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Connection Between BP and Judges?; Turmoil in Kyrgyzstan

Aired June 18, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: growing concern over an invisible threat from the oil disaster, massive amounts of methane gas, with the potential to starve vast stretches of the Gulf of oxygen, killing off sea life on a frightening new scale.

Also, oil disaster politics heating up, exposing a rift in the GOP, as two Gulf lawmakers call on one of their own to step down from a leadership position because of his apology to BP.

And he is the judge that BP wants to handle the hundreds of lawsuits it is facing. Now our Special Investigations Unit uncovers his ties to the oil industry.

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

Scientists are warning of an invisible threat from the oil disaster, methane gas. It is a threat that has a potential to kill sea life on a massive scale, creating vast dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

One oceanographer says the oil from that leaking well contains up to eight times as much methane as typical oil deposits, and that is raising some serious new concerns.

Ed Overton is a professor of environmental sciences at Louisiana State University. He is now joining us live.

Professor, how big of a deal is this? Because I have seen some scientists say this is a real concern for the environment in the Gulf of Mexico.

EDWARD OVERTON, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, Wolf, I think it is a concern.

But there is just an awful, awful lot of water out there. And just -- I did some quick calculations, and if you just take a square mile by a quarter of a mile, you are down into part per million range, low part per million, less than a part per million.

So it is just -- it is possible, but it just strikes me that there's so much water and so much dilution that this is an extreme problem. Most of this methane gas is coming to the surface. Some of it is dissolving in the water column, but it is being dispersed over a fairly large area, incredible.

Remember, this well, if you were standing back a mile, looks something like a fireplug spewing out, so think about all the water that is in that water column. And that water doesn't stay there, of course. Ocean currents move the water away from the well.

So, there is an incredible amount of water out there just in a square mile that's a half-a-mile deep, unbelievable, billions and billions and billions of gallons of water, and so I am not terribly concerned. I think it is something we need to look at, but the dissolved oxygen levels so far taken from a number of cruises have not found alarmingly low levels of D.O. at depth.

BLITZER: David Kessler, I don't know if you him. He is a professor at Texas A&M University. He is quoted as saying this. And I will put it up on the screen.

"This is most vigorous methane eruption in modern human history."

You think he is right?

OVERTON: He may know a lot more about that than I do. I'm not a methane expert, but there is certainly an awful lot of carbon going into the water column. There's no question about it. There is just an awful lot of water out there.

And so it sounds like to me it is a bit of an overstatement.

BLITZER: What would the methane potentially do if it were to continue to come up in huge numbers to sea life, for example?

OVERTON: Well, it is not very toxic. What it does is bacteria will degrade the methane and use up oxygen in the degradation, so -- and this is what I was referring to when you -- when we measure the amount of dissolved oxygen at depth.

And, so far, those measurements have not showed significant lowering of the dissolved oxygen, maybe 10, 20, 30 percent, but not down to zero, so most calculations show that it is probably not going to be reduced to zero. You have to have a D.O. concentration, it is three or four or five parts per million and at depths, and it would have to go near zero to produce dead zones.

And the most calculations show you just don't have enough carbon yet. Of course, if this thing keeps going and I guess we could start recycling some of the oil as it is dispersed away, but that seems pretty improbable.

BLITZER: Did methane play a role in creating the entire explosion in the Gulf of Mexico?

OVERTON: Well, according to the testimony that is coming out, it was a methane bubble that blew up.

Methane is a very explosive gas. It is not toxic, but it's explosive, and if it is in the water column, of course, it allows the bacteria to degrade it and use up the oxygen. So the two damaging things are explosive -- an explosion is not going to occur at depth. That might occur on the surface, but it is the loss of oxygen at depth that seems to be the most concern.

And there is an awful lot of methane going into the Gulf, but just remember, think about the amount of water. Do a quick calculation and see how many gallons of water are in a square mile or a cubic mile at that depth.

BLITZER: Ed Overton, Louisiana State University, thanks very much.

OVERTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: The oil disaster's toll on wildlife is climbing, with a disturbing jump in the number of turtles who are suffering right now.

CNN's Mary Snow is on the scene for us. She's working that part of the story.

Mary, what is being done to save these turtles?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, NOAA is bringing these rescued turtles to rehabilitation centers. There's one here in New Orleans. It was just one month ago today that it got its first oil- covered turtle. One month later, that number stands close to 80. And they saw a big jump just this week.


