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Congress Grills BP CEO; Interview With Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise

Aired June 17, 2010 - 22:00   ET


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everyone. We are live in Louisiana, on this, the 59th day of the BP disaster.

Today on Capitol Hill, as you well know, CEO Tony Hayward was grilled by lawmakers who grew increasingly frustrated by what they called stonewalling. One Republican congressman actually apologized to BP for what he called a shakedown by the White House. Hours later, he retracted that apology and apologized for using the word shakedown.

We will have all the drama from today's testimony in a moment. But we begin with a startling admission by BP. Now, it didn't happen during today's testimony. There was not much startling admissions to be had there. And, frankly, a lot of people didn't even notice this today. Senator Charles Grassley did.

In a BP document he obtained -- it's this document right here -- BP seems to state that, early on in this disaster, they had estimated the flow rate. Now, this BP document says -- and I quote -- an absolute worst-case flow rate of 60,000 barrels a day was calculated. It goes on to say that a more likely worst-case flow rate is 40,000 barrels.

Now, what is so stunning about this is not that the government estimate is now almost exactly what this apparently early BP estimate was. I mean, that's stunning, but what's really damning is that BP never publicly said that they had an internal estimate of the flow rate.

In fact, they repeatedly said they were focused on fixing the leak, not measuring it. And, for weeks, they publicly stated the lowest possible -- possible estimates, first of 1,000 barrels, and then 5,000 barrels.

Now, we don't know when this internal document was written, but it appears to have been written shortly after independent scientists began to make estimates of the flow rate based on that first video that was released of the spill, which was back in early May.

So, if early on, BP estimated that 60,000 barrels might be pouring out of that well or even 40,000, and they never once said that publicly, instead saying it's 1,000 barrels or maybe, maybe 5,000 barrels, well, that would be another shocking example of BP's lack of transparency.

One of the people asking questions today on Capitol Hill was Representative Steve Scalise, Republican from Louisiana. The spill is in his backyard. He arrived armed with a powerful picture today of a brown pelican, Louisiana's state bird.

Congressman Scalise joins me now.

Congressman, are you surprised? I mean, if, in fact, BP early on had an estimate, an internal estimate of 40,000 to 60,000, would that surprise you? I mean, isn't that shocking, if -- if, in fact, they had that estimate? Because, basically, that's the estimate the governor -- the government has now gotten into, and it's taken, you know, 57 or so days to get that estimate.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R), LOUISIANA: Well, and, Anderson, you're exactly right.

You know, they have literally just underestimated and downplayed the severity of this damage from day one. And, in many ways, it's helped -- it's hurt our ability to mitigate the disaster, to protect our marshes from the oil, because we have seen from early off that there is a tremendous amount of oil coming out of this well, and, ultimately, it works its way into our marshes.

Our goal from the beginning has been to protect our marshes, to stop the oil from coming in, so we don't have this devastation to our marshes, our ecosystems and our seafood beds.

But, clearly, BP and the federal government, I think, both have downplayed and underestimated the devastation of this from day one.

COOPER: And the reason, as you point out, is -- why it matters is because it has affected the cleanup effort. All along, they, the government, NOAA and BP, most notably, were saying, well, look, we're planning for a worst-case scenario.

But we all know, if they had planned for a worst-case scenario, we wouldn't be waiting now for larger containment vessels to be getting online, to be getting out to the site by mid-July, so that they can actually contain the oil -- you know, a percentage of all the oil that is flowing out.

SCALISE: Right. And if they would have said from day one that 60,000 barrels of oil was the worst-case scenario that was coming out of this well -- you know, we came up with a plan early off. Our governor, Bobby Jindal, Billy Nungesser, other leaders on the ground came up with a plan early off to put these sand barriers in front of our marsh, because we said we're not going to sit back and wait until the oil hits the marsh before we do something.

We want to stop the oil from coming into the marsh, because we know it's a much harder problem to battle at that point.


SCALISE: And, yet, we were denied, and it took over three weeks before the federal government even approved it. And still, to this day, more than 75 percent of that plan has yet to be approved, including Barataria Bay.

And, Anderson, I know you've been out there on Grand Isle. All of that area just about a week ago, when I was out there, they didn't have oil in Barataria Bay. Today, there is oil in Barataria Bay. And we wanted to protect those marshes ecosystems from the oil. And we were denied that ability from both BP and the federal government.

COOPER: Yes. And you have got local officials right now literally buying HVACs at Home Depot-type stores, and trying to suck it up and deal with the oil themselves.

Congressman, I want to ask you about -- about your frustrations today, about what you thought of Tony Hayward's testimony today. I just want to play for our viewers just some of your questioning today of Hayward.


SCALISE: I want to ask you: Who is in charge on the ground?

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP GROUP: The national incident commander is the person in charge of this operation.

