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THE SITUATION ROOM

Utah Mine Rescue Effort

Aired August 13, 2007 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT & CEO, MURRAY ENERGY: In other words, the underground rescue effort has been on the same plan, with slight variations from the beginning. It was the right plan. The drilling has been by trial and error. As it must be.
We'll have a conference call tomorrow at 11:00 a.m. I will be going underground at approximately 4:00 a.m. and getting both video and still pictures of the rescue activity going on at about this location. And I will bring them out and share them with you. This afternoon, a helicopter will be taking a photographer up to the drill sites and we will show you the two drill sites that are already down and where we are moving the very large drill 1,300 feet to the third drill site.

Again, I want to summarize. We're all very distraught. Professionals have dedicated themselves around the clock from the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration, from Murray Energy Corporation and Utah American.

It's heartbreaking. It's absolutely heartbreaking that we haven't found them alive. But we have spared nothing in the way of equipment and manpower and whatever it takes to find these miners as quickly as possible.

I want to report to you that the families are holding up better than you could ever imagine. The strength of these people is amazing in view of the grief that they are currently facing.

We meet with them twice daily. In the beginning, I met with them four times a day. And we answer all of their questions as candidly as we can.

They're holding up extremely well. Their strength is amazing. And I think it comes from their belief in their god.

I thank you for being here and I know now that Mr. Stickler will take any questions that you might have.

QUESTION: You pointed out quite a bit that the roof is still intact. Is that a surprise to you, that the roof is in...

MURRAY: Not at all. Generally, when we have outbursts in the mines from seismic activities, the roof will remain in place and remain confident, and the ribs blow out. And we call those outbursts. It's quite common, sir, but we have never encountered an earthquake, a seismic activity, a natural disaster, whatever you want to call it, of this magnitude before. QUESTION: Mr. Stickler, why has it taken so long to start drilling on the third hole? You encountered problems. What -- you sort of talked about drilling that third hole yesterday and it still hasn't begun yet, has it?

RICHARD STICKLER, MINE SAFETY AND HEALTH ADMIN.: Well, a road had to be constructed, and when you look around here in this canyon and you see the mountain walls, they vary from 90 degrees vertical to the shallowest ones are 25 degrees. So you're up on the side of these mountains.

You have to build a road, which was 1,300 feet in distance. It's a very narrow road and you're carving these roads out of the side of the mountain. It's not like you're excavating dirt. These mountains are solid rock.

Let's -- let's take a little break here because of the traffic that needs to move through to support the operations. Let's wait for the traffic, please.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: You're watching live pictures here of the latest update on the search for six missing and trapped miners in Huntington, Utah. Officials taking a break from their news conference simply to let some vehicles critical to the rescue effort to pass through the scene.

We'll get back to this live event now as the questions continue.

QUESTION: Mr. Stickler...

STICKLER: The question that I was in the middle of answering or addressing when we opened the highway up for the vehicles so they could get in with support material we needed was, why did -- why is it taking so long to move from the second hole to the third hole? And the answer is that the mountains here are anywhere from 90-degree vertical to 25 degrees. The sides of these mountains is solid rock.

So if you can imagine on the side of the mountain trying to construct a road that you can move a large drilling machine across, it's a very difficult and time-consuming job. This road that was constructed, we had it completed late in the night, but because of the hazardous condition of the road on the side of the cliff, we had to wait until daylight before we could start moving that large piece of drilling equipment. So it's not like you're out in the middle of a pasture field or where you're close to an accessible highway.

What was your question?

QUESTION: I'm not asking you for a specific timetable. However, the number one question a lot of our viewers and readers, in a best case scenario, in a worst case scenario, how long do we think at this point it will take the underground mining to get to something that is...

STICKLER: Your guess is probably as good as mine, so you can make that guess. I'm not going to guess on time frames. QUESTION: Mr. Stickler, can you translate the -- how far away hole number three is from hole number two?

STICKLER: Thirteen hundred feet.

QUESTION: And would it be correct to say it's farther in the mine, about as far as you can go, right?

STICKLER: That's correct.

QUESTION: OK. It's near a bleeder hole. What's a bleeder hole? What's that?

STICKLER: We didn't say bleeder hole. Bleeder entry.

QUESTION: Bleeder entry?

STICKLER: The bleeder entry -- you see this area there where July the 13th is? That's an area that has been second-mined. And the law requires that when there is second mining occurring, you have to ventilate around the perimeter of that mining area because you can't go in and examine it because it's no longer safe to go into. So a bleeder entry is always left, adjacent to the area that is second- mined.

The purpose of the bleeder entry is to ensure that any methane gas or oxygen-deficient air is bled out. So it goes into the return air course and comes all the way out to the mine ventilation fan which is sucking air out of the mine. So, the fact that it's taking the air that bleeds off of the area that's been second-mined, that's how it's called a bleeder entry.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

STICKLER: It's likely to not be in the air flow. We think there is air trapped back in that back part of the mine because we have blockage, 125, 126. We've tried to explore in these entries. We've tried to get through all four of these entries and they're blocked.

QUESTION: Even if they can't signal you, does sound travel well enough underground that they could potentially hear drilling?

STICKLER: I assure you that they hear any drilling activity that's going on above them.

QUESTION: So that would give them hope?

STICKLER: Yes.

