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THE SITUATION ROOM
Gustav Pounds the Gulf; Palin's Teen Daughter Pregnant
Aired September 1, 2008 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, there's breaking news. Hurricane Gustav hammering the Gulf Coast -- water spilling over levees in New Orleans three years after Katrina nearly destroyed the city. Can those flood walls hold?
And as the storm roars in, there's low lying areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that are already submerged. And that's just for starters. There are fears of what's afoot -- that a foot or more of heavy rains will bring more destruction.
And Gustav forces Republicans to cut back their convention here in St. Paul. As John McCain offers help to storm victims, Barack Obama urges his supporters to do the exact same thing.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
We're here at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
A downsized Republican Convention got underway here in St. Paul only hours after Hurricane Gustav slammed into the Gulf Coast. It struck as a category two storm, with winds of about 110 miles per hour. Gustav is now a category one, expected to move toward Texas. Up two million residents evacuated coastal areas, taking refuge at inland shelters or moving on to surrounding states. And more than 700,000 homes and businesses right now are reported without power in Louisiana alone.
CNN has reporters across the hurricane zone.
But first, we want to show you exactly where the storm is right now.
Let's go to our severe weather expert, Chad Myers.
He's in our hurricane headquarters.
All right, tell us what's going on -- Chad.
CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Wolf, the storm is still spinning around. And it's because this spin hasn't moved very much we still have this onshore flow. It's still causing flooding all the way through the bayou through, south of New Orleans. We're talking about eight to 10 foot of storm surge and now the winds still in Baton Rouge and Lafayette. Lafayette about 60 miles per hour. Baton Rouge down to 60 from a high of a gust of 91 not that long ago. And there's more flooding to the east with the outer band. The western outer band causing flooding near Mobile.
There is the center right there. You're talking about the northern part of this eyewall still in Baton Rouge, Port Allen and all the way back down south.
We are still seeing that wind speed -- although it's coming down, it is still above 75 miles per hour. The 5:00 advisory still has it as a hurricane.
And then we have these pink boxes. We've had dozens of them. We've had tornadoes on the ground. We are going to have more tornadoes on the ground tonight. You have to watch any storm that comes off the Gulf of Mexico. It could be spinning. We have spin with the hurricane. As it hits land, we get a little bit of friction with the land, as well, and those storms begin to spin. That spin can cause tornadoes. We've had them on the ground already, very close to Pensacola Air Station.
We'll watch Hannah. We'll watch Ike. We'll keep you advised. We're going to see a lot more flooding tonight still. This storm is not done, even though it's weakening. It's still a category one hurricane -- Wolf.
BLITZER: That's a powerful hurricane, nothing to be complacent about.
Stand by, Chad.
Brian Todd is in Baton Rouge right now.
He's facing some severe winds.
It looks like this whole area is being very, very hard-hit by Gustav.
Update our viewers -- Brian.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is, Wolf.
We're really getting the brunt here of the storm here in Baton Rouge. We're getting pounded with wind, as you can see.
I would try to move here, but if I did, I'd probably be knocked into the Mississippi River. So I'm going to hang onto this pole. Our cameraman, Mark Raven (ph), is going to move to my right and his left, up this levee.
And you can see how the trees are just getting pounded right now. You can't see much but a wall of water behind the trees. And you can see that bridge over there. That is the I-10 Bridge that goes from Baton Rouge to West Baton Rouge on the other side of the Mississippi River. We were up on that a short time ago. We had a pretty dicey situation up there. We had to get off the bridge. But we saw some vehicles on the bridge and you could see them once every few seconds. They're still letting vehicles on that bridge -- hard to believe. This wind is extremely strong, as you can see. I'm just getting battered right here up on this levee.
We want to clarify one thing we said earlier, Wolf. We said that they were thinking about mandatory evacuations here. They are not thinking about mandatory evacuations in Baton Rouge. They have never ordered mandatory evacuations.
What they are thinking of doing, Wolf, is trying to evacuate some people from low lying areas. They have not done that yet. They have not ordered that yet. They have not tried to get people out yet. And they are not ordering a mandatory evacuation of this city.
But they are considering trying to get some people out of low lying areas, because they're very worried -- they are very worried right now about flooding in the eastern parts of this parish.
About 50,000 customers are without power. They can't even get out to those customers, Wolf, until the winds die down to under 30 miles an hour. As you can see, that isn't happening anytime soon.
BLITZER: Yes, I can see, Brian.
I want you to be careful over there.
We'll check back with you.
Brian Todd is in Baton Rouge.
The focus, the concern in New Orleans right now are those levees, those barriers. They want to make sure they hold up.
Chris Lawrence is joining us live from New Orleans, right near one of the most sensitive spots in the city -- an area all too familiar to our viewers from three years ago, when Katrina devastated New Orleans.
What's the latest there -- Chris?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the concern is that the levees might be breached, that there might be flooding on the other side of some of these walls.
I can tell you without question, this water is dropping. And I would say it's dropping rather quickly.
For the first time, look back -- you can see what this area is supposed to look like. That is the Industrial Canal. But it's supposed to be on the other side of those walls out there -- that barrier.
