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Congressman Charlie Rangel Under Investigation; Tropical Storm Bonnie Threatens Gulf

Aired July 23, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now: a massive evacuation of the Gulf oil disaster response, as the storm called Bonnie closes in, threatening to gain strength, forcing BP and the federal government to abandon the well right now. We will get the latest from the national incident commander, retired Coast Guard Admiral Thad Allen.

Also, their story was twisted into a racially-charged controversy. Now an emotional reunion between Shirley Sherrod the couple whose farm she helped save.

And he is the subject of the first House Ethics Committee corruption trial in almost a decade, but you might be surprised at what Congressman Charles Rangel's constituents are saying right now.

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

Hundreds of vessels, thousands of people all being evacuated right now, as the threat of the storm named Bonnie halts the massive response to the Gulf oil disaster. We are following all of the latest developments.

Among them, the storm has already made a first landfall, hitting south of Miami with 40-mile-an-hour winds. It is now a tropical depression, but could gain strength as it moves over the Gulf of Mexico. The evacuation is expected to delay operations at the well site by at least 10 days, maybe longer. And it means that the new well cap that stopped the flow of oil will be left alone for about 48 hours.

President Obama was briefed on that and much more in the White House Situation Room earlier today with the top Coast Guard, Homeland Security and FEMA officials on hand.

I spoke about all of this just a little while ago with the president's man in charge of the Gulf oil disaster.


BLITZER: And joining us now from New Orleans, Admiral Thad Allen. He's the national incident commander for the U.S. government.

Admiral, the weather's impact right now, bottom line, how much of a setback is this in dealing with the immediate crisis going on?

ADMIRAL THAD ALLEN (RET.), NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: Well, Wolf, it is going to be a setback to putting in the final casing pipe and letting us proceed with both the top kill and the bottom kill of the current well.

We are not really going to know the exact extent of the delay until we see how the seas lay down and we're able to come back on scene, but right now the vessels are disconnecting and redeploying.

BLITZER: So it might just be a matter of slowing down the eventual total kill of this well for a few days, but is there any real danger to the well erupting once again? Because for the last several days, there has been no oil spilling into the Gulf.

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, for the last six or seven days, we have been looking at the well, itself, with the cap on it. We have been exploring and looking at anomalies that have been detected around the well. We have been resolving those anomalies

The science team led by Dr. Chu has worked very closely with the BP engineers. We have developed confidence over the last several days that we can leave the cap on even if the well is unattended during the storm passage. That will obviate of course the fact that we will have oil going into the Gulf out there and we think that it is a good thing.

We are going to try and keep surveillance vessels on scene as long as we can and maybe through the entire period. But if they have to leave the scene, we are confident we can leave the cap on.

BLITZER: And will you be able to check the pressure levels, for example, any seepage or any bubbles or stuff like that if the weather really get bad during the next few days?

ALLEN: Wolf, we will be able to do some of that if we have a vessel on scene that can work with a remotely operated vehicle.

If we can't do the , we are going to have hydrophones attached to the well itself that will be able to take readings and will give us some indication if there's anything going on in the well. The problem is that will be latent information. It will have to be recovered from the recording devices after we come back on scene.

But we will be flying aircraft sorties over the top to see if there is any indication of leakage and we will be using satellite imagery as well.

BLITZER: If there is, God forbid, a leak during the worst part of the weather, what do you do?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, there is not a lot you can do until the weather calms down and you can get the vessels back out there, because right now it is not safe for those -- it won't be safe for those platforms to operate. And that is the reason we are evacuating them. But we will be out there as soon as we can with equipment to be able to attack whatever problem that is out there. Hopefully, we will just be setting up to reconnect and run that casing line, but if there is oil on the water, we will be prepared to deal with it.

BLITZER: This bad weather, it delays what you have called static kill, to try to kill it from the top. And does it also delay the relief wells finishing their job and killing this well once and for all?

ALLEN: It does, Wolf, because they are actually connected.

We don't want to start the static top kill until we have that final casing pipe in, because that assures us that the relief well won't be impacted if there is a problem in the wellbore itself caused by the static kill, so what we want to do is put that final section of pipe in that will reinforce the relief well, bore, and then do the static top kill, and then after that drill in and start the actual bottom kill of the well.

BLITZER: The bottom kill through the relief wells.

