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CNN Tonight

Gulf Oil Leak

Aired May 27, 2010 - 19:00   ET


JOHN KING, HOST: Thanks, Wolf. We will begin with breaking news. It is day 38 of the Gulf oil spill but more importantly, it is hour 27, 27 hours since BP began the high-risk, high-stakes procedure called "top kill". It is supposed to stop the oil leak. And we were told yesterday we would know by now if the procedure was working but we are still waiting.

We did learn this today. The government revised its numbers and this is now, by far the largest oil spill in American history. We heard a lot from the president today, too, including this --


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: In case you are wondering who is responsible, I take responsibility. It is my job to make sure that everything is done to shut this down.


KING: More on the president and his trip to the region tomorrow in a packed hour ahead.

But we begin by going straight to the source, BP's chief operating officer, Doug Suttles. The first question, when will we know if "top kill" is working?


DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Well, I think, John, we should know over the next 24 to 48 hours, but I should stress that it's hard to predict exactly when the job will finish. We just actually restarted pumping within the last hour or so. So, we will be monitoring that very carefully. But we are going to stay at this job until either it works or we are convinced it had can't work and that could take some time.

KING: And yesterday at this time, we were told we would probably have a good guess in 24 hours, which would be now. Is it just taking longer? Have you not been able to build up as much pressure as you would like? Is there something that has gone wrong or just an adjustment you've had to make based on what you've learned?

SUTTLES: Well, this whole operation is very, very dynamic, so, what we've actually done is, is when we did the initial pumping, we clearly impacted the flow of the well. We then stopped to monitor the well. Based on that we restarted again. We didn't think we were making enough progress after we restarted so we stopped again. We have analyzed what we have done and actually just as I said, just within the last hour, we have restarted. In doing some of that time, not only did we analyze what happened yesterday, but we also restocked the vessels with additional drilling mud so we can continue as long as we need to.

KING: Do you need more pressure? What is -- what did you learn in the analysis that you are going to do differently now?

SUTTLES: Well, what's happened is, John is too much of the mud is exiting the riser as opposed to going down the well bore. So, what we need to do is adjust how we are doing the job so that we get more of the drilling mud to go down the well as opposed to out the riser. And we have a couple of ways to do that. We actually have materials we can pump, they're fibrous-type materials we can pump from the surface to help with that.

And we also have that junk shot manifold we have talked about before available to us and we can actually use it and then the last tool we have in here is to pump at very high rates, which is what we were doing initially yesterday. And as I've mentioned before, the equipment actually has performed very well, we are very pleased with the performance of the equipment so far.

KING: As we were watching this all day we had no idea most of the day that the pumping had stopped for a period of many hours. Does the company not feel an obligation when the world is watching to let us know when something like that happens for a while?

SUTTLES: Well, John, I should say I have had a number of people mention that to me and clearly we need to probably do even more to tell people what's occurring. You can imagine, and to some degree, we are probably guilty of focusing so much on this operation. We have spent all of our time analyzing the results, looking at the next steps. And we somehow need to continually feed data out there to the public so they know what's occurring.

They are obviously able to watch the plume and the end of the riser, but we have actually said it is very difficult to tell exactly what's occurring from that. So John, I probably should apologize to the folks that we haven't actually been giving more data on that. It was nothing more than we are so focused on the operation itself.

KING: One thing that did happen today is that the government dramatically revised upwards its estimate of the flow of this oil. And your company now has next to its name, worst oil spill in American history.

SUTTLES: Well, John, you know, I think we have said, you know, I've been here in Louisiana since -- well, for five weeks now. And I don't care how the numbers stack up against anything else. This is a horrible event for everyone that lives here. And you can feel it. You can touch it. You can feel the anger and the frustration. And you can feel the fear as well.

So I don't care how you measure this thing. This is a bad event and we are going to stay at this until we get it not only stopped but cleaned up and do everything we can to minimize the impact. And we have said that many times and we are going to stay at this as long as it takes to do that.

KING: How would you answer those who say that BP was trying to minimize it, for one reason, the more oil that spills out, the more the company has to pay? Even the president of the United States today said that BP already had a camera down there at the beginning, but wasn't fully forthcoming in terms of what those pictures looked like, essentially saying the government's initial estimates were wrong, the president says, because your company wasn't forthcoming in providing those images?

SUTTLES: Well, John, I think it's important to note that those images have been watched by the government along with ourselves since the very beginning. Those images have been available and been watched by the full unified command, the MMS and they've been piped to various parts of the country.


KING: So, is the president not telling the truth?


