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While the Cap's Been Off; Terror Strikes Africa

Aired July 12, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you, Rick. Happening now -- a major turning point in the oil disaster could happen literally at any moment. A new cap is being placed on the leaking well. Will it finally seal off the flow of crude or even come close? Stand by. We're all over the story. We're going to keep you up to the minute on what's going on in the Gulf.

Also, terrorists on the attack in Africa. A claim of responsibility in the deadly bombings of crowds watching the World Cup final game on TV in Uganda. Now, the U.S. is offering to help.

And a son's DNA leads police to find and arrest his father. An exclusive look at the technology that cracked the grim sleeper killings over two decades later. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the "SITUATION ROOM".

Look at these live pictures coming in from the Gulf of Mexico. At any moment, we could see a new cap lowered into place over the leaking BP oil well. This is a critical step that could possibly, possibly seal off the gusher, at least temporarily for the first time in 84 days. CNN's Ed Lavandera is joining us now live from New Orleans. Ed, take us through what's happening as we speak right now.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The latest information we have, Wolf, is that new containment cap is moving ever so closely to the top of the blowout preventer. So, we're really looking intensely at what will happen over the next 48 hours as soon as that cap is in place. They will begin a series of what they're describing as integrity testing to determine whether or not that cap will essentially be able to do what they hope it does.

And essentially, that is one of two things, whether or not it will be able to cap and hold all of the oil inside of it or whether or not if that doesn't work, whether or not they will be able to continue siphoning up what they suspect might be all of the oil into vessels on the surface of the water. So, we're told that the testing, that integrity testing will take about 48 hours to complete.

BLITZER: As we walk through this process, let's just be precise. Ed, do they hope that if it works as planned all of the oil simply will stop leaking for the first time in 84 days? Or some will still have to be contained at the surface, some will still spill out?

LAVANDERA: Well, some of it is still spilling out. They're able to kind of imagine this is a one piece of machinery that's going on top of that blowout preventer. Throughout that blowout preventer, they're able to capture right now about 8,000 barrels a day that's far less from the 25,000 a day they had been doing with various techniques that they had online.

But using everything that they have, if all of this is to work together, given all of the capacity they're bringing in to hold the oil, they feel that they can hold about 80,000 barrels a day or so if you will and if we go by the federal government's estimates that up to 60,000 barrels a day are flowing out of that oil well, in theory, that would be able to collect everything until those relief wells are complete.

BLITZER: And the relief wells won't be complete, those two relief wells that they're digging until at least the end of July, but more realistically, sometime in August, right?

LAVANDERA: Right. They believe that by the end of July, it sounds like the latest information we're getting is that they will be able to intercept way down there, 18,000 feet below the surface of the ocean floor, but after that happens, there is a series of technical things that need to happen, the pipes that need to be inserted and that sort of thing so they can start killing off that well. That will take some time as well so it's not like the moment that, you know, they crack into that well that everything shuts down completely. So, we're really still looking at early to mid August before the wells are killed off completely if that first relief well is able to work all by itself.

BLITZER: These are critical hours right now, Ed. Stand by. Here's another way of looking at how much more oil has been flowing into the Gulf while the old containment cap is being replaced. Remember, it's not - there's no cap on it right now. BP says it recovered only about 8,000 barrels of oil yesterday. That's about 17,000 barrels less per day than when the cap was on last week. And the main recovery ship, "The Discover Enterprise," was siphoning oil from the site just to give it some perspective.

Now, to the future of offshore oil drilling and the aftermath of this Gulf disaster, the White House is now releasing a revised drilling ban. Let's go to our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry. He's joining us now. How is this new proposed moratorium on deep water drilling different than the old one which the courts ruled as inappropriate?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, very interesting because that key difference is buried in the very last line of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's statement, laying out this new drilling moratorium. Basically, the first moratorium back on May 28th was based on specific water depths. This time, it's not based on how deep the water is. Instead, it's based on drilling configurations and technologies.

And what Secretary Salazar is saying here is that he has new evidence suggesting there are safety concerns with some of that blowout preventer technology that Ed Lavandera was just reporting on but also that because of this BP oil spill, the industry has so many assets in the region focusing on that spill. If God forbid there was another spill, they wouldn't be able to handle it. All big reasons why White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, says the president wanted this new moratorium.


ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: First and foremost, the president has and continues to believe that we have to be careful with what we're doing, given the uncertainty around what happened 84 days ago. We know that -- we know that that is not without some economic consequences to the region, but it's imperative that we have a sense of what happened before we continue to do this again.


HENRY: Important to underline that Robert Gibbs did go on to say that, ultimately, the president does want to end the moratorium, wants to restore this deep water offshore oil drilling but only once those safety concerns are dealt with. Couldn't come too soon for the region. A lot of economic concerns there as Gibbs himself noted. The Conservative Heritage Foundation noted today, put out an estimate that if this moratorium were to continue to 2015, it could mean a loss of a million jobs or so for the oil industry, Wolf. Big deal.

BLITZER: We know the first lady is visiting the Gulf Coast today. She's going to be speaking later this hour. We're all over that part of the story. But does the president have any new plans to return to the region any time soon?

HENRY: No. They have nothing on the books. They say the president does want to go back soon. He's been there several times as you noted, but this is the first time that First Lady Michelle Obama is in the region since the oil spill. She's going to be speaking shortly at a round table of local officials there in Panama City Beach, Florida, important to get her down there as well to get a first-hand look.

BLITZER: All right. Ed, we'll be watching that part of the story as well. Ed Henry is our senior White House correspondent.

A group with ties to al Qaeda now claiming responsibility for the deadly bombings in Uganda. Just ahead, we'll take you inside the fight against terrorism in Africa.

Plus, the film director, Roman Polanski, is a free man right now despite all of the efforts to try to prosecute him for having sex with a minor decades ago.

And we're counting down to the first live TV appearance by Cuba's Fidel Castro in years. We'll have coverage. Lots of news happening today right here in the "SITUATION ROOM".


BLITZER: The White House says President Obama has called the Ugandan president. The FBI is assisting in the investigation of three deadly bombings that rocked the African country's capital city yesterday. At least 74 people are confirmed dead. More than 70 are wounded in the attacks which targeted two locations where crowds were simply watching the World Cup final. This was the scene at one restaurant just moments before it was hit. Among the fatalities, an American identified as Nate Henn. A week of national mourning begins in Uganda tomorrow. This is an awful story. Let's dig a little bit deeper.

The Somali Islamist movement known as al-Shabab which has ties to al Qaeda is claiming responsibility for the blast. It calls the violence retribution for Ugandan troops in Somalia assisting in the peacekeeping effort there. To get more on these deadly attacks, joining us our national security contributor, Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush. She worked with the justice department during the Clinton administration. Now, what do we know, Fran, about al-Shabab?

FRANCES FRAGOS TOWNSEND, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CONTRIBUTOR: Al- Shabab has pledged their allegiance if you will, Wolf, to al Qaeda much like we've heard al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. And look at the Pakistan Taliban, how they cooperated in the attempted Times Square bombing. And so, -- it's another one of these affiliates around the world, this time in Africa, that's closely aligned to both al Qaeda's philosophy and their tactics.

BLITZER: Can we assume that al-Shabab is simply al Qaeda?

TOWNSEND: You know, I think that's the easiest way to think about it. They have regional goals. They're angry over the African peacekeeping force, and this is an attempt to intimidate not only Uganda, but you know, last Friday, Wolf, a commander from al-Shabab threatened not only Uganda but Burundi, and so, I think we need to watch what's going on in Burundi and be talking to that government about what steps they're taking to protect themselves.

BLITZER: This was the first time that al-Shabab per se launched an attack outside of Somalia. How worried should folks be that this is only just the beginning?

TOWNSEND: Well, Wolf, I wish it were just the beginning. I mean, after all, you know, we heard this from the administration after the Christmas Day attempt on the Detroit plane. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, we were all surprised that they acted outside their region when they attempted that bombing. Same thing with the Pakistan Taliban when they assisted in the attempt in Times Square.

What we're seeing is this pattern of these heretofore regional groups once that only acted in their own regional interests acting outside their own countries, their own regions, and it's a very disturbing trend because it's very difficult to predict when one of these groups goes from acting in their own country and their own regional interests to a much more international kind of attack. But I will tell you, as you see these groups align themselves publicly with al Qaeda, that may be the only warning signal we're going to get.

BLITZER: Where do they get their money? TOWNSEND: Hard to say. You know, one of the things that the FBI has been worried about over the last nine months to a year are where they get their fighters from. Actually, there have been -- this Somali American community has complained to the FBI and been cooperating because young men from the United States are recruited and then travel over to Somalia where they're kept there to fight. And the big worry as you can imagine is not only will they fight there but that they may then use their American citizenship or travel documents to return to the United States.

