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McChrystal Resigns; Oil Gushing Without Any Cap; Worst Oil Yet to Strike Florida

Aired June 23, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much for that, Rick. Thank you.

A "runaway general" as he's now called resigns his command. And a battle tested general called up to replace him. This hour a new leadership for the war in Afghanistan after Stanley McChrystal's rogue remarks and now his ouster.

President Obama says McChrystal created division and he says he won't tolerate that. New reaction to the commander in chief's decision to sack his general. Will critics who think he's been too weak be satisfied?

And the main system for capturing gushing oil in the Gulf breaks down. We're going to tell you what went wrong and how this mishap could make the worst spill in U.S. history even worse.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're told General Stanley McChrystal won't even return to Afghanistan to pack his bags. Right now the ousted Afghan war commander is keeping a low profile after his loose lips during an interview got him into a huge mess.

President Obama moved in quickly today to push McChrystal aside and tapped General David Petraeus, the head of U.S. Military Central Command, to replace him.

We begin our coverage with our White House correspondent Dan Lothian.

Dan, the president confronted General McChrystal earlier this morning setting the stage for some rather dramatic developments.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And what's still unclear at this hour, Wolf, is whether or not the president had made up his mind as to what he would do when he sat down for the one-on-one with General McChrystal.

But what we have learned -- CNN has learned is that the president did give him a chance to essentially defend himself. A senior administration official telling CNN that the president did ask him about the article and that he, General McChrystal, quote, "tried to explain the situation." What's clear in all of this is that the president and other administration officials had lost confidence in General McChrystal. There was a breach in trust and there were few other options than for him to resign.


LOTHIAN (voice-over): Seeing that it was a change in personnel not policy, President Obama closed the book on his top man in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be set by a commanding general.

LOTHIAN: President Obama called General McChrystal to Washington from Afghanistan to hear him out in person before making his decision. A 32-minute one-on-one meeting in the Oval Office could not reverse the feeling that the general was no longer capable of carrying out the U.S. mission in Afghanistan.

OBAMA: It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system. And it erodes the trust that's necessary for our team to work together to achieve our objectives in Afghanistan.

LOTHIAN: This isn't the first time that General McChrystal locked horns with the administration. Last year he publicly dismissed a smaller, leaner force in Afghanistan that the vice president was advocating. He was reprimanded by Mr. Obama.

This time McChrystal and his aides were quoted in "Rolling Stone" magazine taking shots at President Obama and his entire National Security team. A big distraction for the White House even as the U.S. and coalition forces waged a difficult war.

OBAMA: It is my duty to ensure that no diversion complicates the vital mission that they are carrying out. That includes adherence to a strict code of conduct.

LOTHIAN: In a statement General McChrystal said he resigned out of respect for the president's strategy in Afghanistan and a desire to see the mission succeed.

Bruce Fleming, a naval academy professor who will soon release a book on the friction between military and civilian leadership, says this controversy reveals a long-standing problem on the battle field.

BRUCE FLEMING, NAVAL ACADEMY PROFESSOR: They don't like that that people who are not military tell them what to do.

LOTHIAN: That frustration is what Fleming says the administration needs to focus on now. Much bigger than a few controversial comments by a four-star general.

(END VIDEOTAPE) LOTHIAN: Now a senior administration official says that the president's tone in these meetings today was very stern and that he pointed out that he accepts disagreements, that there will be differences, but what he will not tolerate is pettiness -- Wolf?

BLITZER: Dan Lothian working on the story at the White House. Thank you. New reaction just coming into McChrystal's exit from the Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

His spokesman releasing a statement saying -- let me quote, "General McChrystal was a very trusted partner with the Afghan government and people. Since his arrival there was a lot of improvement in Afghanistan. This was an internal U.S. government decision and we will respect this decision. And we are happy about this choice for replacement."

The statement goes on to say that President Karzai trusts President Obama's decision.

In our next hour, by the way, we'll have a live report from Kabul on reaction in the war zone. Stand by for that.

General David Petraeus could head to Capitol Hill for confirmation hearings perhaps as early as next week. The man likely to become the next U.S. commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan is a four-star general. The former U.S. commander in Iraq.

He was promoted to head the U.S. Military Central Command in 2008 where he's overseeing U.S. troops across the Middle East, including Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. General Petraeus was also in charge during the U.S. troop surge in Iraq in 2007 when he came up with some new strategies for fighting insurgents, which paved the way for U.S. troop reductions in Iraq.

