojevich. In fact, he does not want them to even touch these criminal charges.

He's keeping all of this close to the vest because he knows he has an ongoing case. He has to try this in court. He does not want a lot of information out regarding what took place, because it could jeopardize his own prosecution.

HILL: But in terms of the information that will come out later and how this is going to play with the American public, which is also very important -- important -- we have the CNN/Opinion Research poll that found -- released before the -- taken before the report was released, rather, 36 percent of Americans think that Blagojevich's -- and aides did something unethical, 12 percent did something illegal.

So, is there any chance that Americans really want to hear more, want to hear what Fitzgerald will say, and that it will change things?

MARTIN: Look, here's the deal. We may, never ever indeed confront what has taken place with this Senate seat, because they're pursuing him on so many other different things, the hospital shakedown, the whole issue of "The Chicago Tribune."

This is the sexy part for us, but it's really secondary for Fitzgerald.

HILL: All right, I want to -- I want to move on.


HILL: Go ahead, David.

GERGEN: Can I just say one thing?

I just think -- why I don't think this is turning out to be much of a story is that Fitzgerald himself said there's no indication of any wrongdoing on the part of the Obama team. And we have Blagojevich saying on tape, the only these guys will give back to me his appreciation.

So, is Blagojevich in deep trouble? Yes. Does this have much staying power for the Obama team? I don't see it.

HILL: So, then -- so, then, on those words, David, how about we move on to other issues...


HILL: ... which -- which a lot of Americans do care about?


HILL: As Ed said, not trying to change the subject or anything, but Joe Biden was out there talking economy today, of course, held a meeting to tout Obama's stimulus package.

Lawmakers, though, as we know, are worried about the price tag, although there's a new poll out that finds a majority of Americans are OK with an $800 billion stimulus package.

Is Biden, though, selling it well enough to lawmakers?

HENRY: Well, I think, if you're asking me, Erica, the bottom line is that Joe Biden hasn't really found what his niche is going to be in this new administration.

A lot of people thought he would be sort of the foreign policy guru. That why he was picked originally, sort of check that box on the resume for Barack Obama during the campaign. Then, all of a sudden, Hillary Clinton shows up as secretary of state. You have got retired General Jim Jones in the mix, and you have got a lot of power players there. So, he's looking for another role.

And what Joe Biden talked about during the campaign himself, in fact, long before all of that, was that he wanted to be a sort of chief ambassador to the hill, a counselor in chief, as he told Larry King last evening.

And, so, I think he is going to be a key bridge in sort of lobbying, not just fellow Democrats, but Republicans that he worked with for some four decades in the United States Senate. So, he could be pivotal in getting people to sort of swallow hard on this price tag, because, as you say, while a lot of lawmakers, a lot of people around the country want to see some more steps be taken to deal with this financial crisis, the fact is, when you pile on potentially $775 billion, or $800 billion, of a stimulus on top of the auto bailout, the financial Wall Street bailout, one after the other, a lot of people are worried about all this debt that is piling up -- Erica.

HILL: David, I can give you 20 seconds. But would you agree? Is he starting to handle this the right way to make that happen?

GERGEN: I -- I think -- I think they have got a long way to go. I think the big question tonight, Erica, is what shorts is Ed Henry wearing tonight?

HILL: I think that's an excellent question, David Gergen.


HILL: And I hope that, later in the show, we will be able to let everybody know.



HILL: I hope you're not wearing the same board shorts as yesterday, Ed.

HENRY: I'm not, but I just have been thrown under the bus by David Gergen. I never thought I would say that.


HILL: I hope the bus is the Election Express.

All right, gentlemen, stay with us.

HENRY: And he's backing it up.


HILL: We will have more with the panel just ahead.

In the meantime, we want to know what you think of the report and the Illinois scandal that prompted it. You can join a live chat happening right now at

Also, Randi Kaye on the mike tonight for the live Webcast.

And, tonight, just ahead on the show, the kind of presidential portrait that is being talked about all over the world tonight. Richard Nixon, eat your heart out -- this one raising serious questions, though, about how anybody could get close enough to get this shot. Is there a serious security concern here? We have got the "Raw Politics."

