Return to Transcripts main page


How Much Oil is in the Gulf?; Fighting Afghan Corruption; Health Care Could Hurt Dems; Arizona Fugitives Captured

Aired August 20, 2010 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, HOST: All right, Don.

Thank you.

Happening now, scientists are raising red flags about the amount of oil still tainting the Gulf of Mexico.

Have federal officials gotten their numbers wrong?

I'll ask the incident commander, Thad Allen. He's here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll talk about the discrepancies.

Also, the Obama administration opens the door to new direct face- to-face talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Now the scramble is on to try to reach a peace agreement before Iran goes nuclear.

And skills -- skulls and bones discovered in a place time forgot.

Were they victims of disease or a mass murderer?

Investigators are trying to solve this 178-year-old mystery.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


New questions are being raised about the lingering effects of the worst oil spill in U.S. history and whether federal officials are being a little too quick to declare that the disaster is mostly over.

CNN's Kate Bolduan has been looking into conflicting figures for us.

She's got more on what's going on.

What is going on -- Kate?

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: OK. Well, Wolf, the well is capped. We know that. And we are told it will soon be killed officially. But big questions do still remain about how much oil is out there and what the short and long-term impact really is. It turns out there's no easy answer, so far.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BOLDUAN: (voice-over): So where has all the oil gone?

Well, it seems that depends on who's talking. According to the government, about three quarters of the oil is effectively gone.

ADM. THAD ALLEN, NATIONAL INCIDENT COMMANDER: What is left is 26 percent of the 4.9 million barrels.

Now is that completely accurate?

No. It is the -- it's based on the estimates as defined in the oil budget, as a purpose to establish a baseline to try and get a better estimate moving forward.

BOLDUAN: But some scientists have reached far different conclusions.

Is the Obama administration painting too rosy a picture?

Researchers from the University of Georgia released a report estimating up to 79 percent of the oil, quote, "has not been recovered and remains a threat to the ecosystem."

Then there's the team from the University of South Florida, who concluded dispersants have pushed oil to the ocean floor, reaching further east than previously suspected."

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is where we found the sedimentary oil.

BOLDUAN: And just Thursday, scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said back in June, they detected a plume at least 22 miles long more than 3,000 feet below the surface.

(on camera): What is the most important aspect of...


BOLDUAN: -- of this report?

REDDY: I was surprised to see not only the extent of it, the width of it, the thickness of it.

BOLDUAN: (voice-over): The government's point man for the oil disaster, retired Admiral Thad Allen, defends the government's findings, but acknowledged its data may not be the only accurate estimate out there.

ALLEN: If you create a different set of assumptions, that gives you a different body of oil that was released. The denominator changes and the results are different, but it's all important.

Congressman Markey, a leading critic says the government hasn't offered proof to back up its claims or let outside experts in to check the science.

REP. ED MARKEY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Here is the thing, Doctor... (CROSSTALK)

MARKEY: -- you shouldn't have released it until you knew it was right, because so much is going to depend upon that release.

And if you are not confident that it is right, then it should not have been released.


BOLDUAN: In search of some final answers, Admiral Allen said today that he wants to put together a metaphorical MRI of sorts of the Gulf, unifying the monitoring efforts down there by pulling together data gathered by the various institutions -- the academics, the government, even the private institutions. Then he hopes they can get a fuller picture -- a real picture of just how much oil is still out there and where it really is -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Good report.

Kate Bolduan working the story for us.

Thank you.

Later here in THE SITUATION ROOM, I'll press the incident commander, Admiral Thad Allen, about the amount of oil still in the Gulf and whether the Feds may have gotten their figures wrong. Stand by for that.

Now to the Obama administration's ambitious new goal to reach a Middle East peace agreement within one year. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announcing today that the Israelis and the Palestinians have been invited to hold direct face-to-face talks for the first time since 2008. So far, neither side has formally accepted the invitation to meet face-to-face here in Washington beginning September 2nd. Secretary Clinton says she believes the final obstacles to a peace agreement can be resolved by the fall of 2011.


HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, SECRETARY OF STATE: As we move forward, it is important that actions by all sides help to advance our effort, not hinder it. There have been difficulties in the past. There will be difficulties ahead. Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles. The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks.


BLITZER: Secretary Clinton was joined by the president's special envoy for the Middle East, former Senator George Mitchell, a veteran of negotiating peace deals.


