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JOHN KING, USA

Mass Grave Found; Defiance in Libya; Yemen's President; Syrian Blogger Abducted; Representative Weiner Investigation

Aired June 7, 2011 - 19:00   ET

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


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks Wolf. Good evening everyone. We begin with breaking news this hour in southeast Texas. Investigators we are told are on the scene of what appears to be a mass grave containing, according to a sheriff's department official, 25 to 30 bodies, including, we are told tonight, the bodies of children.

A federal official confirms to CNN this grisly discovery was made at a home in Hardin, Texas, which is a small town between Houston and Beaumont. We know the FBI has been called in to assist this investigation as we start to get early details; CNN homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve working her sources joins us now with the latest -- Jeanne, sounds like a horrible developing story.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: It does, John, but we do not have the details yet. A law enforcement official telling CNN that at least 20 dollar -- bodies may have been found at this home in Hardin, Texas. There are children involved. The law enforcement official says that they are involved in securing that scene right now.

A separate law enforcement source tells us that this is a local investigation. The FBI has been asked to provide an evidence response team to assist as needed. Now we've been looking at aerial pictures of the scene. We have seen a very heavy law enforcement presence, a lot of cars, some people out of their cars, but nothing going on at the moment that looks as though they are actively searching.

We've been told by one source that they may be waiting for a search warrant in order to go in and figure out exactly what they're dealing with here. Of course in recent months there have been other reports of mass graves in Mexico. Those have been associated with drug cartels. This town in Texas is not near the border. We have been told by a law enforcement official that children are involved here. This would appear to be a different situation. But we're waiting for more details -- John.

KING: Jeanne Meserve working her sources, we'll stay on top of this story. I want to show you we're getting live pictures from an affiliate in Texas, KPRC. I want to be clear, often early in an investigation like this the information you get turns out to be not entirely accurate, so let's stress that we are just getting details here as Jeanne noted.

Let's look at this. Hardin City population, it's about 800 people, again between Houston and Beaumont. You're looking at these live pictures here and you will see in some of the shots, many law enforcement vehicles on the scene. CNN confirming as Jeanne just noted at least 20 bodies allegedly have been found at this home in Hardin, Texas.

Children involved, we are told. Law enforcement officials on the scene now, KPRC, where we're getting these live photos from, they are reporting that dozens of bodies have been found at a property there. It is in Liberty County, Texas, this town, and the Liberty County Sheriff's Office says 25 to 30 bodies discovered outside the home there.

Investigators said someone told them about the location. They are not elaborating on where that information comes from just yet. But dramatic breaking news story, we will stay on top of it. Again, early information is 20 bodies or more, perhaps 30 bodies, some of them children -- CNN working its sources locally, nationally, following our affiliates as well. We'll stay on top of this story.

Here in Washington though tonight Congressman Anthony Weiner is a lonely man. One top Republican calls him a creep, another says he should resign. And what are top Democrats saying a day after the congressman admitted inappropriate online sexting?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I know Congressman Weiner. I wish there was some way I can defend him, but I can't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The fallout from the Weiner scandal in a moment, but first dramatic developments across the Middle East in North Africa, including a major escalation of the NATO military campaign against the regime of Moammar Gadhafi. More than 50 bombs in Tripoli alone this day, by far the biggest one-day NATO barrage, most of them targeting Gadhafi's compound in Tripoli. On State Television, an audio message from the Libyan dictator essentially saying NATO is going to have to kill him to get him to yield power.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): We will not surrender. We will not give up. We have one option, our country. We will remain in it until the end. Dead, alive, victorious, it doesn't matter.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: CNN's Dan Rivers live for us in Tripoli tonight and Dan, explosions throughout the day continuing, rare to see so many of them in the daylight hours, NATO sending a pretty clear message today that it is going to escalate to try to force Gadhafi to leave.

DAN RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this seems to be a new phase, John, incredibly intense barrage today that has been going all through the day. As you say, it's been very rare to have explosions and rocket attacks from NATO jets during the day, but this started at about 11:30 this morning and didn't really let up.

About 50 different explosions we heard ringing out across the city, some of them very close to where I'm standing. We understand that Colonel Gadhafi's own compound was severely hit, as well as other military compounds. (INAUDIBLE) television as you saw there, defiant as ever. His spokesperson also gave a press conference here, also (INAUDIBLE) message of complete defiance, (INAUDIBLE) us who claim that NATO was using depleted uranium shells in some parts of this conflict, something that NATO has neither confirmed nor denied.

KING: A propaganda war between the regime and NATO. Dan Rivers tonight live in Tripoli; we'll stay in touch with Dan as the explosions continue in Tripoli.