BLITZER: The whole notion though of Somalia becoming a base, the al-Shabab argument was that since Uganda and Burundi, for that matter, they have troops, peacekeeping troops, in Somalia, part of an African unity force, this was unacceptable and they were going to go attack what was clearly a soft target, a very soft target in Uganda.

TOWNSEND: That's right, Wolf. You know, Somalia has been sort of an unstable hotbed for many years. I mean, I can remember going back to the time in 1998 of the East Africa embassy bombing, we worried then about cells in Somalia that would cross over into Kenya. So, Somalia has been sort of a hot spot in Africa where we worried about al Qaeda and its affiliates and this is just the most recent example of why.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on top of this story as well. Thanks very much, Fran, for that.

TOWNSEND: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's shift gears and go to Haiti right now. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, our chief medical correspondent is in Port-au-Prince. It's almost exactly six months since the devastating earthquake. Sanjay, you've been there and offer a few days. You've had a chance to assess what's happening on the ground in Haiti now as opposed to six months ago. I want to talk specifically about a little baby that you saw at a hospital there, but give us your bottom line assessment right now compare then six months ago to now.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, Wolf, I remember you on the air when this happened six months ago. I remember watching you and you talking about what was going on here. And I came here very quickly after that, as you know. And six months later I'd love to be able to tell you, Wolf, that things are very different out here, but as I'm sure you've already heard, people have described that some things are very much the same. The rubble in the streets, for example, Wolf, which is more than just unsightly.

It makes it very difficult for vehicles to get around. It makes it very difficult for supplies to get into the city, medicines, hospitals as a result are suffering from lack of resources. There are absurd things going on, Wolf, the sense that we were at an orphanage, for example, earlier today where they haven't had any food dropped off there for over two months. You go three miles away to a warehouse where it's full of food. So, simply distributing things from big warehouses whether it'd be food, whether it'd be other resources, pain medications, antibiotics, that same problem, Wolf, that we were talking about six months ago is still happening today.

You know, you can see behind me the tent city, Wolf, that was there when I was talking to you several months ago is still the same as it was back then.

BLITZER: You had a chance to go to see some of the hospitals and see some of the patients. I know there are not enough doctors, not enough nurses, not enough drugs, medications, but tell us about a little girl you saw who, by all reason, should be very much alive and well right now but she's on the verge of death.

GUPTA: Yes. It's the same stupid story, Wolf, that we've been talking about. This is a girl who developed an infection that could have been treated with a simple antibiotic. The infection grew more aggressive, would have required a more aggressive antibiotic. But ultimately, she developed meningitis and that caused the fluid around her brain to not be able to drain, and she is developing hydrocephalus essentially a large head. And I was there at this hospital that is still running, up and running, and asked them about this girl and they said, look, you know, at this point, there is just nothing we can do for her.

She is just literally lying there waiting to die. And it was unbelievable that we would hear that story six months later. Wolf, you and I talked about this the other night. For a time there was enough doctors. For a time there was enough resources. But if you follow an arc, it's come back down now. Doctors have left. Resources are hard to come by. And so many that stifled in these warehouses and by customs, Wolf.

BLITZER: You're a neurosurgeon, Sanjay. You saw this little girl. I know your instinct was to put on your surgical operation suit and just get to work. Is there really nothing that can be done to save her at this state?

GUPTA: You know, the thing is that her cerebral spinal fluid which is a fluid that surrounds her brain and her spinal cord has become completely infected. What you would typically do in a case like this is try and drain some of that fluid by putting a shunt in. Some people may know what a shunt is, essentially, a catheter that goes into those fluid-filled spaces. The problem is that fluid is completely infected now, has essentially changed to a pus type fluid and it simply cannot be done.

There's nothing that can help her at this point, putting in another foreign body will just aggravate the infection. It's maybe more than you want to know, Wolf, but you're absolutely right. It is immensely irritating, and she wouldn't have to be in this position just about, you know, many other places really on the planet. It's very awful to think about.

BLITZER: It's a heart breaking situation. It's one story, and I'm sure there are so many more. We're going to be watching your reporting all week. I know you have a lot more coming up later tonight on "AC 360." Anderson is there speaking with former President Bill Clinton as well. We're going to be all over the story six months later after the earthquake. Sanjay, thank you. Sanjay is doing important reporting down in Haiti.

