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Oil Disaster Lessons Ignored; President Obama Confronts BP; Advance Look at BP CEO's Testimony

Aired June 16, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Don, thanks very much.

Happening now, President Obama confronts BP executives the day after his big speech on the Gulf oil disaster. He's touting a new deal to make the company pay billions of dollars in damages. That's going to cost BP's shareholders.

Stand by.

A new backup system for capturing oil is in operation right now.

Will it help the president make good on his ambitious good of tapping -- or at least trapping 90 percent of the gusher in the coming days and weeks?

And new skepticism about whether U.S. troops are, in fact, making any progress in Afghanistan. This hour, tough questions about the war and its growing costs.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


First, major developments today coming out of President Obama's long awaited meeting with BP executives over at the White House. The oil giant has agreed to set up a $20 billion fund to pay victims of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. The account will be run by an independent third party, the Washington lawyer, Ken Feinberg, who oversaw payments to families of 9/11 victims.

BP is setting up a separate $100 million fund to compensate laid off rig workers. They're out of work now because of the six month moratorium on deepwater drilling ordered because of the spill. BP also announced that it's suspending dividends to its shareholders this year to help cover skyrocketing costs from this disaster. The company's chairman left the White House with a message for Americans.


CARL-HENRIC SVANBERG, BP CHAIRMAN: I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to the American people on behalf of all the employees in BP, many of whom are living on the Gulf Coast. And I do thank you for the patience that you have in this difficult time.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: Let's bring in our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian -- Dan, I know you've been doing some reporting.

Take us inside the room when the president met with the BP executives.

How did this unfold?

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, first of all, Wolf, that meeting lasted for four hours, we're told. And you just heard the apology from BP's chairman. We are We're told that the meeting began with an apology, as well, from the chairman, con -- talking about how, you know, BP is sorry for this oil disaster.

Now, Mr. Obama took part in the first 20 minutes of the meeting, laying out his concerns for the people in the Gulf and, also, his concerns that this oil well is capped and then later had an additional meeting for 25 meeting -- 25 minutes with BP's chairman, where they talked in private, Wolf. And that took place in the Oval Office.

Now, the White House has tried to paint this picture of a tone that was more business like than anything else. But clearly, there were areas of disagreement. In fact, top aides saying that, at times, there were sticking points, they had to get up and walk out of the room, even consult with the president.

I tried to press at the briefing to get specifics as to -- as to what those disagreements were over, but White House officials refused to give any additional details. Instead, they were focusing on the areas of agreement. And that is that $20 billion fund for claims, the $100 million for the unemployed workers. And White House officials telling us that BP did not volunteer to give up any of that money, that pressure had to be applied for them to make this agreement -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Was any pressure applied to get the BP chairman to apologize to the American people?

LOTHIAN: Well, certainly, there was encouragement there for him to apologize to the American people because President Obama really wanted to make it clear that, for a lot of people in the Gulf, this is not about dollars and cents. They don't really have a safety net here. They've been through Katrina. They've been through Rita. And now they've been hit yet again. And President Obama pointed out to the chairman that BP should not forget the people of the Gulf.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I emphasized to the chairman that when he's talking to shareholders, when he is in meetings in his boardroom, to keep in mind those individuals, that they are desperate, that some of them, if they don't get relief quickly, may lose businesses that have been in their families for two or three generations.

(END VIDEO CLIP) LOTHIAN: Now despite this meeting today, seen as a positive thing by this White House, there are still critics out there who are saying why did it take so long for President Obama to sit down and meet face-to-face with these BP executives?

It took him 58 days, Wolf, to do that.

BLITZER: Dan Lothian at the White House.

Thank you.

Let's take a closer look at which BP executives were face-to-face with President Obama today over at the White House. The company's chairman, Carl-Henric Svanberg, was there, along with Cottony Hayward. They were joined by the managing director, Robert Dudley; BP America CEO Lamar McKay; and the general counsel, Rupert Bondy. And check out the lawyer for BP at the meeting. That's Jamie Gorelick, who was deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration, also a former commissioner -- a 9/11 Commission member.

Today, President Obama repeated an ambitious goal he laid out last night. He says BP should be able to capture up to 90 percent of the oil leaking into the Gulf in the coming days and weeks. A second containment system, we are told, is now in operation.

Our Brian Todd is here to explain how -- how it all works -- Brian.


Well, Wolf, that second method, besides the cap with the pipe, is to draw oil out from the blowout preventer, as well.

