Return to Transcripts main page
JOHN KING, USA
BP CEO Hayward Testifies on Capitol Hill
Aired June 17, 2010 - 19:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf and good evening. Wow, today was a big day, a big day in consequential drama here in Washington. We knew going in that the BP CEO Tony Hayward would play the leading role and he did. For seven and a half hours, in a House committee room full of scorn and skepticism, but tonight in Washington as is often the case in Hollywood the buzz is less about the lead actor and more about a major supporting role. After all surprises make a good drama great and this was a stunning turn. Hayward took his oath, delivered his apology and then sat in disbelief along with just about everyone else as he received an apology.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOE BARTON (R), TEXAS: I apologize, 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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Hayward was speechless. Republican leader stunned the blogosphere abuzz and the vice president downright giddy.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOSEPH BIDEN, (D-DE) VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Look, look --
BIDEN: Thank God my mother wasn't around. Look, guys, I find it incredibly insensitive, incredibly out of touch --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: By the end of the day veteran Texas Republican Congressman Joe Barton apologized for apologizing and he apologized for using the term "shakedown" to describe the new $20 billion escrow fund BP negotiated with the Obama White House to confiscate spill victims.
Now let's be clear. Several sources tell me tonight that Congressman Barton apologized after being told by the Republican leadership that if he didn't immediately he would lose his powerful committee post. Those Republican leaders are still seething tonight. That's because the script called for Tony Hayward to play the role of pinata today solo.
Instead the GOP is also taking hits because one of its veteran lawmakers apologized twice on national television to the man just about everyone else in the room and everyone I met last week along the Gulf Coast holds responsible for the greatest environmental catastrophe in American history -- a lot to digest and debate in a packed hour ahead including new evidence tonight of the big toll this crisis is taking on the president's standing with the American people.
Let's begin with two members of the committee at center stage today. Jan Schakowsky is an Illinois Democrat. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican. Thank you for coming in. Let me start with this. We didn't learn much from Mr. Hayward today, did we?
REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY (D), ILLINOIS: Well over an over again he said that I wasn't hart of the decision making. I didn't know. At one point Chairman Waxman asked him, didn't you get our letter that listed the questions? How come you weren't prepared in any way to answer those questions?
REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R), TENNESSEE: You know John, there should be a division of labor and the president should have laid this out on day one. Said BP you're responsible for this leak, stop the leak. Federal government, federal waters we need to clean it up. Let's get busy, governors, mayors, you have availability of our resources, Congress you need to do your due diligence, find out what happened. Make sure it never happens again. We've not that division of labor. We were trying to do our part today on that. Find out what happened and unfortunately it seemed that Mr. Hayward was not prepared to answer the questions.
KING: Mr. Hayward was in the path of your inquiry, but your colleague Mr. Barton also got in your way to a degree. I want you to listen a little bit more from Congressman Barton today at the hearing.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARTON: With the attorney general of the United States who is legitimately conducting a criminal investigation and has every right to do so to protect the interest of the American people, participating in what amounts to a $20 billion slush fund, it's unprecedented in our nation's history --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You're a member of the leadership team. The leadership team went to Congressman Barton and said you twice apologized to Tony Hayward. You accused the White House of a shakedown and a slush fund. There may well be some legitimate questions about the White House has handled this, how the fund will work. There are always legitimate questions about what the government is doing with big chunks money, but is Congressman Barton now in your view, should he be the ranking Republican on this key committee that deals with these very issues -- oil, gas, offshore drilling?
BLACKBURN: Right and Congressman Barton was clear that he was speaking for himself that he was not speaking for the Republican leadership or the Republican conference. He didn't speak for me. And I think that, you know, he came forward with his apology. I -- the leadership team will continue to look at this.
I think the important thing here is we want to make certain that action is taken. We've had a lot of rhetoric from BP, from the president, and John, what people want to see is action. They are ready to see this leak stopped. They are ready to see this cleaned up. They are ready to see the Gulf restored.
KING: The White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs sent out a tweet saying elect the Republicans, give the Republicans control of Congress and guess who will oversee this industry, oversee BP, Joe Barton. Do you see a political opening here?
SCHAKOWSKY: Well I think it as a really unfortunate statement. He called it a tragedy of the first proportion. Was he talking about the spill? No. He was talking about setting up this $20 billion fund to restore the Gulf, and to repay the -- to make the workers and the residents whole. And so it was a serious mistake, yes, he did apologize, but I think that it was after pressure.
Look, this does definitely go beyond politics, but we have seen situations where the Republicans have been trying to lay the blame, pointed at the president, and I think that, you know, and we've seen them resist actually that BP should take full responsibility. John Boehner said it's BP and the public.
