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Interview with Robert Dudley, B.P.'s Managing Director; Obama Tours Spill Site

Aired May 28, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Rick, thanks very much.

President Obama says there are no silver bullets to plug the oil leak in the Gulf or the cleanup the mess after that. He just got a firsthand look at the disaster and an earful about what his administration has done wrong.

B.P. officials now admit they have an environmental catastrophe on their hands. I'll press the managing director of B.P., Robert Dudley, about mistakes made and who dropped the ball.

A scientist will also give us an independent view of the destruction along the Gulf Coast.

And Bill Clinton has revealed to be the mystery man who tried to discourage the Democrat Joe Sestak his Senate bid. This hour, the job offer uproar. Republicans aren't buying White House claims that nothing improper went on.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: On the beach in Louisiana, President Obama could see the oil, feel the tar balls and smell the disaster engulfing the coast. Below the water, America's best hope of stopping the leak, top kill, continues with no guarantees it will work. We're standing by for a live briefing this hour over at the spill zone.

But I spoke with on official from the oil company just a few moments ago. It was an exclusive update on what's going on with top kill right now.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Robert Dudley. He's the managing director of B.P.

Mr. Dudley, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Here's the basic -- here's the basic question: Is top kill working? DUDLEY: It continues. It's broadly in line with the plan. We continue to pump mud and then we stop and we pressure-test it, check the pressures. We then put some bridging material into the well. We're going through the cycle.

Secretary Chu is there constantly with us. This is quite a well. It's like an arm wrestling match of two equally strong forces -- the well and the mud that we pump in. And this is going to take us, I think, another 36 hours. But it's still working.

BLITZER: So, you think sometime maybe on Sunday we should know if it's been successful or not?

DUDLEY: Well, that's our current projections. This is -- again, the forces are very equally balanced. And we've got to do it very carefully so that we don't create damage that creates a bigger problem. And we're inching forward in this wrestling match.

We'll see. We got -- we may have to stop at times and measure pressures and make some changes. So, looking at that plume that you see on your -- on your screen is not the best indicator. But, so far, so good.

BLITZER: When you say bridging materials, is that the junk shot stuff that you had been earlier talking about -- little golf balls or tires? Is that what you're talking about throwing in there?

DUDLEY: It is. There's a little more science in that. That's captured everyone's imagination. But it's high temperature, high pressure pieces of rubber. There are pieces of metal in there. And there's fibers that have been designed, used before in killing wells in Kuwait.

And that's what we want to do is create some back pressure in the blowout preventer to be able to increase the chances of having more mud go down the hole.

BLITZER: It's now been about two days since you've been doing this. We know there was, at one point, a 16-hour suspension of throwing the mud in there. Have there been additional suspensions since then?

DUDLEY: Well, I wouldn't call it a suspension. We pumped a lot of mud into the well. We wanted to make sure what was happening in terms of the pressures inside the blowout preventer, make a real solid check to see if we had to pump in the bridging material.

We've done that -- you know, an operation like this at 5,000 feet, the equipment is working down hole. We wanted to test every joint and pressure place that we could. That's not unusual in an offshore operation.

So, we may do that again, but I wouldn't call it a suspension as much as part of a broad plan to kill this well.

BLITZER: Because I know you've been resupplying those ships on the surface, I guess with more mud. Do you have enough supplies -- do you have enough mud there to get the job done?

DUDLEY: We've got about 50,000 barrels of mud out there. That's a lot of mud. We've also got backups that can be moved in fairly quickly. If we want to increase the mud weights or change them, there may be some breaks in the pumping. But, again, this is quite an arm wrestling match that we're trying to kill this well.

BLITZER: And the danger is, and God forbid it should happen, if the pressure or whatever is too much, you could exacerbate this situation, even make it worse?

DUDLEY: That's exactly why this is taking time. We're trying to inch our way forward. Sometimes we move backward, sometimes we move forward. It's -- another analogy would be like pushing down a giant spring. It's easier at first and then it gets harder and harder. It's quite a struggle.

But I think we got -- I know we got the best minds in the world working on it. Secretary Chu is watching it every minute with us in the incident room. Just wish us luck.

BLITZER: I wish you luck. Of course, we all want this to end.

Steven Chu, by the way, is the energy secretary who's the president sent down there to make sure that the science -- that everybody seemed to be on the same page.

The pictures we're seeing -- what are we seeing coming out of that area right now? Is that mud? Is that oil? Is that gas? Is that something else?