SNOW (voice-over): These are the success stories. Oiled turtles found in the Gulf are being rehabilitated in this treatment center.

MICHELE KELLEY, AUDUBON NATURE INSTITUTE: We are the MASH unit basically, so it is the MASH unit for the sea turtles.

SNOW: Michele Kelley is the stranding coordinator president for the Audubon Nature Institute in Louisiana.

She is joined by veterinarians coming from across the country to volunteer. One important step: giving antibiotics and fluids to the turtles to keep them alive. This week, the number of turtles brought to them doubled.

KELLEY: I think the increase was due to, again, these animals migrating, that the oil is actually -- it's so thick and it's so heavy, it's actually forming what these animals would interpret as what we -- a weed line. So, they think it is a floating bed of sea grass. Instead, it's an a oil line. They get it in to go hide and eat and lo and behold, they are stuck in it.

SNOW: Here are what some of the turtles looked like when they were brought here. Crews clean the turtles with toothbrushes, vegetable oil, and Dawn dishwashing liquid, and then something unusual. KELLEY: We put mayonnaise on the end of a Q-tip in the eye and swab it out. And it does. It comes right off beautifully. And then we do open up their mouths up, which will probably open to bite me right now. But we will open up their mouths, look inside their mouths as well, and remove any oil with gauze and mayonnaise as well.

SNOW: Kelley says they have got the cleaning process down to 15 minutes, except when this 136-pound turtle was brought in. It took seven people to clean her. She is nicknamed Big Mama.

Most of these turtles are Kemp's ridley, the world's most endangered sea turtle. Experts believe there are fewer than 3,000 left.

KELLEY: I think people could look around and be sad. I think I choose to be proud of my team and be proud of Audubon Nature Institute and that we are helping save a critically endangered animal. So, we look at the high of that, instead of the low.


SNOW: And, Wolf, what is happening with these turtles, obviously, they can't be returned to the Gulf any time soon, so they are being moved to bigger tanks, and, of course, the center is just making room for more of these turtles they are expecting -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope they save those turtles. Thank you very much, Mary, for that report.

Jack Cafferty is up next with "The Cafferty File."

Also, Republican infighting after one GOP lawmaker apologizes to BP. Now two of his colleagues want him to step down from his leadership post. John King and Candy Crowley, they are standing by live with some insight.

And our Special Investigations Unit is looking into the federal judge BP wants to handle the oil disaster lawsuits. It turns out he has considerable ties to the oil industry.

And ethnic violence displacing hundreds of thousands of people in a country vital to U.S. military interests. CNN's Nic Robertson is on the ground for us. He will be reporting from Kyrgyzstan.


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

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Wolf, traditionally, there's not a lot of love lost between any White House and the news media.

And so it was this week. Almost two months into the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, President Obama spoke to the American people from the Oval Office about the Gulf oil spill.

And his speech got panned pretty much everywhere, including MSNBC, which usually just loves anything this president does. They said the president wasn't specific enough, didn't appear to show that he was in charge. They were right. The speech was weak.

The next day in the White House Briefing Room, Mr. Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked about the drubbing his boss took. Reporters wanted to know what Gibbs thought about cable news critics who said the president is being too hands-off when it comes to the oil crisis.

Gibbs responded thusly -- quote -- "I appreciate the hand on the pulse of America by those who live on cable TV. I don't actually think that is where all of real America lives" -- unquote.

Gibbs also said that, if Mr. Obama decided to run for president based on what the pundits were saying a year before the primaries started, he would still be in the Senate.

Meanwhile, despite all the talk about the president's speech and the criticism that followed, it was the second least-watched Obama speech ever. The audiences for his speeches are beginning to mirror his job approval ratings.

Here's the question: White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says cable news is not where all of real America lives. Is he right?

Go to Post a comment on my blog -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jack, thank you.

We want to show you a story right now you won't see anywhere else. Halfway around the world from Gulf oil crisis, a violent upheaval is raging in a nation where a strategic air base is crucial to America's Afghan war effort.

The United Nations estimates some 300,000 people have already been internally displaced by the ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan. Another 100,000 are believed to have fled the country. Close to 200 people may have died already. CNN has teams of reporters and producers on the ground right in the middle of this.