Now, let's take a look underwater here. This is the giant stack of valves that we're talking about that the oil is passing through when it comes out of the ground. You'll remember, for the "top kill" attempt, they set up a way to pump fluid through a manifold, essentially, through these hoses, through -- through the stack of valves into the well. Now, they have reversed that so that they can pump oil out of the well, through those same hoses up to the surface.

A BP official told me they began collecting oil that way as of 2:00 a.m. Eastern time this morning and will adjust it over the next few days. Their goal is to siphon 5,000 to 6,000 -- 5,000 to 10,000 barrels, excuse me, per day just through that second method. Combined with the first technique of funneling oil on to the container ship Discover Enterprise, which can take 18,000 barrels a day, they could reach a total of 28,000 barrels a day siphoned or collected but -- by the end of this week. But even that might be only catching half of this leak -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, if it's 60,000 barrels a day, that wouldn't even be half.

TODD: Right.

BLITZER: They are burning off that oil that they're capturing in this second method.

Why aren't they collecting it and then just using it?

TODD: Well, they're not collecting it, you're right. They are burning it off and they're not collecting it because of the type of vessel they're using. This is the Q4000, the mobile drilling platform that's taking all of that oil just in the second method. It will separate the oil and gas, measure them and then burn them right there. It cannot store oil like the Discover Enterprise can. So it would need a lighter to pump it off plus a tanker to hold it. And BP says the site is just getting too crowded right now for all of that. They claim that they are burning it in the cleanest way they know how.

But the second ship, the Q4000, is really just going to be burning it off as soon as it gets to the surface.

BLITZER: All right.

And I take it there are other ships on the way, is that right?

TODD: That's right. There are two ships coming that are going to be the primary containment ships. They are called the Helix Producer, this one right here. This looks to be just a massive vessel. And the Toisa Pisces. They are on the way. They should be there by the end of this month, early next month.

And they are going to be the two primary containment vessels that will actually store the oil, separate the oil and gas, and then help to move it away.

At that point, the -- the ship now that's being used, the Discover Enterprise, will be a backup ship. There will be another backup vessel called the Clear Leader. And the Q4000 is essentially going to move out of the way. This Loch Renick (ph) is one of the tender ships that's going to be actually taking -- shuttling oil back and forth from these vessels to other places. So, combined with these two primary vessels, the two backups, they hope to be able to capture 80,000 to 83,000 barrels per day by the middle of July.

BLITZER: Let's hope that happens. It's a delicate, sensitive operation -- very completed and rife with potential problems.

We'll watch it with you, Brian.

Thank you.

And stay with CNN if you want to help relief efforts along the Gulf Coast. Larry King will host an all star relief effort next week. The two hour special edition of "LARRY KING LIVE" begins Monday night, 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- not 9:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

The top U.S. commander in Iraq and Afghanistan bouncing back after shocking senators by fainting right in front of them yesterday. We're going to tell you what General David Petraeus is now saying about the war in Afghanistan and why lawmakers -- so many of them, Democrats and Republicans -- are worried.

Also, conflicting claims today about whether the American man who went hunting for Osama bin Laden in Pakistan is mentally disturbed.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, the best way to help the people on the Gulf Coast is to go down there and visit -- that was the message from President Obama when he toured the region a few days ago.

Mr. Obama did his best at the time to boost the tourism industry, which is struggling from the spreading oil spill. While visiting with local officials, the president strolled the beaches, lunched on local crab cakes and shrimp and even downed a snow cone -- and we're told down there they're called snow balls -- in the 95 degree heat.

The president said one Gulfport, Mississippi hotel owner told him business was down about 40 percent because of the oil spill. The effect of the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history on tourism is a nightmare scenario for small business owners all along the coast. We're talking tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue. Analysts at Citigroup suggest the loss of tourism and fishing revenues in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi alone could translate to claims of more than $10 billion.

Meanwhile, it's estimated Florida could lose a third of its tourism industry. That would mean another $12 billion in lost revenue, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people who could lose their jobs.

As the monstrous oil spill continues to spread, it's devastating huge swaths of coastline and marshland, killing an untold number of wildlife, not to mention the economic impact of jobs lost because of the moratorium on offshore oil drilling in the Gulf.

Here's the question -- in light of the oil spill, would you vacation on the Gulf Coast?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

We posted this thing on about an hour ago, Wolf, and -- and people are truly amazing. Some of the e-mail we've gotten -- you know, you'll be interested in some of these responses. But it's -- it's very heartening.