At the White House, President Obama today thanked Germany for its support of the NATO mission. He claims substantial progress and said new leadership, regime change in Libya is a question of when, not if.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA (D-IL), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Chancellor Merkel and I share the belief that Gadhafi needs to step down for the sake of his own people, and with respect to the pace of operations and participation, I think if you look at where we were three months ago and where we are now or two months ago and where we are now, the progress that has been made in Libya is significant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Also new developments tonight in Yemen's political crisis. A U.S. official tells me tonight the condition of the Yemeni president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is more serious than his government is letting on. This official says it will take weeks if not months for Saleh to recover from injuries suffered in an attack on his presidential palace, and with the president being treated in the Saudi Arabian hospital, this U.S. official tells us tonight the Obama administration sees virtually no chance he will be able to return to Yemen.

Our senior international correspondent Nic Robertson is tracking the power struggle in Yemen. And Nic, as you hear that, you reported some of this last night, the injuries more severe than the government officially is letting on. The Obama administration now believing that time will simply run out on President Saleh, that he will be in the hospital and that developments in the country will overtake the possibility of his return. What's happening on the ground right now?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN SR. INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it really sits with the vice president. The vice president has been left in charge, President Ali Abdullah Saleh has yet to sign a document or give some signal, despite his injuries that he's willing to see a transfer of power in Yemen. And until he does that, it seems that his government will hold out between his son controlling the Revolutionary Guard, and his nephews controlling other security forces he has -- can count on about 100,000 armed men in Yemen to uphold his position. So while he's sick and ill in hospital in Saudi Arabia, you have a situation across Yemen where there's a semi cease-fire, but it's breaking down. About 400 tribal gunmen are helping control the city of Tiaz (ph) where there have been massive anti-government demonstrations. We understand tonight that there are government forces massing outside the city, they've gone in before causing heavy casualties, so it really in the hands of the vice president.

Is he going to stick with the last instructions of the president? Or is he going to go with the opposition? At the moment he's going with what the president has told him; hold on to power until I can come back. So while we're hearing the aspirations of the international community, there's no way that President Saleh can go back. We haven't heard it from him. And until that happens, it just seems that the situation there is going to continue to deteriorate -- John.

KING: And as we wait, more answers and more actions, maybe more decisions from the vice president. Nic, what are your sources telling you about the condition of the president?

ROBERTSON: Well, we understand that he's had surgery on his brain, neurosurgery. We understand that he has 40 percent burns. We understand that he has a collapsed lung. And medical experts say that for a man of his age, in his mid-60s, to have received 40 percent burns on his body, some of them second-degree burns, to have had shrapnel, as we understand, wooden shrapnel (ph) removed from his body, to have had this surgery on his brain, he's lucky to have survived at this point.

People describe his face as being charred. It's hard to imagine how he can physically go back. But he is stubborn. He is refusing to back down still, even in this condition. Certainly we understand the Saudis want to put pressure on him not to go back. But they're not saying. We're not getting any information at the moment from Saudi officials.

Two days ago we were. They're not saying anything. You get the impression that people really -- the Saudis, the United States heavily involved here, the European government is heavily involved, they really are waiting for President Saleh to make his move. They can't move without him essentially stepping down. And that's not happening. And that's why we're not seeing any developments, so the injuries are very, very severe but he's not quitting -- John.

KING: Nic Robertson for us tonight tracking dramatic developments, obviously we'll keep an eye on the situation on Yemen, not only the power vacuum, the threat al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula could benefit. Nic, thank you.

And in Syria tonight and as yet unconfirmed report of a major defection, a French TV network says Syria's ambassador to France is quitting because of the violent crackdown by the Syrian regime against anti-government protesters. And there's a significant new twist in that crackdown tonight. The family of a Syrian-American blogger who has been highly critical of the Assad regime says she has been kidnapped, taken away by three armed men they say as she was on her way to meet with anti-government protesters.

Amina Abdallah whose blog is called "Gay Girl in Damascus" was born in Virginia to an American mother and a Syrian father. She has dual citizenship and the State Department tonight says it is trying to get more information on just what happened. CNN's Arwa Damon has more tonight from Beirut.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ARWA DAMON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It appears, according to this posting on the Web site, that she was somehow taken away by three individuals, the family at this point in time trying to track down her whereabouts. Activists also telling CNN earlier that they have been following her case very closely, trying to ascertain where she might be held believing that it might be at one of the military prisons. But this again, John would just be one in countless cases of individuals who have been standing out to the regime, being taken away and in many cases disappearing to unknown locations where families in some cases are recovering their bodies afterwards -- John.