Our senior international correspondent, Nic Robertson, takes us into one city where all sides are suffering.


NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is effectively the front line up here. Beyond these soldiers is the -- sorry? No picture. OK.

(voice-over): We put the camera down. The lady in the red shirt is our translator, Aida (ph). She is ethnic Kyrgyz. She wants to get to a house. It is on the other side of the front line.

The fighting here has divided the city, other Uzbek enclaves surrounded by Kyrgyz. Aida's house is an ethnic Uzbek area. The soldiers tell her there are snipers. (on camera): Right now, we are crossing over the front line. The soldiers agreed to take us into an ethnic Uzbek neighborhood. He said that the people here are scared about being kidnapped. It's very tense. He can't guarantee our safety.

(voice-over): We are the only people there. It is eerie. Everything is destroyed. A barricade cuts the road. He calls out to the Uzbeks on the other side. An old man appears. It is Aida's neighbor, Akran (ph), an ethnic Uzbek. They are good friends.

He tells her they live in fear. He is emotional.

(on camera): We can come? Yes?

(voice-over): They take to us a house. She calls out to her neighbors. Here, ethnic Uzbek, Kyrgyz and Russian all live side by side.

ROBERTSON (on camera): This is your house?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is my house.

ROBERTSON: This your dog?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, it is my dog.

Look at what I have just found here right now. This looks like a petro bomb. You light this. There is petro inside the bottle, and you throw it, and it explodes.

(voice-over): She passes through what is left of a neighbor's house. They are ethnic Russian.

(on camera): You can still feel the heat coming off of this rubble. It is still hot. That looks like it was an old microwave cooker. This was clearly the roof.

(voice-over): Aida's house is still standing, but it has been looted.

(on camera): Aida, what has happened?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't know. (INAUDIBLE) at night.


(voice-over): A few minutes, that is all it takes to grab what little she has left. On the way out, we stop to talk to her Russian neighbors. He blames the fire on criminals, not any ethnic group, but adds he and his wife are frightened of the ethnic rift that has ripped their community apart. They feel isolated.

Curfew is coming. We have to leave cross back across the ethnic divide. In this conflict, lines have been drawn. Aida and thousands of others are being forced to take sides, not clear if there is any going back. Nic Robertson, CNN, Osh, Kyrgyzstan.


BLITZER: It is a horrible story going on over there, and it is a very dangerous story for Nic and our team of reporters.

Well, the United Nations and seven countries, Georgia, Iran, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Turkey, and the United States are sending aid to the crisis in Kyrgyzstan. The aid includes food, medicine, and other relief supplies for refugees and those displaced.

So far, these nations, along with private donors, have contributed more than $2.4 million in aid. The U.S., China and the European Union are pledging millions more. The folks there will need it.

Two Republican lawmakers call on one of their colleagues to resign from a top committee post because of his apology to BP. We are watching oil disaster politics heating up.

And a risky mission to hold back oil in the Gulf -- we ride along with the National Guard.



BLITZER: He stunned yesterday's hearing by apologizing to BP. Now Texas Congressman Joe Barton is catching some white-hot heat from two Gulf state colleagues. They are demanding he step down from his powerful committee post.

Also, military helicopters and giant sandbags, can they really hold back the oil and save some sensitive beaches? We're riding along as they carry out their risky work.

And, later, they are noisy, they're constant. Listen to this. Should they be banned, though, from the World Cup?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't need nobody to tell us to stop our vuvuzelas. This is our tradition.



BLITZER: The politics of the Gulf oil disaster is heating up, especially since BP yielded to government pressure to set up a $20 billion compensation fund. It's a move popular with the public, but controversial in some circles.

CNN's Lisa Sylvester is looking into this.

Lisa, explain what is going on.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, the $20 million fund has been seen as a major victory for the White House, but Representative Joe Barton called it a shakedown. He got into a lot of hot water for those words, but one thing Barton did say that some political and legal analysts are agreeing on is that the fund is unprecedented.


REP. JOE BARTON (R), Texas: I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown, in this case, a $20 billion shakedown. I apologize.

SYLVESTER (voice-over): Outrageous and insensitive, that is the bipartisan reaction to Representative Joe Barton's comments. The Texas congressman has since swallowed his words, which he first framed as an apology to BP. A day later, the issue is not put to rest.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: People in the Gulf are suffering from BP's negligence and recklessness. Republicans in Congress are apologizing to BP.

