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THE SITUATION ROOM

"Top Kill" Under Way in the Gulf

Aired May 26, 2010 - 18:00   ET

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


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Here in THE SITUATION ROOM, happening now: breaking news, the single most critical effort to stop the oil leak devastating the Gulf of Mexico is now underway. But the so-called top kill procedure has never been tried this far under water. Success is far from certain.

If it fails, pressure on the White House will certainly grow. One lawmaker now wants the U.S. military put in charge. Senator Bill Nelson is standing by to join us this hour to explain why.

And dramatic, new details are surfacing of the hours leading up to that rig explosion and the warning signs of the disaster that would follow.

We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(MUSIC)

BLITZER: The next few hours will be critical -- the most critical yet in the Gulf oil disaster. B.P. is now trying to seal that gushing well with mud and concrete in a procedure known as top kill. It's seen by some as the last, best hope to stop the leak. But company officials conceded it has at best -- at best -- a 70 percent chance of success.

CNN's David Mattingly is following all of this for us in Louisiana. He's at the command center right now.

David, give us the latest. Are we getting indications of success or failure?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No indication whatsoever either way right now, Wolf. We just talked to B.P. public relations officials. They haven't received any word.

Everybody here at the command center waiting to find out what kind of development there is so that they can come forward and give us all the details.

But for right now, everyone waiting to see how this procedure goes, in which they're essentially going to try and drown this well with heavy fluid being pumped in under very high pressure to counteract the pressure of that oil that's erupting from the bottom. They hope to be able to push that oil back down and then seal it off with cement -- a temporary solution to this ongoing problem.

BLITZER: What happens next if this fails, David?

MATTINGLY: If this doesn't work, B.P. has a number of other options in the wings that are prepared and ready to go. The one they're talking about using is actually sheering off that broken pipe at the top of the blowout preventer down at the bottom. That's where all the oil has been leaking out from that pipe in a couple of locations. They're talking about cutting that pipe off and then putting a variation of a containment dome on top of that pipe.

So, without going into further engineering details, what's different about that is they're trying to catch the oil and not stop it. So, that would be a variation on what they're trying right now which is to actually stop the flow of oil so that they can drill that containment well and seal this off permanently.

BLITZER: And I just want to be precise with our viewers around the world, David. If this fails, it could even potentially -- and we hope it doesn't -- make matters worse.

MATTINGLY: That's always the thing that they've been worried about with every proposal that they've looked at. And if this fails, it could, the possibility exists that they could create a larger spill of oil into the Gulf. They could have miscalculated the pressure. They could have miscalculated the integrity of the blowout preventer where they're pumping all that pressure liquid into.

Any sort of mistake here could make things worse, and that is what they've been always trying to avoid. That's why they went with this procedure, thinking that there was less risk, and they knew what to do better than they might be able to do with something else.

BLITZER: David Mattingly is on the scene for us at the command center.

We're watching and waiting as these hours tick by.

Sources, meanwhile, are telling CNN that many members of the Obama administration are watching those live pictures as well, waiting to see if the top kill operation works. If not, the president will likely face more pressure to take direct action.

Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida is among those who say the U.S. military perhaps should be put in overall charge if B.P. can't stop the leak and can't stop it right away. He's joining us live from Capitol Hill, along with our national security contributor, Fran Townsend, and our senior political analyst, David Gergen. They're here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Are you getting any indication, Senator Nelson, that this top kill operation is working?

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: Prayerfully, we are hopeful. But we don't know any more than what you know. And, you know, if this doesn't work and they have to go to that thing that David was just talking, about cutting off the riser pipe right at the wellhead, then, of course, all of that oil is going to be gushing out. They better figure out how they're going to get that top down over it or otherwise the thing is going to gush all the more -- because at least that riser is crimped now where it falls over and not all of the oil is gushing out that could be coming out that pipe.

BLITZER: We certainly hope that doesn't happen.

You caused quite a stir, Senator Nelson, by suggesting maybe the U.S. military should take charge of this. Why would the military, the U.S. military, be better suited to deal with this issue than the oil experts at B.P.?

NELSON: Because it hasn't worked. And if this one doesn't work and we've got to wait another two to three months until August and all that oil is going to gush out and basically cover up the Gulf, then we better take the organization that has the capability of bringing in all the resources as it did after the First Gulf War when there was four inches of oil on top of the Gulf that Saddam Hussein had uncorked all of those tankers. We better use that and unleash the ingenuity of America to see if there's some way of stopping this gusher.

