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Ex-NASA Chief Survives Plane Crash; Former Senator Ted Stevens Dead; Fed Warns Recovery is Weakening; Flight Attendant's Dramatic Exit; President Vows Jobs Will be Saved

Aired August 10, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Rick.

Happening now, we're continuing to follow the breaking news. The former senator, Ted Stevens, dies in a private plane crash. This hour, the latest on the investigation in a remote section of Alaska and a profile of a Republican who helped build up the 49th state until a corruption brought his career down.

Also on that doomed plane, the former NASA chief, Sean O'Keefe. We just received confirmation O'Keefe and his son have survived.

And will another sitting U.S. senator be ousted in a primary today?

Stand by for a blockbuster day in election 2010, with new political tests for President Obama, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Well, we begin this hour with the breaking news, a deadly small plane crash in Alaska ends very differently for the two prominent men on board. We just learned that former NASA chief, Sean O'Keefe, is alive. O'Keefe and his son Kevin survived the crash that killed former Senator Ted Stevens.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is looking at what's going on following the investigation.

What are we learning?

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's way too early to pinpoint a cause. But weather is sure to be looked at. Even now, bad weather and rugged terrain are complicating the emergency response.

At this point, Alaska officials are confirming that their former senator, Ted Stevens, and four others died. Four other people survived and are being transported to Anchorage for medical treatment.

Among the survivors, former NASA administrator, Sean O'Keefe, and his son, Kevin, according to O'Keefe's current employer. The plane, this de Havilland DHC-3, was flying from Lake Nerka to go to a fishing camp on the Nushagak River. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, it took off at around 2:00 p.m. during the afternoon. Radio contact was lost. An alert was put out, asking other aviators to keep an eye out. And at about 7:00, the wreckage was spotted north of Dillingham. State officials say it's in a mountainous area on a 40 degree slope. Conditions were so difficult, the official rescue party wasn't able to reach the location until this morning. Even then, it was challenging.


MAJ. GEN. GUY HAYES, ALASKA NATIONAL GUARD: The weather conditions when they landed was about a quarter mile visibility. We've had a lot of -- a lot of wind, a lot of low cloud cover. So it's been pretty difficult to get into the -- into the area. It took them roughly about 12 hours, I think, from when the plane was spotted by Good Samaritans until we got there on scene.


MESERVE: The National Transportation Safety Board has dispatched a team to investigate the cause of the crash and is scheduled to hold a press conference this evening. Senator Stevens was in another plane crash in 1978. His first wife was killed, but he survived. This time, obviously, he was not so lucky. This afternoon, the governor of Alaska, Sean Parnell, paid tribute, saying Stevens stood for Alaska, fought for Alaska, quote, "he was a lion who retreated before nothing" -- Wolf.

BLITZER: It's obviously too early to know the exact cause of this crash.

But what are investigators likely to be looking?

MESERVE: Well, certainly the weather. There were reports of fog, rain, limited visibility. It's always hazardous to fly in Alaska, experts tell me, because of the rugged terrain, because of the changeable weather. They're going to be looking at factors like that. Certainly, they'll look at the aircraft. They'll look at the possibility of pilot error. At this point, way too early to draw any conclusions at all.

BLITZER: Usually, these investigations take months to come up with a final cause.

MESERVE: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jeanne.

President Obama says Ted Steve Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska. And Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, says no one man has ever done more for one state in the history of this country. Over his long career, Ted Stevens experienced the heights of political power, until he was convicted for corruption and it all slipped away. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER (voice-over): The State of Alaska was just sort of being nine years old when it sent Ted Stevens to the U.S. Senate.

TED STEVENS (R), ALASKA: Many people doubted whether Alaska had what it took to be a successful state.

BLITZER: Oil had just been discovered in many Prudhoe Bay, along Alaska's Arctic Coast. But there was no easy way to get it to the rest of America.

Stevens pushed Congress to authorize an 800 mile pipeline to the ice-free port of Valdez.

STEVENS: That act drastically improved America's energy and secured the economic future of Alaska.

BLITZER: That pipeline was just the beginning. In the decades that followed, Stevens funded billions of federal dollars to his home state -- money that helped build modern day Alaska. Critics called it pork. But the state legislature hailed Stevens as "the Alaskan of the century" and voters reelected him again and again. And by 2007, he was the longest serving Republican senator in Alaskan history.

Alaska's very much junior senator noted the milestone on the Senate floor.


SEN. LISA MURKOWSKI (R), ALASKA: As we move forward to advance the interests of the State of Alaska, I know that I have you to work with together for years to come.