This is supposed to be a railroad track. This is supposed to be a road around it. There's not supposed to be water here.
But when we got here, you could not even see that there was a railroad track there. Now you can. The water is significantly dropping.
And let me take you on the other side of that flood wall right there. Wolf, that's what were showing you earlier when we saw that water pouring out of there for several hours. And it looked very bad. Until I talked with one of the surveyors, you know, I thought this was a major, major problem.
He said well, it looks worse than it is. He said they're designed to allow some water to get through. This particular flood wall was letting a lot more water than it should have. And they're still going to have to go back and make that seal.
But as you take a look down in the neighborhoods -- that is the Lower Ninth Ward down there. Again, those are the folks who had such a concern about whether these walls and these levees would hold.
I can tell you now, when I look at the difference between that water rushing out of there a few hours ago and what it looked like right here three or four hours ago, it is better now than it was this afternoon -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope it stays like that. That is very encouraging. But there are plenty of other vulnerable spots throughout the city.
Let's hope a similar situation is unfolding there.
Chris Lawrence, thanks.
We'll check back with you.
CNN's Ali Velshi is on Grand Isle, a barrier island that was in Gustav's path.
He's joining us live from there right now -- Ali.
ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf.
Grand Isle is a little -- as you said, a barrier island. Landfall was about 30 miles west of here. But we've been pelted for about 18 hours now -- heavy rain and winds. And it still continues.
We stayed here through this thing and it got very, very heavy early this morning. One of the reasons we were able to make it in such a hard-hit area is because we were here with the fire captain, Deacon Guidry. He actually kept us safe while we were here, while I was reporting and this was coming down. He was watching out for debris. He actually held the rope that held me on as the eyewall started to hit us.
You've taken a tour around the island -- completely submerged. And you say that it's worse than you expected it to be, given that you heard it was a category three and then a category two when it made landfall.
DEACON GUIDRY: Well, actually, it's worse because the winds that I experienced last night that we saw, I didn't think it would have as many electrical poles down. They fall from the weight of the wires and there's no way to get around the poles. The highway is totally, completely blocked. And there's a lot more wind damage than I thought they would have.
VELSHI: And here's an example of it right here. And there's a house right next to ours. This one was standing with very little damage. That lost has its roof entirely.
Deacon said that when they were driving around, you saw houses completely destroyed?
GUIDRY: Roger that.
VELSHI: All right. So this is -- this is pretty bad damage. A little earlier -- and you'll probably see this later -- but our carport flew off. We got through relatively unscathed thanks to the help of the local fire department, the owner of this house, who built it so that it was fortified against the hurricane. That's why were able to ride it out here.
But a lot of damage right here on Grand Isle and surrounding areas. And we're still waiting to see how much damage was done to the oil producing area, which is right around here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ali.
Be careful over there.
Ali Velshi is on Grand Isle right now.
That was one of the first areas that was very powerfully hit. And we're watching this Hurricane Gustav.
We're also watching, as we've been reporting, Hurricane Hannah. That's moving -- moving now toward the area. And we're also watching Tropical Storm Ike.
I want to go to one of our affiliates right now. They are reporting -- WGNO is reporting that one levee apparently has broken. I want to get the latest.
Let's listen in to our local affiliate coverage.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I wouldn't think you'd have that much at all, again, because you have a little -- you have better protection than you had back then.
However, you're not going to -- it's just that that's how much those people got during Katrina.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We wouldn't think you'd have, you know, you'd -- but, again, it's all depending on how much this water is going to rise. And we'd certainly like to know if your weather folks could give us any information on if it's still moving up in that area. That would be something that will obviously be the telling factor here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, the winds are moving in, Bruce was just saying.
So let's hope that the conditions there do improve. But the water has been rising. You said the first report of the topping was about 3:15. That was almost an hour ago.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Karen, for me, go back. Now, the parish, you said, raised this levee to eight feet.
What was it before the parish raised it to eight feet?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think -- I'm going to say but don't quote me on this, but you are, because I'm on the air with you -- but I'm trying -- memory -- to go by memory here. I want to say target it was as low as two to three to four feet in some places along the stretch. And again, not having all that information in front of me, I can't even remember how long the stretch is that they worked on.
I know, you know, that it was a good -- it was a good number of feet that they did raise to eight feet. But I'm not sure, you know, the width of that that they worked on, because they did work in a number of areas prior to hurricane season's onset to get these levees as high as they could knowing that, you know, there was not going to be any federal help before hurricane season so.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Karen, a question here for you.
What's the name of this private levee?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm told that it's the Caernarvon Diversion Levee. It's part of that, you know, fresh water diversion system over there, because it's right on the St. Bernard Parish line.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK. On the St. Bernard Parish line.
Is this a river or a canal levee?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is not a canal levee. It's essentially a marsh levee.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: OK.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What's behind it, you've got Braithwaite -- the community of Braithwaite. You've got this levee. You have marsh and then essentially the Gulf.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So there's a lot of water there that that levee is holding back.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Right. Exactly. And this is why the, you know, the push has been to get this federalized, so that, obviously, you have those federal dollars in making it a true federal levee. And, you know, the federal government is going to step in, I'm told -- that they're going to essentially adopt this as part of the levee system. But that could be who knows when they get to it.