QUESTION: Bob -- can I ask you a quick question, Bob? We've been contacted by our station by a couple of people that they've actually walked off the site yesterday and then this morning. One man had a nervous breakdown and quit because of the safety of the mine.

Have you heard anything about this? Can you confirm it? MURRAY: We have had some miners that have been working in the rescue effort that have asked to be relieved from working right at where the rescue effort is going forward as they've been somewhat frightened to continue to work there. Nobody has walked off the site.

What we've done is, anyone that wanted to be relieved from working at the face has been assigned to other work in the mine at other locations. To date, there are 12 such individuals.

QUESTION: So just rescue workers are the ones that want to be located to a different -- it's not your...

MURRAY: No, the rescue workers are all 100 percent our employees. There are 134 of them here. They're all employees of Utah American Energy, Inc. and Murray Energy corporation. And 12 have been asked to be reassigned underground, which we have done because of their concern as we go forward with the rescue effort.

I want to emphasize to you, though, that that is their judgment. If I, Murray Energy, Utah American, and certainly the Mine Safety and Health Administration, had any real concerns about the safety measures we are taking to get through these difficult conditions, we would not have undertaken this underground rescue.

We absolutely cannot injure or kill any miners of our company in this effort and this endeavor. But it is a very difficult process. And very slow.

QUESTION: And to clarify, it's only been (INAUDIBLE) on the rescue team that have been asked to be relocated? It's not your other miners in other locations?

MURRAY: You keep saying "rescue team". There are no rescue teams in here.

QUESTION: The miners that are into rescue, there are different locations, right? I'm just clarifying it's not the miners that are in the locations that they're not trying to go in?

MURRAY: There are miners assigned, ma'am, to this area to drive this number one entry to rescue the trapped miners. Those 12 people, 12 out of the approximately 80-some we have working in there, asked if they could be assigned to another location within the mine. They are all our employees, and of course we immediately reassigned them.

QUESTION: Is it the tremors? Is it the tremors that's frightening them?

MURRAY: We've had some tectonic activity in there and some seismic activity that has continued. We've also had a pillar, an entire pillar that has shifted sideways three feet which would take a mighty force to do that.

But with the rock props or water jacks, with the roof folding (ph), we're now roof-folding (ph) to eight feet. With the J bars, with the chain-link fence, and the setting of the timbers, we have a system, we believe, that is extremely safe for the rescue miners.

We have received opinions from rock mechanics, experts from throughout the world, and MSHA has received opinions also from rock mechanics, experts from both inside and outside their agency. So we've brought the best mines together. Some of thehem are here, most of them aren't.

And this is the system that they have agreed is the best one, which is the one we developed on Monday and have been on since Monday. And we've repeatedly confirmed with outside experts that this is the right system to use in terms of these conditions to get to the trapped miners.

QUESTION: Bob, yesterday, you were talking about this underground effort and how the conditions were the worst you've seen in 30, 50 years. And you were saying the closer you get, the tougher it's going to get.

But Mr. Stickler, you said the closer you would get, the easier it could get, the farther along.

So I'm just wondering if there is a connection here. I mean, which is it, are we looking at?

STICKLER: Yes. What I said to you previously was that we were currently in some of the most difficult conditions. We know that the material that came off of the walls, the coal outbursts, has almost practically filled these entries in this area.

You saw on the video recording, we have a five-and-a-half foot void in this area. So I would anticipate at some point it's going to transition from almost total filling of the void to a place where we have five-and-a-half feet of void.

Now, in this area, there's a -- generally in this area, there's -- that's where the highest cover occurs, over 2,000 feet of cover. In other words, from the coal scene up to the top of the mountain is over 2,000 feet.

Where we have the most cover is where we have the most weight. Up here where we drilled this hole in, it was 1,886 feet. So that also tells you there is less weight in this area than what we have down here where we have the highest mountain peak.

Does that clarify that for you?

QUESTION: So it will get quicker if you -- there will be less to clear, essentially? I mean...

STICKLER: That's what we anticipate. I've got a trip scheduled on the helicopter to the top of the mountain to the drill site and I'm to meet that helicopter in 15 minutes. So I need to leave here.

Thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK) QUESTION: ... drilling a number of holes at the same time, or is that not practical?

STICKLER: They can answer your question.

QUESTION: Bob or Rod (ph), is there -- can more than one hole be drilled at once?

MURRAY: No, they can't. And there would be no benefit to it either.

The drilling rigs are sitting on a very steep mountainside. We have to build the roads for each drill hole. And you can have that hole down by the time you could get another drill rig up there. There's no advantage to it at all.

One other response to your question. This will get worse, as I said, to here. And as he said, it will get a little better, due to the amount of void going on. The ventilation problems in ventilating where the active rescue is taking place with the miners that are involved in that activity is going to become more and more difficult as we advance towards the area where the miners are.

QUESTION: Is there much of a difference between an oxygen- deficient atmosphere and one filled with carbon monoxide? And does it affect, like, both open face (ph) and (INAUDIBLE)?

MURRAY: Yes, there is a difference. You can have all varieties of makeup.

You can have an oxygen-deficient atmosphere with a low amount of carbon monoxide in parts per million. It varies.

We go mostly by the oxygen content. Eighteen percent, you're fine. Twenty is normal. Fifteen, you're marginal. You start getting below 15 percent oxygen, you're getting into a marginal atmosphere, irregardless of what other gases are in the atmosphere.

