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BP Chief Forced Out; Young Russian Charged with Smuggling; Headaches for Democrats; Fears of Another Oil Disaster
Aired July 27, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN ANCHOR: Corporate disaster and the changes being promised now that CEO Tony Hayward is being forced out.
Also, a federal judge could rule at any time on the fate of Arizona's controversial new immigration law. Will it go into effect on Thursday or be blocked.
Our correspondents, they're standing by to bring you complete coverage of the ruling and the possible backlash on the border.
And an immigration crackdown you may not know about. For thousands of illegal residents, deportation could be just a fingerprint away.
Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux. And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
There's a renewed promise from the White House that BP will pay for the Gulf oil disaster, no matter who is running the company.
The oil giant officially announced today that CEO Tony Hayward is leaving and will be replaced by Robert Dudley. BP is reporting a massive financial loss -- $17.2 billion -- in the last quarter because of costs from the oil spill.
Now the company is expected to face enormous fines based on the final tally on how much oil gushed into the Gulf. A member of Congress now claims to have what he calls a smoking gun, showing the true scope of the disaster.
We're going have more on that later. Right now I want to check in with CNN's David Mattingly on the oil disaster zone.
And, David, it sounds like obviously the old CEO is out. You've got someone new in place. What kind of changes do we expect?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Tony Hayward is stepping out of the spotlight the same way he stepped into it, defending BP, saying BP alone does not deserve all the blame for this disaster. He defended his safety record.
He's going to be maintaining his post until -- for a couple of months from now and he's going to move on to another place in BP, a very important venture for BP in Russia. So he's not going away. He's just stepping away from this particular job.
The reaction here has been fairly predictable. Public officials and fishermen, and people on the ground alike, people who have been affected by this disaster say that the real change that they're hoping to see is the way BP treats them on the ground here and they feel like that's not going to have a whole lot to do with whoever is at the top of the company.
MALVEAUX: And, David, tell us what's happening right now on the water's edge. What do we know now about the government's effort now to track down this oil?
MATTINGLY: Well, we're hearing from NOAA today and some have interesting things from them. They say they are close to coming up with a solid number of how much oil is actually under the water.
In the water column, in the Gulf of Mexico, they say they're finally close to coming up with a number. That's been the source of a great deal of speculation. We know how much they've skimmed off the top. We can figure out how much oil was in the slick to begin with, but now they feel like they're close in on that number of the oil inside the water column.
And they say they've been testing all over the place. What they're finding is sort of a microscopic level of oil in many places, mostly concentrated -- highly concentrated at the wellhead and parts per million, but then diminishing to further away from the well you get.
So soon we may have that number that tells us how much oil is still in the water in the Gulf of Mexico.
MALVEAUX: And, David, I know obviously that comes as some good news to some folks but now there are surprising news that there may be another well leak?
MATTINGLY: It is a leak, but it's a natural gas and oil pipeline that was hit by a barge. This isn't a deepwater operation. This was a pipe head sticking up out of the top of the water and shallow water in one of the bays.
It was hit by a barge. It cracked open. It's been spewing up a mist of mud, natural gas, and some oil today. They hope to have somebody on scene to shut this thing down later today.
But not expected to be much of a problem. Obviously they already had a lot of resources out in the water in Louisiana to attack something like this. But this nothing at all like what they've been fighting.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank goodness for that. Thank you so much, David. Appreciate it.
BP's incoming chief Robert Dudley is promising changes within the company and the entire oil industry.
Our CNN's Max Foster reports that there is more on that shake-up at the top.
MAX FOSTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The new face of BP. Bob Dudley takes over for Tony Hayward in October. Some British analysts believe that an American might be more palatable than a Brit in the U.S. right now where BP's reputation has been hit hardest.
Dudley is currently heading up the cleanup effort for BP in the Gulf.
ROBERT DUDLEY, INCOMING BP CEO: I've spent the last three months every day in the Gulf Coast, and I'm going to focus for the next month and a half on what we're doing in the Gulf Coast, our relationships in the Gulf Coast and in Washington.
And Tony and I are going to work through a transition between now and October 1st.
