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THE SITUATION ROOM

"Top Secret America" Revealed; "An Oil Embargo on Ourselves"; Shirley Sherrod's Story Is Center Stage In Washington: She Talks With Wolf Blitzer About Her Dramatic Past, Bittersweet Present, And Hope For The Future Of Race Relations

Aired July 24, 2010 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Political firestorm over race takes center stage. President Obama saying his administration, quote, "jumped the gun" in forcing an African-American government employee to resign without having all of the facts. My interview with Shirley Sherrod ahead.

Plus, the top secret America -- a new "Washington Post" investigative series reveals a U.S. National Security operation in potential disarray. The paper's lead reporter on the story is here.

And her identity as a CIA operative was leaked sparking an international uproar. Valerie Plame Wilson is weighing in on the hidden culture of spies in the U.S., Russia, and Iran.

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

Just a week ago, few people had ever heard of Shirley Sherrod. But the former USDA official was thrust into the headlines overnight when conservative web publisher Andrew Brightbart put out a misleading clip that falsely implied Sherrod had discriminated against a white farmer. Sherrod was forced to resign from her government post. But her video, the video of the entire speech revealed her words were taken entirely out of context. And her remarks were about overcoming prejudice and discrimination. The Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack apologized to Sherrod and offered her a new job and she spoke by phone with President Obama.

Before all of that, right at the height of the controversy, I talked one-on-one with Shirley Sherrod about her unfolding ordeal.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Painful as it was to hear from the superiors over at the Department of Agriculture, and to get the statement from the White House that later came out, I suspect that it was even more painful for you personally to be rejected and repudiated by the NAACP, an organization you have worked with and admired so many years.

SHIRLEY SHERROD, FMR. GA. DIR., RURAL DEVELOPMENT, USDA: Yes, now that -- that hurt, I guess, more than being asked to resign from the Department of Agriculture. Because my whole life has been about civil rights, my whole life has been about equal rights. For an organization like the NAACP to come out with the initial statement that they came out with really, really hurt.

BLITZER: They subsequently have reversed the decision and have called you to apologize, is that right?

SHERROD: Yes, that's exactly right. Ben Jealous himself called me. The first statement is that he wanted to apologize. Before I allowed him to go on and to say anything else, I told him right away, I accepted it, and we could-you know, I wanted him to know that I truly accepted it and we could move on.

BLITZER: You know, before he called you and issued that statement saying that they regret what has happened, you know that here on CNN, Donna Brazil was on my show saying the NAACP is wrong, the Department of Agriculture is wrong, the White House is wrong. She publicly appealed to all of them to come to up with the right decision, and do the right thing. I don't know if you saw that?

SHERROD: No, I didn't see that. And I really appreciate her for doing that.

BLITZER: Because she saw that there was an injustice and she spoke out she deserves a lot of credit. She went back and looked at that tape and saw the context and it clearly showed that you were not a racist, or anything like that. You were speaking from some very personal experiences that you had.

Did you hear from Andrew Brightbart, the conservative publisher who initially posted that edited clip of what you were saying?

SHERROD: No, I didn't. I -- I didn't even know of him until yesterday. But I haven't heard anything from him. He didn't contact me before he put that out, and he certainly has not contacted me since.

BLITZER: Do you agree with the Attorney General of the United States Eric Holder that we-we, Americans essentially, in his words of last year-we're essentially a nation of cowards when it comes to discussing race?

SHERROD: I certainly agree with that. You know, you can look at this -- if we could have the open discussions, maybe we could at some way try to move forward. I think those discussions need to be held a lot at the local level, the level where I was, and also from the top.

But somehow, I don't know what it's going to take for this country. But we really have to figure this out if we expect this great country, the United States of America, to move forward in the future in the way we need to move forward. We are mixed here. It's not all one race in this country. And never will be. You know? So we need to figure out how to live together.

BLITZER: Are you as concerned, as am I, that maybe this whole incident will make all of us even more reluctant to openly discuss race?

SHERROD: I hope not. I hope not. I hope, you know, having gone through this, that in some big way, small way, however way you want to look at it, that it helps us to be able to put that discussion out here so we can keep trying to deal with it. We will not solve it if we don't -- if we can -- if we just try to put it under the table every time it surfaces, we have to discuss it and figure out how to move forward.

BLITZER: You have an amazing personal story. I briefly want you to share what happened to your father. And if he were around, how he would look at what is happening right now?