So they did this work earlier just while they were working on that getting the federal government to step in.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And, Karen, for people who are just now joining us at 4:12, this is Karen Beaudry (ph) on the phone with us. She does the communications for Plaquemines Parish and she's telling us about the Caernarvon...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Caernarvon...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...Diversion Levee...
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Caernarvon.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Caernarvon Diversion Levee, that holds back water from the marshes that also lead to the Gulf of Mexico. And it's on the verge of giving way.
Billy Nungesser, the parish president, told us that you're fighting a losing battle there.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, that's -- OK, news -- he -- you just spoke to him just moments ago?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. Just a second ago. Right before you came on. And then he had to go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. OK. Because my last conversation was that we weren't sure were fighting a losing battle.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. He just said it right before you came on.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had to jump off the phone, as a matter of fact, because they're trying to put sandbags, he said there. And the deputies are going in to alert folks to try to get them out.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Right. Right.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now, one of the interesting things he said here is that some 250 houses had been rebuilt there since Hurricane Katrina.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Yes.
BLITZER: All right, so there you have it.
Our affiliate, WGNO, interviewing one of the authorities there, suggesting that a private levee, the Caernarvon Diversion Levee, is on the verge of giving way right now.
Russel Honore, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, who is our analyst, who is our contributor, is joining us.
What does this mean?
I don't know if you're familiar with this particular levee, but it sounds -- it sounds very worrying, General.
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Well, there are several of them in Plaquemines Parish. I would hope this is a first report, Wolf, and we can follow up.
Why don't you give us a few minutes to go back and check and we'll get back to you?
But Plaquemines Parish has several of those levees that were built over the years so the land could be develop or farm over.
BLITZER: Let's hope.
All right, stand by.
We're going to get some more information on this for you and for our viewers, General Honore, in the Plaquemines Parish.
The Caernarvon Diversion Levee -- a private levee, not a federal levee -- apparently on the verge of giving way, according to our affiliate, WGNO.
Maybe Chad Myers, our severe weather expert, at hurricane headquarters at the CNN Center can give us some context of what this means -- Chad, what do you think?
What we've had all day, Wolf, is wind out of the south. And this wind out of the south and from the southeast has pushed water into this wetland area here.
Well, there's the Caernarvon Diversion Levee right there. That keeps the fresh water out of the levee and keeps the saltwater marsh out to the south. Well, because we've had all of this push of water for so very long, these levees have been wet for all day long. We've had 10 foot of water now.
While just off to the east, if you talked about the old Shell beach. That's the same water we're pushing up against these levees. And you're not talking about strong Army Corps of Engineers. These are private levees keeping private water out of private land so that you can actually farm on it. And this is the levee that has failed now.
Now, we're not talking that this water is going to go all the way up into New Orleans. But we're talking -- here's Braithwaite and here's the Caernarvon area -- a hundred and -- maybe 250 houses rebuilt since the last Katrina hurricane. And that may be the number of homes that are actually in peril here with this, the first of maybe more to break. We knew that something was going to happen. It was almost a day later that the first levee broke in Katrina. And, so, you know, you get all this pressure, it holds back for a while and then the levees just can't hold it anymore. And that's the first one we know of -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Chad.
Thanks very much.
We're going to be getting back to you.
Plaquemines Parish -- I'm going to ask Donna Brazile more about this parish. That's coming up, as well.
We're all over Hurricane Gustav. We're here at the convention -- the Republican Convention. We're standing by to hear from Mrs. Laura Bush. Standing by to hear from Cindy McCain.
This is an abbreviated convention, most of it dealing strictly with some business -- business they need to do to nominate a presidential and vice presidential candidate. But there is news that we're following -- breaking news involving the 17-year-old daughter of the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin. She is pregnant. She's five months pregnant. She says she will have the baby and marry the father. That is coming up.
We're going to go to our Kyra Phillips.
She's in Alaska. She's watching this story for us.
Much more coming up right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Welcome back.
We'll get back to Hurricane Gustav shortly.
But there's another story we're following. We're here in St. Paul, Minnesota. This is the first day of the Republican National Convention. We're standing by to hear from Cindy McCain. This is Laura Bush. That's coming up.
They'll be speaking mostly, we're told, about Hurricane Gustav and the devastation that's unfolding in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We're watching that closely.
The other story we're watching is the story involving the Republican vice presidential candidate, the governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin, and her 17-year-old daughter. Governor Palin and her husband Todd issuing a statement today, noting that the daughter, 17-year-old Bristol, is pregnant -- five months pregnant -- and will go forward and have the baby and plans on marrying the father of this baby. Right now, the Associated Press is just moving a story, saying that the governor, Sarah Palin, has also hired a lawyer to deal with a separate story -- a story that has riveted people in Alaska over these last several weeks -- the allegation, the charge that the governor inappropriately pressured authorities to fire a state trooper because the state trooper was the ex-husband of her sister.
