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CNN NEWSROOM

Interview With Journalist Helen Thomas; President Obama Targets Executive Pay

Aired October 22, 2009 - 15:00   ET

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


(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Coming at you right now:

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: A lot of money, but also it's about damn time.

SANCHEZ: Roland Martin unhinged. What really is the big deal? Will these executive pay cuts make a bit of difference?

A Kennedy takes on one of the biggest oil companies in the world. But Chevron fires back. You will see it live.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): He never paid my salary.

MARTIN: Are Hispanic immigrants right, wrong, or unfairly targeted? What do you say?

What's that about TV talking heads often being birdbrains? Oops. It's really happening.

HELEN THOMAS, HEARST NEWSPAPERS COLUMNIST: Why did you really want to go to war?

GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You know, I didn't want war.

SANCHEZ: Nobody upstages Helen Thomas. And you will find out for yourself when she joins me live.

Your national conversation for Tuesday, October 22, 2009, starts right now.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: And hello again, everybody. I'm Rick Sanchez with the next generation of news. This is a conversation. It is not a speech and it's always your turn to get involved.

Government-ordered pay cuts for some of the fattest cats on Wall Street. I have heard from you about this one all day long. We have been talking. And just moments ago, we heard from the president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We believe in success. But it does offend our values when executives of big financial firms -- firms that are struggling -- pay themselves huge bonuses even as they continue to rely on taxpayer assistance to stay afloat.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: The news as we have been bringing to it you over the last 24 hours, based on sources, it's now official. As of this afternoon, pay cuts of up to 90 percent, 90 percent in compensation, that's a lot, for the highest-paid players at firms that took government bailouts and haven't paid them back.

Why? Well, it's our money. A lot of folks are saying it's about damn time. Is that what you think as well? CNN political analyst Roland Martin came all but unhinged when I asked him about this. Listen to how he reacts.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Man, 90 percent, that's a lot of dough.

ROLAND MARTIN, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: It's a lot of money, but also, it's about damn time. The White House, frankly, has been slow in actually making this happen. They have been making all these pronouncements, talking about "Oh, you guys should watch it," but there's been all bark and no bite.

In fact, I do a daily segment on "The Tom Joyner Morning Show" and I had Ali on just yesterday talking about this. And that is, they have the opportunity, frankly, earlier this year to really put some teeth behind it. But what Wall Street did was, they bought themselves some time.

So, what you, in fact, saw -- you saw all these people giving the money back, saying, "Oh, no, we don't want you guys to mess with pay." The bottom line is this here: These companies have been reporting strong earnings because they have been cutting staff, they have been cutting expenses. They have not been growing revenue.

So, when the Dow hit 10,000 last week on the strength of those reports, it was because of the cuts they were making. So, the people who have been laid, of course, they have been losing their jobs, they are the ones paying the price while these fat cats are sitting and getting our money, and you're sitting here saying you're getting these astronomical bonuses, awarding more money in bonuses in 2009 than they were awarding two and three years ago? Nonsense.

It's about time the White House finally stepped up and said, "We are going to go after you guys because this is ridiculous."

SANCHEZ: What do you say to the people who say, "You know what, a deal is a deal. We had a contract." If I sign a contract with you, Roland Martin, that says that this year you have to pay me a certain amount. Don't you have to pay me a certain amount no matter what?

MARTIN: OK, OK. Here's also the deal. You guys also were in business. You made some bad decisions. Then you should go out of business.

See, that's the deal. They don't want to go out of business. We had to bail them out. We had to bail out Citigroup. We had to bail out Bank of America. It changes.

SANCHEZ: So, what you're saying...

MARTIN: It changes.

SANCHEZ: What you're saying is, if we hadn't come in and saved their butts to begin with...

MARTIN: They are gone.

SANCHEZ: ... they wouldn't have had these bonuses...

MARTIN: No.

SANCHEZ: ... or any other bonuses. So, the argument is null and void.

MARTIN: Right. I mean, it's sort of like sitting here saying, "Oh, well, let's see, I'm getting a bonus because you gave me money so I can keep my job."

SANCHEZ: So, you're speaking of the president, by the way. I know you're quite critical of him there moments ago, saying that this is something he should have done a long time ago.

MARTIN: Why have a pay -- why have a pay czar, Rick, if you're not going to move? We -- this is now October. We have been hearing about bonuses since February over and over and over. So, why do you wait now? Let's just be real here, Rick.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Well, let me toss you -- let me just toss a possibility out there for you, all right? And it's not just this president, but, by the way, since we're going to name names, this president has taken about as much money from some of these Wall Street guys for his campaigns as just about any other politician out there.