SUTTLES: We have never -- oh absolutely not, I would never say such a thing. We moved those images. Those images have been out there and available since the very beginning of this process, or in the very early days, the very -- I don't know the exact day but it was in the first three or four days that people asked for access to those and we granted that access.

I think what people are frustrated by is that we didn't know the exact number and we still don't. And we still don't know what that is and we've worked these estimates with the government all along. They have assembled this group of experts who made their estimate and I respect that. I don't know what the precise number is. I don't think any of us do but clearly their estimate is higher than the unified command's earlier estimates.

KING: But sir, there is a huge trust gap here, not only with the White House, but I was speaking to the -- one of the congressmen leading the investigation, and he says frankly -- he said BP wasn't telling us the truth and the narrative, he says they reviewed more than 150,000 documents now.

And the narrative they are beginning to paint is that you had a project that was behind schedule and over budget and that in the fateful final days and in the fateful final hours, the decisions were made on that deck to go ahead when they should have stopped and that warning, flashing warning signs were ignored because of some pressure to keep going.

SUTTLES: Well, John, I think I've stated many times, I'm not involved in the investigation. Since April 20th, I have done absolutely nothing but work on this response, so I haven't looked at the documents. I haven't examined the record. It's going to get -- it will get thoroughly examined, that's very clear and we will learn from this thing and if mistakes were made, they will be fixed. Clearly the way offshore drilling is done is going to change after this, but I'm just not in a place to comment on that I'm sorry.

KING: Well the man leading the investigation says this didn't have to happen and shouldn't have happened, do you agree with that?

SUTTLES: Well, look, I -- I'm sure we all agree that we wish it didn't happen. And we wish it didn't happen at all and we wish we could undo it, but we can't. All we can do now is actually minimize the impact and actually learn from it and I'm convinced we are going to do both of those things.

KING: Again, to the trust gap and people who think that the company has put its image ahead of the facts in some cases, I want to read something your colleague, the CEO, Tony Hayward (ph) said just the other day. He told Sky News (ph) "everything we can see at the moment suggests that the overall environmental impact of this will be very, very modest." Mr. Suttles, I'm sorry, but that's laughable, except that this isn't funny.

SUTTLES: Well, you know, John, I think that we are going to commit a huge amount of resources. In fact, we have recently announced that we were going to make up to $500 million available to study the long-term impacts. I don't know what those will be. I do know that there have been big spills in the Gulf and it's ultimately recovered, but I don't want to predict what that will be.

Clearly, the impact right now is huge both to the environment and to the people that live here. And we are going to stay at this and do the very best job we can do to clean it up and we will monitor the long-term impacts and we will learn from those.

KING: Let me circle back to the "top kill" procedure. At the very beginning there were some concerns that if it didn't work that in the process, something could be done that actually made it worse -- that made the situation worse, the leak worse, the spewing of the oil worse. Have you seen anything in the time so far that leads you to have any concerns that over the next 24 hours, as you started pumping again that there are risks, maybe if you increased the pressure or start doing things differently that it could actually be counterproductive?

SUTTLES: I don't think so John. I don't think we've seen anything yet that says that would be the case. I do know that we also have this -- this LMRP (ph) cap, this cap to put on top of essentially the BOP available to us to capture the flow, should the job not work. But I haven't seen anything yet that would tell me it could make it worse.

KING: Mr. Suttles, appreciate your time tonight.

SUTTLES: You bet. Thanks, John.

KING: Thank you, sir. (END VIDEOTAPE)

KING: The effort to stop the spill is only one part of this dramatic story. There's also the heartbreaking damage to Louisiana's coastline. James Carville and Mary Matalin live there and they have seen it firsthand. They join us live, next.


KING: Images there of the Louisiana coastline, some of the devastation caused by the BP oil spill. James Carville and Mary Matalin are CNN contributors. They're also of course, New Orleans residents. For them this story is personal. James and Mary join us now.

I want to start with what we just heard from the BP chief operating officer, including this. He says that they stopped pumping for a period of several hours so they could assess how the "top kill" operation was going, which I assumed the engineers told them they needed to do. The problem I had with it is that they didn't tell us. They can didn't tell the public we are all watching these live images of the undersea cameras, waiting to see if it is going to stop, they had shut it down for hours and not told anybody.

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Why would they start telling the truth now? That would be a change in BP behavior and I was stunned. This man is the chief operating officer, the COO, and he said he didn't know anything about why that rig exploded or what was even going on that rig. He's like Sergeant Schultz (ph), you I know nothing, I know nothing, who am I?