He also holds, by the way, a doctorate in international relations from Princeton University. He is a graduate of West Point.

Now to the other huge story we're following today. Breaking news in the Gulf oil disaster. For over seven hours, crude has been gushing into the water without the cap that's been crucial to trying to slow down the spill.

An operational accident a mile below the surface forced the cap to be removed and has created this major new setback. When things supposedly couldn't get much worse, they have become much worse.

Brian Todd is here with the latest on what's going on.

Brian, explain it.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we just got off the phone with BP officials. They say the cap is still off and has been off, as you mentioned, off for about seven hours now. Not clear when it's going to go back on. It was at about 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time that BP officials say they noticed a, quote, "burp." An unexpected release of liquid of gas -- liquid or gas in a secondary pipe. It was carrying hot water down to the cap so that it doesn't get too cold.

You can see from some of the live pictures here even now oil and gas is still coming out but the camera is moving around a lot at the moment. Hard to tell from some of these images exactly what's going on.

We're going to show you what it looked like, though, at 9:00 a.m. when the cap was still on. That's what it looked like there. 9:00 a.m. the cap was still on. The camera then goes off focusing on other things. By the time the camera came back, the cap was off.

The apparent cause of all of this? The Coast Guard commander says it's likely that a submersible, remotely operated vehicle accidentally knocked a release vent shut.


ADM. THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: It indicates that the problem was a remotely operated vehicle that had been around the lower marine rise package that bumped into one of those vents and allows the excess oil to come out and actually closed it, thereby creating pressure and the backflow potentially up the water vent.

They are checking the containment cap right now. If there are no hydrates in the containment cap they will attempt to reinstall the containment cap and begin producing later on today.

If there are hydrates they will probably have to re-run the pipeline and that will take a considerable amount longer.


TODD: Now Admiral Thad Allen is referring to those hydrates that can form and clog up things if hydro carbons are exposed to cold water which could have occurred when they took that cap off and moved it aside.

Now this is what the cap looks like when it is not connected. Again we just spoke with BP officials. There does seem to be activity around the main leak right now. It's hard to tell exactly what's going on. The cameras are moving around quite a bit.

The BP official says, however, the cap is still off. No word, Wolf, on when it goes back on. He says they're still analyzing those hydrates to see if they've clogged that containment cap.

BLITZER: In the meantime, Brian, how much oil is actually getting out right now thanks to this underwater accident?

TODD: Well, yesterday they collected a record amount of oil including about 16,600 barrels just through that cap. So if it takes 24 hours total to reconnect since this morning that's about how much they would likely miss.

But even without the cap they're still getting some oil out using those hookups to other pipes which send the oil to that second vessel, the Q 4000. Yesterday they got more than 10,000 barrels recovered that way.

BLITZER: Has this happened before during this recovery effort, Brian, an accident under water that has been this costly?

TODD: They did have another accident last month because of an ROV bump, something similar to what happened today. That insertion tube that they had in there came out and had to be reinserted.

Still, Admiral Allen described that as, quote, "a pretty good record," just two bumps in 60 days of work where sometimes more than a half dozen ROVs are working down there at once. They've had as many as 16 of those remotely operated subs working down around that well at once. There's a lot of traffic down there.

BLITZER: All right. In the meantime it's -- a lot of oil is just spewing and spewing and spewing. Let's hope they fix this quickly, Brian, thanks very much.

The ultimate solution to stop the gushing oil is what's called a relief well. The first well of two wells BP is drilling has reached a depth now of nearly 16,000 feet, closing in on the well pipe and the second is just shy of 10,000 feet.

While the first well is ahead of schedule neither will be ready until August because the deeper they get the harder it is to drill. They're aiming at a pipe the width of a dinner plate -- a dinner plate -- miles below the surface. This is clearly no easy task.

We're learning more about the deaths of two oil recovery workers today. A coroner in Alabama says a 55-year-old charter boat captain who was working for BP on the cleanup died of a gunshot wound apparently self-inflicted.

Admiral Thad Allen announced his death today along with the death of another oil recovery worker in a swimming accident.

The Interior Secretary Ken Salazar says he's looking into issuing a new, less restricted ban on deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. This is a day after a judge blocked the administration's six- month drilling ban. The White House is appealing the ruling.