BLITZER: All right. Let me bring Fran Townsend and David Gergen into this conversation. Senator, don't go away.

Fran, is the U.S. military, based on your experience as a former White House homeland security adviser to President Bush, better suited to deal with this than what's going on right now?

FRAN TOWNSEND, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: I don't think so, Wolf. Look, we have extraordinary capability in the United States military. The situation at the depth of 5,000 feet in the U.S. Gulf is quite different than the situation with the oil in the Persian Gulf after the Gulf War that Senator Nelson refers to.

And we've got to get out of the habit, Wolf -- this is a tragic catastrophe. But we've got to get out of the habit -- you know, we've got troops committed in Afghanistan and Iraq, we've got security concerns in places like Yemen and Somalia, not to mention Iran and North Korea. It cannot be every time this nation faces a crisis we turn -- we say the only capability and we're going to call on them is the U.S. military. This is not a mission for which they are resourced. And it is not a mission that they anticipated having to respond to.

BLITZER: Well, let me get Senator Nelson to react to that.

And, Senator Nelson, specifically if the military can't do it, I suspect you believe the military can. Fran is skeptical about that. There is what's called the Department of Homeland Security. Aren't they supposed to be in charge of things like this?

NELSON: Well, the president ought to take charge, and he ought to name whomever. If he doesn't want the U.S. military, then there's got to be a solid figure like a retired General Colin Powell, someone that can get in. It's true, we've got a war in Afghanistan. And we've got a war in Iraq, but we've got a war in the Gulf of Mexico now. And we've got to get this thing stopped.

BLITZER: I'm anxious to hear what David Gergen thinks about this -- because you served under four presidents in the White House. And there is a crisis right now, an enormous crisis.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: I agree with Senator Nelson on this. And I was at the Pentagon this afternoon, Wolf, and had many conversations about this. They're not looking for work over there. They will tell you upfront, we don't have the capability to go down 5,000 feet below the ground to do like this. Fran's absolutely right about that.

What they do have is they're enormously good at coordinating things. They're enormously good at taking big projects and coordinating them. And to me the analog might well be the Manhattan Project in which we had General Leslie Grove who actually coordinated and ran. But he had to go out and get Robert Oppenheimer and all these scientists to figure out how to make it. You know, the military couldn't do it. But it was a great combination that succeeded.

And here it's -- it does seem to me that if this top kill fails, the president has to take charge of this. He does need to bring -- have somebody who -- there's no point person in the administration. I think there's no -

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: We have Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant, who is the federal official in charge.

GERGEN: But is he really in charge or is Ken Salazar in charge, or is there somebody? Is Rahm Emanuel trying to run this out of the White House? Is the president trying to run it? I can't tell. And I'm sure as heck I think the American people can't tell.

BLITZER: Well, one final question to you, Senator Nelson, who's in charge from your perspective right now?

NELSON: Well, I think David Gergen has made the case very eloquently. The president has got to name his person so that everybody knows that this is the person that is going to bring all the resources to solve this problem.

BLITZER: Al right. We're going to continue to watch this story.

Senator Nelson, thanks very much.

Fran, David, don't go too far away.

We're going to have a lot more on the breaking news that's coming up.

Also, our CNN contributors James Carville and Mary Matalin, they've just gone on a boat tour with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. They're seeing the devastation firsthand. They are outraged by what they're seeing. We're going to hear from them. Stand by.

And a survivor of the rig explosion that started it all shares some dramatic details of the deadly blasts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The first explosion basically threw me up against the control panel that I was standing in front of, and a hole opened up underneath me. And I fell down into the hole.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news this hour: the new effort to seal that leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico through a procedure known as top kill. The crude continues to soil the water and the land in the meantime.

Our CNN political contributor James Carville and Mary Matalin, they received an up-close look at what's going on. They joined CNN's Anderson Cooper and the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal on that boat tour and then they spoke about it just a little while ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I am an admirer and supporter of the president, and I hope that when he comes Friday, that he goes to see what's actually happening in the marsh.

And what's really happening out there is nothing. It's -- the silence, you could have been in Antarctica. There were no boats. There were no activity. There was no anything. It was like we were right at the mouth of the river, the most sensitive, most important wetland probably in the world.

And re-emphasize what Billy just said, you can see how these rows of cane -- I call it Johnson grass on steroids -- you can see how stressed it is, and it's gone. And we went behind, we went this there, and saw it -- my wife brought some with me.