I am just some peon here. I mean you know there's a good reason why BP is not trusted at all by anyone here and again, there it is, 16 hours, they don't say anything. I thought the big news in the story was, as he said, and I don't know, that the government had the tape for four days into this and we were told we couldn't have it for 30 days. Was the government keeping it from us or was BP?

There's a difference between what the president said today and what BP said and what is the truth. We need to know the truth. We are being -- we're getting a lot of different stories here, John, and we got to get to the bottom of it, pronto.

KING: Mary, to the point about who knows what -- the president had a news conference today, a very lengthy news conference and he has been criticized from all quarters, including the two of you on occasion of saying, you know, why isn't the government doing more, and why isn't the federal government, especially on the cleanup effort and stopping the oil slick from hitting that precious shore line. I want you to listen to a bit of what the president said today as he tried to convince the American people that he has been on top of this from day one.


OBAMA: Every day I see this leak continue, I am angry and frustrated, as well. I realize that this entire response effort will continue to be filtered through the typical prism of politics, but that's not what I care about right now. What I care about right now is the containment of this disaster and the health and safety and livelihoods of our neighbors in the Gulf Coast.


KING: He says they are doing everything they can and as you know, your governor has disputed that, some of the local officials have disputed that saying it takes too long, they are not getting all the supplies they need. What did you think, Mary, of the president today? Did he answer your questions?

MARY MATALIN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, I've worked in a crisis White House, more than one and some of them have been manmade or some of them have been some God made, some made of their own hands. If something really is a presidential priority and it is an emergency it does not take 40 days and 40 nights to attend to it. I have been careful not to attack President Obama.

I'm proud of my husband and Donna Brazile and good Democrats who have -- it is very uncomfortable for them to say what they have been saying, but no one can argue credibly that the day one narrative, we have been on it since day one is anything other than fantasy. Then he started out, what evidence he was on it from day one? I called my team together. I've been beefed every day. Even my daughter is bugging me.

You know, people, that's -- Billy and Bobby and everybody down here have been very careful. They are bracing his visit tomorrow. They don't want to disparage this president personally and I am not here now. But if he thinks he has been served and he has gotten the credible information to say what he said today, those vessels aren't here. Those people aren't here.

If they are here, they are hidden in the marsh somewhere. We don't know where they are. And the consequence of their not acting responsibly, doing their job, not BP's job. Their job is that we are losing marshes and birds and species and wildlife and marine life likely to never be replenished.

CARVILLE: You know you had the feeling that the president was sort of madder at us than he was at BP -- that we caused the greatest environmental disaster in the history of the United States. I mean, there's anger but I don't think it ought to be at us. And look, we spent three hours combing the mouth of the river yesterday and not just us, the governor of the state of Louisiana, Anderson Cooper, we have tape we have been running, we had film crews, we had everything.

And to a person who will testify we didn't see one single person, not a single person doing one thing. We saw thousands of acres of distressed wetlands. And the only thing we saw was a helicopter, which I'm told was owned by BP, spying on us, circling above us. Not a single person. And again, that's just not me saying that, that's just not the governor, that's not Billy -- Anderson was there. CNN had entire crews there so I think this president is being misadvised to what's going on.

KING: Let me --


CARVILLE: We don't have the facts and I know I don't have -- but I got two eyes. I can see.

MATALIN: But tomorrow, John, let's hold him to this standard, don't fly over, get down there, do what Anderson Cooper did, stick your hand in it and then you will know what's going on down here.

KING: Well he's planning only to spend a couple of hours down there according to the schedule as it is right now. I want you both to listen to this. I don't like the Katrina comparison because they are two very, very different things. But the question of presidential leadership is a fair question.

He was asked about it today in the context of Katrina. Let me put it to you in the context of presidential leadership, because again, I just don't think -- I think it is apples and oranges to compare the two. But he -- let's view this in the context of presidential leadership and whether he has handled this right. The president said a few years from now when people look back they will think this --


OBAMA: When the problem is solved and people look back and do an assessment of all the various decisions that were made, I think people can make historical judgment. And I'm confident that people are going to look back and say that this administration was on top of what was an unprecedented crisis.


KING: You're shaking your head.

MATALIN: What's the evidence of that? What is the evidence of that? I will say again, he spewed out those statistics, 1,200 vessels, millions of feet of boom. No. Bobby asked on May 2nd for eight million feet of boom. They knew they weren't going too get that, but they today have a little over 800,000. And you don't -- you have to replenish it, so they are bragging -- they sent another 100,000.