SHERROD: Oh, my goodness. You know, in 45 years, I have not missed one day thinking about my father, and the impact he had on my life, during his lifetime, and since his death. My father meant everything to us. He was a great leader in the community. I know that if I go back to his grandfather, his father, they always pushed us to get an education. But one thing about my family, both my mother's side and my father's side, they always pushed us to reach back and help others. That's one thing about people from the county that I come from, Baker County, we always looked to reach out to help others. People did it back then. We continue to do it now.

BLITZER: Remind your viewers, if they don't know how your dad died?

SHERROD: My father was murdered by a white man in Baker County, who was never prosecuted. Even though there were witnesses. All of the witnesses were black. At the time of the grand jury in our county was all white and they refused to indict him for murder.

We later tried to sue him. But our only-the only black attorney we had in southwest Georgia, Attorney C.B. King, who was a very, very strong person, realized-we don't know what happened, but at some point he just said to us, it's not going to work, it's not going to happen. We wonder sometimes whether he was threatened. We just don't know. I've asked people, even today-CB is not living now. And in fact they have named the courthouse in the city of Albany after him. But I would really like to know what made him abruptly drop the case. Something happened.

BLITZER: We'll see if we ever get to the bottom of that. Shirley Sherrod, thank you so much for joining us, for sharing your story with all of our viewers. It's fair to say all of us are hoping only, only for the best for you and your entire family.

SHERROD: Thank you so much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: For our North American viewers coming up right at the top of the hour, who is Shirley Sherrod? We'll take a closer look at the woman behind the controversy from her early years growing up in rural Georgia, to the murder of her father, to the impact of this past week in the glaring spotlight. That is later tonight, at 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

We'll also dig deeper on the tough questions about race and politics here in THE SITUATION ROOM, with a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, a U.S. Senate candidate in Florida, Democratic Congressman Kendrick Meek.

Also, top secret America hidden from the public and too big to be efficient, or manageable. I'll talk to a reporter behind an in-depth "Washington Post" investigation.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Once again, for our North American viewers, this programming note, right at the top of the hour, we'll be taking a walk in the shoes of Shirley Sherrod, the former U.S. Agricultural official who has been at the center of this week's racially charged controversy here in the United States. Her early years in rural Georgia, her father's murder, the past week, the impact it's had on her life; the woman behind the controversy coming up at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, once again, later tonight, 10:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN.

This week's uproar over Shirley Sherrod has put a spotlight on America's ongoing struggles with race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Let's dig a little deeper with Democratic Congressman and candidate Kendrick Meek of Florida. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Congressman, thank you very much for coming in.

REP. KENDRICK MEEK (D), FLORIDA: Hi, Wolf.

BLITZER: Do you agree we're a nation of cowards, essentially, words of the Attorney General Eric Holder, when it comes to discussing race?

MEEK: It's been a very difficult question for the country for a very long time. We have a country of race and religion and we have a lot of folks that live differently. We don't understand one another like we should. This particular incident that's taken place over the last 72 hours is a perfect example of how the country is so focused on this issue. There is a lot of curiosity there. Discussion is important. We passed the financial reform, the largest, sweeping financial reform bill in almost the history of the country and this is taking headlines.

BLITZER: It is such a powerful story when you talk to Shirley Sherrod.

MEEK: Absolutely. Absolutely.

BLITZER: As I did earlier today. She is an amazing woman. And she was, by all accounts, and I think you agree, she was wronged.

MEEK: There are a number of issues that atone every day on this issue of race. Talking about how they have changed in their attitudes toward other racial groups and even gender. I think it is healthy. When we see this kind of story take place, when you have a right wing group that tries to separate and divide, and to see us now come back together, understanding now we know the truth. She was basically talking about her experience and how she's changed. BLITZER: You know, Tom Vilsack, the secretary of Agriculture, you can see, he's been meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, you are a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, explaining what happened. They want to learn lessons. This has not been a pleasant experience for Tom Vilsack, for officials at the White House, I'm sure from the president on down, for leaders of the NAACP. I guess the major lesson all of us have to learn is don't believe everything you see on the Internet. And if you see something, investigate, do due diligence, vet it completely before you jump to any conclusions.

MEEK: Verify, verify, verify. I couldn't help, wolf, but see in the background, John Lewis, who came to this city, Washington, D.C., as a civil rights activist. With black, and with white, and Jews, and all trying to bring about the kind of harmony that we need, as a country, to move forward. The fact that he has lived long enough to continue to see the changes in the country, today is a change as it relates to how we look at this issue of race.