SCALISE: So is the federal government telling you what to do? Are you telling the incident commander what to do? When our local officials say we need something approved, do they need to get the incident commander and your approval? Because they're getting run around in circles right now.

HAYWARD: Well, we're trying to -- we're not being perfect, I acknowledge that. And we're trying very hard to do better.


COOPER: They're not being perfect.

What did you think of Tony Hayward today?

SCALISE: Well, you could tell that he came really just -- just, I think, prepared to obfuscate. He didn't answer most of the questions.

And, I mean, frankly, I wanted to see a sense of urgency from Tony Hayward. I still, to this day -- for over a month now, I have not seen the sense of urgency from BP or the federal government in the fact that you need a change -- chain of command where decisions can get made quickly.

And, Anderson, what I mean with that is, in -- within a day, within 24 hours from when our local officials say, this is what we need to solve this problem, they -- they right now are taking over five days.

COOPER: And you are not seeing that? That -- that chain of command -- is that right, five days, that's your estimate? Because, I mean, early on... SCALISE: It's taking five days, what most leaders are telling me.

COOPER: Weeks ago, when the president came here on the second trip, that was supposed to be cleared up. The local officials were getting Coast Guard representatives, who allegedly could make decision-making -- had decision-making authority. You're saying that's not happening?


And, in fact, just a few days ago, one of the leaders on the ground said that he is spending more of his time fighting with the federal government and BP than he is fighting the oil. There's no excuse for that.

I mean, we're -- we're now two months into this disaster, and you still have this problem on the ground where our local leaders -- and, I mean, look, Anderson, one of the big frustrations is, our local leaders seem to be the only ones who were coming up with ideas to protect our marsh from the oil.

All they're being told from both BP and the federal government is no. And just they find too many ways to say no, instead of having real alternatives. They don't have any alternatives. All they do is tell our folks, well, there's reasons why we don't want to do this or that, instead of saying, we want to work with you to stop this problem from getting into the marshes and the ecosystems here in the coast of Louisiana.

COOPER: Congressman, I appreciate your time tonight. Thank you very much.

SCALISE: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: We're going to have a lot more ahead tonight on Tony Hayward's testimony, in case you missed it, some really interesting moments. We will show you.

You can also join the live chat right now under way at, talk to viewers in the region and around the world right now. On the hot seat -- well, the hot seat doesn't really begin to describe where Hayward found himself today. He was accused of stonewalling, being ill-prepared and appearing distant -- the highlights and maybe lowlights ahead.

Plus, a maddening example of bureaucracy getting in the way in Louisiana, according to the governor. These vacuums were working just fine to clean up the oil -- not cleaning up huge amounts of oil, but making a dent. So, why did the Coast Guard shut them down? That story ahead.


COOPER: Dramatic pictures out on the Gulf today. I mean, it happens all the time, but we don't really often see it, mega-burns where booms are used to gather large amounts of surface oil and then intentionally ignite it.

The Coast Guard says each of these burns between 2,000 and 2, 500 hundreds barrels of oil. There's another image which is actually taken below the water. It's a wide-angle shot from the spill cam. It was only viewable for a short time this afternoon. But it really shows kind of the magnitude of the oil flow. It's the widest shot we have frankly seen. And It's our first look at it.

Questions about oil spill containment and cleanup were fired at BP CEO Tony Hayward today on Capitol Hill. As we talked about earlier with the congressman, there was a relentless grilling, laced with a lot of anger and frustration.

Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak closed the hearing with this blistering comment.


REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: I think the evasiveness of your answers only serve to increase the frustration, not decrease the frustration, not just of members of Congress, but of that of the American people.


COOPER: Want to show you how the day kind of unfolded.

Senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash reports.


BASH (voice-over): Tony Hayward sworn to give:

STUPAK: The truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.

BASH: But what BP's beleaguered CEO gave lawmakers was a whole lot of this.

HAYWARD: I wasn't part of the decision-making process on this well. I had no prior knowledge or involvement in the drilling of this well. I wasn't involved in any of the decision-making.

BASH: This investigative committee's goal? Get more information about crucial decisions leading up to Deepwater Horizon's explosion that lawmakers say show BP putting profit ahead of safety. Democrats tried.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Did BP make a -- a fundamental misjudgment in selecting the single string of casing?

HAYWARD: I wasn't involved in any of that decision-making. I'm not prepared to draw conclusions about this accident until such time as the investigation is concluded.

WAXMAN: Well, this is an investigation. Are you failing to cooperate with other investigators, as well? Because they're going to have a hard time reaching conclusions if you stonewall them, which is what we seem to be getting today.

HAYWARD: I'm not stonewalling.

BASH: Republicans tried, too.

REP. MICHAEL BURGESS (R), TEXAS: You're the CEO of the company. And...


BURGESS: Do you have any sort of technical expert who -- who -- who helps you with these things who might have been there?

HAYWARD: With respect, sir, we drill hundreds of wells a year all around the world.

