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JOHN KING, USA

Search Crews Ordered Out of West Virginia Mine; Will Stupak Retire?; New Treaty Between U.S., Russia Will Cut Number of Nukes

Aired April 8, 2010 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thanks Wolf, this hour we're expecting important new developments at the scene of that West Virginia mine explosion. We've heard precious little since search crews were ordered out of the mine this morning because of unsafe conditions. Now officials have announced they'll hold a news conference during this hour to let us know if and when the rescue operation can resume. We will take you live to West Virginia as soon as they start.

Diplomatic immunity is a term you hear more in the movies than in real life. And the more we learn about an incident on a United Airlines flight from Washington to Denver last night, the more it sounds like bad fiction, except it isn't. A Qatari diplomat apparently decided the rules didn't apply to him despite what the flight attendants said and the signs in the bathroom say, he decided it was OK for him to have a cigarette. To make matters worse, when confronted, law enforcement sources say the diplomat made an offhand joke that included a reference to a shoe bomb. Not funny. Fighter jets were scrambled. The Denver and other airports were put on alert. In a moment we will show you how all this played out and how you will probably end up paying for it.

Mohammed Al Madadi has diplomatic immunity. So there is no talk of any charges. It was all a misunderstanding, his embassy says. Now add this in. Al Madadi was flying West to visit a man in prison for conspiring to support terrorism, a Qatari citizen who was convicted of being an al Qaeda sleeper cell and doing research on poisonous gases. The Qatari embassy says it was a routine visit to check in on one of his citizens, and embassies all around the world do that. So fair enough. But one would think that an Arab diplomat and one on his way to visit an convicted terrorist would know better than to illegally smoke on a plane and then in post-9/11 America make a joke about a shoe bomb. One would think. There is, though, a happy ending. With a nudge from the State Department, the Qatari embassy has decided it is best to send Al Madadi home. Not soon enough.

Seventy six hours and still waiting, the families of four West Virginia miners still unaccounted for hope to learn this hour that rescue teams have been cleared to resume their search efforts. Those teams went into the upper big branch mine this morning but had to pull out unfortunately because levels of toxic gases were still too high. The explosion took place at 3:00 p.m. Monday. Twenty five miners are confirmed dead, but the families of the four still unaccounted for have been waiting anxiously more than three days now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN STRICKLIN, FEDERAL MINE SAFETY OFFICIAL: It's a roller coaster for these people. It's very emotional. You can only imagine what it would be like.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Officials hope to be able to resume the search this hour and CNN'S Brian Todd is standing by as we wait for the latest update. Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John, we are at a very critical point in this operation. The next few hours will be very, very important. You mentioned within the next half hour we'll get information as to whether those rescue teams have been able to reenter this mine and resume their search for the missing miners. But in the coming hours, overnight and into tomorrow, it's going to be very, very tense around here. The families are going to be just very intensely waiting for word about whether their loved ones have been found and what their condition is. They have got several thousand feet to go inside the mine. They're progressing tonight as we speak. And we're going to learn more information as to whether the dangerous gas levels in the mine have been lowered enough to let those rescue teams advance on foot. It has been a very slow process, a very excruciating process. These next several hours and into tomorrow morning are very critical and we hope to learn more just in the next few minutes as to whether they have been able to progress inside the mine or not.

KING: Brian Todd for us on the scene. And we'll get back to Brian and the rest of our team as soon as developments warrant.

Now we know the tea party movement is a vocal protest movement. But its political clout is still an open question. Its activists mostly opposed the Democratic health care plan, for example, but weren't able to pressure enough members of Congress to vote no. But the tea party movement vows now to be heard this November in the elections. And one prominent target is Congressman Bart Stupak. He's an anti-abortion Democrat whose deal with the White House helped get health care to the finish line. Stupak told us his efforts will keep federal money from paying for abortions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BART STUPAK, (D) MICHIGAN: Those tea party folks know that. I wish they'd take a close look at the positive aspects of this health care legislation. When they do, I think they'll see we've had some great consumer protection. We keep people from filing bankruptcy, we provide quality, affordable access to health care. I think when they look at it and everything calms down a little bit, I bet by the time we're back here in two, two and a half weeks, things will calm down.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: But things are anything but calm in Stupak's Michigan district tonight. Tonight senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash is there as the tea party express rolls through. Hi, Dana. DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, John. Well, we expect the tea party express to be here later this half hour, exactly a half an hour from now. And what you see behind me actually is an opening prayer so I'm speaking quietly as they begin the festivities, which will happen momentarily, in the first of five rallies that the tea party organizers are holding in Bart Stupak's district. And in talking to people here in this sprawling upper peninsula of Michigan as we have, that Bart Stupak represents, it's pretty clear that this is actually ripe for the tea party message. A lot of people here are anti-government, are very worried about high taxes, very worried about high spending. But unlike other Democrats that the tea party is targeting, he certainly has not been vulnerable. Bart Stupak has represented this district for 18 years. He has won by huge margins, 65 and 70 percent. But one thing that's interesting is he is facing some of the same issues other incumbents are this year. He's really getting squeezed. He's not only got this right that is trying to get him and very upset also about the abortion issue, he also has a Democrat from the Left who is challenging him in the Democratic Party, so he definitely has the squeeze w see across the nation. And we have something else that we're watching here and that is Bart Stupak has not even said, John, whether he will run for office again. We're waiting to see whether or not he'll do that. So all of this could be for naught. They said they want to force him into retirement. Bart Stupak may do that on his own, John.