Describe -- tell us what we're seeing because it still looks very fearful and ominous.

DUDLEY: Well, it's mud. And what that is a water-based nontoxic mud. As it comes out of that spot in the riser there, it dissolves more easily in water which is why it looks more smoky and cloudy. It's not too much different in color than what you would see if you saw the oil and gas mixed together, which is why watching the plume is probably difficult for people to say, ah, I see what's happening.

There'd be time where it gets bigger, it gets smaller. There maybe times that it stops. So, it's hard to use that as the best indicator.

BLITZER: Is oil still spewing out at the same rate as it was before you started top kill?

DUDLEY: Wolf, when we're pumping this, what you see is not oil. You see it as the drilling mud. The well itself is probably producing at about the same rate. But when we're pumping, you're not getting oil out of the well.

BLITZER: Because I guess the question is, we heard this week it was sending oil out, crude, at a rate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day. With top kill under way right now, is it still coming out, your estimate, at that rate?

DUDLEY: No. With top kill under way, when we are pumping the mud for the majority of the time, what you will see is mud coming out, not oil and gas. There may be periods where we have some oil and gas in there, depending on whether we're pumping or we're looking for it to stabilize to measure it. But primarily, when you see those high rates like you do right now, that would be the drilling mud.


BLITZER: All right. That's part one of the interview. We're going to have a lot more with Robert Dudley coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm going to will ask him if B.P. withheld any information about the 16-hour break in the mud-pumping operation because it was fearful it could affect the stock value of B.P. We have a lot more questions for the B.P. managing director.

The rest of the interview is coming up later here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, President Obama says the largest oil spill in U.S. history is being met with the largest cleanup ever. After his tour of the area today, he acknowledged that mistakes have been made and that more stumbles and setbacks are likely in the days and weeks ahead.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is a manmade catastrophe that's still evolving and we face a long-term recovery and restoration effort. America has never experienced an event like this before. And that means that as we respond to it, not every judgment we make is going to be right the first time out. Sometimes, there are going to be disagreements between experts or between federal and state and local officials, or among state officials, or between states about what the most effective measures will be.


BLITZER: All right. More now on what President Obama saw, what he heard. Our senior White House correspondent Ed Henry traveled with the president to the Gulf Coast -- Ed.


ED HENRY, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president started this dramatic tour nearby here at Port Fourchon beach.

Let me give you a close-up look at what the president saw. There are these little tiny tar balls, thousands of them washing up. You can see that it's oil and sand mixed up. The oil comes right out in your hands.

These tar balls are all along the beach. They're washing in on the water. You can see them coming in and also a little tiny film of oil at the very top of the water. Then the president came over here to Grand Isle. Basically, he went to the Coast Guard headquarters and got briefings from all the senior federal officials, as well as governors from the states affected.

The president was very direct in saying, not only will he take responsibility, but he was saying that he's working day and night on this, that he's tripled the number of federal officials working on it and even stole a page from Harry Truman.


OBAMA: I ultimately take responsibility for solving this crisis. I'm the president and the buck stops with me.


HENRY: Now, the president also expressed cautious optimism about that top kill procedure. He said he was hopeful it would work, but he had no guarantees. And he was also a little fuzzy on what would come next, saying there were other procedures that they would work on. And he was confident that this leak will eventually be plugged.

But quite frankly, he did not know exactly how this will play out. That's part of the frustration of the people here on the ground. I spoke to one woman who told me she believes this is the president's Katrina because she believes it's actually worse than Hurricane Katrina. She said that was dealt with over many months. She believes the damage from this will go on for years -- Wolf.


BLITZER: Ed Henry on the scene for us. Thank you.

We're standing by for another update. You will see it live here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- the struggle to plug the leaking oil well. We'll carry the briefing by B.P. officials and others. Stand by for that. We'll get the latest information.

Also this, we're getting an independent scientist's take on the environmental destruction from the spill. How long it may take the Gulf Coast to recover.

And we just heard from the Senate candidate who is at the center of a firestorm right now over a White House job offer. Congressman Joe Sestak finally confirming that the person who reached out to him was none other than Bill Clinton.