And, a little bit later, Wall Street and the sex trade -- why a financial meltdown is actually triggering a boom in risky business, and the human consequences of it.

Plus, the wall of water that came out of nowhere and the amazing rescues that kept a disaster from turning deadly.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't see anything. I need help.

OPERATOR: Ma'am, we're on our way. We will be there very shortly. I have units responding to you now.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. I can't see anything. Please.



HILL: Who cares if he smokes? The president-elect clearly not in Chicago, where it's 31 and snowing. He is in Hawaii at the beach doing what vacationing presidents do, but with a lot less flab. The picture -- and it is everywhere, trust me -- is a reminder that it's really been a while since we have had such a camera-ready president and first family. But the question tonight, just what does glamour and charisma buy you as a president? And how could it hurt?

The "Raw Politics" from Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Take a good hard look, a bare-chested photo that made its way around the world hours after it was taken. At first, a big question: Did the photographer breach security get the shot? Turns out, the answer is no. But there was lots more to talk about.

Here's the front page of today's "New York Post." "Fit For Office" is the headline. And there are plenty more lines about "Ab- Bama" and "Beach Barack." Is this just more of the so-called rock star treatment some say Obama had during the election, the celebrity McCain used against him?


NARRATOR: He's the biggest celebrity in the world.

AUDIENCE: Obama! Obama!

NARRATOR: But is he ready to lead?


JOHNS: And, during the campaign, Obama certainly used magazines like "Us Weekly" and "People," which regularly feature celebrities on the cover, to help him win the election.

He appeared on the cover of "TIME" magazine 14 times this year. Now the election is over, and the questions remain. Is Obama getting great coverage because of his celebrity status?

SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT-ELECT: How many shots of us do you need?

JOHNS: It's not like he hasn't courted the coverage. And, generally, the star treatment benefits a politician who can handle it.

ALEX CASTELLANOS, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: It's such a great gift. Reagan had it. John F. Kennedy had it. And it's become very valuable to -- to a country when it's uncertain about its future. How does he use it? Look at the way he's using it now. You inspire. You -- you don't stop campaigning just because the campaign is over.

JOHNS: But, on the other hand, right here in "The New York Post" next to the beach photos is a report that 45 percent of Americans believe either Obama or one of his top campaign aides is tied up in the Illinois governor scandal. That's no political honeymoon. Being a celebrity president really cuts both ways. When you compare the kind of media Obama's gotten to, say, Bill Clinton. His saxophone playing made for some sexy shots, but you will probably find that the guy appeared on the front page of the tabloids a lot more than Obama, particularly when Monica Lewinsky surfaced.

So, given all that, why did this photo generate so much fascination? Pretty simple. Unlike some other presidents or presidents-elect, this guy is young, fit, trim, and he looks pretty good in a bathing suit. Go figure.

Joe Johns, CNN, Washington.


HILL: Ah, yes, but is it ever really that simple?

More on celebrity and the presidency when we come back with Ed Henry, who, as the country is finding out, looks fine in shorts himself, doesn't he? David Gergen and Roland Martin also with us.


HILL: And meet the rescuers and the people they rescued from a strange and totally unexpected wall of water this morning.


HILL: President-elect Obama there surrounded by the media, something he says he tries to tune out as best as he can. But he's got a lot of serious work ahead of him. Clearly, he is a serious guy.

If reaction to the snapshot, though, that you have been seeing right here is any clue, he also possesses something that not every president has. It's that same kind of quality that people ordinarily associate with movie stars.

So, the question tonight, can what some would call superficial attributes actually help when it comes to getting very serious matters accomplished?

Talking strategy now with Ed Henry, David Gergen, and Roland Martin.

And, Ed, I want to start with you because you're there on the ground as part of the press corps. And -- and he's not the first president -- or president-elect at this point -- that you have covered, but I know this is different. As you're clamoring for access to this president, it's not just journalists there, but you're dealing with a large amount of paparazzi. How does that change things?

HENRY: It changes it enormously, because, obviously, as you heard during the campaign, John McCain used this whole "He's the biggest celebrity in the world" as a weapon against Barack Obama politically. And that's why, as you noted, and Joe Johns in his piece, that that can cut both ways, and I think, you know, broadly, the big picture over the long term. But, in the short term, how it changes things is, they have to sort of be looking over their shoulder. They're worried, the president-elect and the first family incoming, about whether their privacy is going to be violated.