KING: All right Dana we'll check back with you a little later in the program, thanks.

President Obama and his Russian counterpart today signed a major true treaty aimed at making deep cuts in the arsenals of the two biggest nuclear powers. The ceremony was in Prague and Mr. Obama held the agreement as a big step in reducing nuclear weapons worldwide and a big step in showing U.S./Russian relations are on an upswing. That last part could soon face a test as the president's intentions turns to another pressing international challenge. Senior White House correspondent Ed Henry takes us inside Prague's critical private diplomacy. Hey Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, you're right. You know we saw what happened in public but we're learning new information about what happened behind closed doors. There were two meetings scheduled back-to-back, one with just the two presidents and then there was going to be an expanded meeting after that with other officials, like secretary of state Hillary Clinton. All of that was budgeted for about 90 minutes total, both meetings. But we're told by senior U.S. officials that the first meeting, just the two presidents all alone today, lasted about 90 minutes on its own and that's because the substance of what happened is they really started getting into details of potential new U.N. sanctions against Iran to try to stop its nuclear ambitions. They actually started talking about details of a new U.N. resolution. That's significant as well because another potential hurdle that's coming up is that next week President Obama is meeting with the Chinese president in Washington. When he comes to town for a big nuclear security summit. They're hoping some momentum with these talks with the Russian president, getting them potentially to support sanctions, could help move things along with the Chinese, John.

KING: And Ed, as we watch for that summit next week, there's also breaking news tonight that one world leader expected at that summit will not be coming. Fill us in.

HENRY: That's right. A senior U.S. official telling me tonight, John, that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has informed the U.S. after initially suggesting he would come, he's now not coming. And the bottom line is this U.S. official is stressing to me that various governments, about 47 in all, are not sending the head of state so this is not completely unusual. But you know that given the tense relations between the U.S. and Israel recently, this is only going to fuel more speculation about that relationship. Also may raise some questions about really how influential this summit that President Obama is hosting next week will be if you don't have the Israeli prime minister there, given all of the influence in the Mideast there, John.

KING: Ed Henry tonight for us in Prague. Thanks, Ed.

More high-powered witnesses today as the panel investigate the 2008 financial meltdown turned its attention to Wall Street. One top Wall Street executive, former Citigroup, CEO, Chuck Prince opened his testimony with an apology.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHUCK PRINCE, FORMER CHAIRMAN AND CEO, CITIGROUP: Let me start by saying I'm sorry. I'm sorry that the financial crisis has had such a devastating exact on our country. I'm sorry for the millions of people, average Americans, who have lost their homes. And I'm sorry that our management team, starting with me, like so many others, could not see the unprecedented market collapse that lay before us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Another former top Citigroup hand better known in Washington and probably better known to you, Robert Rubin, stopped short of sorry.

ROBERT RUBIN, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY: To almost all of us, including me, who were involved in the financial system, that is to say financial firms, regulators, rating agencies, analysts and commentators, missed the powerful combination of factors that led to this crisis and the serious possibility of a massive crisis. We all bear responsibility for not recognizing this and I deeply regret that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Two key members of the inquiry panel made clear they were less than thrilled with Rubin's testimony.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know that you can have it two ways. You were either pulling the levers or asleep at the switch. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you get paid for if it isn't having some intuition, understanding, knowledge.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: National political correspondent Jesse Yellin is here with today's biggest lesson.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: John, lesson, if you want to make commissioners like these happy, apologize. Robert Rubin as you said, didn't. Repeatedly he was asked why he allowed a company that he advised to sink billions into bad subprime mortgages which helped fuel the meltdown. He made the case that monitoring $40 billion in subprime mortgages was below his pay grade at a company that did a trillion dollars of business a day. He got defensive, pointing out much of the industry failed to see a crisis coming and he said he actually thought companies' checks and balances worked. Now he admits they didn't. Tomorrow we'll get more information about what led to the housing bubble and what caused the government to pour tens of millions of dollars into the nation's largest mortgage providers, John.

KING: Critical issues there as well, Jessica thanks.