KING: Well shakedown and flush fund --
KING: Shakedown and slush fund were language repudiated by your leadership. I know you don't like those words, but he is not, Joe Barton, the own Republican to question how this trust fund will work. Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota, was here last night. I want you to listen to her take.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN (R), MINNESOTA: This is an appointee from the Obama administration who we're putting -- who will be doing the payout and it's the pay czar dealing with the administration, so this is very different from what we've done in the past. And while it's important that all of the claims get paid, let's just make sure that this isn't a permanent ATM card.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do you share those concerns? BLACKBURN: A couple of points that I think we have to look at. First of all, BP said today that they realize that this is their responsibility under the oil protection act. Not only to pay for plugging for that leak -- plugging that leak but also for the clean- up. We need to make certain that that happens. And it is our responsibility as members of Congress to be certain that it's there.
Now, it is unusual that the president said this fund is going to be handled by a third-party administrator, an independent administrator. Then we find out that it's the pay czar. It would be better many of us think for there to be an independent hand that is on that and that the money goes to stopping the leak, doing the clean up and doing the restoration of the Gulf and making certain that those individuals are made whole through this process.
KING: We talked about the executive branch role. You clearly have a lot of questions still for BP and didn't get your answers, but Congresswoman you raised a point today about the administration, a legitimate question and a bit more. I want you to listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BLACKBURN: The current administration also shares a significant portion of the blame for the oil spill. I mentioned MMS earlier. And the MMS officials approved inadequate spill response plans and field inspectors, rubber stamped inspection papers submitted by oil companies.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: There are fair questions for the administration. I assume you would both agree to that, but I want to ask you this question about your role in this because we went back and looked at the oversight hearings held by Congress before this happened.
In 2010, prior to this explosion and the 11 deaths and the catastrophe environmentally, zero hearings in the House or the Senate on MMS or offshore oversight. Back in 2009, after a couple of damming inspector general reports there were five in the House and two in the Senate. Back in 2008, there were zero oversight hearings by the United States Congress on this issue and in 2007, one in the House and two in the Senate.
Congresswoman Schakowsky in that period I just mentioned Democrats were in charge. Democrats held the chairmanship through that entire period. We could go back in time and probably find just as low a number. But is part of this -- part of the answer here for Congress to take a hard look in the mirror too and say we need to do a better job?
SCHAKOWSKY: I don't think there's any question, we certainly need the changes and we got them. Michael Bromwich at MMS, at the helm of that agency that has been in bad shape through the Bush administration where we had those regulators literally sleeping with the oil companies and so we --
KING: I understand that and it's a legitimate issue, but your party has been in charge for a long time now.
SCHAKOWSKY: No -- well not that long, but you're right. It's time -- it's over time that we change the management there. And if there are holes in the law, we need to plug those holes as well and we need to make sure that the law is in force. But ultimately this is BP's responsibility. And that was what was so shocking today that Tony Hayward seemed so unable to answer, but not only that, said well we can't make a decision about what went wrong because we're still in the midst of an investigation. There are many more deep water wells in the Gulf itself. He better quickly do this. There was a lot of pressure on him to move faster.
KING: All right we'll come back to this issue in the days ahead. I appreciate both of you coming in tonight. We'll also have your chairman, Bart Stupak from the subcommittee with us later in the program. Thank you both for coming in. Please come back to see us.
When we come back as well we'll talk to our reporters covering this story and we will share with you new poll numbers just in to CNN that show the big toll this crisis is taking on the president of the United States.
KING: A big and controversial day on Capitol Hill, a big hearing into the BP oil spill. And new numbers just in to CNN showing the toll this is taking on the president of the United States. Let's continue our conversation.
With me here in studio, our senior political analyst Gloria Borger and with us also David Gergen is in Boston, our senior analyst Ed Henry, our senior White House correspondent and Dana Bash, our senior congressional correspondent. Ed to you first with these numbers and then I want everyone's take on this.
Is Barack Obama a strong and decisive leader? These numbers just in to CNN now 53 percent say yes, 46 percent say no. That's a seven percent drop on the year's question from January, 60 percent then, 53 percent now judge the president as a strong and decisive leader. And it is a complete tradeoff, 39 percent in January said no, 46 percent now, proof positive, Ed that this crisis is taking a toll.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It is and that is exactly why he tried to grab the megaphone and use that Oval Office address on Tuesday night, the first time he had done that to try and show he's in command. It's also why, as you mentioned, Robert Gibbs was tweeting today about Joe Barton. The vice president of the United States was in the briefing room today, supposed to be talking about the economy, but entertained a question about Joe Barton. They jumped all over that because they love to change the subject from the president's leadership on this to what is going on now on Capitol Hill. Now that there are those hearings the spotlight can shift.