So, realistically, walk -- how many days of a delay do you think there will be under the best and worst of circumstances?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, once we're back on scene and we are connected, they can lay that casing fairly quickly. And then 48 hours of that, they can proceed with the static kill. And then it will be about five days after that, five to seven days, that they can drill in and actually start the bottom kill.

But we don't know how long the vessels are going to have to be off station and how quickly they can be back on scene, so, conceivably, we could be looking at a 10- to 14-day delay overall, depending on when they get back on.

BLITZER: Ten to 14 days.

During this bad weather period, how does that affect the cleanup?

ALLEN: Well, we obviously are not going to have folks out there in skimming equipment or vessels of opportunity. They are being withdrawn right now. And we are actually trying to take some of the very critical equipment we have, both booming and skimming equipment, and try and move that to places that won't be impacted by a coastal surge.

And we are taking steps right now to move that to more safer ground.

BLITZER: Are you having trouble finding oil right now? There have been reports that they are looking for oil atop the water and they can't find much.

ALLEN: Well, we have been the recipient of good luck for having no discharge for over six days now. And we have had a tremendous skimming force and armada out there on the well site itself, anywhere 40 to 50 large skimming vessels a day.

And we have been attacking in shore with nearly 800 skimmers across the entire region, so we have done a pretty good job. And there hasn't been any discharge, so we are starting to gain the upper hand. I am not ready to declare victory, nor should anybody. We still have beach cleanup and marsh areas that are affected, but we certainly are starting to gain a little bit of upper hand here.

BLITZER: One final question, Admiral, before I let you go. The chief engineer who was involved in this whole operation before the well exploded testified at a hearing today.

I want to play a little clip of what he said about the alarm system having been deactivated for a long period of time before the eruption. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I discovered it was inhibited about a year ago, I inquired as to why it was inhibited. And the explanation I got was that they -- from the OIM down, they did not want people woke up at 3:00 in the morning due to false alarms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you voice a concern to anyone about the possible safety issues with that?



BLITZER: It is pretty shocking to think that they turned off effectively the alarm system because they did want false alarms to wake up people at 3:00 this morning. Were you aware of this, Admiral?

ALLEN: Well, Wolf, this is all being developed as part of the marine board of investigation, which is separate from the response, and this is exactly the reason we hold these inquiries. And this one, as you know, is done jointly between the Department of the Interior and Department of Homeland Security, led by the Coast Guard.

This what happens. And this is the reason we have the inquiries, but I have not been involved in that recently. I'm focused on the spill response.

BLITZER: You are looking ahead. You're not looking back. But, eventually, we all have to look back and learn the lessons to make sure it does not happen again.

Admiral, good luck. Thanks very much.

ALLEN: Thanks, Wolf.


BLITZER: The National Hurricane Center has new information out about Bonnie right now. Let's check in with our severe weather expert our meteorologist Chad Myers.

You are tracking the storm. What is the latest, Chad?


The best news that I can give you, literally, Wolf. This was about six hours ago and I will move you into the current. Notice what it looked like back here when it was one big red ball. That was all by itself. That is when it moved onshore near Miami, in fact, over Cutler Bay, right through Miami-Dade and then now it is back offshore. And many times they will regenerate in the warm water.

This one, I don't think has as much potential to regenerate, even though it is back into this very warm coastal area, the swarm Gulf region, and even at point could even be close to what you would call the loop current, which would be the warmest water out there, but there is a small spin right here near the word of, Gulf of Mexico.

That spin, very hard to detect, but it is an upper level low, kind of lows that can sneak up on you in the winter and make some big snowstorms that go unpredicted. Well, that very small unseen low is now tearing this thing apart and pulling the clouds away from the center, which was right there.

So, all of the cloud cover you see right here is caused by shear. When you get shear in the thunderstorm or in a hurricane, you have two different things. Shear in a thunderstorm can cause big tornadoes. Shear in a hurricane just simply takes top right off and disorganizes it and that is what we have right now. This is a tropical depression.

It may never come back. It may never get to be tropical storm again. The forecast is for it to be at least regenerated maybe five or 10 miles an hour, but, Wolf, this looks right now, which is actually good.

BLITZER: Let's hope for the good news. All right, Chad, thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is off today.

Up next, static kill, it's now the ultimate plan to try to end the Gulf oil disaster.

And was she -- she was, I should say -- she was falsely accused of discriminating against them, but, right now, Shirley Sherrod is reuniting with the white farm owners whose story sparked some controversy.