Three people are confirmed dead after an attack in a New Mexico office building. We're going to have the latest on what exactly happened.

And President Obama likely to get support on financial reform from an unlikely source. Could this mean a win for the White House? Stick around. You're in the "SITUATION ROOM".


BLITZER: Deborah Feyerick is monitoring some of the other top stories in the "SITUATION ROOM" right now. Deb, what's going on?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there, Wolf. We start with an office shooting. Authorities now say at least three people are dead including the man believed to be the suspect after an office shooting in New Mexico. Several others are being treated at a hospital. Authorities believe this began as a domestic violence incident and that one of the victims is either the wife or girlfriend of the shooter. An investigation is under way.

Federal investigators say the crew of a tourist boat involved in a deadly crash on the Delaware River radioed to the other vessel before the accident but got no response. The vessel, known as the Caribbean Sea, was towing the barge that collided with the anchored duck boat causing it to sink. Two people were killed in last week's crash.

Embattled Oscar winning filmmaker, Roman Polanski, is now a free man. According to the Swiss Justice Ministry, Polanski will not be extradited to the U.S. to face sentencing for child sex charges. He pleaded guilty in Los Angeles to having unlawful sex with a 13-year- old girl in 1977 but fled to Europe before being sentenced. Polanski was arrested in Switzerland last year. Switzerland says the U.S. did not supply the legal records it requested. The state department says it is disappointed by the decision.

And former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro, is expected to make a rare public appearance in the next hour. A state-run newspaper reports the ailing Castro will appear on a government television program. The appearance comes after new photos of the former leader surfaced on a pro-government blog over the weekend. It also follows the announcement of the largest release of Cuban political prisoners in over a decade. That certainly should be something to watch -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to watch it. It's going to be live assuming it happens. I've invited Rick Sanchez who knows a lot about Cuba to join us, and we'll assess what's going on. That'll be coming up in our next hour. Thanks, Deb.

We're keeping a close watch on the live underwater cameras right now and waiting for BP to place that new cap on the leaking oil well. It could happen literally at any moment. Stand by.

The Democrats fight to stay in control of Congress laid bare in one of the most competitive Congressional districts in the country.

And the National Rifle Association is coming under fire from some conservatives for what it's saying about the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.


BLITZER: You're in the "SITUATION ROOM". Happening now with a CNN exclusive, six months after a deadly earthquake destroyed much of Haiti, our Anderson Cooper returns to the country and sits down with the one man charged with rebuilding it. We're talking about the former president, the special U.S. envoy to Haiti, Bill Clinton. Stand by for that.

Another CNN exclusive. We're taking you inside the DNA lab that helped crack a landmark cold case, and it could change the future of police investigations. I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the "SITUATION ROOM".

Members of Congress are returning from their 4th of July break. They'll get another chance to try to prove themselves to voters before the November midterm elections. Many Democrats are feeling very, very threatened right now, including the incumbent and one of the most competitive Congressional districts in the nation. Our congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar is here. You went to that district, Brianna, on the eastern shore of Maryland?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is Maryland's first Congressional district, Wolf. It's Republican leaning, but it's represented by a first-term Democrat, Frank Kratovil, who won in 2008. Even though, President Obama lost the district by almost 20 percent, and Kratovil will likely face a familiar opponent in Republican Andy Harris.




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Congratulations, Mr. President.

KEILAR (voice-over): What a difference a year and a half makes. But will it make a difference here?

KEILAR (on-camera): This is one of the most competitive Congressional races in the country, and Republicans say, if they're going to pick up the seats they need to take back control of the House of Representatives, they must win here.

KEILAR (voice-over): In 2008, Democrat Frank Kratovil beat Republican Andy Harris, a state senator. But just barely by less than 1 percent of the vote, and 2010 is looking like a rematch.

This is a time when politically it's pretty difficult to be a Democrat. REP. FRANK KRATOVIL, (D) MARYLAND: It is but, you know, this has always been kind of a middle of the road district.

KEILAR: That's why Kratovil talking here with local manufacturers is emphasizing his independence.

KRATOVIL: We have to have more people that are willing to cross party lines and realize that sometimes the other side has a point and may have a good idea.