I think the administration want to protect all Americans and making sure no one in this administration would discriminate against anyone. The issue of the black farmers has been raised and now it is being dealt with. Secretary Vilsack is dealing with that very issue. The issue of making sure that no one is stepped upon. To find that white farmer, who said if it wasn't for the work that she did, I would have lost the farm. He's a veteran. What better voice to have? I think this is a moment for the country that we all learn what we should do. We should not allow the few, the few that are not carrying the intentions of goodwill to -- to dictate the dialogue in this country.

BLITZER: You're running against Marco Rubio, the Republican candidate, Governor Charlie Crist, he's now the Independent candidate. You want to be the Democratic candidate for the U.S. Senate. Has the issue of race at all come up over these many months that you've been running?

MEEK: It's been raised by reporters. I feel that Florida is a state of people of goodwill. We've elected women, we've elected Hispanics, we've President Obama. I believe I will be elected as the next United States senator based upon my qualifications. We know there are some people in our society who will never vote for a woman, who will never vote for a person of color. I feel that there are more people in the state of Florida who are willing to look at me as a former state trooper, a member of the legislature, and a productive member of Congress, that will work toward some of the issues that are facing Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Clearly, a lot of lessons to be learned from the Shirley Sherrod case. Will President Obama take them to heart? Donna Brazile shares her very strong opinions on this matter. That's coming up.

And a former CIA's insiders take on Russian spying and intelligence failures here at home. I'll talk to the outed operative, Valerie Plame Wilson.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: President Obama spoke by phone with Shirley Sherrod, the former Agriculture Department official forced to resign after a misleading video clip falsely implied she discriminated against a white farmer. That followed apologies to Sherrod by the Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and by the White House itself.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: On behalf of the administration, I offer apologies. Again, this is more directed at everybody at large here. I think -- I think everybody has to go back. We have and we will continue to look at what's happened over the last 24 to 36 hours and ask ourselves how we got into this. How did we get into-how did we not ask the right questions? How did you all not ask the right questions? How did other people not ask the right questions?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Let's talk about this with our CNN political contributor, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile, who's been very, very much involved in trying to figure out what's going on like all of us. You have been specifically taking a look at lessons learned. We have to come out of this and learn some lessons. I want to get to that. But first, there are questions still in your mind about what happened. For example, what?

DONNA BRAZILE, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, first of all, I agree with Robert Gibbs. How did the White House act without facts? How did someone at the White House make a -- make a judgment call on Ms. Sherrod without even Googling her name; which, by the way, I did, you come up with all of this interesting information about Ms. Sherrod, as well as her husband, Charles Sherrod. I want to know who inside the Department of Agriculture authorized Ms. Cook to call. So, there are a lot of outstanding questions and I hope to get to the bottom of it.

Because as an African-American, as a woman who not only supported President Obama and a vice chair of the Democratic Party, I want to be able to tell people when they come to me, I know what happened and here's what the White House did to correct the problem, so it will never happen again.

BLITZER: Some say this is an administration that was simply too afraid of conservative media and what they might do with this little video clip. Do you believe that?

BRAZILE: The administration is not the only entity that overreacted to the conservative media. At times, we react to the conservative media, national organizations, bloggers. So, they are -- they're there right now controlling the negative. And I would hope that one of the lessons that we learned is that we wait -- that we wait to check the facts. That we look at the materials. And not be so -- so quick to go and put this information on the news.

BLITZER: Because everybody was rushing to judgment. BRAZILE: Yes.

BLITZER: It was a false judgment based on this little clip that should have been much more thoroughly investigated. You did it. You came to conclusions and -- which was very, very important, but not just the White House. And the NAACP, a lot of people did.

BRAZILE: You know how many freedom fund dinners I give every year. I can tell you first of all, no one gives a 12-minute speech at the NAACP. You have to come there prepared to start low, go slow, rise high, strike fire, sit down. That is a 45-minute speech, which she gave. So the first thing I want to know, what is the context of her speech. And that is what I did before coming on air.

BLITZER: Let's take a look at some poll numbers that we have here at CNN. CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll, which has just come out.