BLITZER: Yes, I think a lot of folks will say because of the oil spill, they want to show their solidarity and go and vacation on the Gulf. I suspect a lot of people are saying that -- Jack.

CAFFERTY: Yes, a lot of them are.


CAFFERTY: And I look forward to reading some of them in a bit. BLITZER: In the best tradition of America, in fact.

CAFFERTY: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Yes, that's right.

All right, Jack, thank you.

Here in Washington, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq trying today to reassure anxious lawmakers about the state of both of these wars and plans for withdrawal. General David Petraeus rejecting the idea that the United States would effectively abandon Afghanistan in July of next year by such a withdrawal.

Let's talk about the politics of the war and the war in Afghanistan.

We're joined by our senior political analyst, David Gergen.

I'm going to play a little clip of what General Petraeus told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.


GEN. DAVID PETRAEUS, COMMANDER, U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: Defining winning as making progress, then I think we are winning in Afghanistan. It is a rollercoaster ride, however. It's -- it's very much an experience that has setbacks, as well as modest successes.


BLITZER: A lot of folks are just focusing in right now on the setbacks, David, as you know.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: They sure are, Wolf. And -- but overall, General Petraeus has a point. Before the surge, you know, the -- it was actually -- we were going backwards in Afghanistan. The Taliban was on the offensive. We were being pushed back. The surge was intended to sort of reverse that.

Now, we have had some real problems and setbacks here in recent weeks, recent months. And there is a deepening concern inside the administration -- Wolf, I've talked to people inside there about the state of mind of President Karzai.

BLITZER: A lot of folks were shaken, at the White House, the Defense Department, the intelligence community, the other day, when Karzai fired his intelligence chief, his interior minister. Both of them were widely seen as very pro-American.

I'm sure you've heard about that.

What's the explanation for it, because they're confused why Karzai is doing this? GERGEN: Well, that was followed, of course, by a -- a major story in the newspapers, especially in "The New York Times," saying that Karzai had lost faith that the United States would win and that he was starting to cut deals with the Taliban and move the other way.

Now, that story has been, by the -- has been traced back by the administration. They think one of the major sources was one of the guys who was fired who was disgruntled and it went too far.

But, nonetheless, they don't disagree. I asked the question, is Karzai playing a double game?

Is he trying to ride two tigers at once -- the United States and the Taliban -- and then he wants to wind up riding the winning tiger and not inside the other one?

And I didn't get disagreement on that. They -- they -- they have those same questions. They're not sure.

What they're trying to do is to give him -- essentially, they're setting markers -- modest markers in their relationship with him, seeing if he does things right and then moving on to the next step. But, you know, they've made their commitment now. They've got to play out their hand. They don't have a lot of other Plan Bs and Plan Cs if this doesn't work out with Karzai and, if, in fact, if we -- if we run into real problems. Kandahar is already on a slower track than we intended.

So there are some setbacks. There is deepening anxiety, slippage in Democratic support on the Hill. The next few weeks and few months are going to be really critical.

BLITZER: And a lot of people simply don't trust President Karzai right now. We'll see if he can deliver. These are sensitive, sensitive moments.

David, thanks very much.

David Gergen is our senior political analyst.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, announcing tough new sanctions on Iran.

But will they be enough to reduce the country's potential nuclear threat?

We'll tell you what's happening today.

And could an oil spill in Australia just months before the deadly blast in the Gulf of Mexico actually have helped prevent the current crisis?

We have a CNN exclusive coming up for you.


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

What do you have -- Lisa?


Well, the Obama administration is expanding U.S. sanctions on Iran. The Treasury Department announced today that it is targeting individuals and institutions believed to be aiding the country's suspected nuclear program. Today's announcement is the first step in implementing the Iran sanctions resolution passed by the U.N. Security Council last week.

And Iran is reportedly creating a new Internet police force. According to a local news agency, the country's security chief says the online force will identify threats and remove them. Anti- government activists used popular Web sites like YouTube and Twitter last year to circulate information during violent demonstrations against the re-election of Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

And the first U.N. aid plane has touched down in Uzbekistan, as part of the efforts to help the thousands fleeing brutal ethnic clashes in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. A local news agency puts the death toll from the violence at more than 170 people. Today has been declared a day of mourning for those killed. The clashes are the most serious in the region since 1990.

And an American Airlines flight bound for Chicago got some help landing from an unlikely source -- one of its flight attendants. Sixty-one-year-old Patti DeLuna -- you see here there -- who has her pilot's license, she was called to duty on Monday when the first officer of the flight fell ill. She says her role was mainly to support the pilot. The plane landed successfully and the first officer was treated and released shortly thereafter.

