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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
General McChrystal Headed to White House; Drilling Moratorium Overturned; Fishing for Opportunity; BP Whistleblower Speaks Out; Helping Oil Spill Victims
Aired June 22, 2010 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we are live from the Gulf with a stunning setback for President Obama, a judge here stopping the President's six-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, calling it arbitrary and capricious.
We'll have more on that in a moment, but we begin with breaking news. General Stanley McChrystal, the man President Obama selected to run the war in Afghanistan, may soon be out of a job. Right now, he is flying back for a face-to-face meeting with the president in the morning. A President who is said to be very angry, angry that the general and his staff were involved in a wide-ranging display of what's being termed insubordination, documented in "Rolling Stone" magazine.
A senior national security official telling us that General McChrystal is prepared to resign if told he no longer has the President's confidence.
And, just moments ago, a Pentagon source with ongoing contact with the general telling us he simply does not see how General McChrystal can survive this and that he will -- I repeat, will repeat -- resign tomorrow.
Here is what the president said late this afternoon.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I think it's clear that the article in which he and his team appeared showed a poor -- showed poor judgment. And -- but I also want to make sure that I talk to him directly before I make any final decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: We're going to talk in a moment with the "Rolling Stone" reporter who wrote the article, Michael Hastings. It is a career- changing and possibly war-altering article.
First, some details from the piece.
An aide in the article brings up Vice President Joe Biden. The general replies, "Are you asking about Joe Biden? Who is that?" The aide replies: "Biden? Did you say bite me?"
At another point, an aide calls the President's National Security Adviser, Jim Jones, a clown -- all of this coming at a turning point in the war, with President Obama sending more troops. General McChrystal overseeing a counterinsurgency strategy, with casualties mounting and no clear end in sight.
We'll talk about the President's dilemma shortly with David Gergen, James Carville, and Peter Bergen.
But, first, Michael Hastings, who wrote the "Rolling Stone" article, he is in Kandahar tonight. I spoke to him earlier this evening.
COOPER: Michael, President Obama said today that it was -- this shows a huge failure in judgment by -- by General McChrystal to have done this article, to have said these things in front of a reporter. Do you agree?
MICHAEL HASTINGS, CONTRIBUTOR, "ROLLING STONE": I mean, that's a great question.
Is it a failure in judgment? I think it reflects parts of General McChrystal's personality, which we've seen in the war over the past year. General McChrystal and his staff are very willing to take risks and they push the envelope.
And so I guess what I'm saying, if it's a failure in judgment if the fact is, McChrystal is acting like McChrystal acts? He's a risk- taker. And, sometimes, they push the envelope to get their message across. And, perhaps, this time, they might have gone too far.
COOPER: Were you surprised by some of the things that they -- that they were so candid in front of you? I mean, it wasn't as if you had spent months with them kind of gaining their trust and that they knew you. It seems like, from what I understand, you showed up, and they started very quickly allowing you in on scenes I think in Paris where they were getting drunk and very, you know, kind of talking freely.
I was -- I was surprised by the access and the candor immediately from getting off the plane in Paris. Even at the first scene of the story happened within a few hours I was off the plane. That the scene with Vice President Biden, where -- where they joke about you know, Biden bite me happened the next day.
So, you know, I was very surprised. And that next day also was when we went out on -- on the McChrystal's wedding anniversary and they proceeded to -- to drink a great deal.
So, yes, I was very surprised by this kind of candor, which made me assume that they had some sort of other reason for my being there, that in fact, they probably wanted to shake things up a little bit.
COOPER: You're saying you think he was -- they -- they kind of knowingly and intentionally brought you in and were saying things in front of you that would -- that would -- I mean, what -- to what end result? Why would they do this? Why -- in what way do you think they wanted to shake things up?
HASTINGS: That's just my speculation. I mean, you really have to ask them.
First that -- because of what they were saying seemed to have sort of an agenda to it, in that it -- they're very critical of many of the civilian policy-makers. You know, as a journalist, you're always trying to figure out, ok, am I being played here, whose agenda they're trying to push. How am I -- I'm trying to be as accurate and fair as possible.
Why are they saying these things in front of me? Is it -- is it just bad judgment, or are they trying to get a message out to shake things up in the policy?
And I think this is the most -- in my view, I think what has been a positive impact of this piece is that, finally, we're talking about the Afghanistan policy in the United States again, because I think there are quite serious questions that need to be asked and quite fundamental flaws in the policy that aren't really being addressed.
COOPER: Of all the things that you heard, what surprised you most? What comments really jumped out at you?
HASTINGS: I do tell you -- I was quite surprised when they started to make fun of Vice President Biden. I was also quite surprised when I was sitting across from General McChrystal in the bar of a hotel lobby in Paris when he pulled out his Blackberry and looked at it, and said, "Oh, not another e-mail from Holbrooke," meaning Richard Holbrooke. And then he said, "I don't even want to open it."