MAYOR MITCH LANDRIEU (D), NEW ORLEANS: It's a welcome change but just changing faces and not changing corporate philosophy doesn't really get you anywhere. The people in the Gulf south want to know that BP is completely and totally committed completely making it right. And that means not leaving just because the well is capped.
FOSTER: But in a parting shock perhaps, Hayward, known for his gaffes, told analysts that the company has demonstrated what corporate social responsibility really means, something unlikely to help those relationships in the Gulf Coast and Washington.
As to what lies ahead, Dudley has three main priorities, making sure the leak is permanently fixed, sorting out the cleanup mess, and paying the penalties imposed by the U.S. and its legal system.
BP is estimating the cost could reach $32 billion. But that figure is a best guess. It's still not clear how much oil leaked or how many future penalties would be applied.
What BP does know is it's going to have to raise cash and fast, so it's selling off assets worth $30 billion. It'll become a smaller company and could still be broken up according to some analysts.
And this isn't just a BP story, the company says. The whole oil industry needs to reevaluate safety and take standards to a completely new level.
Max Foster, CNN, London.
MALVEAUX: On the heels of the Russian spy saga that played out just weeks ago, we are learning about another attractive young woman facing a felony charge for trying to help Moscow.
This time the allegations involve smuggling weapons equipment that's only supposed to be sold to the U.S. military. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is here with the details.
I like that. Another attractive spy.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Very attractive. Very attractive.
MALVEAUX: Tell us about this.
MESERVE: Her name is Anna Fermanova. The government alleges that she tried to illegally export a night-vision weapon sight and two weather advanced rifle sights to Russia. According to an affidavit, Immigration and Customs Enforcement heard about her from a confidential informant and learned she was going to fly to Russia on March 1st.
Customs and Border Protection intercepted her luggage and found the sights, according to the affidavit. ICE agents approached her as she was about to board her flight. She allegedly told them she bought them online. She admitted removing their -- the markings.
She said she knew they were illegally -- illegal to export and she claims she was taking them to her husband in Moscow.
We looked up the scopes online. They cost between $6,000 and $7,000 apiece and it clearly says they're only to be sold to the military or law enforcement.
Officials allowed Fermanova, however, to take the flight without the scopes. She returned in July and charges were filed against her. No indication in the documents that we've seen that there's any connection with the alleged Russian spies that you mentioned, Suzanne.
Carol Cratty, one of our producers, just talked to her lawyer Scott Palmer. He says that his client is not a terrorist, she is not a spy. That she purchased these with the intent of selling them to a family friend for hunting purposes.
MALVEAUX: OK. We'll see how that flies. All right, thank you, Jeanne. Appreciate it.
Well, emergency funding for the war in Afghanistan is at stake on Capitol Hill right now. The House is nearing a vote on a $59 billion spending bill mostly to pay for the troop buildup.
Want to bring in our -- our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar.
Basically, this bombshell leak, thousands of military logs from Afghanistan that we saw unfold yesterday, is that influencing how members of Congress are voting for funding for this war?
BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, to hear anti-war Democrats talk about it, Suzanne, this is really their latest ammunition in their argument against this war funding.
So we're expecting this vote here in the next hour. And, you know, most of this money is to fund the war in Afghanistan. But what's interesting is what's not in it, and that is a timetable for withdrawing troops in Afghanistan, something that these anti-war Democrats really want.
But despite their opposition to this bill, it is expected to pass. So what you have is anti-war Democrats really making a whole lot of noise to make their point of view and these documents are playing a very big role as they do.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. DENNIS KUCINICH (D), OHIO: Pakistan intelligence collaborating with the Taliban against the U.S. The Pentagon understating the fire power of the insurgents. A top Pakistani general visiting a suicide bombing school monthly.
Today vote against the supplemental.
REP. BARBARA LEE (D), CALIFORNIA: While evidence continues to mount that our military engagement in Afghanistan has become a quagmire of corruption and ill-defined objectives, the bill under consideration will provide -- if you can believe this -- another $37 billion.
REP. JAMES MCGOVERN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: It is a mistake to give this administration yet another blank check for this war. I urge my colleagues to vote no on this bill.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KEILAR: Now Democratic leaders are urging Democrats to vote yes on this. They say that this is essential money, and they say that those documents predate President Obama's war policy.