GEORGE MITCHELL, SPECIAL ENVOY FOR THE MIDDLE EAST: We do not take the position that if you don't get everything you want the first time you ask for it, you pack up your bags and go home. If that had been the standard applied in South Africa, there would never have been peace there; in Northern Ireland, there would never have been peace there; in Bosnia, there would never have been peace there.

It takes patience, persistence, the willingness to go back again and again, to not take the first no as a final no, to not take the 50th no as the final no or the 100th no.


BLITZER: Later, we're going to have reaction from the Israelis and the Palestinians. We'll talk about the pressure to reach a peace agreement within one year, as Iran threatens the region with its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Much more on this important story coming up later.

In Afghanistan, meanwhile, President Hamid Karzai is making a concession to the United States and its concerns that corruption is undermining support for the war. Mr. Karzai is pledging, for the first time, to allow two key government anticorruption units to operate without political interference. The announcement came after Mr. Karzai met with Senator John Kerry and other senior U.S. officials in Kabul. In an exclusive interview, Senator Kerry spoke to our foreign affairs correspondent, Jill Dougherty, about why this new commitment by President Karzai is significant.


JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN FOREIGN AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: This is being described in Washington as one of the biggest rifts between the government of Afghanistan and the U.S. government.

Do you agree?

SEN. JOHN KERRY (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, I think it's a concern for all of us. I mean none of us -- you know, I'm an American taxpayer. And as an American senator, I -- I am concerned that we're not engaged in supporting something that, you know, breaks everybody's sense of right and wrong. That would be inappropriate. That's unfair to our troops.

So it is important. But I think working closely together, in a constructive way, we can move forward in a way that's transparent, accountable and holds people who break the law accountable. President Karzai has said that he wants to do that, but he wants to do it, obviously, respecting the Afghan Constitution and -- and their sovereign rights. Now, that's legitimate. That's understandable. And we need to work with him in a way that guarantees that Afghans don't think Americans are calling all the shots and that Americans are running the show and that there's somehow sort of a parallel government here that is American. That doesn't work. It doesn't work for us. It doesn't work for them.

I don't think there's that big a divergence here. I believe we can get on the same page. And I think we can work constructively together. But in the end, the test will be what the government of Afghanistan does itself to assume those responsibilities.

DOUGHERTY: You just came back from the floods. It's a humanitarian crisis, of course.

But it's a political crisis, too, potentially, right?

KERRY: Sure.

DOUGHERTY: How serious is this?

How much of a threat is it to the Pakistan government?

KERRY: Well, the Pakistan government needs help from a lot of countries. And I'm proud that President Obama and Secretary Clinton have announced major commitments by the United States to help lead the recovery and relief efforts.

You know, the sight of this water is just devastating -- you know, hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed; over a million people displaced from those homes; seven million people directly affected, maybe 14 million totally affected by this. I saw power plants that are shut down, underwater; refineries underwater; buses and trains stranded in mid-track on those roads because they'd broken behind them.

This is going to be an enormous recovery effort. And Pakistan was already fragile. And Pakistan has already been deeply committed to fighting against radical religious extremism and violence. We want that -- that democracy that it is to be able to continue in that effort.

So I think it is very important for us to help the government. I was impressed by the relief efforts that the Pakistan Army was engaged in. They have a strong organization. But they're not rich and they don't have a lot of resources. And it's going to take a global effort to help to sustain their commitment both to their democracy and to this -- this effort to fight insurgencies.


BLITZER: The new U.N. figures put the number of homeless in Pakistan right now as high as four million and the death toll nearing 1,500.

We're going to have more on this disaster unfolding in Pakistan coming up later.

I just want to issue this clarification. The Israeli prime minister says he welcomes these invitations for direct face-to-face talks with the Palestinians, saying the Israelis accept direct talks without preconditions.

We're still awaiting official reaction from the Palestinian Authority. So far, Saeeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said the PLO's executive committee will meet on this matter, but we assume they have agreed, in effect, to go forward. The negotiations will resume September 2nd here in Washington -- direct face-to-face talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians. The secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, will convene.

The day before, there will be a much more dramatic meeting over at the White House when President Obama welcomes the Israelis and the Palestinians, as well as the leaders of Egypt and Jordan. More on this story coming up in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A dramatic rescue from a burning ship at sea -- stand by to find out how it all ends.