That's pretty cool stuff. She left the -- the back of the plane and took one of the front seats up there with the captain -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good for Patti.


BLITZER: Thank you very much for that.

Good work.

All right, Lisa.

Thank you.

A lot of people are thinking twice about eating seafood right now because of the oil disaster.

Just ahead, there's confusion over whether one of the Gulf's most important products is safe. We'll update you.

And did BP ignore important lessons from a similar oil spill in Australia?

We have an exclusive report on that crisis and how it was finally solved.



Happening now, it's being called ground zero of the disastrous oil spill. Now, our Mary Snow is getting a firsthand look at this devastated part of Louisiana.

Also coming up, how reliable are these new flow rate estimates?

Is that ruptured well really gushing around 60,000 barrels a day or could it be a whole lot more?

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


As the massive spill grows along the Gulf Coast, we want to bring you to -- bring you up to date on the latest response. Right now, BP estimates that it's recovered almost half a million barrels of that oil/water mix. That's the equivalent of approximately 20.7 million gallons. It says almost five-and-a-half million feet of boom have been deployed and more than 8,000 vessels are currently responding to this crisis on site. We're also getting in new reports of tar balls now washing up on Florida's Fort Walton Beach.

CNN's David Mattingly is hundreds of miles away, in Madeira Beach, in Florida. That's where oil is contaminating some views.

Update our viewers on what you're seeing up close -- David.

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in this part of Florida -- we are hundreds of miles, as you said, away from where that oil is hitting. But at this point, fishermen here are saying a stigma is already coming ashore -- a stigma that is tainting their sales.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you have?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Grouper. Fresh black grouper.

MATTINGLY: Dockside Dave's has been serving its trademark grouper sandwiches for years.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is grouper, grouper, grouper, grouper, grouper.

MATTINGLY: But servers at this Madeira Beach, Florida landmark have never encountered so many questions.

SARAH BATES, OWNER, DOCKSIDE DAVE'S: At least six to 10 times a day somebody will ask, is your fish contaminated?

MATTINGLY: More than 100 miles away from the BP spill, a stigma is washing ashore, tainting Florida seafood.

(on camera): Had you ever had to answer that question before with Gulf seafood, contamination?

BATES: Never in my life.

MATTINGLY: (voice-over): And the questions don't stop at the table. Fishermen who are having trouble catching enough fish to stay in business now find trouble selling what they have.

(on camera): You can catch the fish, you just can't sell them?

DEAN PRUITT, FLORIDA FISHERMAN: Yes. Yes. Well, they're having a hard time selling them. I...

MATTINGLY: Why is that?

PRUITT: People think there's -- the fish are covered with oil and maybe have oil on it. I -- I don't know. I -- I just -- people are just not wanting to eat the fresh grouper out of the Gulf here.

MATTINGLY: (voice-over): This fish processing company can't find enough customers. Grouper that used to sell for $4 a pound now goes for just $3.40 -- and falling.

BILL HOUGHTON, MADEIRA BEACH SEAFOOD: This month will be the tell. We won't know until the end of this month.

MATTINGLY: (on camera): What about the fishermen who depend on you to buy their fish?

HOUGHTON: Well, that's right. It's all one big circle. Without the fishermen, this fish house is -- is nothing. Without the fish house, the fishermen are in trouble.

MATTINGLY: (voice-over): And everyone knows it. Officials try to fight back with assurances of quality. The FDA and Florida inspectors say the Gulf fish going to market are good to eat.

LEW BULLOCK, FLORIDA FISH AND WILDLIFE FISHERIES BIOLOGIST: But these fish are totally fine. They're perfect. I mean I would eat it right here.

MATTINGLY: But the clock is ticking. The oil stigma strikes just as the Florida seafood business was preparing to serve a wave of summer tourists -- thousands already giving up plans for fun in the Florida sun, maybe more giving up a taste for the fresh catch of the day.


MATTINGLY: And the State of Florida trying to counteract this stigma with a P.R. campaign, saying that their seafood here is good to eat, setting up Web sites and even a phone line for people to call in with any questions they might have -- Wolf.

BLITZER: David Mattingly in Florida for us.

Thank you for that update.

And this reminder -- CNN is giving you the chance to help rebuild the Gulf Coast. You can join Larry King Monday night for a special two hour all star relief effort. That's "LARRY KING LIVE" this Monday night. It starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- not 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 8:00 p.m. Eastern -- only on CNN.