And when people -- this is not oil, this is crude. This is not WD-40. This is not 3-In-One. This is not what you put in your car. This is some of the most vicious stuff that you can imagine.

And I think when the president comes and has the opportunity to see just how stressed and how bad this is and how little activity there is, I think we're going to a change in these marshes. And I think we're going to see a change quickly.

Honey, did you -- do you want to say anything?

MARY MATALIN, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I don't want to say anything. I just want to make this point, too. This is not salad oil. This is everybody who has anything to do with this that could have any capacity to o help clean it up need to stick their hands in this stuff and need to think what it would be like to be coated with this -- anybody who has any ability to help, go out there and touch this stuff.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: They are really, really angry right now as a lot of folks in Louisiana are. We're going to get back to this story.

The president has just returned to Washington as well from San Francisco. He did some fundraisers for Barbara Boxer, the Democrats out there. Stand by for that.

Lisa Sylvester, in the meantime, is monitoring other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What do you have, Lisa?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, a new deadly outbreak of violence in Thailand in an area hit by separatist insurgents. Police say two bombs hidden in motorcycles exploded outside a car dealership in the southern province of Yala. The second explosive went off as police cordoned off the scene. Two people were killed and more than 50 hurt. Police say a 20-year-old man was gunned down in a separate attack nearby.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is defending its practice of providing medical supplies and first aid training to the Taliban in Afghanistan. The organization raised eyebrows in the United States and Afghanistan after disclosing its workers trained over 70 members of the armed opposition last month. The Red Cross officials say they are required to provide humanitarian assistance to all sides in a conflict.

And for the first time in more than three months, the Dow closed below the 10,000 mark. Stocks were up as much as 135 points in the afternoon trading, but late in the day, fears about a slide in the euro led to a 70-point loss.

And Facebook is simplifying and beefing up its privacy controls after hearing an earful from users upset their personal information was being made public. The changes will start rolling out today will allow users to block all information from third parties with one click of the mouse. Users will also be able to choose whether they want their information shared with everyone with friends and their friends are only with their friends -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I hope they simplify it because if you ever go there and try to read all that stuff, it's very, very complicated.

SYLVESTER: Yes, it's supposed to be one click of the mouse, easy and done. So, I'm going to try and check it out soon.

BLITZER: Thanks very much for that, Lisa. The catastrophic blast that led to the massive oil spill in the Gulf. There's a new report, and it shows there were several warning signs trouble is brewing on the rig before the deadly explosion. We have details coming in.

Also this -- 10 suicides at one company in just a matter of a few months. It's a crisis executives say they're tackling, but it just gets worse and worse.

Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A critical new effort to cap that gushing oil well in the Gulf of Mexico is underway right now, perhaps the last best hope of stopping the flow of crude now covering vast stretches of the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

CNN's Rob Marciano just got an up-close look at the disaster -- Rob.

ROB MARCIANO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we went out today with the National Wildlife Federation and five other boats filled with scientists. And our mission was two-fold. One, to go out there and get samples of the waters/oil/dispersant for testing, and also get as close to that rig as possible to witness at least partially the top kill operation. Well, weather didn't allow for that, so we couldn't get all the way out to the -- to the spill site.

But we didn't have to go very far to get into the oil. First, we hit the sheen a couple of miles off the mouth of the Mississippi River. And that sheen turned into a bit of a slightly thicker layer. We've started to see some wildlife rolling through there, a crab was having a hard time. We saw a shark swimming, disoriented, through thick oil.

And then we really got into some disturbing stuff. The thickest oil that I certainly have seen so far, and seeing it up close and personal was -- was definitely eye opening. You can see it from our video from the air, but seeing it, touching it, it is just remarkable.

The stuff we saw, very thick, very dark brown, in some cases, black, didn't seem to be very weathered at all. Certainly wasn't hit with dispersants. And it looked like -- at least to me -- like it was fresh out of the ground. And this seemingly went on for miles.

Our boats were completely caked in this stuff. And we really couldn't go any farther. Just being on that rocking boat, it kind of felt like it was a little bit more of a gentle rocking motion, more like you were in Jell-O as opposed to the open seas. That oil definitely has an effect just on the top layer of the water and certainly well below.

And we did pick up one dead eel. And you better believe there's more dead wildlife underneath that oil.

Certainly a disturbing sight just about 12 miles east of the mouth of the Mississippi -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Rob Marciano on the scene for us, team -- part of our team of reporters covering this disaster.