BLITZER: The top kill operation in the Gulf has been under way now more than 48 hours. B.P. officials say it may be another two days, maybe until Sunday -- you just heard it here in THE SITUATION ROOM -- before they can fully measure whether it's been successful or not. Brian Todd is here to bring us up to date on this critical attempt to finally plug the well that's been leaking for more than a month -- Brian.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, we just got off the phone with another B.P. official separate from Doug Suttles, the gentleman who just interviewed, and he was very consistent with -- what Mr. Dudley said to you. He said that essentially by Sunday morning, they will know pretty definitively whether the top kill will work. We'll get a better idea by tomorrow morning. We'll a more definitive idea by Sunday morning as to whether this gusher has been stopped by the mud- pumping and the cement.

This is a live feed of one of the gushers coming out of one of the risers down there that's leaking. There's another live feed we can show you of the blowout preventer. This is just as we see it as the top kill operation is ongoing.

And again, as Bob Dudley told you, Wolf, this B.P. official told us that top kill, even when they stop the mud-pumping operation, isn't stopped completely. The whole operation is called top kill. When they stop the mud-pumping it's just to do some checks, some monitoring. But it doesn't mean top kill has been stopped.

So, the mud pumping, we were just told, was to resume this afternoon. No set time. It could be going on now or it might not be. They might be still doing some checks. Then it should be pumping -- they should be doing mud pumping throughout the night.

And again, they'll have more of a definitive idea by Sunday morning, he says, whether this will work or not.

We'll show you an animation again of how it is supposed to work. Again, the heavy drilling fluid called mud is going to be pumped into the blowout preventer here. There you see it. It will be followed by a shot of cement. That should be coming in the coming hours once the mud has reached there with enough volume and with enough pressure.

The pressure is key. They have to outrace the pressure of the gusher into the well and plug it up.

So, by Sunday morning, Wolf, they should have a more definitive idea as to whether the top kill will have worked.

BLITZER: We're praying it works, Brian. But what if it doesn't, what's next?

TODD: Well, an interesting piece of information I just got from B.P. is that what's next after that is something called the lower marine riser package. And that is essentially a dome that they are going to put on it.

We have another animation to show you with that dome. This is a small dome that will be lowered on top of the blowout preventer. They have to essentially break off this riser, as you see here. Then lower a smaller containment box -- a metal containment box on top of the blowout preventer. This is called the lower marine riser package.

That is the next option after Sunday, after they know whether this top kill will work. If it doesn't, I was just told by a B.P. official is that this tactic will be tried within 72 hours after they know definitively on Sunday. So, within a couple of days, three days or so, after they know on Sunday, they may try that option of the smaller containment box, Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're standing by for another update. We'll have it live here coming up this hour in THE SITUATION ROOM. Brian, thank you.

Let's get some more now on the president's tour of this massive spill site with our senior political analyst David Gergen.

I want to show our viewers that picture. The president, several of the governors who are there. You saw the president reading a statement, a carefully crafted statement.

Is this the image that President Obama now wants to project? What is behind the politics of this picture?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, Wolf, very clearly now, the president is trying to project an image of strength and of leadership that he's taken full responsibility. And I give him credit for that.

I think today was, in many ways, the most reassuring one we've had in weeks about this whole catastrophe. When the president is on the scene, he's taking full responsibility. He's ordered more people to come in. He's going to triple the number of people there on the cleanup in the most severe places.

And we finally had, lo and behold, you know, Mr. Dudley from B.P. comes on your show. How many days have you been waiting for that? It's been a long time.

So, we are beginning to see what I think is a responsible set of responses to the American people and a responsible attitude toward the American people. It's not all that I would like. You know, frankly, I would -- it's not terribly convincing to me when only B.P. is talking. I think it would be better if the government were there holding regular news briefings with B.P. standing shoulder to shoulder with them so we know the information that we are getting from B.P. is, in effect, supported by the government.

How do we know exactly when there's all this confusion over the last 24 hours about those kinds of questions?

BLITZER: We see the president flanked by the Republican governor of Alabama, the Republican, now independent, I guess, governor of Florida, Charlie Crist. Thad Allen, the overall commander there. You see Senator Vitter of Louisiana, another Republican.

I guess they're also trying to show that this isn't political. This is -- this is a much more important issue. GERGEN: Yes. I think that everybody agrees it's a much more important issue and that this is -- this goes to, you know, saving our precious coastline and preserving a way of life and preserving, extraordinarily important, too, our economy.

But the politics are in the background inevitably. And I appreciate that. They are always going to be there.

The president was losing public support. I think he -- I think he did something to sort of begin to shore up that a little bit.

But the critical issue, Wolf, as you keep hammering on, is this top kill procedure going to work? And then, do we have any faith that anything else will work otherwise? Because there has been various indications if this doesn't work then it's unlikely anything else will for a couple of months until we get a couple more wells drilled down there. That's a long time.