Among all Americans, how many supporters of the Tea Party movement are prejudice against minorities, 25 percent, almost all, or most, 56 percent say some or few. 17 percent say almost none. Among African- Americans, the same question was asked, 41 percent believe almost all or most of the supporters of the Tea Party movement are prejudice against minorities, 52 percent, some or few, 2 percent, almost none. More African-Americans or and Americans in general believe there is this prejudice among the supporters of the Tea Party movement, why?

BRAZILE: If you look at my father's generation and my generation, we grew up in an era where there were segregation, there was racism, there were people shouting, people down, there were acts of violence. You see signs of that creep back to the culture, you get worried.

I can't speak for my niece and nephews and their generation, but I can tell you, Wolf, that will are times that I was alarmed by the rhetoric. But I know that members of the Tea Party, as a whole, they're out there. They disagreed with President Obama philosophically, but I'm not willing to smear them.

BLITZER: Donna, thanks very much. Thank you for all of the work you're doing as well.

BRAZILE: Thank you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: New evidence that the intelligence community is a giant tangled web of secrecy. The reporter behind a "Washington Post" investigation talks about the enormous problems and consequences.

And the Tea Party movement divided over allegations of racism within its ranks. I'll ask Republican Senate Candidate Marco Rubio, of Florida, if he's having any second thoughts about getting Tea Party support.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: A two-year investigation by "The Washington Post" is not only revealing a massive U.S. national security apparatus that's being compared to a secret fourth branch of the U.S. government. Take a look at this video put together by "The Washington Post" on its Web site with a summary of some of the conclusions of this report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think you know America. But you don't know top secret America. We're all aware there are three branches of government in the United States, but in response to 9/11, a fourth branch has emerged. It is protected from public scrutiny by extraordinary secrecy, top secret America.

WILLIAM M. ARKIN, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": This is a closed community and since 9/11, more so.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The money spigot opened after 9/11. No one said I don't think we should spend that much.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's become so big and the lines of responsibility are so blurred that even our nation's leaders don't have a handle on it. Where is it? It's being built from coast-to-coast, hidden within some of America's most familiar cities and neighborhoods, in Colorado, Nebraska, Texas, Florida, in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., top secret America includes hundreds of federal departments and agencies operating out of 1300 facilities around this country. They contract the services of nearly 2,000 companies. In all, more people than live in our nation's capital have top secret security clearance.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's, again, the size, the -- the lack of transparency. And the cost. If we don't get it right, the consequences are gigantic.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us now from "The Washington Post," the co-author of this article, "Top Secret America", Dana Priest. Her co-author is William Arkin.

Dana, thanks very much for joining us.

DANA PRIEST, REPORTER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: What shocked you the most after the two-year investigation?

PRIEST: Well, really, two things. One was just the sheer size. We had a feeling that things had grown bigger. That's why we undertook this. But I guess that -- in the end, I was surprised at just how big it's grown. We counted about 1900 contractors, large companies, mainly, doing this work. And another 1300 government organizations that work in the general area of counterintelligence, about a quarter of each of those are completely new after 9/11. Many, many of them have grown, the ones that existed already have grown quite big following the attacks.

BLITZER: And - and despite this enormous growth, nearly a million people, Americans, now have top-secret security clearances. The federal government spends, what, $70 billion a year on intelligence. What's the latest number that you have?

PRIEST: It's much more than that. The public number is $75 billion. But that does not include a lot of the military programs that are so important.

Yet the point that is very surprising to me was that in hundreds of interviews with former but also current officials, many of them expressed frustration that they didn't know how - how large everything had become. They didn't know how many people worked in it and they didn't know just how many contractors were even under the employee of the U.S. government.

BLITZER: Yet despite the enormous growth since 9/11, the enormous number of people involved, the great sums of money involved, they couldn't connect the dots. And you make this point on the article that the Christmas Day bomber even though there was a lot of evidence pointing to what was going on, the Mutallab. And also they couldn't connect the dots on U.S. Army Major Nidal Hassan, the Forth Hood shooter, why?

PRIEST: Well, on the Christmas Day bombing, I think it really is a great example of how the system became so big that the lines of responsibility were blurred. People assumed somebody else was doing that.

And in this case, the National Counterterrorism Center, a center that was created after 9/11 that's staffed by thousands of people, its job was to do this work. And it did not run all those leads to the - to their end point. It either assumed somebody else was doing it or I don't know what. But it did not its job and I think that's because the lines had been blurred. People are - remain confused about who has responsibility over some of these issues.