SYLVESTER: But some analysts say, wait a minute, Barton may have had a point that got lost in his less-than-delicate wording. The Cato Institute is a libertarian group that favors smaller government and less regulation.

Dan Mitchell agrees with Barton in this one respect. The White House agreement to get BP to pay up front, before any claims have even been litigated in court, is highly unusual.

DAN MITCHELL, CATO INSTITUTE: What the president did, in terms of ordering a private company to set aside a pot of money without any judicial oversight or obedience to what the law actually says, that troubles me a little bit.

SYLVESTER: Mitchell says it is symptomatic of a recent trend that started under the Bush administration and continued under President Obama, big government as the rescuer, bailing out Wall Street, coming to the aid of beleaguered automakers, and now moving to micromanage BP's claims process.

It is all enough to fire up the conservative talk shows.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It is outrageous, it is unconstitutional, what they are doing.

SYLVESTER: But the polls show the public overwhelmingly, 92 percent, believes the Gulf spill is out of control, and 63 percent say there should not be a limit on how much BP will have to pay.


SYLVESTER: Now, I spoke to two environmental lawyers who said, yes, a fund this like is unusual and unprecedented, given -- especially given the amount here.

But keep in mind BP agreed to this. There is a P.R. value here for the company. If it looks like it's cooperating with the government, well, it may be able to buy some goodwill. And that could ultimately help the company all around, especially when there's talk of a criminal investigation and with the stock price falling 50 percent since this crisis started, Wolf.

BLITZER: Give us some analysis, some comparison. How does it all compare with what happened after the Exxon Valdez spill?

SYLVESTER: Yes. Wolf, this is very, very different.

Exxon paid $2 billion for cleanup fines and compensation. A jury awarded the plaintiffs $5 billion in additional damages. And this was litigated for years before the U.S. Supreme Court set the punitive damages at $500 million. So, there was no up-front fund in the case with the Exxon Valdez spill -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very different situation.

All right, thanks very much for that.

Congressman Joe Barton's apology to BP has two Republican lawmakers calling on him to step down as ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Representative Jo Bonner of Alabama says the damage from Barton's comment is beyond repair. Representative Jeff Miller of Florida is also calling on Barton to step down.

Let's talk about this with Candy Crowley, our senior political correspondent, the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," our chief -- chief political correspondent? Senior political correspondent?

CANDY CROWLEY, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's get this right. Chief political correspondent.

BLITZER: Host of "STATE OF THE UNION," Sunday mornings, 9:00 a.m.

CROWLEY: That's right.


BLITZER: And John King, the host of "JOHN KING, USA." That comes up right at the top of the hour.

Getting a -- losing track of all of these different titles.

CROWLEY: Chief national.

BLITZER: Chief national correspondent, chief political correspondent. We have got a lot of chiefs here.

CROWLEY: Two chiefs.

(CROSSTALK) JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING, USA": I'm happy to be here. That's all...


BLITZER: How serious, Candy, is this rift that has developed in the aftermath of the congressman's comments?

CROWLEY: If you are asking me, does it have long legs, that is, will it go far into the future, I actually seriously doubt it.

I think, for Joe Barton, it is bad short-term news. I think the pressure is pretty high on him to get out. But I think we also have to remember that some of these people criticizing him, especially those within the Republican Party, were not all that crazy about him to begin with. And so, there is some of this -- some of that also plays into it. And also, the Republicans need to distance themselves as far as they can, and him being demoted on the energy committee is the way to do it.

BLITZER: And the Democrats will try to keep it alive as long they can.

KING: They are, and they will. One of the things the Democrats are saying is actually a little misleading. The Democrats are saying that the if the Republicans take control of Congress in November, Joe Barton would be the head of the committee, but not exactly, because the Republicans have term limits on how long you sit on a committee, and his spot on that committee is up in four months. Now, he could come back and say he wants a waiver to the term limit policy. Guess what? They don't like to give those waivers anyway. He guaranteed yesterday he won't get one. So the Democratic ad is actually misleading. To say Joe Barton's a big Republican voice on energy, that's fair. To say if they win, he is chairman is not so.

BLITZER: I don't remember a time and we have all covered Congress for a long time when the leadership have slapped down a Congressman as quickly as they did to Barton yesterday.