BLITZER: Ironically, Stevens' career began to unravel just one year later. A federal grand jury accused him of concealing gifts, mostly the renovations to a chalet he owned outside Anchorage. Stevens asked for a quick trial, hoping for an acquittal before the 2008 election.

STEVENS: I'm innocent of the charges against me and I think the trial will show that.

BLITZER: He got the quick trial, but it ended with a conviction. Stevens continued his reelection bid anyway.

STEVENS: My future is in God's happened. The future of Alaska, however, is in your hands.

BLITZER: On election night, the results were too close to call. It took weeks to determine the winner. But one day after his 85th birthday, Stevens conceded defeat. In his final Senate address after 40 years of service, Stevens predicted he eventually would be cleared of wrongdoing.

STEVENS: I look only forward and I still see the day when I can remove the cloud that currently surrounds me.

BLITZER: His political career was over. But Stevens never went to jail. Just months after he left the Senate, a judge dismissed his conviction, citing prosecution misconduct.


BLITZER: Ted Stevens served as a fighter pilot in World War II, but he acknowledged decades ago that flying around in his campaign frightened him. He told "The Washington Post" was all too aware that plane crashes are an occupational hazard of serving in Alaskan politics.

We're going to have much later on this breaking news story coming up, including we'll also have a little profile of the former NASA chief and crash survivor, Sean O'Keefe. He earned praise from astronauts as a natural leader.

Much more on this story.

President Obama is vowing thousands of lay-offs will, in fact, be prevented.

And now that House Democrats have pushed through a jobs bill, can he make good on that promise?

Also, a new delay in the Gulf -- just when the final solution to the massive oil leak is in sight.

And what's next for the flight attendant who was so fed up, he didn't walk away from his job, he slid down the escape chute?

Stay with us.



BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is here with The Cafferty File -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Mid-term elections are shaping up to be an uphill battle for Democrats. And here's just one reason why. Presidents who keep their approval rating above 50 percent traditionally see their party lose many fewer seats in Congress than presidents with lower approval ratings.

That makes sense, right?

According to Gallup, the average mid-term election seat loss for presidents below 50 percent approval, 36 seats in the House of Representatives. That compares to an average loss of just 14 seats for presidents who get higher marks.

The Republicans need 40 seats to retake control of the House of Representatives. Pretty close to that average of 36. None of this is good news for President Obama and the Democrats. Not only is Mr. Obama below 50 percent, in some of the polls, he's approaching 40 percent.

Some Democrats for election -- who are running for election have already figured this out and when President Obama comes to town, they leave. Yesterday in Texas, the Democratic candidate for governor, Bill White, nowhere in sight when President Obama came to Austin and Dallas for fundraisers. The week before it was Georgia. Another Democratic candidate for governor, Roy Barnes, decided not to appear with the president.

The White House says they're not taking any of this personally, saying it doesn't say anything broadly about the president's coattails. They say there's never been a president who's been wanted by every single candidate around the country to campaign for them, which is sort of what you'd expect them to say, right?

Here's the question -- why don't some Democratic candidates want to be seen with President Obama?

Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.

A new warning today from the Federal Reserve Board that the economic recovery is weakening. The Fed held steady in interest rates, but it said it will use proceeds from its investments on mortgage bonds to buy government debt. That move could help tamp down some long-term rates. It also sends a message about where the economy may be heading and what the Fed may be doing next.

Let's bring in our senior political analyst, David Gergen -- David, it looks like, at least on this day, the Fed had a vote of no confidence in this economic recovery.

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Well, it certainly was a vote that said we're losing confidence and that -- that we -- we see an economy that's sagging and we want to help and we're going to help modestly now. But this, very importantly, sent a signal that if things continue to weaken, they would help much more aggressively in the fall.

BLITZER: The administration has got a big problem now. Obviously, it's got to start getting some real jobs created. Modest numbers simply are not going to do the trick in terms of turning around public attitudes.

GERGEN: Oh, that's exactly right, Wolf. And there are not many, you know, arrows left in the quiver. You know, normally, a -- a president can do three things. He can ask the Congress -- and try to create jobs. He can ask Congress to spend money or cut taxes. And this Congress is now balking at spending much more money or -- you know, or doing much on the tax front. So he can't look to fiscal stimulus.

He can look to the Fed to cut interest rates, but they've been practically zero now since December of 2008.

Or he can ask the Fed or the -- the Fed on its own, as it was looking at today, and move to put more money into the system.