Now to a CNN exclusive. The Gulf disaster was foreshadowed by an oil well blowout off the Australian coast only months before.

CNN's Brianna Keilar reports there were lessons to be learned, but they were ignored.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): Looking at these pictures, you'd probably guess this is the Deepwater Horizon oil rig on fire in the Gulf of Mexico. It's not. This is the West Atlas rig, 150 miles off Australia's northwest coast. A blowout here caused the Montara oil spill eight months before the disaster in the Gulf. It was a relief well that finally stopped the leak in Australia, after almost three months -- the likely method for killing the well in the Gulf.

What ultimately led to the blowout?

We asked Greg Bourne, the head of World Wildlife Fund Australia.

GREG BOURNE, WORLD WILDLIFE FUND AUSTRALIA: Overall, sloppiness. That's the way I would describe it.

KEILAR: He points a finger at the Thai company that owned the well and the Australian government.

BOURNE: We drill wells all the time, none of this happens very often. Yes, it's OK. All will be right, you know. In Australia we say, she'll be right. But it's not.

KEILAR: The spills are not identical. The Montara well was in 250 feet of water. It spewed much more natural gas than oil and the oil never hit Australia's coast, most of it evaporating at sea. The slip from the spill was more than 100 times the size of Sydney Harbor, but still tiny compared to the spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite this difference in scale, though, experts like Greg Born say the U.S. and other oil producing nations should have paid more attention to the spill in Australia.

BOURNE: The analogy I would use in the terrible tragedies of an aircraft, immediately the regulatory agencies around the world work together to work out what's gone wrong, how do we stop it happening, planes get grounded in every single country in the world for a few days while people inspect and check. That's not the model that is occurring in the world of offshore drilling.

KEILAR: And Born should know. Before becoming an environmentalist he spent years working for BP. In fact, you a lot of experience with deepwater drilling.

BOURNE: My background was drilling engineering and I worked in the United States out of Dallas, designing some of this offshore equipment and working on this offshore equipment.

KEILAR: Born says the U.S. government response to the gulf spill has been much better than the way Australia dealt with it disaster.

BOURNE: Complacent is the word I would use for the Australian response and quite dynamic is probably the word I would use for the American response.

KEILAR: Unlike in the U.S., the Australian government never issued any kind of moratorium on new drilling. In fact, in the months following the disaster the resources minister approved a new oil lease for the very company involved in the Montara spill. Even permits have gone out as the well continued to gush at Montara.

MARTIN FERGUSON, RESOURCES AND ENERGY MINISTER: We have no intention of putting a moratorium on drilling in place.

KEILAR: Resources and energy minister Martin Ferguson announced dozens of new sites for offshore oil exploration including deepwater locations. For Australia he says the demand for energy and jobs outweighs the environmental risks.

FERGUSON: Australia is not returning, sitting under trees and basket weaving. We are a strong economy that has a strong focus on environmental considerations, but we always know that there is a section, no matter how strong our environmental processes are, we won't please them. That is the nature of the society. Same as the United States.


KEILAR: Here in the coming days Minister Ferguson will release a government report on what went wrong with the Montara spill in Australia, how it happened, how the response could have been better. This report will be informing the Australian government as it changes how the oil industry is going to be regulated in Australia.

BLITZER: I assume federal regulators will take a close look at this report.

KEILAR: I actually checked with the department of the interior and a spokesperson for Secretary Salazar said there are lessons to be learned, not just from this oil spill, but from other disasters as well. It seems like it's really taken the gulf spill to make the U.S. and other oil producing nations realize that they have to pay a lot more attention to what's going on, not just in their own waters, but in other nation's waters too. BLITZER: I hope it's been a wake-up call for all of these offshore oil producers given what's happened in the Gulf of Mexico. Welcome back from Australia.

KEILAR: Thank you.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar reporting for us.

New information about the Colorado man who launched a Rambo-like solo mission to try to find Osama Bin Laden. Find out where he is right now.

And the Florida governor Charlie Crist bonded with President Obama on the beach. Will that help snag some Democratic votes in his independent bid for the Senate?

And BP's chairman emerging from the shadows and telling Americans he's sorry. We'll take a closer look at his low-key response to this epic oil catastrophe.