She denies that categorically.
John King is here. Gloria Borger is here, Bill Bennett, Donna Brazile.
Let's talk about both of these developments.
First of all, you heard Dana Bash's report earlier. Coming out of the blue, the 17-year-old teenager is pregnant and the family issuing that statement.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is a private family matter. I think Barack Obama had it just right. And I think most of the convention delegates here would say this is up to Governor Palin and her husband and the family to deal with.
She also was just picked to be the Republican vice presidential nominee. So there will be some questions about why didn't you tell us this on the first day if you knew it was going to come out, because, for better or worse -- and people at home will have opinions either way -- nothing about your life is a totally private matter when you're running for president or vice president or, for that matter, governor, especially today, in the age of 24-hour cable television and the Internet and the blogosphere and everything else.
So there will be some questions about when you picked her, why didn't you tell us about all this.
But at its core, it's a difficult situation for a family to deal with. And they appear to be dealing with it together.
And who are we to judge?
BLITZER: You know, but it's causing a lot of commotion. You walk around this floor here, people are talking about it.
GLORIA BORGER, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Look, the McCain campaign knew. She's clearly a candidate that helped...
BLITZER: They knew before and he decided she would be the running mate.
BORGER: They say she told them. They were fully aware. She's clearly a candidate that appeals to cultural conservatives in the party -- very, very much pro-life.
But the first rule of politics is no surprises. No -- and even though the McCain campaign wasn't surprised, there are a lot of people on this floor that are surprised. And the question you ask is OK, how was she vetted?
Is there anything else we don't know that we should know?
It's very important. He is a 72-year-old candidate for president. And so I think it just raises a bunch of question marks in people's minds. That's what I've been hearing out on the floor this morning. They're not panicking. They're not going crazy about this. They believe it's family business.
But on the other hand, they say gee, what else are we going to find out about this woman, who really hasn't been on the national scene for very long?
BLITZER: And Barack Obama says you know what, the family -- especially the children -- are off limits. He made a very firm statement on that just a little while ago.
WILLIAM BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Firm and principled and dignified and I think correct. And I hope everyone honors it. People who are critical of Barack Obama on other grounds should honor that, too, when it comes to this context.
Yes, I mean, Gloria makes a good point, I think. When something is going to come up that may raise a question in some people's minds, it's best if you bring it up yourself rather than the aha. You know, the aha always -- it always looks as if it's something hiding and initially seems well, maybe it's bad. Maybe it's bad.
Now the interesting thing here is that she has received a warm embrace by the Evangelical community.
BLITZER: The governor?
BENNETT: Governor Palin, yes -- and with this news.
Look, things happen to people in life. Things happen to families. Things like this are not unusual in families.
The question is, what do you do when things happen?
And I think many Americans looking at this have said bless them for the decision they made -- the decision Sarah Palin made when she had this Down Syndrome, a courageous and strong decision -- and the decision of this young woman to go ahead and get married (INAUDIBLE)...
BLITZER: You're talking about their 4-month-old baby boy, Trig, who they knew would be born with Down Syndrome...
BENNETT: That's right.
BLITZER: ...but they decided to go ahead and have the baby.
BENNETT: Right. And many women wouldn't and people don't condemn the women who wouldn't. But I think everyone salutes her courage because they know what this will involve in terms of raising this child.
BLITZER: I want you to listen, Donna, to Senator Obama. I'll play the sound bite where he just reacted to the news that Governor Palin's 17-year-old daughter is pregnant.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BARACK OBAMA (D), PRESUMPTIVE NOMINEE: I've heard some of the news on this. And so let me be as clear as possible. I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off limits and people's children are especially off limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics. It has no relevance to Governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president.
And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories.
You know, my mother had me when she was 18. And, you know, how family deals with issues and, you know, teenage children, that shouldn't be the topic of our politics. And I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that's off limits, all right?
QUESTION: Senator Obama?
QUESTION: An unnamed McCain adviser is quoted on Reuters as saying: "The despicable rumors have been spread by liberal blogs, some even with Barack Obama's name in them."
Have you issued...
OBAMA: You know what...
QUESTION: Have you issued any directive to your...
OBAMA: I am offended by that statement. There is no evidence at all that any of this involved us. I hope I'm as clear as I can be. So in case I'm not, let me repeat. We don't go after people's families. We don't get them involved in the politics. It's not appropriate and it's not relevant.
Our people were not involved in any way in this and they will not be. And if I ever thought that there was somebody in my campaign that was involved in something like that, they would be fired.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right. Strong words from Senator Barack Obama. He was referring -- for viewers who aren't familiar -- there are liberal blogs out there. They were spreading this notion that the governor's 4-month-old son Trig really is the governor's grandson and she was hiding the fact that her daughter was really the mother. And that was spreading around there out on the blogosphere like crazy. And as a result of those rumors, those suggestions -- charges, allegations, whatever you want to call it -- the McCain -- the Obama, excuse me -- Governor Palin and her husband Todd came forward with this joint statement today, telling all of us that that 17-year-old daughter is, in fact, five months pregnant right now.