KEILAR: Ask him about issues where he voted with his party, Kratovil will remind you when he did not.

You voted for the stimulus, you voted for the cap and trade climate change bill.


KEILAR: Those are Democratic stances.

KRATOVIL: They are. But listen, that's right. And I thought those were difficult votes but I thought they were the right votes. I voted against the health care.

KEILAR: But Harris says that's not enough and is linking Kratovil to an unpopular speaker of the house and a president whose popularity has dropped significantly.

ANDY HARRIS, (R) MARYLAND CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: Voting with the president And Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi 85 percent of the time is not an independent voice. I think people are tired of what's going on in Washington.

KEILAR: Harris says he is the real independent voice.

HARRIS: I'm a physician not a career politician.

KEILAR: Even as they argue about who is farthest from Washington, they do agree on one thing.

KRATOVIL: The biggest issue, driving everybody, though, is the economy.

HARRIS: People are worried about the debt, the deficit, the economy. These are issues that I think are going to play on November 2nd.

KEILAR: Harris says Democrats have made the economy worse. Kratovil insists things are turning around. Who will voters believe? That could be the difference here.


KEILAR: Now, Republicans certainly feel like the wind is at their backs in this tossup Congressional race and others like Maryland's first, but especially this one, Wolf, because it is likely going to be a rematch and there is still a Republican primary. It really is seen even by Democrats as a referendum on the Democratic Congress and the Democratic president.

BLITZER: There's going to be a lot of these very, very close races come November and we'll be watching them all. Brianna, thanks very much.

Even the president's top spokesman is warning that Republicans potentially could gain control of the House of Representatives in November. Let's bring in our senior political analyst David Gergen. I'll play a clip from "MEET THE PRESS" yesterday. Here is the white house press secretary, David, Robert Gibbs.


GIBBS: There is no doubt there are a lot of seats that will be up. A lot of contested seats. I think people are going to have a choice to make in the fall. There is no doubt there are enough seats in play I think that could cause Republicans to gain control. There's no doubt about that.


BLITZER: You know, it's one thing for a lot of analysts to say that but for the white house press secretary to acknowledge that the Democrats, despite their massive majority right now, could lose the house majority in November, that's another thing. What's going on here?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: A surprise. I guess he is trying to lower expectations but when you do that you take a real risk that you only fuel the Republican enthusiasm and the wind is definitely blowing at the Republican backs. The intensity on the Republican side as you know, Wolf, is much higher than the Democratic side and very importantly the independents have really swung and the polls at this time in 2006, independents were 15 points in favor of Democrats. This time around right now they're 8 points in favor of Republicans, a 20-point swing. And very, very importantly, this has been true for a long time. The race is starting to crystallize and starting to lock in. Unless the Democrats can find something to turn this around it's hard to see how the Republicans don't gain a large number of seats.

BLITZER: A lot of people think the Republicans are poised to take the house. The Senate, more problematic right now. But I'll read to you from the latest issue of the political report from our friend Stuart Rothenberg. "Realistically the Republicans are still short of the 10-seat gain they need to flip the Senate in November. The GOP is most likely to net five to seven Senate seats with an eight-seat gain certainly possible." But even that if you talk to Democrats, that's pretty depressing when you think they have a sizable majority right now.

GERGEN: Well, it sure is. It makes a big difference. If the Republicans were to pick up that five to seven even that number would of course change the dynamics in this Senate, itself, next year on voting because, you know, it's very, very hard to get to 60 for the president, the Democrats, unless they play a much more bipartisan game. It would force the president I think to move to the center and that would leave a lot of liberal Democrats who are not terribly happy now extremely unhappy. So this is a critical election, Wolf, and really building up. It would be a major milestone to the American politics.

BLITZER: Very quickly, David, one thing that some Democrats are hoping for is that the Republican candidates really do embrace some of the fringe or shall we say some of the more really right wing attitudes out there that may be popular in a Republican primary but not necessarily all that popular in a general election. Is it possible, is it likely Republicans in some of these key battleground states and districts will over play their hand?

GERGEN: They could very well. Nevada is obviously an example. Harry Reid looks much -- he may really pull this out now. Kentucky is another possible example. So we've got a ways to go but the Democrats have got to find some kind of way to change the nature of the game. The Republicans have to find some positive agenda to run on. That they have not done yet.

BLITZER: David Gergen is our Senior Political Analyst. David, thanks.