And an escape from an Arizona prison and his alleged accomplish -- an escapee, I should say -- they are captured. They're due in court this hour.

And Joe Biden raising the stakes in the mid-term elections you're going to want to hear his prediction and what James Carville and Ed Rollins have to say about it.


BLITZER: We have new evidence that one of President Obama's arguments for health care reform may be falling flat. He promised Democrats it would be a winning issue for them this fall. A new poll, though, suggests otherwise.

Let's bring in our national political correspondent, Jessica Yellin, to share with us the numbers.

What are we learning -- Jessica?

JESSICA YELLIN, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the latest CNN polling shows that 56 percent of Americans oppose the health care bill that passed. Now, politically, that's good news for Republicans, who see that health care, in their view, could be a winning issue for the mid-terms. In fact, right now, there are more than 20 ads running in markets around the country attacking Democratic candidates for health care reform and just tying the Democratic Party to this bill.

Take a look at just some of them.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This health care legislation is a disgrace.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They've denied you because you've passed the age limit for the treatment.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: McCollum, making Florida the first to fight Obama Care and its trillion dollar price tag.


(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP FROM CAMPAIGN AD) JIM BENDER: And our personal health choices.

I'm Jim Bender running for United States Senate.


YELLIN: So, Wolf, there has been al -- more than $24 million spent by conservatives attacking health care since the plan passed. But there is one bit of good news in our polling today for Democrats. While a majority of Americans oppose health care reform, 13 percent of those who dislike the bill are liberals, who think it didn't go far enough. Now, clearly, they're not going to be swayed by Republican ads like this one. So the jury is out on whether this issue is the decisive wedge issue of the fall -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's talk about another decisive, potentially, critical issue -- tax cuts. It's a huge -- hugely important. The president wants to keep the Bush tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 a year and for families making less than $250,000 a year.

What do the American people think about all of that?

YELLIN: Our numbers have a glimmer of hope for President Obama on taxes.

CNN polling shows that 51 percent of Americans agree with the president that tax cuts should be extended for families making less than $250,000 a year, but not for those making $250,000 or more. Now, as you know, usually any tax increase is the third rail in politics. But people are very worried about the deficit. So Republicans might not be able to use this issue against the president.

Let's look a little more closely and you'll see, though, that the heft of the support for the president's position on taxes is from Democrats. Sixty-seven percent support his position there. Slightly less a majority of Independents agree. So Independents are still a toss-up here. It'll still be a major issue in the election. But it's -- it's better news for the president than you might have expected at this point -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Thanks very much, Jessica, for that.

Let's get some more now on what's going on in politics in Southern Virginia, specifically, closed businesses and economic pain are weighing heavily on a House Democrats' fight for reelection and the race mirrors the problems for the president's party all across the nation.

Let's go to our Congressional correspondent, Brianna Keilar -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, Tom Perriello's rural district is larger than New Jersey. And it's been hurting economically for years. Long before the recession, a number of factories closed. Jobs went overseas. The region's tobacco industry tanked. And now unemployment is higher than 20 percent in some areas.


KEILAR (voice-over): At Short Sugars Pit Barbecue in South Side, as locals refer to Southern Virginia, you come for the pork.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had the sliced barbecue today.

KEILAR: And stay for the politics.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Here, everybody comes in here -- Democrats, Republicans. You know, it's the only place you can get along together. We probably talk about how the economy is doing, jobs, of course. That's the big issue.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know that it's so much jobs as it is all the money that we're spending to get the jobs. There is no results that are coming from that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It seems that everything is just going overseas. It's not -- it's not American anymore.

REP. TOM PERRIELLO (D), VIRGINIA: How are you doing?

Good to see you again.

KEILAR: This is why Democrat Tom Perriello is fighting for his political life in Virginia's conservative Fifth District.

PERRIELLO: And most of tonight will certainly be a chance to hear from you and for me to respond to your questions.

KEILAR: In 2008, Perriello edged out the Republican incumbent by just 727 votes. Since then, he voted for the stimulus, the energy bill and health care -- all big priorities for Democrats. Now he's defending those positions and trying to persuade skeptical voters to give him a second term.

(on camera): You're asking for more time here?

PERRIELLO: We need a little more time, because the other side has done a really good job of stopping some of the best parts of what we need to do to rebuild this economy.

KEILAR: Tom Perriello is in the same situation as dozens of other Democrats. They're in hotly contested races in districts like this one, won by John McCain in 2008.