And I continue to believe, if top kill doesn't work, the president has got to go to more general quarters. He's got to bring in even more people, worldwide talent and effort to get this done. Because we can't afford to have two months of that oil spilling out there at the extraordinary rates that it is.

BLITZER: Yes, God help those folks out there if it goes on until August. That would be a human disaster. We don't want that to happen. Let's pray this works over the next 36, 48 hours.

All right. David, thank you.

We're standing by for a joint news conference from the Coast Guard, B.P. officials, the Minerals Management Service. They're getting ready to update us on the latest -- the very latest -- on the top kill operation. We'll have it live. That's coming up momentarily. When it happens we'll bring it to you here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

And a very deadly day in Pakistan. At least 80 people killed as gunmen attack two mosques. We'll have the latest on what happened there as well.


BLITZER: Mary snow is monitoring some of the other top stories here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mary, we're going to get right back to the latest. We're standing by for that news conference, B.P. officials, the Coast Guard officials. But what else is happening right now?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Some other quick headlines, Wolf.

The United States could be one step closer to ending the ban on gays serving openly in the military. The drive to win the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy survived another House vote and will now move to the Senate. Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged U.S. troops today not to be distracted by the political debate taking place.

Wall Street is closing the books on what has been a dismal month. The Dow lost 7.9 percent according to early tallies and saw its worst May since 1940. Stocks also plunged this month amid worries about the European debt crisis.

And at least 80 people are dead and more than 70 wounded after bomb and gun attacks in Pakistan. The strikes targeted two mosques belonging to a persecuted religious minority in the country's capital of Lahore. A human rights group says it warned the provincial government there of a possible attack -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Sad story in Pakistan, indeed.

All right. Thanks very much, Mary. We'll get back to you.

We're standing by once again for the news conference. B.P. officials getting ready to update us together with the Coast Guard on what is going on with top kill right now.

There is new information coming in. The Obama administration is pledging to triple the manpower responding to the massive oil spill. We're taking a closer look at the scope of the cleanup operation right now.

And an independent scientist will give us his estimate of the oil and destruction along the Gulf Coast. Is it beyond repair? How long will it take?

And Bill Clinton's newly revealed role in a controversy surrounding the Senate candidate Joe Sestak and the Obama White House. Did anybody do anything wrong?



Happening now: we are standing by momentarily for the very latest on the massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A joint news conference involving B.P. officials, Coast Guard officials, the Minerals Management Service is expected to begin very soon. When that happens, you're going to see it and hear it live right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Also, is there a serious breakdown in communications between B.P. and those at the helm of the federal government's response to this disaster? Brian Todd has been investigating this part of the story.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: In the Gulf of Mexico right now, this is the third day of the top kill operation. The desperate scramble to flood the massive oil spill. We're following all of the new developments in the disaster, including new figures on the scope of the cleanup operation. Over 1,300 vessels have been deployed to the site of the leak, skimmers, barges, tugboats and more -- all helping with cleanup and containment. More than 3 million feet of boom material now in the water, some of it designed to contain the spill, some of it designed to try to soak up the oil. And about 11 million gallons of oil mixed with water right now have been sucked out of the Gulf of Mexico.

Whenever the oil leak is finally capped, there's an enormous amount of work that needs to be done to try to repair the damage along the Gulf Coast.

We are joined by Dr. Ed Overton of Louisiana State University. He's a nationally known expert on the environment and on chemical hazards.

Professor, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: Does it look to you like this thing is working or not working based on everything you're hearing and seeing? You're an expert on the subject.

OVERTON: Well, this is an incredibly difficult procedure what they're trying to do. They got a lot of two-mile-long well and a riser at the top, a small valve. So, what they are doing is incredibly difficult. I agree with the B.P. people that we need to take it slow and do it right.

We're really hoping that this is a solution because the alternative is several months away. So, I would rather them go slow and make sure it's done right than get in a hurry and have something go awry.

BLITZER: Well said. I totally agree. You get it right the first time instead of missing an opportunity. As described, that pressure issue is so sensitive a mile below the water's surface -- if you go too quickly, then it could just make matters even worse. That's what we heard from Mr. Dudley of B.P.

OVERTON: I think that's absolutely correct. Remember, it's a mile below the surface, but you've got two miles below that of a well. So, you've basically got to pump fluid down that two-mile well to stop it off and you're pumping it right at the surface, and there's not much flow restriction. That's what the junk shot was for -- to put flow restriction in the riser so when you pump the oil in, it goes down rather than out the riser. So this is tough.