The Fort Hood shooter case is another example of - of what we found being redundancy and overlap. That too many organizations are doing the same thing. And in this case, you had the Fort Hood shooter was at Walter Reed Army Medical Center as a psychiatrist when he started making very unusual - unusual remarks about Islam and Muslims fighting in Iraq for the United States. And the - and nobody alerted the largest counterintelligence unit in the army, which is just 25 miles up the road from Walter Reed.

BLITZER: It - it was -

PRIEST: That unit did not even have a clue. And one of the reasons is -

BLITZER: Yes.

PRIEST: -- because it was actually working on another project that other agencies, the FBI and Homeland Security, were already very much involved with. It wasn't doing its main job.

BLITZER: I guess the other side of the argument is that all of this growth and redundancy and money spent has succeeded in preventing another 9/11 type of terrorist attack on U.S. soil.

PRIEST: Well, I don't think anybody can actually prove that. They can prove that there haven't been attacks. They can show where some of them have been thwarted.

We've asked - we asked the government repeatedly for more instances of plots, threats thwarted. We said, you know, of course, you don't need to tell us everything. Just give us a number or something and they came back with nothing. It doesn't mean that they haven't - it hasn't been done, but most of the time, administrations like to tout their successes.

And, you know, this is another thing, people inside said it's gotten so big, we can't tell what parts are succeeding. We can't tell whether we're safer. It's not to say we're not safer, but we can't really determine that without this information. And so, you know, that's one reason there needs to be an examination.

BLITZER: Yes.

PRIEST: We spoke to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates on the record and he certainly feels that he was going to look at his programs. And Leon Panetta says he is already the director of the CIA.

BLITZER: The interactive map that you have on the Washington Post website shows locations all over the country where there are intelligence-gathering operations and you can click in and find more specifics, but you don't include the actual addresses of these operations. Is that because the government asked you not to do so?

PRIEST: No, it's because we decided on our own not to do so. We had shown this to the government several times over the last several months. We'd asked them to be specific on their request. We got little back in the way of specificity, so we had to make our own decision about that. And one of the - you know, one of the topics of conversation was how far down on a map you can go. So actually the map you're looking at doesn't give you a location, it gives you the nearest city-state, which means the nearest city within a state. And that's as far down as we go both for the government and for companies.

On the government side, the dots don't say exactly what organization it is that's doing the work. It just says that it's - it's government work and it doesn't tell you what kind of work is being done. So really, it's just a dot on the map maybe near the city that it's being done in but not near the location where it's being done and not what it is under that dot, what government organization nor what sort of information.

But we felt like we needed to give you a visual on this in order for you to believe us that - that this has grown so large, so we wanted you to be able to see it.

BLITZER: While - while at the same time not doing a bull's eye for terrorists -

PRIEST: Exactly. BLITZER: -- as far as targets are concerned.

PRIEST: And you can fool - you know, you can play around with this other - other thing that we've done, which is a - a database that you can look in and see all of the redundancy and different organizations, and judge for yourself whether our conclusions seem plausible. But, you can spend time on that, moving it around from agency to agency, from type of work to other types of work and just see where the problems are.

BLITZER: Dana Priest of the Washington Post. We'll look forward to part two and part three and all of the other parts that are coming along. Thanks very much for joining us.

PRIEST: Thank you, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: We'll have much more on this explosive Washington Post report from outed CIA Officer Valerie Plame Wilson and why she says it didn't come as a surprise to those in the know.

Also, I'll ask her what she makes of the Russian spy swap. Was it a good idea for the United States?

Plus, with the Shirley Sherrod case all over the news, race in America is front and center once again. We'll talk to Florida's Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate about race and politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: The 2003 linking of CIA Operative Valerie Plame Wilson's identity sparked a national political firestorm. Now, she's promoting a new documentary called "Countdown to Zero."

I spoke with her about that and other issues including her response to that new Washington Post investigative series, "Top Secret America".

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

VALERIE PLAME WILSON, FORMER CIA OFFICER: The sad truth is, for those of us in the intelligence community who care about it, involved with it, this is not news. This is something that we have known since 9/11. It is so unwieldy and bureaucratic that I am afraid that we are not as safe as we should be.

BLITZER: Well, when you served as a clandestine officer in the CIA, you saw this explosion in the growth. How did - did it directly affect your work?

WILSON: It comes mostly in - on incredible growth of contractors. It's now estimated that it's up to 60 percent of our intelligence budget, which I find unbelievable that so much of our core intelligence functions have been outsourced. So it calls into question the loyalty. I mean, who - who are they loyal to? Is it to their government or to whomever is writing their paycheck? Their institutional knowledge is at stake.