And the what -- it's that third area where the Fed has started to move modestly. But it's not a lot.

And so there's not much the president can do.

He's in a -- you know, he has to hope that the wheels just start moving more rapidly. And there's no sign of that.

So we're in a tough situation right now.

BLITZER: Can the Democrats make some inroads by using this argument, you know what, it would have been a whole lot worse if we hadn't done what we did do?

GERGEN: It hasn't worked in past campaigns. I think they'd be far better off to be exploring, are there some unusual, unorthodox, new, innovative ways that we could be creating some jobs?

The columnist for "The Wall Street Journal" had a -- a set of those this week, saying, well, there are some people out there who've got some ideas. I -- we've mentioned before that Bill Clinton has got some ideas about creating green jobs through -- through retrofitting buildings.

So there are some things to be doing. But, Wolf, to come back to what the Fed was doing today, they're trying to pump -- pump more money and keep the money in the economy -- keep more money out there. But there is an argument from many economists, the problem is not whether there's enough money out there. As -- as we've talked about, corporations and banks are sitting on a huge amount of money. Some people are saying up to $2 trillion that corporations are sitting on. They're not investing it. They're not loaning the money out because the CEOs say there's too much uncertainty about what Washington is going to do to us next, what they're going do through taxes or regulation or whatever.

Somehow, we have got -- the president has got to crack this nut so that business has more confidence in Washington and business thinks Washington is going to be more supportive in order to get these wheels moving on this economy.

BLITZER: And right now, what you're saying is big business doesn't necessarily have that confidence in what the federal government is doing?

GERGEN: No, they don't. And -- and, Wolf, what they say now, there -- there are people who -- you know, this a matter of dispute, as all things are in politics these days. There is some dispute about this. But if you talk -- and you -- you've talked to the business community. One businessperson after another will say, I am not investing right now because I don't know what's coming out of Washington next. I don't know what my taxes are going to be, I don't know what my regulations are going to be. That's -- I don't know what -- you know, what -- what hostility is going to be shown there. I can see my dividend taxes going up. I can see, you know, taxes on -- on -- capital gains taxes going up. I can see taxes going up on my -- on my own personal life, on my -- you know, my estate, all these kind of -- there's too much uncertainty. It pertains especially to the health industry. It pertains to the energy industry. And, yes, it pertains to the financial industry.

BLITZER: David Gergen, thanks very much.

GERGEN: Thank you.

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news right now -- the former NASA chief, Sean O'Keefe, and his son do survive that deadly plane crash that's taken the life of the former senator, Ted Stevens, of Alaska. We're going to have the latest, including our first live report from Anchorage. That's coming up.

And a new twist in the desperate hunt for two fugitives -- why the attorney general is now warning that the risk for more prison breaks has gotten -- and I'm quoting him now -- "much, much higher."


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

What do you have -- Lisa?


Well, high winds and rough seas have put a hold on drilling the last section of a relief well in the Gulf. The Gulf Coast is preparing for a tropical storm that could produce a cyclone. The work will be delayed by two or three days, when BP will begin the "bottom kill" to cement the well. But the drilling equipment will stay in place until the storm passes.

And the House approves $600 million in emergency funding to secure the border. The bipartisan bill pays for 1,500 new agents, as well as unmanned aircraft and communications equipment used for US/Mexican border security. The Senate must now vote on the bill before the president can sign it. It's partially funded by making personnel companies pay higher fees to bring foreign workers into the country.

And the Arizona fugitives on the run with nothing to lose -- authorities are hunting for John McCluskey and Casslyn Welch, who they believe are in Montana or even Canada by now. Welch is accused of helping McCluskey and two other men escape prison over a week. Police fear that with little to live on, they may rob or even kill to continue their getaway -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We'll stay on top of that story.

Thanks, Lisa. Support online is now mounting for a JetBlue flight attendant who abruptly ended his career by swearing at a disgruntled passenger, then triggering the plane's escape chute to exit the aircraft.

Our senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, is monitoring this story for us -- Allan, what's the latest?

ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this flight attendant, Steven Slater, has certainly gone viral. His Facebook page has been gaining thousands of fans by the hour. It's now about 40,000. And the free Steven Slater Facebook page has more than 11,000 fans.

Now, Slater, at the moment, is out of jail in the South Bronx. That after appearing in court today to face felony charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief. He'll need to post bail of $2,500. And his lawyer says Slater will do so.

All this after yesterday afternoon's incident in which he suffered a bruise on the head during an altercation with a passenger who also cursed him. He responded by getting on the plane's public address system, cursing the passenger. He then activated the emergency slide, grabbed his luggage, a few beers and slid on down.