And will the government make good on the more than $1 billion it owes thousands of African-American farmers across the country? We press for answers, but we get some finger-pointing instead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: It has been a roller-coaster week for Shirley Sherrod. The former Agriculture Department employee was forced out of her job by the Obama administration after being accused of racism. Later came a presidential apology and the offer of a new job.

Sherrod's week was capped off today back home in South Georgia, where she reunited with the white family who credited her with helping them save their farm.

CNN's Don Lemon was there.


DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I just witnessed an emotional reunion between the three people who are at the core of the controversy, the Spooners and of course, Shirley Sherrod. She helped to save their farm years ago. They have not seen each other in 24 years, but today now they are breaking bread. And just moments ago, there were hugs.





R. SPOONER: This means a lot to us.

SHERROD: It means so much to me.

R. SPOONER: This means a lot to us.

SHERROD: To me, too. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

E. SPOONER: We just...


E. SPOONER: ... help...


SHERROD: Yes. Thank you.

R. SPOONER: We have thought a lot of you. We have mentioned your name more than you will -- and wondered where you were at.

SHERROD: Yes, yes.

R. SPOONER: And we can't get ahold of you. Your phone is no good to us.

SHERROD: Uh-oh. I'm going to have to give you a good number, because we definitely have to stay in touch.

It is so good to see you all. It is so good to see you. Yes. Yes.

R. SPOONER: You are a strong person. You are a strong person.

SHERROD: Oh, wow. This is so great. This is so great.

How many grands, great-grands and all that?

R. SPOONER: Ten grand and 10 great-grands.

SHERROD: Is that right?


E. SPOONER: Five children, five boys.

SHERROD: No girls?

E. SPOONER: No girls.



R. SPOONER: The last were twins.

SHERROD: Is that right? Is that right?


R. SPOONER: It has been a long 20-some-odd years, hasn't it?

SHERROD: It has. It has. You know, what I would like to do at some point? Who lives here? How many of your children live here in the area?


E. SPOONER: They all live here except one.

R. SPOONER: Except the one.

SHERROD: We are going to have to get together, because my mother now wants to meet you all, too. So, we are just going to have to...


R. SPOONER: She is getting in age then.

SHERROD: Yes, she is.

R. SPOONER: And neither one of us is going to have too much more time here.

SHERROD: So we got to hurry up and make that happen.


R. SPOONER: You got that right.

SHERROD: One of my sisters called -- when she called -- she lives in Albany. She said, they are part of the family now. I want to go down and meet them.



R. SPOONER: I am sure this is quite a deal.

SHERROD: Yes, it is.

How are things going with the farm?

R. SPOONER: Oh, we rent it, lease it.


R. SPOONER: We are trucking, and that is it, trying to survive.

SHERROD: You were driving trucks back then.



R. SPOONER: I bought my first truck in '54, 1954.

SHERROD: Is that right? I remember -- do you remember one time after we got together when we were having a conference in Atlanta, and I called and wanted you to go, you drove in from Florida?


SHERROD: And you all came on up.

R. SPOONER: To Atlanta.

SHERROD: And it was a black land loss conference. You went up there to show support for that.

R. SPOONER: I did.

SHERROD: Isn't that something?

R. SPOONER: Yes, we sure did.

E. SPOONER: And he was -- you asked him to speak. And he said, oh, you go.

(LAUGHTER) E. SPOONER: My knees was knocking.


LEMON: How do you guys feel now to see her?

E. SPOONER: It is great.

R. SPOONER: It is amazing. It's wonderful.

SHERROD: Yes. It is so good to see you all. Oh, my...


LEMON: And can you believe everything she has gone through and that it got to this level?

R. SPOONER: It is not fair. I put it that way. It wasn't fair. And none of it was fair, what has happened. And she has been strong. She's tough. She's tough.


LEMON: How do you feel?

SHERROD: I feel really good, you know, just -- first of all, just to be connected with them again. You know, people come into your lives, you get close to them, and then you don't see them for a long time.

I have thought about you.

R. SPOONER: Twenty years.

SHERROD: Yes, I have thought about both of them.

LEMON: You guys have lived through even more than her. And you have lived through, you know, the civil rights movement, segregation, all of that. And what do you make about where we are now?

R. SPOONER: I -- we are doing good. I think we are doing good. It is just somebody that wants to raise Cain or something or other that stirs up things like this. And it ain't fair to the rest of the people.