CROWLEY: Well, I mean, if there is one thing that everyone should get if they are worth their salt in politics is that siding with BP in this particular point is not a good idea. So, it did not take much to understand that they had to undo that quickly.

KING: And yet another example, this is a year in which the wind is at the Republicans' backs. They have a Democratic president. his first mid year, a tough economy. History tells you the Republicans will have a big year. The president's standings are starting to come down including the handling of this issue, and what do the Republicans do on the day that Tony Hayward is supposed to be the bipartisan pinata? One of their leading members steps in it, and causes a controversy and the Republicans think there are two or three of them banging their heads against the wall saying this is our year, we need to stop screwing up.

BLITZER: We tried to get a whole bunch of Republicans to come on today and talk about it, but they don't want to talk about it.

CROWLEY: One of the reasons they acted so quickly is so we would stop talking about it.

KING: And one of the things they told him is to not try to explain yourself and put out the statement, and then go to enjoy some private time somewhere.

BLITZER: He has worked hard all of these years to get to this position, and if the Republicans are the majority I would assume he is anxious to head that committee, Henry Waxman is the Democratic chairman and that is a powerful committee in the House of Representatives.

CROWLEY: It is a big committee over there, and stranger things happen and I would say if it were going to happen tomorrow, if they were going to select, it would not be Barton. I agree with John, he is not going to get grandfathered back on to the committee. It would just be unsustainable.

KING: One other quick point, a lot of the Republicans think that there are legitimate questions about the white house involvement in this and the government administration claim fund, but slush fund, and shakedown, and apologizing to Tony Hayward that crossed the line.

BLITZER: You are going to have a lot more on this on "JOHN KING, USA." And more on Candy Crowley on "STATE OF THE UNION" 9 a.m. on Sunday morning. We'll be watching as we always do.

The trouble is just beginning for BP. The company facing countless lawsuits and searching for a judge to hear them all, and could the pick be too close for comfort?

And as oil bears down in Louisiana Barrier Islands, a team of national guardsmen taking on the massive and often dangerous job of keeping it from washing ashore. CNN goes inside of the operation.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: BP is facing hundreds of lawsuits stemming from the gulf oil disaster and it's asking for one federal judge to oversee all of them and not unusual in a situation like this, but there is some concern about the judge they have requested. So as Abbie Boudreau of CNN special investigations unit discovered the judge has considerable ties to the oil industry.


ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This man, Lynn Hughes is the federal judge in Houston, Texas, that BP would like to supervise all of the lawsuits filed against it. 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. 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 Conoco Phillips between $50,000 and $100,000, and 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 show Judge Hughes received hundreds of thousands of royalties from more than a dozen energy companies. Judge Hughes says that he is transparent, and all of the personal investment and finance information is online for anyone to see.

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

BOUDREAU: And Judge Hughes travels to speak at meetings held by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists. Now he does not get a fee for speaking at those meetings but it does pay for his accommodations and travel and expenses. In 2009, Judge Hughes presided over a case involving Devon Energy. one of the companies that pays him royalties, but he did not disclose that information at the hearing. The company ended up winning and awarded $3.9 million.

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

BOUDREAU: 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 is not a rank and file case, but it is a case involving the biggest environmental disaster in the country, and we should be particularly concerned about public confidence in the judiciary.

BOUDREAU: 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 is 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.


BLITZER: And man against nature, and damaged by a manmade disaster. A team from the Louisiana National Guard this week is airlifting sandbags to barrier islands to block oil washing toward sensitive beaches and wetlands. Our SITUATION ROOM producer rode along on the risky mission. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The mission here today is that we are flying sandbags out to the Pelican Island which is about 7.8 miles from where we are in the barrier islands in the gulf. What we're doing is we're filling cuts which are in these islands.

My guys are from the 843rd Engineer Company out of Franklin, Louisiana. Underneath the helicopter, you are standing with all of your strength to just stand up, and pulling this eyelet to get underneath the helicopter. The helicopter comes inches above your head and it is six feet off of the ground before the guys can hook it. Once they hook it, they have to run out from under it, and it is like you are a sprinter. Once it is hooked up, it is flown out seven miles to Schofield Island, and it building a wall in the cuts and even now on pelican island, it is white, and on the other half of the cut it is oil, and it is soaking into the sandbags and it is doing the job to keep the oil out of our marshes. When that hook is dropped, that helicopter just kind of jumps up, and it is in your throat. Working on a project like this being from southern Louisiana makes us feel like we are doing something to protect the marshlands and the wildlife and keep the state from being infected with oil


BLITZER: That is Dugald McConnell our producer doing that report. And President Obama hits the road to pitch the stimulus plan, but shouldn't he be focusing on the gulf oil spill crisis instead? That is what some are asking. Representative Dennis Kucinich and editor Erick Erickson they will join John King USA at the top of the hour.