KING: David Gergen, an open conversation among Republicans and a private conversation among many Democrats is a concern that this could become for President Obama, could conditional what Katrina was for President Bush. Two very different challenges, but the issue it framed in the American people's mind is a question of competence. Can their president, can their federal government respond to crisis? Is there that risk?
DAVID GERGEN, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Yes, there's a growing risk of that. And the speech I thought John was his last big shot at turning people around on this issue and it did not work. We know that. Now I think the actions next day with BP actually were very helpful to the president in his regard but the larger danger here is what we call a narrative developing that the president is not able to solve crises, not able to solve the Gulf crisis, not able to solve the crisis of unemployment and not able to solve the growing problems in Afghanistan. He is very severely tested by these challenges and unless he can come to grips with at least one of those three challenges in the next few weeks it could definitely undermine his presidency.
KING: And Gloria, weigh in, but first these numbers just to back this up. Is Obama tough enough to handle a crisis? Yes, 53 percent now, no 47. That's down 11 points from June of 2009, 64 percent, yes, he's tough enough in 2009, June, 53 percent now, again a decline on the leadership challenge.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: A decline absolutely. When you talk to people at the White House about this, and I'm sure Ed has heard this as well, they will say to you when you look at the president's overall approval rating for the last six months or so he has remained at about 50 percent. So they still maintain, John that while these numbers are not great, if you look at the general numbers, people kind of still give him a little bit of the benefit of the doubt because people still trust him and people still like him, so their hope there is that he gets over this hump, and that those numbers start reversing himself when he gets more wins in Congress, and when the subject gets changed and the leak gets plugged.
KING: Dana, in a minute I want you to take us inside that hearing room today for the drama but in this context, when the president's numbers are going down, Democrats on Capitol Hill thinking this is a tough mid-term election year for us. They want to be talking about other issues. They want to be trying to sell people on the economy, trying to sell people on the health care plan. If the president's numbers as a leader are on a slide how does that affect the mood among Democrats in Congress?
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Terrible and in fact terribly because they have already been in -- not panic, but in early stages of panic about this BP crisis, and in any election year, particularly a mid-term election year, the party who is in power watches their fellow president approval ratings. As Gloria just said the president's approval ratings might be OK, but those leadership numbers are a subset of those. And I can tell you I know for a fact that Democratic leaders, Democrats who are on the ballot in just five months are watching those very carefully and they are really, really nervous.
KING: And David, you've advised presidents Democratic and Republican and you've been called in at a time of crisis every time. What do you tell the president when you say the narrative might be starting to develop? How do you turn it around?
GERGEN: It's a good question. Right now the best thing the president and the Democrats have going for them is Republicans like Joe Barton. You know those things always hit home.
GERGEN: You know it's sort of a gift. But I do think he's got to stay focused on this oil spill and look for opportunities now, John, I continue to think he needs to shake up the command structure for the clean-up and protecting the shore and the wildlife. Until he's put in place he's going to be subject to this continuing severe criticism from residents down there that's going to play out on television. People thinking the government is not -- you know they are still running all over each other. They're still bumping into each other.
BORGER: But the escrow account is a very good thing for Barack Obama --
GERGEN: Yes, I agree.
BORGER: -- because he gave the speech, he said BP is going to be held accountable. They're going to pay, the next day you had an agreement for $20 billion without a cap, so that's a start --
KING: Deliverable they say in politics. Everybody stand by. The group is going to stay with us. When we come back much more on this big subject including the man David Gergen just mentioned. Joe Barton, he was the surprise at today's congressional hearing. Stay with us, more drama (INAUDIBLE) to come.
KING: Non-responsive is the term the lawyers would use to describe the answers from Tony Hayward, the BP CEO today during most of his seven and a half hours before a congressional committee. Stunning was the word being used by Democrats and Republicans to something that came from senior Republican Joe Barton of Texas.
Twice he apologized to the BP CEO. He also used the words shakedown and slush fund to describe this new escrow fund set up by the White House. Our senior congressional correspondent Dana Bash was in the hearing room all day. Dana that was the wow moment of the day and you also have behind the scenes information of I would say the eat-it (ph) Mr. Barton got from his leadership?
BASH: That's right, the fact of the matter is that Republicans increasingly as the minutes went by, literally minutes went by today, realized this is a big political problem. And so the two lead Republicans in the House called Joe Barton in and said you got to fix this. And not just that, you're going to lose your seat as the top Republican on the committee if you don't fix this fast. And what I'm told is that Joe Barton kind of -- was surprised at how upset they were. He sort of didn't get it at the time. But Republicans they're telling me right away they understood. They could hear the president in a speech saying Republicans want to apologize to BP. I don't want to apologize to BP. They could just see it over and over and over again replaying. And it just completely crushed -- really probably still does their message that they are trying to hold BP accountable and it really inflames the whole idea the Democrats are saying, Republicans are beholding to big oil.