KING: An arrest or an apprehension in this case, we've talked in recent days about the Internet being cut off in part because the regime doesn't want communications, doesn't want those videos of the uprising and some of the violence getting out. What is the sense now after we talked yesterday about the increasingly armed aspect, the clashes involved in this, a sense that a government retaliation is coming soon? What is the sense inside Syria?

DAMON: Well, John, as we have been speaking, the most recent military activity appears to be concentrated in the northwestern part of the country in a town called (INAUDIBLE) and it is there where the Syrian government alleged that 120 members of the Syrian security forces had been killed since Friday. It is there where activists were telling us about a military siege that was in place over the weekend, where we have been hearing conflicting reports, some activists saying that residents there had in fact armed themselves deciding to fight back.

Others saying that it was in fact dissent within the Syrian security apparatus, where individuals, we are now hearing, who refused to fire then it clashed with regime loyalists, but incredibly difficult to figure out exactly what has taken place. We did speak with one resident who said that the area was pretty much a ghost town. Many people had fled.

The electricity had been cut off. There were fuel and bread shortages. Another activist with a fairly extensive network in the country himself outside of Syria said that people, the doctors and nurses at the national hospital, had fled. Private clinics were shut down. Most of the people (INAUDIBLE) to seek sanctuary in these villages that are along the Syrian/Turkish border because everybody, John, is petrified that an intense military crackdown is imminent at this stage.

KING: And Arwa Damon tracking that from her post in Beirut. Arwa, thank you. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Human rights activists monitoring Syria say the arrest of Amina Abdallah is part of an increasingly aggressive effort by the Assad regime to stifle dissent. Wissam Tarif is a long-time human rights activist in the Middle East who has extensive contacts in Syria.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WISSAM TARIF, HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST: We have received a report today from a researcher in Damascus that Amina has been kidnapped by security forces, and we have also collected (INAUDIBLE) from someone who was released from detention this afternoon, and we believe (INAUDIBLE) at the moment is in the military security forces branch in (INAUDIBLE) in Damascus.

KING: And what does that tell you, based on what your knowledge of the past history of this regime, if she is in that particular facility, what does it tell you about what they are trying to do with her and what might be happening to her?

TARIF: Amina has been very active on her blog. I'm very concerned that the fact that she was kidnapped by the security forces, the Syrian regime, especially during this uprising, has a long history of torture, of practicing (INAUDIBLE) detention, we have documented cases where people, nails were pulled out, where severe torture were practiced on people who are in detention. And therefore there are serious concerns about Amina's safety wellbeing and what she is being under and being exposed to at the moment and the military branch, security military branch (INAUDIBLE).

KING: And what does this tell you about the mindset of the regime, the evolution of that mindset? We know that there are more arrests and detentions. We also know there's been significant, sometimes total disruption of Internet service and other telephone communications. What does that tell you?

TARIF: Well, the regime had started from the first beginning of the uprising to use violence to siege cities, to mass kill people. So far we have the commanded almost 1,200 cases of people who are killed. We're talking about more than 900 people who are just disappeared from the streets in Syria. We're talking about more than 11,000 people (INAUDIBLE) detention. So the regime strategy is to oppress this uprising.

The regime is trying to incite -- has been trying to incite sectarian feelings in the country, trying to provoke the vision because now it's the only way that the regime can claim legitimacy by saying well this is uprising in the country of the majority. They have been trying to turn it into violence. The protesters refuse that.

It has been peaceful from the protesters side for the last 11 weeks, and it will continue to be peaceful. Nevertheless, the regime has practiced all kind of brutality. We have seen helicopters in the sky (INAUDIBLE) yesterday. We have seen tanks bombing cities. We have seen children. We have documented so far 77 names of children who were killed by the Syrian security forces, more than 168 women.

The level of brutality, the level of torture that the (INAUDIBLE) have been suffering is just something I've been doing human rights research for the last 10 years. I haven't seen anything that brutal, that harming and that damaging to the person who are in detention or to the people who are in detentions.

KING: The human rights activist Wissam Tarif, sir, thank you for your time tonight.

TARIF: Thank you very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Let's get some context from the day's big developments, in Syria, in Yemen and in Libya from CNN international anchor and correspondent Hala Gorani here with us in Washington tonight. Let's start in Syria. First you hear those horrific accounts from the human rights activist.

We can't be there independently to confirm it. There was a report that we also have been unable to confirm of an alleged defection, perhaps Syria's ambassador to France defecting. You have some indications or at least some sources suggesting not true.