So what you have is actually Republicans, Suzanne, who are throwing their weight behind this. GOP leaders saying they are expecting some strong support here and, in fact, I think what's going to be the really interesting break, now what we're expecting to happen -- and again this vote hasn't happen yet -- is that this will get more votes from Republicans than Democrats.
That's the expectation at this point.
MALVEAUX: And, Brianna, tell us -- one of the reasons I guess Republicans are going to sign this is because the Senate stripped out billions of dollars of unrelated spending. Is that how they're justifying this -- this vote?
KEILAR: Well, certainly that's one of the reasons that Republicans are supporting this along with their feeling that this is essential money for the war. But some of the items that were in this bill that were unrelated -- money for Pell grants, money so that teachers didn't have to be laid off, money to fund that settlement for black farmers.
The Senate pulled all of that out because of opposition in the Senate, and so that's why Republicans in the House have now signed onto it.
With those items, Suzanne, important to note that there would have been more Democratic support here.
MALVEAUX: OK. Brianna, thank you so much.
Yet another new oil spill to tell you about. This one is in a place that you might not expect.
Also, find out who managed to escape from this fiery plane crash?
And why does presidential adviser David Axelrod look so glum?
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
MALVEAUX: All right. I want you to check out this photo from President Obama's meeting with congressional leaders today, all right? This is his senior adviser David Axelrod. He looks like he could use a painkiller.
One of the headaches the administration right now is facing efforts by Republicans to block key legislation as Election Day gets closer.
I want you to take a listen to what the president said about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Everyone understands that we're less than 100 days from an election. It's during this time that the noise and the chatter about who's up in the polls and which party is ahead threatens to drown out just about everything else.
But the folks we serve -- who sent us here to serve, they sent us here for a reason. They sent us here to listen to their voices. They sent us here to represent their interests, not our own.
They sent us here to lead. And I hope in the coming months we'll do everything in our power to live up to that responsibility.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
MALVEAUX: Our senior political analyst Gloria Borger joins us here.
Gloria, you know --
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Poor David Axelrod.
MALVEAUX: Boy, that photo, huh?
MALVEAUX: You can take a look behind you, that photo of David with his head in his hand that tell you --
BORGER: It's been a tough time.
MALVEAUX: It's a tough time. It's also this list, this to-do list that the president mentioned behind you as well. I want you to take a look at the wall. These are some of the big issues on the table before the election.
MALVEAUX: You've got economy, taxes, war, energy, immigration. You know, the president wants to do it all. He can't do it all.
BORGER: He does.
MALVEAUX: The folks that I've talked to are frustrated that he's not even getting the credit for what he's done.
MALVEAUX: What can they do?
BORGER: Well, look, right now they're in a tough spot because the president has one calendar which is 2012. And the Democrats have another calendar which is 2010. And so the Democrats are really living in the land of the doable. What they can do and what they want to do before the election.
For example, energy, perfect example today.
BORGER: What the Senate Democrats announced was a much less robust energy bill, which essentially deals with BP and the issues related to BP. It doesn't deal with the long-term issues of climate change. They didn't want to deal with carbon taxes, that whole kind of issue.
And so they really -- they really had to pull back. They're not going to do immigration, which is something the president had also said he wanted to do. But they also argue about how the president ought to behave. And you know this better than I do, right?
I mean they would like the president out there every day being their hatchet man on the Republicans. And while the White House has been doing a lot more of that, you've been hearing him be much more critical of the Republicans, the White House also believes that the president needs to keep his popularity a certain level because that will help Democrats. And people don't want to hear a relentlessly negative president.
MALVEAUX: So --
BORGER: So it's a balancing act.
MALVEAUX: One of the things that seems to be frustrating with the White House is that real life has kind of gotten in the way.
MALVEAUX: You know, you had the oil spill. They never imagined that would happen.
MALVEAUX: You've got the -- you know, the Shirley Sherrod incident that blew up. You have these documents, a huge document dumps. And he's just trying to plod along here with his agenda.
There are some Democrats who are thinking, you know what? Maybe he should have reversed the whole thing?