LEMON: Mrs. Sherrod and the Spooners say it won't be 24 years before they see each other again. They say they now think of each other as family and they want to get both families together to talk about this issue and in turn maybe help the country -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right. Don, thanks, very much.

So, who is Shirley Sherrod? Don Lemon is going to take a much closer look at this remarkable woman behind the controversy, from her early years growing up in rural Georgia to the murder of her father. That is tomorrow night, Saturday night, 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Frustration is growing among thousands of African-American farmers who have been waiting for years for money owed to them by the U.S. government. Almost no one disputes the debt, but no one will take full responsibility for the delay.

Let's bring in our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar. She's looking into this story for all of us.

There is a lot of finger-pointing, Brianna, going on right now.


This has to do with a settlement for black farmers and this was systematic discrimination. It went on for years and really not all that long ago, black farmers who were denied equal access to government loans, subsidies and other USDA programs.


KEILAR (voice-over): For years now, John Boyd has divided his time between growing soybeans and pressuring Congress. He fights for tens of thousands of black farmers like himself discriminated against by the Department of Agriculture in the 1980s and '90s.

JOHN BOYD, NATIONAL BLACK FARMERS ASSOCIATION: It takes almost 380-and-some-odd days to process a black loan application and it takes less than 30 days to process a white loan application. They went through hell. They went through living hell. We lost land. We lost our livelihoods, our way of life.

KEILAR: The U.S. government still owes 70,000 farmers more than $1 billion in damages. Congress missed a March deadline to pay up and now an August deadline is looming. And Boyd says President Obama needs to break the logjam.

BOYD: I will be calling on the president to step in, intervene, take a look at this process.

KEILAR: So, what is the holdup? Let's start at the White House.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: And you should check with members on Capitol Hill that might have quite honestly better intelligence about the level at which or what is in different drafts of supplemental appropriations that need to go through.

KEILAR: The House of Representatives has already passed a bill that includes the so-called Pigford farm settlement. So we asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, where's the money? And she pointed at the other side of the Capitol, the Senate.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: It is a must- pass for us. That is not what is happening in the United States Senate. They have -- the Republicans in the Senate have rejected over and over again any legislation that has had the Pigford settlement in it.

KEILAR (on camera): We asked a number of Senate Republicans to talk to us on camera about this, but none would. Their aides insist they support paying the black farmers, but only if it does not add to the deficit and they blame Democrats for failing to pass a bill.

(voice-over): So, why not cut spending somewhere else? We asked the Senate's top Democrat.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: You know, this is an interesting game we are playing around here. First of all, they want everything paid for. And then when we pay for it, they don't like how we pay for it. So, this is just an effort for them to stall.

KEILAR: Back and forth, the finger-pointing goes and still the black farmers don't have their money.

BOYD: You know, these farmers are tired of waiting. They are dying. They're older. And I say now is the time to do this, and now is the time to make these farmers whole for the few that are left. Let's do the right thing and compensate them, so that we can move on with our lives.


KEILAR: Boyd is calling on Congress to pass a stand-alone measure, but, Wolf, the thing is time is running out here. The House recesses after next week, the Senate a week later, and they still have a lot of things to deal with, especially in the Senate, one of them, a big one, the confirmation of Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan.

BLITZER: Let's hope they do the right thing, Brianna. Thanks very much for that -- Brianna Keilar up on Capitol Hill.

Congressman Charlie Rangel is now speaking out ahead of his ethics trial next week. The scrappy legislator from Harlem says he will be vindicated. CNN's Candy Crowley and John King, they're here in THE SITUATION ROOM. They weigh in on Rangel's odds.

And Japan's first lady writes a book about her husband, prime minister. We are going to find out why the prime minister is now saying he is afraid to read the book.

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



BLITZER: He's represented Harlem in Congress for decades, so what impact will a corruption trial have on Charles Rangel at home? We're talking to his constituents. Stand by.

And major policy victories for President Obama this week affecting millions of Americans. Will it really make a difference in November? John King and Candy Crowley, they are standing by.


BLITZER: Longtime Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York will be the subject of the House Ethics Committee's first corruption trial in almost a decade. He is up for reelection in November.

Let's bring back CNN's Mary Snow. She spoke to some of Rangel's constituents in New York, in Harlem specifically.

How did it go, Mary?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, Democratic Congressman Charles Rangel has enjoyed broad support in the four decades he served in his Harlem district. And despite this ethics investigation, many of the constituents we spoke with today are coming to his defense. And as for Rangel, he remains defiant.