It's the deadly rig explosion that triggered the Gulf oil disaster.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was just complete mayhem, chaos. People were scared. They were crying. I heard later that some were jumping overboard.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: A survivor recounts gripping, new details of a night of horror.

Plus, a group of Republican senators is seeking a special prosecutor right now to investigate the Obama White House. What's going on? We have details.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: These are critical hours right now. That top kill procedure is underway. We should know fairly soon whether or not it succeed or fails. We're watching this very, very closely.

No one is more concerned than our own James Carville, who's on the phone with us right now.

James, you and your wife, Mary Matalin, had a chance to go out with the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, and see the disaster up close. I know you've seen it from afar. But tell our viewers what you saw, what you didn't see.

CARVILLE (via telephone): Well, we went to the mouth of the Mississippi River. It's called Pass a Loutre, the way it probably should be said.

And the stunning thing is, is what we saw was two things. Number one, we saw like devastating oil spill in the marsh. You could just see how the marshes were dying. And I was told by the head of the Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries that that meant we were going to lose all that life.

The second thing that you saw was absolutely nothing. There was no activity at all. There was nobody out fishing. There were no people cleaning up. There were no -- there was no Coast Guard, there was nothing. It was -- it was almost like you were in Antarctica.

And that is, you know, should be this time of the year should be one of the most busy times, which is probably the best fishing in the United States out there. But there's no government. There's no anything. And it was just -- it was stunning to see how desolate and how -- I can't say little is being done, nothing is being done down there. Nothing.

BLITZER: We spoke with the president of the Plaquemines Parish. He was with you, Billy Nungesser. And he was outraged at the Obama administration, the federal government, let alone B.P., specifically though the commandant of the Coast Guard, now retired, just had a change of command yesterday, Admiral Thad Allen, who's highly respected as you well know -- one of the distinguished Coast Guard leaders for many, many years. And he's just complaining that he doesn't feel that Thad Allen, the Coast Guard, are doing enough.

I want to know how you feel about that.

CARVILLE: Well, yes. First of all, Admiral Allen is one of the really true heroes of Hurricane Katrina. I mean, as I was listening -- I don't -- they starting to feel like that B.P. -- I think there's real angst at B.P. and that his point is -- and I don't know if it's true, but it's certainly his point -- is that the Coast Guard is deferential to B.P.

I think that this administration thinks that -- if it thinks it's partnership with B.P., I think that's (INAUDIBLE) -- now, bottom line: I think if the president comes on Friday and he goes in those marshes, I think that we're going to see that the United States government spring into action in a way we're not going to believe. I just really do think that the advice that the president is getting that somehow or other that B.P. wishes him or this country well is seriously in error.

BLITZER: Are you saying that the president of the United States has not been informed about this disaster appropriately, James?

CARVILLE: I really don't think that he has because I think when he comes down, and I hope he doesn't just go to Grand Isle where B.P. knows that everybody is going and knows where the press is, and they go out in the marshes and see the destruction and see how vile the stuff is, I think -- I think the president is going to be one -- I think he's going to be one angry puppy here.

And I think -- I think he does care, Billy Nungesser said this, and everybody does -- people in Louisiana, you know, want this president down here. They want him to what's going on. You know, they -- almost flummoxed here that we haven't had more action.

But we really need this president's help. And I think -- I think we're going to get when he comes down on Friday.

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: So, who do you blame, James? If you believe the president of the United States has been derelict and not up to this mission, at least, so far, who's to blame?

CARVILLE: Well, I don't -- that's it. I don't want to say derelict and not up to the mission. I think -- and I don't know. I think that BP -- my only -- my sense is I don't know that this is true, but I think BP lobbyists or BP people who are paid by BP have convinced some people in the administration that they're partner.

One of the things that I would like to see -- I think that the press, I think we ought to demand a list of all of the lobbyists and all of the PR people that are on BP's payroll because I think that they are -- they are giving assurances to people in our government that are not being -- not being kept up.

And that's what I really believe. I don't think this president has been sufficiently informed as to the magnitude of this disaster and to the consequences of it. And I think when he comes down here, he knows -- I think some heads are going to roll.

They need some -- some people have, I think, poorly advised this president. Now who they are, I don't know. If I did, I would name them. I promise you. But he is getting some advice here and I think that the Cabinet secretary needs to get out in these marshes and see the devastation and see how little is being done out there. I really do.