How have they been on top of it? What is the evidence? Yes, they have cleaned up Grand Isle, yes, they have done the easy things. They have not protected -- what Charlie Malone (ph) said today broke your heart. These are -- this is our state, but it's America's wetlands. They are not on top of an inch of that and haven't been.

KING: We are going to take a quick break --

CARVILLE: You know, John --


KING: Why don't we take a quick break -- let's take a quick break and let -- let's take a quick break. We'll let the boat pass by and we will be back with James and Mary in just a minute. When we continue we'll look at more at the president's response and also the bigger question of government oversight. Has the government for years not been doing enough to keep an eye on this?


KING: We have new developments tonight from the Gulf oil spill. BP now says it will be another 24 to 48 hours before we will know if its so-called "top kill" procedure is working. Its much anticipated effort to cap the undersea gusher by pumping mud down the well head was temporarily suspended about midnight, only restarted within this past hour.

New government estimates say this is now the worst oil spill in U.S. history, far, far bigger than the "Exxon Valdez." Let's continue our conversation with our contributors, James Carville and Mary Matalin in New Orleans. I want to get back to the point. The president is coming to town tomorrow, obviously, he has a great deal to do to convince the two of you that, number one, he is on top of this, and number two, that he gets this, that he feels it.

You have both advised presidents at times of crisis. James Carville, you were close, still are close to the former President Bill Clinton. I was struck today reading a quote from the governor of Pennsylvania, Ed Rendell. He told "The Hill" newspaper, if Bill Clinton was president, he'd have been in a wet suit, you know, trying to get down to see the spill.

Now, some of this isn't fair. President Obama is by nature different. He is not a visceral guy like George W. Bush or like Bill Clinton. But is that one of the issues when you watched him today, when he says he is frustrated and angry, do you see it?

CARVILLE: You know what, I can tell, if I was advising the White House, which I'm definitely not, I would say people feel like that they are going to be abandoned. They know that BP's going to abandon us. They know that they are going to try to get out and squirm out of this anyway they can. They need to be reassured. The people of Louisiana don't feel like this government is going to stick with them.

And this president needs to come down here, he needs to stick his hand in this crude, he needs to say I'm never going to leave you people, I'm going to fight BP, I'm going to get you every nickel that you deserve. I'm going to make them clean this up. I'm going to build the coast. I understand you. And I want you to know that. And going to Grand Isle, which is nothing but a putuncan (ph) village, and BP is going to have people in HAZMAT suits looking like you know Mars or something like something has happened.

He needs to go out there and see that and tell people that they are not going to be abandoned and tell people that the United States government is coming down with force on BP. And he is going to have them by the neck and he is not going to let them go until everything is compensated down here, until their way of life is maintained. And that's what the White House doesn't understand. They don't understand that people don't have any faith. They feel like that this government is abandoning them and is not going to stick with them through this. That's the problem.

MATALIN: Well, I will say something positive about the president's press conference today. When he said that he grew up in Hawaii and he could understand the frustration of the people in south Louisiana, if they lived in and lived on for generations in those wetlands, we are talking about the wetlands and the birds and all that, but obviously, we are talking about the people and a way of life that's one of the oldest in this country and when he said that, maybe -- it is unfair to compare him to other emotive-type personalities, but I think people down here -- they needed to hear that but they need to see tomorrow as Billy Nungesser (ph) and governor -- the governor keep saying, make it happen.

The other good thing that did happen today that we've been discussing for several days now is Admiral -- Admiral Allen went out and said I'm going to flatten my command structure. They have been asking for this at the state and local level where the first responders know what they need since the outset of this and that the admiral said he was going to give it to them today and began building of some of the sand berms (ph). Well, that was real action. That's what -- the talk is great and important and necessary, but the action has to come.

CARVILLE: Another thing the president did say that I completely agree with is that everything in New Orleans and -- come down here.


CARVILLE: It's like we are here, this commerce, you can hear the train in the background and everything like that. I don't -- again, I think this president is knowledgeable. I think he is smart. I think he is met on this. But he is not giving people down here the sense that he is in this thing for the long haul, that BP is the culprit here. They are the giant person, and not the talking heads on television. We are not his problem. BP is his problem. BP did this. We didn't do that.

KING: Well the president will be --

CARVILLE: He has got to convince people (INAUDIBLE).

KING: The president will be there tomorrow. We will check back in with James and Mary to see if he delivered what the people of New Orleans and the people of Louisiana need from him. James and Mary, we appreciate your time tonight. We know this is a tough one. Thanks for joining us.