Congress certainly has a lot to do on its list right now between now and the August break when so many members will be returning to campaign for re-election. Senate Democrats are trying to line up enough votes to pass Wall Street reform. Also pending in the Senate a vote on Elena Kagan's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, a bill to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed, and a war funding bill among others, both house and Senate committees are planning to move forward with their investigations by the way of the gulf oil spill. Lots to do before the August recess.

The Israeli army reveals the findings of its investigation into the deadly raid on some ships headed to Gaza.

Also, the wild adventures of the teenager known as the barefoot bandit and how the cult hero was finally caught.

See if you can predict what's next for the supposedly psychic octopus who got the world cup winner perfect.


BLITZER: These are live pictures you're taking a look at what's going on now. They're trying to get this new cap over the well. They could do it literally at any moment. We're watching and staying on top of this. Stand by. We'll get you the latest. If this works that's still a huge if, it could stop the oil from flowing into the Gulf of Mexico. We're all over this story. Stand by with us.

Let's check in with Deborah Feyerick right now. She is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM. What else is going on? FEYERICK: Wolf, the NAACP is accusing the tea party movement of rampant racism and the civil rights group says it will offer a resolution tomorrow condemning it. NAACP president tells CNN there are tens of thousands of dedicated racists within the tea party's ranks. The national tea party organization is angry about the resolution saying the group is fighting government programs that have emasculated the black family.

The U.S. government is letting many Haitians stay in this country longer. Haitians living in the U.S. since the quake will have another six months to register for temporary protected status. The deadline for registration was supposed to end July 20th but now is extended until January.

And the Israeli army has released a review of the deadly raid on aid ships heading for Gaza and found soldiers operated properly and the use of live fire was justified. Nine Turks were killed during the May 31st raid when violence broke out between troops and activists. The incident sparked international outrage and damaged diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey.

And get your arms around this question. What does the future hold for Paul the psychic octopus? His owner says the animal is being swamped with offers after correctly predicting the result of eight world cup matches. A Japanese fortune telling company wants to use his image and a betting conglomerate wants to have him predict sporting events. Stay tuned tomorrow when the company that runs Paul's aquarium is expected to make a big announcement.

Sure eight times but can you do it nine? That is the question.

BLITZER: Eight is pretty good. Let's take that octopus to Vegas and see what we can do.

FEYERICK: We'd look pretty odd with an octopus in Vegas.

BLITZER: We'll update our viewers on that once they announce.

Should the Bush tax incentives be extended? That's coming up in our strategy session. The former Cuban leader Fidel Castro expected to make a rare live television appearance within the next hour.


BLITZER: Let's get to our strategy session right now. Joining us our CNN political contributor the Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and the former Nixon speechwriter. We're going way back, Ben Stein. All right. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Listen to Senator Jon Kyl, he's the number two Republican in the Senate. Listen to what he said the other day.


SEN. JON KYL (R), ARIZONA: Surely Congress has the authority and it would be right to, if we decide we want to cut taxes to spur the economy, not to have to raise taxes in order to offset those costs. You do need to offset the costs of increased spending. And that's what Republicans object to but you should never have to offset the costs of a deliberate decision to reduce tax rates on Americans.


BLITZER: Via Twitter, Robert Gibbs the White House press secretary reacted by saying, "Kyl says wealthy need big Bush tax cuts while middle class families are on their own to fend for themselves as a result of Bush economy." All right. Let me start with Ben Stein. What do you make of this debate over whether or not the Bush tax cuts should be extended? They're going to lapse if nothing is done by Congress at the end of this year.

BEN STEIN, FORMER NIXON SPEECH WRITER: This is an incredibly, unbelievably complicated question. It's like something that would be on a graduate student's PHD dissertation. We don't know if extending the tax cuts would stimulate the economy, we don't know if cutting taxes even more would stimulate the economy, we don't know if reducing the deficit would stimulate the economy. There isn't much we know except that we know we don't like to pay taxes. But economics is in such a state of ignorance through the effect of budget deficits and the effect of tax cutting. It's very, very hard to know what to say.

BLITZER: You know, Donna, what the president says, what he campaigned on, what he continues to say is he wants the tax cuts to lapse except for those families earning under $250,000 a year.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Wolf, what we do know is that since those tax cuts were enacted in 2001 and 2003 we've seen the budget deficit grow and if we do nothing over the next ten years this deficit will continue to grow by another $7 trillion. That's on top of tax cuts in addition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of the things that the Republicans and, yes, Democrats are concerned about is the deficit. If we want to get this deficit down we have to increase revenues and provide jobs and we should at the very least extend unemployment benefits for those who are currently without any resources to pay for their much need bills every month.