BLITZER: James and his wife Mary Matalin together with Anderson Cooper and others, they went out with the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal --

CARVILLE: Right. And Wolf --

BLITZER: -- to see this disaster. You want to make another point, James?

CARVILLE: Yes, one point. Anderson has some video tonight. And anybody that has any interest in this or their country should watch it because you're going to see stuff that you're not going to believe in terms of how bad this stuff is and also the -- the thundering silence, the inactivity out there.

BLITZER: All right. James, I know you're going to be with Mary on "JOHN KING, USA" at the top of the hour as well.

This is a breaking story, and the stakes, as I've been saying, are clearly enormous.

And as we follow the breaking news in the Gulf of Mexico where BP is trying what may be, may be the last, best chance of stopping the oil disaster through this procedure called top kill.

They are ultimately trying to seal the well with cement. Not easy by any means. It's underway right now. We should know within hours whether it succeeds or fails.

At the same time, we're learning some disturbing, new details of the hours leading up to the disaster and some critical warning signs ahead of the explosion and fire that killed 11 people.

CNN's Brian Todd is working that part of the story for us -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there are several new indications of warning signs on that rig hours before the explosion which could have flagged the dangers. The timeline comes from the House Energy and Commerce Committee which is investigating the incident. The committee got the information from BP.

Now as early as 5:05 p.m. on April 20th -- this is almost five hours before the blast -- officials on the rig noticed an unexpected loss of fluid in the riser pipe. Suggesting that there were leaks in the blow-out preventer.

Just before 8:00 p.m., two hours before the explosion, roughly we're thinking about 7:50 p.m., during negative pressure testing of the well and pipe system, the system took on more liquid than expected.

At the same time, there were indications that the drill pipe had failed the negative pressure test, indicating, quote, "a very large abnormality." But at 7:55 p.m., after monitoring some of the pipes, the rig team was satisfied that the test was successful and started displacing the remaining fluids in the pipes with sea water.

That triggered even more warning signs, and those all came the hour before the explosion.

9:00 p.m., approximately -- this is about 50 minutes before the blast -- more fluid began flowing out of the well than was being pumped in. 9:10 p.m., roughly 40 minutes before the explosion, the pump was shut down for a test. But the well continued to flow instead of stopping and drill pipe pressure also unexpectedly increased.

Around 9:30 p.m. -- this is about 18 minutes before the blast -- the pressure continued, and mud started coming out of the well. Workers quickly shut down the pipes. The crews desperately tried to control the pressure, but they could not.

At some point they triggered the blow-out preventer, it failed. And the explosion blew apart the rig shortly before 10:00 p.m.

And we have dramatic timeline now of what happened then. This comes from Douglas Brown, a chief mechanic for Transocean. He was on board the Deep Water Horizon when it exploded.

Brown testified today at a hearing in Louisiana conducted by the Coast Guard and the Minerals Management Service. He said just before the explosion he heard a really loud noise. What sounded to him like an air leak. He said gas alarms went off then the power went out.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUGLAS BROWN, CHIEF MECHANIC, TRANSOCEAN: And right on into that was the first explosion. And first explosion basically threw me up against the control panel that I was standing in front of. And a hole opened up underneath me, and I fell down into the hole, into the subfloor where all the cable trays and wires are located.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Brown says he then tried to get up and a second explosion occurred.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And I ended up falling back down into the hole, and the ceiling caved in on top of me at this point. After that, I was wondering if there was going to be more explosions, and I started hearing people screaming and calling for helps that they were hurt. They needed to get out of here.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Douglas Brown says he and another man were able to get out of that area. He says they went to the deck and the bridge, were told there to get on the life boats.

Here's the scene he described waiting at his life boat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: It was just complete mayhem. Chaos. People were scared. They were crying. I heard later that some were jumping overboard.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Finally, Brown says the order was given to man the lifeboats. A questioner asked him if a roll call was taken on his lifeboat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: It was completely chaotic. And the person who was taking the muster at the time was so dazed and in shock that he was having trouble finding people's names on the list. And that really stuck out in my mind because it -- this was a man who has known me for nine years, and he could not even remember my name.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP)

TODD: Brown says he was then taken to the support vessel, the Bankston (ph), then airlifted out. Brown was asked if there were VIPs from BP on board the rig at the time. He said, yes, they were there to congratulate the crew on a good safety record -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brian Todd, thanks very much.