BORGER: Right. There are.
MALVEAUX: Maybe he shouldn't have taken health care on first. Maybe there was a way to do this at the end of the midterm elections, and the Democrats --
BORGER: Democrats second-guessing other Democrats? Have you ever heard of that? Of course there are. There are lots of Democrats who'd say he have focused like a laser on the economy as Bill Clinton did.
Then he would have gotten more credit on the economy. That he should have done financial regulation which he did. And energy first instead of health care -- spending nine months on health care.
But, you know, that's all looking in the rear view mirror. Right now they're trying to figure out on how they work with this White House going forward so they can actually stem their losses, you know.
MALVEAUX: Let's talk about going forward.
MALVEAUX: Because honestly one of the things that they're debating for the midterm elections is this whole idea about the tax cuts.
MALVEAUX: And whether or not they're going to let those tax cuts expire for --
BORGER: That's another thing that. Just comes on their plate, right? They didn't ask for it, but there it is. MALVEAUX: And now they're forced in a position to say, look, you know, middle class, we're going to protect them, but some of you guys -- those who are making more than $250,000 -- you're going to have to pay a little bit more.
BORGER: Right. And, you know, there are some Democrats who say, OK, this is a good issue for the Democrats because, number one, you could say the Republicans only care about helping the rich and we want to help the middle class.
But there are other Democrats I talked to -- one Democratic pollster I talked to today, Suzanne, said we always produce data that says people want to tax the rich but we always lose the debate when we have it.
And so there are lots of Democrats who are afraid that people aren't --
BORGER: -- going to say rich, poor, middle class. They're just going to say, you Democrats, you want to tax, and that's not good.
MALVEAUX: All right. We'll see how it plays out obviously in just a couple of months.
BORGER: We will.
MALVEAUX: All right. Thank you so much, Gloria.
Well, there are some strong words from the Joint Chiefs chairman about those leaked Afghan war documents. He's speaking out as he visits Iraq. You're going to hear what he is saying.
Also we're following a new oil disaster. This one hundreds of miles from the Gulf of Mexico.
Plus, what one man found at a garage sale said to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
MALVEAUX: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming in to THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Hey, Lisa, what are you working on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Suzanne.
Well, we start with a cargo plane's fiery crash at Saudi Arabia's international airport in Riyadh. The Lufthansa freighter was carrying 80 tons of cargo when it slammed into the runway this morning. Both pilots used the emergency flight to escape and were taken to the hospital with injuries.
Investigators with the German airline are now looking into that accident.
New problems for Michigan residents downstream of an 840,000 gallon oil spill in a creek that leads to the Kalamazoo River. Police say the choking smell of oil is hanging over the river valley the day after a 30-inch pipeline broke.
The energy company that owns the line says crews are cleaning up the oil with skimmers and absorbent booms.
In the U.S. a top military leader was greeted in Iraq today with a political stalemate. A rash of violence on the impending withdrawal. The U.S. military says the drawdown of troops in Iraq is still on track for late summer despite the country's inability to agree on a governing body since its March election.
The stop in Iraq follows Mullen's meetings with political and military leaders in Afghanistan. The situation there is now in the spotlight after tens of thousands of classified documents about the war were leaked.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADM. MIKE MULLEN, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: Well, I really am appalled by the leak, condemn the leak, and I believe that there's potential there to put American lives at risk.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Mullen also pointed out that the information which covers the 2004 to 2009 time frame is somewhat old and that the strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan has changed -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thank you, Lisa.
As BP finally seems to be getting a handle on the Gulf oil spill there may be a new disaster that is waiting to happen. CNN is investigating problems with the Trans-Alaska Pipeline.
Also busted and fingerprinted, the feds expand a program to identify illegal immigrants. Critics liken it to a dangerous dragnet.
And will Cuba's Fidel Castro tell all?
MALVEAUX: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM. Happening now, the countdown to Arizona's controversial new anti-immigration law -- illegal immigration law, that is -- set to take effect on Thursday, but a federal court could rule any time now and possibly block the statute.
We're going to take you live to Phoenix.