BLITZER: Lisa Sylvester monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What do you have Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Hi, Wolf. Pakistani government is questioning a Colorado man, arrested while hunting on his own for Osama Bin Laden. Gary Faulkner now is being held in Islamabad. His brother tells CNN he hasn't been charged with anything yet. A Pakistani official says Faulkner underwent a medical examination today and a doctor determined he had psychological problems. But his brother tells CNN that Faulkner is not crazy.

A Seattle police officer has been temporarily reassigned after being caught on video punching an alleged jaywalker in the face. You see the video there. A police spokesman says the incident is under investigation and Officer Ian Walsh hasn't been disciplined. Walsh was caught on a cell phone camera Monday punching a woman he stopped for jaywalking. The department says the woman was antagonistic and grabbed the officer twice before he pufrpds her.

The Senate approved a plan to give home buyers an extra three months to finish qualifying for a popular home tax credit. It would affect buyers who have signed contracts extending their deadline to complete the sale until September 30th. It's part of a larger jobs and tax bill both chambers must vote on. The tax credit of up to $8,000 boosted home sales this spring.

And now you can buy a piece of presidential history. The house where Harry Truman spent his early years in Independence, Missouri, is up for sale. The asking price, $365,000. The current owners recently restored the home, making sure to get the details just right. They say their college age son apparently refuses to stay there because he said the house is old and creepy. It does look like a good-looking house.

BLITZER: Given the Washington, D.C., prices, that doesn't seem like so much for such a historic house.

SYLVESTER: $365,000, not too bad.

BLITZER: They should put it up on eBay, probably could get more.

SYLVESTER: Good idea.

BLITZER: We'll see. Thanks very much.

Why are some Democrats flirting with the idea of backing an independent? Florida Governor Charlie Crist in the fall Senate primary. We're going to talk about it in our strategy session. Mary Snow tours ground zero of the massive oil spill in the gulf.


BLITZER: Right to our strategy session. Joining us our CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and national radio talk show host Bill Bennett. Thanks very much for coming in. I'll start with you, Bill, did President Obama redeem himself last night? A lot of people pundits thought he didn't do such a great job last night but today there were some dramatic developments.

BILL BENNETT, NATIONAL RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Today was a better day than last night. I didn't think last night was great. I think it's a mistake when you've got this disaster to say OK we're going to now start a new energy bill, fix this. Hard to fix, conceded but you focus on that, don't focus on new legislation. But today was a good day. $20 billion pledge is a good day. Good for the country, good for the folks there.

BLITZER: BP announcing they're not going to give any of the dividends throughout the course of this year. They've got $100 million fund to help the unemployed oil rig workers laid off because of the moratorium for deepwater drilling. I think if the president would have done his speech tonight as opposed to last night, he might have gotten better grades.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Maybe what he needed last night was to reassure the country that he has a battle plan to contain the oil spill, to help with the recovery efforts, and to make the people of the gulf whole. I thought last night's speech had a couple goals. The thread was difficult it see but the goal to bring the country around the notion that we have to tackle this oil spill head on. Every time I look behind me, it's still gushing. Until we cap that well, all bets off.

BLITZER: Thousands of barrels every day. Go ahead.

BENNETT: There's no point on focusing on anything else, because that's what everybody is focused on. I heard the focus groups last night, I don't mean to be unkind but when he talked about appointing a commission, people groaned. They don't want a commission. Stop this thing. That's the first and only order of business. BLITZER: If in fact he's right that within the next few days or few weeks, 90 percent of that spill is contained, aboard those ships, and removed, and doesn't go into the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, things will turn around politically for him?

BENNETT: Well, maybe. We'll see what else is going on. Certainly that's good. Everybody is rooting for the president and everybody else to fix this thing. Political credit aside, everybody wants this stopped.

BLITZER: He did go out on a limb and he made that prediction by August, the relief wells will be in place and it will be completely over. The cleanup will continue for months if not years.

BRAZILE: BP is responsible, they're the responsible party, along with some of the others, and clearly BP today, you know, decided to put the resources there. BP must help contain that spill and the president, you know, puts all of our resources back there in the gulf, to contain the oil spill, you heard the officials last night from Louisiana, they want to contain that spill.

BLITZER: That's priority number one.

BENNETT: Yes. If the energy, his energy, looks like it's going into that and monitoring that, if he could appear a bit more - he's got to be himself, but a bit more like Bobby Jindal hands on there talking about specifics rather than looking like he's trying to move to major different energy legislation he will be better off.

BRAZILE: And I want to say something. We don't have an energy plan. For 40 years we tried to have an energy plan. We have an addiction to oil. The president might be off helping to contain the spill but I do believe that the House and the Senate should be able to look at our energy needs. We've had two major energy disasters in this country and I think it's important we focus on energy, clean energy.