Take a look at this live picture we're getting. And Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, he's getting ready to speak with reporters. There he is right now. He's just been miked. I guess he's going to make a statement on top kill, the procedure that's underway right now.

As soon as he starts, as soon as he's ready, we'll hear what he has to say. Let's listen.

TONY HAYWARD, BP CEO: I just left a control room full of incredibly committed professional people doing an extraordinary job. The operation is proceeding as we planned it. Stephen Chu, the secretary, and I have been working together since we started the operation several hours ago. I'm sure many of you have been watching the plume. All I can say is that it's unlikely to give us any real indication of what is going on. Either increases or decreases are not an indicator of either success or failure at this time.

We will be continuing for at least another 24 hours, and it will be 24 hours before we know whether or not this had been successful. And as I said, so far, we are proceeding to plan, and there's a great team of people doing extraordinary things to plug this leak as quickly as we can.

BLITZER: All right, so there he is. Tony Hayward, the CEO of BP, saying so far it's working. He says proceeding to plan. He says he just came from the command center, the president's energy secretary, Stephen Chu, is on the ground. He's a Nobel Prize winner in physics. He knows, obviously, a lot about this.

He says it could take another 24 hours or so before we know for sure. The plume continues, the oil continues to gush from that well. He says don't necessarily draw any conclusions based on the level of that explosion that continues to go forward, but he's saying they're watching it very, very closely.

We'll stay on top of the breaking news. Much more coming up right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The top kill operation is underway right now, but the oil is still gushing, still going forward. We just heard from the CEO of BP saying it could take another 24 hours to determine whether this succeeds or fails.

John King is here. He's going to have a lot more on this breaking news coming up at the top of the hour. But, you know, it was interesting, even as the -- we were listening to this update from the CEO of BP, the president of the United States lands on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base.

He's just back from a fundraiser out in San Francisco for Barbara Boxer, some other Democrats. This is not the kind of picture that officials at the White House think the American public should be seeing right now, given the enormity of this crisis.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": It's a very delicate balancing act for the president because he said today at an economy event that they scheduled after the two fundraisers out in California that they've got a full team on this.

And the CEO of BP just said Stephen Chu, the energy secretary, is right there in the control room. But it is the president who is responsible for the country at a time of crisis like this. And many are saying -- and you've heard it from our own contributors, James Carville down there. You heard the call for, you know, Thad Allen to resign.

There's a lot of pressure on the president because people simply don't trust BP and they see the devastation spreading. And they're like, so why won't the federal government take a more commanding role?

But there are no good options for the federal government, Wolf, as you know. They don't have the equipment. They're reliant on BP to do this. At the same time because there's a sense of drift and a sense of mistrust here, a lot of people are saying, Mr. President, why don't we see more of you hands on here.

The White House would say that's unfair. That he's being briefed all the time but -- he's going back there on Friday for a reason. They know that the American people increasingly see this as a crisis and they want to see their president in charge of it.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's sort of unfair to pin the blame on Thad Allen, the now-retired commandant of the Coast Guard, the admiral who's been this charge technically over the past weeks. He's a very distinguished -- got a wonderful career record as the -- at the Coast Guard for decades.

But to now say, as we heard from the Plaquemines County president and others, you know what, he's been a disaster. The -- you know, he hasn't been a disaster, there's limits to what he can do.

KING: Well, the number one thing is we need to try to see what happens first with this top kill operation. The number one priority is plug the leak and see what happens. Then the accountability will kick in.

To call for somebody to resign is a big step. There are a lot of emotions down there. The economy is being devastated. The ecosystem is being devastated. Communities and a way of life are being challenged and threatened here.

There are a lot of complaints, though, Wolf, and Governor Jindal said them earlier that when you go to the Coast Guard for a decision down there, they say they have to kick it up the chain of command.

So there are a lot of complaints about -- to Thad Allen and the White House saying you have too much of your bureaucracy in place. We need one person. When we call that person has to be able to make a decision because we need a decision fast.

So there is some criticism of Admiral Allen. Should that be a call for resignation? I think the best thing for everyone to do -- and it's hard for the people in the community like the parish president because this is his community -- is to try to turn the volume down a little bit and deal with those kind of questions after we get through the immediate part of it.

BLITZER: I know Thad Allen, known him for many years, going back to Katrina and even earlier, he's a very, very honorable guy. He's doing the best he can under really awful circumstances. Quickly on this effort by Republicans in the Judiciary Committee right now to call for an independent council or a special prosecutor to investigate the White House because of what these -- Democratic candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak, is saying he was offered a job by someone -- we don't know who -- over at the White House.