PERRIELLO: You can't get social security on the unemployment. KEILAR (voice-over): Sleeves rolled up, Perriello presents himself to voters as working hard to find them work.

ROBERT HURT (R), VIRGINIA STATE SENATE: Where are you retired from?

KEILAR: Republican State Senator Robert Hurt is his opponent.

(on camera): I want to see what you think of Tom Perriello's ad.


PERRIELLO: No times have been tough for Virginia families. I fought to add new jobs at dairy farms and landfill projects that turned methane waste into clean energy, jobs bringing broadband internet to 120 public schools.


HURT: I think if you -- if you look at the facts, you'll find that -- that all the statistics that he cites are related to one bill -- and that's the stimulus package. And I think when you look at the -- at the number of jobs that have actually been created, it doesn't -- the ad doesn't hold up.

KEILAR (voice-over): Hurt's message is similar to many Republicans taking on vulnerable Democrats. He says Perriello is in lockstep with Democratic leaders who spend too much government money without any results.

(on camera): I mean, what do you think as you're looking at this?

PERRIELLO: People are sick of this stuff. They want to know where someone stands. What we've shown is we have an agenda on jobs. We have an agenda for reducing costs to middle class families.

KEILAR (voice-over): That's what voters are talking about here at Short Sugars.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, we're all in the double digits of unemployment. We are in an especially hard hit area here. So we -- we pay real attention to it.

KEILAR: And they will decide if Tom Perriello and Democrats will keep their jobs.


KEILAR: Now, we were in what's really the red center of Perriello's district. As you head

north from the border with North Carolina, you find Perriello is more popular in Charlottesville, where the economy is stronger and there's a large student population. The question is, will those voters balance the frustration of voters in more conservative areas come November -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna, thanks very much.

Brianna Keilar reporting.

It's now one of the largest egg recalls in recent history. We'll have the latest on a massive salmonella outbreak that's expected to get even worse.

And U.S. sailors come to the aid of these Iranians after a fiery accident at sea. Their dramatic story -- that's coming up.


BLITZER: Let's bring back Kate.

She's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

What else is going on -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Well, Wolf, sailors from the USS Harry Truman aircraft carrier have rescued eight Iranians from a burning vessel in the Arabian Sea. The incident happened when an FA-18 attack jet spotted the vessel about 50 miles from the carrier. Doctors say there were no significant injuries. The men will remain aboard the ship until arrangements can be made for their safe return home.

And in Israel, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is calling a Gaza-bound aid flotilla from Lebanon a, quote, "provocative act." The flotilla, which could set sail as early as Sunday, comes just a few months after a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship headed to the same place. Israel has blockaded the Palestinian territory to prevent weapons smuggling there.

Critics say that's causing a humanitarian crisis.

And state agencies in California are closed today due to a mandatory furlough now in effect for government employees. The move, which has triggered protests, is part of the state's effort to resolve a $19 billion budget deficit. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has ordered workers to take three unpaid days off a month until a new budget is in place.

And it just keeps getting bigger. Another company is joining what's now considered to be one of the largest shelled eggs recalls in recent history. Hundreds of Americans have been sickened in a widening salmonella outbreak. And the Centers for Disease Control and prevention now expects the number to climb. An estimated 380 million eggs have already been recalled -- Wolf.

BLITZER: I haven't stopped eating eggs.


KEILAR: you just need to be careful.

BLITZER: Have hard boiled eggs. That's all right.

KEILAR: Right.

BLITZER: OK, Brianna.

KEILAR: No runny yolks, Wolf.

BLITZER: OK. No. No raw eggs. Not at all.

Thank you.

The last escapee from an Arizona prison finally has been caught and is due in court. We're going to have the latest on the case and the last dramatic moments of the manhunt.

And he was supposed to be dead by now -- the Lockerbie bomber, a year after his release and a new backlash around the world.


BLITZER: A desperate manhunt for two Arizona fugitives is finally over. The search for the missing couple stretched all the way to Canada, but ended surprisingly close to home.

Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, has been monitoring all these latest developments for us in this case.

It was pretty dramatic.

JEANNE MESERVE, HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It was. And they made their first court appearance this afternoon, John McCluskey and Casslyn Mae Welch. They were in manacles. They were under heavy guard. Bail for each one of them was set at $1 million.