What is "Top Kill"? It is an incredibly complicated procedure. You might not understand it. When we come back, Bill Nye, "The Science Guy", he will help explain in plain English just what BP is doing to try to stop the spill. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: With so many technical and unfamiliar terms being tossed around during this operation in the Gulf of Mexico, we figured it's a great time to check back in with someone who's made a career of making science understandable. Bill Nye, "The Science Guy", joins us now from Los Angeles.

Bill, just quickly to start, when you heard BP explain "top kill" is under way, they stopped pumping for a while, and they've just resumed pumping in the past hour and it will be 24 to 48 hours more before we know. What did you pick up, any clues in that? They say nothing's gone wrong, but obviously they haven't gotten it right yet.

BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY: That's exactly right. So when the guy said we stopped pumping to assess the situation I think they ran out of mud on the ships at sea and they had to wait until they could refresh them.

And the reason they ran out is the stuff is -- the mud or drilling fluid, this drilling fluid that locks up when you put it under pressure, dilating fluid, they didn't have enough of it to keep pumping at this very high rate and it hasn't plugged the leak yet.

You know, yesterday afternoon, it looked to me like it was slowing down, but I think that just --you don't know how much the camera zoomed in. You don't really know what you're looking at. So I heard him make reference to bridges, bridging material and a junk shot.

KING: Right.

NYE: A junk shot -- I used to work in the oil field. Junk shot, used to get -- I'm sure they still do, get ground up tires, which are inexpensive material and you force it in there and it forms what you would call a labyrinth.

So, here is the pipe string, the drill string, which by the way, is not made of acrylic plastic, it is made of very hard steel. And it is about this big, relative to a human or an ROV, which might be servicing this thing.

And then what you do is you stuff it with pieces of usually rubber and sometimes they use fibrous materials so I have -- I'm representing this with rubber bands, some pieces of fibrous swabs and stuff like that.

And then you can get the -- you can get the tube to form -- sorry about that, there we go to form a labyrinth so when fluid tries to go through, whether coming up from below or the top it will slow down.

And here, I know we had so much fun with our dilatant(ph) cornstarch and water yesterday, we'll do same thing. When this stuff goes down, it locks right up. I mean, it gets stuck around the edges of the tube and so that's the hope. The trouble with the junk shot, it's complicated. To get these things to flow, chunks of rubber or scraps of tires or to get these things to flow into a pipe, you have to force them through hoses, you have to force them a mile down and along the seabed through that flexible connection system they set up. It is complicated business.

But I got to tell you, and you are the journalist looking them in the eye, I think the guy is very nervous, like the mud's been pumping overnight, it's still flowing, they are going to try to force the junk down there without clogging up their own hoses.

KING: And Bill, I want to move over our magic wall so I can show something up here. I want to pull things out here and come to this instead, this revised estimate.

This is early on, today's estimate. First the early estimate and I will bring this on. Very early on, told us the "deepwater horizon" would be essentially a drop in the bucket compared to the "Exxon Valdez," this little yellow.

That's what they told us at the very beginning and then they have revised their estimates and we now know that this is the largest oil spill in American history by far, "deepwater horizon" is the gold, "Exxon Valdez" is the little.

When you heard those new numbers and you have watched all these pictures come out, when you think about any of the challenges stopping it but b, the environmental impact of this as opposed to this little tiny slice, what went through your mind?

NYE: Well, I am just very concerned that it's another big industry, and I say another, that we all rely on. We all rely on our oil. We use millions of liter, millions of gallons of oil every day and we have taken it for granted.

Now, when this thing goes wrong, everybody's pointing fingers and there's great concern. But you know, there are thousands more oil rigs. Around the world, there are hundreds of thousands of oil wells about 800,000.

And we're all - we saw this demand for energy, we still want this stuff. That is a big accident that's analogous to me to the accidents that happened at Chernobyl and the accident that very nearly happened at Three Mile Island, these are nuclear power plants.

So, having a greater -- a very large fraction of a million oil wells and you get a disaster this big from one of them, it just makes me think the potential disaster with all sorts of conventional energy systems, like coal-fired power plants, nuclear power plant, the things that can go wrong are huge.

And another thing, and something to think about, when it happens in Alaska and it affects fish and a few thousand people, a few hundred fishermen, that's one thing. But when it happens near a very large city and it's going to end up in this loop which is part of the Gulf of Mexico -- the gulfstream current, it is going to affect people in Europe. It's going to affect a lot of people. And so, now it's time to regulate. You know, we had -- we have this -- this preventer and it didn't prevent.

KING: Right.

NYE: The batteries were dead and the pressure tanks were low on pressure, so the balance -- these preventers couldn't close. And there's probably thousands of rigs out there that haven't been supervised that have the potential for the same problems.