COOPER: You also write of General McChrystal's first meeting with President Obama. And I want to get the wording right. You say: "It was a 10-minute photo-op,' says an adviser to McChrystal. 'Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here is this guy who's going to run his 'bleeping' war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The boss was pretty disappointed.'"
Pretty stunning stuff.
HASTINGS: Well, and that's -- that's all very solid.
I didn't -- I mean, I'm very confident that that was, in fact, that -- the impression that General McChrystal had from that first meeting.
Well, I wouldn't actually -- you know, that story of the relationship between President Obama and General McChrystal, I think the tension in their relationship has been clear from the beginning. And I think we were dealing with the larger issue here of the Pentagon going from George W. Bush, President Obama, and the different relationship, say, that, General Petraeus had with President Bush and the expectations, say, that General McChrystal might have had with President Obama.
COOPER: Michael Hastings, it's a fascinating article, obviously getting a huge amount of attention. Congratulations on that and for all your work.
You're in Kandahar right now. Stay safe.
HASTINGS: Thanks, Anderson. I appreciate it. Take care.
COOPER: It is a truly remarkable article.
Let us know what you think about what General McChrystal said. Is too much being made about it? What do you think? Should President -- what should President Obama do? Join the live chat right now at AC360.com.
Up next, we'll talk to David Gergen and Peter Bergen, and James Carville about the President's dilemma, what to do about his general.
And later: the news from the Gulf, a judge telling the White House you cannot block offshore oil drilling down here without a better reason, the administration promising to appeal.
Coming up -- my conversation with Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: I don't have any problem with a pause that's based on specific actions that are taken on scientific- based changes to the drilling plan.
What I have a problem with is an arbitrary six-month moratorium. What I have a problem with is a commission that's not even going to meet until next month. What are they waiting for?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well, President Obama cannot be getting much sleep these days. He's got a runaway oil well down here and a controversial general heading his way.
The General, Stanley McChrystal, has apologized for his remarks in "Rolling Stone" and is reportedly willing to step down if asked. And the president may ask, especially if he wants to make a point about civilian control of the military, especially during wartime. The last time this happened, President Harry Truman relieved Douglas MacArthur of his command in Korea. So, this is a big decision for President Obama. I spoke about it earlier with Democratic strategist James Carville, senior political analyst and a former presidential adviser to Republicans and Democratic presidents David Gergen, and national security analyst Peter Bergen.
COOPER: James should McChrystal resign or be fired?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think the most interesting thing about this whole thing, Anderson, the only guy to lose his job so far is the civilian press aide who arranged the interview. This is the perfect metaphor for the United States in the 21st century, to fire the press aide.
I don't -- I think eventually I think he's going to have to resign or be fired. I think it's a shame. This guy has obviously had a distinguished career. He's a great soldier. He's a brave man. But this thing is -- he's not going to overcome this. And a lot of his senior staff are not going to overcome this. A lot of careers are going to be ruined over this.
And it's a tragedy, but this is -- this is going to be what happens here. Obviously, he's not going to be able to continue. He will not be able to be effective in his role anymore.
COOPER: David Gergen, do you agree with that?
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: No, I think -- I think there should be a severe reprimand, both for what the general said and for just allowing a press guy into this sort of locker room talk, Team America out of a "South Park" movie. And it was insubordination.
And the President's dilemma is that he said, you know, Tony Hayward, from BP, if he worked for him, he would have been fired a long time ago for some of the dumb things he has been saying.
COOPER: And also, David, to your point, though, it's not the first time that the president has had to take this guy to the woodshed. I mean, there were public comments he made about Vice President Biden's policies in Afghanistan that the president called him in on about. There were documents which leaked out which were -- he was blamed for, whether or not he did actually leak those documents, that the White House was furious about.
So, you're saying, still, this is not enough for him to be fired?
GERGEN: I think the president has every reason to fire him if he wants. But, on the other side, we're on the eve of the Kandahar offensive. He's a terrific soldier. We've had presidents in the past -- Harry Truman put up with Douglas MacArthur for a long time before he did relieve him.
Lincoln put up with McClellan for a long time, and despite humiliations, because it was so necessary for the war in both cases.
So, I would say a severe reprimand is in order. If the president wants to fire him, he can. But I think it would be a setback for the war. And that's more important.
COOPER: Peter Bergen, this is obviously difficult for the President, because McChrystal was the guy he selected after getting rid of the last general.
PETER BERGEN, CNN TERRORISM ANALYST: Indeed. On May 11th of last year, General McKiernan, who was a holdover from the Bush administration, was very publicly fired by Secretary Gates, and, in effect -- and Stan McChrystal effectively became President Obama's pick for this position. And, so, you know -- and, obviously, is widely regarded within the U.S. military as the best man for the job.
So, you know, President Obama has a very difficult decision to make.
COOPER: It's interesting, Peter, though. I just talked to the author, who was saying that he kind of -- his belief was that they were kind of intentionally saying this stuff around him. It wasn't as if this author, this writer, or this journalist spent a lot of time building up their trust.