BLITZER: Let's talk about the environmental impact so far. Let's assume -- and we can only hope and pray the top kill works. If it works and they stop the oil from spewing out, the natural gas from spewing out, how much of an environmental disaster has been caused by this?

OVERTON: Well, it's pretty substantial. You never know until a couple three years after the event because there's just a lot of oil that is currently unaccounted for. There is oil all over the gulf. You mentioned 1,300 vessels or so, but you've got to remember that those 1,300 vessels are spread over an incredible area of the Gulf of Mexico. And so we don't really know how much of that is going to get on shore, how much will be naturally dispersed. If it is dispersed offshore it has impacts on offshore fisheries. What people in Louisiana are particularly worried about is the loss of the coastal habitat that supports 90% of the marine harvest in the Gulf of Mexico. The whole Louisiana coastline is basically nothing but marshy grasslands. There are a few sandy beaches but the marshlands are most impacted by oil.

BLITZER: What is the best way to clean this up?

OVERTON: Get it offshore. I strongly encourage the president to use military assets to bring in every skimmer in the world. There should not be a hectare off the shore without a skimmer on it. I was there Wednesday with the national wildlife federation and fairly significant oil patches. There wasn't a skimmer to be seen. We were the only vessels out there. And that oil -- the weather was good. The oil was imminently skimmable and just sitting there. That oil will come ashore when it's ten miles from the wetlands. We need to get it offshore if possible.

BLITZER: How toxic are the dispersants they are using to deal with this? A lot of people are worried about the toxicity.

OVERTON: Well, of course, you know people shouldn't be exposed to these dispersants and you should never use them unless you are using them well offshore. Corexit is an industry standard widely used, widely accepted. I know there is a question about is there a less toxic dispersant. It depends on how you test toxicity. Corexit passes certain tests. Doesn't pass a test used in England. The English dispersant doesn't necessarily pass some other toxicity tests. So Corexit is not a terribly hazardous material. Most of the toxicity from dispersant used, it's the oil that's toxic. When you take it off the surface and put it in the water column then animals swimming in the water column can be exposed. So most of the toxicity associated with dispersant used is from the dispersed oil, not the dispersant.

BLITZER: One final question. We hope and pray this top kill works. If it doesn't work and they have to wait until august to drill these other wells and get the job done, what kind of environmental disaster realistically are we looking at?

OVERTON: Very, very large. Very significant. Clearly the largest spill probably in the history of the world. The '91 oil spill in the Arabian area was mostly on land, so that may have been larger in volume. The problem here is we are very close to shore. A good bit of that oil traveled 500 miles through the gulf and was heavily weathered. We don't have 500 miles before we hit the major shorelines. We are looking at a very significant disaster. Hard to tell right now just how much coastal land loss, how much of the ecology will be damaged or the economy of the south and of course it's having a tremendous impact on the people who live there who really don't know anything about their future. They don't know whether they are going to have a place to live, a place to work tomorrow. That's an incredible impact. We not only have the ecological impact, geological impact, financial impact but a sociological impact. It's horrible.

BLITZER: Mr. Overton we're going to ask you if you can, only if you can, to stay. We want to listen to this briefing that is about to take place. Maybe you can give us an independent analysis afterwards on what we have learned. If you can, no pressure. Stand by. We'll talk during this next break. Ed Overton is professor emeritus of coast and the environment at LSU. He knows the subject well.

We are taking a closer look at the possibility of using more military resources to help get the job done in the gulf.

Also, the Senate candidate, the Democrat Joe Sestak finally opening up about the mystery man who offered him a job on behalf of the white house. The story of Bill Clinton's involvement revealed. And renewed questions about whether there was wrongdoing.

And we'll remember TV personality and "Diff'rent Strokes" star Gary Coleman.


BLITZER: We're standing by for this briefing. We'll get the latest on top kill, whether it's working or not working. We're going there live shortly. Stand by. But there is other news we are watching.

The mystery around a white house job offer for Congressman Joe Sestak solved. The Democratic candidate now confirming who reached out on behalf of the Obama white house hoping to discourage him from challenging Arlen Specter in the Pennsylvania primary.

REP. JOE SESTAK (D), PENNSYLVANIA: I almost interrupted the president and said, Mr. President, I am going to decide to get in this or not only depending upon what's good for Pennsylvania's working families, not an offer.