KING: All right, Bill. We appreciate your insights and we will keep in touch. Hope tomorrow we get better news and we hear from them, we will check back in with you to figure it out. Thanks, Bill Nye, for joining us.

When we come back, we will take a closer look at the presidential response to this national crisis.


KING: Let's update you with the latest headlines. Breaking news tonight in the gulf oil spill. BP now says it will be another 24 to 48 hours before we will know if its top kill procedure is working that much-anticipated effort to cap the undersea gusher by pumping drilling mud down the well head was temporarily suspended about midnight, only restarted within the past hour.

New government estimates say this is now the worst oil spill in American history, far bigger than the "Exxon Valdez."

Joined here in the studio by Republican strategist Kevin Madden and our Senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash.

I want to go back to the top of the program, where I interviewed the BP COO, Chief Operating Officer, Doug Suttles and I asked him that question, so you shut this down for a period somewhere in the ballpark of 16 hours, which I guess they had need to do for engineering standpoint or maybe they ran out of mud, but they didn't tell anybody. Here was his answer.


DOUG SUTTLES, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICE, BP: Well, John, I should say I've had a number of people mention that to me, and clearly, we need to probably do more to tell people what's occurring.

You can imagine, and to some degree, probably guilty of focusing so much on this operation. We have spent all of our time analyzing the rules, looking at the next steps and we somehow need to continually feed data out there to the public so they know what is occurring.

They are obviously able to watch the plume and the end of the riser, but we've actually said it's very difficult to tell exactly what's occurring from that.


KING: I was watching this all day long. We had live coverage during the president's news conference and half the time, I was sneaking a peek over at the live feed, they weren't even pumping.

DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They weren't pumping. You know, it's unclear what he knew, but it's not just about giving the information to the public.

It's also to the people who the president today said were in charge and that is the federal government and his officials. Thad Allen was on with Wolf Blitzer just two hours ago and he was asked about reports that they had stopped pumping and he said he didn't know the entire interview, talking about it real time as if it was happening.

So just from my perch on Capitol Hill, coming from there and listening to people who are very worry about the fact that it really doesn't look like the federal government is in charge and know what is they are doing it is hard to imagine that this is going to help.

KING: There is a trust deficit of BP, but also of the government and it seems we have a lot of left hand, right hand issues happening.

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Well, that's right, that further hurts BP's credibility. But, I think the big problem was, if you look at the president's press conference today, it was, by design, meant to allay a lot of fears about whether the president or his administration were in charge.

And so what you have now is you have the president, he can't even tell or assure the American public that what BP is telling him is the truth and what is actually happening there as far as the command and control of the administration, making sure, knowing what BP is doing, there is this giant canyon there of credibility between what BP is telling the public and what they are telling the administration. So, the administration is now -- their credibility is under assault because they can't assure the public.

KING: Anderson Cooper, I understand is on sight in New Orleans and joins us now, and Anderson in your reporting today, I know among the people you spoke was to the man in charge of the U.S. government effort, Thad Allen and I want to play a little bit of that interview you had with him a bit earlier today.

Well, I'm sorry, Anderson we don't have the tape there, but you were talking to Thad Allen about the administration, essentially saying it had the boot on the neck of BP and whether that was that was a wise strategy, a wise use of language?

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: It is certainly not a term he uses, though he says, you know, Salazar is a friend of his. Look, he has to work with BP on a daily basis. He has phone calls with Tony Hayward and other BP officials, so he doesn't use that kind of language.

Clearly, they seem to have gotten some sort of a message, the coast guard, because Thad Allen today is echoing the president, saying the federal government is in charge. That's not something he said over the last several days.

On Monday, he was asked that question, didn't use those terms and saying, look, he is changing his command and control structure, giving more power to local officials, to local coast guard representatives so things can get done and some of these parishes like Plaquemines Parish, where there is oil that's been sitting in these marshes, uncollected for more than a week now.

KING: Well, to that point, you are on the ground there and I said this earlier when we were talking to James Carville and Mary Matalin, I don't like the Katrina comparison because the disasters, the crises are so very different, but the question of presidential leadership comes up.

You were on the ground so often after Katrina, do the people of New Orleans feel as frustrated, as disappointed, as let down by this White House as they did after Katrina and the Bush White House?

COOPER: Well, you know, I do think they are very different circumstances, you know, there were bodies in the streets more than, you know, well over 1500 people died from Hurricane Katrina.