Couldn't have had a baby back in April, because she was already pregnant by then.
But go ahead.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, Wolf, Senator Obama, the Democrats and, clearly, his campaign, they're not involved in spreading these rumors. And I received talking points from the Democratic National Committee and Senator Obama's campaign. Right now, they're focused on the Gulf Coast. They're focused on the hurricane. And they're not spreading these rumors. It's unfortunate that this type of ugly politics has already entered the campaign season. At a time when the Republicans are trying to introduce this governor, Governor Palin, to the country, we have all of these rumors.
It's the kind of politics that Senator Obama has denounced.
BLITZER: Smart politics, don't you think, for Senator Obama to make a statement like that?
BORGER: Yes. And absolutely. And you could tell how angry he was. I mean this was -- he was sort of like -- I remember when Michelle Obama was criticized, when Cindy McCain was criticized. Both he and John McCain came out and said our families are off limits. And I think they really believe that to be the case. He doesn't, want his campaign to have any part of spreading any kind of rumors about the family.
BLITZER: Go ahead, Bill.
BENNETT: Maybe it wasn't even politics.
BENNETT: I mean it may turn out to be good politics...
BLITZER: Well, he made the point that...
BENNETT: Maybe it was a genuine...
BLITZER: ...his mother had him when she was 18 years old.
BENNETT: Yes. Maybe it was a genuine statement of conviction and in saying something to these left-wing bloggers, that was a very good thing to say, whatever his motivation.
KING: It is all over the blogs.
BLITZER: Yes. It's all -- for days and days and days
BENNETT: But it's not all around him.
BRAZILE: (INAUDIBLE) nasty smears on the Internet is Barack Obama. He's been viciously attacked -- his family, his religion, his faith, his patriotism.
And I'm glad he made that strong statement.
Let's go to Dana Bash.
She's down on the floor in the Alaska delegation with some folks who actually know Governor Palin -- Dana.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
Actually, they're -- the delegation is now listening attentively to the proceedings going on behind me. But I can tell you some of the things that I've been learning and talking to, to people here.
First of all, obviously, they're very excited about the fact that we're even standing in front of the Alaska delegation, because, obviously, the fact that their governor is the running mate put them on the map politically in a way that they never have been before.
You know, obviously, it's a very small political community. Many people I've spoken to say that they do know Sarah Palin pretty well, some of whom say that they even, you know, went to -- actually, one woman said that she went to candidate school with her back in Alaska.
All of them -- all of them were pretty surprised about the news that came out this morning about her teenage daughter being pregnant. But to a person -- to a person they say, look, this is a family matter. This is a private matter. We feel for her.
And many people say that their -- that the daughter -- that Bristol is lucky that she has somebody in her mother that shows her love.
Many of -- most of these people are, obviously, social conservatives. And they say that one of the things that they are very happy about is the fact that Bristol decided to keep the baby. And that is something, Wolf, in talking to McCain aides -- especially when this first news broke, when they revealed this information -- that was one of the things that they emphasized the most in getting this news out, that, remember, this is a decision that this teenager made to keep the baby.
And that is not so subtle, because they want to send a signal, although this is definitely a time of family crisis, they want to continue to send a signal to the social conservatives, who are very much supportive of Governor Palin for a whole list of reasons, in terms of her position on issues, that this is one more piece of evidence that she is somebody who is with them in terms of the way she goes about her business privately and in terms of public policy -- Wolf. BLITZER: Dana, perhaps more problematic for Governor Palin and for Senator McCain is this other story involving a trooper who allegedly was pressured by her -- who allegedly was pressured by Governor Palin, who tried to pressure supposedly -- this is the a charge -- a state authority official to fire this state trooper, because he was the ex-husband of her sister. She denies it. This trooper was never fired. Although the official who worked for the governor insists that she did in fact try to pressure him into firing this trooper. The Associated Press now reporting that Governor Palin has hired a lawyer to help her deal with this. But go ahead, Dana, tell us what you're hearing on this other story involving the republican vice presidential candidate.
BASH: We're hearing the same thing that the associated press is hearing, Wolf. But Maria Camella, spokeswoman for Governor Palin, just called us and let us know it is true, that the governor did hire an attorney a few weeks ago, actually, to help her look into this story and to help defend her on this story.
Now, you know that this is one of the things that came out almost immediately as Sarah Palin's name was flashing, and as we were talking about her name for the first time on CNN on Friday, as John McCain's running mate, as the democrats were very, very quick to jump on this issue as proof that despite the fact that John McCain is touting her as somebody who fights corruption back home in Alaska, that she's somebody who perhaps has had her own corruption scandal. The McCain campaign pushed back hard.
As you mentioned Wolf, Sarah Palin has denied any wrongdoing but obviously in terms of where she is legally, they feel they need to either protect themselves or for another reason, they need to have legal counsel. That is in fact what Sarah Palin has done, she has in fact hired an attorney to help her on this issue.