HOWARD TURMAN, STEVEN SLATER'S ATTORNEY: So we've got a bunk bed, you know, (INAUDIBLE). What really is going on here is airline civility is missing. People just don't have courtesy to one another. He's been on the airline industry since he was 19 and people just aren't polite.

Well, if you travel, aren't you aware of how rude people are?

How many people would just (INAUDIBLE) lights, shove their luggage, put it over their head?


CHERNOFF: The lawyer adds that Mr. Slater has been dealing with extra stress away from work, since he's been caring for his mom, who is fighting cancer. Mr. Slater's actions landed him in hot water. But, Wolf, I can't help thinking that perhaps a reality TV show now may be in his future -- Wolf.


What a strange story this has been and there's probably more to come.

All right, thanks very much, Allan.

We're following the breaking news here in THE SITUATION ROOM, a deadly plane crash in Alaska that killed former U.S. senator, Ted Stevens.

How did other passengers, including the former NASA chief, Sean O'Keefe, manage to survive?

We have a reporter on the ground in Alaska right now. We're going there.

Also, will anti-incumbent fever break out in Colorado?

We're following a major day in this mid-term election -- a Senate primary that's rough. And the tumble is significant for both parties.

And the embattled Democratic congressman, Charlie Rangel, challenges lawmakers to kick him out of Congress.


BLITZER: Breaking news -- we're learning that former NASA chief, Sean O'Keefe, and his son, are among the four who managed to survive a deadly plane crash in Alaska. But the wreck has claimed the lives of five others, including former senator, Ted Stevens, the longest serving Republican in the U.S. Senate. We're going to bring you updates on this developing story, including our first live report from Anchorage. Casey Wian is standing by. Stand by for that.

Meanwhile, Democrats got what they wanted out of a surprise summer callback from members of Congress. A $26 billion jobs bill now is heading to President Obama's desk. It's designed to protect 300,000 teachers and other nonfederal government workers from election year lay-offs. The House approved the measure just a little while ago. Most Republicans voted against it, prompting this slap from President Obama.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This should not be a partisan issue. I heard the Republican leader in the House say the other day that this is a special interest bill. And I suppose if America's children and the safety of our communities are your special interest, then it is a special interest bill.


BLITZER: Let's bring in our senior White House correspondent, Ed Henry.

He's over at the White House.

The president really swinging against the Republicans today, Ed, meaning hundreds of thousands of jobs are going to be saved as a result of what the House of Representatives did today.

Could he back that up?

ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the big question Republicans are asking right now, Wolf. And, you know, the White House believes -- they're very optimistic this is going to give a shot in the arm to some of these very desperate states, basically, $16 billion in Medicaid funding; as you mentioned, about $10 billion to help teachers. They think it will stave off lay-offs of about 138,000.

But the president went a little further in the Rose Garden and claimed that all told, this would help save hundreds of thousands of jobs. Their predictions have been wrong in the past, so I pressed Bill Burton, the White House spokesman who was briefing today, on whether they can really back it up.


HENRY: How can you back up the claim that hundreds of thousands of people are going to be at their jobs?

BILL BURTON, WHITE HOUSE DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY: Well, obviously, we have some of best economists in the world working at this White House. And they've taken a hard look at the numbers. They've taken a hard look at state by state, what the states need in order to avoid some of these drastic cuts that would take teachers out of our classrooms and take cops and firefighters off our streets. And they're confident that those numbers are accurate.

HENRY: Didn't those same White House economists say about the stimulus, if it passed, it would bring unemployment down to 7.5, 8 percent?

BURTON: Those same economists were saying a lot of things that economists all over the country were saying at that same time. And that was a point at which not many people knew the extent of the damage that was done to the economy or the -- how deep the hole was going to get.

But we've been able to make a lot of progress since then.


HENRY: So White House aides basically feel like while the stimulus was not perfect, it maybe helped stave off a depression, a much worse recession than we've already seen. And they feel that while this bill may not be perfect, it's also, you know, basically, every little bit helps right now, given this very uncertain job market -- Wolf.

BLITZER: How long will it take for the money to actually get to the states?

HENRY: Well, they're hoping to inject it right away. The president, in fact, is signing it as we speak right now, here at the White House, because Speaker Nancy Pelosi rushed it over here, so they can try to get this money out as quickly as possible.

Meanwhile, are lawmakers already racing out of town. We've got some pictures of them heading out for their August recess. You'll remember, the speaker called the House back to get this passed.