QUESTION: Mr. Murray, we've spoken with mining engineers who have studied the maps of the mine and read the Ajupedo (ph) memo, and they say they're surprised that you were mining pillars between two cave sections of the mine. They say that's an inherently risky way to do that, given the pressure on the remaining pillars.

Do you have a response to that?

MURRAY: Yes. Whoever you talked to is not knowledgeable.

Our mining plan was recommended by Ajupedo (ph). It was approved by the Federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. And whoever is offering you that is incorrect and perhaps generating controversy.

This was a completely safe mining plan, and I'm not going to respond to that anymore, because it doesn't apply.

Any other questions? QUESTION: As far as the time frame, I know it's impossible, but are you talking days, weeks? Maybe a month?

MURRAY: Mr. Stickler wouldn't give you a time frame and it's impossible for me to give you one. If I could, I would.

I can tell you this. In eight days, we've gone from 120 -- or seven days. Let's say seven days. It took us a day to -- maybe a day and a half to mobilize.

So, in six and a half days, we've gone from 120 to 125. Now we're moving much faster. But six days to go from 120 to 125, five breakthroughs, we've got to go from 125 to 139, where we're probably moving twice as fast as we were. So you could do some math and make your own estimate.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE)

MURRAY: One hundred and thirty, sir.

Yes, sir?

QUESTION: How many miners do you have all together?

MURRAY: We have 134 miners, ma'am, working in the rescue effort.

QUESTION: No. I mean -- OK. Do you have outside backup rescue team members?

MURRAY: We have six mine rescue teams on standby.

QUESTION: And it's also your staff?

MURRAY: Two are -- of the rescue teams are ours. We have plenty of manpower.

QUESTION: Sir, you're about 645 feet on the way to 2,000 feet, right, to clearing the mine tunnel? Is it possible that when you reach 2,000 feet, you're going to have another 1,600 or 1,800 feet to clear to reach these miners?

MURRAY: That's possible.

QUESTION: How do you plan -- how do you anticipate the weather will affect the drilling or rescue efforts, if it rains or anything like that?

MURRAY: As long as we get that drill moved -- and we're setting up right now. I just got a report before I came down -- there to the site and are setting up, the weather will not affect the drilling effort at all.

Thank you for asking.

I thank you very much for your questions. We are going to have a press conference at 11:00 a.m. tomorrow. At that time, I hope to have underground videos of the rescue effort and also the drilling up on the mountain that you can take and use as you see fit.

Thank you very much for your being here and your patience over these eight days. You're very dedicated people.

Thank you.

KING: Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, a bit exasperated there at the end of this live event nearly an hour now, describing the meticulous and so far unsuccessful search under way for six miners trapped for eight days now in a mine underneath the ground in Huntington, Utah. Officials describing their efforts to get to the miners, including two holes in which they've placed cameras trying to find the miners. That search effort so far unsuccessful.

The company now saying, along with federal officials, they plan now to dig a third hole and then a fourth hole to insert a camera deep into that mineshaft. Again, eight days now, the search for six trapped miners in Huntington, Utah.

There on the scene and asking the questions, CNN's Brian Todd. Let's go to Brian now for the latest.

Brain, in your sense, the headline out of the briefing we just heard?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, I think a couple of things stand out.

I mean, Robert Murray, the head of Murray Energy Corporation, saying just how frustrated he is. He said these are the worst mining conditions he has seen in 50 years. You get a real sense of their frustration here. But also, I think the really dramatic part is the actual -- the third time that they lowered a camera down and the images that you saw, you really could see for the first time some clarity from -- you know, from that image.

This was the third time they lowered a camera down. The first two times very little visibility. They lowered a camera a third time down and they narrated it as they showed it to us, but what they showed us was what they call a tool bag and a belt slicing bag. This was a 360-degree view, a couple of crosscuts away, they think, from where these miners are believed to be trapped.

Listen to Robert Moore (ph). He's the number two man at Murray Energy. He narrated some of this for us as they showed us this video.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see that we have a 360-degree horizontal view here. And the camera rotates around, at times focusing on certain things.

In this case here, you have belt hangers, the chain that you see here. And here in the back, you actually see the belt.

On the ground, this is the water line, water pipe. It supplies water to the -- to the mine. This is the bottom camera. It's just looking down at the floor.

Again, look here. You can see the roof is intact and competent. Again, it's holding.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: A very key point there that they kept stressing over and over again, you see that the roof is holding, at least in the part where they are showing this video. And they said it was a couple of crosscuts away at least from where they believe these miners are trapped. That could be a couple of hundred feet, so where the miners are actually trapped it could be a very different situation.

John, they're planning on drilling a third hole into a separate chamber where they believe the miners retreated into possibly. That hole, they've been talking about that for nearly two days now. They haven't even started drilling on it yet.

Another frustration that they're facing, they have to build a road every time they drill a hole. They're just getting that into place now and they hope to start drilling that soon -- John.

KING: And Brian, help our viewers understand. Yet again, you just mentioned they say the roof is holding up. Bob Murray also saying he believes there is plenty of potable, drinkable water underneath in that mine.

And so, on the one hand, they say they are optimistic that the miners have the conditions under which they could survive, and yet absolutely no communication, no sound, no sighting at all over the past eight days, correct?