SNOW (voice-over): One day after learning the House Ethics Committee was putting him on trial, Congressman Charles Rangel was back in his Harlem district. He offered no specifics, citing the investigation.

And to the people he served for 40 years:

REP. CHARLES RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: I cannot think of anything that relieves me more than to be able to say to my constituents, this is the result of the investigation, so that they would know who Charlie Rangel really is.

SNOW: An ongoing ethics investigation has looked into several allegations, including failing to pay taxes on a home in the Dominican Republic and alleged misuse of a rent-controlled apartment for political purposes.

First elected in 1970, Rangel has come to be an iconic political figure who enjoys strong support. That's made clear at another Harlem icon, famed restaurant Sylvia's. For 60-year-old Gloria Hazard, the allegations against Rangel aren't swaying her opinion of him.

GLORIA HAZARD, HARLEM RESIDENT: Until we know the details, I'm going to stand by him for now.

SNOW (on camera): And give us a sense of what Charlie Rangel means to Harlem.

HAZARD: He means a man who has stood up for the community. He has lasted this long because we've invested our time in him and he's invested his time in us. And I think that we should just keep him where he is until we know what the story is.

SNOW (voice-over): And on the streets of Harlem... KINGSLEY BURNETT, HARLEM RESIDENT: Charles Rangel is a man that gets things done for Harlem and he's a good congressman. So I don't know -- I think that all that stuff they have on him don't add up to nothing.

SNOW: But among some younger voters like Pat Ellerbe, there is respect but not unwavering support.

PAT ELLERBE, HARLEM RESIDENT: You know, I just hope that, you know, everything goes well for him because he's been our congressman for a long time, so -- but there's new soldiers in the area right now that's going to probably take his place.

SNOW: Rangel is up for reelection, and so far, he has four challengers, including Adam Clayton Powell IV, son of the late Congressman Powell whom Rangel replaced. Also running is a one-time aide to Rangel, Vince Morgan. But one Rangel ally and Democratic county leader doesn't see the ethics charges putting a dent into Rangel's lead.

KEITH WRIGHT (D), NEW YORK ASSEMBLY: I don't expect these charges to taint him one iota in terms of the election. As a matter of fact, I think that he'll win this election -- reelection, and he'll win it big.


SNOW: While Rangel may be getting support, he's also facing an unprecedented amount of Democratic challengers, one of them, Jonathan Cassini (ph), a labor activist, is calling on Rangel to end his reelection bid -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Mary, thanks. Let's dig deeper on this story right now with CNN's John King. He's the host of "JOHN KING USA." And our chief political correspondent, Candy Crowley. She's the host of "STATE OF THE UNION," which airs Sunday mornings.

A lot of Democrats are nervous that an open trial, as you will, like this could cause serious problems looking ahead to November.

CANDY CROWLEY, HOST, "STATE OF THE UNION": And it could. I mean, I would venture to say that the Democrats have more -- have greater problems than the Charlie Rangel issue...

BLITZER: This doesn't help, though.

CROWLEY: ... but it doesn't help. Yes. Exactly. I mean, look, there's a thing called the economy, this new unemployment prediction that it's going to remain above 9 percent until 2012. That's a huge problem. This doesn't help.

BLITZER: What can, if anything, the Democrats do about it?

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA: Well, they can, and there are constant pressures for him to negotiate a deal, number one. There are a lot of Democrats are frustrated that the Speaker herself has not -- because they're such close friends, has not pressured Charlie Rangel to negotiate a settlement because they wanted this done a long time ago. They don't want a public trial.

You remember the ads the Democrats ran against the Republicans, Tom DeLay and the culture of corruption. Candy's right, the economy is issue one, two, three, and probably four, five and six in this election year. But in some swing districts, they will make the argument, Elect this person so that Nancy Pelosi is not Speaker, and they may add in the corruption element to help. So it's a subplot, and many Democrats just wish it would go away.

BLITZER: Yes, I'm sure they do, and Charlie Rangel, I'm sure, wishes it would...


BLITZER: But he's not -- obviously, you saw from Mary's piece he remains very popular in Harlem.

CROWLEY: Yes, I think it's a bigger problem for Democrats as a whole than it may be for Charlie Rangel if the issue is getting reelected.

BLITZER: If he gets that Democratic nomination...