BLITZER: Dana, stand by. I want to go to Anchorage right now, Anchorage, Alaska. We've sent our own Kyra Phillips up there, to do some checking into the governor.
There are two different stories here. The 17-year-old daughter of the governor, now we know is pregnant, five months pregnant, going to go ahead and have the baby. She said she's going to marry the father. We only know his name is Levi.
And the other story we've confirmed, you heard Dana Bash confirm that Governor Palin has hired a lawyer to help her deal with this trooper story, this allegation that she inappropriately tried to get a state trooper fired. The state trooper happened to have been the ex- husband of her sister. But tell us what you're hearing on the scene for us, Kyra, in Anchorage.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure. Can you hear me OK, Wolf? We're having a little issue with our audio.
BLITZER: We hear you fine. PHILLIPS: OK. Great. You're absolutely right, there were a number of things we were sent here to investigate. I can talk about trooper-gate in just a moment.
Let's talk about the pregnancy here of Bristol Palin. And what we've been able to find out, and certain individuals that we've been able to talk to, just to talk more about where the governor stands, actually on sex, teenage pregnancy, sex before marriage, and issues that she has gone on the record with, strong opinions and what is now happening within her family.
Let's go ahead and start with her daughter, 17-year-old daughter. The rumors began, and what we started asking yesterday, when we hit the ground running, and actually over the weekend, if anybody was able to confirm these rumors, that this baby, this brand-new baby that the governor just had recently, was that of her daughter's, and not hers. And that she was trying to cover up this pregnancy. There was even a picture, Wolf, that was circulating on the Internet saying, here's the governor. She's supposed to be six months pregnant but she doesn't look like she's pregnant at all. That got everybody talking and the rumors were just swirling.
As we started to ask questions, as we started to investigate this, the next thing we knew, McCain aides were saying, we're going to have an announcement on this. We need you to stand by. That's when we found out about the pregnancy of her teenage daughter. She has gone on the record, the governor has gone on the record and said she is in full support of accidents, and she doesn't believe in contraception on school grounds and sex education.
We had a chance to actually talk to someone a short time ago who is for the Alliance of Reproductive Justice and this is an organization that says abstinence doesn't work. We have to have better sex education in schools. This is just one example. This underscores the pregnancy of the governor's daughter to why we need sex education in schools. And went into more details on how there have been studies done, that here in the state of Alaska, there's a high number of STDs, that teenage pregnancy is a tremendous problem. No matter how much you talk to your child about not having sex before marriage, or having sex as a teenager, this is what can happen.
We've found out more about the kids, more about the family. Also, during the race for governor, a lot came out about the kids. And that these are typical teenagers. They're not perfect and that there have been typical teenage issues that the governor has had to deal with, while also being in the political limelight. We're investigating more, of course, about the family, and the kids. And it really points out, Wolf, the struggle that Governor Palin is going to have, not only as a mother, but also a political leader, if indeed she gets to the next level. She's going to see more criticism, and a lot of people being tougher on her and her family.
BLITZER: Kyra, on the other story, the trooper story, the -- we're learning now that the governor has hired a lawyer to help her deal with this. You have this state official that works for the governor. He says publicly he was pressured by the governor to fire this state trooper. The governor denies that flatly. And I guess that's the source -- or that's as a result of he says versus she says. There is this investigation under way, because potentially it's a serious charge.
Obviously the McCain people who were vetting her, they knew all about this. They decided that they would leave her as opposed to him. And they went ahead and made this announcement. I suspect this story, this trooper story has perhaps a greater potential, political problem for the McCain campaign than the baby story. But go ahead and give us the latest on what you're hearing on the trooper story.
PHILLIPS: That's interesting. I think both are going to become bigger issues here.
With regard to trooper-gate, Wolf, that's something else we've been investigating, been able to talk to a lot of people. Even the governor's critics about trooper-gate, and a number of her critics, in particular one individual who actually ran against her in the gubernatorial race just a couple of years ago, said should she be fired for that if indeed she came forward to use her rank to get this trooper fired, this man that was married to her sister, this man that's involved in a pretty ugly custody battle with her sister? He said no. She shouldn't get fired. But yes, we should have a discussion about her use of politics to influence a personal situation.
So that's been really interesting, is that no one's come forward and said this is such a big scandal, she shouldn't be able to run alongside John McCain.
But I will tell you, it was all the headlines here in this area. Everybody has been in the community talking about this story, even to this day. Wondering, wow, did she make a phone call? Was she involved in telling members of her staff to make these phone calls? Did she and her husband make certain comments to put pressure on the commissioner to fire her former brother-in-law?
I'll tell you what, now that she has hired a lawyer, we will see more because the pressure is on. People do want answers. They want to know if indeed she was directly involved because this place is the whole issue of character and decision making.
BLITZER: Kyra, stand by. We're watching this story. I want Bill Bennett to weigh in.
Bill, you heard the two stories, totally unrelated; a bitter divorce, a bitter custody battle, involving her ex-brother-in-law and sister, and the charge being, she called this commissioner and she pressured him, in effect, to go ahead and fire the trooper. He says that publicly. The trooper was never fired. She denies there was any inappropriate political pressure from the governor to go ahead and fire her ex-brother-in-law.