And newly released documents raising some questions about the Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan. We are going to tell you what they are and how possibly they could affect the confirmation hearings.

Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Some new potential questions are emerging that could potentially affect Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination hearing. The conservative magazine "The National Review" has unearthed some documents from Kagan's time in the Clinton white house. She served then as a legal adviser. Our senior white house correspondent Ed Henry is working out all the details, getting some white house reaction. Explain what the issue is and what the white house is saying about it, Ed.

ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the context is important to remember is that it is the white house itself that is releasing various documents from the Clinton days to try to show Elena Kagan's record, and what has really gotten some controversy kicked up here is a memo dating back to 1996. It was a debate of whether various nonprofit groups and their volunteer workers would be exposed to legal liability, groups like the National Rifle Association or even like the KKK. Now it is important to note that another Clinton aide and not Elena Kagan actually wrote this memo and was basically saying that some of these groups could be improperly shielded from legal liability, and some of the Democrats on the hill at the time were lumping the NRA together with the KKK and Kagan who had a copy of the memo had a phone conversation about the debate, and in the margin she wrote about it and referred to the fact that some Democrats were calling people like the NRA bad guys, and some of these groups in the debate. And what white house officials are insisting is that she did not write the memo itself and she was not calling the group bad guys.

In fact Ben LaBolt, White House spokesman, just gave us a statement staying, "It is not simply credible to say that the jotted down notes represent anything but preliminary research on legal questions about what organizations would be under the legislation, and the organizations discussed reflect the public debate over the legislation at that time." So they're trying to make the point that this is not Elena Kagan herself calling them bad guys or lumping them together with a racist group like the KKK and the NRA is obviously not buying this and they insist it is outrageous that there was any suggestion that the NRA was lumped in with the KKK and they are demanding that it is a big issue at her confirmation hearings, and those hearings of course start a weak from Monday and that is the only thing that the white house and the NRA agree on, this and other memos will be front and center at the confirmation hearings.

BLITZER: I'm sure there will be questions coming up during those hearings. Thanks very much, Ed, for that report.

Is the white house press secretary Robert Gibbs right when he says that cable news is not where all of real America lives? That's Jack Cafferty's question. This hour he will read your e-mail. Stand by.

And also, a look at South Africa's iconic horns over at the World Cup soccer tournament. You either love them or hate them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can't stand it. It is making me crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They are so awful. It is like a bug the whole time.


BLITZER: Let's check in with Jack for the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour, white house press secretary Robert Gibbs says that cable news is not quote where all of real America lives. Is he right?

El in Illinois writes, "My brother has been unemployed for over a year and had to cancel cable TV to cut expenses. He now finds himself living in the real America that Gibbs is referring to."

Chandra in Las Vegas, "Gibbs is wrong by a long shot. Cable news channels are watched by people who closely follow politics and current events. I personally find those that are uninformed and less interested only watch the evening news." Right on. "Maybe it's wishful thinking on Gibbs' part but in reality we really hope he's smarter than he portrays himself to be."

Laurie in Pennsylvania, "It sounds like someone who can't take criticism. Frankly the Obama administration deceives to be criticized, constantly spending when everyone including retired Alan Greenspan tells you need to stop, putting Band-Aids on the employment problem and oil spills that need to be stopped. The lists go on to on. Gibbs, it's time to listen to the criticism. It's time for the Obama administration to change how U.S. problems are being dealt with."

Linda writes from Arizona, "Robert Gibbs should fired. His answers when he's cornered are always pure snark with no substance and tons of arrogance. What he and everyone else in this clueless, elitist administration would know about where real America lives wouldn't fill a thimble."

Chris in Florida writes, "Where does he think we live? We can't afford to go to the movies."

And D. writes, "Where does Robert Gibbs live? It appears he performs as a hand puppet and Obama is making his mouth move and out comes sound bites that ignore reality. Maybe he should check his own pulse."