BP managing director Bob Dudley isn't saying whether his company will start deepwater drilling again. He told NBC's "Today" show BP will step back from the decision while it investigates the rig explosion that unleashed the spill in the Gulf.

Florida is getting its worst taste of the Gulf oil disaster yet. We're going to show you where a health advisory is in effect right now and I'll get reaction from the Republican candidate for Senate from Florida, Marco Rubio. He is standing by. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. And we'll have a lot more on the president's dramatic decision today to sack General McChrystal. Did he show new muscle to his critics who say he's too weak?


BLITZER: Looking at these live pictures you can see that the robotic arm there trying to do something under water. We're not exactly sure what it's trying to do but there is this huge accident today and the crude is spewing out in huge numbers.

Once again we'll follow this for you. We've got more information. Stand by.

In the meantime let's go to Jack. He's got "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Sometimes timing is everything. When it comes to the war in Afghanistan, the timing of the departure of General Stanley McChrystal is awful.

The U.S. is in the midst of escalating this 9-year-old war in an effort to defeat the spreading power of the Taliban and al Qaeda. The surge of tens of thousands of U.S. troops was pretty much McChrystal's plan and he had close ties with leaders in both Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.

Also, summer, traditionally a time of heavy fighting in Afghanistan and allied forces are on the verge of the Kandahar offensive. This month is on track to become the deadliest month for NATO troops since the start of the war in 2001.

But the president decided that McChrystal had to go and on one level you can't argue with him. McChrystal's job was to implement the president's war plan on the battlefield. But he and his inner circle found it appropriate instead to trash top administration officials and make destructive personal attacks to a reporter from "Rolling Stone" magazine.

Just imagine now what our enemies must think, not to mention the families of tens of thousands of brave troops who are fighting in Afghanistan. It put the president in a tough spot. He risked looking weak if he didn't can the general and now he could be accused of undermining his own strategy in Afghanistan by cutting loose the guy he put in charge at such a key moment.

Even before this incident, only 42 percent of Americans still favor the war in Afghanistan down 6 percent since March -- since March rather, 56 percent of Americans are now opposed to the war in Afghanistan. Almost said Vietnam.

Here's the question: How does the McChrystal episode affect Americans' confidence in the Afghanistan war? Go to Post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: I'll be anxious, Jack, to hear what our viewers think. Thank you.

Let's get some more now on General McChrystal's exit. Our senior political analysts Gloria Borger and David Gergen are joining me.

Let me play this little clip, David. I'll go to you first. Listen to what the president said.


OBAMA: I've just told my National Security team that now is the time for all of us to come together. Doing so is not an option but an obligation. I welcome debate among my team but I won't tolerate division.


BLITZER: Did the president, David, have any choice?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: I think he had choices and I think he made a very wise choice in fact, Wolf. I would rate this as one of the best decisions he's made as president because he had this dilemma about what to do with McChrystal, lose a general, lose a war, and he managed a brilliant choice in General Petraeus.

Because this way he let McChrystal go, he asserted civilian control, but he also put in place the best general we have right now and a man who turned around the war in Iraq and possibly can turn around this war in Afghanistan, who can take over without losing momentum.

And I must say, you know, for General Petraeus, and I know him pretty well. You know he's actually taking a lesser job. He's taking -- he was -- as you know he was the boss of General McChrystal. And he's going to McChrystal's job. He's really taking one for the team. I think it shows how much of a patriot he is and how good a citizen he is.

BLITZER: Yes, I agree completely. Knowing General Petraeus as I do. The president of the United States kept calling himself, and he is, the commander-in-chief, Gloria. Today he showed he is the commander-in-chief.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Right. And he asserted his control, as David was saying, the civilian control over the military. But I think what was really interesting about that -- that bite that you showed, Wolf, of the president is that I think it was also a not-so-veiled warning to his own team saying, look, I'm going to tolerate debate but no division.

So if there are feuds in this team and if there are questions, for example, about the July 2011 drawdown, we need to get them resolved and we need to be singing from the same page.

So I think there is also a subtext here, which is, you know, Vice President Biden didn't support this policy. Now he does. And he wants everybody -- Gates, Biden, Hillary Clinton, everybody on the same team. And that was the problem he had with McChrystal.

Could McChrystal actually work with these people? And the answer, of course, was no.