And I can tell you, I spoke to a very senior Obama adviser tonight, who said, though, that they frankly don't care that much about the peck shots, you know, the pictures of the president-elect without his shirt. They, frankly, think it's a little silly. They kind of laughed it off.

But they're more concerned that paparazzi also took pictures of their daughters, their two young daughters. That's something that the president-elect has been very firm in saying he wants to draw what he calls sort of a zone of privacy around them.

And David will remember that the Clintons did the same with Chelsea Clinton, to mostly good effect. And that's something that there's going to be some push and pull with the press corps on, but sort of makes sense, that Barack Obama realizes that, given the historic nature of his victory, it's going to be impossible for him to sort of stop the paparazzi from following him in Hawaii or anywhere else. But he does want to sort of draw the line at his children.

HILL: Ed, just to quickly follow-up on one point that you made, you talk about this zone of privacy, but it's not just about the privacy. It's also security, and not just the security of the future first family...


HILL: ... but of the country. Is there concern, have you heard at all, is there concern among the Secret Service that this could make it, in fact, more difficult to keep the president, and, in turn, the country safe?

HENRY: They're watching it very closely, I can tell you that.

But, so far, they have not indicated that it's a problem. They have got a Secret Service checkpoint near the private home where Barack Obama is staying. And, obviously, I don't want to get into much detail for those very security reasons that you mention.

But, here in Hawaii, all these public beaches, like Waikiki Beach here, are public. And, so, anybody can walk on them. And, so, the president-elect is staying at a home near a public beach. And, so, there's a checkpoint. The Secret Service is there to check people out and make sure someone doesn't just walk up to his front door. As you said, that's a security issue, not just for him, but for the country now.

And, so, the paparazzi basically were able to walk up to that Secret Service checkpoint, and, with the long lenses, take a picture from a couple hundred feet away. I think, with the zone of privacy with the daughters, what they're trying to carve is, when he's president, making sure that there is some privacy, some separation between the press corps and the president when, for example, maybe he's taking his daughters to school, so that people don't see those pictures and say, OK, that's the direction that they take the daughters into the school door every day.

That's obviously a very serious matter. So, there's a line there. And I think mainstream media organizations are going to do all they can to respect that line, while also fighting for as much access, credible and sensible access, as we can get -- Erica.

HILL: So, in addition to the privacy and the security, there is also, though, the question of just the celebrity in general.

And, David, you have been an adviser to some of the so-called celebrity presidents that Joe Johns mentioned in his piece. What burdens come with that label?

GERGEN: Yes, let me say just one last thing, Erica, about the first -- I do have some concerns about the fact -- when an outsider can so easily penetrate his privacy, how easy is it going to be for an outsider to penetrate his security?

And I think that's the question raised in part by these photographs. Beyond that...

HILL: Do you think enough is being done to secure the -- the security and the safety of the future first family?

GERGEN: Well, I think, when Ed Henry says, look, he's on a public beach and people come and go on public beaches, that raises a lot of security questions, in my mind. That's exactly -- when he -- when he starts walking -- if he gets out of his car on Pennsylvania Avenue on inaugural day, and just starts walking along, and they haven't taken huge precautions, just think what could happen.

So, there are all those issues, I think, that are still -- that are buried here. And I think they're going to have to sort of resort that out. Without knowing what the Secret Service did and whether they in fact permitted that photographer, they knew who he was, and they permitted him to be there, we don't know that for sure.


GERGEN: But I do think there are questions.

MARTIN: Erica, I think we have got to keep certain things in perspective.

And that is, look, when it comes to paparazzi, they don't play by the mainstream journalism rules.

HILL: Right.

MARTIN: I mean, these are individuals who are used to taking photos from 500, 700 yards away, or whatever limitations are, of celebrities.

And the reality is, the Obamas are occupying a different sort of world. If you have studied the media over the last 30 years, you have seen a progression of presidents and politicians going from being sort of folks who are just in a different world, to now infiltrating sort of this whole celebrity culture.