HALA GORANI, CNN INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: The spokesperson for the Syrian Embassy in London denied it, said that an impersonator called this French news network, France 24, and posed as the Syrian ambassador to Paris saying that that person had decided to resign because she -- this was the voice on television, could not accept the violence that was committed by the regime against demonstrators, but it seems as though it was a hoax at this stage. This is the indication we're getting.

KING: And so we'll continue to track that. More importantly to the situation you see on the ground --

GORANI: Yes.

KING: -- escalating bloodshed in recent days. The kidnapping, detention, call it what you will of this Syrian-American blogger. What is your sense -- you've covered the country for a very long time about -- are we escalating to a tipping point or just escalating to more violence?

GORANI: I found very interesting the development in the northern part of the country where the government came out and said 120 security forces were killed by, quote, "armed gangs". This fits into the narrative of the regime that these demonstrators are not internal, that they're armed by the outside, that they're intent on causing chaos in the country. Of course, you have an impossibility as far as we're concerned to verify this on the ground and some analysts suggesting that perhaps something happened in the northern part of the country that perhaps there was a split among security forces and that could explain the high number of deaths.

KING: Well let's pull out Yemen, Libya, other big question marks in the region, among the many big question marks in the region. You see some similarity in recent turns of events when it comes to Libya and Yemen in terms of the international pressure.

GORANI: And why these two countries are so important to Americans. On the one hand, you have a NATO operation that started more than 10 weeks ago. You'll remember at the end of March the idea was this was going to take a very small number of days, a very short period of time, and it was going to force the collapse --

KING: Days, not weeks.

GORANI: Exactly, days not weeks. It was going to force the collapse of the Gadhafi regime, and it was going to protect civilians and it would be a great happy ending for everyone. Instead, we're in week 11 right now. This could cost the United States billions of dollars when all is said and done. In Yemen, you have another situation that concerns Americans, because you have a country on the brink of civil war still, a very tenuous sort of agreement between the sides, but al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the origin of several plots aimed at the West there, potentially taking advantage of the power vacuum in that country and growing its roots in Yemen.

KING: And the question is can we get a peaceful transition in both of those, either of those countries, something that's going to keep us busy I think for weeks if not months, never mind days.

GORANI: Right. We're going to be talking about this, I think --

KING: We are --

GORANI: -- several weeks.

KING: We are. Hala Gorani thanks for stopping in here tonight. Ahead tonight, a new warning for the Obama re-election campaign, if the economy doesn't start creating more jobs, well voters might not be in a mood to let the president keep his. And next, well scandal can be lonely. Democrats tell Congressman Anthony Weiner you're on your own.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: About this time last night we asked the veteran Democratic strategist James Carville his advice for embattled Congressman Anthony Weiner. And James had a two word answer, shut up. The congressman is following that advice today, almost. CNN caught up with him a short time ago outside his New York City home and asked him about the call from the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor for Weiner to resign.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Congressman Cantor has called for your resignation, official call for your resignation.

REP. ANTHONY WEINER (D), NEW YORK: Careful, guys.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How do you feel about that?

WEINER: He's entitled to his viewpoint, careful.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: (INAUDIBLE) consider it?

WEINER: I'm not resigning, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Just yesterday, Weiner acknowledged sending a lewd photograph over Twitter to a college student and he added he had engaged in inappropriate Internet exchanges with roughly a half dozen women. Tonight the question is can he survive politically?

His constituents will have a say in that as will the House Ethics Committee, which is being asked to investigate if Weiner used any government resources for his inappropriate Internet relationships or whether he otherwise violated the House code of official conduct. Mary Snow spent the day in Weiner's district in the Manhattan area; Dana Bash worked her sources on Capitol Hill fallout.

First Dana, let's listen to this telling sound from the Senate Democratic leader, Harry Reid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: I know Congressman Weiner. I wish there was some way I can defend him, but I can't.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What advice would you give him if he asked you?

REID: Call somebody else.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: I hate to laugh, but it's just -- it's clear the Democrats are saying, Congressman, you are on your own.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean everybody is being so quiet, but that spoke volumes, absolutely spoke volumes. They are making clear that he is on his own. As far as I can tell in doing reporting all day today, there have been no explicit calls to him privately to say look it's time for you to resign, primarily because they know that he does not intend to do that.