MARTIN: Politicians take money. You're right.

SANCHEZ: OK, fine. But do you go and punish yourself that way by going after the Wall Street guys when these are the guys who basically fund your campaign?

MARTIN: I don't care if they fund your campaign. The bottom line is this here: They got taxpayer money.

You cannot sit here and say, "Oh, we're going to keep laying off the American worker but I'm still going to get a big fat bonus. That's how we do it."

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANCHEZ: Now, he's not saying it, but you know that politics is involved in this. And that's the lefty perspective, right? It's what you get when you ask that question of Roland Martin, or what some may refer to as the lefty perspective.

So, what is the right saying about this? What are they saying about the federal government saying to Wall Street execs, look, we're capping your pay because it our money? Well, actually, the right's not saying much about this.

Look, who wants to take the side of Wall Street now who may be arguing with the president of the United States that they are entitled to our money. Good luck trying that argument, right?

Well, here's one attempt. This comes from last night on "A.C. 360."

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I think businesses have to be in the business of doing business. And I think that there's a problem here if government has too much intervention, too much control over the free market, which should be driving salaries that you end up making our companies less competitive in a global market place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Point taken, but this is important. And I want to make sure that you know all the real facts in this case, as we always do on this show.

This isn't huge, right? We're really talking -- when you really drill down on this, we're talking about, what, seven firms, seven firms that got billions and haven't paid us back for it. They are Bank of America -- I will take you through these -- Citigroup, AIG, AIG, AIG, General Motors, and Chrysler, plus, of course, all their financing arms, seven firms.

And we're also hearing the cuts only apply to the top 25 executives in those firms. That's really dozens of executives, when we really put it all together. So, given the big headlines and the real decreased impact when put into perspective, we have to ask, doesn't this really appear to be more about political cover for the Obama administration, as we near bonus time on Wall Street?

Rick Newman is the chief business correspondent for "U.S. News & World Report."

I was reading your notes earlier today, Rick. Good to see you again.

RICK NEWMAN, "U.S. NEWS & WORLD REPORT": Hey, Rick.

SANCHEZ: And you know what I'm wondering? You know what I want to know from you, I want to know how much more of this type of stuff is on the way. How many more regulations are coming and what do these guys on Wall Street -- are they shaking in their boots?

NEWMAN: We're going to hear a lot about new regulations in the financial industry for the next several months. Congress is working up some new regulations right now. The Fed announced something today a little bit different about what the Treasury Department -- but in terms of really clamping down on the pay packages these guys get, I think this is about the end of it, Rick.

And I think the reason is, as you pointed out, these are seven firms. These are seven firms that were not competitive firms. These firms would be dead and gone if not for the government. The government owns the majority of a couple of them, General Motors and AIG. And it owns a big chunk of most of the rest. So, the government...

(CROSSTALK)

NEWMAN: ... right as an owner -- owner of these companies.

SANCHEZ: But you agree with Roland. Roland, just was on the air. And he said, look, bottom line is these guys can't come back and say, we had a deal, we had a contract, that contract has to be honored, because if the government hadn't come in and saved their big butts, then there would be no deal for them at all right now. They would be out of work.

NEWMAN: Well, I think the next time we go through a huge round of bailouts like this, hopefully, we will have learned a lesson and we will get those concessions in the contracts at the beginning. We didn't do that this time. We gave them the money and then we said, oh, by the way...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: So, that's Obama's fault. The president of the United States...

(CROSSTALK)

NEWMAN: And it goes back to the Bush administration, too.

SANCHEZ: But -- well, that's -- you're right. You're right. Yes, the Bush administration is actually where these kind of deals were done.

But maybe should this president, as soon as he came into office, shouldn't he have said, by the way, let's make things perfectly clear, as Richard Nixon would say; these bonuses that you guys -- coming your way, forget about it; we're not going to honor those?

Should he have done it then and not now?

NEWMAN: I think Obama wishes he had done that, because this caught the new administration, rookie administration, by surprise when these bonuses surfaced really in about March of last year, two months after Obama came in. I think that turned out to be the moment of maximum outrage for people who object to the bailouts, which as you pointed out is a majority of Americans, because it's one thing to give the bailouts. Then we find out that some of the people who caused the problems at these firms were getting bonuses, particularly at AIG, just egregious, and then at Merrill Lynch, which Bank of America bought.

And now we are about six months later and finally they have found a way to sort of answer that anger. I don't think there's too much more they can do, Rick, with...

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Well, wait. They're doing something now.