KING: And Ed, when you watch the vice president commenting about this, he was just short of doing hand stands.
HENRY: He was and you know the other problem for Republicans is that you know I was pressing Robert Gibbs in the daily briefing today about the fact that they -- one of the points Joe Barton was trying to make but nobody is paying attention to it because of the other inflammatory comments was that the Attorney General Eric Holder was in the room, in the Roosevelt Room in the West Wing yesterday sitting across from these BP officials and I said, look, he's got an open criminal investigation of BP.
Doesn't it sort of force BP to write that $20 billion check for the escrow fund a little bit quicker. And Robert Gibbs insisted no, it wasn't unusual because there were other cabinet secretaries like the commerce secretary there. Look, the commerce secretary doesn't have the same power as the attorney general, this certainly -- maybe it wasn't a shakedown, I'm not going to go (INAUDIBLE) Joe Barton was saying obviously. But this certainly could have been seen as putting some pressure on BP. That issue is now all but gone, because Joe Barton overstepped.
KING: And David Gergen that's what many Republicans are furious at Joe Barton for because they think they do have some legitimate questions about what is happening here and how it is happening. And now they have to deal with this embarrassment.
GERGEN: Well there are legitimate questions about how this fund should be paid. What kind of liabilities. There was particularly the question of whether BP should be held responsible for workers who were laid off as a result of the moratorium that was imposed by the White House. And you know that went beyond what I think most reasonable people think was their liability. And the president essentially seem to have conceded that point in the negotiations, but so there were some legitimate questions, but overwhelmingly the public feels BP has got to make sure the money is there.
And this is an escrow account, not all of the money goes out. If the claims amount to $15 billion, BP gets the $5 billion extra back. You know if this is simply an insurance fund and that's why I think the public say well of course they ought to put up an insurance fund.
BORGER: You know, John, eight out of 10 people in our poll today support the escrow account. And so this is not what Republicans want to be saying or want to be hearing a leading Republican say. They also are saying the president isn't tough enough. OK, if the president isn't tough enough, why is a Republican apologizing to BP.
BASH: And John, I just want to --
BASH: -- just want to jump in and tell you that as we were talking to make this point I got an e-mail from David Plouffe with the president's political arm -- fund raising arm -- the lead (ph) is apologize to BP, please send money --
BASH: -- Republican to apologize to BP --
KING: So political fallout immediately -- Gloria, David, Ed and Dana, thank you. Still a lot more to come on the program -- let me go over to the wall -- the "Magic Wall". We'll give you a preview. When we come back we'll go "One-on-One", and it's an exclusive "One-on-One" with Congressman Bart Stupak. He is the chairman of that subcommittee that held the hearing today and guess what, he thinks the star witness was evasive to say the least.
Today's most important person you don't know -- this one is going to depress you. She is a government watch dog. She's watching the inspectors, the people who are supposed to be the police force about this BP spill -- she says they are not up to the challenge.
And in our "Radar" tonight stay with us, more sad news about the scandal at the Arlington National Cemetery, the graveyard to our heroes and the president is at 90 percent somewhere, guess where -- think across the pond.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) * JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Today's subcommittee hearing was chaired by Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak of Michigan. In a CNN exclusive, he's here to go one-on-one.
So you had your star witness, BP CEO Tony Hayward, at the center of the table today. You asked a lot of tough questions. Democrats and other Republicans on the committee asked a lot of tough questions. This is mostly what you got.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP: We've launched an investigation. I believe we should await the results of the investigations.
I'm not prepared to speculate.
I can't pass judgment on those decisions. I'm not sure exactly who made the decisions.
I'm afraid I can't recall that. I don't recall that, either, I'm afraid.
I can't answer your question in that form.
I'm afraid I can't answer that question. I generally don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: You satisfied?
REP. BART STUPAK (D-MI), CHAIRMAN, ENERGY AND COMMERCE SUBCOMMITTEE ON OVERSIGHT AND INVESTIGATION: No, absolutely not. It was frustrating, not just for me, but for the American people. It has been 60 days. There has been a number of investigations. We sent Mr. Hayward the questions. We laid out on our June 14th letter, Chairman Waxman and I, here are the areas we're going to hit here. Five critical areas where BP just plain blew it. That's why we had this explosion. Answer them. We had all of the documentation.
He acknowledged the letter. He acknowledged receiving it. He said the five points we laid out are legitimate, but he wouldn't answer any questions about it. I mean...