What this means now that they're going on this month long recess is that basically until early September, there's really nothing else that the Congress is going to be able to do to try and create some jobs or save jobs. So this is the last little bit they can do, say, before Labor Day. And, obviously, that's closer and closer to those mid-term elections, where Democrats are very nervous that because of this jobs picture, they're going to take it on the chin -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic congressman who is one of the leaders on the Democratic side, he's going to be joining us in the next hour.

Thanks very much, Ed, for that

This is one of the biggest days in the 2010 election in months. It has it all, including another incumbent U.S. senator in peril and a proxy war between some of the top names in politics.

In Georgia, for example, the biggest influences in the runoff for the GOP governor's nomination are not on the ballot. Sarah Palin and Mitt Romney backed former secretary of state, Karen Handel. Newt Gingrich and Mike Huckabee, on the other hand, support Congressman Nathan Deal.

In Connecticut, polls suggest former wrestling mogul, Linda McMahon, will win the Republican senate primary. She faces former congressman, Rob Simmons, and businessman, Peter Schiff. McMahon ran World Wrestling Entertainment with her husband, Vince McMahon, until she announced her candidacy last year.

In Colorado, a new test of the Tea Party movement in the Republican race for mayor. Tea Party favorite and first time candidate, Dan Maes, has gained ground against the one time frontrunner, Congressman Scott McInnis. McInnis was tapped -- tripped up, I should say, by allegations of plagiarism. The Colorado senate primary may be the most thrilling race to watch. Democratic Senator Michael Bennett is fighting to hold onto his seat with the support of President Obama. Bennett faces former state house speaker, Andrew Romanoff, who has his own big name supporter. We're talking about Bill Clinton.

For the Republican side of the Colorado senate race, let's go to our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin.

She's watching all of this unfold.

Tell us about this Republican contest -- Jessica.

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf it has been a fierce one. In the Republican race it is Jane Norton former lieutenant governor versus Ken Buck, county prosecutor. Norton has the backing of John McCain and Republican leaders from Washington and her opponent has tried to cast her because of those associations as a Washington insider. That seems to be the worst thing you can call anybody in Colorado running for office these days. Ken Buck on the other hand is the sitting county prosecutor and he has the support of tea party activists in this state. Some of the issues that have come up in this race, the social security program has been called a Ponzi scheme. There's been talk about ending the department of education and fully privatizing social security altogether but the one of the reasons this has gotten national attention is because gender was injected into this race. Jane Norton, the woman in this race, ran an ad against Ken Buck where she said he's not man enough because he let an outside group run ads on his behalf. He hit back at an event saying voters should go for him because he doesn't wear high heels. He laughed about it. Jane Norton didn't laugh. She made it a campaign issue and I asked both the candidates about why gender has played a role here.


KEN BUCK (R), COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE: Talked a number of times about the fact that people should vote for her because she's a girl, they should vote for her because she has high heels, they should vote for her because she'd be the first female senator in the history of the state and then she ran a commercial which said Ken Buck should be man enough to do x, y, and z. I was asked about that. I said look, I don't wear high heels. I'm man enough. I don't wear high heels. I wear boots and the boots have B.S. on them and it's not like D.C. where the B.S. is on the inside.

JANE NORTON (R), COLORADO SENATE CANDIDATE: Well I thought it was so dismissive. Come on. I mean don't vote for me because, you know, I don't - I mean vote for me because I don't wear high heels? Let's talk about the issues. It's not gender (ph). It's agenda. We have real differences when it comes to our positions. Let's talk about jobs, economy, stopping spending.


YELLIN: Wolf, as you can see it's become fairly petty and mean here in Colorado.

BLITZER: You've been following all of these Democratic and Republican contests out in Colorado, Jessica. Any common threads you're picking up?

YELLIN: Absolutely, Wolf. I've been struck by the extent to which Washington is being cast as the evil on both sides of the aisle here in a way I have never seen before. Michael Bennett, the sitting Democratic senator who was appointed to his seat, has only been in Washington less than two years, is being called a Washington insider basically because he's served in the Senate which everyone running wants to do. Then on the other side you see, as I reported, Jane Norton being called the insider because she has the support of John McCain. It's basically as if you've taken a flight to Washington, D.C. and spent some time there, somehow you're dirty, you're part of special interest, you're a corporatist. The bottom line here I think it reflects the degree to which Americans here at least are really losing faith in the system and politicians are running on that, trying to capture that mood.

BLITZER: Good point. Thank you very much. Jessica is watching all of this in Colorado.