BLITZER: Bill, like everybody else wants the U.S. to be energy independent. The question is how do we get there?

BENNETT: We're going to be with oil for a while. I mean obviously we need to develop lots of alternatives but we're going to be with oil for a while and the question of drilling still has to be addressed.

BRAZILE: We have to do it safer. We need to transition to cleaner fuel and alternatives and don't let China beat us at everything.

BENNETT: Let's not give up our coal either so China gets that.

BLITZER: Let me transition a little bit to politics. Charlie Crist, running as an independent for the Senate in Florida, Politico Jonathan Martin having a story today saying this, "Many influential Democrats indicated that supporting Crist who has quickly moved leftward since leaving the GOP or just remaining quiet, would be the better of the unenviable options." Some Democrats apparently having some second thoughts about Kendrick Meek.

BRAZILE: As you know we have a Democratic primary down there. Jeff Green, a big multimillionaire --

BLITZER: Billionaire.


BLITZER: He's got a lot of money.

BRAZILE: He has a lot of money. He has deep pockets. I saw his commercials when I was in south Florida last week. Kendrick Meek is still the Democratic candidate that many people are rallying behind.

BLITZER: If Green beats him in the primary, do you think a lot of Democrats will flock to Charlie Crist?

BRAZILE: Charlie Crist has his work cut out. He's trying to attract moderates in the Republican and Democratic Party. He's running as an independent trying to get whatever droppings on both tables.

BLITZER: I think this crisis has certainly helped him in Florida right now, like Bobby Jindal of Louisiana he's out in front every day trying to reassure the folks in Florida he's on top of it.

BENNETT: Maybe. Do you want him? I mean -- Arlen Specter's nephew here. I mean he's not really Arlen Specter's nephew but it's the same kind of problem. I think it would be hard for Democrats to swallow, about as hard as conservative Republicans.

BLITZER: He opposes offshore oil drilling. He's moderate on a lot of issues like a green energy policy.

BENNETT: He has moved as we say from one direction to another. But I still think it's Rubio's race to win. Whatever they want to do and whatever Crist wants to do I think it's Rubio's. If the Democrats decide they want to do anything to stop Rubio it's a tough swallow.

BRAZILE: We have our problems. I think Mr. Meeks, Mr. Green, we'll see what happens. If you want to keep tossing us some Republicans we'll take them.

BENNETT: As long as we can pick the ones we send you, that's fine.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is asking in light of the oil spill would you vacation on the gulf coast. Back in a moment with your e-mail.

Scientists now believe up to 60,000 barrels of oil are gushing from the leaking well every day. I'll ask an expert if this estimate is really reliable after so many others were not.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: CNN has just obtained the opening statement of Tony Hayward's statement that he is going to be delivering before Congress tomorrow. Lisa Sylvester is going through it and it is ten pages and single-spaced and I have been going through it myself. Lisa, give us the headlines.

SYLVESTER: Well, we just got it. It is hot off of the presses here. He is going to be testifying before the House energy and commerce sub-committee, and we have a couple of bulletin points that we want to highlight. He was at the White House earlier today. You see the pictures there but he is testifying tomorrow, and he begins the testimony with an apology saying he is deeply sorry for what happened. He goes on to say and this is in the conclusion at the end of his testimony where he talks about lessons learned and we have a couple of graphics that we can put up for you, and I will go ahead and read it as we go through this. He says, "As I see it, there are already lessons to be learned, and I wanted to share two of them with you today. Lesson one, based on the events of April 20th and thereafter, we need to be better prepared for a sub-sea disaster. It is clear that our industry needs to significantly improve our ability to quickly address deep sea accidents of this type and magnitude." And under lesson two he says, "Based on April 20th, we know now that we need better safety technology." There is a lot more in these pages that we will go through and digesting and we'll continue to keep the viewers informed. Wolf.

BLITZER: He says he was personally devastated and my sadness he says has only grown as the disaster continues. We will stay on top of this with you. Thanks very much, Lisa.

Let's go to Jack right now for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour: In light of the oil spill, would you vacation on the gulf coast?

Todd in Toronto says: "Gee, Jack, a tough call, would I choose to spend my vacation time with some of the best people on the planet, visiting one of the most beautiful parts of the world and taking in great culture all while helping out a region and population that are struggling through no fault of their own? Tough work, but somebody's got to do it. Sign me up."