TODD: That is correct. No sign of these miners.

Every time they drill a hole down, they bang on the drill bits, they bang on every piece of equipment that they're sending down there in the hopes that the miners respond to it. Miners are trained to respond to those signals. They have heard no signals yet from these miners.

They are also concerned at this point about some deficient oxygen being pumped in and being kind of -- you know, pumped around as they try to get to various chambers in there. That's a big concern. They are also concerned that that might compromise the safety of the rescue workers who are going in there as well.

That part of it is also going slowly. They've progressed about 645 feet into the main mineshaft past the rubble. The miners are believed to be several miles in, but in the area where they actually started to dig, they've only dug about 645 feet. Very slow progress.

This is why Bob Murray describes this effort as "heartbreaking" that he can't come out and tell us that they found these miners alive yet -- John.

KING: And Brian, Bob Murray was clearly frustrated, exasperated, maybe even a bit prickly when he was asked by one local reporter about some so-called experts who have questioned the mining practices at that mine. Questioning perhaps whether it was unsafe conditions these miners were sent into.

Any indications from the federal officials who were there on hand assisting with the search? Do they have any questions about the operation of this mine, or do they agree with Mr. Murray, who was quite emphatic in saying that they had an approved mining plan, that he believes it was quite a safe mining plan?

TODD: What they're saying is, John, just totally being cautious every step of the way.

Initially, they did say, after Mr. Murray came out and said that there was no so-called retreat mining going on, where pillars of coal are pulled out and the roof collapses, considered a dangerous practice, that had been an accusation in the early days of this. The federal officials came out and said, well, they believe retreat mining had gone on in this mine, but they weren't sure whether it had gone on in the area where these miners are trapped in that general vicinity.

We've heard nothing really from them on that since then. They've been very, very cautious, only focusing on the drilling, the rescue effort itself, what they know to be true about where these miners are.

I think that they really want to wait until some of this is completed, when we know the fate of the miners and when some of their investigation is completed to kind of pass any judgment on the mining techniques going on here.

KING: And Brian, you showed the dramatic video from one of the camera drops. They say they are now drilling that third hole. What can you tell us about when they expect that hole to be drilled through to the point where they can insert the camera and see if perhaps this time they are in a section of the mine where they can find the miners or at least perhaps some clues?

TODD: That could be several hours, it could be more than a day. That's something that they really -- they're not sure of.

It takes several hours to drill that hole. It could take more than a day. And again, they're going into a place where they believe these miners might have retreated to, some kind of chamber that they've mapped out which is, from what the map shows, that they showed us here, that could be in the deepest part of the mine that they've gone yet.

So -- and what Bob Murray -- he described this as kind of trial and error when you drill these holes. So, it really is -- there's no telling how long it's going to take to get that drill down there, and then we'll see whether they can lower a camera and maybe get some air in there as well.

KING: Brian Todd for us on the scene in Huntington, Utah.

Brian, excellent reporting there. We will check back in with you as THE SITUATION ROOM continues.

We also have with us here in five minutes or so in THE SITUATION ROOM the CEO of Murray Energy, Bob Murray. More questions for him about the search, the frustrating search now in its eighth day for six trapped miners. Again, Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, will join us here in THE SITUATION ROOM in just a few minutes.

And when we return, President Bush loses the man who has been his right arm for years. Political strategist Karl Rove is stepping down. Is he escaping what one Democrat calls a gathering storm at the White House?

Also, many Democrats may want to vote for Hillary Clinton, but would they like to have a cup of coffee with her? Some surprising new poll numbers on the Democratic frontrunner's likability and her electability.

Plus, Dick Cheney's startling words about invading Iraq. He once called it a quagmire. You'll want to hear this.

And baseball legend Cal Ripken gets drafted by the Bush administration.

Stay right here. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Happening now, high wire act in space. Two spacewalking Endeavour astronauts are replacing a steering device on the International Space Station, while NASA tries to figure out what to do about a deep gash on Endeavour's belly.

Our Miles O'Brien will fill us in ahead right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega will have to wait until August 24 to find out if he will be sent back home or extradited to France when he is freed from a U.S. prison next month.

And Hawaii braces for Hurricane Flossie. The storm could be a Category 3 hurricane when it reaches the islands.

Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm John King. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

More now on a developing story this afternoon. If you were watching last hour, you saw officials in Huntington, Utah, explain the frustrating search under way for six miners trapped in a Utah mine for eight days now.

Bob Murray is the CEO of Murray Energy, one of the officials trying to get this frantic rescue operation toward success.

Bob Murray joins us now live from Huntington, Utah.

Mr. Murray, in the video they showed at your news conference, among the items we saw, still, obviously and sadly, no signs of the missing miners, there was a tool bag and another piece of equipment. Any idea to whom that belongs, sir, and what does seeing that clue, how does that lead you forward in the search?

BOB MURRAY, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MURRAY ENERGY: That did belong, John, to one of the trapped miners, no doubt.

It's devastating to us that we have not rescued these miners alive yet. It's very, very upsetting. We are exhausting every possible effort. We have 134 employees of our company underground engaged in the rescue effort.

We have spared nothing. And I'm just so disappointed and grieved that we have not been able to reach the miners alive yet. However, if I may, sir, if the percussion of the natural event, the seismic waves, did not kill the miners, there is still a great hope that they are alive.