I mean, he literally showed up in Paris, and they took him out drinking, and started -- you know, and made fun of Vice President Biden. He thinks almost they were trying to kind of send a message or shake things up. Does that make any sense to you, Peter?
BERGEN: Well, I think -- let me say something slightly different, which is I think it would be very hard for -- it's very hard to imagine General David Petraeus or his team allowing a journalist to get this kind of access or making these kind of comments.
I think it showed a certain naivete of General McChrystal and his team. It -- would the fact that a number of the most disparaging comments came from his aides is not a sufficient excuse for General McChrystal. The aides who work for somebody like General McChrystal work with him 24/7.
It's reflective of the kinds of things that he's thinking or saying. So, I don't buy just simply because most of the -- many of the disparaging comments came from the aides, that that doesn't necessarily represent McChrystal's thinking. It was obviously a very, very -- lapse of -- a great lapse of judgment by somebody, by the way, who is described by everybody who knows him as one of the most disciplined men in the U.S. military.
And so he obviously let his guard slip on this one.
COOPER: It's strange, though, James, because, I mean, McChrystal's sniping wasn't really about strategy. It was about politics. And I mean, McChrystal and his allies basically won the argument within the administration about how to handle Afghanistan. CARVILLE: Well, it was. And he attacked the Vice President. I mean, look, people that -- this is a very difficult situation over there. It's the longest war in U.S. history. There's going to be differences of opinion. You would think somebody like General McChrystal, more than anybody, would understand this.
And -- and you know here is the senior staff engaging in this kind of talk and behavior, I mean, it -- it doesn't give you very much confidence in the high command over there. And I'm sure they are all, in their own right, brave and distinguished soldiers, but there's something beyond that.
And, in terms of -- look, De Gaulle said the graveyards are full of indispensable people. And the fact that if the United States Army is at a point where we can't fight a war unless we have one general, I -- I just don't buy that. It just can't be.
COOPER: David, how do, then -- I mean, to James' point, how do they -- how does he continue working with these people who he has disparaged, I mean, not Vice President Biden, but -- but Eikenberry, the Ambassador, and other folks?
I mean, Hillary Clinton seems about the only person that -- that his team had respect for.
GERGEN: Well, that's true, Anderson. But that was true before the article came out. He wasn't getting along with Dick Holbrooke. He wasn't getting along with Ambassador Eikenberry. That's a three- man team.
The one person he has been getting along well with is President Karzai. And they have formed a very strong partnership. Karzai has said today he doesn't want to see him go, because he thinks he is -- he is very important to the war.
Look, I just want to go back to this. The guy was insubordinate. The president has a right to fire him for that. It is a firing offense. The question is who can prosecute this war well? And General McChrystal at this point is the man who is in the position. And if we pull him out right now, it's a very, very sensitive time, and it could be a real setback for the war.
COOPER: James Carville, David Gergen, Peter Bergen, thank you, guys, very much.
COOPER: Fascinating developments -- stunning developments, really. We'll have a lot more on that, obviously, tomorrow. The meeting is tomorrow at the White House.
Up next tonight: my conversation with Louisiana's Governor and his reaction to the judge down here today who just told the White House its six-month pause in deep water oil drilling does not pass legal muster. We'll also talk to Jeffrey Toobin, who was stunned by this decision and didn't think it was going to happen. Later: what this man saw on board the DeepWater Horizon weeks before the blast; evidence, he says, that the rig wasn't safe and the blowout preventer might not prevent anything -- details on what happened, he says, when he told his bosses.
COOPER: We've got a broken railroad crossing alarm going. That's what that sound is.
It's a simple fact of life down here, even if it's neither easy nor pretty. If you don't drill for oil, people here don't eat. But, if you do drill, and there's a mishap, people don't eat either, and in this case 11 people don't come home alive.
So, with 11 families still mourning, and the oil still washing up onshore, the Obama administration ordered a six-month halt in deep water drilling for 33 deepwater rigs.
Today, a federal judge blocked the ban, ruling that the moratorium is costing jobs and was imposed without evidence that existing rigs posed a threat.
The White House is appealing. The Interior Department is preparing a new drilling ban. There are questions being raised by liberal bloggers about the judge and his investments in oil companies.
We'll talk to Jeffrey Toobin about all of that in a moment, but, first, my conversation earlier today with Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal.
COOPER: The White House already says they're going to appeal this. And they are going to say, look, that going ahead with deepwater drilling at this point is basically unsafe, without knowing exactly what happened on the Deepwater Horizon.
JINDAL: Two things. One, and certainly we're pleased to see the judge's ruling. I would certainly hope the administration would reconsider, see what the judge said. He called it an arbitrary decision, the six-month moratorium.
I would ask the administration, listen to the eight experts they hand-picked. We didn't pick them. They picked them. Those eight experts met with Secretary Salazar. A majority of them met, but all eight of them have put their names on a letter saying that they didn't recommend the six-month moratorium. They think drilling can be done safely.