Stocks fell this morning but things turned up as the day went on and investors got a look at some upbeat reports from the nation's retailers. The Dow industrials finished almost 30 points higher. One troubling note, 460,000 people filed unemployment insurance claims last week. That's up 18,000 from the previous week.

Let's head over to "The Magic Wall" now to get a sense of what's still to come in the program tonight. When we come back, we'll show you about the case of what we'll call the very expensive cigarette. An Arab diplomat gets on a plane, decides he can light up. It causes briefly a terrorism scare. We'll take you inside that. Our "Most Important Person" tonight that you don't know is the leaker of a viral video that now has the Pentagon rethinking its rules of combat engagement in "Our Play-By-Play" tonight you'll love to watch this, nuclear pen pals. Watch as the presidents of the United States and Russia sign a big nuclear treaty and then debate what to do next. We want to keep you posted, of course, on a developing story. We are waiting for a news conference down at the site of that mine tragedy in West Virginia. An update on whether the rescue operation can resume

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: If you were watching the news or you get breaking news alerts on any of your PDA's you know last night there was a suspected terrorist incident. For a brief moment in time a flight traveling from East to West had a disturbance on board and many thought it could have been terrorism. Let's take a closer look. The flight started here in Washington, D.C., and it was headed out toward Denver. It was a United Airlines flight and it was heading out. Let's bring up the timeline and show you what happened. It took off 5:19 eastern time, flight 663 departs Ronald Reagan. On the way out there was an incident on board the plane so some fighter jets were scrambled at 6:45 mountain time two F16 fighters. An at 6:50 the plane landed in Denver. Police were called in, the fire department was called in, there was a big scene on the runway. We now know what happened, we'll get to that in a minute. But if you were watching last night on the news or if you get tweets from major news organizations, there was all this talk, maybe another shoe bomb incident. Police are investigating an incident on an airplane. Major news organizations tweeting all this out last night. Not long after the plane hit the ground it became clear something had happened on the plane but it was not a terrorism incident. Today at the state department, you have a very unhappy spokesman.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

P.J. CROWLEY, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: We have been in touch with the Qatari ambassador a number of times over the past few hours. Our ambassador in Delha has had conversations with senior leaders in the Qatari government and we expect, you know, this situation to be resolved very rapidly.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So what happened? A Qatari diplomat on his way to Denver decided the rules didn't apply to him. He went into the men's room and had a cigarette. Then when he was confronted with an air marshal, he apparently made some joke that included a reference to a shoe bomb. No one was hurt. That is the key thing here. But guess what, when you scramble two fighter jets, that costs at least $15,000. At least $15,000. That's just the cost of the two F-16s going up in the air. You have the police, the fire, and the other resources on the ground, so the question now is what happened? We do know this diplomat, and we'll bring him up here, let me makes these go away.

The diplomat will not face charges, he has immunity anyway. We'll see him right here Mohammed Al Madadi. He will not face any charges. He could have been charged with smoking during a flight and for making what we'll call an unfortunate comment. He is going home, we are told. What would have happened if this were you or me or somebody like it? Well, we know back in 2001 Michael Lassiter dashed past security guards because he was late to catch a flight to a football game. He spent five weekends, ten days that was his jail sentence and also ordered to do 500 hours of community sentence. Muhammed Abu Tahir (ph) in January of this year allegedly got drunk and was unruly during a flight. He hasn't been sentenced yet but he could face fines between $14,000 and up to $250,000. And you may not remember this name but you all remember Hason Gong (ph) he is the guy who slipped past security ropes to go back and kiss his girlfriend. He delayed and cancelled more than 200 flights. That could have cost more than a million dollars. His penalty, a $500 fine, $158 in court costs and 100 hours of community service. In this case the Qatari diplomat goes home, no charges, still more questions.

When we come back, we're going to look into mine safety. We're expecting a news conference at the bottom of the hour. Officials in West Virginia to tell us what next in the search for those four miners still unaccounted for. We'll take you there live and we'll also continue to explore the safety record of the mine where this tragedy occurred.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: You see a live picture from West Virginia because we're awaiting the start of a news briefing on the search for four missing miners inside the upper big branch south mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. You'll remember an explosion there Monday killed at least 25 miners. Everything we're learning raises new questions about the safety conditions of this mine. And joining us from Denver as we wait, Bob Ferriter, he's a senior safety and health specialist in the mine safety program at the Colorado school of mines. Mr. Ferriter thanks for joining us. I know you have looked through the records of this particular mine, 120 something citations this past year, 500 citations the year before that. You're an expert at this. From looking through the track record of this mine, what is your impression? Is this a solid operator, a safe operator, an unsafe operator, a reckless operator?