KING: You're the chairman of the Investigative Subcommittee right now, but you're a former police officer.
KING: Mr. Hayward knows the attorney general knows of the United States is investigating him. The attorney general of Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama could well be investigating him and his company. And they could be subject to dozens of civil lawsuits.
If you were him, might you also not have been careful? As they say, it's cliche, but anything he said can and will be used against him.
STUPAK: Sure. But, look at, I mean, when you lay out -- we laid out the case to him. We gave him the questions. We gave him the documents. He acknowledged he saw them. Even to acknowledge an April 16th e-mail which says "this is a nightmare well." It was like pulling teeth to get him to acknowledge that.
There comes a point in time when you almost become absurd and ridiculous. And unfortunately that's what I think Tony Hayward looked to the American people.
KING: And in terms of several members said, can you get back to us, when he said he didn't have it, do you have a firm deadline for that? And do you plan to bring him back and put him under oath again?
STUPAK: I don't think we'll bring him back. Will he come back? Yes, I think he will come back before the Energy and Commerce Committee. But we're not going to do it until we have a good finalized investigation, either the president's commission, which the president wants in the next six months, or even BP's internal investigation.
That would probably be the time to bring him back. Because otherwise you're just going to get the same. But we have two more hearings set. The reasons why we're doing all of these hearings -- this will be our -- fifth hearing was today, is at the end we can develop our legislative package so we can start moving yet this summer and this fall and get it completed before this Congress adjourns.
KING: The biggest surprise in today's hearing was when the ranking Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee apologized twice to Mr. Hayward, saying that he thought the White House essentially had a shakedown, he used the word "shakedown," to create the $20 billion escrow fund. And he said it was a slush fund. He did not want that in the hands of the government.
Congressman Barton raised a point most Republicans -- all Republicans we know have repudiated that language, "slush fund," "shakedown." But he raised a point about why was the attorney general of the United States across from Mr. Hayward and the other top BP officials at the White House at a time he is leading the criminal investigation? The attorney general was asked about it today and said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC HOLDER, ATTORNEY GENERAL: Let me be clear, I don't apologize for the Justice Department's role in this matter. And I don't apologize for the way in which this administration has approached this question.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Do you think, again, as the chairman of a committee in the Congress, as former police officer, should the attorney general of the United States at a time he's leading a criminal investigation into this company, be sitting across the table, at a time when there's no doubt the White House is pressuring BP to come up with this money and do more?
STUPAK: And the American people and Republicans are pressuring the president to come up with some kind of fund to help make these victims whole -- at least as whole as we can make them during the interim.
Remember, this fund is set up after 9/11 Commission and Mr. Finkbinder (sic), I think it is, is...
KING: Ken Feinberg, right.
STUPAK: Feinberg, is going to be the head of it. Remember, it was 9/11 Commission, there were criminal investigations going on there. So I think you had to ask -- some parameters had to be negotiated. Can they be done under law? We're using the 9/11 Commission model by...
(CROSSTALK) KING: It has to be the attorney general, though? Couldn't be -- doesn't that send a signal?
STUPAK: Well, don't you have the assistant attorney general? I think we had to have someone to say, look, this is where you can go without limiting your criminal liability or your civil liability. For instance, the question was brought up today, well, you're going to pay for all of the health care of the people in the Gulf?
Well, no, but I think those who lost their job and then lost their health care, that would be legitimate under this fund. They had to put some parameters in there. I think it was worthwhile having the attorney general there to help put some parameters there.
I'm sure -- and Mr. Hayward and everyone else said, look, we wanted to do this. This was to help out, to expedite it. People are saying we're too slow in this process. There is nothing like, well, if you do this, we won't move, push here, or that. There was nothing like that. That's just bad politics, people who make that accusation.
KING: Did the drama, the comments from Congressman Barton that the Republican leadership pushed him to apologize for twice, saying I apologize to Tony Hayward, saying "shakedown" and "slush fund," was that a distraction in your mind from the important business you wanted to conduct with Mr. Hayward, a bit of circus, or, as a Democrat, were you happy to see a Republican do something so controversial?
STUPAK: Well, I hate to see anyone say anything which reflects negatively upon members or the Congress. We're trying to do our job. We're trying to do an investigation. And I think it was a distraction.
But the hearing went on. I mean, it became a distraction outside of the hearing room. In the hearing room, repeatedly, Mr. Hayward, and Republicans asked after the Barton comments, well, was this -- why did you do this? Well, we wanted to do it. We wanted to expedite the claims. We want people to have confidence. We want to bring forth these claims.