BLITZER: The president the Congressman was referring to isn't the one now in the oval office but this flap is giving Republicans new ammunition against President Obama fuelling questions about possible wrongdoing. Let's bring in Dana Bash, our Congressional correspondent. She's all over this story. That's causing a stir out there.

DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Congressman Sestak actually revealed months ago someone in the Democratic establishment offered him a job to try to prevent a divisive Democratic primary battle for Senate in Pennsylvania but he refused to elaborate. Today despite what we are told is internal resistance from top Obama officials the white was forced to give details and it was about an offer that they made via a very powerful party figure.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BASH: A day after Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak won the Democratic nomination for Senate he took a congratulations call from former President Bill Clinton while waiting to appear on CNN.

SESTAK: Sir, thanks a heck of a lot.

BASH: We now know that wasn't the first call Sestak got from Clinton about the Senate race.

SESTAK: President Clinton had called me last summer and I just didn't feel it was right for me to talk about that conversation with him.

BASH: In that conversation, Clinton -- acting as an intermediary for Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel -- urged Sestak not to challenge Arlen Specter. In return for staying out of the Senate race Clinton offered him an unpaid presidential position in the Obama administration which Sestak declined.

SESTAK: I heard the words "presidential board" but that's all I heard. It didn't matter what it was. I would have not -- it wasn't anything else and I just said, as I said to you, I almost interrupted him. "Mr. President, no."

BASH: The white house was forced to reveal that explosive account in this two page report from the president's council, amid pressure on both Sestak and the Obama administration to come clean on what happened like in these CNN interviews this week.

SESTAK: I said all I'm going to say on the matter and I have great respect for you. But others need to explain whatever their role might be.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Either Congressman Sestak is lying or someone had a conversation with him about a job.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: John, you're right if such things happened they would constitute a serious breach of the law.

BASH: In his new report, the white house counsel insists no law was broken and said "the Democratic leadership had a legitimate interest in averting a divisive primary fight." Republicans disagree.

REP. DARRELL ISSA (R), CALIFORNIA: I believe that falls under the statute of USC 600.

BASH: Meaning --

ISSA: Meaning it's a misdemeanor at least under that statute.

BASH: But Republicans say the bigger problem for the Obama white house is not the law. It's the political promise he made for a more ethical government.

ISSA: We have been told there is a higher standard now. We no longer trust this administration when they say we are more ethical and you should trust us. That trust is gone.


BASH: That GOP Congressman and some of his colleagues are calling for an FBI investigation into whether anybody at the white house or President Clinton did break laws. President Clinton was campaigning in Arkansas today and he would not answer questions from some of our affiliate reporters trying to ask him about this issue. As for Joe Sestak, he is running a campaign for Senate now against Washington and changing the way Washington works but he said today he did not think it was inappropriate for somebody at the white house, namely Rahm Emanuel, to try to convince him to get out of the Senate race.

BLITZER: Dana Bash working the story on the hill, thank you. Dana's on Capitol Hill.

We are standing by for the latest on the cleanup effort in the Gulf of Mexico. A joint news conference about to begin. You are looking at live pictures of the microphone. The reporters will be in the room. BP officials, the coast guard, the Minerals Management Service are expected up there at any moment now. We'll go there live.

And what if President Obama decides to involve the U.S. military in this massive response effort? That story ahead.


BLITZER: We are about to have a news conference, you can see the microphone over there, updating us on top kill, the operation designed to end this nightmare in the gulf of Mexico. We'll go there live once it begins.

President Obama says his administration is calling the shots at the BP oil spill. What if he sends in U.S. troops as reinforcements as so many people are now recommending? Are the troops really equipped to fight this disaster? Our pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr is joining me with more on the story. I guess the basic question is -- is this, Barbara -- are officials at the pentagon saying they are ready to pick up the challenge?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, to be clear at the pentagon they are hoping it doesn't come to them but there is a change in the atmosphere. Officials here are watching the top kill very closely every hour of the day because if it does not work, as one senior official said, we know the white house could come to us.