(CROSSTALK)

NEWMAN: ... bailout money.

SANCHEZ: Well, hold on. We just got this from the Associated Press. Let me read it to you. And you tell me if it's significant or not.

"The Federal Reserve is proposing for the first time ever to police banks pay policies to ensure that they don't encourage employees to have reckless gambles like those that contributed to the financial crisis."

How significant is that and what's it really mean?

NEWMAN: Right.

I think it's significant. But to translate it a little bit, first of all, those will be sort of secret deals between the banks and their regulators. We are not going to know about them.

And what the Federal Reserve really wants to make sure happens is that executives don't get rewards -- don't make a lot of short-term money for gambles that might blow up down the road. So, what that basically means is not necessarily that the bankers are going to make less money, but that they're going to have to vest their -- it's going to be more stock. It's going to have to vest over the long term, and they will get their money over a longer period of time, when it's clear that the company is in good shape.

If the company is not in good shape because of decisions they made, they are out luck probably.

(CROSSTALK)

SANCHEZ: Somehow, I think it's a good idea to not reward people for screwing up. I don't know. Call me crazy.

(LAUGHTER)

NEWMAN: It's a very quaint notion, Rick. (LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ: I love your description. Good word choice, as my old (INAUDIBLE) professors used to say.

Rick, thanks for being with us. Appreciate it.

NEWMAN: Thank you.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ARIELLE ROSENBERG, CASA LATINA: I have been calling you. You hung up on me.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: When it comes to Latinos in America, the issue of work is huge. Are they gaming the system, or is the system gaming them? This is a CNN exclusive. We're going to bring it to you, both sides, coming up.

Also, today, we're taking score. Remember the gang of six? Who voted for the public option? Who didn't vote for the public option? Who stood up to the insurance companies? We're going to tell you, question and answer, when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez.

Boy, you guys are -- we call this a national conversation and let me tell you something. The nation is conversing and all of you to a man and to a woman seem to be angry at these big Wall Street fat cats. Look at the responses that we're getting. Let's cut to that, if we can.

"Slamming taxpayers around, then slamming customers with jolting interest rates is criminal."

"Giving bonuses with presence of debt is a risk behavior. Shouldn't Americans as investors protect their investment?"

Well, that seems to be what the president is doing.

"Obama is doing all that he can to help Wall Street. They need to let him do what he plans to do and give him a break."

"The pay cuts were a long time in coming, Rick. It's high time big biz is taken down."

This is incredible. Obviously, from reading this, one gets a sense that the mood around the country is one that is favorable for what the president is doing. Good luck if you're a politician and you try and defend the Wall Street companies at this point, because Americans just seem to be saying, at least on the Twitter board, on MySpace and Facebook while we're doing this show, they're not going to have it.

All right, speaking of something else that we have kept close tabs on for you, remember the Senate's gang of six? Those are the six members of the Senate Finance Committee. They're the gurus on health care reform as we have called them. They were the ones in the loop, the ones who crafted that health care bill we told you about.

And because of that they were the focus of a lot of lobbying. Duh. Collectively, these six members received about $3.5 million from health and medical interests, according to OpenSecrets.org and the Sunlight Foundation.

And so I asked you, well, how many of these members of the gang of six actually broke with the health care lobby who was giving them money to vote one way, obviously, and then they cast votes in favor of the public option and went the other way when the bill actually went before the committee? Think about that. Somebody's telling you, don't vote that way, here's a lot of money for your campaign, and you vote the other way.

Well, to clarify, the gang of six, the answer? One, one person who some might call courageous enough to go against the money. Who is it? It's this man, New Mexico Democrat Jeff Bingaman. Bingaman voted for two separate versions of the public option. He voted yes on the Schumer amendment and then yes on the Rockefeller amendment, when the Finance Committee voted late last month.

He was the only member of the gang of six to do so. I should also tell you this. According to OpenSecrets.org and the sunlightfoundation.com, health care interests from 2005 to the present have given Senator Bingaman about $366,000.

That means of all the members of the gang of six -- this is interesting -- he got the least. He's the one who voted against it and he got the least amount of campaign money. What's it mean? You decide. We just thought you should know.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS: My question is, why did you really want to go to war?

BUSH: I didn't want war. To assume I wanted war is just -- is just flat wrong, Helen, in all due respect.

(CROSSTALK)

BUSH: No, hold on for a second, please. Excuse me. Excuse me. No president wants war.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: She's the woman who took on the president, took on, in fact not just that president, but president after president after president after president. You're going to see her do it and then you're going to see her live here with me in just a little bit. Also, speaking of being held accountable, some of these people are undocumented immigrants that you're looking there in that video next to me and they are protesting what -- for what they say is rightfully theirs in America. I'm going to bring you this story exclusive story from Seattle in just a little bit.