These reasons are the following. One, the roof conditions throughout the mine everywhere we have been are intact. So, there has been no cave-in, rib bursts from the seismic activity.

Two, there's plenty of water in the mine. And, three, there is airspace over the rib outbursts that have occurred as a result of the seismic shocks. There is a volume in there, and there is water to sustain their lives for weeks if the original concussion did not kill them.

KING: And have you learned anything, sir, from what you have looked -- where you have looked so far, the two holes that have been drilled into the ground? I know a third drilling is about to begin, if it hasn't begun in the last few minutes.

Anything you have learned from that? I know you're frustrated and disappointed you haven't seen the miners or more clues to where they might be. But, through process of elimination, do you have a better sense now of where to look next?

MURRAY: Absolutely, John.

While the underground effort has been on the plan, driving to the men, the same plan from day one, and we have asked every mining expert in the country are we doing the right plan, and we have been getting a confirmation all week from experts that, yes, what you started with was the right plan to get them underground.

Now, with regard to the drilling, it's trial and error. What we do, sir, is, we drill where we think they are. When we didn't find them, we drilled another location where we thought they were. They were not there either. Now we're drilling to the third location, sir, where we think they might be. It's strictly trial and error, John. But the underground rescue effort is not. KING: Mr. Murray, you grew a bit exasperated at a question from one of the local journalists when she asked you about experts she said that their news media outlet had spoken to who questioned the type of mining or the tactics of the mining you were doing underground.

And you said, no, you discount that expert; everything you're doing is safe.

Can you -- can you assure the families who are awaiting word on the fate of these six trapped miners and can you assure the American people who might be watching, sir, that, when this is all over and the focus moves from what we hope is a successful research and recovery effort on to an investigation of just what happened that you can -- can you say, sir, without any doubt, that no one will find that your company was cutting any corners down in those mines?

MURRAY: I can tell you, without a doubt, number one, the mining plan was researched by a number of outside engineering firms and recommended.

Number two, the plan was approved by the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration. Number three, there were no violations of the laws. And, number four, rock mechanics experts have already determined that this was a natural event, and it had nothing to do with the way we were mining or so-called retreat mining as some have brought into it.

I can give you 100 percent assurance, because I already know the outcome of the investigation.

KING: Tell me, sir, about what must be difficult and painful conversations with family members of those who are missing. What are you telling them? And, just as importantly, what are they telling you, sir?

MURRAY: John, those families are holding up so well.

In the beginning, I met with them four times a day. Now we meet with them two times a day. Their strength, their faith is amazing. What I did several days ago -- and I'm going to do it tonight at 4:00 a.m. -- is, I found two of the family members were the son of a trapped miner and a brother of a trapped miner, both experienced miners themselves, and I have been taking them underground with me as I go underground every day myself.

And they can explain to the families much better than I can what is going on. And I believe, sir, that we have administered to their needs as well as could ever be expected. And they are holding up and their strength is far more than I ever expected.

KING: Bob Murray, the CEO of Murray Energy, on the scene in Huntington, Utah, where the search for six trapped miners is in its eighth day now, sir, we thank you for your time. And we certainly wish you all the luck in the world, as you continue with this search. And we will check back in with you. MURRAY: I thank you. I thank you, Mr. King.

And I thank all of Americans for their interest in these families and in these trapped miners, sir.

KING: Good luck and God bless, sir.

Also this hour, it would be hard to overstate Karl Rove's influence on President Bush and this administration, and it would be hard to overstate the significance of the deputy White House chief of staff's resignation today. The so-called architect of the president's reelection victory and initial election victory, the man critics deride as Bush's brain, will leave the White House at the end of this month.

Our White House correspondent, Suzanne Malveaux, is here with more on today's big announcement and the interestingly big reaction.

Suzanne, a lot of praise for Karl Rove, but also some very harsh criticism.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right.

And you really can't overstate the significance of this. This is very, very big news. It really marks a significant transition of the Bush administration and this White House. These two men have been working side-by-side together. They have known each other for 34 years. He was the architect that ushered Mr. Bush to become governor of Texas and then two terms here at the White House.

Both of them appeared somewhat emotional when they spoke a couple of hours here on the White House South Lawn before they headed to Crawford, Texas, and, as you know, Karl Rove very much responsible for the successes as well as the failures of this administration.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KARL ROVE, SENIOR ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BUSH: Mr. President, the world's turned many times since our journey began. We have been at this a long time. It's over 14 years ago that you began your run for governor and over 10 years ago that we started thinking and planning about a possible run for the presidency. And it's been an exhilarating and eventful time.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have been friends for a long time, and we're still going to be friends. I would call Karl Rove a dear friend. We have known each other as youngsters, interested in serving our state. We worked together so we could be in a position to serve this country.

And so I thank my friend. I will be on the road behind you here in a little bit.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MALVEAUX: And, John, of course, a lot of questions, some skepticism about the timing of this announcement, as well as the decision here.

You know, the Democratic-led Congress, Rove is at the center of a number of investigations. As we have noted before, he was also found to be one of the people that had leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson, although there was no criminal charges that were brought forward. There are some who have accused him of perhaps trying to dodge all the controversy and those questions.