Nick in College Station, Texas says: "I plan on going to the gulf shores in July. There's no way I would change this. As my summer vacation, I enjoy the town, the activities and the people much more than I do the beach. I plan to continue these trips as I have for the last ten years. Especially now as their economy depends on my business and it is the American thing to do."

Justin writes: "I have many fond memories of the coast and would like nothing more than for my children to experience the same. However I could not in good consciousness subject them to the hazards of a oil spill, so no, I would not go down to the gulf at this time."

Linka writes from Austin, Texas: "The U.S. gulf coast runs from Padre Island, Texas to Key West, Florida. I have a beach house at Panama City Beach. The sand/water are perfect and as is the majority of the gulf coast. The press has destroyed tourism by not being specific. A catastrophe has not hit the entire gulf shoreline. They should apologize and narrow the description of damaged areas already harmed by the spill."

Ray in Baltimore writes, "I just did. I got back from four days in Orange Beach, Alabama on Sunday. Unfortunately, the beaches were oiled and smelled like a freshly paved road. If you have already got a trip planned there, follow through because the people there need it."

Sara writes, "We have been vacationing in the Perdido Key area for 20 years. We began going there when I was 12. I'm 33 this year. Vacationing in the gulf coast region has been part of our lives. However, I'm now six months pregnant, and there is currently an advisory issued for no swimming in the gulf and advising pregnant women and children to avoid the area. So we have canceled our vacation for this year."

Dan writes: "I already booked my tickets for an August bachelor party in New Orleans, and come hell, high water or oily water, I'm gulf-bound."

Monte writes all the way from Spain: "I wish I could go for a visit tomorrow. Anybody who can should. Those in the gulf deserve our full support and anything else we could possible do for them."

George in North Carolina says: "No way. Too many politicians."

If you want to read more and if you are looking for a little lift for your day, go to the blog to read the e-mail, because you will be pleasantly enlightened by the American spirit that is displayed in so many of them,

BLITZER: It makes me proud just to look at some of those, Jack. Thank you, Jack Cafferty with "The Cafferty File."

BP's chairman has kept a relatively low profile until he showed up at the White House today. We are taking a closer look at his leadership style. We will be right back.


BLITZER: As the oil disaster in the gulf plays out, some fear another catastrophe like this one could happen in the deep waters off Louisiana. Here is CNN's Joe Johns.


JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One hundred twenty-two miles off of the Louisiana coast in deeper water and able to pump more oil than any deep water horizon ever did does sits BP's monster of an oil rig. They call it Atlantis. It runs on technology some say rivals the space shuttle. When you ask for the engineering documents, the blueprints, the schematics, the drawings that show you how to put this thing together, you'll get a surprise. 90 percent -- that is right, 90 percent of the safety documentation for Atlantis was missing as of the end of 2008. That's according to the advocacy group Food and Water Watch which got the information from a BP project supervisor turned whistleblower. The group says Atlantis is an accident waiting to happen and they are in court seeking an injunction claiming Atlantis needs to be shut down now, because in an emergency, no one would know how to.

WENONAH HAUTER, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: And in a production facility as sophisticated as BP Atlantis, there are millions of components, and moving parts that the operator needs to know where they are to turn it on, to shut it off in case of an accident, and it is outrageous that 90 percent of the safety documentation is missing.

JOHNS: The whistleblower himself is scheduled to testify for Congress this week, and last month, two dozen members of Congress sent a letter to the administration asking for the rig to be shutdown. Why can't you go out to the rig and look around and see if it is in order or not?

HAUTER: Well, for one thing, the BP Atlantis goes 7,000 feet into the sea and even deeper into where the oil is. So, a lot of these components are not visible from the platform.

JOHNS: BP says that the reports claiming that it is operating with incomplete or inaccurate engineering documents are not true, and that operators on the platform have access to up-to-date drawings to run the platform safely. BP says they have done two investigations into the assertions and it is nothing more than a minor internal process issue which has no bearing on the safe operation of the platform. Internal emails suggest that as far back as 2008, BP knew it had a problem and one employee says BP had incomplete drawings of the rigs internal structure but BP worried that turning such documents over to people who have requested them could lead to what one official called "catastrophic operator errors" because they would assume they were correct.

And why doesn't the Interior Department step in and shut down Atlantis while BP get its paperwork in order? The press secretary for the department said they could not comment because the matter is under litigation. But in a court filing., Interior secretary Ken Salazaar said the investigation of claims about Atlantis should be done by mid- September.

Joe Johns. CNN Washington.