They made some specific recommendations: inspect the well pressure, put more regulators on the rigs, check the BOPs, check every one of these platforms one at a time. They said the six-month moratorium doesn't -- won't do anything to increase safety in the Gulf, will cause economic hardship for the same people who are being impacted by this spill. Here is the bottom line. We want drilling to be done safely. Nobody in Louisiana wants another spill, another explosion, another avoidable -- another tragic loss of life. But what we're also saying is listen to the experts. Let's do this right. Let's do this safely.
COOPER: If politics and the economic impact wasn't an issue for you -- obviously, as governor, that's a huge issue, the economic impact on the people of your state -- if that wasn't an issue, purely on safety grounds, how can you argue that some sort of pause does not make sense?
JINDAL: No, I have agreed that a pause does make sense. I have got no problem with a pause. I have no problem with them saying, we're stopping for a period of time, and while we do that, here are the specific things we're going to do.
But listen to some of the suggestions our own delegation has made to them. Why not allow them to drill, but not up to the oil reservoir, so that you don't have a danger? And that way, you can still have people put to work?
I've got no problem with the pause. But what I'm saying is, listen to the experts. Don't listen to me, as the elected governor of Louisiana. Listen to the experts they, themselves, appointed.
COOPER: One of the things that William Reilly, a Republican co- chair of this bipartisan commission the president has set up, is saying is that, look, we discovered last week in these open hearings on Capitol Hill that basically a number of the major oil companies all have the same spill response plans.
They -- a number of them have walruses in their plans for the Gulf. A number of them say they can deal with a spill of 200,000 barrels. Or BP, I think, had said 250,000 barrels.
Clearly, if they have basically mimeographed copies, Xeroxed copies of the same spill plan, and the BP spill plan wasn't working, clearly, their spill plans don't seem to be adequate either.
JINDAL: Well, tell them to fix the plan. Say, we're going to pause it until they fix the plan. I don't have a problem with that.
I don't have any problem with a pause that's based on specific actions that are taken on scientific-based changes to the drilling plan.
What I have a problem with is an arbitrary six-month moratorium. What I have a problem with is a commission that's not even going to meet until next month. What are they waiting for? What I have a problem with is a commission that took long to be seated, a commission that doesn't include the kinds of experts on board that they actually convened when they first made the recommendations.
My bottom line is this. Nobody down here -- I'm certainly not down here saying, don't take a pause, don't have a stop while you review your work. What I'm saying is, hurry up and do this work properly. The federal government needs to provide proper oversight. The fact they're not doing their jobs are causing -- costing thousands of Louisianans our jobs.
I'm not objecting to a pause. Look, you and I have both seen firsthand the impacts of this oil. I don't want a rig operating out there that is not safe. I don't want a company out there with an inadequate plan. The plan BP had wasn't adequate. Any other company has to have a better plan if they want to go out there and drill.
What I'm saying is, take it seriously. Listen to the experts. Get it done as quickly as they can safely. Don't give me an arbitrary six-month moratorium.
COOPER: Ok. Governor, thanks. I appreciate it.
COOPER: Louisiana's Governor Bobby Jindal earlier today.
All right, let's bring in senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.
Jeff, I mean, on this program last night, you said you didn't think the judge was going to rule this way. You say, today, you were flabbergasted. What happened?
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, what happened is that I was wrong.
And -- but I think you need to step back and see what the federal government did here. The federal government saw an oil slick spreading across the southern -- across the Gulf of Mexico; they -- an environmental disaster greater than any in history.
They appoint a group of experts. They take a month to study the problem. They say, we're not going to shut down these wells for all time, but they say, we're going to take six months. It seems like a pretty reasonable response to this crisis.
Yet, here you have a federal judge saying it is an arbitrary and capricious act. I don't think the judge has the law on his side. And I think the administration has a lot of -- a lot of ways to get around the judge's ruling, including on a direct appeal.
COOPER: Basically what -- what can the federal government do at this point. I mean, the -- they -- the White House says they're going to appeal. Is there any other option?
TOOBIN: There are definitely other options. Attorney of the -- Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has said that he is going to rework the order which shut down the wells, he's going to give more specific reasons, more evidence. The judge said there was not enough evidence that this was an appropriate response to the spill. So he's going to rework the order and perhaps get approval the next time around. A direct appeal is possible, it's very unusual for a federal judge to find that an administrative action by the president is arbitrary and capricious it's not -- it's not that it's never happened before but it's certainly unusual.
And given these circumstance I think it is at least and even that that in appeals court would simply over turn this ruling and reinstall the -- the moratorium. They could also go rig by rig; they could simply evaluate each rig and impose a moratorium on each of the 33 rigs. So there are a lot of legal options open and available to the President.
COOPER: Which is essentially what -- or what -- I mean even the governor is saying he's not against the idea of a pause. He's just saying not this blanket six-month moratorium. Just go rig by rig, you know, look at all 33 rigs and -- and look at what their -- you know, their safety records are, what their spill response plan is, what their equipment is, and judge it according to that.