But I had conversation with Rove through various e-mails this morning. And I put the question to him, asking him, simply, how do you respond to those who say you're being run out of town? Rove saying in typical Rove fashion here -- and I'm quoting here -- "That sounds like the rooster claiming to have called up the sun."

He is making it very clear that this is his call and his decision to make.

John, he was pushed just a little bit, however, in that decision. Recently, Chief of Staff Josh Bolten telling all senior aides, look, if you're going to be here after Labor Day, you will be here for the rest of the term -- John.

KING: And, Suzanne, back to Texas. I know he says he wants to write a book, with the president's support, maybe teach a little bit down the line. He says no political consulting, no official role in campaign '08, but has he ruled out, say, picking up the phone, or perhaps a behind-the-scenes role in the campaign to come?

MALVEAUX: You know, he certainly hasn't ruled out the idea of picking up the phone with candidates or with this president. He made it clear that -- he said that they both have each other's phone numbers. They know how to reach each other. He's not going to officially, he said, endorse anyone.

But he did say that he will be reaching out. He has got friends in all of the campaigns. And I asked him, what is the first thing he's going to do when he leaves office? He says he is going to go dove hunting in West Texas and drive his wife and the dogs out to the beach -- John.

KING: There is a Dick Cheney joke in there, but I think we will just let it go for today, Suzanne.

MALVEAUX: There -- there is.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House -- Suzanne, thank you very much.

And, one by one, President Bush has been losing members of his loyal inner circle who have been with him since his days as Texas governor. Karen Hughes was the first to go back in 2002, leaving her job as counselor to the president. But she is back in the administration fold now, serving as undersecretary of state for public affairs.

Presidential pal Don Evans left his post as commerce secretary back in November 2004. This year, though, the exit door is swinging open much more often. In January, Harriet Miers stepped down as White House counsel after the president's failed attempt to put her on the Supreme Court.

Dan Bartlett resigned as White House counselor in July. And now Karl Rove is calling it quits.

One longtime Bush ally from Texas still clinging to an administration job, despite being under fire, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who of course was the White House counsel before moving over to Justice.

Senator Patrick Leahy suggests Karl Rove is resigning from the White House before a gathering storm consumes him and the Bush administration. Democrats had plenty to say today about Rove's exit and the many clouds hanging over him.

Here's our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin.

Jessica, any signs the Democrats are willing to let Rove off the hook now that he is leaving town?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely not, John. Democrats love to hate Karl Rove. And today they say his resignation doesn't change a thing. He is still under subpoena, and the investigations will continue.

So, he is leaving the West Wing, but Karl Rove is not off the hook.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN (voice-over): To many Democrats, Karl Rove is the dark prince of the Bush administration. His resignation triggered a flurry of parting shots.

Senator Barack Obama says Rove's political influence "left the country more divided than at any time in memory."

To Senator John Kerry, "Unanswered questions and political division are Rove's legacy."

And Senator Patrick Leahy insists, "A cloud envelops Mr. Rove," who, he says, "acted as if he was above the law."

SEN. JOHN CORNYN (R), TEXAS: Democrats see Karl Rove behind every bush in Washington, D.C.

YELLIN: They do suspect he's behind a slew of White House controversies and say they will continue to investigate Rove's role in the firing of U.S. attorneys, potentially improper political briefings for government employees, leaking the identity of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame, and whether he sent e-mail through a Republican Party account to evade public scrutiny.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is still demanding he testify in the U.S. attorneys matter. He refuses, citing executive privileges, and, earlier this month, enraged Democrats by not showing up at a hearing.

SEN. RICHARD DURBIN (D), ILLINOIS: Where is Karl Rove? Why is he hiding?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D-VT), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN: Mr. Rove was supposed to be here. And he basically has taken what I consider a bogus claim of executive privilege and has failed to show.

YELLIN: Rove's friends and Rove himself say he gets far more credit and blame than he deserves. But Democrats are unswayed, and they're not done with him yet.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

YELLIN: Now, the White House is expected to claim that Rove will still be covered under executive privilege even after he leaves the administration. That's because the information Congress wants relates to work that Rove did while he was still on White House staff. And the White House counsel will say that is all protected -- John.

KING: The fight still to come, even as Karl Rove leaves town.

Jessica Yellin -- Jessica, thank you very much.

Baseball's Iron Man goes up to bat for kids all around the world. Cal Ripken Jr. says he is thrilled about his new job. It's not baseball, but it still requires teamwork. We will tell you just what it is.

And could Hillary Clinton's political baggage weigh too much with voters? Why some Republicans want her to get the Democratic presidential nomination.

Stay right there. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Vice President Dick Cheney, of course, is one of the Iraq's war most adamant defenders. But in a 13-year-old interview now surfacing on YouTube, Cheney said that invading Iraq war would lead to a quagmire.

The video now has almost a quarter-million views.

Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.

Abbi, what exactly did Cheney say about the war back then?

ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: John, this is Dick Cheney in 1994 on the risks involved in going into Baghdad.

Watch the clip now in the context of 2007 and you will see why it's one of the hottest videos on YouTube.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1994)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you think that U.S. or U.N. forces should have moved into Baghdad?

RICHARD B. CHENEY, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: No.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not?