How serious is this issue right now?

KING: Well, it's a serious political issue. The Republicans do not have the votes to get a congressional committee to endorse this plan, nor are they likely to have the influence to convince the Attorney General Eric Holder that this is something he needs to do.

It does keep the story in the political news cycle. And as David Axelrod conceded in an interview I did with him the other night, he believes these aren't legitimate questions. The White House acknowledges some conversations with Congressman Sestak. They say those conversations were appropriate but they won't detail them.

They won't say what who talked to the congressman. What -- if there was any job offer, what it was about. And the congressman won't talk about it at all except to say, yes, somebody offered me a job.

So the political buzz about this and allegations about this will continue regardless of whether the Republicans win their request for a special prosecutor until either the White House or Congressman Sestak or both made the record clean.

BLITZER: John is going to have a lot more on this as well as the breaking news on the oil spill and the top kill procedure coming up at the top of the hour, John.

KING: You bet.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Anderson Cooper is joining us on the phone right now. He was also on that boat earlier in the day with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.

We heard from James Carville, Anderson, that some of the video you have now is going to be eye-opening. It's going to be devastating when the American public sees it on "AC 360" later tonight. But describe what you saw.

ANDERSON COOPER, HOST, "AC 360": It's pretty stunning. I mean we've all seen images of BP, you know, hazmat crews cleaning beaches out in Grand Isle and -- and Fourchon, Port Fourchon, which we were at last night.

But when you go out to the marshland, and the marshland which is vital not only to the economy of Louisiana but to the way of life in Louisiana, this is where -- this is where much of the country gets its shrimp, its oysters, its crabs. You go out to these marshes as we did with the governor and with James Carville today. And I mean the oil is just already deep inside these marshes in many cases. We were in an area called Pass a Loutre, where they -- the parish -- president of Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser told us he told BP a week ago, the oil had arrived there. It has been sitting there.

They put down some soaking -- some booms but that's just to stop new oil from coming in, and even that can be overtopped or the oil can come under. But I mean the -- these marshes are just dying now. You can see already -- they say it takes about six or seven days for the plants to actually die.

You can see about half of them are dead already. They're still a little green on top. But this is just devastating. And the oil -- I mean it is just everywhere. It coats the surface of the water. You put your glove in, it doesn't come off.

It -- you know, what the parish president is outraged about and the governor is so frustrated about is that they have been wanting to build basically sort of sand barriers to prevent the oil from actually getting into the marshes. They say they could have done that days ago.

They could have started that process. They've been stopped by the Army Corps of Engineers. They haven't gotten the permits they've needed. So there's a lot of anger and a lot of frustration -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, because the Army Corps of Engineers and the others, the Coast Guard, they've been saying you need environmental studies before you can do that kind of thing. And what the governor of Louisiana and what the president of the Plaquemines Parish is saying, you know what, this is a crisis right now. Forget about the environmental studies. Just get the job done.

And I'm -- I assume you heard an earful along those lines today, Anderson.

COOPER: Without a doubt. And I mean you heard on the air from Billy Nungesser, you know the -- there's frustration with the Coast Guard, certainly there are a lot of frustration directed toward BP. But what really seems to frustrate Plaquemines Parish's president, Billy Nungesser, is that -- you know and the governor said to him, look, you're supposed to have a coast representative with you who has decision-making power.

And he said, look, I've had five Coast Guard representatives with me over the last couple of days. You know, as soon as one learns where the bathroom is, that they seem to get transferred elsewhere. And none of them seem to have decision-making power.

They all seem -- according to this Plaquemines Parish president, they all seem to be deferring to BP. He says, you know, they sort of point the finger at BP and say, well, BP had got to make the decision. And then someone from BP calls Houston and a decision doesn't get made. So the oil that we saw today has been sitting out there, according to -- to local officials and to the governor. It's been sitting out there for about a week now. And I mean, you kind of would expect if BP has 1,000 people down here in Houston, which no doubt they do working on this problem, but you'd expect there to be people out there cleaning it up.

And no one is out there. I mean there was just dead silence out there. There were some old booms that hadn't been picked up, that were soaked in oil and needed to be changed. No one had changed them. And -- there were no hazmat crews out there and really no explanation about why or what the plan is to clean up this marshland.

BLITZER: Anderson is going to have a lot more at 10:00 p.m. Eastern on "AC 360." He's an eyewitness to what's going on right there.