BLITZER: ... he'll be the next U.S. congressman from New York, from Harlem, as well. You know, this was a week, John, where we saw the president sign into law major legislative accomplishments, extending unemployment benefits, reforming Wall Street. But you know what? He didn't get a whole lot of attention as a result of that.

KING: And there's a great sense of frustration at the White House and throughout the Democratic Party because of that. And again, it's back to the point Candy just made. There's an economic funk in the country.

Now, Wolf, we have a new poll out today. Seventy-eight of Americans rate the current economic conditions as poor. Nearly 6 in 10 disapprove, a high mark for the president, or a low mark for this president, in how he is handling the economy. In that kind of environment, it is hard to convince people the things you're doing are helping them when they look around and they still see pain and they still hurt. They don't buy it.

BLITZER: Yes, and you know, if this estimate that they have, above 9 percent unemployment for the next two years, continues, that not only poses problems for the Democrats in November, but for the president and his reelection bid in 2012.

CROWLEY: Exactly. Exactly. And so what they're selling now is it could have been worse, been a lot worse if we hadn't done X, Y and Z. That's just -- that's just tough. That is a tough sell. Now, people still blame George W. Bush for starting this. They blame him for what started it. But you know, the statute of limitations on what's happening now to make it better is beginning to run out. And people, as we know, and we've seen from the first George Bush, who had trouble with the economy and was not reelected, is that people make up their minds about now as to how they feel...


CROWLEY: ... a hundred days out.

BLITZER: If he can't bring back those independents, he's in trouble.

KING: And another piece of bad news quickly. You mentioned the unemployment projection today from the administration. They say the record federal budget deficit, $1.47 trillion this year and $1.42 trillion again next year, record budget deficits. That's one of the things independents don't like. They don't think Washington can make the tough spending choices. The numbers right now, the statistics and the data, not in the presidents favor.

CROWLEY: Record number of home foreclosures, as well. I mean, just everything that hits home.

BLITZER: Not good numbers. Candy's going to have a lot more Sunday morning 9:00 AM on "STATE OF THE UNION." Much more coming up at the top of the hour on "JOHN KING USA," as well. Thank you.

Tropical Storm Bonnie is moving in and Gulf Coast leaders are deeply worried. Some are threatening jail time if the feds move barges used to hold off the oil. And how do you kill a well? Guess what? We'll show you.


BLITZER: Tropical Storm Bonnie churning toward the oil-slicked gulf, and some local officials are deeply worried right now that the Coast Guard is leaving their coastal communities vulnerable. Let's go to CNN's David Mattingly. He's working the story for us. Tell us about this deep concern. What's going on, David?

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, there are two storms brewing that are affecting the shores of Louisiana. One's tropical, the other is political.


(voice-over): They don't look like much, but these barges are the last line of defense in St. Tammany parish against the BP oil spill, and they're about to disappear.

(on camera): Without this barge in place, there is nothing stopping that oil if it comes this way.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After that, no. We're wide open for the oil to come into Lake Pontchartrain.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): With a possible tropical system, Bonnie, bearing down, this coastal parish will be defenseless. Barges and booms can't handle rough seas or winds over 40 miles an hour, so the Coast Guard is pulling them out. But that decision started a fight and triggered a threat.

(on camera): Is this true, you actually threatened to arrest anyone who moved those barges?

KEVIN DAVIS, ST. TAMMANY PARISH PRESIDENT: Yes, I'm sorry about those actions, but I'm going to defend this area against the oil and take whatever action's necessary. I issued an executive order that said no assets that are dealing with BP oil recovery or any of its contractors could relocate any of their assets out of my parish.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): St. Tammany president Kevin Davis tells me of a seven-hour shouting match with Coast Guard and BP contractors intent on moving the barges far inland for protection, too far away, he says, to redeploy quickly after the storm.

(on camera): There have already been a couple of tropical systems getting into the gulf this summer, and each time, it changes the wind patterns and blows the oil right into this area. And each time, those systems haven't been anywhere near here. Bonnie is expected to be a direct hit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, booms and barges don't stop storm surge. Booms and barges become victims of storm surge.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): I asked Admiral Allen about his plan. He says it was driven by his experience in Hurricane Katrina.

ADM. THAD ALLEN, U.S. COAST GUARD (RET.), NAT'L INCIDENT CMDR.: I'm still haunted by the specter of flying in over New Orleans on the 5th -- the 6th of September as a principal federal official and looking down to New Orleans to a parking lot of buses that were flooded and not used for evacuation because they were not moved in time. Next question?