TOOBIN: Sure. I mean that -- that is one option. And that's one thing they may pursue. But remember, this is, as you have reported more than anyone, the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the United States.
A six-month moratorium on only 33 wells, which is not that many compared to how many are in the Gulf of Mexico, does not seem like an extreme and temperate reaction on the part of the administration.
Sure, they could do other things they could go about this in different ways. But remember, I mean, Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Judge Feldman who is a respected judge was not elected anything. And the idea that he could simply overrule the president on the ground that he didn't like the way the President's team went about making this decision, that's a pretty draconian step on the part of a judge.
TOOBIN: So, you know, it's just a question of who makes the decision.
COOPER: What do you make of liberal groups and liberal bloggers have been making a lot about -- you know, the judge -- that the judge owned stock in oil companies. I mean, I tend to think a lot of people around here -- a lot of people across the country own stock in oil companies.
Should he have recused himself from this, or do you think that's much ado about nothing?
TOOBIN: Well, I don't think it's much ado about nothing, but I think there is no corruption here. Judge Feldman has been on the bench since the Reagan administration; he's a very respected judge. But like most federal judges in Louisiana and Texas and, in fact, much of the world, he is an upper middle class Republican lawyer who was appointed to the bench. And those people, particularly in that part of the country, tend to be sympathetic to the oil business, have investments in the oil business. It's not illegal for them to have investments in the oil business. But I think it indicates a mindset. That's why they were appointed.
So I don't think this is any sort of a scandal. But it indicates who is on the federal bench.
COOPER: All right. Jeff Toobin, thanks very much.
Up next, we're going to introduce you to two men trying to save the oil and wildlife here on the Gulf. They're "Building up America" by redesigning boats to help rescue the birds and other animals. You'd think the boat should be on use by now but they are not. And we'll find out why, when 360 continues.
COOPER: BP says its Vessels of Opportunity program will give commercial fishermen much needed work cleaning up the oil spill. Sounds good, right, since they really can't do their usual work?
And the fishermen now are saying they've registered, they've waited, they've called and gotten no response. They came to a community meeting with BP officials to get some answers but instead they said they got more of the runaround.
Tonight Gary Tuchman is "Keeping Them Honest."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Carl Leblanc is working on his crabbing boat but the boat is on his front lawn, not on the water. That's his fishing boat and a shrimping boat.
(On camera): Are you making any money?
CARL LEBLANC, APPLIED TO VESSEL OF OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM: None at all. I mean not a dollar.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Last year, Carl and his wife, Mary, earned $120,000 mainly from selling his catch at this now empty roadside stand. But now with the ban on fishing, nothing.
So he applied for BP's so-called Vessel of Opportunity program. BP pays for boats and crews to help in the cleanup. The program is intended for people like Carl, fishermen with boats who have lost their livelihood. After Carl applied, he heard nothing.
(On camera): So you called up, said what's going on? What did they tell you?
C. LEBLANC: They have told us that we needed to bring --
MARY LEBLANC, FISHERMAN'S WIFE: They didn't know where our paperwork was.
C. LEBLANC: That we weren't in the system.
M. LEBLANC: That they had nowhere --
TUCHMAN: You weren't even in the system?
M. LEBLANC: No.
C. LEBLANC: No. And we --
TUCHMAN: And weeks went by and you weren't even in the system?
C. LEBLANC: Yes.
TUCHMAN: Even though you went to apply?
C. LEBLANC: Yes.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Same thing happened to Thomas Barrios.
THOMAS BARRIOS, APPLIED TO VESSEL OF OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM: We called and we were checking on where we were in the system. And so far it seems like no one knew who we were.
TUCHMAN: Thomas fishes to supply the restaurant he and his wife Alicia own. But this is what the restaurant looked like at lunch hour -- little seafood and no customers.
ALICIA BARRIOS, FISHERMAN'S WIFE: I'm just sad that we're about to lose everything.
TUCHMAN: Many say they've had the same bad experience with this BP program. At this open house, people came to ask BP what's going on.
M. LEBLANC: And last night he asked them at the meeting and they say -- he said are we going to get a call? And they said well, not necessarily. That don't mean you're going to get a call. Just wait by the phone for our call.
C. LEBLANC: So that's what we're depending on.
T. BARRIOS: He said basically you got maybe a 25 percent chance of getting hired and he told me to go talk to another guy and just sent me down to a number of people.
TUCHMAN: BP lifted its controversial rule preventing contractors from talking to journalists. So, "Keeping Them Honest," we went looking for answers.
(on camera): I wanted to see if we could talk to you about the Vessels of Opportunity program and why so many people who want to be part of it are not hearing from anybody.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm sorry, I can't comment. TUCHMAN (voice-over): This BP contractor wanted us to talk to a supervisor, who was not at the open house.
(on camera): BP has been very specific that its contractors are allowed to talk.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've not given me that information. I suggest that you talk to Judy Paul (ph).