They were arrested last night after three weeks on the run, taken into custody at an Arizona campground on the edge of the Apache and Sitgreaves National Forest after an alert Forest Service employee became suspicious of an unintended fire and jotted down the license plate number of a car that had been backed into the woods, as if someone was hiding it.

The plate had been reported stolen in New Mexico earlier this month, not too far from a burned out camper containing two bodies. Authorities have linked McCluskey and Welch with those murders.

Last night, a SWAT team swiftly was assembled and moved in on the pair.


COMMANDER WEBB HOGLE, APACHE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE: Basically, he didn't run. He -- when I pulled up to him, I got out and I was face-to-face, from me to you. And he wouldn't comply, he wouldn't comply. So I grabbed him, put him down. And then we move up to the -- the female suspect. My arrest team comes in, cuffs him up. She goes for a gun. At the last minute she puts it down and then we take her into custody.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She's lucky she didn't get shot at that point.

HOGLE: Luckier than she knows.


MESERVE: Authorities allege that on July 30th, Welch threw cutting tools over the fence of an Arizona prison allowing McCluskey and two other inmates to break out. Tracy Province and Daniel Renwick had already been rearrested, but McCluskey and Welch were on the lam and the subjects of a manhunt from Arizona to the Canadian border. Authorities say the two have links to a white supremacist group and that Welch had one point agreed to be a police informant. An agreement, Wolf, she obviously did not keep.

BLITZER: At least they got them. That's good.

MESERVE: Exactly.

BLITZER: Thanks very much.

The convicted Lockerbie bomber was freed exactly one year ago today and the British government is urging Libya not to celebrate. Megrahi's release by Scotland is as controversial as ever though amid possible questions about a possible link to the oil giant BP. Here's CNN's Phil Black.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One year after this celebration the release of the Lockerbie bomber is still a source of pain. Stephanie Bernstein's husband Michael was among those killed when Pan Am 103 fell from the sky. She believes politics and oil were behind the decision to free al Megrahi.

STEPHANIE BERNSTEIN, HUSBAND KILLED IN LOCKERBIE BOMBING: I can see that everything that we predicted that family members were concerned about has come true and it's not surprising but it's deeply upsetting and sickening.

BLACK: Anger too from U.S. senators demanding to know more about Megrahi's release.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So on this unfortunate anniversary, on this unwelcomed milestone, we want it to be known that our desire for answers is as strong as ever.

BLACK: The senators have written to the British and Scottish governments again asking whether trade with Libya was an issue when Scottish justice minister Kenny McCaskill freed the man convicted of murdering 270 people. The leader of the Scottish government again insisted it was not.

ALEX SALMOND, SCOTTISH FIRST MINISTER: All we've got, Kenny McCaskill or myself or any other member of the Scottish government is we made a decision in good faith and followed Scots law. That is exactly what we did and why we stand by it.

BLACK: American senators also want more access to the medical advice which triggered Megrahi's release. That report predicting three months was a reasonable estimate of his life expectancy was written by the head doctor of the Scottish prison service Andrew Frasier. In the report he listed four specialists who treated Megrahi. Two of those consultants have publicly now said they weren't involved in reaching the three-month prognosis. Professor Roger Kirby is a prostate cancer expert who says it was foolish to even try to estimate how long Megrahi would live.

PROF. ROGER KIRBY, PROSTATE CANCER EXPERT: At the time of his release I was very surprised that they had released him on the premise that he would die within three months because I've looked after very many patients with advanced prostate cancer and I know there is tremendous variability in their life expectancy even when they're quite severely affected by the disease.

BLACK: The Scottish prison service medical report doesn't mention if chemotherapy had been used to try slowing the disease. Professor Kirby believes that is probably what kept Megrahi alive for the past year.

KIRBY: We could be talking many more months and maybe even years longer before he dies and the longer he lives the more embarrassing it gets.

BLACK: One year on the Scottish government says it is not embarrassed and feels no regret.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


BLITZER: If Vice President Biden were a betting man would he lose his shirt on the mid term elections? James Carville and Ed Rollins are standing by to add their two cents in our "strategy session."

And lessons from the trenches. Where the U.S. mission in Iraq goes from here now that the last combat troops are leaving.

And some surprising comments from the Reverend Franklin Graham. They may help explain why many Americans think President Obama is a Muslim.