But John, the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, a day after she already called for an Ethics Committee investigation, released a letter really emphasizing it and making it formal. She didn't have to do that. It was a political move and a senior Democratic aide told me that it certainly adds pressure for him to go. They are not happy, and the words that I'm hearing from aides and some lawmakers, I can't repeat. KING: OK. Republicans are trying to make a bit of an issue of this, and some of it is a gimmick but some of it is the way these things go. They're looking at the election map and looking at Democrats that would like to beat (ph) in the next election, saying aha you took money from Congressman Weiner, aha you took money from Congressman Weiner, give it back. Two Democrats we know of right, Betty Sutton of Ohio, she says she'll take $1,000 that he gave to her and give it to charities, Tim Walz of Minnesota give to charity $3,000 he returned. Do we expect this to grow and mushroom?

BASH: It could and you know this is kind of classic. When people get in trouble the campaigns of the other party pressure the vulnerable members to give money back and this is probably not a surprise. But you know the bigger question is going to be, what happens with Anthony Weiner's friends and, you know, to be honest with you, from what I've heard from Democrats, he doesn't have a lot of close friends.

He's angered some Democrats by the words of one Democratic lawmaker to me today, grandstanding, and others by criticizing the leadership. The question is what happens when Congress comes back, because if there's one thing going for him, John, it's that Congress is not in town right now. So the pressure isn't really mounting.

KING: (INAUDIBLE) early. But what does the early reporting suggest to you about the Ethics Committee? The Ethics Committee tends to be very, very careful. They're investigating one of their own. Anything they do sets a precedent for anybody down the line. The biggest question is it government resources?

BASH: It does. In fact, one Democratic lawmaker I talked to, by the way, nobody will talk on the record, said it will be a game changer if we found out that he actually did use government resources to do any of this, sending the lewd photographs, making any of these phone calls, but it's interesting it will be a political game changer. Talked to several experts who know how the House Ethics rules work.

And they say that even if he did, it's not a clear cut ethics violation to use a government phone or a government computer for this. The other thing that's not clear cut is just whether or not he actually did do something that is not in keeping with the conduct of the House. I was told that never has a member of Congress been actually punished for just that. It's been that and something else.

KING: So they use that to build a case to make the case bigger --

BASH: Exactly.

KING: -- and deeper, not an official, well, you've embarrassed us, therefore we'll get you.

BASH: Exactly.

KING: Dana Bash working her sources on Capitol Hill -- Dana, thank you. And Congressman Weiner had hoped to be New York City's next mayor. Well the current mayor, Michael Bloomberg, had this take today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (I), NEW YORK: It's hard to believe given the coverage that all of the press has given this situation that any voters in his district aren't familiar with the situation, what happened or whatever. And they will have an opportunity to express themselves in one year and four months from now. In the meantime, you know, I keep saying, this country has lots of very big problems that maybe we should all focus on and Congress should certainly get back to work and focus on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: The mayor mentioned the election is more than a year away. Mary Snow, you had a chance to interact with some of those constituents just today. What was their vote?

MARY SNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Really mixed across the board, John. There are some constituents who worry that there's going to be another shoe to drop and that Anthony Weiner will have no choice but to leave office. There are others who say, look, other politicians have survived scandals.

He can, too hang in tight. And there are others who say that they are really just so shocked. He's been such a popular congressman in this district. They say they are angered, some say disappointed, saddened, but they don't quite know what to make of it yet and whether or not to call for his resignation.

KING: And, Mary, it's a congressional district in the middle of one of the country's, perhaps the country's most sort of rock 'em, sock 'em volatile media markets. How much does the coverage -- I saw the New York tabloid front pages today. They're having I'm going to say fun with this story. How much does that factor into all the -- the water cooler -- that is the conversation in the district?

SNOW: So much of it, John, and you know, every -- we went to a couple of stops throughout the district, and, really, it was all anyone was talking about. And, of course, we saw in diners with some of the covers of the "New York Post" and "The Daily News" front and center, and that really is playing into this. And that is why, you know, you hear some of these constituents say they're worried. They're concerned that there is more, perhaps, damaging disclosures that will come out that will really force Anthony Weiner -- force his hand.

KING: Mary Snow, live for us tonight in the congressman's district in New York -- Mary, thanks so much.

When we come back, the day's other big headlines, including a new poll that's a message to President Obama, help us get jobs, and Japan's nuclear radiation, the government says at least twice as much radiation escaped as we originally thought. How much of that might have made it here to the United States? That's ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Welcome back. Here's the latest news you need to know right now:

President Obama and the first lady are hosting a state dinner tonight for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her husband. She'll be awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

And check out the gift the chancellor presented to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton earlier today. During Clinton's last trip to Germany, a newspaper ran a picture of both women in a similar pose and asked, "Who's who?" The chancellor it's a gift that's only possible because women now have a greater say in politics. And from the looks of things, well, Secretary Clinton seemed to appreciate that. Didn't she?