Your last guest, Ed Overton of Louisiana State University, may have put his finger on it. He said he was out on the water in an area thick with oil and saw no cleanup gear. That's a command and control failure -- a failure people will tell you to coordinate the assets and get things to the places that they are needed most. That's what the military does have expertise at -- coordinating large scale disasters in absolutely terrible circumstances, coordinating things and getting all the assets to the right place. But, Wolf, on the downside, the military has no speed in offshore drilling or large-scale cleanup. They would have to actually take it all over from the civilian authorities but then actually rely on the nonmilitary expertise -- the oil industry and the state and local government -- to do the work. They will tell you they absolutely do not have the technical expertise here. What they do have is the management expertise to handle a large-scale situation and to be very clear, an awful lot of people around the pentagon in these hallways are watching this very closely wondering if the white house will make that phone call. Wolf?

BLITZER: What's the threshold? At what point would that phone call happen?

STARR: I don't think we really know at this point. You know, what are we talking about here? Even BP is beginning to call this catastrophic. There are issues that we learned in hurricane Katrina of public confidence in the government. I mean, the people in these disasters, terrible circumstances, have some expectation, quite candidly of seeing the military show up. We saw it in Katrina. We have seen it in other hurricanes, in cleanup situations, in earthquakes around the world. The military is well aware that there is a public confidence factor involved here of confidence being restored when military force shows up. But on the other hand, Wolf, always a price to pay because the military in this country absolutely does not step in to any of this unless the federal, state and local governments want them to. Wolf?

BLITZER: Barbara, thank you very much. Barbara Starr reporting for us. Good points.

We're standing by, as I have been telling you, for this news conference. We'll go there live for an update on operation top kill. Is it working, not working? Stand by. Officials from BP, the coast guard, the minerals mining division and others all standing by to give us their assessment. We'll take a quick break. We'll be right back.


BLITZER: All right that conference is gust beginning. An update on "operation top kill," what's happening in the gulf? Let's listen.

REAR ADM. MARY LANDRY, U.S. COAST GUARD: We had all of the parish presidents. Everyone could sit down at table and really discuss the away head, how we're going on continue to fight this fight and how we're going to work collectively on behalf of the nation because these resources that are at risk are absolutely the resources. I know that you're all very eager to hear about top kill and I'm going to turn it over to Doug Suttles.

DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Thanks, Admiral Landry. To start off with just talk about our top kill operation, the -- probably the most important point to make is it continues, it's under way. It will continue on, likely, for another 24, or even, 48- hour period. We've had periods of pumping, followed by periods of monitoring. We have used our junk shot manifold and other lost control material and I think as we've stated before we'll continue with this operation until such time as it's either successful or we believe it won't be successful. I think the key element here is to exercise patience, and -- excuse me, to recognize that as you monitor the video feeds from the remote vehicles, from the robotic submarines, that it's very, very difficult to interpret those images as a sign of progress or anything else. So I just stress that this job remains under way, it's likely to remain under way for up to another 48-hour period, 24 to 48-hour period and we'll continue to keep you updated on a regular basis.

On the rest of our activity that we're fighting this spill as admiral's just stated offshore and onshore I actually just got back from about three hours flying coastline and actually flying over the well location. I've done this many, many times now and I can tell you that the battle offshore, we're winning that battle. Our efforts to skim the oil -- yesterday we skimmed 7,200 barrels of oily water mix. We had 13 burns. We continued with our dispersement through the activity and as I think you've heard, we have over 1,300 vessels fighting this -- fighting this fight and it's the least amount of oil that I've seen offshore since my very first flight. So I'm very, very pleased with the activity of the offshore team and we'll continue that. We'll continue it as long as we have to continue that.

I would also mention that our onshore activities or near shore activities continue as well. Over the last 24 hours or so, we moved 192,000 feet of boom into the state of Louisiana. About 100,000 of that was actually moved from neighboring states. And about 80,000 feet of that was new deliveries. We continue to get new deliveries and have about a million more feet on the way.

We continue to modify our techniques to attack this oil, as it comes ashore. As we speak here now, we have ten locations in total that have been oiled. We're now deploying these forward-operating bases, these are places to get people closer to the locations where the oil is so, we minimize the amount of time it takes for the teams to get to the field location and maximize their time at the cleanup sites. This includes a total of six floatels (ph) which roughly hold 1,300 people each will be staging closer to the action. I think with that I'll just stop and happy to take your questions.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, David Mattingly from CNN. We got this from the Jefferson County Parish an elected official there who says as soon as the president left all about a dozen workers that were there that BP brought in this morning had left the beach. He says that BP shipped in about 300 to 400 workers this morning about 7:30 a.m., and that as soon as the president left all of those workers left except for about a dozen. Could you comment on that? What was BP trying to accomplish and what was going on there?