BLITZER: Reporters and well wishers camped outside a book store on Martha's Vineyard hoping to get a glimpse of President Obama. The first family went on vacation there after the president put in some time on the campaign trail. Our white house correspondents and producers give us the back story on the president's four state political road trip.


ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I was here 12 hours ago because we just came back from Florida with the president and I arrived at 6:00 p.m. It is now just after 6:00 a.m. almost 7:00. So we are taking off for Wisconsin. Just a couple quick notes about the gaggle on air force one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It kicked up a firestorm.

PRES. BARACK OBAMA (D), UNITED STATES: It is wonderful to be at ZBB Energy.

HENRY: The president has now boarded air force one and is flying to Los Angeles for yet another fundraiser on this big swing across the United States. We are here hours after the president was because we still have to file our stories. You know, the problem is -- we're in Los Angeles. It's now 1:00 a.m. eastern time and we're finally going to get to go to bed. We're not going to go out to dinner. We're going right to bed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beautiful blue sky.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: See the sky? Beautiful in Seattle.

HENRY: They decided to put the protest right behind the live shot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Beautiful downtown Seattle, Washington. If you're lucky we may be able to take a walk for a block or two, take in the sights, hop on a bus and get out of here.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. We're in Columbus, Ohio. I can't tell you how many times I have been in Columbus, Ohio or at least Ohio. Hundreds and hundreds of times during the campaign. But now when you travel with the president, you don't really get to see as much. You don't really get to talk to folks. You just basically get on the bus. So this is a pretty rare shoot because the president the white house has decided they are actually going to hold the event in a couple's home in Columbus, Ohio. I want to show you. This is our work space and how we're going to cover all of this. One tent here set up and we are actually in their garage.

OBAMA: The answer is no regrets.

MALVEAUX: Now our story is a different story. It's on the mosque. I have to take this call. I could see if they wanted to change this where I could do -- this is my intro. We have five minutes before we have to board the bus.

Well, the script is done. The story has been told. It's going to make the air just in time for us to go home. See you on the other end. Heading back to Washington.


BLITZER: Our white house correspondents, always busy, a little behind the scenes with them.

An illegal drug trade believed to span across the U.S. and beyond. Our Drew Griffin digs deeper on internet pharmacies accused of selling drugs without legitimate prescriptions.

Plus new fears about what could have happened to most of the oil that leaked into the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans resident and CNN contributor James Carville will weigh in on that.


BLITZER: Vice president Joe Biden is all fired up. Speaking over the Democratic national committee's summer meetings he predicted great things for his party this fall and he came out swinging against Republicans.


JOE BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT: On November 3rd the day after this coming election there will be in Washington, D.C. a Democratic majority in the house and a Democratic majority in the Senate. And we're not illegal. I'd make book on it. This is the Republican tea party. And as they focus on the alternative as I refer to it the Republican tea party, what they're going to find out is the choices are pretty stark.


BLITZER: We just heard from the vice president and our strategy session joining us now two CNN political contributors, the Democratic strategist James Carville and the Republican strategist Ed Rollins. James, are you as confident as the vice president is that the Democrats will wake up November 3rd, the majority in the house and Senate?

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: No. But I'm glad that he is confident. I think the vice president really is. I'm a big fan of his and I think he thinks if we engage this thing that we can retain the house and Senate and then we may do it and I hope that he's right. If he made book, I wouldn't bet against him. But, you know, it's going to be a tough cycle but they, you know, he's a good cheerleader and that's what he's suppose today do and he's doing it and I commend him for doing it.

BLITZER: Are you ready to do a little wager with the vice president? ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm more than happy. I'll buy him and James a dinner at the Palm. He is going to lose his own seat, Delaware, and in his second home state Pennsylvania he's going to lose that seat, too. And I think Republicans are going to win the house.

BLITZER: A lot of people James think the Republicans will win the house but few people think they could actually win the Senate. Although technically it's obviously possible.

CARVILLE: Yeah. You know, the one thing that historically the Senate always follows the house. And every cycle we say that. We got a long way to campaign left and if the Democrats can get some enthusiasm, if we can do that and we can draw these distinctions we might be able to do better than people think. You know, we're not even to Labor Day yet and let's wait and see but, you know, you sure wouldn't want our own vice president to be talking to the DNC and be pessimistic.

BLITZER: No. He has to be a cheerleader. Ed, the other point of his comments, the Republican tea party, you heard him talking about the Republican tea party repeatedly. Is that a winning strategy for Democrats?