And - and it's - the article, the whole series points out very well, no one really has a grip on what - who is reporting on what. There is a heavy repetition. And it's - I believe that my former CIA colleagues feel as everyone in the intelligence community feels this burden.

BLITZER: But one of the criticisms before 9/11 was that the left hand of the U.S. intelligence community was not talking to the right hand of the U.S. intelligence community. The dialogue, the communication was terrible. Has that been repaired based on your inside information?

WILSON: I don't think it has to the extent that it needs to be. Ad the aftermath of 9/11, the 9/11 Commission, I think in what was a knee-jerk reaction, put together the - the director of National Intelligence, which is sort of the super structure over the whole community. And it doesn't really make things more - it does not make our intelligence gathering more effective.

BLITZER: Should they get rid of that job, the Director of National Intelligence, who's supposed to coordinate and oversee the 16 separate intelligence-gathering operations?

WILSON: Well, as you know, and the CIA was formed in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor because it would centralize intelligence, and so that we would not have a surprise attack like that again.

We've - what happened with the DNI, he has neither the legal authority nor the real responsibility to shape up what needs to happen.

BLITZER: Let me pick your brain on a couple of espionage stories that have surfaced over these past few weeks. The Iranian scientist who's supposedly was on the U.S. payroll came over here and gave the CIA a lot of inside information, but now has gone back.

In recent days, the Iranians are saying, you know what, he was always a double agent, we wanted him to come here, pick the brains of the CIA, tell us what he could learn, and now he's back in Tehran. What do you make of that charge?

WILSON: It is - they're either - there's two possibilities. One that he was a plant from the beginning or that he, you know, lost heart and decided to go back. Neither scenario is - is a good one for us. I find it very strange. How would he have done this internet video where he says he was abducted and, you know, is being held against his will, how did he manage to post that video? There's a lot of questions there. And none of them are good news for U.S. intelligence, particularly on Iran, which he - maybe he had just a little bit and we got overexcited.

But if you recall what happened to Saddam Hussein's son-in-law who defected, went to Jordan, told us a lot about the then Iraqi nuclear weapons program. And went back and was kissed on both cheeks by Saddam Hussein and then summarily executed.

BLITZER: Yes. We'll see what happens to this Iranian scientist in the coming weeks and months.

This Russian spy swap, was that a good idea, a bad idea? You know some of the details, Anna Chapman, that lovely redhead who was part of that Russian espionage ring in the United States?

WILSON: Everyone always talks about the cute redhead, first off. I - I was taken with the how the speed in which the swap occurred. Clearly, the FBI had been following this for a decade so they were prepared for this possibility.

I was taken with the fact that they didn't seem to be reporting on anything of much value. My - this is just my speculation. Maybe it was a program that started under the Cold War before the internet era.

And her (ph) bureaucratic inertia it's continued on, because it seemed that what they were giving their Russian handlers was things that a couple of clicks and, you know, Google search would have provided with. They put a lot of effort into this and not getting a whole lot of bang for their buck.

BLITZER: I know you're in L.A. to promote "Countdown to Zero," this new documentary that is trying to get everyone to do away with their nuclear arsenals. Is that realistic anytime soon? Given the reliance that so many of these countries, whether the U.S. and Russia or China or some of the other countries have?

WILSON: I think it is realistic. And all of us that have worked on this, it's come from the producing team that did "An Inconvenient Truth." We wouldn't do it if we didn't think we could in fact veer off this path. I don't think it will be anytime soon.

But no one has expectations that we will do this unilaterally. It must be done thoughtfully in a disciplined fashion where you set - and there's a set plan that we will go through to ultimately get to zero. I think you need to have that as your ultimate objective.

BLITZER: And it's getting good reviews, "Countdown to Zero", this new documentary.

There's another movie, by the way, and very quickly coming out in November that's going to be the movie of your own book, "Fair Game", Naomi Watts plays you. Sean Penn plays your husband, Joe Wilson, the former U.S. diplomat. It's obviously something you're looking forward to, right?

WILSON: It is. It's the most surreal thing. But it's a very powerfully told story. Naomi and Sean do, of course, beautiful jobs and it's an important piece of our history.

BLITZER: We'll look forward to that as well. Please come back. Valerie Plame Wilson, thanks very much.