BOB FERRITER, SR. SAFETY AND HEALTH SPECIALIST: I think this is a very questionable operator. I don't know that I would say totally reckless, but he certainly is not paying a tremendous amount of attention to safety. If you look at the track record in 2008, he had something like 185 citations and that number more than doubled in 2009. Something happened in that time frame there. Maybe it's a management change, maybe it's more emphasis on production, but there certainly is a question as to why those numbers have citations went up so high. And the man hours were not that much difference that the employees worked. So there is a question there as to the interest and the attention that that operator is paying to safety.

KING: And so when you look at them, some of them are minor infractions, but other citations are for more serious offenses, ventilation issues, coal dust build up, anything that jumped out at you that would lead you to say, wow when I look at that, I see a ticking bomb?

FERRITER: Well, what grabs my attention very quickly is that over the past couple of years he's had 15 citations on his ventilation and six of them were in the last three months. Now, something is happening here in the last three months to draw that many citations in such a short time. Now, for your information, every mine operator has to file a ventilation plan and the regulations are very strict. There has to be so many cubic feet of air delivered to various places in the mine. The gas levels have to be down below -- the methane content has to be down below 1 percent. So my question is if he was getting this many citations, the ventilation system was not delivering that amount of air to those places and I would question if the ventilation system was capable of actually doing what the operator said it was doing and MSHA's citations could validate that question.

KING: And I have a list in my hand of all the citations just this year and it's several pages long. One of the things the governor said today at a briefing this morning startled me. He said that when the rescue crews did get in for a brief period of time before they had to retreat, that some of the bodies were still sitting in the rail carts. The miners were still sitting up in the rail carts as if they were just expecting the normal course of events. The shift coming in rides that cart, the shift coming out rides that cart, but he said that scene, there was no evidence of any alarm, anybody running, anybody trying to get anywhere. When you have an explosion in your experience of this strength, of this depth, would there not have been a methane sense or some gas sensor that should have given them, if only for a second, some warning?

FERRITER: Well, you can install what we call mine-wide monitoring systems and these systems can be located throughout the mine and give you continuous readouts on methane content, carbon monoxide content, et cetera. I do not know if that mine had that. I suspect it probably did not. And that the gas ratings were being done with hand-held monitors. There was obviously a fire boss or a pre- shift inspection before the people went into the mine. If there were high gas concentrations, those should have been done. Those records need to be checked in the book that you're required to record all the gas readings in. But it appears that the explosion just caught the employees by surprise. And you know, if you have explosive mixture of methane, 5 to 15 percent by volume, it doesn't take much of a spark to ignite that. And of course once you ignite the methane, then you take and put the coal dust in the air and if you get another concentration and another spark, then you get a really big explosion. But I would say that there was probably a pretty good buildup of methane in the air when that happened to trigger such a big explosion.

KING: And so that helped me, because this miner is innocent until proven guilty, we need to put that out front and he can contest the citations which allow you to negotiate with the government and usually pay a much lower fine and some get tossed out. I was trying to get the congressman from the district on this last night. When you have a mine that has so many complaints about serious things, like ventilation and the like, where -- at is missing from the safety system to allow a circuit breaker that says innocent until proven guilty, will contest the fines, but we need to stop production there because we have seen enough flashing lights that petrifies us, scars us to the point that something horrible is about to happen. Why is the system missing that circuit breaker?

FERRITER: well, there again that's an MSHA judgment call. MSHA has the authority to shut down any part of any mine at any time or the entire mine. Why this was not done or why there was not special inspections done, why there was not a blitz maybe to take a look at that particular operation, I can't answer that question. MSHA would have to answer that question. But I'm thinking that probably with that number of citations and the questionable status of the ventilation system, especially where you have such -- so many sealed off areas, where those seals could be leaking methane, I would think that probably MSHA should have taken a closer look at what was going on in that mine. Like I say, I can't answer that question why they didn't.

KING: Bob Ferriter, we thank you for your thoughts tonight. We're going to ask you to stay with us. If we hear any developments from this news conference that you can help us with your expertise, we thank you very much. I thank you so much for having a sober view and walking us through this long list of safety violations and how we should interpret it as we look ahead. Thank you very much, sir.

KING: If officials in West Virginia stick to their schedule, and they've been pretty good about it this week, we should be just a few minutes away from this evening's news briefing on the search for the missing miners. It is a very, very important briefing. Four miners still unaccounted for, approaching 77 hours now since the explosion. Their families are waiting. We're waiting for the latest developments. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today's most important person you don't know is somebody we can't name, because we don't know their identity either. It is the as yet unidentified leaker who posted video of U.S. helicopters strafing Baghdad streets back in July 2007. An accident that killed nine people, including two journalists from the Reuters News Agency. The previously classified video showed up Monday on WikiLeaks, which publishes anonymously submitted and sensitive materials. The video then went viral, prompting an explanation from the Pentagon that the helicopter crews had no way of telling the difference between the journalists' long-lens cameras and say an AK-47 and that any group of military-age men could be perceived as insurgents and a threat from a helicopter deck.