Stay with us. I will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: By the way, I'm still waiting.

Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez here in the world headquarters of CNN.

I'm still waiting for one person to Twitter me since this show began -- maybe it will be you -- Twitter me if you believe that the Wall Street bankers should get their bonuses, because I swear, I have yet to get one person who's backing the bankers on this thing. I have never seen a situation where it's quite so one-sided.

In fact, look. Look at this one that we got just a little while ago during the break. It's another one. And it seems to say the same thing. "Look, if you get government money, all deals are off. No big paycheck until you pay off the debt." That seems to be what everybody is saying.

I would be interested. Again, if you're out there and you believe that the bankers should be getting their bonuses, send me a tweet. I would like to hear what you have to say. Maybe you can even things up. Oh, I doubt it.

Most of us head to work every single day with a simple expectation, an honest day's pay for an honest day's work, right? That's what we try to do as Americans. Here's a question. Would you continue to show up at your job day and day out if the boss didn't pay you? For a growing number of people in this country, guys trying to support their families in tough times, it's all work and it's no pay, or pay that is real sporadic or much, much less than promised.

I mean, that's called wage theft. And workers who are in this country illegally are no doubt the most frequent victims of this. Think about it. Why? Because some employers out there will say, who cares? They're illegal. What are they going to do to me, sue?

So, what if I told him I was going to pay him $200 and then when he ends up doing the job, I give him $20, a cup of coffee and I say, so what? Is that fair?

One man is saying no. And he's being pretty courageous about this. He's protesting. Here's his story. It's an interesting one. It's kind of a different way of looking at this.

It's CNN's Patrick Oppmann who tells it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN ALL-PLATFORM JOURNALIST (voice-over): In a parking lot near Seattle, a protest against a local employer, but not your normal employment dispute. The demonstrators are illegal immigrants and their supporters. They are here for Ramon Hernandez (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): They never paid my salary. When they paid me, they paid me only installments. Little by little, the money they owed began to accumulate. I stayed because I felt that it was a way to save money.

OPPMANN: Hernandez cleaned this bakery for two years, but he says he was rarely paid, and sometimes just given food. When he complained, he says he was fired.

The bakery owner would not speak on camera, but told CNN their employees are well-treated. But Hernandez didn't fade away. He took his case to a group called CASA Latina.

(on camera): Organizers say that protests like this one are the most effective way to recover the wages they say these immigrants are owed.

(voice-over): At CASA Latina, volunteers say what they call wage theft from illegal immigrants is on the rise, partly because of the bad economy and partly because of discrimination. And that's despite the fact that workers here illegally have the same rights as U.S. citizens to recover owed salaries.

ARIELLE ROSENBERG, CASA LATINA: I'm trying to get in touch with you because we were expecting your check.

OPPMANN: Getting employers to pay up is not so easy.

ROSENBERG: But what we see is, bosses, some of them are judgment-proof. Some of them are hiding their assets in a bunch of different places. Some of them are just really sticky and never actually respond to the summons.

OPPMANN: Undocumented worker Jose Estevez gets ready to paint an apartment. Working in the U.S. allows him to send money back home to Mexico, where his family has bought a car, fixed their house, and adopted a young girl. But he hasn't sent any money in two months, he said, after a longtime employer failed to pay him thousands of dollars.

JOSE ESTEVEZ, UNDOCUMENTED WORKER (through translator): She wrote me a check for 17 days worth of work, but the check bounced. She told, "I will pay you," gave me a date and said that's when you will be paid. I called her back on that day and got no answer.

Estevez says that is because she disconnected her phone and moved.

Back at the protest, I'm wrapping up an interview with Ramon Hernandez, who also seems to be out of luck, when a bakery employee hands him a cell phone. The bakery owner is on the phone. Arielle Rosenberg does the talking.

ROSENBERG: I have been calling you. You hung up on me.

OPPMANN: The owner agrees to cough up Hernandez's unpaid wages, over $20,000, if the group leaves. Critics of illegal immigrant say these people shouldn't be here in the first place, much less working. Their supporters argue work should be compensated, no matter who does it.

ROSENBERG: It's going to challenge all of us who are working and trying to earn a living wage if what we're saying is it's OK to treat some people as though they have no rights, it's OK to treat people as though they're slaves.