BURGESS: Yes, I know. That's what's scaring me right now.


BASH: And while Hayward was bombarded by scathing criticism, another controversy was born, when the committee's top Republican accused the White House of forcing BP to fork over what he called a $20 billion slush fund.

REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: I do not want to live in a country where any time a citizen or a corporation does something that is legitimately wrong is subject to some sort of political pressure that is -- again, in my words, amounts to a shakedown. So I apologize.

BASH: A senior Republican apologizing to BP. Democrats from Capitol Hill to the White House saw political opportunity and pounced.

JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I find it incredibly insensitive.

BASH: As pressure mounted, CNN is told that House GOP leaders met with Barton and demanded he take back his apology to BP, or lose his senior position on the committee. Hours later, this:

BARTON: I want the record to be absolutely clear that I think BP is responsible for this accident. And if anything I have said this morning has been misconstrued in an opposite effect, I want to -- to apologize for that misconstrued -- misconstruction.

BASH (on camera): Later, Barton issued a written statement saying, flatly, "I retract my apology to BP."

One GOP source told me Republicans forced that because they have been saying BP bears responsibility, and Barton's comments allows Democrats to say, you see, Republicans are beholden to big oil.

Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.


COOPER: Well, a lot of politics going on today, quite a day.

Let's talk it over with John Young, council chairman for Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, also Julia Reed, contributing editor for "Newsweek" and author of "The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story," and, in New York, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.

First of all, Julia, what did you think about the apology to BP and then the retraction of the apology to BP?

JULIA REED, CONTRIBUTING EDITOR, "NEWSWEEK": Well, I mean, that was, obviously, one of the more ridiculous moments of the hearings.

But, I mean, again, the hearings keep -- all this kind of stuff is, to me, Rome is fiddling while we're burning down here. I mean, you were just talking to somebody on the ground. I just feel like all this news and the drama of the moment and apologies and retractions of apologies and more apologies, just it takes away from what really should be the subject, which is the fact that we are still in desperate straits down here, and nobody is running the show.

COOPER: Right.

It's interesting, John, when you hear Democrats saw this as an opportunity to pounce. Around here, no one is talking about politics. People are -- just want this thing dealt with. And they -- when they hear that people are using things for political gain, whether it's Democrats or Republicans, it just kind of makes your stomach turn.

JOHN YOUNG, CHAIRMAN, JEFFERSON PARISH COUNCIL: Everybody is united down here to stop the leak and to protect our shorelines, our coasts, and wetlands. And there's just a big disconnect between Washington and Louisiana, South Louisiana, the Gulf Coast.

There was a disconnect with the Coast Guard, shutting down a barge that was sucking up oil. I mean, Tony Hayward came across as out of touch. Obviously, he has lawyered up. He's doing a Pontius Pilate.


YOUNG: It's political theater.

But, right now, what we have to concentrate on is stopping the flow of oil and keeping it from attacking our shores, our wetlands and estuaries, and destroying our way of life.

REED: And having a plan that is working. We still don't have a plan.


Jeff -- Jeff, I want to ask you about the testimony. Ricky Gervais, on the British version of "The Office," once said, you just have to accept tomorrow that, some days, you're the pigeon, and, some days, you're the statue.


COOPER: I mean, did Tony Hayward dutifully play the part of the statue today?


JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Yes, that was his function there. And congressional hearings are mostly theater.

I mean, they -- they -- nobody really thought he was going to provide detailed answers. And he was there to be the statue, to be the punching bag, to be the fire hydrant.

But it is not -- I mean, I would like to just put up a -- put in a word for politics. I mean, I think politics matters here. You know, Congress is going to decide whether offshore -- offshore drilling continues. And they're going to decide what the rules are, what the regulations are for how drilling takes place.

So, you know, that may seem irrelevant to the immediate concerns, but, you know, this is the key to stopping whether this is going to happen again.

COOPER: But does -- does a hearing like what happened today -- I mean, it -- you know, obviously, there's a lot of political theater to it. Does it actually make a difference, though? I mean, I guess, if he had gone on the record with some things, then he could be -- down the road, that could come up in civil and criminal cases against him.

But, short of him, you know, putting his foot in the mouth, which, frankly, he's prone to do, would anything actually come out of his testimony today?

TOOBIN: Well, you never know until you ask. And, certainly, given an event of this magnitude, Congress, I think, is obligated to call the guy in, in charge, and say, what did you know about this? How did this happen?


TOOBIN: Now, the way these investigations really work successfully is, you bring in the lower people. You look at the documents. You interview up the chain. And then you really find out what happens.

That is, undoubtedly, what will happen in the many lawsuits that come up, but that's going to take a long time. In the meantime, you know, I think Congress is right. You have got to bring in the top person and see what they say.

COOPER: The other people that are -- need to be brought in -- there were some hearings about MMS today, but they're going to be more with this committee -- I mean, the folks from MMS and what was going on with MMS over not only the last -- the years of the Bush administration, but also under the Obama administration.