BLITZER: Yes, after those quotes from his aides, mostly from his aides, David, in that "Rolling Stone" article, it would have been difficult if not impossible for McChrystal to work with Vice President Biden or Ambassador Holbrooke or the National Security adviser General Jim Jones.

I don't know how they could have worked together.

GERGEN: It would have been hard. Of course they were dysfunctional before this occurred, Wolf.


GERGEN: But I think that's one additional benefit of putting General Petraeus in there that he is going to -- he will -- that dysfunctionality will end with Petraeus because he has a very good relationship with Dick Holbrooke. I've talked to him a lot about this.

He will get along well with Ambassador Eikenberry. He still going to have to bring around President Karzai but he has a good relationship obviously with Secretary Gates. He has a very good relationship with Hillary Clinton and he has a growing relationship with the president.

I would say, Wolf, that the chances have just grown, also, because I think the president is going to owe him something, that when the chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs comes up, that General Petraeus will be first in line to become the new chairman.

BORGER: Yes, I would -- I would agree with that. Let me point something else out, which is General Petraeus is somebody Republicans have started to turn to and say, we would like you to run for the presidency, right? You know that, David?

GERGEN: Not going to do that.

BORGER: Not going to do that. He has said he's not going to do it. This puts the period at the end of that sentence. He will not do it.

BLITZER: All right. Gloria and David, guys, thanks very much.

A rare earthquake rocks parts of Canada today. Even felt in portions of the United States. We're going to tell you just how serious it was.

And if you plan on vacationing in one South Carolina town this summer, this warning. No singing or even whistling allowed.


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

Hi, Fred. What's going on?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to you, Wolf. Hello, everyone.

Well, visible tremors today as a rare earthquake rocks parts of Canada. The preliminary magnitude 5.0 quake struck near the borders of Ontario and Quebec. But it was also felt in parts of the United States as well.

Journalists in Toronto preparing for an economic summit also reported feeling their hotel workspace sway. There are no reports of injuries or major damage.

And more than 600 people are missing and 42 dead in the wake of vicious flooding in Brazil. The heavy rain that started last week was -- has damaged, rather, thousands of homes and displaced more than 30,000 people.

The Brazilian president will tour the affected areas tomorrow and the government there has pledged more than $150 million to help with the rebuilding.

And new home sales have reached a record low. Numbers last month snapped a two-month streak of gains declining 32.7 percent. This is the slowest sales pace since data tracking began back in 1963.

Analysts cite the expiration of the home buyer tax credit in April as a major reason for the dip.

And if you plan on breaking into song during that summer stroll on the beach, think again if you're in one South Carolina town. Sullivan's Island has proposed an ordinance making it illegal to yell, shout, whistle, or sing on public streets.

Anyone who engages in such activity especially between the hours of 11:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. faces a maximum fine of $500 for disturbing the peace.

And, Wolf, I was recently in Sullivan's Island and I think I whistled a tune or two, so I'm going to have to change my ways.

BLITZER: Yes, no more whistling allowed.


WHITFIELD: Not at all.

BLITZER: Thanks, Fred. Fred will be back.

WHITFIELD: Just hum.

BLITZER: Thank you.

The president says he's committed to a strategy in Afghanistan even though his commander is stepping aside right now. General McChrystal's exit about the war and the troops or is it about politics? We'll assess.

And the worst onslaught of black crude yet on Florida's coast. Will it help Governor Charlie Crist win a Senate bid? I'll ask his Republican opponent Marco Rubio. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Take a look at the black blobs that washed up today on the beach in Pensacola, Florida. It's the biggest amount of oil to hit the state so far affecting more than nine miles of white shoreline.

The health advisory has been issued for parts of Pensacola beach and Fort Pickens. Florida governor and U.S. Senate candidate, Charlie Crist, says it breaks his heart.

And joining us now Marco Rubio. He's the Republican senatorial candidate in Florida.

Thanks very much for coming in.

MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: Thank you. Glad to be here.

BLITZER: Let's talk about what's happening right now in Florida because it's pretty heart breaking to see these pictures. It seems to be getting worse and worse, not better. Is that what you're hearing?

RUBIO: It is. It is heart breaking. You see these sandy white beaches in Pensacola that are part of our heritage. People have raised their families there, both economically and creating family memories. And you see the pictures coming out today just absolutely breaks your heart.