OPPMANN: Ramon Hernandez has received the first $6,000 he is owed, and despite his status is ready to stand up for others in his plight.

Patrick Oppmann, CNN, Seattle.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

SANCHEZ: Patrick Oppmann puts together a nice piece, doesn't he?

By the way, part two of Soledad O'Brien's documentary "LATINO IN AMERICA" airs tonight at 9:00 Eastern on CNN. Last night, you met the many faces that go by the name Garcia. It's kind of like the Joneses, right? Tonight, she brings you stories of Latinos chasing the dream.

And, tomorrow, join me for a national conversation on CNN Radio and CNN.com/live. I'm going to take your calls from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. Eastern. Just to call it, by the way, it's 877-266-4189.

Bobby Kennedy, he died as defender of the poor. And guess who's gone to South America, of all places, to take on the same plight of the poor? His daughter. And she's going to join me live in just a little bit.

Also, have you ever tried to understand beach erosion? Well, how's that for beach erosion? You get the picture?

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Still waiting for somebody out there to send me a tweet or a message on Facebook or MySpace and tell me that they do support the bankers getting these bonuses. Talk about an opinion or a point of view that's hard to find.

Let me share a couple more on the Twitter page, if we possibly can. There you go. "What the bankers should be getting is a nice kick in their rear end."

And underneath that: "You're nuts. No one's going to fight for these bankers." There you go. If you're serious, I'm serious. Let me know. If you think that you can explain a cogent reason why these bankers should get their money, send me a tweet and we will put it on right away. Now this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HELEN THOMAS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS.: I don't belong there, in the front row. I can shout from any place.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: She does, too. Shout, that is.

Helen Thomas, she doesn't care who the president is. She cuts right to the chase and she kind of gets in their face.

You're going to see it for yourself, and then you'll see her here live with me.

Also, one of the presidents that Helen Thomas once questioned was John F. Kennedy. His niece joins me here, next. She's taking on an oil company.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: We do a lot of this, and I'm glad you like it. What we do is we try and connect with what's going on in our hemisphere, and this is important.

In this case, how it is that often time our image as Americans -- this is never a good thing -- can be sullied by the behavior of an American corporation abroad. And then they end up not representing us well.

This case, big oil on one side, people who say their land is being savaged or has been savaged for profit on the other. This is what we call this segment, "Conexion."

All right. Let me set this one up for you. It goes back a couple of years.

Texaco, the mighty oil giant, drilled for oil in Ecuador for years and years, partners with a state oil company there. Fast forward to today.

The people who live in those oil field areas say that their environment is trashed and more than 1,000 people are dead from cancer. They say it's Texaco's fault and they want it cleaned up.

They want damages. They want somebody held accountable. They want somebody to take responsibility for this.

And who's speaking up for these mostly indigenous people? Kerry Kennedy, the daughter of Robert F. Kennedy. She has just returned from Ecuador, saw some of the damage there herself, and she met some of the people who say they want to be compensated.

This is a $27 billion lawsuit.

Kerry, thanks for being with us.

KERRY KENNEDY, PRESIDENT, RFK CENTER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Thank you. I'm so happy to be here.

You know, this is Chevron Chernobyl. It is the biggest corporate environmental disaster on the face of the earth, in the history of the world. It's the size of Rhode Island, the area that they polluted, and you go into that rain forest, and the eeriest thing is you don't hear a sound. There are no birds, there are no monkeys, there are no animals, because they're all dead.

SANCHEZ: Why? The oil that they left behind has killed the animals and given cancer to the people? Is that the charge?

KENNEDY: Absolutely. So, what happens is, when you dig for oil, normally a company will take all the oil sludge and the water, the polluted water that's left over when you create oil for use. And they put it back in the ground where the original oil came from.

But Texaco didn't do that because they're in the middle of the jungle, they're surrounded by poor people and Indians. And so, they just left them in these open pits.

They didn't line the pits, they didn't put tops on the pits. And it's the rain forest, so the water -- the rain is coming down, the pits are overflowing, and they didn't clean it up.

I saw one from 19 -- abandoned by Texaco in 1974, this big, black area the size of an Olympic pool, and it's got two drainage pipes coming out of it and going right into the stream next door. This clear liquid is coming out of the pipes. I go over and smell it, and it smells just like pouring gasoline into my car, and that's going straight into the drinking water for the village downstream.

SANCHEZ: So, you're saying that because -- you just mentioned that they're poor, they're indigenous people. Are you suggesting or does the lawsuit suggest that because they were poor and indigenous people, who, for the most part, are usually voiceless, that Texaco, now Chevron, that's taken over Texaco, just didn't care for these people?