ROLLINS: Well, it certainly isn't if those tea party voters, those independent voters go out and vote for the Republican candidate, it's going to make for a losing coalition. My sense is that, you know, it certainly is a message. I agree with James. He ought to be out doing all the cheerleading he can do but the bottom line is the real fight is ahead and I think we'll win.

BLITZER: What do you think about that Republican tea party line, James?

CARVILLE: Well it's just a fact. In democracy court we did a study and we released the results and the tea party is just part of the Republican Party. They're Republicans. They're not independents or sort they're not sort of organic, grass roots people. They overwhelmingly voted for John McCain. They're Republicans. By being energized they might have a philosophy and they might have any number of things but they're not independent, not swing voters or any such thing. They are Republicans.

BLITZER: Do you agree with that, Ed?

ROLLINS: I don't think they're all Republicans but I think there is a lot of -- the key thing here is where did the independents go? They'll vote Republican this time I think. At least the polls indicate that. They that in 2006 for Democrats and 2008 for Democrats and they make the difference. We basically are in the game of addition. We want tea party independents, even a few disaffected Democrats to come support us this time.

BLITZER: James, let me turn to the Gulf of Mexico, a subject close to your heart.


BLITZER: You live in New Orleans. The government says 26 percent of the 4.9 million barrels that spewed out into the gulf, that's still around but almost all of the rest is gone, dissipated, skimmed, sold, whatever. Now some outside academics and scientists are saying that's wrong. Those numbers are wrong. They say maybe 75 percent or 76 percent is still out there somewhere. What do you make of this debate?

CARVILLE: Well, if you ask me do I believe those numbers the answer is no. Is there a single person that lives in the gulf coast that believes these numbers?

BLITZER: Which numbers don't you believe?

CARVILLE: The numbers that 76 percent of this has just disappeared. I don't believe it for a second and no one else believes it and now the scientists are saying they never reviewed this. This is a four-page report. Frankly, these are the same people that told us there was a thousand barrels of oil being out in the gulf when this whole thing started and these people need to go back to the drawing board here and they need to get people, you know, on the same page. I mean, it's impossible to say but the people, by the way, I called to go down there a week after this started, finding these gigantic plumes out in the Gulf of Mexico, I think some people are thinking maybe we're just going to go away and if they give us some kind of report that people are going to forget about this and we're not going away and not forgetting anything and it's going to take a lot of convincing to get people here to believe that 76 percent of the stuff is gone and we are a long way from doing that.

BLITZER: The next hour I speak to Thad Allen and press him on these things but the report that James is referring to that there could be a plume of oil underneath the waters of the Gulf of Mexico, the size of Manhattan right now, the government says they can't find it.

ROLLINS: I have no expertise down there. James obviously does. But I think the oil has to be there somewhere. And I think it's been devastating to that region and the government cannot walk away. They've got to keep BP's feet to the fire and they've got to do every single thing and I think Thad Allen has been a superb commandant of the coast guard and a superb instigator of getting this thing done.


CARVILLE: Well, look. Admiral Allen and I spent three hours yesterday with the coast guard and there's a lot of activity out there on the gulf and I'm happy to tell people in this area that there is but I don't believe for one minute that 76 percent of this stuff is gone and neither do many scientists.

BLITZER: All right.

CARVILLE: We just need more science. Look, I hope they're right. I hope it comes back and people validate this study but we're a long -- I am a long way from believing it right now.

BLITZER: I hear you, James. Thanks very much. Ed thanks to you as well.

ROLLINS: My pleasure. Thank you.

BLITZER: The Obama administration is pushing forward with Middle East peace talks that have been stalled for years. Just ahead how the Iran nuclear threat may be lighting a fire under all of the parties involved.

And it's like an episode of "CSI" but the skeletons and the crime scene get this almost 200 years old.


BLITZER: They are well known bitter adversaries, but what if some level of peace could be brokered between North and South Korea? CNN's Emily Chang introduces us to one teenager setting out to do just that.


EMILY CHANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He's a 13 year old boy turned international envoy.

JONATHAN LEE, PEACE ADVOCATE: I'm Jonathan and I'm the founder of a humanitarian environmental group called I see hope.

CHANG: Just off a plane, Jonathan Lee is greeted throngs of global media after a mission to one of the most isolated nations in the world.

LEE: Actually I was really kind of scared at first. But once I got there, I was kind of relieved, because I felt in my experience very safe.