BLITZER: So what needs to be done right now?

RUBIO: Well, unfortunately, more needs to be done. I mean that's the bottom line. I think the federal government took its time in responding to this early on. I think they weren't quick enough and the bureaucracy continues to be in place.

If you talk to locals they'll tell you the red tape is extraordinary. But this is -- we are the most powerful country in the world. Every oil skimmer on the planet should be in the Gulf of Mexico by now and they're not.

And I think that's something that our senator now, George LeMieux, has been talking about repeatedly. We needed the federal government to do a better job of addressing what we have here.

BLITZER: And Senator Nelson? Is he doing a good job?

RUBIO: Well, like I said, I've heard Senator Nelson speak out about it as well but the leader in these efforts has been Senator LeMieux who's consistently spoken out for the need for more skimmers. I think as of yesterday there were 20-some odd skimmers working at that moment. And I -- it's tragic to see what's happening because of lack of response from from the federal government.

BLITZER: We see the governor, Charlie Crist, your challenger, your opponent for the Senate we see him out there all the time. How is he doing?

RUBIO: He's doing a great job of getting press releases and press conferences and video time. That's part of the job of being governor but the other part is getting results. Right now we're not getting results from the Obama administration and I don't think the governor has pressed the Obama administration enough. Recently he said that he thought the Obama administration was doing a very good job and had finally caught up. They haven't and today is evidence they haven't caught up.

BLITZER: You're blaming who?

RUBIO: First of all BP. There's no doubt about it they cut corners. I think we're learning about that everyday that BP cut corners and it lead to this accident. They are ultimately responsible for what happened here. We are also supposed to have the federal government who is by law responsible for dealing with emergencies of this degree. They weren't prepared to do so. They didn't have plans to do so. They didn't have resources to do so and 60 some odd days after the spill they're still not doing a good job.

BLITZER: You seem to disagree with Governor Crist on the whole issue of offshore oil drilling off the coast of Florida. Do you?

RUBIO: What I believe is America has to have all of its energy resources at its disposal and we have to have domestic production. I hope we reach a point where we don't use any petroleum. I don't know if it will happen. For example this initiative to get more electric cars I think is fantastic. I've always been a fan of alternatives and efficiency improvements that allow us to become energy independent. In the short term the truth is that America has to increase its domestic energy production and part of that may have to be offshore drilling.

BLITZER: Off the coast of Miami or Pensacola, you want to see deep water drilling going on there?

RUBIO: First of all, Florida law prohibits it near the coast. You're talking about deep water drilling and I only to see it if it can be done safely. That's why it is so important that we study why this happened. If you tell me we're going to have to put up with a couple more of these? Of course not. But if it can be done safely, there's evidence that it can be done safely. It's being done safely all over the world. So in the future once we pass this crisis, I think America has to have more domestic production but only if it can be done in a safe way.

BLITZER: Well because I want to be precise. When he was on this show about a week ago he said flatly he doesn't want to see any offshore oil drilling anywhere near Florida but on this specific issue you have a different take.

RUBIO: Well, my take on it is that America has to have domestic production. We have to increase our domestic production. I don't know how we do that if we don't offshore drill. If there is something else we can do instead maybe it's better but ultimately those who are against domestic production need to show where we'll get the energy from. They need to point to where they're going to get it from. And if it's going to be from foreign countries that means you'll bring it in on tankers. Tankers are just as dangerous as drilling.

BLITZER: If Charlie Crist does an ad saying I oppose offshore oil drilling off the coast of Florida, Marco Rubio supports offshore oil drilling off the coast of Florida, would that be accurate?

RUBIO: It would only be accurate if it's being done safely. The second thing that he would not point out in that ad is that he was one of the leaders of the drill baby drill chants just a couple years ago when he hoped to become Senator McCain's vice presidential choice. That is neither here nor there. The bottom line is that I am for safe exploration of domestic resources. We need that in order to be energy independent and safe but it has to be done safely. That's why it's so important to find out why this happened so it never happens again.

BLITZER: Listen to what he said on the whole issue of energy when he was here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Listen to this.


GOV. CHARLIE CRIST (I), FLORIDA SENATE CANDIDATE: We have a duty and an obligation to protect our beaches. This is also a wakeup call I think for us to go more green and more clean in terms of the types of energy that we generate, whether it's wind or solar or nuclear. We have to look to other means, be responsible, do what's right, and certainly not plug another hole in the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico to potentially create another one of these catastrophes.