When we come back, Japan has increased its estimate of how much radiation escaped from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. How much of that radiation made its way across the Pacific to the United States? That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Japan's government now acknowledges the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was much worse than we were told. It's worse more than doubled now, the estimate the government has of how much radiation was released, and confirms three of the plant's reactors experienced full meltdowns.

The NHK Network reporting tonight the country's nuclear disaster task force today finalized a 300-page plus report and Japan's government promised to release information about the possible health effects. The news validates the concerns of nuclear advocates, experts like Arnie Gundersen. He's the chief nuclear engineer for Fairewinds Associates consults with Vermont's state government on that state's nuclear Yankee -- Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.

And Arnie Gundersen is with us now live.

Arnie, you were with us very early and throughout this crisis. And you long argued it was worse than they were telling us. What do you make of this news now? How could they have not known?

ARNIE GUNDERSEN, FAIREWINDS ASSOCIATES: Well, I'm not surprised.

You know, they're saying now, these are all calculations. All of the instruments were blown to smithereens. So, they're calculating what these exposures were.

How could they not know?

I think there's some confusion and there's some cultural issues, too, with the Japanese. But the biggest problem is this combination of being a regulator and a promoter of nuclear power. There's a revolving chair situation in the Japanese structure where executives go to work for the regulator and the regulator goes to work for Tokyo Electric. And that makes it hard to really see how serious the accident is while you're in it.

KING: And as we try to judge the fallout, not only in Japan, we'll see what the government report says, but we've talked about some radiation, relatively low amounts, very low amounts, make its way across the Pacific. You've seen evidence of what's called hot particles showing up on the U.S. West Coast, in Seattle, for example.

What are we talking about? And how worried should people be?

GUNDERSEN: Well, the radiation initially comes out as a big cloud of gases. And that's what you can measure with a Geiger counter. But now what we're finding are these things called "hot particles," and in the industry we call them "fuel fleas" because they're incredibly small. They're smaller than the thickness of your hair.

In Tokyo, in April, measurements indicate that there's about 10 hot particles per day in what a normal person would breathe. And it's interesting, because in Seattle, it didn't go down that much. It was about five hot particles a day. Because most of the time, as we talked about back in April, the wind was blowing toward the West Coast. Now, that's why we were warning to wash your lettuce and things like that.

Now, what that means is that it's -- these hot particles can lodge in your lung or in your digestive tract or your bone, and over time cause a cancer. But they're way too small to be picked up on a large radiation detector.

KING: And so, do you believe there are enough of them that people in the West Coast of the United States need to be worried? Or is it a very minor concern?

GUNDERSEN: Well, the average person breathes in about 10 cubic meters a day. And the filters out there for April show that they were breathing in -- per day, about five particles. Now, these are charged, which is why we call them fuel fleas, too, and they latch on to lung tissue.

You know, I'm still advising my friends to wash all of your vegetables to make sure you can get it off. But short of that, we're at a point now where you just can't run from the particles that are still in the air.

KING: We'll keep watching that.

I want to show our viewers some satellite images that we have now, satellite images of the Fukushima nuclear plant on March 14th compared to May 25th.

When you look at this, three months since, do you get the sense -- looking at the new photos -- number one, first and foremost, do things appear to be under control right now? GUNDERSEN: No. The units are still leaking. The difference in the picture, though, it was cold in March so you could see steam, sort of like breathing on a cold day. Now, it's hot, so you don't see the steam coming out of the plant. But there's still emitting radioactive gases, and an enormous amount of radioactive liquid.

So, the only thing that's going to make this go away is time. They're going to need another year or so before this radioactive material cools down to the point where it doesn't boil anymore. And until it stops boiling, you're going to be cranking out steam and you're going to be cranking out radioactive liquids.

KING: And if you look closely at the newer photo, you see what appears to be blue, I would call it spray paint, a blue covering of some sort. What's that?

GUNDERSEN: They started a program where they sprayed down a resin on the site to keep down these hot particles we were talking about. After the explosions, there's a lot of radiation on the soil. And you'll recall that guys are all in these white suits with the respirators on.

That blue stuff is a resin and it's designed to keep the dust down, because if the dust comes up, it will make even more hot particles, which is really difficult to work in.

KING: And we have some video -- this is from TEPCO, the Tokyo Electric Power Company and it is of unit one. And I want to show this video and I want to ask you, Arnie Gundersen, when you look at this video -- as someone who understands the design, the engineering in here -- what are you seeing?

GUNDERSEN: It frightened me. What it's showing is that the nuclear reactor core has melted, and it's somewhere down below the floor. And you can just see boiling water and boiling steam coming out of that hole in the floor. It's the closest yet they've come to approaching that radioactive core. So, that was the first thing.