Plus, estimates went from 1,000 barrels a day to more than 50,000 barrels a day. How much oil really flowed into the Gulf of Mexico? The answer could determine BP's future. Wolf Blitzer is off today. I'm Suzanne Malveaux, and you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
In the Gulf of Mexico, right now crews are back on track to permanently shut down BP's ruptured oil well in the next few weeks. Now that's if setbacks are avoided and the weather holds, but could another massive oil spill be just around the corner?
Our Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigative Unit went to Alaska to find out.
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SPECIAL INVESTIGATIVE UNIT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We are outside pump station nine on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in remote Alaska. A company called Alyeska operates it. And the day before we arrived here, company officials invited us to come take a look.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nobody's allowed to go through this point.
GRIFFIN (on camera): When did they tell you that?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This morning.
GRIFFIN: They told you that just this morning.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, sir.
GRIFFIN: Why the security to keep us this far out? Well, pump station nine, 100 miles south of Fairbanks, critics say, is the poster child for everything that could and has gone wrong with the Trans- Alaska Pipeline.
(Voice-over): It was an engineering marvel when it was built more than 30 years ago. Today it carries about 650,000 barrels of oil a day across pristine wilderness. But it's aging.
BP owns 46 percent of Alyeska, the company that manages the pipeline. And critics say BP now wants to cut costs and potentially put the pipeline at risk.
(On camera): I guess your fear is that the same BP corporate culture that we're seeing in the Gulf of Mexico where corners were cut is the same corporate culture managing this pipeline.
DAVID GUTTENBERG (D), ALASKA STATE HOUSE: Well, that's been the problem -- that I believe has been the problem, yes.
GRIFFIN: Not just an accident waiting to happen. The accidents have been happening repeatedly on this pipeline and critics say they've been largely ignored until the Gulf oil crisis.
REP. BART STUPAK (D), MICHIGAN: There's incident after incident after incident within the last six months. Might seem like small things but when you put them all together in a relatively short period of time it really tells you how poorly this pipeline is being maintained.
GRIFFIN (voice-over): Alaska's state representative David Guttenberg says there is good reason to be worried. He says he has proof. Oil workers, even managers, coming to him warning of attempts to trim safety costs. Insider memos on BP letterhead dating back to 2002 seeking ways to cut spending on maintenance.
(On camera): So what's the attitude here?
GUTTENBERG: The attitude is --
GRIFFIN: We'll do what we want?
GUTTENBERG: That's pretty much it, the way I see it. Yes. We're BP. We'll beyond petroleum. We're beyond whatever. We're --
GRIFFIN: Beyond regulation?
GUTTENBERG: Yes, beyond --
GRIFFIN: Beyond the state of Alaska?
GRIFFIN: Beyond you, certainly.
GRIFFIN: Since 2004 the federal agency overseeing the pipeline has fined the pipeline eight times for safety maintenance and procedural violations. He's challenged every one refusing so far to pay $1 million fines and that is why we went to the remote pump station number nine. A few years ago it was manned. Workers were here to ensure it worked properly but company cost-cutters replaced them with new monitors and cameras. In late May it stopped when both the power and the emergency power failed. 5,000 barrels of overflowed into a spillway. The company has yet to say what exactly went wrong. Mike Joynor is the vice president for the operations of the Alaska pipeline.
Is that a good idea to have remotely operated pump stations?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's the industry standard. Most of the equipment now a days with the modern controls.
GRIFFIN: I've got to stop you there. I've heard about industry standards before. We've heard about blow out protectors in the gulf that were industry standards. I guess what I want to ask you is that the safest route to go or is that the most economically viable route to go?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We believe it's the safest route to go because a vast majority of instances occur due to human error.
GRIFFIN: Richard Feinberg a long time critic of the pipeline and consultant to four Alaska governors says a fire here nearly burned the station down in 2007. Now they're investigating a spill.
And you feel that these accidents, little or minor, though some may say they are, are precursors or warnings to something along the lines of a land-based Exxon Valdez.
RICHARD FEINBERG, OIL AND GAS CONSULTANT: Yes, that the possibilities are much greater than the risk assessments count for.