The embattled Democratic Congressman Charlie Rangel has angry warning for his colleagues in the House of Representatives. Why he says, and I'm quoting him now, I'm not going away.

Plus, he almost became Sarah Palin's son-in-law. Now he may be following in her footsteps. The details of Levi Johnston's latest political endeavor, that's coming up.


BLITZER: Let's get back to Lisa. She's monitoring some of the other top political stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now. What else is going on?

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, on our political ticker, embattled Congressman Charlie Rangel says if fellow lawmakers want him to leave, well, they're going to have to kick him out. The veteran New York Democrat made a surprise appearance on the house floor to talk about the 13 ethics committee charges against him. He insisted he's not corrupt and he refused to resign to help Democrats avoid teams in this election year. Rangel urged the ethics committee to set a trial date so he's not left hanging as the midterm vote gets closer.


REP. CHARLIE RANGEL (D), NEW YORK: All I'm saying is if it is the judgment of people here for whatever reason that I resign, then, heck, have the ethics committee expedite this. Don't leave me swinging in the wind until November. If this is an emergency and I think it is to help our local and state governments out, what about me? I don't want anyone to feel embarrassed or awkward. Hey, if I was you, I may want me to go away too. I am not going away.


SYLVESTER: Congresswoman Maxine Waters also is speaking out about the ethics charges against her saying she will not be a sacrificial lamb. The California Democrat is accused of helping to steer federal bailout money to a bank where her husband was a shareholder. In a radio interview today, Waters told CNN contributor Roland Martin she won't cut a deal to spare her party political embarrassment.


REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: What I'm saying is no, I'm not guilty of any violation and if you're going to wrap this all around creating these violations because I failed to supervise my staff, it doesn't hold water. They don't have any proof of that and I maintain that I want to go to trial, or whatever they want to call it, adjudicatory hearing, because I don't think I deserve it.


SYLVESTER: Waters says she wants to go to trial before the November election but she doesn't think the ethics panel will grant her request. And the father of Sarah Palin's grandchild is apparently following in her political footsteps. Levi Johnston has announced plans to run for Palin's former job as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, and he wants do this all on camera. An entertainment company confirms that the pilot for a reality TV show is already shooting and being shot for several networks. Johnston says he's also considering a seat on the city council between now and the 2012 mayoral elections. For the folks who thought he would kind of go away, he's still around, still seeking the spotlight, Wolf.

BLITZER: Certainly is. Not going any where. All right. Thanks very much Lisa.

The white house press secretary Robert Gibbs has suggested those on the left who compare President Obama to former President George W. Bush ought to be, quote, drug tested. Did he go too far?

And it's being called a huge advance in medical science, the details of a new test that can predict Alzheimer's disease.


BLITZER: Let's get right to our strategy session. Joining us now, our CNN political contributors, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile and Republican strategist, Alex Castellanos. Guys, thanks very much for coming in. Alex, let me start with you. Primary day, Republican contest, we see the tea party movement very active, in terms of going forward in a general election, these tea party backed candidates, are they in a more tenuous situation than more mainstream Republican shall we say moderate candidates? In other words is the tea party movement going to help win Republican elections in November?

ALEX CASTELLANOS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: It's a plus and a minus. There are places like Nevada, for example, that look tough for Republicans because there are concerns that the tea party candidate is not close enough to the mainstream. And it may help re-elect a very vulnerable Democrat Harry Reid. But on the other hand if you look at the big picture overall, the energy of that tea party movement and their concern that they share with independents and Republicans that Washington's out of control, spending too much, they think they can do anything they want and we have an obligation this election to do something about it, that concern is a plus for Republicans. It's created an intensity gap. If you ask the voters, McCain voters in swing states how interested are you in voting this election, 80 percent plus say they're very interested. Obama voters from last time, only 64, 66 percent say they're very interested. That's part of the spirit captured by the tea party.

BLITZER: That's a significant development going into a midterm election, Donna, because voter turnout is significant. You really have to get people motivated and these tea party activists, they are motivated. They're going to go out and vote whereas at least right now a lot of Democrats are saying they're not necessarily going to bother and vote.

DONNA BRAZILE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: Wolf, this is not the first time I've seen an enthusiasm gap among Democrats. Even back in 2000 when I ran Al Gore's campaign we had an enthusiasm gap and at the end of the day we won the popularity vote. Look I do believe that the tea party has energized the Republican Party. They have given them some energy to come out of the wellness but there's still no competence going forward. The American people I still believe are looking for solutions, they're looking for a way forward and I don't believe that the tea party or the candidates will give most voters what they desire in congress or the federal government.