And just a reminder that James Carville and Mary Matalin will be joining John King at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING, USA." They were on the boat tour with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, as well.

We'll continue our breaking news coverage right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

Lisa, what's going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf.

Well, the space shuttle Atlantis is earthbound for good. It returns from its final voyage this morning. The six-member crew successfully installed new equipment on board the International Space Station during their 12-day mission.

Atlantis has logged more than 120 million miles. It's flown 32 flights in the last quarter century and only two shuttle missions are left. Atlantis will stand by, though, as a rescue ship for one of those flights before heading off to a museum.

And there are several museums willing to pay NASA over $28 million for that honor. That is the cost of having the shuttle cleaned, transported, and prepped for display.

A shortage of paint could put the brakes on summer road projects. A construction trade group says paint producers are backlogged partly because the chemical used to make, you know, those road stripes shiny is in short supply.

The problem is raising concerns about safety. Officials say faded road lines can cause drivers to drift out of their lanes which triggers 60 percent of all traffic fatalities. And our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin, she's usually reporting on stories. Last night in Los Angeles she was part of the story. There's Jessica. Jessica won the prestigious Gracie Award in the category of Outstanding Hard News Feature.

She was recognized for a series of stories she reported last year right here on THE SITUATION ROOM on the role of women in politics.

So, Jessica, a hearty congratulations and a well-deserved honor.

BLITZER: Yes.

SYLVESTER: Wolf?

BLITZER: Well-deserved indeed. Good work, Jessica. One of our outstanding reporters honored as she should be.

Thanks very much, Lisa, for that.

Anger boiling over right now in Louisiana. One official there are now calling for President Obama to fire, fire his point-man on the gulf disaster.

Also, the strange terminology of the oil industry. Jeanne Moos takes a "Moos Unusual Look."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: While the oil spill is certainly nothing to laugh at, but some are finding some humor in "Moss Unusual" oil spill lingo.

Here's CNN's Jeanne Moos.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just saying it makes you feel a little bit like a "Top Gun."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Top kill.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The top kill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The so-called top kill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Top kill.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: BP goes for broke.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: T -- top kill is the option of choice right now.

MOOS: But top kill wasn't the first top term to come gushing out of our mouths.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The top hat.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, the top hat.

JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Yes, a top hat. What a great idea. I mean it's the only thing that keeps Mr. Peanut from spilling deadly peanut juice into the atmosphere.

MOOS: The top hat was the smaller version of this containment dome that failed to stop the leak.

JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Containment dome would be a great name for a condom.

MOOS: Actually they have a better chance of working than this did. And the other phrase that's come spilling out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What they call a junk shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A junk shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The junk shot.

STEWART: I was once getting out of a limo and paparazzi managed to get a junk shot.

MOOS: Sometimes the lingo gets confusing.

JOHN HOFMEISTER, FMR. PRES., SHELL OIL: And whether it's the top kill or whether it's the junk shot --

MOOS: And the terms get inadvertently combined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are moving forward with the junk kill that was supposed to happen --

MOOS (on camera): Top hat, top kill, junk shot. These are the words that have everyone a Twitter. And speaking of Twitter.

(Voice-over): A spoof BP Twitter account has been killing the real BP's Twitter in terms of followers. It features mocking tweets like, "The ocean looks just a bit slimmer today. Dressing it in black really did the trick." And, "Catastrophe is a strong word. Let's all agree to call it woopsie daisy."

(On camera): You're not seeing BP doing commercials now, but in the past there was one that posed the question --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What would you ask an oil company?

MOOS (voice-over): Well, now the Second City Comedy cast has its own version.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, every choice we make affects the environment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think we can make offshore drilling safe.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are our fossil fuels as clean as possible? Is our oil as clean as possible?

MOOS: And Bill Maher is suggesting ads.

BILL MAHER, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": BP, just be glad we don't make nukes.

MOOS: There are anti-BP t-shirts galore. "Spill, baby, spill." "My folks went to the Gulf Coast and all I got was this lousy white t- shirt." So far no top hats for sale.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we have the top hat sitting on the sea floor.

MOOS: Well, get it out before it gets too wet for Fred Astaire to wear.

Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think they're go doing a great job.

MOOS: New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Jeanne Moos, thank you.

Remember you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at Twitter.com/wolfblitzercnn. WolfBlitzerCNN, all one word.

That's it for me. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING, USA" starts right now.