KENNEDY: You know what? I think that's absolutely what happened.

We heard terrible stories about women being raped by Texaco employees, about Texaco employees taking a shaman to mountain ranges away and dropping him off and seeing if he could walk home. Telling indigenous people that if they rub oil on their hair, that their hair will grow longer and thicker. I mean, it's disgusting what happened to these people.

(CROSSTALK) SANCHEZ: Over how long a period of time did this occur, by the way? I'm curious.

KENNEDY: Well, it happened from the early 1960s until the lawsuit was brought about 16 years ago, and then Chevron took over Texaco in 2001. But it's not that this happened in the past. I mean, I was there last weekend and looking at these oil sludge dumps that are still in use and still polluting and still killing people.

SANCHEZ: Final question, if this is that plain and simple as you have described it to us -- and I think you have done a very good job, you have drawn a picture in most of the minds of fair-minded viewers who would say, you know what? When you screw up, you should compensate people for it, you should pay for it. If it's that obvious, why hasn't a court come up and said, you know what, you've got to pay the money there, Chevron/Texaco.

KENNEDY: That's a good question. There was a court case brought by a group of indigenous people in New York 16 years ago. Chevron -- or Texaco at that time -- knew that they were going to lose that case. They had the case removed and brought in Ecuador, where they felt that -- where some people believed they felt that they controlled the court system.

SANCHEZ: Right.

KENNEDY: And now that court is about to bring down a $27 billion judgment. This is pollution 30 times the size of Exxon Valdez. The Exxon Valdez was a spill, it was a mistake. This was no mistake, it was done on purpose.

SANCHEZ: Well said. We appreciate your perspective on this.

Kerry Kennedy, thanks so much for being with us. We appreciate it.

KENNEDY: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: All right.

Silvia Garrigo, she represents Chevron Oil Company, ,and she's going to give us her response to what you have just heard from Kerry Kennedy there moments ago.

To be fair, we promised both sides, we'll deliver both sides.

Also, talking head -- talking head meet bird brain. But wait, it doesn't say it on the teleprompter. Then it must exist. Duh.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez, continuing now. Let me do a quick reset for you. A group of indigenous people and farmers in a small and not densely populated province of Ecuador suing Chevron, the oil company that now owns Texaco. The suit says that Texaco's years of oil drilling in Ecuador has created a staggering environmental disaster, and that it's ruined the land and killed many people from cancer.

Now, you just saw me speaking to Kerry Kennedy, who's representing these indigenous Ecuadorians.

Silvia Garrigo is good enough to join us now. She's in charge of Chevron's global issues and policies.

Silvia, good to see you again.

SILVIA GARRIGO, MANAGER, GLOBAL ISSUES AND POLICY, CHEVRON: Likewise, Rick. I remember you back from the Miami Hurricane Andrew days and your reporting then.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Talk about an environmental disaster of its own proportions.

But you just heard Kerry Kennedy say that the company that you represent should be responsible for coming in there and cleaning up what she just described as an environmental disaster of infinite proportions. She compared it to the Exxon Valdez, for example.

Is she wrong?

GARRIGO: Yes, she is. And Rick, we have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for the work that Ms. Kennedy conducts in the area of human rights. But with all due respect, the fact is that Ms. Kennedy only spent two days in the Amazon and only heard the plaintiff's side of the story.

For the past years, I have spent the better part of my life in Ecuador, in the Amazon, and with this litigation. There are three key facts that your viewers need to know, Rick.

The first is that for the past 20 years, the government-owned oil company has exclusively operated the fields. The fields that Ms. Kennedy saw when she was recently in the Amazon.

SANCHEZ: So you're saying -- so, wait. Hold on. I think what you just said is it's not Chevron/Texaco's responsibility, it was some other oil company's mess?

GARRIGO: We were in a consortium with the state oil company. We remediated our share before we left Ecuador. What Ms. Kennedy saw is the share that corresponds to the government and -- which is Petroecuador.

The second thing that your viewers also need to know, Rick, is that the health claims are absolutely and patently false. The only time those claims were asserted in a legitimate court of law -- here in San Francisco, a federal judge threw hem out as being false and fabricated. The third thing your viewers should know is that this case is corrupt to the core. The government has continuously and inappropriately interfered with this case. And recently, the judge was asked to be removed from the case because of his ties to corruption.

SANCHEZ: Why would the government interfere in a case like this and corrupt the system against its own interests?