REED: The last year-and-a-half, yes.

I mean, one of the astonishing things, I think, the inspector general in the Interior Department came out and said just some -- some changes are not going to do it. We have got to just completely just turn it, you know, 360 degrees. But...


YOUNG: One hundred and eighty.

REED: I mean, seriously, because it -- -- the number that started me the most is that there's something like -- I'm just rounding up, but like say 20-something wells along the Pacific, and you have got like a dozen MMS people assigned to the safety of those wells.

We have thousands of wells off the Gulf, and there are, say, like two dozen or maybe 60 MMS inspectors. So...

COOPER: Right, not enough.

YOUNG: Yes, that's obviously not enough.


YOUNG: There was obviously too cozy a relationship between MMS and the oil companies.

REED: But we have known that forever.

COOPER: Right.

YOUNG: And they -- instead of being a watchdog, they were a lapdog.

But we -- what we need down here -- and the people most directly affected don't want this moratorium. This is going to have a devastating economic effect. We can make it safer without doing a blanket moratorium.

REED: Right. But you're right. Definitely, MMS needs to be completely overhauled...

YOUNG: Revamped, right.

REED: ... and revamped. But, in the meantime, as we continue to make the point on this show and others, that the moratorium is going to kill us, there is a suit that's being -- that will be heard here on Monday.

COOPER: Right.

REED: Some of the oil service providers have filed suit, saying, this is illegal. You can't go into existing contracts.

(CROSSTALK) COOPER: Jeff, I want to just show our viewers just kind of a montage of some of Tony Hayward's responses today. I mean, people said he was ill-prepared for the hearing.


REED: I think he was very prepared.

COOPER: The other side of that is maybe he was just very prepared and -- and lawyered up.

Let's watch.


HAYWARD: We don't yet have all the answers. I'm not prepared to speculate. I had no prior knowledge. I haven't drawn a conclusion. I can't recall that number. I'm not certain. I don't believe. I'm afraid I don't know. I don't know. I was not involved or aware. I don't believe. I had no prior knowledge. I don't know that. I can't speak to. I haven't seen this. Again, I haven't seen this. I don't believe that. As I said, I don't believe that. I don't know. I don't know.



COOPER: I mean, I guess the alternative would have been just taking the Fifth, but this allows him to not have the embarrassment of taking the Fifth, but also not really answering anything.

TOOBIN: Yes. Put me down as thinking he was very well prepared, because he was obviously instructed:


COOPER: Right.


YOUNG: Absolutely.

TOOBIN: Unless you have a document in front of you that shows that you knew X fact on Y day, don't admit to it. Don't take any stands. You know, take responsibility in some global, largely meaningless way, which he did.

But, in terms of the facts of what BP knew, when they knew it, and how this -- this accident took place, he didn't commit himself to anything. And that's undoubtedly what his lawyers told him to do.

COOPER: Right.

And there's already 200 lawsuits is have been filed. There are a lot of lawsuits watching this testimony with bated breath and a lot more lawyers going to be filing.

We are going to have to leave it there.

Jeff Toobin, appreciate it.

John Young, it's good to have you on, Julia Reed as well.

REED: Thank you.


YOUNG: Thanks again.

COOPER: John mentioned it a little bit earlier.

Coming up next, we're going to take a look at what happened today. The Coast Guard changed its mind about those vacuum barges being used to suck out some of the oil out of the Gulf. Remember, yesterday, on the program, we told you that they ordered them shut down, pending an inspection.

Today, they decided, even without an inspection, they're safe. So, what changed? Well, we will -- we're "Keeping Them Honest."

Also ahead: testimony on Capitol Hill about another BP rig that, according to a former BP contractor, may be even more dangerous, potentially more dangerous, than the Deepwater Horizon. It's a lot bigger, a lot deeper. The whistle-blower talked to Congress today. Then he talked to us -- that interview coming up.


COOPER: Well, what local and state officials today are saying just another example of bureaucracy getting in the way of attacking the oil.

Last night, we told you that the Coast Guard had sidelined a fleet of 16 Louisiana-owned vacuum barges over safety concerns. These barges had been sucking up oil along the Louisiana coast, along the marshes at a rate of about 4,000 gallons of crude every 90 minutes. It' not a huge amount, but, look, it's -- everything -- every -- every little bit counts.

Late this afternoon, all 16 vessels got the green light to go back on the water.

I got a firsthand look at these -- some of these barges with Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, last week. He called it Cajun ingenuity. They were his answer to, you know, a very slow response from BP about how to actually get the oil off the water without just using absorbent pads, which are very slow.

He personally led the crusade to try and get this fleet reinstated.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: And here's what frustrates us.

One, they could have gone out where these barges were deployed. If they needed to inspect the life jackets, if they needed to inspect the fire extinguishers, they should have gone out where these barges were deployed, instead of forcing them to stop removing that oil.