You know the old saying about the fog of war? Whoever leaked this video helped clear up at least a bit of that fog and raised a lot of questions. Joining me here in the studios, our political correspondent, Jessica Yellin and out in the upper peninsula of Michigan, our senior congressional correspondent, Dana Bash. Politics in a second, but when a video like this leaks, it's just a reminder that our business has changed so much because of technology and social networking and the like that often, and this is not a bad thing, some of our business don't like it, but often big stories come from different sources.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It takes a little power away from us, because we're not breaking it, but it really does democratize information. It gives so many people so much access, and it makes it harder to be a closed government in some ways.

KING: Let's turn to politics. Dana, you're out in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, that's Bart Stupak's district. It is one of the laboratories in this fascinating political year in which you have all this volatility. You have the tea party. We see them rallying behind you. They tend to be more conservative. They tend to be anti- establishment. They think less of Washington.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's an understatement. I mean, rally is the whole theme of what we're hearing here in the run-up. That's exactly what you're seeing, and you're seeing a lot of signs here not just about voting out Stupak and voting out Obama. The theme is don't tread on me. Specific message to government, anti-government. Stay out of our lives.

YELLIN: And it's one of the reasons that it's sort of hard for this organization to be either Republican party organization tea party because the message "don't tread on me," the message you get when you're out there is a very anti-establishment, anti-party message. And as you know today, Michele Bachmann was on our air saying that the tea party is going to become part of the Republican Party. You just don't get that feeling when you're at these events.

KING: We don't know that, because they don't like organization. They don't want to be part of the establishment, but Dana, it's not just the tea party. Bart Stupak gets it from the right there. But he has a democratic primary challenge, and then again, this is not the only district we see this. It's a fascinating one, but he's a long- term incumbent. Senator Bob Bennett, a Republican out in Utah is getting challenged from the right as well. In this volatile climate, how do the incumbents find their way?

BASH: Seniority. That is what we are hearing more and more from people. Certainly, I have heard it over the past 24 hours talking to people here in the Upper Peninsula, especially people who support Bart Stupak. That is the one thing they say, look, we're frustrated with Washington. Many people here, obviously, are very frustrated with Washington.

But, you know, it's the old saying that they might be frustrated with Washington, but happy about the things that their congressman bring back home. And I want to actually play for you a sound bite from one of Bart Stupak's constituents who actually says that she is concerned about what would happen if there was a freshman in Washington.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

VICKY MUSSELMAN, MICHIGAN VOTER: We have a very oppressed area here and historically it's been that way, and we would never, ever get the representation from anyone else in lower Michigan that we will and that we have from Bart. There's a lot of turmoil, and I think what we need now is somebody -- someone who has some experience.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So, the argument there that incumbency matters. You hope and hope there are more of those people out there, but in this climate, it's just hard to tell, especially when -- and this is what makes this race interesting to me. The tea party movement we have seen, they can be vocal, they can show up in good numbers and they can provide. I don't mean this in any way as a criticism. They provide good political theater, good political drama. The question is can they move votes at the polls. They're now spending money in this district and other districts, and in a sense, they're raising a test for themselves.

YELLIN: That's the big question. So far, where we have seen the tea party weigh in on races that have happened, they haven't made the difference in primaries, so far, but they could. One of the things that I think is fascinating, I think is that this is one of those districts where you're saying you have to actually campaign. You can't just go up on air and make a difference. That's because it's just so -- (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING (voice-over): We're going to stop the conversation right here. We need to go now to West Virginia. This is the governor of West Virginia, Joe Manchin, briefing us on the latest on the mine rescue effort.

GOV. JOE MANCHIN, (D) WEST VIRGINIA: They're saying from MSHA and the companies that are testing all these, they're saying that basically they don't have the margin of safety right now to say that they can go. The number they're trying to reach and consistently hold and trend downward is 4.5. We're hoping that that will happen and hoping that will happen sooner than later. I will tell you that -- see if I have a marker. The two holes, as you know, hole 1 and 2 is done. They're on top, drilling on top of the rescue chamber.

They're starting that drill. They'll be drilling the other hole that they can put the nitrogen down to inert this area, if need be. They're working on that. They're doing -- the other hole is coming right down on top of the other rescue chamber. So, these all are being active right now. Both fans are working in hole 1 and 2 and that's what we're seeing drop those levels, and they're very encouraged by that. They're hoping hopefully that will be in the range as soon as possible.

The rescue teams will be prepared to go as soon as they're allowed to go. They've also or asking -- you heard them talk earlier, they found a roadway to get a small four-wheeler, which is the off roads, so they can get much quicker up into this area, and they're looking for permission to do that. They've applied for that with MSHA. Also, they'll be able to ask them that as they're going in for the rescue, that they can work back here for recovery. So, everything is in place and hopefully everything has trended well enough and when it starts.