WILSON: Thank you for having me.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BLITZER: The Gulf of Mexico oil spill is sure to have repercussions at the ballot box in November. To drill or not to drill offshore. The politics of oil in Florida coming up.

And he was the darling of the Tea Party Movement during the Florida primary. Where does he stand on the movement right now? U.S. Senate candidate Marco Rubio getting ready to weigh in on all of it when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Oil is mixing with politics in Florida where the gulf disaster isn't just impacting the state's pristine beaches. It's also a key issue in Florida's closely watched Senate race.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And joining us, Marco Rubio. He's the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate from Florida, the former House Speaker in Florida. Thanks very much for coming in.

MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA SENATORIAL CANDIDATE: Thanks for having me back.

BLITZER: Do you think it's a good idea, what Charlie Crist, the governor, wants - and he's your rival - to get a constitutional amendment that once and for all would ban all offshore drilling off the coast of Florida?

RUBIO: Well, let me first say what would be a good idea is to actually have a real special session where they deal with the economic issues that the region is facing. Offshore drillings are already illegal in Florida. It's not legal now. You can't do it. The law prohibits it.

BLITZER: But - but they could change it. If you have a constitutional amendment, that would bar it once and for all.

RUBIO: And they can do that in a regular session. I think the problem is, the legislature was called in, in an extraordinary special session to waste taxpayer dollars to come up and consider something that there is no imminent threat for.

What the special session should have been about and what he did not expand the call to make it about was economic relief for Northwest Florida. Luckily, the legislative leaders, the Senate president, the speaker of the house, have said they are going to call the legislature back in September to consider real relief, like the economic policy changes they need to make.

BLITZER: The last time we spoke, you left open the door to offshore drilling somewhat. Have you refined your position?

RUBIO: No, I believe America has to have an energy policy that includes domestic production and that includes the Gulf region. That includes drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, and of course that has to be done safely.

And that's why it's so important to learn why this accident happened, so something like this never, ever happens again. But 10 percent of our domestic production comes from the Gulf. If we were to stop that, it would be like imposing an oil embargo on ourselves.

BLITZER: Because it's a pretty unpopular position in Florida to - to have offshore drilling.

RUBIO: You know, I don't know that that's true, Wolf. I think most Floridians are mature enough politically to understand that this was a terrible accident. It happened because BP cut corners, and as a result led to this. But, on the other hand, America has to have an energy component of its - has to have a domestic energy component as part of our portfolio. We can't keep depending on other countries to provide oil for us. It makes us vulnerable.

BLITZER: So to have deepwater or shallow-water drills not far off of the coast of West Palm Beach or --

RUBIO: Well, that is prohibited by law right now. Florida law prohibits drilling off Florida waters. We're talking about federal waters.

BLITZER: All right. So, but you're saying that you could see that happening some time down the road?

RUBIO: Florida waters?

BLITZER: Yes.

RUBIO: Well, Florida waters - actually, drilling in Florida waters is something Charlie Crist supported about four or five months ago. I think now that this has happened, you're never going to see that any time in the near future. And obviously, there's a cost-benefit analysis there. A mature decision would have to be made. I don't think anyone is advocating that we allow that to happen right now.

BLITZER: So, you're not in favor of that.

All right. Let's talk a little bit about this most recent poll that we have that has Crist at 35 percent, you at 28 percent, Kendrick Meek at 17 percent. And he's the likely, but not necessarily the certain, Democratic candidate. Why do you think Charlie Crist has now come up as rapidly as he has, because, as an independent candidate, a lot of people were earlier writing him off?

RUBIO: Well, those numbers are not dissimilar to what we saw initially after he switched. And the truth is, when I got in this race a year ago, right around this time, I was 35 points down in the Republican primary. So, I've been here before and I know what it takes to overcome that.

That being said, these polls now on American politics and there's one every day, everyone is doing one. What we're focused on is laying out the things we believe in. And here's what I know, come November, in Florida, there's going to be a very clear choice.

If you like the way things are going here in Washington, then, you know, you have two people you can vote for. That's not me. If, on the other hand, you want to send someone up here that will act as a check and balance on the direction that this Congress and this administration is taking our country, I'm the only choice on the ballot. I can do that.

BLITZER: You don't think that Charlie Crist as an independent would - would have that check and balance?