BLITZER: And just to get back to that one point you were making, Sharron Angle in Nevada, she's not necessarily by any means a slam dunk to defeat Harry Reid. He could win the contest even though there's a lot of unpopularity, isn't that right, Alex?

CASTELLANOS: It looks like a close race right now and surveys seem to be giving Senator Reid an edge right and that was considered a fairly certain Republican pickup earlier.

BLITZER: Is the same true in Kentucky where Rand Paul, the tea party backed candidate, is in a close race with the Democrat?

CASTELLANOS: No. There's a race where it looks like the tea party candidate Rand Paul is actually still ahead of the Democrat even though he's had several missteps in the race. So it depends where you are. In a few states it seems to be a liability in the candidate but you know that happens on both sides. This year's a year where the establishment candidates are being challenged by outsiders. You saw that in Arkansas. Democrat Blanche Lincoln was challenged from her left. You're seeing some Republicans challenged from their right.

BLITZER: Let's move on and talk about --

BRAZILE: OK. I was going to say Rand Paul is in a lot of trouble. He needs to explain what happened at Bail University. I was intrigued by the story of this woman and I would hope that he's a candidate for the United States Senate. He should explain to the voters in Kentucky exactly what occurred so many years ago.

BLITZER: He was just on Fox News, by the way, about an hour or so and he denied that story that just came out. He said it's simply not true. All right. Let's move on and talk about Robert Gibbs right now, Donna, and I want you to react. Gibbs got himself into a little trouble, Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison going so far as to suggest maybe Robert Gibbs should resign as the White House press secretary all as a result of what he told the Hill, a newspaper on Capitol Hill, these words. "I hear people saying he," referring to President Obama," he's like George W. Bush. Those people ought to be drug tested. The professional left will be satisfied when we have Canadian health care and we've eliminated the pentagon. That's not reality. They wouldn't be satisfied if Dennis Kucinich was president." Gibbs now has clarified those remarks saying this and I'll read them to you. This is what he told Huffington Post. "What I may have said inartfully, let me say this way, since coming to office in January 2009, this white house and Congress have worked tirelessly to put our country back on the right path. We should all, me included, stop fighting each other and arguing about our differences on certain policies and instead work together to make sure everyone knows what is at stake because we've come too far to turn back now." How worried are you Donna that the far left is going to sit on its hands and not necessarily support Democrats because they are disappointed that President Obama has been too mainstream, too moderate for their liking?

BRAZILE: First of all, Wolf, I don't subscribe to the notion that we should take anyone the Democratic Party, independents anyone else for granted. So I would hope that before I left, the middle and everyone else included in the Democratic Party because we have a big tent, I would hope they would accept Mr. Gibbs' apology, I know I'd accept his apology and let's move forward. President Obama has done a great deal to help the American people. He's gotten this economy at least headed in the right direction. We're not doing as well as we should do, but people should really take a step back and stock arguing with each other and I'm talking about the right as well and just look at some of the results.

BLITZER: Do you like the circling firing squad going on in the Democratic Party, Alex?

CASTELLANOS: It's interesting to watch. You know you work long hours in the white house and you get so tired that occasionally you blurt out the politically incorrect truth. Poor old Robert Gibbs. How do you alienate both the left and the right? George Bush did do it. He spent too much for the right and he had an unpopular war with the left. Obama has turned that on its head. He spending too much for the center and the right and he's got an unpopular war on the left. The same thing is now happening to Obama that happened to Bush. But their real problem is almost a sense of privilege and leadism and that they have such noble purposes they don't have to listen to people and they can tell people what to do. They tell the left, hey, we know what's best about same-sex marriage. We know what's best about Guantanamo. We know what's best about health care. You don't get a public option. They tell the right, we know you're worried about the economy. Don't worry about it. Leave it to us. We're going to spend more than you think.

BLITZER: Alex, Alex, Alex, you're filibustering.

BLITZER: Go ahead, Donna.

BRAZILE: Alex, you're filibustering. The problem is that many on the left believe that the president is willing to talk to those on the right but the right will not talk and work with this president. They believe he's been wasting his time. So Alex, that's the real indictment that many on the left feel about the president and the administration is they should be willing to work with those who work and not just the other side who want to put up a brick wall.