The second frustration, over 24 hours, it didn't seem like the left hand knew what the right hand was doing. There was no coordination. The command-and-control infrastructure didn't work. And that's why we're saying all along we need to intensify this effort.


COOPER: Ed Lavandera has been following the story for us.

I mean, it doesn't -- it does seem to be just a prime example of -- you know, of some official saying, well, look, there's no inspection stickers on this or we need to inspect this. But they could have just inspected it while it was still in the field and operating.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's what Governor Jindal had hoped they had done.

And it was really strange. There was kind of this 24-hour window where, at least according to the governor's office, just a lot of confusion. They were actually depending on us, asking us what the Coast Guard was telling us about when these boats would able to go, these barges would be sent back on the water.

COOPER: Right, because, last night, the Coast Guard had told us, well, they will -- we will inspect them in the morning.


COOPER: But now they -- it turns out they didn't even inspect them. They just sent them back. Is that right?

LAVANDERA: That's what -- the governor's office is saying that.

We did see them this afternoon. There were about 16 of them. They were tied up to -- they were tied up there to the port. And they were sent back out.

But when we asked the admiral, Admiral Thad Allen, who is in charge of the response here -- we pressed him. He talked about it was done for safety reasons and that sort of thing.

But I asked him specifically about, look, there was -- the governor is saying there was this 24-hour window where they just couldn't get any straight answers. What was going on? And he snapped back pretty -- pretty intensely. You can listen to him here.

COOPER: All right, let's take a look. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: I just gave you the answer. We need to do safety checks to make sure they could operate out there with stability and nobody would get hurt.

We have worked through all that today. I have been on the water for the last two hours. My understanding is, we have reached an accommodation on how to move forward.

We are going to run into -- we are going to run into new technologies and things that have never been tried before. We want people to be innovative. We want them to try new things. We just need to make sure that it's safe.


LAVANDERA: Now, he did go on to say that, look, we will improve communications. There's a lot of different ideas that are being implemented, and it's a wide range along the coast, from New Orleans, south of New Orleans and the Louisiana coast, all the way to Port Saint Joe in -- and...


COOPER: Right.

I mean, you can see it both ways. If some -- God forbid, there had been some accident out there on one of these barges, something had sunk or people fall off, then the Coast Guard would get blamed for it. So, they want to make sure everybody is safe.

At the same time, it does seem to hang up these barges for 24 hours for some sort of inspection, which, according to the governor's office, never even took place.

LAVANDERA: No, they're -- that's what they're saying. And they're also saying that, look, we have lost 24 hours. They weren't on there. And they say that the equipment that they have put on these barges is starting to suck up a lot more oil. So, the numbers we have been talking about, they think it's going to be -- go up by thousands and thousands more here in the coming weeks.

COOPER: Right.

LAVANDERA: They have 16 out there now and 14 that are supposed to be coming -- 14 more coming back online.

COOPER: And the governor -- when I was out there with them days ago, the governor was saying they would like to get -- ramp these up so there's more than 100 of them out there, and really attacking this oil with some bigger machines, bigger vacuums and get up what they can.

LAVANDERA: And they're big into this, because these are -- these barges are deployed into the marshy grass area. This isn't out in the water.

COOPER: Right.

LAVANDERA: This is in the marshland on the edges of this marsh grass.

COOPER: Right, which, basically, right now, the oil is sitting out there. Occasionally, BP sends people out with these absorbent pads to literally just soak it up. But local officials are saying, look, it's not doing the job.

LAVANDERA: It was disgusting. We saw them a couple days ago.

And, in these corners, the currents kind of pull up the oil in one place, and it's just sitting there, thick.


LAVANDERA: You look at the marsh grass, five feet deep into the grass, and it is -- you see green in the distance, but it is brown right but up front. I mean, so...


COOPER: It's killing those marshes.

LAVANDERA: Absolutely.

COOPER: It's dead out there.

Ed Lavandera, appreciate it.

COOPER: Coming up: fears of another potential disaster out there -- a BP whistle-blower telling Congress that the oil company continues to cut corners, this time on a rig called the Atlantis, the deepest deepwater oil rig in the world. We will have the latest on that testimony and we will talk to him.

And country superstar Trace Adkins joins us, speaking out on the Gulf spill. The former oil rig worker himself has got a lot to say about how things are being handled down here and also what it's like to be on one of those rigs. And he also talks about the president's ban on drilling. It's tonight's "Big 360 Interview" -- ahead.


COOPER: The deepwater horizon disaster wasn't the only focus on Capitol Hill today. Lawmakers also heard testimony about another Gulf Coast, potential catastrophe. This is according to a whistleblower, Ken Abbott, a former consultant on the Atlantis which is another BP rig. It's a deep sea rig. It's 190 miles or so off of the Louisiana Coast. It's a huge rig, really deep well. Abbott claims the rig is operating without crucial engineering plans and dangerous cost cutting measure, he says, and another example of what he says is BP's quote, "widespread disregard for safety". BP denies his allegations. We'll have their side of it as well. I spoke with Ken Abbott in Washington just minutes after he testified today.