BLITZER: All right. Go ahead. React.

RUBIO: What car runs on wind power? What car runs on solar power that's cost effective? And there are no cars that I know of that run on nuclear power. What we're talking about here is transportation energy and right now the only cost effective way to fuel vehicles for driving, for airplanes, et cetera is petroleum based products. We should change that. We should invest in technologies. We should invest the time to become a leader in alternatives whether it's fuel cells or electric cars but that is not going to happen from today to next week or next month or next year. In the interim we've got to have a supply of energy for our country that is safe and reliable and that's why, that's the position I think our country needs to be in.

BLITZER: Marco Rubio is the Republican senatorial candidate. Congratulations on your win. We'll be watching this race very closely. I hope you'll come back.

RUBIO: I hope to come back. Thank you.

BLITZER: Is she perhaps the new face of the GOP? We'll tell you why the conservative Indian American Nikki Haley could likely become South Carolina's first female governor.

And it's a CNN exclusive. What brought the Sanford's back together for an embrace not long after their highly publicized divorce?


BLITZER: Fredricka Whitfield monitoring some of the other stories on the CNN political ticker right now. What else is going on, Fred?

WHITFIELD: Hello, Wolf. Republican Nikki Haley is a big step closer to becoming the first woman governor of South Carolina. She trounced Congressman Gresham Barton in yesterday's primary runoff and Haley is putting a new face on the state GOP as a conservative, Indian American woman supported by the tea party movement. She is considered the front runner against Democrat Vincent Shaheen for the office now held by embattled Republican Mark Sanford. Nikki Haley will actually be a guest on "JOHN KING USA" tonight at 7:00 eastern time.

South Carolina Republicans also shook up the status quo by nominating a conservative African-American man for Congress. Tim Scott is now on track to become the first black Republican elected to the House from South Carolina in over a century. He is considered the favorite to win in November against Democrat Ben Frasier.

A show of anti-incumbent fever in South Carolina. Republicans rejected six-term Congressman Bob Inglis and nominated prosecutor Trey Gowdy in the runoff.

Chalk up another victory for the tea party, this one in Utah. Attorney Mike Lee won the nomination for U.S. Senate edging out fellow conservative Tim Bridgewater. Lee was endorsed by the tea party which played a big role in ousting incumbent Senator Bob Bennett at a Utah GOP convention last month. Lee faces a political newcomer in November.

And this programming note. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer and 2010 Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Kathleen Parker are the two newest members of CNN. Spitzer, a Democrat, and Parker who describes herself as a rational conservative, will co-host a new round table discussion program this fall. Their show will air at 8:00 eastern time. Wolf?

BLITZER: Fred, thanks very much.

President Obama removing his top general from command in Afghanistan. But was today's decision was it about strategy, was it about politics? What's going on?

Is a kiss just a kiss? What brought South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford and his ex-wife Jenny Sanford back together in a rare embrace? We have a CNN exclusive for you.


BLITZER: We're just getting in this picture of President Obama meeting with his top national security team over at The Situation Room at the White House earlier today. You can see it, let's talk about this, what happened in our strategy session. Joining us two former White House insiders, two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist Paul Begala and the Republican strategist Ed Rollins. Both of you can relate. You worked in different White Houses. I'll play a little clip, Paul, and start with you. Here was the president making it clear that he has no disagreement with policy as far as Afghanistan is concerned. It was something else. Listen to this.

OBAMA: Make no mistake. We have a clear goal. We are going to break the Taliban's momentum. We are going to build Afghan capacity. We are going to relentlessly apply pressure on al Qaeda and its leadership, strengthening the ability of both Afghanistan and Pakistan to do the same.

BLITZER: Now if I didn't hear President Obama saying that, I could have heard President Bush saying that as well. That is a consistent approach of the United States from Bush to Obama.

PAUL BEGALA, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well, the strategy I think under President Obama has changed, not in the way maybe that liberals may support but in the way President Obama promised when he was Senator Obama. He has increased the troops significantly.

BLITZER: He more than doubled the number.