MATTINGLY: But this storm is nowhere near the power of Katrina. Still, local officials say because of the oil, it does carry a danger they have never had to fight before. This new threat comes at a time when days have passed since they've seen any new, fresh oil.

(on camera): That's all going to change as soon as the winds shift with the storm?

DEXTER ACCARDO, ST. TAMMANY PARISH EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Yes, sir. When the wind shifts, this lake will -- everything will be coming inbound and it will pass right through here.

MATTINGLY: And without these barges, it just keep on going.

ACCARDO: Without these barges, it's going to go into Lake Pontchartrain, into Lake Mullipar (ph) and affect nine counties.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MATTINGLY: And don't expect to see anyone going to jail over this, Wolf. Both sides did reach an agreement on where to put those barges, not quite so far inland as originally proposed. But right now, everyone is actually breathing a sigh of relief, watching that storm dissipate, wondering if there's going to be a threat at all.

BLITZER: David, thanks very much. David Mattingly will watch this storm for all of us.

The storm, by the way, as we've been reporting, called Bonnie, has the gulf oil response on hold as vessels and personnel across the region evacuate. Once the operation does resume, officials hope to seal the well permanently through a procedure called "static kill." Here's how it works.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As you can see, the well is flowing from the top. When a well is flowing, you can't do a static kill because as soon as you inject mud into the well, the mud is blown out into the ocean. To do a static kill, you must have the apparatus at the top to control flow.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The brown area simulates mud. The blue area simulates the ocean. This is the primary well, and this is a capping stack, which are a series of valves to control flow. This is called a "static kill" operation because there is no flow of the well.

PROF. FRED THURBER, LSU DEPT. OF PETROLEUM ENGINEERING: We're going to kill the well by putting mud in it. Mud's density allows us to create a pressure on the bottom of the well great enough to stop the flow from the reservoir of hydrocarbons, of oil and gas.

Go ahead and open the valve. Even when the valve is open, there is no flow. The reason for that is our students have injected drilling mud into the primary well, which increased the weight of the fluid in the well. This increased weight increased the pressure on bottom of this column of fluid, and that was enough pressure to overcome the pressure of the reservoir.


BLITZER: The national incident commander, Thad Allen, approved this "static kill," but the final decision will be made by the federal government. We'll watch it.

A first lady's unflattering portrait of her husband. Details of why her book has jaws dropping.


BLITZER: Mary Snow is monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on, Mary?

SNOW: Well, Wolf, North Korea is saying it will use, quote, "nuclear deterrents" to counter joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises that start Sunday. The North calls the exercise, which will include about 8,000 military personnel, a grave threat. The U.S. says the drills are a response to the sinking of a South Korean warship, and the message for North Korea is to stop, quote, "provocative and war-like acts."

Here in the U.S., a woman from Washington state is suing American Airlines for $5 million over a bag fee. Danielle Koverabias (ph) claims she paid $25 to check her bag, but it was nowhere to be found upon arrival. She says the airline told her nothing could be done and refused to give her a refund. American Airlines says the bag was returned to the woman by another air carrier and that there's no record that she even called American Airlines to complain. They stress the passengers can always request a fee refund.

And here in New York, police are looking for a man who robbed a bank while dressed as Darth Vader. A man wearing a mask, cape and camouflage pants held up a Chase bank on Long Island yesterday. Police say the man, who is about 5 feet tall, then fled through the bank's parking lot. And Wolf, he used a gun and not a light saber -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A creative bank robber, indeed. All right, thanks, Mary. Thanks very much.

The Japanese prime minister's wife releases a new book about her husband. He says he's too scared to read it. We're going to find out why.

And on its first night on the air back in 1980, CNN scored an exclusive interview with the president of the United States. We bid farewell to the veteran journalist who got this network off to such a lofty start.

Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Japan has had no shortage of out-of-the-ordinary and outspoken first ladies. The wife of the country's current prime minister is certainly no exception. She's just written a new book about her husband. As CNN's Kyung Lah discovered, it's far from flattering.


KYUNG LAH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As if Japan's prime minister didn't have enough on his hands -- in the last election, his party lost control of Japan's upper house of parliament, his approval ratings are hovering around 40 percent -- and now his own wife has written this, a book titled "What on Earth Will Change in Japan After You Become Prime Minister?"