CHENEY: Because if we had gone to Baghdad, we would have been all alone. There wouldn't have been anybody else with us. There would have been a U.S. occupation of Iraq. None of the Arab forces that were willing to fight with us in Kuwait were willing to invade Iraq.

Once you got to Iraq and took it over, and took down Saddam Hussein's government, then what are you going to put in its place? That's a very volatile part of the world. And, if you take down the central government of Iraq, you could very easily end up seeing pieces of Iraq fly off, part of it -- the Syrians would like to have to the west. Part of eastern Iraq, the Iranians would like to claim, fought over for eight years.

In the north, you have got the Kurds. And, if the Kurds spin loose and join with the Kurds in Turkey, then you threaten the territorial integrity of Turkey. It's a quagmire if you go that far and try to take over Iraq.

The other thing was casualties. Everyone was impressed with the fact that we were able to do our job with as few casualties as we had. But, for the 146 Americans killed in action, and for their families, it wasn't a cheap war. And the question for the president, in terms of whether or not we went on to Baghdad, took additional casualties in an effort to get Saddam Hussein, was, how many additional dead Americans is Saddam worth?

And our judgment was, not very many. And I think we got it right.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TATTON: From C-SPAN. The complete 1994 interview was aired several times on C-SPAN in the last month. And it's also on their Web site.

But the clip getting the buzz online was posted on YouTube by a user who superimposed a reference to own his anti-administration Web site Grand Theft Country. He didn't disclose his name, but says in an e-mail he put it on YouTube to, in his words, show the hypocrisy.

We asked for comment from the vice president's office. They haven't gotten back to us yet. But, in February of this year, Vice President Cheney was asked in an interview with ABC News about similar comments he made in 1991. The vice president's response: Look what happened -- what's happened since then. We had 9/11 -- John.

KING: Abbi Tatton, fascinating, a quarter-million views so far.

Thank you, Abbi, very much.

And Dick Cheney's talk of a quagmire and Karl Rove's swan song, two topics for discussion in our "Strategy Session."

Joining us now are political analyst Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, former Republican Congressman J.C. Watts.

J.C., let's start with the clip from the vice president there. And, in his defense -- and I have talked to him about these issues -- he says back then when he was defense secretary was the pre-9/11 world. You have to think very differently post-9/11, and perhaps take more risks, as we're seeing.

But his use of the word quagmire, if you're an administration critic, you can't help but love that piece of tape.

J.C. WATTS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, that's true, John, but I also think that some of the quagmire that's been created here, I think it was a right cause, poor execution. And I think much of the quagmire has been created because I think there were some underestimations.

I think they underestimated on several different fronts. John McCain was saying at the outset, we need more troops. They finally put in more troops. That seems to be, you know, having a little bit of success there. So, I think some of these quagmires, I think, we created, simply because we did not, I think, assess the situation properly. And we find ourselves in the position that we're in.

KING: Candid -- candid perception there from J.C.

Is it unfair for Democrats to jump on this? It's something he said 13 years ago. We can go back in any politician's file and find something they said 13 years ago.

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely not.

Look, given the way in which the administration has conducted itself, the way that the administration went after critics of the war, it's fair to say, once again, that the vice president had it right back then and he has it wrong now.

This is the wrong war, wrong timing. Those who perpetrated 9/11, we should have finished the war in Afghanistan and went after bin Laden. This war was a distraction. And, now, the American people must, you know, come to the conclusion that it's time for us to bring our troops home. So...

(CROSSTALK) WATTS: And, John, let me say, and I think, you know, when you -- when you make a decision and go to war, there is always going to be criticism. And I think some of the criticism is fair and some of it is unjust and unfair.

But I think the vice president said to you -- I think he made a very profound statement, when he said, we did not have 9/11 staring us in the face in 1991 or in 1994. And those are the two time frames that we're looking at.

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: But Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11.

WATTS: It's a totally different world.

BRAZILE: That's the problem with this one.

WATTS: It's a totally different world in terms of security when that interview was done in 1994 and April -- on August 13, 2007.

BRAZILE: Saddam was a bad man, but he had nothing to do with 9/11.

(CROSSTALK)

KING: Let's move on. Let's not refight the Iraq debate here today.

Let's move on to the big announcement here in Washington today, Karl Rove's resignation. And any Democrats at home who don't know this might want to take a quick seat, so they don't have heart failure. Karl Rove is somebody that Donna Brazile, our Democrat extraordinaire, calls friend.

And you had a conversation with your friend as he flew back to Texas today, and a surprise guest picked up the line as well. Take us inside Air Force One.

BRAZILE: Well, first of all, I have known Karl for a long time. I have been in politics for a great -- a little bit longer than J.C., I'm sure.

(LAUGHTER)

BRAZILE: But Karl called me from Air Force One today to tell me about his decision to move on.

I think he's been anticipating this move for a long time. He promised Darby to spend more time with the family. He is going to spend the next year, you know, going back and forward to -- to Texas -- he -- he loves his home, his family -- and also going down to Florida and do a little bit of fishing, doing some hunting in Texas.

So, move on, Karl Rove. God bless you.

KING: Move on. Godspeed, Karl Rove, from Donna Brazile.

J.C., on the way out, though, he did try to influence the debate, as I expect he will in the future, as well. But, in an interview with Paul Gigot of "The Wall Street Journal," he says this of the Democrats -- quote -- "They're likely -- quote -- "They are likely to nominate a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate."