So, we shouldn't be shocked by that. And, so, we should simply expect more of it. The other piece is here. The Obamas also want to be careful that they don't become so secluded that they -- they become different from rest of the American people.

HILL: Right.

MARTIN: I think Americans appreciate going to a public beach. And, so, they understand that aspect of it as well.

HILL: But it is a tough line...

MARTIN: Of course.

HILL: ... and especially when it does come to security.

I do want to get back, real quickly, though -- and, David, I'm going to throw this one to you, if you can do it in 30 seconds.

GERGEN: Sure. OK. Sure.

HILL: But give me an idea, not only of the benefits to that celebrity status as a world leader, but -- but how does it perhaps detract from his efforts -- his efforts and even his resume?

GERGEN: Charisma was a great asset for both John Kennedy and Ronald Reagan in their governing both here and abroad, but it can raise expectations.

And one of the things that really surprised me about a CNN poll that came out today was that people are very down on the economy today, but 7 percent of the people now say that the economy is either good, very good or somewhat good, just 7 percent. Fifty-five percent believe that, a year from now, the economy will be good. That's excessive expectation.

That's what comes with being -- you know, when people begin to think, you're Obama, you can change everything, that's what he's got to worry about.

HILL: So, focus on that.


HILL: We do, I think, hopefully, have one quick time, though, to focus on Ed Henry's fashion sense.

MARTIN: Yes, look, Erica...


HILL: Today, are you wearing the same board shorts? Because I noticed you traded the button-down shirt for a more casual polo.

HENRY: No, I have got new ones.

MARTIN: Please tell Ed to get rid...


HENRY: Yes, I have got a polo and I have got...


HENRY: No, this is the Hawaii flag.

HILL: Oh, I can't really see. Oh, that's fantastic.

HENRY: It's out of deference to Hawaii.

So, it sort of looks like the British flag, but it's the Hawaii flag.

HILL: I like it.

HENRY: And I have got the laceless Chucks.


HILL: Look at you. You're on fire.


HENRY: So, I'm trying to rock it.


HILL: No flip-flops there, huh?

MARTIN: Erica, I e-mailed Ed yesterday. I said, get rid of that Washington, D.C., blue shirt. Get a Hawaiian shirt, dude. Come on.


HILL: You're right. That's for tomorrow, Roland.

MARTIN: Expense it. Expense it.

HILL: He's saving that one for Christmas Eve. It's going to be very festive.

MARTIN: Jon Klein won't mind. Expense it.

HILL: All right.

Enjoy the sunset and mai tai... (CROSSTALK)

HILL: ... tonight, Ed.

HENRY: Roland Martin is just mad that I'm not wearing a pocket square.


HILL: Ed Henry, David Gergen, Roland Martin, thank you all.


HENRY: Thanks.


HENRY: Still to come on 360: dramatic rescues by boat and helicopter after waves of icy water trap motorists in their cars outside Washington.

And drum of a different sort at the nation's airports, where the long, slow, painful kind of wait is forcing travelers at snowed-in airports to deal, not only with those delays, but also with reworking some of their holiday plans.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody is stuck, but my vehicle is going all the way down. It's getting full with water.

OPERATOR: OK, the water's in your vehicle now, ma'am?


OPERATOR: OK. How many people are in your car? How many people are in your car?



HILL: The voices there heart-wrenching. That riveting 911 call was made this morning by a woman trapped inside her car after a major water main break turned her rush drive into a near-death experience.

It happened in Cabin John, Maryland. It's just outside of Washington. And it happened on, ironically, River Road, yes, really the name of that road. And, as you can see, today, the road did, in fact, turn into a raging river. We know it was at least four feet deep. The water, as you can see, is flowing fast there. How fast? Up to 150,000 gallons a minute.

Nine people, including a child and the woman you just heard on the tape, were rescued. But it was not easy for those trapped, nor for the rescuers.

Brian Todd has more.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This video tells it all. Water slams a rescuer's boat as he tries to pull a woman from her car with virtually no time to spare. Moments later, time runs out on him. The boat is engulfed, and park police have to save the rescuer.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A current like that can kill instantly.