BLITZER: So Donna believes, Ben, that if you give -- let these -- the current tax levels continue at the end of this year for those making more than $250,000 a year, that will hurt the long-term national debt, the deficit. But I hear you saying you're not sure of that.

STEIN: It is unequivocal that it will hurt the deficit. It is unequivocal. Donna is a hundred percent right on that. But will it affect the overall behavior of the economy? That's what we don't know. It seems to me it is only fair that people that have very large incomes, $2 million, $3 million a year should pay more in tax. That seems unequivocal. I was always in favor of that. But whether or not it will affect the economy positively or negatively we don't know. It's just sort of a moral issue that it doesn't seem right for very rich people to pay as low income taxes as they pay. It just seems like it's unlovely to use a phrase of a very famous economist named Frank Knight, it's just not pretty. BLITZER: Let's move to Scott Brown right now, the Republican senator newly elected from Massachusetts. Donna, he is really demonstrating an independent streak right now. He came out today and said you know what? I'll support the Obama proposals to reform Wall Street even though almost all of the other Republicans are going to oppose it. What do you make of this?

BRAZILE: Well first of all, I think he is voting the way his constituents would like him to vote and I think he is making the right decision to support this reform bill. I hope that Senator Collins and Senator Grassley as well as Senator Snowe will join Mr. Brown because this is important for consumers. It's time to end too big to fail. And I also believe that these reform initiatives will help, at least set the rules so that Wall Street knows how to play the game.

BLITZER: Donna, how many Democrats are going to bolt and not vote with Scott Brown and the rest of the Democrats? Ben Nelson, a few of the other conservative Democrats, how many do you expect to lose?

BRAZILE: Right now maybe one. And shame on that one Democrat who will not support these much need reforms. We know what caused the recession, the problems that led up to the recession. This bill doesn't address 100 percent of the problems but it goes pretty far at trying to take on some of those tough issues that we faced just a few years ago.

BLITZER: Do you like this bill, Ben?

STEIN: I like it pretty well but it doesn't really -- it isn't really needed. This recession was caused largely by fraud on Wall Street. There are already antifraud laws all over the place. They're just not being enforced. This law doesn't end too big to fail. It just has an orderly process for it. You know what? Too big to fail is not a bad idea. Lehman Brothers was too big to fail. By letting it fail the former secretary of the treasury Henry Paulson created this recession. So I mean I don't even -- I don't even see what the problem is with too big to fail frankly. I think we're operating from a lot of false premises here. Too big to fail is not a bad idea.

BRAZILE: Ben, at least use their money to fail and not the taxpayers' money to bail them out.

STEIN: Well, maybe sometimes you do need to use the taxpayers' money to bail them out. If we had bailed out Lehman Brothers we wouldn't have had this colossal recession. It would have cost 10, 15, $20 billion to bail them out. Instead we've lost trillions because of this recession. A stitch in time as they say saves nine. We should have saved Lehman Brothers. It was too big to fail. We let it fail anyway and we got a catastrophic recession that hurt the smallest and weakest among us.

BRAZILE: Let me ask you a question, Ben. I know you are so much a common sense person. What do you think about extending unemployment benefits for those who are now losing much needed life line to continue to pay their bills? STEIN: I think it is a moral -- morally very upsetting to not give those people an extension of their unemployment insurance. I know the argument is by classical economists and by economists this induces them to not work but I think if people are too lazy to work they'll be too lazy to work whether they get unemployment or not. I think to not give people unemployment insurance is just a foolish, hard hearted mistake. I am very sorry to see --

BLITZER: A lot of Republicans say they want to extend the unemployment benefits but they want to cut spending elsewhere so it doesn't increase the national debt.

STEIN: Wolf, with all due respect, I'm one of the older people you have on this show now and I will tell you I've seen the government try to cut spending over and over and over again. It's very, very, very hard to do. I don't want to see unemployed people suffering and their families going without while we try to figure out a way to try to cut government spending which we're not going to figure out anyway.

BLITZER: Ben Stein and Donna Brazile, guys thanks very much.