SUTTLES: Well I think that you should, first, recognize that I think as the president, and Admiral Allen and many have said we've moved in considerably more people to fight this battle on the locations where the oil is. You should also recognize that these individuals are working out in the heat of the sun. These are long days. They start early in the morning and they stop in the evening. So the fact that they were leaving the location late in the afternoon is not unusual. It's not associated with the president arriving. I can actually tell you that the locations I overflew today and I overflew all of them except where the president was, because the airspace was closed and I also had a reporter from the AP with me who actually saw on every location where we saw oil, we saw people working on that oil. So what you saw was is us getting people out to the locations where the oil is and cleaning it up as fast as we can and we're going to continue to enhance those efforts, both ourselves and the coast guard, have expanded the number of people just in this past week that are fighting this spill.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did they finish their job there? Is that why they left?

SUTTLES: No the job isn't finished at Grand Isle. The cleanup isn't completed yet. No, they'll be back tomorrow and back every day until the oil is collected.


SUTTLES: I would expect so. Actually the admiral and I every single morning get a report that shows in every ten locations in what equipment, resources and people are on each of those locations so we look at that every single day.

LANDRY: And I just want to add, the president was also emphasizing more rigorous federal oversight of the spill response, just to assure everyone of the role of the federal on scene coordinator of Admiral Thad Allen as the national incident commander. We've doubled and tripled our oversight. We also are going to flatten out the organization and move things more to the tip of the sphere so that we can be right at front lines where this oil is coming ashore and as you know they are very remote areas but we're working the logistics to make sure that we can be there for the proper oversight of the response. So I think that the people of Louisiana should be confident and as well as the rest the people of the gulf coast states that we'll be there with the appropriate federal oversight of this response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hi. I wanted to ask you about this report that -- the top kill, the mud flowing in, has been halted again. And will it resume, or has it halted? Do you have clarification on that?

SUTTLES: Well, I think it's important to note that part of the -- this top kill job is, we'll pump mud. We'll have periods where we're pumping. We'll have periods where we're monitoring the results of that pumping. We'll have periods where we actually pump in this, what we call junk. It's more sophisticated than it sounds, but this -- these material, everything, from hard rubber balls and metal elements to shredded material to fibrous material to try to slowdown the amount of mud that goes out the top of the riser, and then we'll have periods of pumping again. So the fact that we stop for period of time and start again is not unusual. It's part of a dynamic kill of this top kill operation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And are you measuring the pressure every time you stop it? And you are going to make those pressure readings public?

SUTTLES: We're -- there is pressure data gathered continuously. And I -- right now I probably couldn't answer that question about -- public. Because you can imagine this job it's individuals pumping in job it's people -- actually I went out to the site today, these people in these vessels running this equipment, the main is executing this job as well as we can. I think we stressed that the equipment's worked extraordinarily well both on the surface and on the subsurface. We don't want to do anything of stopping them from being successful because stopping the flow of oil is what matters the most.

BEN NUCKOLS, ASSOCIATED PRESS: Ben Nuckols with the Associated Press. In this report by "The New York Times" there's a quote that says we're disappointed by the progress of the top kill and that the junk shot was done early this morning and it didn't seem to make much difference. Can you respond to that disappointment that's being expressed over progress of this?

SUTTLES: Yeah, I'm not sure who would have expressed that. I think yesterday when we spoke to you, I talked about this being a bit like a roller coaster. You know, this is a long job. It's got many phases to it and we're going to stay with it as long as we think it can be successful. So I think all of us are trying to do as much as we can to just be patient and actually wait and see what the results are because these small indicators that we might see at one moment to the next, could take us down different paths. So I think what we need to do is finish the job, and as I said, we're going to stay out there as long as we think that it can be successful. It's going, basically, according to plan. The actions, so far, are not that unusual for this type of operation. And we have a very, very large amount of equipment, materials on-site and those can be replenished so that we can do this for a long time if required.

NUCKOLS: Do you have any idea whether the junk shot did any good?

SUTTLES: Well, we have fired various elements of junk, and continue to do that, and we believe that is helping, to some degree. But it's very, very difficult to interpret each of those pieces. Because this is a combination of pumping at varying rates, monitoring the well and applying this junk material and as I said we could be doing this for another 24/48 hours.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: About for almost 40, 45 minutes late this afternoon, there was some wild fluctuations in the plume. Could you maybe give us an idea of what was going on at that time? And are you pumping mud right now?

SUTTLES: I actually wasn't watching the plume over the last 45 minutes. So I couldn't comment.