The second thing is that the robot -- these were taken with a robot -- measured a dose in that room of 400 rem per hour. We call that LD 50/50. And what that means is that it's a 50 percent chance you'll get a lethal exposure in one hour.

KING: So, if somebody was in that room for an hour or more, they're likely dead or seriously --

GUNDERSEN: Yes. If they're in that room for an hour, it's a quick death. It's not 10 years out. It's a 50/50 chance you'll die within a week.

KING: And so, let's take everything we've talked about in this conversation over the last several minutes, and take us back to the beginning, when we had conversations and you were critical about the size of the expansion zone, how far out people were when they were evacuated. Is it -- do you have proof now to say they should have done this and what is "this"? GUNDERSEN: Well, there's a lot of proof coming in, largely because of the Internet. We're not getting it from the Japanese government or from the U.S. government. But we're finding in trenches along the sides of roads, roadside ditches -- exposures on the order of 200 times normal. They found plutonium off site about a mile away from the gate.

So, this accident is severe. And the cost of cleaning it up is going to be astronomical. I'm betting that it's going to exceed $200 billion with a B dollars.

KING: Remarkable.

Arnie Gundersen, we appreciate you coming back to share your insights tonight. And we'll continue to track this story in the months ahead. It's important not only for the people of Japan but for nuclear industry here in the United States and around the world.

Mr. Gundersen, thanks again you for your help and your insights.

Next, we get an update on this hour's breaking news from a crime scene in Texas.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: More now on this hour's breaking news from southeast Texas.

Authorities are awaiting a search warrant in what may be some kind of a crime scene in Hardin. That's between Houston and Beaumont. Now, earlier reports called it a mass grave. Now, there seems to be some doubt about those initial reports.

Let's check back with our CNN homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: John, we told you earlier in the hour that a federal law enforcement official had told CNN that as many as 20 bodies might have been found at a home in Hardin, Texas, that children might be involved. We've been continuing to check our sources at the federal, state and local level. And we now are getting a slightly different picture.

According to Lee Frijaya (ph), he's assistant fire chief with (INAUDIBLE) fire department, he says, quote, "There are no signs of bodies or graves at this time." They are still waiting for a search warrant.

Also, Captain Rex Evans of the Liberty County Sheriff's Department spoke to cameras, here's a bit of what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CAPT. REX EVANS, LIBERTY COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPT.: Earlier today, the Liberty County Sheriff's Office received a call indicating that there was a crime scene here on County Road 2049. Deputies and investigators have responded here to the scene. We have found some circumstances that have raised some questions. And we have requested a search warrant. As soon as that warrant arrives here at the scene, we will further our investigation.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MESERVE: So, the situation at this point in time, John, still very much in the air. Law enforcement has not got than search warrant. As far as we know, has not gotten on to the property, has not completed their investigation into this situation.

We'll bring you the latest when we have it.

KING: Jeanne Meserve tracking that for us tonight. Jeanne, thanks so much.

And we will keep on top of that story to find out exactly what is happening in that small town between Houston and Beaumont.

Ahead here: if you look at some new polling data, the message is quite simple -- people are unhappy. They want more jobs in their communities. And if they don't get them, some of them are saying maybe the president shouldn't get to keep his. That's next.

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KING: Wasn't all that long ago we were talking about what we called the bin Laden bump, that President Obama's job approval rating went up after the death of Osama bin Laden. But, new numbers out today tell the president -- guess what -- you're worried most about the economy. If it doesn't get better, he might be vulnerable when it comes to the re-election campaign.

Let's talk the numbers over with our CNN political contributor Cornell Belcher, a Democratic pollster who knows the White House operation quite well.

Cornell, let's start, "Washington Post"/ABC News poll essentially matched the president of the United States, the Democratic incumbent, up against most of the leading Republican contenders. And if you look at the chart, president does OK. He's at 50 percent against most of the Republicans.

But against what I'll say the best known of the Republicans right now, or at least the person who ran last time, Mitt Romney -- 46 percent for President Obama, 49 percent for Governor Romney. Speaker Gingrich, 50 percent for Obama, 44 percent for Gingrich.

I'm hoping we can show the numbers to our viewers. We must be having a technical problem with that one there.

But that the president comes in, that Mitt Romney essentially runs even if you take the margin of error out with the president of the United States right now. Now, Governor Romney is better known. But if you're the president, you're in a dead heat. It's a long way out, but -- CORNELL BELCHER, CNN POLITICAL CONTRIBUTOR: But, look, you have to take Romney seriously. I will also say that at this point, you know, in June 1995, at this point, Dole had a nine-point lead on Bill Clinton. So, these polls are going to fluctuate.