They want to make sure because we've all asked the same question. If it's down below five, why can't you go now. We're not in a safety margin to where they're saying they're letting them go because if that 4.7, it might be 5 in some areas, and have to pull them back out. They don't want to repeat what we had happen to us this morning. So, they're going to make sure they have that safety margin and then they tell me that anything from 4.5 and below is what they feel is still a certain amount of a risk, but it's trending in the right direction.

So, with all that being said, that's basically the news we have right now. They're preparing. All the applications are prepared for the new plan to go in and rescue and to recover. We've talked to the families. You can imagine they're very anxious, if you will. It's going on our fifth day here. We're just moving as quickly as we can. We want to bring the loved ones back. So, we're doing everything and everyone is working hard. Yes, sir.

UNKNOWN MALE: When is the earliest you expect they might be able to go back in?

MANCHIN: This is purely speculation, okay. We were going to try to ask for having another briefing and I'll bring everybody down at that time probably in the 10:00 to 10:30 briefing. I would like to bring the news at that time that we have commenced and we're moving. We would like to have that happen. Things are looking good. So, we're moving in the right direction. We're very hopeful.

UNKNOWN MALE: Sir, could you say whether one of the injured miners has been released in the hospital? We've been hearing that.

MANCHIN: I heard that too. I can't confirm it, but I've heard the same as you, but I haven't confirmed that yet.

UNKNOWN MALE: Did you hear it from someone --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING (-on-camera): We've been listening there to Governor Joe Manchin, the governor of West Virginia, and I have to say what he has told us so far is disappointing news. He says that the rescue teams cannot yet go back into that mine, because the methane gas or the toxic gas levels have not been reduced to the point where they believe it is safe enough for the rescue teams to go in. That is critical, because while we know 25 miners were killed, there are four still unaccounted for. This morning the rescue teams got into the mine within 500 or 600 feet of the capsule if, if those four were able to make it into the safety capsule, that is where they would be perhaps.

They need to get back in. They still can't as yet. I want to bring back into the conversation. Bob Ferriter, we were talking to him earlier in the program, a mine safety expert. He's joining us from Colorado. Bob, listening to the governor there, again, this is three days plus going on four hours, almost five hours now since, and he says they need a new plan to find their way in. What does that tell you about this operation?

FERRITER: That tells me that things are pretty bad, OK. If they're going to have to take and reevaluate their plan at this time, they're not getting the gas down as quickly as they should, and in mine rescue efforts, you want to protect the safety of the team because you'll have another ten or 15 people in the mine. You don't want to risk another explosion or anything like that. So, I don't feel very optimistic right now.

KING: And did you get any sense from that of a when the governor was clearly frustrated. He said -- and to the point of when, they drill these holes, and they drill a second hole, and then they drill a third hole. Is there a better way? Obviously, they're trying to go a thousand foot into a mountain side so maybe there isn't a better way, but is there a better way? Should mines be required to have more drills on site?

FERRITER: They could have more drills on site and a lot of mines put holes in the back of the long wall panels where they can exhaust the gases that way, so you don't have to take and bring them back through the mine. So, surface bore holes as strategic locations to aid in ventilation is a practice that is used by many mines. Apparently, this mine doesn't use it. Of course, the deeper you are underground, the more costly it is to drill the holes but having those holes there really improves the ventilation. So that's an option that operators consider all the time.

KING: Bob Ferriter is with the Colorado School of Mines. He's a health and safety specialist. Bob, we thanks for your insights tonight, and before we go to break, I just want to go to the magic wall to illustrate the point Bob was just making. Here's the layout of the mine here where the circle is. This is where the explosion took place and you see the miners have been recovered here. The rescue crews need to come in, and they get their carts into about here, and they were able to get this area this morning.

Again, to within about 500 feet of where the safety capsule could be, the rescue capsule inside the mine here, but they were unable to go deeper in because of the toxic gas. This is the layout here. This is called long haul mining right in here. They need to get back in. We will continue to monitor this development. Clearly frustration on the governor's face and in his voice there and even more so frustration with the families now, this Monday at 3:00 p.m. when this explosion happened. Rescuers yet to be able to go in to see if there's a miracle in the hills of West Virginia. Four miners still unaccounted for. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: One of the more fascinating things about this year's elections is the unpredictability out there. The tea party isn't the only wild card. This year, incumbents are facing challenges from the left, from the right. Joining us to talk about this, Republican strategist and former Mitt Romney presidential campaign spokesman, Kevin Madden. He's now at Jim Dyke & Associates, and Democratic strategist, Maria Echaveste, who served as deputy chief of staff to President Clinton. She's now the with strategic communications firm, MVG. Welcome.