TUCHMAN: So BP has told you, you can't talk?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've told me to refer media requests to Judy Paul.
TUCHMAN: But I'm asking you, sir, if BP said you can't talk to the media?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've told me to refer media requests to Judy Paul.
TUCHMAN: I'll ask you one more time. Have they said you can't talk to the media?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. They've told me to refer media requests to Judy Paul.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): Well, we did call BP's Judy Paul. And we're told she wasn't available. But another BP employee did get back to us and acknowledged that although the program has worked for thousands of people, it's not perfect.
But Steve Rinehart then pledged to "check on the cases of the two men you interviewed, and try to get them back on track. These vessels and crews with their knowledge of local waters and conditions are very valuable assets in this response."
These families hope BP keeps its word.
A. BARRIOS: My hopes and dreams for the future was this restaurant. We were hoping that we would be able to retire on it one day and pass it on to our children. But now the uncertainty of not knowing is the hardest part of all this mess.
COOPER: It's so tough, I mean, to see those people in that situation when, obviously, you feel like their boats should be out there. And there's also a big complaint about people from out of state coming, getting jobs here that locals could probably do as well.
TUCHMAN: Well, that's right. And that's what a lot of people, like these families I've talked to, are concerned about. They're saying there are people who have these jobs, who really don't rely on fishing for their income.
And the fact is BP says they do indeed need more people. But that's what makes this lack of communication and a lack of organization so infuriating.
COOPER: Is it possible they just don't want to spend money to hire more people? I mean to hire these --
TUCHMAN: They say they do want to spend the money. And this isn't charity. The average person on this program, captain of a boat, gets paid $1,500 a day. So you have these people -- this guy who've been making $7,500, $8,000 a week, instead he's making zero. And that's why they're so desperate when they don't hear back from BP.
COOPER: Right. Yes. All right, Gary, appreciate it. We'll keep on it.
Two Florida men are "Building up America, creating boats specifically designed to save oil-soaked wildlife. But Tom Foreman found out that bureaucracy is keeping them from putting their rescue boats to use. Take a look.
TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): in the searing heat of the Gulf, Mark Castlow and Jimbo Meador are launching an idea --
MARK CASTLOW, CO-OWNER, DRAGONFLY BOATWORKS: Ok, Jimbo let me throw a light on.
FOREMAN: -- a boat designed for a desperate time.
JIMBO MEADOR, CO-OWNER, DRAGONFLY BOATWORKS: But the main purpose is to recover oiled wildlife. That's what it's designed for.
FOREMAN: As co-owners of dragon boat, they spent their lives on the water and were sickened by pictures of animals dying in the catastrophe. So they set out to dramatically modify a line of their boats to come to the rescue.
(on camera): You drew this thing up on a cocktail napkin?
MEADOR: Yes. It was a quickie.
FOREMAN: Where are you in the process now?
MEADOR: We're trying to produce a boat like every seven days right now for this.
FOREMAN (voice-over): Completely funded by donations and on their own time, the men consulted wildlife biologists to produce what they believe is the first boat ever made specifically for this work.
(on camera): The basic problem with many boats is they just can't go into shallow marshes.
MEADOR: Right because of the --
FOREMAN: Areas where wildlife would be.
MEADOR: It draws too much water.
FOREMAN (voice-over): These boats operate in less than a foot of water, slipping up silently on injured animals. A big work table allows instant care instead of a long ride to a cleaning station first, while an adjustable shade canopy and mist nozzles lower the crushing temperatures. The boats are even wired for internet access. It's a labor of love.
CASTLOW: Really it's challenging on our business, but this is what we should be doing right now.
MEADOR: We can defend ourselves but they don't even know what's happening.
FOREMAN: The biggest trouble? They've been unable to get approval from BP and the government to put their boats to work.
After we made half a dozen calls, the unified command center admitted that juggling all the offers of help has been a problem.
MEADOR: It's most frustrating thing I've ever been involved in.
FOREMAN (on camera): Do you think you can overcome all of that and actually get these boats working on the water?
CASTLOW: Yes, we will.
MEADOR: Yes, we will.
CASTLOW: We will do it.
MEADOR: We will do it.
FOREMAN (voice-over): So the dragonfly team says they will keep turning out their innovative boats confident, in time, they will prove to be life savers.
Tom Foreman, CNN, Pensacola Beach, Florida.
COOPER: "Building up America."
Still ahead, a BP whistleblower speaks out. Tyrone Benton says he warned of problems with the equipment specifically the blow-out preventer below the Deepwater Horizon well before the deadly explosion. So why didn't anyone listen? We'll hear from him.
Also ahead, we'll talk to Grammy Award-winning artist Lenny Kravitz. He has a house here in New Orleans. He was part of Larry King's telethon last night working to bring attention to the Gulf and to remind folks that New Orleans is still very much open for business.
The culture, the music still strong and alive; we'll talk to him, tonight's "Big 360 Interview."