What you see right now is Romney is out there in the battleground states and he's actually campaigning. You know, President Obama isn't campaigning right now. They're on the attack. President Obama -- they're in campaign mode -- he's not in campaign mode right now.

When you look at the Osama bump, what was important was not the top line, but underneath that, he's a strong, decisive leader. They think he's good at protecting them -- which is what George Bush had in aces and had held up for a long time. It is a really important variable.

KING: But George H.W. Bush had pretty good numbers on foreign policy and leadership, too, and he lost the election in 1992 because people thought the economy was heading south and it was not getting better.

So, let's dig deeper. This is "The Washington Post"/ABC numbers just today, how is the president handling his job overall? Forty- seven percent approval, 49 percent disapprove.

And here's the problem: how is he handling the economy? Forty percent approve, 59 percent disapprove. Six in 10 Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the economy. This in a poll that came out days after the government says unemployment is 9.1 percent. That is a problem for any incumbent.

BELCHER: It is a serious problem. Let's be clear, in the end, this election is going to come down to a choice. It is going to -- President Obama or whoever the Republican nominee, which, by the way, I'm not sure it is going to be Romney. He's only up four or five points over Palin right now. And it's going to be who they trust more to deal with the economy, who they trust more to sort of understand that the problems with their lives now.

However, that said, given where the unemployment is right now, if you look at where Reagan was with job approval and where Clinton was with job approval at high unemployment rates, his job poll was ranging somewhere between 47 and 51 percent. It's been a fairly steady trend line.

So, overall, they think he's doing a good job and they really do see him trying. They're not happy with the economy right now. Heck, I'm not happy with the economy right now.

KING: Well, the president made it clear today -- he was at a news conference with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, at the White House, and the president made it clear he's not happy. Now, some people think we might dip back into a double dip. Listen to the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not concerned about the double dip recession. I am concerned about the recovery we're on is not producing jobs as quickly as I want it to happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Unemployed Americans want that even more than the president does. But that's the key -- it's an economic question, it's also a psychological question. The president says the economy is not producing jobs as fast as I would want that to happen.

If you ask the American people -- now, the data, the economists will tell you we're in a recovery and have been for some time. It's not robust, but we're in a recovery. If you ask the American people, are we in a recovery? Forty-three percent say yes, the recovery has begun. Again, nearly six in 10 Americans think we're still in a recession.

BELCHER: And that's the major problem right now we're sort of facing the re-election -- the campaign that we're going to be challenged with is making people feel that. Because clearly, they don't feel -- although that number, I will admit, that number has gone up over the couple of months, but it's still not where it needs to be. All the economists say it and the data is there to say it, the president has a story to tell to turn this around, but he's not in campaign mode yet.

BELCHER: He's not in campaign mode. He's still the president of the United States. I'm sorry -- the president every day is out talking about his initiatives. He's going to key towns. He's going around the country. He had an auto event the other day.

How hard is it, what advice do you give him on, he needs to talk up the economy, he needs to convince people we're in a recovery? But if he sounds too optimistic, people say, look around my neighborhood, look around my family, Mr. President, disconnect.

BELCHER: But the number one thing he has to do is get things -- is get something done. And when Americans right now are sort of upset about the economy and the deficit because they see Washington fighting and nothing getting done, if he delivers and he gets something done, he'll have a wonderful story to tell.

KING: You say he'll have a wonderful story. I want you to listen quickly here. This is Tim Pawlenty, the governor of Minnesota, former governor of Minnesota. He's one of the Republican candidates -- one of the Republican candidates. They're trying to hone their own economic message. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TIM PAWLENTY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The president is satisfied with a second rate American economy produced by his third rate policies. I'm not. I promised to level with the American people, to look them in the eye and tell them the truth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Any sense -- I know you're a Democrat, don't beat him up -- any sense --

BELCHER: I'm not.

KING: -- the Republicans have come up with a new economic narrative? Or is it more, let's go back to what we have done before?

BELCHER: Here's a problem. If I'm a Republican strategist, here's my problem -- the orthodox of simply tax cuts, you know, it's one that we can easily beat up on. I mean, look, this idea that you're simply going toto cut more taxes and that's going to pull us out, I don't know -- I don't know if independent voters are going to buy that.

KING: We'll see.

And we have a debate Monday night, all the Republican candidates up in the state of New Hampshire. We'll be there. We hope you're there for that. We'll see you tomorrow night right here.

"IN THE ARENA" starts right now.