Eleven people have died from this spill, but this is a slow- rolling disaster. And it is just now starting to really kind of, you know -- the fruit of what happened more than a month ago is now just starting to come out. So, I think people here are incredibly frustrated. They are incredibly disappointed in the federal government response, but certainly also at BP and at some of the statements that, you know, folks from the EPA, from NOAA have said.

I mean, it seems all along, NOAA has been going along with this 5,000-barrel-a day figure, which the government finally says, you know what it's actually not true, and it is 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.

So, I think there is a lot of disbelief, a lot of frustration and just a desire for somebody to really be in charge. I don't think a lot of people here really believe that the federal government has been in charge because we are hearing from parish presidents up and down Louisiana that too often the coast guard and others delegate to BP or at least appear to, in their opinion.

KING: I know you say there is a great deal of frustration on Capitol Hill among Democrats. I want to put up some statistics for our viewers to see, because there is always a cry, after the miners died in West Virginia, after this incident, always a cry for more Congressional oversight, more rules, by both parties, not just blaming you the Democrats, they're in charge now.

Both parties do that after a crisis, but what about in the normal times? Everyone say these knew there was a huge problem at MMS, the mineral agency that oversees this. Here are the number of oversight hearings held in the last four years, these four years, the Democrats were in charge. In 2007, one in the House two in the Senate, 2008, zero. In 2009, after word of a scandal, sex scandal, drugs, then there were five in the House, two in the Senate. In 2010, zero.

So when you know there are problems there are published reports and investigative reports about issues and there are so few hearings on the specific issues, then people die, it is an environmental tragedy and an outrage and an uproar.

MADDEN: Right and a lot of those discussions right now are part of partisans -- hyper partisans on both sides up on Capitol Hill. We're looking to place blame. I still think that the American public right now is not looking for blue ribbon commissions.

They are not looking for committee hearings right now. There's anger and there's frustration, but the one thing that's lacking right now, and this is where the president has to take action is action, action from our government.

Forget dropping bills up on Capitol Hill, forget what lawmakers are going to say at press conferences, what these people down here want more than anything and they are not he seeing is action from their government.

KING: All right, Dana and Kevin are going to stay with us. I want to thank Anderson is in New Orleans. He's got a program to prepare for tonight. You won't want to miss it "AC 360" is on the scene in New Orleans, tracking not only the environmental impact, but also what the people want to hear when president visits tomorrow. Anderson, thanks for your time tonight.

A lot of other important news that shouldn't be overlooked, including a crucial vote on "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." Stay with us.


KING: Today's most important person you don't know never gives interviews, he only gives commencement speeches that blast Supreme Court justice and (Justice Scalia). Recognize him?

He's the retired Supreme Court justice, David Souter. Today's commencement speaker at Harvard. Souter, now 70 was one of the youngest justices ever to retire. Well, he left the court just last year. He still hears cases one or two days a month with the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals up in Boston.

But his speech today was a direct assault on decisions reached by what's called a fair reading of the constitution that it contains all the instructions we need and all we have to do is compare them with the facts of any case reach a conclusion.

Souter says that approach, Justice Scalia's approach, by the way, not only fails, it egregiously, he says, quote, "egregiously misses the point." Souter argues the constitution contains values the founding fathers intentionally left in conflict and intentionally gave judges the freedom to resolve. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is why the simplistic view of the constitution values our aspirations. And it attacks our confidence. It is a view of judging that means to discourage our tenacity including our sometimes reluctant tenacity. It keeps the constitution and promises the nation has made.


KING: Dana Bash still with us, that was a bit of lawyer speak there. He's soft spoken. That was a direct shot at the strict crowd.

MADDEN: Well, yes, I'm sure that there are a lot of federalists out there who privately grumbling during the entire speech and there are probably some of them even though it's Harvard sitting in the audience.

BASH: Well, you know, what strikes me in watching that is what a reminder it is right now because we have a Supreme Court nominee pending. You never know what you are going you get because that guy was nominated by a Republican president.

KING: Here's another story on our radar today. Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak tells reporters that someone in the White House has called his brother, Richard, who works as attorney for the Senate campaign.

Sestak wouldn't say who made the call. Here's what President Obama said today about Sestak's assertion he was offered a job, an administration job if he would drop out of the primary against Senator Arlen Specter.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can assure the public that nothing improper took place, but as I said, there will be a response shortly on that issue.


KING: They didn't define shortly, but we're told it will be a matter of days, not weeks or months.

BASH: That's right, our own (Dendra Walsh) tracked Sestak down to get that information about the contact his brother had with the White House. We were talking about this earlier. When they actually put this report out, we'll determine whether or not it's actually good they think or bad for them. If they put it out tomorrow at 5:30 bad.