I want to focus on one race. There are a lot of incumbents facing challenges. One of the more interesting ones is Blanche Lincoln in President Clinton's home state of Arkansas. I have (ph) a little Boston accent coming out. She's the chairwoman of the agriculture committee. She has senior standing. She has stature, and yet, she's being challenged from the left. And I want to show you, we can show you the lieutenant governor, Bill Halter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KING (voice-over): I think we have some campaign photos. We can show you Bill Halter campaigning, and he's running. That's Senator Lincoln there, the incumbent. She's trying to be re-elected and the Democratic organizations that you would think would help an incumbent senior member who can bring things home to the state, No. let's listen to an AFL-CIO phone bank right here saying don't vote for Blanche Lincoln.

UNKNOWN MALE: We're asking for your support for Bill Halter for senate this time. We're not supporting Blanche Lincoln. And we're hoping we can count on your support on the 18th. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Maria, we watched the tea party and the pressure it's putting on the right. Why are we seeing more and more examples of this?

MARIA ECHAVESTE, FORMER CLINTON DEP. CHIEF OF STAFF: I think it's obvious that we've got both parties having to deal with a spectrum of ideology. It's not one ideology, and I think with Blanche Lincoln, she is in a state that is one of those bellwether, swing, lots of red voters, conservative values, and I think there are a lot of people who are very, very angry that the health care vote was so, so hard, and they're angry at Blanche for making it so hard.

KING: You say angry at Blanche. Now, Kevin listen to Blanche Lincoln explaining herself. Remember, this is in a primary elector where the ideological voters tend to turn out. Here's how Blanche Lincoln describes herself as she's campaigning.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. BLANCHE LINCOLN, (D) ARKANSAS: Arkansans are very pragmatic, main street, middle of the road kind of people. They want results, and so, I guess that's one of the reasons you find that I'm right there in the middle. I'm one of the moderates in Washington. I believe in getting results, and I believe in working hard to get where we need to be in this country. And I don't think you get there by, you know, catering to the extremes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MADDEN, EXEC. V.P., JIM DYKE & ASSOCIATES: Boy, that is like a script for an incumbent. You know, moderate is not a good word right here now when you're in a primary. I can't help but think, though, she's trying to -- Senator Lincoln is trying to strike a more populous tone in order to compete with Bill Halter. But it's just not in her style, usually, to go out there and be very hot so she's trying to hit it just right. And by trying to hit it just right, it might be a little bit too cool for a lot of those primary voters down there.

KING: He talks about her tone. I want you to listen to Lieutenant Governor Halter, who is using a word campaign style that we're going to hear a lot of, which I'll call it populism.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LT. GOV. BILL HALTER, (D) ARKANSAS: I believe that one of the biggest impediments to continuing to do that is these special interest groups that I've been talking about. That stand in the way of the changes that we would like to see. People want to define this race as a left-right race and all this other stuff. That's not what this is about, at least for me. This is about who's going to stand up for average, middle class Arkansans against special interests when the time is necessary to do it. That why I'm running.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Now, he doesn't mention Senator Lincoln there, but that's who he's running against at the moment. So, I guess he's saying she's the special interest --

ECHAVESTE: And it's so unfortunate, because honestly, she's in a tough race that has to do with the fact that she does come up from a state that is moderate conservative. That she's trying to strike that balance. And it's so easy to paint everything as special interests when, in fact, everybody has an agenda. I think what we found in the health care debate was that it was really hard to get some people on both sides to find -- to say we're going to compromise, and the fact that the vote ultimately in the House was as close as it was is what frightens me.

It shouldn't have been that close. And it just shows how divided we are. And someone like Blanche Lincoln who, otherwise, has some terrific -- she stands. She's a good Democrat. Maybe on this, she shouldn't have been so hard to get.

KING: This will be one of those great races. Sometimes, primaries give you tougher candidates for the general election. Sometimes, primaries give you bruises that don't heal. We'll get a sense here. Stay right here, folks. Next in the play-by-play, a look at today's nuclear pen pals.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

UNKNOWN MALE: Here comes the "play-by-play."

KING: Back for the "play-by-play." Republican strategist, Kevin Madden and Democratic strategist, Maria Echaveste. Major diplomacy, assigning ceremony in Prague, the Czech Republic. I want you to watch the video of the Russian president and the U.S. president.

Here we go. They're going to sign the treaty. They got this part figured out. Now what? I guess we put them away. So, I guess these events, you have been part of these events. They're scripted up to when you finish your name and then you don't know what to do.

ECHAVESTE: Right. Right. The fact that we're looking at this, really, come on, this is a big deal. This is a huge big deal.