COOPER: Ken, you're basically saying that the Atlantis rig which is a BP oil rig in the Gulf, producing far more oil than the deepwater horizon did, is unsafe, correct?

KEN ABBOTT, FORMER BP ATLANTIS CONTRACTOR: The drawings were not completed properly which is going to cause problems with the operators being able to operate the rig safely on an ongoing basis. And because of the size of the Atlantis, four to five times the output of the deepwater, any failure there could be four to five times the problem that we have with the deepwater.

COOPER: So, when did you first bring the problems to BP and what did they say? How did they respond?

ABBOTT: You know, Anderson, what really bothers me is that I've seen -- I tried for a year and a half to get this problem fixed. I knew from my experience as a project controls engineer that this was a deadly recipe for problems and for catastrophic errors, and it just didn't happen. The management tone there was, you know, let's take the shortcut. Let's do the engineering as fast as we can and forget about the normal things you should do.

COOPER: And this rig is still operating this whole time. MMS was out inspecting the rigs, and they didn't manage to find any of this. In fact, BP says that MMS gave them a safety award. What's your feeling about MMS's performance in all of this? Do you think they were just rubber stamping whatever BP wanted them to?

ABBOTT: Exactly, Anderson. I think they were very negligent in their enforcement in regulation of BP on the Atlantis project. You know, we tried for a year and a half, my attorney and I both, to get the MMS to take notice. They're just not checking these drawings at all, OK? And they should be. That's their, you know, requirement.

COOPER: BP addressed your concerns in January in a letter to congressional investigators and they say that your allegations are unfounded and that the Atlantis platform had final documentation in place before it started operating.

ABBOTT: And my answer to that would be that when that Attorney Westall wrote that letter in January, she deceived Congress. I think at BP, you have this two-faced problem. You have the public face, you know, with the Tony Hayward's going out and saying everything is OK, and the pr groups and attorneys. You know, three weeks ago, Tony wrote a letter to his people saying everything was fine there from the get-go, from the date we started and it's still fine. And three weeks ago, Judge Sparcan (ph) did an AP interview which was done with Noaki Schwartz (ph) and he said it's done, it was never done and it's still not done. COOPER: And, as you said, you raised red flags about the Atlantis last year. The government has known about the allegations you've been making for months now. The platform is still operating while they're investigating. Based on what you know, what you believe, should the Atlantis be in operation right now?

ABBOTT: I think they need to shut that rig down, Anderson. They need to go out there. It's very simple to check to see if the drawings are done. You know, all this stuff is electronic on the database. They're not doing that and they should.

COOPER: Kenneth Abbott, appreciate your time. Ken, thanks.

ABBOTT: You're welcome, Anderson.


COOPER: As always, we invited BP to be on the program tonight, and of course, they said no. We're going to have much more from the Gulf.

Still ahead including my interview with country superstar, Trace Adkins. He used to work on a rig on the Gulf.

First, Joe Johns joins us in "360 News and Business Bulletin" -- John.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Anderson. The Supreme Court denied a last ditch appeal by a Utah inmate set to be executed by firing squad. The court released its decision just hours before Ronnie Lee Gardner is scheduled to be put to death. Gardner was convicted for the 1985 murder of Attorney Michael Burdell during an attempted courthouse escape.

The suspect in the last month's Times Square bombing attempt was indicted today by federal grand jury. Faisal Shahzad faces ten counts from conspiracy and attempted use of weapons of mass destruction to terrorism. Six of the charges carry a maximum life sentence.

And continued anxiety over the economy sent gold prices to an all-time high. The precious metal closing at $1,248 an ounce, up nearly 1.5 percent since yesterday -- Anderson.

COOPER: Amazing how high it is. Joe, thanks.

Coming up, slammed with more than 230 lawsuits, BP whose judge shopping (ph). Look at the Houston judge the company wants to try its case and his ties to the oil industry. A report from our special investigation unit.

And country superstar, Trace Adkins. The man knows his music. You might be surprised to learn he also knows his way around an oil rig. He spent years working out in the Gulf. Tonight, he's speaking out about the disaster in the Gulf. It's the big "360" interview, ahead.


COOPER: From Congress to the court's, BP's problems continue to mount. The oil company is now the target of more than 220 federal lawsuits related to the spill from wrongful death suits brought by families of the workers killed in the deepwater horizon blast, hundreds of class action suits from area of business owners devastated, and the filing made public today. The justice department has asked that all the lawsuits be grouped under a single judge, any judge, as long as he or she is based in New Orleans, but the closest federal court is to the spill.

Not surprisingly, BP has requested a different location, but also wants very specific judge. Here's Abbie Boudreau with this report from our special investigations unit.


ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice- over): This man, Lynn Hughes, is the federal judge in Houston, Texas that BP would like to supervise all the lawsuits filed against it.

BOUDREAU (on-camera): Essentially, Judge Hughes could make decisions worth billions of dollars to BP and that casts a spotlight on his own financial ties to the oil and gas industry.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Judge Hughes owns land that produces oil, land that he leases to oil companies. He gets annual royalties from whatever they pump out. In 2008, the most recent records available, he received royalty payments from ConocoPhillips between $50 and $100,000. Royalty payments from Sun Oil of $15,000 or less, and royalties from an oil company called Devon Energy of less than $15,000.

Records dating back to 2003 showed Judge Hughes received hundreds of thousands of dollars in royalties for more than a dozen energy companies. Judge Hughes has said he's transparent, that all of his personal investment and finance information is online for anyone to see.

CHARLES GEYH, INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF LAW: When you take it together, is there a concern that a reasonable person, fully informed of all of that might say, he's not just a judge who happens to be dabbling. He is, in effect, a participant in the industry he is trying to judge.

BOUDREAU (on-camera): A judge who also travels to speak at meetings held by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. He doesn't get a fee for speaking at those meetings, but it does pay his accommodations, his travel and expenses. In 2009, Judge Hughes presided over a case involving Devon Energy, one of the companies that pay him royalties, but he didn't disclose that information at the hearing. The company ended up winning and was awarded $3.9 million.

GEYH: The best practice that's out there and I think what judges across the country are encouraged to do is when there is any doubt that put some sunshine on the problem, turn your cards face up, to mix metaphors, and basically, make it clear to the parties what your potential interests are.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Which brings us back to BP and why it would like Judge Hughes to oversee the oil spill lawsuits. BP told us, quote, "BP believes that Judge Lynn Hughes, to whom the first filed federal case in Houston was assigned, is an appropriate choice to provide oversight of these cases."

GEYH: This isn't a rank and file case. This is a case involving a couple hundred cases involving the biggest oil disaster in the history of the country where we ought to be especially concerned about public confidence in the judiciary.

BOUDREAU (on-camera): CNN examined Judge Hughes' rulings on oil and gas cases going back three years. In fact, he ruled in favor of oil companies just a little more often than he ruled against them. Lawyers who know Judge Hughes tell CNN he's fair and tough, but environmental attorneys say even the request by BP to have this judge sit on the bench is, quote, "outrageous and unseemly."

Abbie Boudreau, CNN, Atlanta.


COOPER: Consolidating hundreds of lawsuits under a single judge is not unusual especially in the case. These massive lawyers for Toyota made the same request a few months ago when hundreds of their customers filed suit over faulty gas pedals. The BP's specific request to have their case filed under Judge Hughes puts kind of a new spin on the term.

Joining us again, senior legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, Jeffrey Toobin. Is it unusual for a company like BP to actually name the judge they want?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: No, not at all, and it is not surprising that they want this case not in New Orleans which is, of course, so emotionally affected by what's gone on in the Gulf and in Houston, which is the oil capital of the United States. And Judge Hughes is really typical of the federal bench there. He is a white Republican, upper middle class lawyer. And if you take that universe of people, most of them have some kind of connections to the oil industry as he does.

COOPER: For all we know, if it was here in New Orleans, there could be a judge who was ties to the oil industry here as well?

TOOBIN: Absolutely. But, you know, the usual rule when it comes to lawsuits is you try the case in the jurisdiction where the accident took place or the closest place to it. Here, the closest place is New Orleans. And so, you can expect that the government, the plaintiffs, the environmental groups will be trying to get this case sent to New Orleans and not to Houston. It's not so much about Judge Hughes. It's really about the whole federal bench in those two cities and the federal bench in Houston is known to be more sympathetic to the oil industry than most other jurisdictions. COOPER: What is the best thing for a judge to do in a case, you know, like this? I mean, should they recuse themselves? I mean, Judge Hughes handled the case with this company, Devon Energy, when apparently he had received money from Devon for oil on his land.

TOOBIN: And he said, look, anybody who looked at my financial disclosure form could have seen that I had this relationship with Devon Energy. I think the better practice would have been for him to call attention to the fact that he had this connection, but he didn't do that. It's not unethical. It's, I think, a mistaken judgment that, you know, some judges make. Anderson, can I just add one point on an unrelated matter?

COOPER: Sure. Yes.

TOOBIN: A couple of weeks ago, we did a story about Lieutenant Colonel Terrence Lakin. He is the officer who has tried to get out of military service because he believes that President Obama was not born in the United States. He's one of the so-called birthers. In the course of that report, I made the statement that a lot of the birthers are bigots and racists and there was a picture of Lakin behind me.

I didn't mean to suggest that he was a bigot and a racist. I was just talking more generally. And I also should correct myself. He wasn't trying to get out of military service. He is the subject of a court Marshall that's why we were doing the story. But I didn't mean to imply that about him.