TODD: A current triggered when a 5-1/2-foot-wide water main burst open during the morning commute. A wall of water rushing down a steep incline, trapping several people in their cars.

Helicopter rescues were very dangerous. As a woman climbs out of her car and grabs for a basket, the wind slaps white-capped water all around her. Victims describe the harrowing sequence that came in an instant.

SHARON SCHOEM, RESCUED FROM CAR: All of a sudden, I just saw a bunch of muddy water and rocks and parts of trees and -- coming toward me. And I tried to turn around, but as I turned around, I was unable to turn around because the force of the -- the water was just too high.

TODD: Another woman scribbles a note for rescuers to contact a family member. Officials say some victims were treated for hypothermia, but all were rescued.

(on camera) We're right at the edge of River Road, where the water main break really was at its worse earlier today, about four to five feet deep behind me when it was at its worst point. You can see the water still gushing down the road.

These are two of the cars that were stranded. People had to be airlifted out of these cars. We're going to go down the hill this way, and you can see four other cars that were stranded. One of them still has the windshield wipers going.

And we're told by rescuers that the depth of the water hit about four or five feet at its worst point this morning. But the depth was not the problem: it's the speed with which the water is going downhill.

(voice-over) Veteran rescuers said they've never encountered anything like this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We train for river rescues every day, and we train for flood rescues on a road. But you never expect to find something like we found today with the amount of water coming down River Road, with multiple cars stuck.

TODD: All of those cars were later extracted. It took responders hours to get to the main valve that burst, because it was underwater. But they eventually did shut that valve off, and life started to return to normal.

Brian Todd, CNN, Bethesda, Maryland.


HILL: Talk about a terrifying way to start the day. Reporter Sarah Lee was covering the story for our affiliate WJLA, and almost as soon as she arrived on the scene, she was actually pulled into the story -- story. In fact, she became part of the rescue.

Earlier I spoke with her and asked her to describe what happened this morning. Here's what she told me.


SARAH LEE, WJLA REPORTER: I still have the image of this woman, the horror on her face seared into my mind. It was one of those situations where my photographer and I were one of the first on the scene. And you wonder, are we even supposed to be this close to this?

And I could see the woman in the SUV. I was perhaps 10 yards from her car. I could see just how afraid she was. And then she started to wave that white piece of paper in her window. And I picked up my phone, and I dialed the number that she gave to us, which was her husband.

HILL: That had to be an amazing conversation, though, for both her husband and for you. How did that conversation go?

LEE: I asked, "Do you have a loved one? Do you know someone who drives a black Honda SUV that would be on River Road?" That's the street, ironically, that she was driving down when all of this happened. And confirmed that.

And he said, "Yes, my wife. My wife, Marcia (ph), drives a Honda SUV. What's going on?"

And I said, "Sir, she's in a car right now. If you've been by a television you may see that there is a rescue going on right now because of all of this water that's rushing down the street. But there are very many highly skilled rescuers on the scene, and they are -- they have their safety harnesses on, and they're going to get her out of this car. She's going to be just fine."

HILL: But was he calm as you're telling him all this?

LEE: He seemed calm on the other end, and then clearly, once the 20 or 30 minutes passed between the initial phone call and when I followed up to let him know that Marcia (ph) was on dry land, did I think -- it soaked in and he was -- he seemed much more relieved.

HILL: Was there ever a moment when you thought, "This woman may not make it out alive"? LEE: Well, I'll tell you, this was -- this was a raging river. This was not something that you would discover in nature and would want to cross. It was moving so quickly the water was coming up to the hood of her SUV.

And then the john (ph) boat, the rescue boat that was there, when she -- she -- they finally got her maneuvered around so that she could get into it, she went right thrown onto her belly, and she did not move. She just hung on. And even once they got her to dry land, they actually had to physically drag her out, because I'm sure she was just frozen with fear.

HILL: You really did become a part of the story and, in fact, part of a rescue in many ways. What's that been like for you?

LEE: I was just thrilled to be able to follow-up and let him know that everything was going to be OK and where she was and that she was in good hands.

HILL: Sarah Lee, thank you.


HILL: Happy ending there.