MADDEN: I'm sorry. It reminds me at the end of the movie "Moon Struck" when they say, somebody tell a joke. They don't know what to say, but it is a big deal. The treaty is a big deal. The nuclear posture review is going to be a controversial deal. These are two guys who are trying to put together a relationship that was frayed (ph) at the end of the Bush administration.

ECHAVESTE: But it also reflects that you forget that the camera is still on you, right? And you're supposed to cut away once you sign.

MADDEN: Maybe they were looking around for that deal (ph), reset button that they were talking about. KING: So, here's a guy looking for a reset button. He's playing in the first round of the Masters right now, Tiger Woods, and we can show you some pictures. He shot a four under par 68 today. So, here's a guy who's reacting well to pressure. A lot of pressure on Tiger Woods. He comes back a four under par 68, his first tournament back after, just call it, you know what. He's in a tie for seventh place.

MADDEN: I keep saying it over and over, the one thing that's going to really change people's opinion of Tiger and help them hit the reset button again is a win at the Masters. Even a top 5 is going to make you pull. This is, again, a golf story. It's no longer a personal story.

KING: Are you a golf fan.

ECHAVESTE: Not at all.

KING: Do you follow the Tiger drama, though?

ECHAVESTE: No, I'm not interested. I just -- I don't.

KING: That's why we want to know your opinion here. Kevin, Maria, thanks so much for coming in.

Next "Pete on the Street" with more his take on the Tiger Woods come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Let's check in now with Campbell Brown for a sense of what's coming up at the top of the hour. Hi, Camp.

CAMPBELL BROWN, HOST: Hey there, John. In the wake of President Obama signing the stark treaty today, we are looking at a very different and very frightening nuclear threat. What could happen to Washington or New York if terrorists got their hands on a nuclear weapon. We're going to ask New York City Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, how safe he believes our cities are. This is the focus of a new documentary right now.

And then on a very different note, the day that sports fans they've been waiting for, Tiger Woods, of course, as you've been talking about returns to professional golf. He finished his first round at the masters just a little while ago and spoke to reporters, John, just minutes ago. We're going to have a live report from Augusta as well. That and all the big top stories for today at the top of the hour -- John.

KING: See you in a few minutes.

Now, this is where normally I would go out to "Pete on the Street," but Pete apparently is just off the golf course. He's in studio. I don't know what to do.

PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING, USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: Yes, I was in Boston last night. I wanted to come to D.C. I wanted to see you. I wanted to be in person. I wanted to find out that you aren't a hallow gram, and you aren't, and I wanted to talk golf, and people, do they care or do they not care? Do they forgive tiger? Is it important to them? We went out and asked golfers and everybody else.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DOMINICK: Yes! Oh, that actually didn't make it off the platform.

Why are people more willing to forgive Tiger Woods for his philandering than politicians?

UNKNOWN MALE: Clearly, you know, the most talented player out there.

DOMINICK: Player can mean many different things. Just very talented player.

Just kids here look up to him.

UNKNOWN MALE: I didn't really look up to athletes.

DOMINICK: Who did you look up to? Bob Vila?

Do you care more if it's a politician than the most famous golfer?

(INAUDIBLE)

DOMINICK: Do to me what you do to your husband if he cheated on you.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Turn the camera off.

DOMINICK: What would you do if you're his wife?

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Kick him to the curb.

UNKNOWN FEMALE: I definitely agree with that.

DOMINICK: Do you forgive Tiger Woods.

UNKNOWN MALE: He hasn't done anything.

DOMINICK: What?! What are you talking about?! He cheated. He had 70 affairs. Who cares?! His wife, America, the PGA, Nike, my wife is very upset.

UNKNOWN MALE: My wife is also upset.

DOMINICK: Okay.

UNKNOWN MALE: But guess what? We are men.

DOMINICK: What if this ball cheated on you? UNKNOWN MALE: I would probably forgive it and hit it as hard as I possibly could.

DOMINICK: Do you forgive Tiger Wood?

UNKNOWN FEMALE: I completely forgive Tiger.

DOMINICK: Really?!

UNKNOWN FEMALE: He makes a mistake but --

DOMINICK: What if it was a politician? What if the politician doing this, you know, cheating? Is that a bigger deal?

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Yes.

DOMINICK: Would you vote for somebody if he was just honest during the campaign and said I'm only going to have one to three affairs?

UNKNOWN FEMALE: Yes.

UNKNOWN MALE: I like Bill Clinton.

DOMINICK: You like Bill Clinton, why?

UNKNOWN MALE: Yes, I like men that like women. I don't like men that like war.

DOMINICK: They like war?

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: How did your swing work out?

DOMINICK: I'm horrible at golf.

KING: It's like you kind of keep your feet.

DOMINICK: Let me ask you a question, you're not playing like (ph) golf, sport or not a sport?

KING: Golf is a sport. I'll tell you more of that. I'll work on your swing with you. Campbell Brown starts right now.