The first lady, Nobuku Kan (ph), writes in the book that her husband is a good, off-the-cuff speaker but worse at reading prepared scripts. She says of his first speech, she couldn't give him a passing grade for his delivery. She says the prime minister has no interest in fashion at all and can't cook even simple meals. She bluntly writes, "Is it OK that this man is prime minister? Because I know him well."

Japan's first couple openly admits they spar on politics and that Mrs. Kan is the prime minister's toughest critic. The prime minister told reporters this about his wife's book.

I'm too scared to read it, he joked. But that's not how readers are reacting, snapping up many of the first copies of the book. Now, a tell-all from a first lady is not really bad news in Japan because voters love an untraditional woman in the prime minister's residence.

I think she's just being honest, says this reader, who believes an honest telling will help the prime minister. Japan's voters also adored the former first lady, the quirky Mrs. Hatoyama. She was also a writer and she wrote that she flew in a UFO to Venus and knew actor Tom Cruise in a former life, and in this moment, told a talk show host she gets energy by eating the sun.

Mrs. Kan's book promises to be a best-seller. The publisher says they are already rushing out a second edition. Kyung Lah, CNN, Tokyo.


BLITZER: He left the Bush administration with possible charges hanging over his head for firing nine U.S. attorneys. There were, though, no charges filed, in recent days. And the former attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, is talking about his experience exclusively with CNN's John King. "JOHN KING USA" begins right at the top of the hour. You'll want to see this interview.

And we remember the man who booked an interview with President Jimmy Carter on CNN's first night on the air back in 1980. Our tribute to the late, great journalist Daniel Schorr -- that's coming up.


BLITZER: A CNN legend has died. The veteran journalist Daniel Schorr, whose career spanned more than six decades, died this morning at a Washington, D.C., hospital. He was 93 years old. After his years with CBS and other news organizations, Schorr helped launch CNN. He was there in the beginning as CNN's senior Washington correspondent. Indeed, on CNN's first night on the air back in 1980, Dan Schorr landed a major interview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On the inaugural night of the Cable News Network, an important participant, fittingly enough, is the nation's chief newsmaker, the president of the United States. To mark this milestone in communications history, President Carter agreed to give Cable News an exclusive interview, spontaneous and unrehearsed, taped during a crucial weekend in his own political history.

In the Oval Office to interview the president, Daniel Schorr, CNN's senior Washington correspondent, and George Watson, CNN's managing editor in Washington. Now to begin the interview, here is Daniel Schorr.

DANIEL SCHORR, CNN: Mr. President, welcome to the world of cable news. You've known George Watson as ABC. You've known me as CBS. And I wonder, what are your thoughts now on having to contend with yet another set of initials, CNN?

JIMMY CARTER, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's an exciting and an historic thing, in my judgment, for our country, and indeed (INAUDIBLE) throughout the world. There has long been a need, in my judgment, for a network which could cover the news in much more depth than has been the case with the very brief allotted time on the major networks that we've known so far. I don't have any doubt that they will be successful.

SCHORR: Mr. President, last July, you used a word which you haven't used much lately, "malaise" among the American people. And perhaps one of the reasons it shouldn't be used today is something much more active seems to be stirring, much worse than malaise. We have problems of race riots. In Miami, we have now the shooting of Brendan Jordan (ph). We have waves of immigrants, refugees coming in. And sometimes, it seems as though you're sitting on top of a veritable human Mt. Helens about to erupt.

Talk to us a little bit about the social upheaval that seems to be coming to pass in America this summer.

CARTER: I've studied a lot of history, in particular history of the presidency and my predecessors in this office. If you cut through any day in the history of our nation, particularly recent history, you could find a list of problems or questions or challenges or obstacles that would be of high interest to the American people, and apparently very difficult.

I believe in the last year, our nation has been overcoming the malaise, the division, the selfishness that concerned me so much last July.


BLITZER: Daniel Schorr left CNN back in 1985. He joined NPR as a senior news analyst. I always admired his reporting, his commentary. He brought unique perspective and insight. And like so many others, I always learned something from Dan Schorr.

On a personal level, he was a good friend. He always helped me. I admired the advice he always gave me, and I remember when he strongly encouraged me to accept an offer to join this network more than 20 years ago. We will always be grateful for his important role in journalism and in CNN's own early history. Our deepest condolences to Dan's wonderful family. He will be missed.

That's it for me. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.