MADDEN: If they put it out Tuesday that means they're going to try a week of being exonerated here. I think the big problem here is that having a politician, any politician in Washington, Republican, Democrat, president, member of Congress, senator, assure you of anything it's going to meet a very skeptical public. They're not going to let the politicians assure them of anything. BASH: But this is something that Democrats just want to get off the table because is something that actually really flies in the face.

MADDEN: It's shocking it's been a week or two weeks now.

BASH: Flies in the face of everything --

KING: I suspect this could be one of those Friday night things. Before I let you go I want to circle back lastly. Big day in the oil spill developments in the sense that top kill hasn't worked, at least not yet, might be another day or two.

Long presidential news conference today, him trying to make the case, look, I know you're frustrated out there, but I'm in charge, I'm responsible. At the end of the day, where are we?

And I guess, to you first, one of the president's audiences were Democrats on Capitol Hill, who this is not a political issue, but it is a political year.

BASH: One of -- a Democratic source I talked to earlier he said that he believes that they're at early stages of political panic because of this and unclear whether or not at the end of the day --

KING: Panic because they don't see --

BASH: Political panic because of the fact that they believe that it's five months before election day where the whole theme is that Washington is really messed up and institutions can't handle it and it feeds right into it.

And they're turning that fear towards the White House and it's really unclear whether at the end of the day, the president's speech and what happened when we learned very late that BP had actually stopped this process, it's going to --

KING: Be a crisis manager, not a Republican.

MADDEN: Here's the other thing. They're heading home. Congress is getting out. They're heading home to their constituents. They're going to hear a lot from their constituents.

One of the things I found when I worked on Capitol Hill was that when everybody was corralled in one big building up there on Capitol Hill, it was a little easier to calm a lot of fears.

When they go back to their district and they start hearing from people walking in the district's office, calling their district's office, they come back in a much different mood. So that will be interesting to watch during the recess.

KING: Kevin and Dana, thanks so much. We'll see you again soon and when we come back, you've heard what the press asks the president. What would you have asked the president if you had a chance? Pete Dominic is all over that story.


KING: Rick Sanchez is filling in for Campbell Brown. Let's check in for a sense of what's coming up at the top of the hour. Hi, Rick.

RICK SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Hey, John. I'll tell you, I was fascinated by your interview with BP earlier in the show. It's amazing, because what they told you was is they stopped this operation now twice.

Look, if this thing is about the accumulation of pressure, not so much accumulation of mud, but accumulation of pressure, from the top as opposed to the pressure from the bottom of the natural gas and the oil, then if they stopped it twice doesn't that mean that they're really starting all over again?

I mean, look, it's a question that we're going to be asking. That's why we have a couple experts on and we're going to be taking -- they're going to be taking us through this, John. Look forward to it.

KING: We'll see you then, Rick, thanks.

SANCHEZ: All right.

KING: Ten questions for the president, at his news conference today in addition to a long opening statement. What if you got a chance to ask the question? I know Pete Dominick wanted one. Pete?

PETE DOMINICK, OFFBEAT REPORTER: Yes, I would love the opportunity to ask the president a few questions. I'd love to sit down with him. I'm a big fan of his. I want to know what other people thought. We got funny ones and serious ones, John.


DOMINICK: If you guys got the opportunity to ask President Obama a question, what would you ask him?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing about the oil spill?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing regarding the Middle East? When it comes to real action we're not seeing anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What kind of deal would you like?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What he would do to change the economy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What are you doing about the economy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He has to do something about unemployment.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know, what's his -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where's the change when you hand out $3 trillion to corporations? How has that changed? How's that change we can believe in. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where have you been up until now on the oil spill? Where you have you been?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Can I come over from dinner and watch a movie at your house?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Since he's been in office, his decision making has been fair.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. What kind of music he listens to?

DOMINICK: What would you ask the president if you got the opportunity to ask him a question?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, boy, can we play hoops sometimes?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When is the economy going to pick up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When our economy is going to pick up?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why he takes so long about this oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How are we going to straighten out this economy?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When is he going to bring our soldiers home from Iraq and Afghanistan?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Have you ever smoked weed?


DOMINICK: John, I think I'd ask him is there a place for an off- beat reporter in mainstream political commentary?

KING: I think there should be. I like the guy who took his sunglasses off. Take your sunglasses off to ask the president a question. Pete, a great job there. I love those questions. That's all for us tonight. Rick Sanchez is filling in for Campbell Brown. We'll, see you back here tomorrow. Rick takes it away right now.