BILL BENNETT, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is the kind of story that can be appropriately looked at because this is about ethics in government. Same kinds of questions people have asked about Barack Obama, and Rezko, Barack Obama and Bill Aires. Serious questions. Questions about Sarah Palin. I know it was vetted by the McCain campaign. We've all been reading about it.
But that first piece of attack of journalism, Wolf, I've got to speak to. We all praise Barack Obama, myself included, for saying, do not use the case of this child to start to beat up Sarah Palin. And to use this as an opportunity to make points for the Center for Reproductive Pregnancy. That was really out and out outrageous. That should not happen on CNN.
BLITZER: You know it will, Bill.
BENNETT: I know. It shouldn't happen on CNN.
BLITZER: You know it will generate a discussion. Hold on. It will generate a discussion over those who say abstinence only should be taught versus formal sex education, birth control pills, and all of that. And to have a discussion about those issues is totally appropriate.
BENNETT: Totally appropriate separated from this context. That's the point. That's what Barack Obama said. Do not drag this girl's situation into the --
BLITZER: But it's sparked a discussion on the debate --
BENNETT: Fine. I'll get in it. My wife will get into it. These are legitimate issues. We all praise Barack Obama.
BLITZER: But hold on. Should abstinence be taught or should there be formal sex education taught in school?
BENNETT: There should be --
BLITZER: You're a former secretary of education.
BENNETT: Absolutely and I know the issues very well. We should do what's most effective. Abstinence education I believe are the best programs are the most effective. These are decisions made at the state level. That bit of advocacy has no place on CNN and respectable journalism.
BLITZER: You say they should teach abstinence only? Local and state?
BENNETT: Based on the research. Based on what works.
BLITZER: Her policy, her public statement has been that abstinence only is the way to go.
BENNETT: Abstinence advocates, Wolf, say abstinence works every time it's tried. They're absolutely right about that. That is a very strong position. The distribution of condoms has been shown not to be effective. We've got study after study. You can have Mrs. Bennett come on and do that. But can we separate it from the context of this girl's situation, which Barack Obama urged us to do. BLITZER: Let's let Donna Brazile weigh in.
DONNA BRAZILE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Governor Palin is a public official and she's made statements about reproductive rights and reproductive services. I think in the context now of telling us that her daughter is pregnant, there will be those that will raise issues. I tend to agree with Barack Obama. It's a private matter. But she's a public official who's taken political stances that may now contradict where she stands. As a private matter, yes, it is something that her family will have to deal with. But there's no question that this kind of conversation, public policy, will be discussed in the context of now revealing her daughter's pregnant.
BENNETT: And public policy. The fact that her daughter got pregnant does not refute the public policy decision and we can discuss those separately. What Barack Obama has -- again, what he's asked us to do is not drag that family, that daughter's situation into this public policy discussion.
BLITZER: It's fair enough. But you know that there is going to be a debate now. The whole issue of abstinence.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we're hearing it right here. I think Barack Obama is right. And I think -- I'm sure we'll hear from John McCain on this. I think he'll say the same thing. This is a private matter and a family's decision at this point. Yeah.
BLITZER: All right, guys, hold on a second. We're going to come back to this conversation shortly. But there's breaking news happening in Plaquemines Parish right now in New Orleans. The president of that parish, Bill Nungesser, is joining us on the phone.
Mr. President, I hope I pronounced your name right. I understand there's an evacuation under way. Tell us what's going on. Bill, can you hear me?
BILL NUNGESSER, PLAQUEMINES PARISH L.A. PRESIDENT: Hello.
BLITZER: Yes. This is Wolf Blitzer. I understand there are dramatic developments happening in Plaquemines Parish right now. You're the president. Tell us what's going on.
NUNGESSER: Yeah. Yes, the East Bank levee is being overtopped as we speak. We're out here trying to help it, but it doesn't look like we're going to be successful. We're urging people to get out. We will get them on the Mississippi River levee around the flood gate and out of the parish. We also just got -- received calls that the Scarsdale levee is being overtopped as well. So from (inaudible) to St. Bernard, we must ask everybody to get out. That levee also is being overtopped. The winds continue to pick up and push the water into this levee. And we've got less than a foot clearance. And several spots are washing over. There's about eight foot of water on the inside of the levee right now. And it continues to flow. We've got sand bags we're transporting out there in a last-ditch effort to save it. But it doesn't look good. So we need everybody that stayed, to immediately leave. This levee could give way and flood the whole east bank to white ditch, in little to no time.
BLITZER: Mr. Nungesser, do you have any idea how many people are still in Plaquemines Parrish right now? We understand most people in the New Orleans area evacuated in advance of the hurricane.
NUNGESSER: On the west bank, where I was stationed for the whole storm, we had a couple thousand people stay. Over here, we've got 300 or 400 homes. I'm not sure how many stayed. I wasn't able to come over here after the winds got -- I couldn't take the boat in the river after the winds got over 35 miles an hour. So I'm really not sure how many people stayed. That's why we've got police going through the neighborhoods, and urging everyone to get out. Because this levee could give way at any minute.