COOPER: Tonight an interview with a survivor of the Deepwater Horizon. His name is Tyrone Benton. He may have been the first person to see signs of a catastrophe in the making. His job is critical, to send down cameras and inspect the well, the rig, the blow-out preventer. He was checking for anything unusual.
Weeks before the explosion, he says he found it, a cloud in the water. It was a leak, he says. He talked to Special Investigations Unit correspondent Drew Griffin about what he says he saw and what happened after the discovery was made.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIONS UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tyrone Benton may well have seen the first signs something was very, very wrong on the DeepWater Horizon.
(on camera): Did you ever get close enough to the leak to see what exactly was leaking?
TYRONE BENTON, ROV TECHNICIAN: Yes. We flew down to the pod and saw that there was a -- there was an angular fitting that had a leak on it. What was connected to the angular fitting I wasn't able to see but there was an angular fitting that did have a leak.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): It was a fluid leak on one of the two pods. Those are the mechanisms that control the blow-out preventer. If they don't work, the blow-out preventer doesn't work. A leak, even if only a trickle is a warning.
BENTON: Yes. That is abnormal.
GRIFFIN (on camera): Abnormal enough that you reported it to your company, to TransOcean, to BP?
BENTON: That's correct.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): One pod is always working. The other, says University of Texas petroleum engineer Tad Patzek, is designed as its immediate backup.
TAD PATZEK, PROF. OF PETROLEUM & GEOSYSTEMS ENGINEERING, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS: I don't think that there's any discussion of that basic fact. And the basic fact is that you have to do whatever it takes to fix fully the blow-out preventer as soon as you can.
GRIFFIN: Patzek says the solution is to immediately close off the well, raise the blow-out preventer, find out what's wrong and fix it.
PATZEK: Anything less than that, you know, might have led or probably led to a major failure of the well and the results are well known.
GRIFFIN: Back on board the DeepWater Horizon several weeks before the explosion, Tyrone Benton knew he was looking at a potentially dangerous leak; that the BOP, the blow-out preventer, was at possible risk for failure.
(on camera): And it was taken care of?
BENTON: It wasn't taken care of. In order to take care of it, you have to pull the whole BOP, which would shut down production. From my understanding, they just shut down one pod and worked off the other.
GRIFFIN: Tyrone, 11 people dead.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): For the better part of a day, the leak was studied, observed, measured. The most prudent course to fix it, says Benton, was ruled out.
(on camera): And so instead?
BENTON: They went ahead and shut down that particular pod, the yellow pod, and start working off the other pod.
GRIFFIN: You liken that to shutting down one engine of a twin engine plane.
BENTON: That's correct.
GRIFFIN: You can do it?
GRIFFIN: But not ideal.
BENTON: If you have to, I mean, you can though.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Day after day, says Benton, the fluid leak continued and day after day, BP and TransOcean were notified.
(on camera): You're the first person that's come forward that I know of that said, "We had this problem. It was a leak." Instead of properly fixing the leak, officials from BP and TransOcean decided to bypass that leak.
It's hard to determine, as you said, whether or not that leak had anything to do with this. But certainly the prudent thing, the most safe thing to do would have been to pull up that blow-out preventer, fix it and put it back down. Is that not correct?
BENTON: Yes, you could look at it that way, yes.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): No one listened and a few weeks later, Tyrone Benton was lying in his bunk on the Deepwater Horizon when the first explosion knocked him out of bed. The second covered him in debris, as he scrambled to find his flashlight, it was pitch black.
(on camera): Panic on board, screaming?
BENTON: Panic, screaming, people jumping overboard. It was completely chaos. And I could hear my supervisor telling everybody, "Let's go. Let's go. Let's get in the lifeboats. We've got to go. We've got to go."
And he kept his head. He kept his cool. Most of us were just panicking and wanted to go like right now. But we had to wait for everybody. So we sat on that rig as long as we possibly could for everyone to be accounted for.
GRIFFIN: Not everybody was accounted for.
BENTON: There was a point where you have to say we have to go. And we made it to that point.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Of the 11 who never made it to the lifeboat, Benton says many were close friends.
He is now suing BP and TransOcean for emotional and physical injuries. A BP spokesman wouldn't comment on reports of a leak but did say BP is determined to get to the bottom of what caused the explosion.
COOPER: So, Drew, why is Tyrone Benton coming forward now and I mean, basically thrusting himself into this firestorm?
GRIFFIN: Yes, I think you can tell, Anderson, from that interview, he's somewhat reluctantly coming forward. He says he was tracked down by a British newspaper. He gave them one quote a couple of days ago and his life hasn't been the same.
He is very shy in front of the camera. And after that interview told his lawyer, look, he doesn't want to do this anymore. He doesn't want to do any more interviews. That may have been his last.
COOPER: Already at least one of the companies on the rig is challenging what the engineer is saying.
GRIFFIN: Yes. British Petroleum, no comment on what he was saying. But TransOcean sent us a statement tonight directly challenging Benton saying, that look, this BOP preventer was tested in the days and the weeks before this event. It checked out ok. Everything was working.