If you want to read more on this, you can go to my blog at Have a good weekend Mr. Blitzer.

BLITZER: Jack, I was thinking about what Robert Gibbs said. I don't know this to be a fact. I suspect people who get basic cable and watch the news -- our news shows, for example, I bet they vote in higher percentages than people that don't basically watch a lot of the political news shows on television.

CAFFERTY: You might be absolutely right. I'd be inclined to agree with you. I tell you this. I get thousands and thousands of e- mails every week and the people that write to me on this program about the issues we raise are real America. I hear from every kind of cross-section of society you can imagine, the rich and the poor, the employed, the unemployed, the haughty and the humble. But it's a good cross-section, and it's the real deal. You can tell when you read this stuff whether it's genuine or not. And the people who respond to this program, that's real America.

BLITZER: And one other point I should make. The people who watch the cable news shows are probably little richer, a little more intelligent and they're probably more likely not only to vote but get involved in politics and become political activists. So don't say things about basic cable viewers. I love those guys.

CAFFERTY: I didn't say anything.

BLITZER: I know. But Robert Gibbs was saying something bad.

CAFFERTY: Robert Gibbs has, you know, issues. He doesn't like anybody to suggest that they're not doing a wonderful job down there. But you know what? They're not doing a wonderful job down there. BLITZER: I think our viewers are smart and they're educated. They're influential and they keep on watching, and thank you for that. Jack, have a great weekend.

CAFFERTY: You too. See you Monday.

BLITZER: Thank you. Horns aplenty over at the World Cup in South America. Is it too much of a good thing?

RICHARD ROTH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Can you equate the vuvuzela parade there to another loud sound?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you were about 35 feet away from a 747 on takeoff you'd probably get in the neighborhood of 125 decibels.

ROTH: Do you watch the world cup?


ROTH: Why?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm more into baseball.


BLITZER: The U.S. is still alive in the world cup. The match with Slovenia ended in a 2-2 draw. The U.S. thought they won in the 86th minute when the ball was slammed for a goal but the referee called it back. They'll take their next match on Wednesday with Algeria. Throughout the action there was a constant sound of horns. The vuvuzela has become the icon of the World Cup tournament in South Africa. CNN's Richard Roth found you either love it or hate it.


ROTH: It's all the buzz. Or buzz kill, depending on your tolerance for the nonstop hum heard in the background of this year's world cup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I cannot stand it. It's just making me crazy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's so awful. It's like a bug, bzzz, all the time.

ROTH: The vuvuzela, the plastic horn is a tradition at South African soccer matches but this cultural icon has many fans in an uproar.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you think? Is it distracting to you?

ROTH: Fans worldwide have been bellowing but FIFA, the world soccer association said buzz off, forcing broadcasters to tinker with audio levels in an effort to diminish the hum. But one man's annoying buzz is another man's nirvana.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sometimes it sounds like the eternal ohm. It's like ohmm. It's very meditative. It's beautiful.

ROTH: Maybe that's because he's South African. Vuvuzelas are welcome at his restaurant in New York where his fell low countrymen have been gathering to watch the world cup.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you have the World Cup in African country you have to embrace what the culture's all about.

ROTH: Conclusion?

ALAN FIRESTEIN: Too loud. Dangerous.

ROTH: Acoustic consultant Alan Firestein is not embracing the vuvuzela. He is warning fans in the stadiums to wear ear plugs.

Can you equate it to another loud sound?

FIRESTEIN: If you were 35 feet away from a 747 at takeoff you'd get near 145 decibels.

ROTH: Do you watch the world cup?


ROTH: Why?

FIRESTEIN: I'm more into baseball.

ROTH: I keep getting e-mails from people saying shut it off.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't need nobody to tell us to stop our vuvuzelas. This is our tradition.

ROTH: Here I wanted to blow my own horn.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not easy to do this.

ROTH: How do you do it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Like a trumpet. You go -- a lot of pressure.

ROTH: Many people use that sound watching my reports. Apparently not as easy as it looks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Close your lips. And then -- yeah. Yeah, you're getting there. You're getting there.

ROTH: Finally.


ROTH: Richard Roth, CNN, New York.


BLITZER: Nice report Richard. Tomorrow night a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM, 6:00 p.m. eastern, among my guests, the former British prime minister, Tony Blair. Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.