GRIFFIN: He says it's owned by several major oil companies and even though BP owns the largest share and even though the pipeline's current and former directors are executives on loan from BP, Joynor claims BP is not his boss.
MIKE JOYNOR, V.P. ALYESKA PIPELINE SERVICES CO: We stick to what our core values are. That's safety integrity and environmental protection and protection of a safe workforce.
GRIFFIN: Feinberg disagrees. He says what's going on at pump station number nine and the rest of the 800 mile pipeline is all about saving money and has BP's fingerprints all over it.
Is that wise to cut costs on a pipeline that's 30 some-odd years old, aging?
FEINBERG: I don't think it make as lick of sense.
GRIFFIN: Are you under pressure to cut costs on this pipeline?
JOYNOR: No, we're not under pressure to cut costs.
GRIFFIN: Members of Congress, local Alaska politicians, environmentalists and even oil company insiders tell CNN they just don't buy it. They say this pipeline is controlled by BP. BP wants to cut costs and this aging masterpiece of engineering is at risk because of it.
Drew Griffin, CNN, Fairbanks, Alaska.
MALVEAUX: There's apparently a new setback for lawmakers demanding answers about the release of the Lockerbie bomber and whether BP was involved.
CNN producers are poring over thousands of leaked military logs from Afghanistan. We're going to tell you what if anything the reports reveal about Osama Bin Laden.
And is it in President Obama's political interest to talk more or less about war? Stand by for our Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett panel discussion.
MALVEAUX: Lisa Sylvester is monitoring some of the other top stories that are coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Hey, Lisa. What are you working on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Suzanne. Thursday's hearing looking into whether BP influenced the release of the Lockerbie bomber is being delayed. Ousted BP CEO Tony Hayward decided not to testify. The Libyan intelligence officer convicted of the 1988 Pan Am bombing was set free last year sparking international outrage. The case recently stirred up anger in the United States if the wake of BP's oil spill in the gulf.
Fidel Castro pens a book heralding his leadership in the rebel uprising more than half a century ago. "The Strategic Victory" as the book is called has pictures, illustrations and maps of the 74 day offensive in 1958 that paved the way for the defeat of former dictator Batista. Castro promises another book telling the second half of the rebel war.
This is a real trash to treasure story. A California man has discovered the box of glass plates he bought for just 45 bucks at a garage sale a decade ago are actually original Ansel Adams photographs worth at least $200 million. Experts thought the negatives were destroyed in a dark room fire back in the '30s. Adams is considered the father of American photography.
MALVEAUX: That's a great story. Love it. OK. Thank you, Lisa.
Well, the war in Afghanistan just got even more complicated for President Obama with the leak of tens of thousands of documents. What should the commander in chief do now?
And massive tax cuts set to expire with the potential for huge political and financial fallout. We're going to talk about all that in our strategy session. Donna Brazile and Bill Bennett are standing by.
MALVEAUX: A fellow Democrat land blasts President Obama for his scheduled appearance on ABC's "The View" this week. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says it's good for the president to be accessible but he suggests that it's undignified to appear on what he considers to be a tabloid show. Mr. Obama would be the first president to appear on a daytime talk show.
And in less than 100 days to Election Day we're breaking down some of the country's top races. Today we're going to take a closer look at the U.S. house race in Florida. Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart is running for the seat currently held by his brother in the state's GOP friendly 21st district. With that move the 25th district is up for grabs. A front runner for the Democrats is former Miami Dade County Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia who will likely square off against state Representative David Rivera, the leading Republican candidate.
Now, the leak of thousands of documents about the war in Afghanistan is highlighting the problem the conflict poses for President Obama. Joining us to talk about that and much, much more, our CNN political contributor and Democrat strategist Donna Brazile and CNN contributor Bill Bennett host of the national radio talk show "Morning In America." Thanks for being with us.
Clearly the president here, perhaps on the defensive when he talks about the war in Afghanistan. Here's how -- here's how Michal Allen of Politico put it. He says that ,"Democrats contend that Obama gains nothing by talking about the wars. The left doesn't like to be reminded about them and the right's never going to give him credit, but by doing so little to educate Americans about what we're doing and why, the president contributed to a vacuum that benefited WikiLeaks. Now when Obama gives a big war speech he'll be defending." What do you make of that? Do you think that the president by not talking about the Afghan war somehow contributed to these other sources having greater importance in the discussion? Donna?
DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Well first of all, the president gave a very thorough and comprehensive speech last year at West Point in December. I know that because I had an opportunity to read the speech and CNN gave great coverage. I think president also in replacing General McChrystal with General Petraeus gave another not a speech but at least he talked about the importance of fighting this war. Look, we've been there for nine years. We've lost thousands of troops. Our military men and women have done a heroic job giving their assignment. We've spent over $300 billion. I think it gives us and others on the ground to tell us why we're there. We know the president has promised to give another speech before the end of the year, another assessment. Perhaps we'll learn a little more what we're doing if it's working, if we're capturing, dismantles Taliban and al Qaeda. But it looks like al Qaeda has moved onto other locations and some military experts are saying less than 100 al Qaeda members are still there. I think we need to get a full assessment for the president in the coming months so we can decide whether or not we should continue the mission that we know is under way.
MALVEAUX: Bill, does the president need to be more forceful in going out there and making a case for war?
BILL BENNETT, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: I think he could. These things hurt very much, these massive leaks. As Admiral Mullen said, they're hateful, destructive, and the president doesn't like them. By the way, let me give President Obama credit. He's gone after leakers and he's even going after some of the news media that have done things that are against the law, arguably against the law more aggressively than any president in recent history. It's not much publicized but it's true. He hates these leaks and he should. Any commander in chief would. They endanger our people.
Look I think the president I agree with Donna on this, the speech was good in November. I think he spoke volumes when he replaced McChrystal with David Petraeus. When you put David Petraeus in a position you're saying this is important, this is serious and we need to take it seriously and take it all the way. Yes probably another speech is in order because there is discontent.
Let me say one thing. I very much disagree with in the Politico, and that is the notion that if he does do the right thing, people on the right -- I guess that's me, that's I -- would not salute him. We have, and we will. When the president went for the surge I said it was the right thing. You've heard my comments here about his speech and about the appointment of Petraeus. He will be praised by I think principled conservatives when he does the right thing.
MALVEAUX: Donna, what have we learned from this WikiLeaks document dump over the last 24 hours?
BRAZILE: You know, it reads like a real military novel with all kind of intrigue about civilian deaths, the Pakistani officials, are they with us, the army officials with us, the so-called Afghan government, are they up to the task, are we recruiting enough people, the drones, the IEDs.
MALVEAUX: But the lesson learned?
BRAZILE: You know, I'm starting to read it because I like spy novels. I like war novels. But, Suzanne, I think ultimately I disagree with leaking all of this classified information. It might be old news to some but I still believe as a country it was wrong to leak this information. I would hope that moving forward the president is able to go after those who provided the leaks and that we can learn going forward that we can keep this information in tight control so we can go about our missions and return our troops home.
MALVEAUX: I want to turn the corner if I could on the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire by the end of the year, obviously a very big debate taking place and it will impact mid term elections. We're hearing from a former chief economist U.S. international trades commission Peter Morici who says this about them. He says, "The Bush tax cuts were a huge success and failing to extend those for all Americans, not just families earning less than $250,000 would be a terrible mistake for the president. Soaking the rich may be a good political tactic to deflect public displeasure with the congressional Democrats but it's terrible economic policy." Is he right? Does he have a point here? Bill?
BENNETT: Yes, yes, I think he is right. You have seven years of growth under these cuts. You've seen a number of Democrats come out saying they do not want these tax increases to go forward, and I think the record is very plain that these were successful. Consider it this way. If you're a moderately successful, even very successful employer, if your taxes are raised, are you more likely to hire people or less? You're less likely to hire people. If your tacks are raised, are you more likely to invest in new products or projects? You're less likely to invest not more. That's why a number of Democrats are saying don't let the tax increases take place. You've got a weak recovery now. If these taxes go back up in January, I think this ideological commitment of some people -- and I hope the president is wrestling with it -- will kill an already weak recovery. If they want to go after Bush so much you know on this notion that these taxes decreases were harmful, they'll hurt their own cause very badly. I hope they see this wisdom in letting these tax cuts continue into the future to revive this very weak economy.