What's the fastest way to pay some of these folks who have lost their livelihood? This was the best way to do it, in any appointment, third party, who has a reputation after the 9/11 tragedy, to be able to distribute these funds fairly, impartially, and most people were happy with that.
So, no, I think it was sad -- it was sad that it happened. But Tony Hayward stuck to the point that, look, this is good for all of us, let's do this, let's put the money aside. They'll get their money back if they use $20 billion. This is a good way. It didn't cost the tax-payers anything.
KING: I think for the -- the legal term is "non-responsive" for most of Mr. Hayward's answers. But we applaud the effort of the committee for trying to get them. Chairman Stupak, we appreciate your coming in to sit down with us tonight.
STUPAK: Thank you.
KING: When we come back, is the president's handling of the oil spill affecting the way the rest of the world views him?
And still to come, we're better to hear about shakedown on the street. "Pete on the Street." Stay with us.
KING: Today's most important person you don't know also testified on Capitol Hill today. Mary Kendall, the interior department acting inspector general was at the hearing you didn't see, the one about government inspectors who make sure it's safe to drill in the Gulf of Mexico. Obviously, they've missed a few things lately. Kendall says it's no wonder.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARY KENDALL, INTERIOR DEPT. ACTING INSPECTOR GENERAL: We have been told that MMS has approximately 16 inspectors for the Gulf of Mexico region to cover nearly 4,000 facilities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And not only appoints to assure the inspection, she told lawmakers the biggest challenging to reform the inspection process may be performing the inspector's culture. Last spring, before the deepwater horizon exploded, one of Kendall's reports revealed that inspectors used illegal drugs, have pornography under government computers, and took hunting and fishing trips, paid for, guess who, the oil and gas companies they regulate.
One of the big oversight questions for the government, let's bring in the conversation, Kiki McLean, democratic strategist here with me in Washington, Rich Galen, the conservative strategist, and Erick Erickson, the editor in chief of the conservative RedState.com and the CNN contributor. When you hear things like this, whether you're on the left or on the right, that the government can't do right the simple things that it's charged with doing, what goes through your mind?
KIKI MCLEAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think it's important that we make sure that the government has the capacity to carry out, the structure, the regulation they had. You know, I do some work in this field, and so, it's been a learning experience in the last couple of years, learning just how important it is, the roles the companies take, the roles the government takes. And it's important you got to be able to execute on what you say you're going to do.
KING: This goes back to the previous administration. It goes back to the administration before that reaches. It's continued in this administration. I don't think there's a partisan take to it. But why can't the government control the government?
RICH GALEN, PUBLISHER, MULLINGS REPORT: Because there's a lot of it. Nobody can go down that far. It's like anybody who's ever worked in a big corporation, like, oh, I don't know. You know, corporation, Time Warner. I mean, there are people that are kind of buried in corners that nobody really knows about. The thing that strikes me though is that --
KING: Leave me out of this.
GALEN: Not you -- the -- if all of these government people like the S.E.C. and MMS would spend as much time doing their jobs as they are looking for porn or as good at doing their jobs as they are looking at porn, we would be a lot better off.
ERICK ERICKSON, EDITOR IN CHIEF, RESTATE.COM: Don't worry about that. They're going to build windmills now. Did you hear the president the other night, it's going to be windmills and health care. I mean, they apparently can't manage Arlington Cemetery. They can't keep the border security. They can't keep the oil from spilling. They can't do anything, but hey, let's take over health care and build windmills.
MCLEAN: I do feel the need at this point to actually defend. There are a lot of men and women who work in the federal government who do a good job, who engage in oversight, who engage in support of the efforts that are going on by the government. So, what we got here is the case and what's happening now is the inspector general of the inspectors general, I guess, would be the proper grammatical approach to this is saying, we have a problem, we got to do it. And now, we have the opportunity to work on this and fix it.
GALEN: That's right. You can't --
ERICKSON: And we'll build windmills.
GALEN: You can't take the libertarian, the ultimate libertarian view, which is, you know, a stop sign, is invasion of -- fifth amendment violation of rights. I mean, we do need regulation, but we need to have people who are trained to do the regulating. Look, we won't work around the secret service. And we know what they do it they called push. Remember, they maneuver themselves around so the same person is not at the same spot every day because you just get too comfortable. And maybe that's what we need to do with all of these inspectors to rotate them around. You got people who have fresh eyes looking at this --
KING: One of the issues here is it's such a highly technical, sophisticated field, and the government doesn't pay the money that private sector paid, so these people go out.
GALEN: At least here in Washington, public employees are doing way better than --
ERICKSON: The only sector where they are underperforming the private sector seems like in government everybody is over perform in the private sector. There's a larger problem. In Washington, the only guaranteed rule is that politicians underperform and overreact and that carries over to the bureaucracy. These people have been underperforming across the board, and it's not just to this department. Look at this Arlington Cemetery story about these tombstones, and then there's going to be a great show trial by Congress will investigate and we found (ph) this on the table and nothing at the end of the day will get done.