COOPER: OK, Jeff, thanks.

Up next tonight, the big "360" interview with country music star, Trace Adkins. Heard his music, no doubt, but wait until you hear what he has to say about the disaster here in the Gulf. He knows what he's talking about. He used to work on an oil rig for years in the Gulf. Our candid conversation, next.


COOPER: Trace Adkins is, of course, a country superstar. Over the past 14 years, he's racked up gold and platinum albums, selling 8 million records worldwide. Take a look.



COOPER: That's how most people know him, but before he became a music star, Trace Adkins earned his living as a roughneck and derrick man, spending six drooling years working on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. For tonight's "Big 360" interview, I talked to him earlier to share his views on the disaster now unfold him.


COOPER: Trace, you worked on drilling rigs from six years out in the Gulf. When you first heard about this disaster, what went through your mind?

TRACE ADKINS, FORMER OIL RIG WORKER: Well, my first reaction, of course, was just sympathy and empathy for the men that lost their lives and their families. That was one of the first things I learned when I went to work offshore. I worked in the oil field for ten years. I worked in the Gulf of Mexico and six of those years on drilling rigs. When I went to work to Global Marine Drilling Company, they had just lost the drill ship in the China Sea, and it was just felt throughout the entire company.

I mean, I had men on the rig that I worked on who knew men that had died on that drill ship. And any time that happens, I mean, you know, it is a big family out there.

COOPER: All the workers I've talked to whether from the deepwater horizon or other rigs say that it's crucial that you be able to stop for safety, that if you feel you're doing something that's dangerous out on the rig, that you have the ability, and on paper, everybody has the ability to stop what you're doing because it basically takes a time out (ph) for safety. Is that something when you were working out there what was important, that was emphasized, that, you know, safety is a huge issue?

ADKINS: Yes, safety was always the number one priority for us. We had safety meetings continually. It was just a routine thing. And yes, anybody, anybody from a roust about up to a tool pusher had the responsibility to point out anything that they saw that they thought was unsafe. And that was another thing that I thought about in this disaster. There had to be a company man that was pressuring and forcing somebody, you know, at Transocean to do something that they probably didn't think was safe and somehow somebody's objections got overridden and that's unfortunate.

COOPER: As you know, obviously, a lot of folks here in Louisiana are concerned about President Obama's moratorium on deepwater drilling. Do you support it or do you think it's a bad idea?

ADKINS: I think it's a terrible idea. That's like kicking a man when he's down. That is the most idiotic, juvenile, overreaction. It's an uninformed decision is what it is. It's just ridiculous. You know, don't get me started on that. I don't know how many tens of thousands of wells have been drilled in the Gulf of Mexico since we've been doing it. But how many times have you heard about this happening? I think that's a pretty good track record, you know. And to punish American companies for something that a British company did and that's another thing, too.

This moratorium is not going to stop anybody else. It's not going to stop British companies. It's not going to stop anybody else. It's going to hurt American companies. Those are the ones that are going to be forced to stop working. And when you just stack drilling rigs, it's not just those men that work on those rigs. You're talking about supply companies, service companies, catering companies, all those people that depend on those drilling rigs working in the Gulf of Mexico and that's another thing. The problem -- one of the problems here is that we were having to drill a well in over a mile depth, you know.

t The president earlier this year was looking at lifting some of the, you know, opening some leases on the continental shelf and in some shallow water where we know how to do it, it's easy to do. We've been doing it for over 50 years. I don't know how many wells I personally drilled in, you know, 200 feet of water. We know how to do that. The blowout preventers are above the water. We maintain them. We function test them. We know how to service them and make sure they work properly.

When your blow-out preventer is sitting over a mile deep in the ocean, it's very hard to work on. Yes, the moratorium on the drilling is just -- that's ridiculous.

COOPER: Do you worry about Louisiana not being able to bounce back, about you know, way of life here, shrimpers, oyster men, just (ph) a way of life dying?

ADKINS: Yes, sure. I mean, you know, you feel for that. It's tragic. It's tragic. But also a way of life in Louisiana is oil field, you know. I mean, you can't just -- that's why I say, you know, shutting down the oil field is like kicking a man when he's down. I mean, you can't do that to the rest of the people in the state.

COOPER: If you had to -- this may be a dumb question, but if there was a song you were going to sing about what's happening down here now, what one would you pick?

ADKINS: I recorded a song three or four albums ago called "Missing You" and it was about working on a drilling rig and working in the oil field in the Gulf of Mexico. And that's the song that I would sing. As a matter of fact, that's the song that they played at the memorial service for the men that died on that Transocean rig.

COOPER: "Missing You." Trace Adkins, appreciate you talking tonight. Thank you.

ADKINS: It's my pleasure.

COOPER: Trace Adkins. More from the Gulf, ahead.