BEGALA: He more than doubled them and the reason that Stan McChrystal the general was commanding in Afghanistan is because Barack Obama fired David McKiernan the predecessor who was following the Bush strategy. So there is a different strategy. Not all together sure it's going to work either but a very different strategy. The counterinsurgency. The Obama strategy is the McChrystal strategy. I think he did the right thing in firing McChrystal. He is committed to the mission if not the man and now in picking David Petraeus he has the guy who literally wrote the book on counterinsurgency. The strategy remains the same.

BLITZER: You know Ed that a lot of Republicans, conservatives, hard liners like this strategy, toughness, going against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. A lot of the more dovish liberals on the Democratic side they aren't very happy with the strategy.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, the president is obviously the one who gets to make the call just as he did today and a very difficult decision, probably the most difficult decision of his presidency. So much of how he is going to be judged both in his re- election efforts and historically is how well we do in Afghanistan. I think he gave a very clear statement today that we're there to win. I applaud that. I applaud General McChrystal for his service, 35 years of service. I think if he could have his words back or throw the reporter out of the locker room dialogue he would have done that. Petraeus is a first rate general. No general is irreplaceable but I think the strategy is important and the bottom line is we'll have a consistent pattern moving forward at a very critical time.

BEGALA: Wolf, if I could come back to that picture that we showed a moment ago, Ed has been there. I've been there. I guarantee you on the mind of every man and woman at that table was oh, my goodness. I could be next. Nothing focuses the mind like a hanging every fortnight. It's been I think a successful foreign policy team but on Afghanistan it has been fractious. I guarantee you every one of them is thinking holy smokes this guy could fire my butt next. I better get on the team.

ROLLINS: But as you know Paul having been in White Houses, every one of us is type a personalities. We all have elbows and there are no fences. Everybody's in everybody else's turf. There are no people without strong opinions. Particularly in a war strategy like this there are lots of varied opinions as you know and certainly you and I could debate all day about it. But at the end of the day the president has to make the decision.

BEGALA: But there will be loads to cross this president. He was tested by this. It was thrust upon him. He didn't create the test. I think he passed. He showed a lot of strength the way Ronald Reagan did when he didn't expect to come to office firing all the air traffic controllers. They participated in a strike, Reagan thought it was illegal and he fired them all. People didn't want to mess with Ronald Reagan after that.

BLITZER: Were you surprised Ed that General McChrystal who for the last year he has been in charge of the Afghan military strategy on the ground in Afghanistan, he was here in Washington, had the meeting in the oval office early in the day, about a half hour with the president, tendered his resignation and the president accepted. They didn't invite him to come back for the strategy session on Afghanistan in The Situation Room and pick his brain at least before he retired.

ROLLINS: I think it would have been embarrassing. I think when you're fired, you're fired, and the bottom line is you move on. I think obviously he will continue to do whatever transition takes place. He's a good soldier. He will salute and move forward. I think the bottom line here is with Petraeus who oversaw all of this, both Iraq and this, they won't lose much. They'll lose a great general and it would have been better if he could have stayed as part of the team but it didn't happen.

BLITZER: You have to give a lot of credit to General Petraeus. The president asked him to do something. He said yes, sir and saluted. He'll be going from the U.S. military central command in Tampa, Florida. I don't know if you've ever been down there. It's a lot different than Kabul, Afghanistan but the president orders the commander in chief and he said, yes, sir. Good for General Petraeus.

I have a picture I want to show both of you. We got this, Mark Sanford the governor of South Carolina and his ex-wife now, Jenny Sanford take a look at this. A little kiss on the cheek. Last night Nikki Haley the Republican wins the gubernatorial nomination in South Carolina. You know, South Carolina is a state that's gotten a lot of bad publicity for politics lately. Give me a quick thought both of you, first, Ed, go ahead.

ROLLINS: That was not a passionate kiss but it was a nice kiss. She endorsed Haley first. I think it's a big victory for her and a big victory for the tea party.

BEGALA: It is, but the fact that Governor Sanford was there is politically idiotic. You know, Democrats are already filling my blackberry with e-mails saying yes Nikki Haley is a new face but she'll be a Mark Sanford clone. They are painting her as somebody who followed his policies. The last thing Nikki Haley needed on the moment when she was going to represent a clean break and a new face for a scandal ridden Republican Party in South Carolina was to have Sanford there and then worse have Sanford smooching his ex-wife.

ROLLINS: Paul, I'll bet you dinner at the Palm she is the next governor. Right after she gets inaugurated or elected you can buy me dinner.