GARRIGO: The government prefers to point the finger at an American multinational and not expose the fact that it has failed to remediate its share of the consortium fields, and that it has negligently impacted the fields for the past 20 years, and that it has failed to take care of the socioeconomic needs of the people. It's a very convenient scapegoating.

SANCHEZ: So you're saying -- only because we're running out of time, and I certainly don't mean to be rude, Silvia, but just so the viewers understand, what you're saying is that, yes, there is a huge environmental problem there, but that part of the environmental problem that exists was not created by Exxon or Texaco, it was created by Petroecuador, which was a national company there, not a U.S. company? That's the gist of -- the biggest part of your argument, isn't it?

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: What you're saying is that, yes, there's a huge environmental problem there.

SILVIA GARRIGO, MGR. OF GLOBABL ISSUES AND POLICY, CHEVRON: Oh, yes.

SANCHEZ: But that part of the environmental problem that exists was not created by Exxon or Texaco, it was created by Petro Ecuador which was a national company there, not a U.S. company. That's the gist of -- the biggest part of your argument, doesn't it?

GARRIGO: Yes, it is, Rick. We have a tremendous amount of sympathy. I have spent as of time with the people in the Amazon. I have made friends out there. I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for the people in the Amazon.

And we do believe, Chevron does believe it should be cleaned up. It's just what -- where we disagree is that where the responsibility lies. It does not lie with Chevron. It lies with the government of Ecuador and it's state oil company.

SANCHEZ: Well, I'll tell you what's interesting about this. You would think -- and look, I'm not a judge and this is not a court of law. We wanted to have both of you present your evidence and your best arguments.

It sounds like being able to determine who owned and who worked a plot of land is something that legal documents would be able to explain. So, we'll watch the case. We'll have you back. We'll see how it ends up and we'll continue to see.

GARRIGO: Thank you.

SANCHEZ: Because you -- I think you would agree that as Americans, the last thing we need is this kind of situation making us look like our businesses are kind of sullying our reputation around the world. And if that's the case here, that's probably what a lot of people would come up with, do you not agree?

GARRIGO: We couldn't agree with you more, Rick.

SANCHEZ: All right.

GARRIGO: Chevron has always acted appropriately here.

SANCHEZ: All right. We thank you so much for your time, Silvia Garrigo.

GARRIGO: OK.

SANCHEZ: Thank you for joining us with that perspective.

GARRIGO: Thank you, Rick.

SANCHEZ: We'll stay on top of that story for you.

I've got something to show all of you homeowners out there. You see that house? Don't you want that? I mean, look, a dream house, right? On the water, no grass to cut, easy access to the beach. Welcome to Cape Cod.

We'll be right back. Quick break.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

(CROWD SINGING)

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SANCHEZ: You got to have a crush on that woman. I do. Presidents respect her because she's covered so many of them. Helen Thomas is up to 10 and counting and she's going to join us in just a moment and tell us how she does it.

And that handsome guy to the right over that who looks a little bit like me -- he's my brother. Well, not really, I'll tell you who it is.

Stay with us. We'll be right back.

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SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez.

My staff will tell you when I fall in love with a phrase, I tend to overuse it. This week's phrase: agent provocateur. My writer Dave, agent provocateur. My associate producer Alicia, agent provocateur. My wife and my kids, definitely, agent provocateurs.

Our first "Foto" as in "Fotos Del Dia."

(MUSIC)

SANCHEZ: It is about an agent provocateur. An international basketball game in the Philippines, the Burger King Whoppers versus the Smart Gilas. So catchy, huh?

The referee makes a whopper of a call. The player says he doesn't agree. So, what does he do? Instead of taking it out on the ref, he goes into the stands and he starts fighting with a fan. The first thing he does, though, when he goes out there is he kicks the guy right in the home of the whopper, would you believe? Agent provocateur.

A secluded cottage on a Cape Cod beach. Summer of solitude, relaxation, no one to interrupt long lazy days, sipping Mojito and reading trashy novels -- no one expect Mother Nature. Maybe sharks.

The getaway was washed away over the weekend when a typical nor'easter blew through. It was the last of a dozen houses to survive severe erosion that hit this beach in 2007.

Alfred Hitchcock couldn't have written this one better. A news presenter in Australia is unaware that there's a giant seagull behind him. It's actually a wide shot of a camera shooting the seaside, being used behind him. The anchor continuing reading a murder no less. He's unfazed.

Can you imagine if that happened during our show? (INAUDIBLE)

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SANCHEZ: What was that?

All right. Which president made what Helen Thomas called about the dumbest move ever? I'm going to have her share that story with you when she comes back. And Craig Crawford, my old pal Ovaltine is standing right -- sitting right next to her.