Well, if you didn't get your shopping done early, it's now not only time, but the elements may be working against you. A wintry mix is on the ground or perhaps on the way in many parts of the country. And if you're trying to go any further than the local mall, it could be a long couple of travel days. We'll have a live report and update for you, next.

Plus, a message of hope for the holidays. Lance Armstrong beating the odds again. His big news when 360 continues.


HILL: A holiday travel nightmare in Chicago tonight at O'Hare International. Long lines after more than 400 flights have been canceled. Other flights are delayed by up to 90 minutes due to snowy weather.

Getting home for the holidays will not be easy for a lot of people this year. Right now, there are about 3,700 planes on the move over the U.S. That number would be higher, actually, if it wasn't for the nasty weather.

For the latest on the travel problems and whether or not there may be an end in sight, severe weather expert Chad Myers standing by for us in Atlanta.

Chad, some good news, hopefully?


CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: In two days, we could see another 10 inches of snow on the ground in Portland. Remember what the first eight inches did and how it grounded that city? Look out.

HILL: I'm going to focus instead on the positives. All that snow out there on the mountain for the skiers and the snow boarders.

Chad, thanks.

MYERS: You're welcome.

HILL: We are, of course, following a number of other stories tonight. Randi Kaye standing by with a "360 Bulletin."

Hey, Randi.


A former Utah state trooper is the suspect in some of the rush- hour shootings near Dallas, Texas, last night. Let's get the very latest on the case from Selena Hernandez. She's with our CNN Dallas affiliate.

Selena, what can you tell us tonight?

SELENA HERNANDEZ, CBS11TV.COM REPORTER: Well, Randi, tonight, Dallas police are telling us the suspected trigger man is Brian Smith, the same man who was involved in a standoff with Garland police.

Now, take a look. This was the scene just last night. The shooting spree started in Garland, which is a city just outside of Dallas, and continued down a busy north Texas highway. In all, there were four shootings, all within miles and minutes of each other. Two people died, including 42-year-old William Scott Miller of Kentucky.

Now later that evening, Garland police responded to a standoff involving Brian Smith, a former Utah state trooper. Now Garland police tell us he was despondent and suicidal and, eventually, critically shot himself.

Today, Dallas police say initial forensics indicate that Smith is connected to at least three of those shootings that happened in Dallas.

Meanwhile, Garland police tell us that they're waiting on more test results before positively linking Smith to that initial deadly shooting, but they do tell us that Smith is linked to a robbery that happened before the shooting spree. There, we're told, he stole massive amounts of OxyContin -- Randi.

KAYE: All right. Selena Hernandez for us in Dallas, thank you, so much.

In other news tonight, the founder of an investment fund that lost $1.5 billion in a Bernard Madoff scam has been found dead in New York. Police say it does appear the man committed suicide.

Madoff is accused of running a $50 billion Ponzi scheme that hit investors around the world. President Bush granted 19 pardons and commuted one sentence today. Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was not one of them. Before he leaves office, Bush could still grant him a full pardon for his perjury conviction in the Valerie Plame case, although Libby has not asked for one.

And cycling legend Lance Armstrong is going to be a dad again. The survivor of testicular cancer and his girlfriend, Anna Hansen, are expecting a baby in June. And unlike his three children with his ex- wife, this special delivery is not linked to in vitro.

Erica, nothing artificial here about this pregnancy.

HILL: Amazing recovery.

Randi, thanks.

Time now for a little "Beat 360" winner. And this is a special one. As you know, it's our daily challenge to viewers, a chance to show up our staff, and often Joey, by coming up with a better caption for the picture we post on the blog every day.

But tonight's picture, a snapshot of one of our own.


HILL: But not for much longer. That's David Reisner, our digital producer. He has done wonders with our blog, but he's leaving us for a new assignment. Happily, though, he's staying in the CNN family. We thought it only fitting to say goodbye in this way.

Our staff winner, Sean, who's giving Joey a run for his money with all his wins this week. Sean's winning caption: "Hmmm... I wish I had a magazine devoted to Google maps. I love them so."


KAYE: That is something David Reisner would say.

HILL: I think he would love a Google Maps magazine. Maybe we'll have to make him one.

KAYE: We're going to miss him.