BRAZILE: I strongly disagree. I would hope that we allow these tax cuts to expire, that the president put forward a new round of tax incentives that will spur economic growth, create jobs, stabilize our economy, give small businesses the lift they need. But we should not be held hostage just because it has George Bush's name on it or Ronald Reagan or Bill Clinton or whatever. We need a new round of tax incentives that will help spur economic growth. The bottom line is if it doesn't create job and help to strengthen and stabilize our economy, we should let it go.
MALVEAUX: All right. Donna, Bill, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you so much.
BRAZILE: See you, Bill.
BENNETT: OK, all right.
MALVEAUX: We're waiting for a judge to decide if Arizona's tough new immigration law will take effect on Thursday, but there is another crackdown on illegal immigrants that is stirring controversy right now.
Also a Democratic lawmaker says he has found a smoking gun that reveals the true amount of oil leaked into the gulf.
And why is the NFL suddenly so concerned that players may get head injuries?
MALVEAUX: Well, controversy rages over Arizona's anti- immigration law. A federal initiative to identity illegal immigrants by their fingerprints is also drawing criticism including from some local law enforcement officials. Our CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is back, and tell us how it works.
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, the idea is to find the people who are in the country illegally and have committed crimes. To date, Cameron County, Texas, and you see it right here nestled up into the gulf, today, expanded and began to participate in the secure communities program meaning that now every county all along the southwest border is not taking part nationally 451 jurisdictions are participating. That's about one fifth of the booking type ...
MESERVE: But immigration and customs enforcement says that the program is helping to target criminal aliens. Since October of 2008, the agency says that 89,000 people have been identified by this program, as removable. 46,000 of them have actually been removed. Of the 46,000, almost 10,000 are level one offenders which are murders and rapists. 19,000 are level two offenders convicted of robberies and lesser felonies and 5600 were convicted of minor offenses, and more than 12,000 of those deported however had no prior criminal record, but they were in the country illegally.
MALVEAUX: OK. Thank you so much, Jeanne Meserve. Of course, we are following the controversy over Arizona's new illegal immigration crackdown. Our CNN's John King goes one-on-one with Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on "JOHN KING USA" at 7:00 p.m. eastern right here on CNN.
All eyes on Arizona where a federal judge could rule any time now on the state's controversial illegal immigration crackdown days from taking effect.
Plus, the NFL's serious health warning to players, why is it happening now?
MALVEAUX: A small but critical change is taking place in the nation's NFL locker rooms where warnings are being posted ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is there. It has been there for the last year or so, and it is our duty to get it out as soon as it comes out, you know, interpret what is in the medical journals for the player on the ground.
MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The NFL has come under increasing pressure in recent years as retired players go public with the stories. One of them, former New England Patriot linebacker Ted Johnson told CNN in 2009 after his retirement, he found it difficult to leave his house for two years. He has been treated for problems linked to head injuries he suffered and by his count he suffered several documented concussions and more than 100 mild ones.
TED JOHNSON, FORMER NFL LINEBACKER: When I played football I know I have torn both biceps and broken shoulders, and I know the dangers out there from that aspect, but I didn't know what I was doing to my brain every time I was getting a concussion over and over and over again, and I didn't know long-term effects.
SNOW: Congress has focused its attention on the issue with the NFL commissioner testifying last October. A key congressional critic Democrat Anthony Weiner says the NFL's new warnings are a step in the right direction after what he calls a sordid past.
REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: I think to some degree they saw the players as expendable, and it was more important to get an injured player back on the field than it was to try to preserve their long-term prospects for having a good head on their shoulders. That's unfortunate. Now I think the NFL realizes they have a problem. I think they have started to change the approach, but they are not there 100 percent.
SNOW: Part of the NFL's message to its players is that young athletes are taking their cue from them. And the NFL commissioner has made a push in 44 states to enact a law that would require young athletes to be pulled from the field if they are suspected of having a concussion. They would not be allowed to return until they are checked and cleared by a licensed health care professional -- Suzanne.
MALVEAUX: Thanks, Mary.