BLITZER: I suspect the bigger problem the president may face from the left in the weeks and months to come involve Iraq and Afghanistan more than some of these domestic-related issues because increasingly on the Democratic left there's annoyance, shall we say, with what's going on in Afghanistan and Iraq for that matter. All right, guys. Thanks very much. Okay. Armed and dangerous and on the loose. The ongoing manhunt for a prison escapee is causing fear and a good deal of political fallout.

And the oil has stopped gushing, so why have so many sea turtles been found in recent days covered in oil? We are investigating.

And you will want to join us tomorrow, by the way, when I speak to the president's national security adviser, Retired U.S. Marine Corps General James Jones. He'll be here in THE SITUATION ROOM tomorrow.


BLITZER: Let's go back to Jack. He has the Cafferty file. Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Question this hour is why don't some Democratic candidates want to be seen with President Obama?

Bob writes, "They are aware that the public is disappointed and discouraged that the president has not delivered on his major campaign promises. It is probably unrealistic to expect a complete turn around on the economy in just 18 months, but the other biggies, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo could have been done on day one with a stroke of a pen, and instead, we get a new version of mission accomplished with 30,000 to 50,000 troops still getting shot at and nobody moved out of Guantanamo. Another illusion shattered."

Alex writes, "Political expediency is the name of the game. People who are not term limited will always be governed by images if they want to keep their jobs, regardless if the president is doing his job correctly or not. If a constituency doesn't like them, the politicians will stay away."

Mike in New York writes, "Simple, they realize that pointing a finger at Bush is not going to win any votes this time around and for some reason, instead of selling the public on what he has done, the president continues to point that finger of his."

Jason writes, "As far as I can tell Democrats are avoiding the president because they are too focused on party concerns rather than the concerns of the nation. I see the president acting in what he believes is the best interest of this country. When I voted for him in 2008, I was voting for a man I believed in, and I still do. I didn't vote for the Democratic Party. I will never vote for any party."

Bill says, "Because the president's very unpopular in some areas of the U.S., politically, it is the kiss of death to be associated with him."

Connie in Tennessee says, "Those are the blue dog Democrats. They were never really Democrats in the first place. They don't have interest of the people at heart, only self-interests."

And Jamie of Florida writes, "Because they don't want to be unemployed like the people they represent."

If you want to read more on the subject, you'll find it on my blog at

BLITZER: Will do Jack thank you, Jack Cafferty with the Cafferty file.

We are monitoring the breaking news. Just head, our first live report from Alaska on that deadly plane crash. Casey Wian is standing by in Anchorage.

And we're learning more about the weather conditions when the plane went down. CNN's Chad Myers is standing by with details.


BLITZER: It has been weeks since there has been any oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico, and despite that, the spills affect on the wildlife in the region is still being felt. Our Lisa Sylvester is monitoring the growing number of sea turtles now being found. What is going on here, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: Well, Wolf, a total of 517 turtles have been found dead in Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and Mississippi, since the April 20th BP spill. Another 503 oil turtles have been rescued alive and rescue crews have been going out daily trying to save as many turtles as possible.


SYLVESTER: The oil has stopped gushing, but parts of the gulf habitat are not safe for many sea turtles. Scientists continue to collect turtles oiled by the gulf spill and the numbers are increasing.

BARBARA SCHROEDER, NOAA NATL. MARINE FISHERIES SERVICE: Once they're cleaned, some of them require multiple cleanings to get all of the oil off especially the heavily oiled ones.

SYLVESTER: According to the Deepwater Horizon wildlife reports, in the first three and a half months after the oil spill, 236 visibly oiled turtles were found alive and compare that to last ten days when nearly as many, 204 oiled sea turtles have been collected alive. Experts say that the reason for the spike is more boats are now out looking for them.

SCHROEDER: We had perfect conditions offshore for the kind of work we are doing, so when those conditions are near perfect, which they have been, that enables the crews to be very effective in finding and capturing turtles.

SYLVESTER: The turtles being found now have oil on them, but they are not drenched as they were in late July. Still, oil can burn the turtle's skin and eyes and if ingested can cause kidney and lung problems. Some of the turtles are being housed and nursed back to health at the New Orleans Audubon Nature Institute. The prospect for survival, pretty good.

BLAIR WITHERTON, FLORIDA FISH & WILDLIFE COMMISSION: Turtles that were barely recognizable as turtles, many of those have been cleaned up and they look and act just like normal wild turtles that we see out there.

SYLVESTER: Once they get a clean bill of health, they will be released back into the wild.


SYLVESTER: The rescue and rehabilitation for each turtle at the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans costs about $5,000. That's for equipment, medication, supplies and best services and keep in mind that's for each turtle. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right Lisa thank you.