HILL: He's a good egg. But I think he's going to come back and visit and probably eat from those snack trays we get every day.

Our viewer winner, Janine in New York. Her caption: "Man attempts magazine craft project, glues hand to face."


HILL: Very nice. Janine, your "Beat 360" T-shirt is on the way. Make it a craft project yourself. Get out the BeDazzler.

David, all the best, and we'll miss you and thank you. KAYE: Yes, we will.

HILL: All right. Still to come, tonight, Wall Street as we know, fallen on tough times, but there is one industry that has actually seen a pick-up in business: the sex trade. We're going to go up close on the psychology of soliciting sex and how it also did on Wall Street.

Plus, with just hours left, a little bit of good news for you. It may actually pay to procrastinate this year because almost everything is on sale. Desperate retailers slashing prices in what's shaping up to be a very chilly holiday shopping season. We've got the lowdown for you when 360 continues.





HILL: Wall Street pulling back again today after a new round of reports showing just how weak the economy is. The Dow lost 100 points to close lower for the fifth straight session.

Now, even by Wall Street standards, these are stressful times. That much is obvious. Thousands who work in finance have lost their jobs, and more cuts are expected.

So how are the bankers, who are not exactly a risk-averse bunch, coping? Well, according to the people they pay to hear their troubles, many of them are coping by paying for sex.

Randi Kaye goes up close.


KAYE (voice-over): These are tough times.

JONATHAN ALPERT, PSYCHOTHERAPIST: I'm seeing a lot of people present them for sex addiction.

KAYE: With Wall Street crumbling, bankers are behaving badly. Manhattan therapist Jonathan Alpert says more and more of them are paying for sex.

ALPERT: Some people may drink to cope with sex, others may use drugs, these people are using sex as a way to distract themselves or numb up some of the feelings of anxiety.

KAYE: Alpert says his patients' sexual encounters have more than doubled since the spring. High-end call girls, Asian massage parlors, strip clubs. He's heard it all.

ALPERT: I've had one patient tell me that he was spending at least $2,000 a week on this. And for someone who lost their job, that can be a significant amount of cash that digs into, perhaps, a mortgage payment or to pay for their child's schooling.

KAYE: Alpert says his patients aren't thinking about that. Wall Streeters are thrill seekers.

ALPERT: A lot of what they get from using the adult services mirrors that of what they see or what they experience on Wall Street: that rush, that power, that control. The same is true with the use of a prostitute. They can have their way. They're the center of the world for that hour. Pay enough money, and the prostitute will treat you like royalty.

KAYE (on camera): So instead of managing money, they're managing women.

ALPERT: Exactly.

KAYE (voice-over): Therapist Jodi Conway says her patients are also using sex to fill a void. A few were even caught surfing pornography.

JODI CONWAY, THERAPIST: When they have a lot more time on their hands where they may be looking for jobs by way of the computer, they can detour onto other sites where they've been before, looking at pornography.

KAYE: Alpert says this looks all too familiar. Remember New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, got caught paying for a prostitute? And actor David Duchovny voluntarily entered treatment for sexual addiction last summer.

But it's not just men. Alpert says Wall Street women are seeking out sex, too.

ALPERT: They may pick up people at bars and clubs. So they're not paying for the service, but they're sexualizing some of their feelings. So they might have indiscriminate sex.


HILL: But we should point out -- and we were actually talking about this a little earlier today, -- this behavior, at least stereotypically, isn't something that's new for Wall Street.

KAYE: No, according to the therapist who we interviewed, Jon Alpert, he says that these are guys who go to these massage parlors, actually, on their lunch breaks. So this isn't anything new. It's been going on for decades. It's made easier, actually, because these massage parlors are so close to Wall Street. So it makes it very easy for them.

But the therapists that we talked to say that these men really just want someone to talk to, in addition to the sex. They want someone to talk to, because they can't go home to their wives and their girlfriends and talk about this or losing their job or how much money they've lost, because the girlfriend or the wife may not want to hear it. So they use this prostitute or this call girl as sort of a sounding board to vent and get their feelings out.

HILL: That's really sad.

KAYE: It is very sad.

HILL: All right, Randi. Thanks.

KAYE: Sure.