(LAUGHTER)

KING: He means Senator Hillary Clinton.

He is trying to gin up a little juice as he leaves town, obviously, saying give us Hillary Clinton; she is fatally flawed.

WATTS: Well, that's a man that takes his profession seriously. And he never misses an opportunity.

(LAUGHTER)

WATTS: I think Senator Clinton, it's interesting. You know, John, she's not gotten beyond 40 percent in probably 99.9 percent of the polls that we have seen. So there are some Democrats that obviously have some concerns there.

But I will tell you, not being concerned about the Democrats, being a Republican, I have to look at what's in our camp. And I was in Iowa on Saturday, and I didn't see a lot of excitement in Iowa about our field of candidates. So, you know, while we're trying to assess the Democrats, we have to assess what we have, and can we put forward a candidate that can best Senator Clinton, Senator Obama, Senator Biden, whomever the Democrats might put up.

KING: Let's assess -- let's assess the challenge inside the Bush White House right now, about 16 months left, Karl Rove leaving the scene. They are unclear as to how they will split up his duties, but we do know that Ed Gillespie is already in the White House and taking over much of the political strategy portfolio that is and was Karl Rove's.

How is Ed Gillespie, J.C., different from Karl Rove?

WATTS: Well, there is only one Karl Rove.

But I will tell you, if there is a replacement, I'm very comfortable with Ed Gillespie. I think Ed is -- he is an old hand. He's a steady hand on the wheel. He is a vet. He takes the profession seriously. Ed will do very well.

And I hope that -- you know, they have got to worry about the economy. They have got to worry about Iraq. I think, on both fronts, they have got a chance to keep the track...

BRAZILE: And they need to recognize...

(CROSSTALK) KING: Is Ed Gillespie more willing to tell the president, give in on Iraq, make some concessions to your own Republicans, as well as the Democrats?

BRAZILE: I think Ed is willing to tell the president what he needs to know. He's willing to tell the president, we should work with Democrats.

This is an opportunity for Josh Bolten to take over the policy shop. Karl controlled the policy arm of the -- the White House. So, Ed Gillespie has -- I mean, Ed Gillespie, Josh Bolten, they have an opportunity now to work with Democrats and to find some compromise. That is, after all, what the American people want us to do, work together.

(CROSSTALK)

WATTS: But are -- the Democrats want to work with the White House?

KING: Time-out there.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: We will have more later, I'm sure.

J.C. Watts, Donna Brazile, thanks...

(CROSSTALK)

BRAZILE: To be continued.

KING: To be continued. You bet.

And what do you do after you're inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame? If you're Cal Ripken, you head to work for the government. We will tell you about the Iron Man's new gig as a goodwill ambassador and why he says it's all about the kids.

Many Democrats may want to vote for Hillary Clinton, but would they like to sit down and have a cup of coffee with her? Some surprising new poll numbers of the Democratic front-runners' likability and electability.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Baseball's Iron Man, Cal Ripken Jr., has a new job. The Hall of Famer has been appointed a special envoy for the U.S. State Department.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made that announcement today.

Our State Department -- State Department correspondent Zain Verjee joins us now. Zain, what will Ripken be doing as the country's latest goodwill ambassador?

ZAIN VERJEE, CNN STATE DEPARTMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, he will be traveling overseas with a new mission.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VERJEE (voice-over): Batter up. Cal Ripken is playing for a new team, the Bush administration.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: He truly exemplifies America at its best, our aspirations to be a better nation and to help build a better world.

VERJEE: The Baltimore Orioles legend suits up as a goodwill ambassador, stepping up to the plate for America.

CAL RIPKEN JR., FORMER MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL PLAYER: I know that sports is magical. And you can actually break down any sort of barriers.

VERJEE: The U.S. is hoping the baseball great will help improve America's battered image overseas.

KAREN HUGHES, UNDERSECRETARY OF STATE FOR PUBLIC DIPLOMACY AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS: I was hoping a little of that -- the magic that Cal talked about, involved with sports, will rub off on the rest of our public diplomacy efforts.

VERJEE: Among other ambassadorial athletes, skater Michelle Kwan. And American wrestlers went to Iran earlier this year in the midst of a face-off over Iran's nuclear plans.

The U.S. has youth camps teaching science, arts, and sports in 13 predominantly Muslim countries, as well as the West Bank and Gaza.

Ripken is likely to travel to the Middle East. The State Department says it only foots the travel bills of its star envoys.

RIPKEN: I was looking for a baseball salary.

(LAUGHTER)

HUGHES: We don't have those in government.

(LAUGHTER)

VERJEE: One possible handicap, aside from Japan and parts of Central America, baseball is virtually unknown overseas. Even so, Ripken says, the love of sport always breaks the ice.

RIPKEN: You should be received with some warmth and some -- and some openness.

(END VIDEOTAPE) VERJEE: But sporting diplomacy doesn't necessarily always work. Politics tensions do get in the way.

Most famously, the U.S. boycotted the Moscow Olympics after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. More recently, though, the U.S. invited some Iranian wrestlers to come over here, visit, work out, and train at the facilities in the United States. But Iran said, no way -- John.

KING: Zain Verjee.

Ambassador Ripken has a bit of a ring.

(LAUGHTER)

KING: Thank you, Zain.

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