CHANG: As a Korean American from Mississippi, his idea was simple, but ambitious. To convince reclusive leader Kim Jong-Il to plant a children's peace forest in the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea, two nations technically still at war.

LEE: I would really like if possible like maybe if the children from both countries could be able to meet and play with each other, like a big playground.

CHANG: And how did you feel when he came up with this idea?

MELISSA LEE, JONATHAN'S MOTHER: Well, I was like, really? You want to go to North Korea and when? And then, you know, he was so adamant and so strong about how he felt, it is like, okay. I was cool with it. I was fine.

LEE: And I said no way.

CHANG: Completely opposite. His father, originally from South Korea was hesitant, but eventually agreed, and the family embarked on their journey.

LEE: My idea for the mission statement of the children's peace corps is above politics, above borders, above ideology and above conflict.

CHANG: His humanitarian work started three years ago. He created go green man, a super hero who teaches kids to protect the environment. He has met with President Obama and other top leaders. He has filed more than 30 I-reports on CNN and waged a seven-day campaign to urge McDonald's to recycle, but the trip to North Korea would be the most challenging and eye-opening.

LEE: I went to a schoolchildren's palace and I found out that the children there are very talented. They learn piano and they did it really impressively. The accordion and calligraphy, and embroidery. This is North Korea --

CHANG: He did not meet with Kim Jong-Il, but he said he did meet with other government officials who told him a peace treaty would have to be signed before there could ever be a children's peace forest.

LEE: I am a little disappointed, but I will keep trying and maybe if I keep trying, I don't know, maybe, eventually, hopefully.

CHANG: Emily Chang, CNN, Beijing.


BLITZER: The feds say that most of the oil in the Gulf of Mexico is gone, but some scientists now disputing that. I'll ask the president's point man in the gulf Thad Allen to explain.

And later, the golden treasure stolen in a brazen museum heist.


BLITZER: Now that the last U.S. combat brigade has rolled of Iraq, the pentagon is reassessing the mission and regrouping for the next conflict. Our pentagon correspondent Chris Lawrence has more. Chris?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I will give you an example, Wolf. I remember back in 2004 riding through Ramadi and the Al Anbar province with the soldiers in an open air humvee, and no cover, no armor. That kind of vehicle wouldn't even get out of the gate of a base today.


LAWRENCE: The military used to save money by shortchanging some soldiers.

MASTER SGT. MICHAEL CLINE, ENLISTED ASSN. OF THE NATIONAL GUARD: Instead of being one total army or the army of one, we have the army of one in at least with the two little brothers over here.

LAWRENCE: For the guard and the reserve, Iraq was the great equalizer. Ambushes and roadside bombs forced officials to train reservists and active duty supply troops a lot like infantry.

MAJ. GEN. JAMES DUBIK, U.S. ARMY (RET.): We have to contract. We have to IEDs and fight their way out of tough situations. That changed a lot of the training in preparation for the deployment.

LAWRENCE: And retired General James Dubik admits that when the war started, the military put more money into some soldiers over others.

DUBIK: We decided to spend most of for it the combat forces forward and save a little bit by not outfitting the logisticians as much, but those days are past.

LAWRENCE: Female troops were captured in Iraq. Nearly 700 women were wounded and well over 100 killed. Unit commanders started to get around the rules by attaching them to combat units instead of assigning.

DUBIK: One of the biggest combat lessons was this, everybody's a fighter.

LAWRENCE: Now some more foot patrols in Afghanistan to engage its population of women. This is a picture I took back in 2003 of an American in Baghdad. The troops of 2010 would not recognize his gear.

DUBIK: The body armor changed and the helmets changed and almost everything from the soldier-up has changed in this war.

LAWRENCE: Change didn't come fast enough in one respect, IEDs killed hundreds of soldiers and marines before they and their families demanded better.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do we soldiers have to dig through local landfills for pieces of scrap metal and compromise ballistic blast-up on the vehicles?

LAWRENCE: Today's troops deploy from vehicles in varying patterns to avoid IEDs. To sniff out bombs they trust their dogs as much as electronics. Counter insurgency is a way of life not the academic exercise it was ten years ago.


LAWRENCE: No matter if you are talking about the troops who are doing the fighting or their bosses back here at the pentagon, combat in Iraq literally changed the face of the military from top to bottom. Wolf?