They're really not sure what Benton is talking about, but TransOcean is also saying that they are continuing to investigate, because obviously they don't know yet what went wrong on this rig.
COOPER: All right. Drew, appreciate it. Drew Griffin tonight.
Up next, Lenny Kravitz on the spill, the "Big 360 interview," and the life of New Orleans. We'll be right back.
COOPER: Quick update on the CNN telethon last night for the Gulf oil spill; a big success. As of right now more than $1.8 million was raised, all the donations going to three groups: the United Way, the Nature Conservancy and National Wildlife Federation.
Lenny Kravitz took part in the telethon. The Grammy Award- winning artist who has a long connection to New Orleans; he joins me for the "Big 360 Interview."
Thanks for being with us.
LENNY KRAVITZ, GRAMMY AWARD-WINNING ARTIST: My pleasure.
COOPER: You've been -- you have a house down here. You've been living here for, like, 17 years.
KRAVITZ: I've had a house here for 17 years. Yes. The first home I ever purchased.
COOPER: And you have already -- early on, you performed at a concert for -- to benefit folks in the spill.
KRAVITZ: Yes. We had the concert that was Gulf Aid. And it was a quick reaction. It was about two weeks afterwards. And it was put together in a matter of days. And we raised some good money. And --
COOPER: And now there's a song that you put on -- that's on iTunes that you've got -- you did with Mos Def and a bunch of people.
KRAVITZ: That was a collaboration with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, with Mos Def and myself, Trombone Shorty.
COOPER: What's the song?
KRAVITZ: It's called "Ain't My Fault" and it's on iTunes. And the money goes to Gulf Aid and it's a dollar in, a dollar out. So the money that's given is given out.
COOPER: One of the things that we've been trying to get across on this program is that, you know, a lot of places are not affected by the spill yet; the beaches in Mississippi, in Florida, in a lot of places in Alabama, and that the life in New Orleans is still as strong as ever.
I mean, I was talking to someone at the hotel who said that a person had called up and canceled their honeymoon here because they thought, you know, somehow New Orleans was affected and was ruined.
KRAVITZ: Well, this is obviously a horrible, horrible spill. But, you know, there isn't oil, you know, going down the streets here. And people think that the place is a mess and that they shouldn't come here. And this place is jumping. It's thriving.
I mean, I'm out every night. I'm listening to music. I'm on Frenchmen. COOPER: Are you just waking up?
KRAVITZ: I was out late last night. You know, I'm really inspired by this city. It's a great place.
COOPER: There really is no place like it in America. I mean for those who do not --
KRAVITZ: Not at all.
COOPER: It's hard to kind of describe, but just the vibrancy of the life here, whether you're involved in music or food or just walking the streets, it's really an extraordinary place.
KRAVITZ: You can't find this anywhere in America or anywhere in the world really. It reminds me of what my parents always told me that it was like in New York City when you -- you know, go down one street, you'd go see Miles Davis, and you'd go see Charlie Parker, you'd go see this one, that one. And you know? I was on Frenchmen the other night. We went --
COOPER: Frenchmen Street is a street in the Marigny which has a lot of great clubs.
KRAVITZ: Amazing music.
KRAVITZ: There were brass bands.
KRAVITZ: That's your spot? There were bands on the street, playing; people in the street dancing.
COOPER: There's a band that plays on the corner on that street.
KRAVITZ: That's right.
COOPER: It's so great. And like --
KRAVITZ: They're amazing.
COOPER: I've never seen anything like it. People just kind of gather around and listen to them for the longest time. It's great.
KRAVITZ: It's beautiful. Yes. You know, we went to go see two or three brass bands, great little blues bands in a small bar. And the whole street is just music. And that's still going.
The food is great. The vibe is great. The architecture is great. This is a great city. And it's a place that people still to know -- they need to come.
COOPER: Yes. And the --
KRAVITZ: And they should come. They'll enjoy it.
COOPER: Seafood is still totally edible. I eat it every single day.
KRAVITZ: The seafood --
COOPER: I've just had a crab cake.
KRAVITZ: The seafood is great. It is diminishing.
COOPER: It's hard to get oysters.
KRAVITZ: Last night we went to Irene's which is a great, great local restaurant and she served us oysters and said, you know, enjoy these. You know, we're not getting them like we used to. You know, and it's diminishing.
KRAVITZ: But it's here. It's clean. It's healthy. No one is getting sick.
COOPER: Yes. I appreciate all you're doing for the city.
KRAVITZ: My pleasure. And all you're doing. You're representing the city in a beautiful way.
COOPER: Well, I'm trying. I'm trying.
KRAVITZ: Thank you, man.
COOPER: Appreciate it. Thanks a lot.
KRAVITZ: All right.
COOPER: Lenny Kravitz.
Hey, that's it for 360. Thanks for watching.
"LARRY KING" starts right now.
I'll see you tomorrow night.