BRAZILE: Thank you. Thanks Ben.

BLITZER: BP is moving closer to putting a new cap in place right now in that leaking well in the Gulf of Mexico. This major development could happen at any moment. We're all over this story. If we see the cap going down, we'll bring it to you live.

And why is the National Rifle Association now willing to risk the support of some conservatives to consider helping a top Senate Democrat?


BLITZER: The Senate majority leader Harry Reid is embroiled in a very tough re-election battle in his home state of Nevada. He needs all the allies he can get, but why would the usually conservative National Rifle Association even consider throwing its support his way? We asked our national political correspondent Jessica Yellin to look into this story. Is it possible the NRA is going to endorse Harry Reid?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's highly possible, Wolf. It's not just possible. It might even be likely. The NRA doesn't actually make their endorsements until September or October, but they like Harry Reid. Let me play you some video. This is Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, on a day he was with the vice president, executive vice president of the NRA who has twice gone to Nevada to appear with the Senate majority leader at a new $61 million shooting range the senator got funded there. One of those trips, Wolf, the very same day the tea party and Sarah Palin were hosting a huge anti-Reid rally in the state. Clearly, the NRA turning out that date was helpful to Reid. They like him and they've endorsed Democrats before.

BLITZER: Why Harry Reid? What's his record on gun related issues?

YELLIN: First of all, there are things like the $61 million shooting range he supported. There are also votes that he's taken that they like. But more than that, Wolf, there's also vote he's prevented from coming to the floor. So, for example, Frank Lautenberg a Democrat from New Jersey, has a bill to ban the so-called gun show loophole. That hasn't gotten a vote. And the NRA's feeling is that Harry Reid has been helpful to him on their issues in this way. Some of the men who might take his job, Chuck Schumer of New York, or Dick Durbin of Illinois might not be as sympathetic on his issues. There's still time. We'll see what happens, but Reid could ring up an NRA endorsement before this campaign is over.

BLITZER: I think either of those other Democratic senators, if they were to become majority leader would have a very different position on guns than Harry Reid. All right, this fascinating story we're going to continue to watch closely. Thanks very much.

It's possible the leaking oil well in the gulf could be sealed for the first time in almost three months. We're standing by for that new cap to be put in place.


BLITZER: He's the internet sensation known as the alleged barefoot bandit. Now after almost two years of chasing footprints, authorities have now managed to nab him. Here's CNN's national correspondent Susan Candiotti.


SUSAN CANDIOTTI, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: True to form, he was caught, you guessed it, barefoot. Bohemian police escorting him with guns in plain view. 19 year old Colton Harris Moore the alleged barefoot bandit was at the end of his run.

COMM. ELLISON E. GREENSLADE, ROYAL BAHAMAS POLICE: The suspect in an effort to evade capture engaged local police in a high-speed chase by boat.

CANDIOTTI: An American businessman William Sport owns the getaway boat allegedly stolen by the teen. He points out where police rattled the engines with bullets to stop the escape.

WILLIAM SPORT, BOAT OWNER: The Bohemian police did a great job of apprehending him before he could have gotten further away. He actually had enough fuel on the boat to make it all the way to Florida. I've been cruising the island for 40 years and have never had any problems like this. Unfortunately, it was an American who caused the problem.

CANDIOTTI: Moore escaped from a group home in Washington state in 2008 after pleading guilty to a series of burglaries. A victim who lives next door to his mom talked about his arrest.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would like him to get some help. CANDIOTTI: For nearly two years, authorities blamed the teenager for a series of burglaries across several states including Idaho, North Dakota and Indiana. His calling card -- leaving behind barefoot prints. Authorities linked him to two stolen airplanes, including the one he allegedly flew to the Bahamas. He's believed to have taught himself to fly from watching video games. His mom tells a CNN affiliate KIRO ...

PAM KOHLER, COLTON'S MOTHER: If he did, I'm quite proud, because I was going to get him flying lessons and if he taught himself how to fly a plane, I'm very proud.

CANDIOTTI: The barefoot bandit became an internet cult hero, scooping up more than 60,000 Facebook followers. Websites sell t- shirts that say run, Colton run. On YouTube fans idolized him in songs. Back home in Washington, locals scratched their heads.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's like incredible that he spent all that time sneaking around and nobody could catch hi,.

CANDIOTTI: It's pretty hard not to compare him to the true life character in the movie "Catch Me If You Can."