RUBIO: Well, I don't believe he's really an independent. I think there's an increasing evidence that he now is embracing the Obama agenda. Today, we read in the Wall Street Journal that he now supports Obama care, he has flipped on the Sotomayor, now he says he would have voted for her. We don't know where he stands on Elena Kagan, but I think he's going to support her unless -

BLITZER: So you think if he won as an independent, he would caucus with the Democrats?

RUBIO: I think it's increasingly - he, I think, has almost admitted that at this point, said he has two phone conversations with Harry Reid recently to talk about, you know, his future in the U.S. Senate.

So, you know, obviously, those are questions he's going to have to answer, but I think all indications are, and I believe that he will caucus with the Democrats in Washington and be a part of promoting the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda.

BLITZER: You - you were the darling of the Tea Party in Florida when you were running for the Republican nomination. Did you embrace that now or you sort of moving away from that as you're reaching out to more Moderates, Centrists, Democrats?

RUBIO: You know, Wolf, that's - the people you find in Tea Parties are everyday Americans from all walks of life. These labels of making people sound like extremists, that's what people do when they don't want to debate the issues and the ideas. What people at Tea Parties largely stand for is the idea that it's government job to foster an environment where the economy can grow, or the private sector can grow. They don't believe the government can grow the private sector and they're right. They believe that American that that is dangerous that we shouldn't be spending more money than we take in and something needs to be done about in a serious way -

BLITZER: Are you - and when the NAACP says elements in the Tea Party are racist, and Mark Williams, the former spokesman for Tea Party Express sort of is pushed aside, what goes through your mind?

RUBIO: Well, I think it's unfortunate that labels like that are used to brand an entire group of people, the vast majority of homer folks that just care and love their country, believe it's the greatest nation on earth, and they want to see policies implemented at the highest levels of government that will keep us exceptional. I certainly haven't confronted or seen that in my experience and the events that I've attended. What I run into are everyday Americans from all walks of life, from all parties, ethnicities and race who care about -

BLITZER: But you've seen that - those hateful - hateful signs against President Obama that sometimes spring up at some of these events.

RUBIO: Well, let me tell you, hate speeches are all involved all throughout politics. I saw hateful signs against George Bush. I saw George Bush jeered at Obama's inauguration and of a total lack of taste. I wouldn't - I'm not going to attribute that to every supporter of Barack Obama.

I think what we need to focus back is on the policies. What are the policies that candidates support? And are those policies good for America?

BLITZER: If you were elected, would you be part of the Tea Party caucus in the United States Senate? Let's say with Rand Paul, he's a Republican candidate in Kentucky or Sharron Angle, a Republican candidate in Nevada, would you be part of the caucus like that?

RUBIO: Well, I don't know what the need for that would be obviously. Maybe they - they feel there's a need for that or others feel there's a need for that. I - I'm more interested in being a part of a caucus that would lower taxes in America and create an environment where jobs are going to be created by the private sector, creating an environment where the private sector can grow and create prosperity.

BLITZER: Would you see yourself sort of move and support the Democrats on certain pieces of legislation even though most of the Republicans would walk away from it?

RUBIO: Well, if the Republicans - yes, you know what? If the Democrats propose extending the '01 and '03 tax cuts, if they proposed lowering the corporate tax rates, if they propose doing things that would grow the private sector, I would support that no matter who proposed that.

BLITZER: And most Republicans would support that too?

RUBIO: Well - but, again, it's the policies that I support. And, for example, if there are real serious policies to deal with the structural debt that America faces, because we're headed towards a grease-light day of reckoning. And if there are policies that deal with that, I don't care who proposes those policies, I would support them. Ultimately, unfortunately, I don't think that this leadership in Congress is going to support those policies.

BLITZER: He's working hard to become the next U.S. senator from Florida. Marco Rubio, thanks for coming in.

RUBIO: Thanks, Wolf.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Nature captured on camera. Stand by for our international "Hot Shots".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Here's a look at "Hot Shots" around the world.

In Sydney, Australia, dancers rehearse a routine inspired by evolution and diversity. In India, women are splashed by a passing car after heavy rain flooded parts of the country. At a botanical garden in Tokyo, girls admire a giant blooming flower. And look at this, in Minsk, Belarus, a sparrow steals food off a plate at a restaurant.

"Hot Shots", pictures worth a thousand words.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. Join us weekdays in THE SITUATION ROOM from 5:00 to 7:00 P.M. Eastern and every Saturday at 6:00 P.M. eastern right here on CNN. And at this time every weekend on CNN International.

The news continues next on CNN.