I'll be right back.

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SANCHEZ: Welcome back. I'm Rick Sanchez.

Imagine having a front row seat to history and being able to grill and greet America's history makers. That's Helen Thomas. She's been giving it to these guys since 1961.

John F. Kennedy's first year in office, and she was the only woman. And guess what -- she taught the men folk there a thing or two. And she's still doing it.

Take a look at this exchange with White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on health care reform and the public option.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're going to work to get choice and competition into health care reform.

HELEN THOMAS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS CORPS: You're never going to get it.

GIBBS: Well, then, why do you keep asking me?

(LAUGHTER)

THOMAS: Because I want your conscience to bother you.

(LAUGHTER)

GIBBS: Wow. Should we sit down and I confess a little bit to you?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Now, Helen Thomas has some advise for the leader of the free world. She's put it all together in "Listen Up, Mr. President," a book she's written along with veteran political writer Craig Crawford.

And, by the way, Craig Crawford is an old pal of mine. We used to work together in a previous job that I used to have. I wish I could talk to him more often.

How are you all doing?

CRAIG CRAWFORD, VETERAN POLITICAL WRITER: Great. We're glad to be here. Helen's raring to go. You want to get some of that Gibbs' treatment?

(LAUGHTER)

SANCHEZ: No, no. I'm going to -- I'm going to be real nice, Ms. Thomas, I swear.

Hey, look -- you know, as I look through your book, I see what's inviting about it is, even in just the chapters -- I mean, "You Are Not Above the Law, Mr. President. Read the Constitution."

What are you guys trying to say there? Helen?

THOMAS: Pardon?

SANCHEZ: What are you trying to say in a chapter called, "You Are Not Above the Law, Mr. President. Read the Constitution"?

THOMAS: Exactly those words.

SANCHEZ: Which president?

THOMAS: Oh, practically -- especially the last one. I think we definitely took the Constitution apart.

CRAWFORD: The security wiretaps and...

THOMAS: Exactly.

CRAWFORD: ... the detainees and Guantanamo. These are some of things Helen asked a lot of questions about.

THOMAS: Torture.

SANCHEZ: Torture.

THOMAS: Putting that albatross around their necks forever in history.

SANCHEZ: Is it just something that past president -- I mean, you -- how many you've covered again? How many presidents have you covered, Helen?

THOMAS: Only 10.

CRAWFORD: Only 10.

SANCHEZ: You've got to love that. Who was the worst when it came to this particular chapter? Was it -- was it George W. Bush?

THOMAS: In terms of civil rights, our liberties, I would say, yes, President Bush 43.

SANCHEZ: OK. Let's turn to President Clinton, then. Next chapter. I'm guessing here, by the way, "Watch Your Image, You're on YouTube." Was this a constant -- Craig, was this President Clinton's faux pas?

CRAWFORD: Yes. One of the things they didn't like early in their administration was being photographed on the beach one time and a few other problems in that administration.

But, you know, we also go back in history to a lot of presidents who had image problems. One of our favorites was William Howard Taft when he got stuck in the tub and the four construction workers pried him out of the tub. What happened was, when they took the tub out, the construction workers, to make room for an oversized tub, they dropped it and cracked it. Then they brought it outside.

The reporters saw the crack and the whole story around the nation was that Taft had actually cracked his own bathtub, which wasn't true. But it became a national joke. It just shows you how sometimes your image can get way out of whack from what the actual truth is because of those darn reporters, Rick.

SANCHEZ: But you say it's important to tell the truth -- to tell the truth. I mean, look -- you say, have courage even if it hurts. Tell the truth no matter what.

Look, politically, a lot of these guys can't do that, because the system doesn't work that way anymore. Would you -- would you argue it can? How? Helen?

THOMAS: Yes, they can. It does work that way. The American people can handle the truth. What they can't handle is a lot of lies, the lies that took us into Iraq, in the run-up to the war that was so blatant.

Where are the weapons of mass destruction? Where are the ties to al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein? Where's the threat of a third world country? All of these things are falsehoods.

SANCHEZ: Let's do...

THOMAS: We went to war. Thousands are dead, thousands wounded for a life.

SANCHEZ: You have a courageous point of view for someone who works inside the Beltway. And it's interesting. I want to talk more about this.

For those of you who want to continue this conversation -- by the way, the book is called "Listen Up, Mr. President." great read. I'm sure Wolf Blitzer is going to give it a look.

Speaking of Wolf Blitzer, here is Mr. Blitzer from "THE SITUATION ROOM."