HILL: Still ahead, in the last-minute Christmas shopping scramble, retailers are slashing prices. Their markdowns, though, are your gains, which is a little something to celebrate, perhaps, in this bleak economy. It is not, however, the whole story. Just ahead, the downside of all those great deals.


HILL: On this Christmas Eve eve, there aren't many hours left for you to shop, but there are plenty of huge deals for you to still bag. These sales are in New York, but the scene looks pretty much the same across the country: stores slashing prices pretty substantially just to move the goods. And for retailers, and by extension, the overall economy, that's really not great news. For the shoppers, though, the holiday season is truly a buyer's market, big time.

It's your money, your future. Here's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They may as well be ringing alarm bells at retail stores nationwide. All those signs of deep discounts on the doorstep of Christmas are signs of a brutally cold holiday sales season. Sure, that's great news for consumers with enough confidence to buy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I went up to the register and found out this was 25 percent off, and I didn't even know.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can buy one and get one free.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Like 25 percent off, 30 percent off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've been doing very well with the sales.

FOREMAN: But all of that is terrible for retailers. The International Council of Shopping Centers is predicting the worst holiday season in decades, with sales actually falling, perhaps 2 percent, where they usually rise.

With retail accounting for a quarter of the jobs lost already this year, this will cost even more. And as it is, our latest CNN/Opinion Research poll shows more than 9 out of 10 Americans think the economy is in poor shape.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's going to get worse before it gets better.

FOREMAN (on camera): That's not very encouraging.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's what I think.

KEATING HOLLAND, CNN POLLING DIRECTOR: Sixty-six percent say economic conditions are very poor. I'm not sure we've ever seen anything like that in recent polling history, at any rate.

This time last year, it was only about 21 percent saying things were very poor and that, as you'll recall, was when this recession officially began.

FOREMAN (voice-over): Even those who are spending, like Angie Bracer (ph), are keeping a careful eye on the bottom line.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know in, like Wal-Mart and other locations like that, they definitely have lowered the prices.

FOREMAN: Much lower than usual?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I think so. Absolutely. I'm a bargain shopper. I don't pay top dollar for anything, unless I absolutely have to.

FOREMAN (on camera): Looking for some good news? Well, our poll also found that most of you think the economy will be doing better by next Christmas.

Tom Foreman, CNN, New York.


HILL: Up next, from financial collapse to political scandal, a look back at 2008, Jib-Jab style. It is our "Shot of the Day." You don't want to miss it next.


HILL: Time now for a little "Shot of the Day." The folks at Jib-Jab are at it again. So here's a quick look at their 2008 year in review.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (singing): Global market meltdown, a bailout by the Fed. Fannie, Freddie, AIG, and Lehman crapped the... bedlam in Afghanistan. The Big Three self-destruct. Jesse Jackson threatened to cut off Obama's... nut jobs made a Bigfoot and Spitzer's friend turned tricks. Duchovny went to rehab, 'cuz he couldn't control his... Dick needed a kick-start. The U.S. needed gas. Harry showed the world his wand and Miley showed her... ask me any questions. I'll give it to you straight. For your sake, kid, I sure do hope '09 is like '08.

Barack defeated Johnny, so long to the far right. Now McCain has many houses but none of them are... white guys got passed over from Wasilla she was plucked. When the maverick tapped a hockey mom, the press said, "What, the..." truck bombs in Islamabad. Bill Gates up and quit! Putin stuck his chest out, told the Georgians to eat... ships were seized by pirates. Ike and Gustav hit. Johnnie's honey had a baby, but he said it wasn't his.


HILL: Whoa. They are very creative. I have to say.

KAYE: Yes. You have to watch something like that, though, like ten times, because you know you missed so much in there.

HILL: Yes. And even just the -- just the words. I mean, some of them we caught and did a "Ooh." Yes, but very clever, as always.

KAYE: Good time.

HILL: Of course, you can see the most recent "Shots" on our Web site,

But still, more AC 360 to come at the top of the hour. The Blagojevich scandal and the result of the Obama staff report on it. That and a surprise Obama appearance with the U.S. attorney.

Plus Barack Obama's role as paparazzi bait. Does it help or hurt his presidency? That and more when 360 continues.