KING: Let's move on to that as we move on to stories on my radar. Let's start with Arlington National Cemetery. New revelations tonight in the Arlington National Cemetery scandal, the Washington Post reporter found head stones in a stream that runs through a wooded area in a cemetery. They've now been removed. The discovery comes a week after revelation that some 200 graves were mislabeled or misidentified. Yes, we're not supposed to get mad. My business where supposed to stay objective, but these are the kinds of things that just make you furious. This is a tribute, a shrine to heroes.
MCLEAN: I have to tell you, my father is buried in Ft. Sam Houston Military Cemetery in San Antonio. I grew up in a city of five military bases. This is about honor, this is about integrity, and this is about the final respect that we give the men and women who has served our nations, and in some cases, died in their service of the nation. As a daughter, I'm more broken-hearted. I'm more broken- hearted than angry because I'm not sure how to protect it from happening to anyone else at this point.
GALEN: Yes, my wife's dad is buried at Arlington. Our first question was, what are the years that are involved? She was concerned that maybe her dad --
MCLEAN: She wants to check.
ERICKSON: Yes, I hate to be the downer here on this one, but I read the original Washington Post story and all of the other stories. There seem to be a lot more questions. This is a horrible story. If these were actual soldiers' tombstones that were put in the stream, but there seemed to be a lot an unanswered stories. The problem, though, is there are a lot of unanswered stories about the operation of Arlington Cemetery, and this all place into. I mean, if we can't do the basic function of securing the boarder and taking care of our veterans and the fallen, what can we do?
KING: I think that the last point especially when it comes to Arlington, the border is a big debate. I don't want to continue the conversation here, but on this particular point, honoring those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for this country, it is something that I --
KING: I'll use nonfamily friendly words. So, I'm going call a timeout. We have to take a quick break. Erick, thanks for being with us tonight.
ERICKSON: Thank you.
KING: When we come back after the break, hear what Oprah had to say about President Obama's handling of the Gulf oil spill. You wouldn't want to miss that. And later, does the term "I do not recall" sound familiar? We'll take a look.
KING: If you're just joining us, here's what you need to know right now. An exclusive interview on tonight's program, Democratic Congressman Bart Stupak told me he's frustrated and absolutely not satisfied with what he heard today from the BP CEO, Tony Hayward. Stupak was chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee says he won't call Hayward back until the oil spill investigation is finalized.
In His testimony before that panel today, Hayward repeatedly pleaded ignorance about safety decisions made before its drilling rig exploded last April.
Republican Congressman Joe Barton set up a political firestorm by apologizing to BP and calling the $20 billion escrow account, BP setting up to pay for the damages a slush fund and shakedown by the Obama White House. Under pressure from Republic leaders, Barton later retracted his statement.
ANNOUNCER: Here comes the "Play-by-Play."
KING: A great selection for tonight's "Play-by-Play," we'll break down the tape. And still here to help us, Democratic strategist, Kiki McLean and Republican Rich Galen.
Oprah. It's Oprah's first time in the "Play-by-Play". We're excited. In an exclusive conversation with our Don Lemon last night, Don asked Oprah, what's your reaction to the Gulf oil spill and questions about the president's leadership?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
OPRAH WINFREY, HOST: I think the president is doing the best anybody can. I really don't understand what people want him to do. I think he's the president of the United States. You're not supposed to be emotional. You're supposed to take action and get things done and make sure those things happen. So, I really don't know what it is people want him to do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: I'm not sure what people want him to do, but in our new polling tonight on leadership questions, the president is way down.
MCLEAN: You can't go through the kind of crises, make the tough decisions that you're making and not have some impact there, but I understand what Oprah says. I'm intellectually agreed with her, but we're still human beings and we want to see a little emotion he feels. I suspect you'll see some of those numbers begin to turn because he's been talking more about it directly with the American people. To this point he has been doing the work of dealing with it and now he's made an effort to really talk. KING: Our poll was taken after the president's speech.
MCLEAN: It will take a little time, you know that, John.
GALEN: Yes, but I think the damage was done. It is indefinable. You can't say he should have done this, this, this. What I think the White House folks did do that was in retrospect a mistake is try to keep the president as far away from this thing as they possibly could because they never wanted the word "Katrina" put in the same sentence with Obama. And that I think led to a sense that he wasn't engaged. Now, they're trying to dig out of that.