BEGALA: Watch out for Shaheen though. People underestimate the Democratic nominee. He's a state senator down there. I think she'll have her hands full with him.

BLITZER: Can I come to that dinner?

ROLLINS: Absolutely. You're always welcome.

BLITZER: Thanks very much. Nikki Haley by the way will be a guest on "JOHN KING USA." That's coming up after THE SITUATION ROOM at 7:00 p.m. eastern. You'll want to see that interview.

An abrupt change of command is under way in Afghanistan right now. We're going live to the war zone for the inside story on the magazine article that brought down a general. And we'll meet two Florida men on a mission to save animals from the oil spill.


BLITZER: Jack is joining us for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack?

CAFFERTY: The question this hour is: How does the McChrystal episode affect Americans' confidence in the war of Afghanistan?

Jerome writes: "What happens in Afghanistan will not be affected by the change in commanders. McChrystal had to go. As one who spent 27 years in the U.S. Air Force I was surprised and upset at the animosity of his published comments. How could he and his staff ever forget who they work for? It is a disgrace."

Hank writes: "Petraeus, General Petraeus has always displayed the mature attitude necessary for a cohesive executive approach to the war. McChrystal and his staff did not and therefore could not be trusted to follow the orders correctly. This is serious business. Thousands of American and allied lives on the line, and Obama must do everything in his power to ensure the best possible outcome regardless of the personalities."

Shelly writes: "One man really should not matter. He was a manager and that it is. He was responsible for implementing a strategy and it seems that the corrupt Karzai government was the most supportive of McChrystal's role. That certainly does not give him a lot of credibility. The good from all of this is the likely renewed focus on the war, itself. What can we hope to achieve by being there and what are the costs? I think the American people have spoken on this, and it is time to go to deploy our resources in more productive areas."

Brooke writes from Cincinnati: "Confidence in the war will not be affected. There is no victory to be won. We just had a bomb planted in time square that didn't detonate indicating that al Qaeda doesn't have a safe place to properly train terrorists to attack us. That is a victory that we are trying to achieve in Afghanistan and Pakistan, keeping them disorganized and on the run. Hopefully, General Petraeus can soldier on and not grant any interviews."

And Chris writes from Houston: "I'm ex-military, eight years in the U.S. Air Force. Unfortunately General McChrystal did this to himself and he let down the troops and the American people. He knew better and his staff should have known better. A sad commentary on a remarkable military career."

If you want to read more about this, you will find it on my blog at

BLITZER: He's right. It is a sad commentary, Jack. Thanks.

CAFFERTY: It really is.

BLITZER: I am sorry about how all of this unfolded. So, how much longer will more oil be gushing from that ruptured well in the Gulf of Mexico with no containment cap to lessen the flow. We have the latest on the breaking news, a very serious mishap. Just when things could not go worse, they did.


BLITZER: Each day there are more heartbreaking images of the growing numbers of animals affected by the massive oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Despite that, our Tom Foreman found two people who have a plan for building up America's wildlife using boats.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: In the searing heat of the gulf, Marks Castlow and Jimbo Meador are launching an idea, a boat designed for wildlife.

JIMBO MEADOR, CO-OWNER, DRAGONFLY BOATWORKS, ,LLC: The main purpose to recover oiled wildlife. That is what it is designed for.

FOREMAN: As co-owners of Dragonfly Boatworks, they've 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 a rescue.

You drew this thing up on a cocktail napkin?


FOREMAN: Where are you in the process now?

CASTLOW: We are trying to produce a boat every seven days for this.

FOREMAN: 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. The basic problem with many boats, they can't go into the shallow marshes.

MEADOR: Right. Because that is where the wildlife would be. They draw too much water.

FOREMAN: 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 nodules lower the crushing temperatures, and the boats are wired for internet access. It is a labor of love.

CASTLOW: It is 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 is happening.

FOREMAN: The biggest trouble? They have been unable to get approval from BP and the government to put their boats to work. After we made a half dozen calls the unified command center said that juggling all of the offers of help has been a problem.

CASTLOW: It is the most frustrating thing I have ever been involved in.

FOREMAN: Do you think you can overcome that and get the boats actually working on the water?


CASTLOW: We will.

MEADOR: We will do it.

FOREMAN: So the Dragonfly team says they will keep turning out the innovative boats, confident in time they will prove to be lifesavers.