MCLEAN: The reality is people are who they are. He is about making decisions and about getting this solved. As he said in interviews that he's given on this. And you know, there are some dates, because you are not hugging somebody every moment that maybe some people --
KING: If you didn't watch Tony Hayward on Capitol Hill today, we can, in just a few seconds, give you a good flavor. He was asked a lot of questions and more often than not he said this.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HAYWARD: We've launched an investigation. I believe we should await the results of the investigation. I'm not prepared to speculate. I can't pass judgment on those decisions. I'm not sure exactly who made the decision. I'm afraid I can't recall that. I don't recall that either. I can't answer your question in that form. I'm afraid I can't answer that question. I genuinely don't know.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Frustrating, right? Frustrating. But, but, Tony Hayward was only taking his place in Washington history.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have absolutely no recollection of destroying any document.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I remember the name. I can't remember the details.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't recall, remembering, I don't recall the reason.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: And there have been many, many, many more. Democrats and Republicans, we could have added to the list.
MCLEAN: There are more clips where that exists. And the reality is it is a fraternity of people who have had to testify in front of Congress in the sharp lights. Tobacco executives, government officials, other industry leaders, it may in fact be the hardest public role you can ever prepare for.
GALEN: And Tony, in the case of the BP chairman, he's had lawyers beating on his head. Do not say anything that's going to come back and bite. Here is the thing about the $20 billion, though. If I were BP, I'd say fine. We have put up the $20 billion. We're off the hook for this. I would take out a full page ad in the time's picayune and say we have, we have put up the money. If you have a problem with collection your piece, here is the number to call, 456-1414
KING: How do you strike the balance because Congress knows the lawyers are telling him don't answer, but they think they have every right to put him as a witness because of the importance of this.
MCLEAN: Look, I said before, I've done some work in this field, so I follow the stories closely. I know what's going on here. You have to remember each of these committees has a different point of view. Each of these committees has a different interest. And each of the members on the committee has a different political agenda.
KING: I call a time-out there to end the discussion. Rich, Kiki, we'll have you back. And our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick, gives us the lowdown on shakedowns when we come back.
KING: Not a lot of answers from the BP chairman here in Washington today, but there were a lot of apologies, talk of shakedowns and slush funds. Street language not Washington language. We sent our offbeat reporter, Pete Dominick, out to figure out what's all this about -- Pete.
PETE DOMINICK, JOHN KING USA'S OFFBEAT REPORTER: John King you just said it. The word of the day is going to "shakedown." A lot of republican critics saying the Obama administration shook down or shakedown of the BP with the whole fund there. And I went out to ask people what they thought? Is it a shakedown and had they ever been shaken down?
DOMINICK: Some of the Republican congressman are saying it was a Chicago-style shakedown.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It doesn't matter what Obama does. Republicans are going to be against it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know about shaken down, but I think that's a drop in the bucket.
DOMINICK: Miss, you look like a woman who shakes people down, yes or no?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't.
DOMINICK: Grab your pockets. Shake it all down. Do you think Obama shook down BP?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think he needs a little bit more shaking because of repercussion.
DOMINICK: He needs to shake some more?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He needs to shake some more.
DOMINICK: For oil spill, Obama kicks BPs (EXPLETIVE WORD) and takes a check.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They can't afford $20 billion.
DOMINICK: They only got $7 billion. They have $163 billion in profits last year. You're wrong, I win.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think so.
DOMINICK: Yes. Or we're going to ask me or the guy --
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You look like a nice kid.
DOMINICK: Sir, do you have $20 billion I could borrow? Don't make me shake you down. $20 billion, that's too much?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes.
DOMINICK: It almost the Yankees' payroll, right?
Have you shaken down anyone.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Yes.
DOMINICK: See. I told you. I told you. I'm out of here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think our whole system shakes us down.
DOMINICK: Any change coming out? Any money?
Shake it with me, come on, buddy. Yes. Do the shakedown, sir.
DOMINICK: Well, there you go, John King. And by the way, John, you've always struck me as that jock in high school who shook down somebody, yes or now, sir?
KING: No, sir. I would never shake down. I was the polite shy guy in high school. That's the honest truth. But they shakedown moves there, Pete? Is that your previous career?
DOMINICK: Yes, I danced for a long, long time, John. God (ph) had made fun of me. I have my own dreams. Now, quick prediction who will be shaken down tonight, the Lakers or the Celtics, sir? You're a Boston man?
KING: Boston in my blood, my friend. The Celtics will win game seven, that is my hope and my prayer.
DOMINICK: All right. We'll talk about it tomorrow night. And I'm rooting for them only because of you, John, only because of you.
KING: We'll see you right here, Pete. Thanks for that. That's all for us tonight. So, thanks for being with us. We'll see you tomorrow. Campbell Brown starts right now.