BLITZER: So it hasn't given way yet. But you expect it to give way, to break down?
NUNGESSER: It's flowing over the top. And it continues to get deeper on the inside of the levee. It's flowing into the streets. And it continues to overflow. But as it overflows, it's weakening the levee. And the levee is really soft. So it could give way at any time.
BLITZER: Was this an old levee, Mr. Nungesser, or a rebuilt levee, re-strengthened levee? What's the history of this levee?
NUNGESSER: It's a private levee that we've been trying to get in the federal system for many years. When I took office a year and a half ago, we raised this levee two feet and shored it up and planted grass. Obviously two feet was not enough. But that's as high as we to raise it without getting real stability.
BLITZER: Hold on a second Mr. Nungesser. I apologize. We'll get back to you.
I want to listen to the first lady, Laura Bush. She's here in St. Paul. Much more coming up on what's happening in New Orleans right after this. But let's listen to the first lady. She's going to speak about this hurricane as well. We're here in St. Paul.
LAURA BUSH: Thank you all very, very much. Thank you, Joann. Thank you, everyone. Thank you so much. Thanks, everybody. Thank you very much. Thanks, everybody. Thank you all. Thank you for the very, very warm welcome. Thanks a lot. Okay. Thank you all. All right, everybody. Okay, everybody. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. Thank you all. Okay. You can be seated. Thank you all very, very much. Thank you so much for the warm welcome.
I'm so happy to be here. And with you here in Minneapolis-St. Paul for the republican convention, while we nominate Senator John McCain and Governor Sarah Palin to be our next president and vice president.
I want to tell you that like all of you, George and I were planning to come to enjoy this convention to have a really good time. And we would have been here tonight speaking, but, of course, as we all know, events on the gulf coast region have changed the focus of our attention. And our first priority now, today, is to ensure the safety and the well-being of those living in the gulf coast region. And to all of those living in the gulf coast states, and to each of you, each of the delegations from those gulf coast states, please know that our thoughts and our prayers are with you and your families and your friends who are still at home.
The effect of hurricane Gustav is just now being measured. When such events occur, we're reminded that, first, we're all Americans. And that our share of our American ideals will always transcend the political party and partisanship. We hope the people on the gulf coast know that the American people are here to do what we can to assist them.
President Bush has been speaking with the officials in the region to make sure they have what they need from the federal government. And today he visited the emergency operations center in Austin, which is coordinating the efforts among the federal, state and local officials.
During our time in the white house, we've had the pleasure of getting to know each of the governors from those gulf coast states. They're all strong leaders. And they were planning to be with us today. They all also happen to be republicans.
We know it's far more important for them to remain in their home state to provide the leadership and management of this crisis. Four of the gulf coast governors taped messages for us. I'm sure you can understand why Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana could not participate. Let's see what they had to say.
BLITZER: All right. As we continue to watch what's going on at the republican convention, we are here for example Cindy McCain as soon as she starts speaking.
I want to go back to the president of the Plaquemine Parish in the New Orleans area. He told us that one of the levees is on the verge of collapsing right now.
Is that right, President Nungesser?
I don't think we still have him. I think we lost contact with the Plaquemine Parish president. We will go back there once again.
While we attempt to reestablish a connection, John King is here and looking at the Google map.
Show us where the Plaquemine Parish is. Donna Brazile is here. She knows a great deal about the area, but give us the overview of what we are talking about. One of the levees is right now on the verge of collapse.
JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with the basic geography. Wolf, here's New Orleans here. Plaquemine Parish is down here to the south and the east of New Orleans. I want to stretch out the map a little bit. The parish starts up here and this is the area we believe the president was talking about. It was the east side which is this side of the Mississippi River. That was a private levee. The president was talking about the Mississippi River levee. This is largely dirt levees along the Mississippi river and they can get soft when the water piles up. He mentioned the houses.
Here's the Mississippi River levee and it's mostly dirt and they pile it up and make it as thick as they can. You see the growth. This is the east side of the Mississippi River. This is the Westside here. If you look, there is a subdivision in here. There about 300 houses at risk in a subdivision just to the east side of the Mississippi levee.
I want to stretch it back where you heard President Nungesser talk about getting people out to the Mississippi levee road and up to Saint Bernard's Parish. That would be out this way to the west heading towards the river and the road as you can see it. You can see the road running up along in here. You get up the road to Saint Bernard to the north.
These areas suffered a great deal of damage during hurricane Katrina three years ago. This is the right geography turn. It wasn't just Katrina and during hurricane Rita which came in a couple weeks after that and a lot of these levees were saturated then and the president I heard him saying how they rebuilt it. You watch how the Mississippi River comes down through New Orleans and heads south to Saint Bernard and Plaquemines Parish and if you follow it down through, you see how the river comes on down.
Over here you see all this marsh land. This is a key area when you get such a heavy storm and so much rain, the natural resources are supposed to suck up most of the water, when you have the heavy rains or the environmental damage done but such heavy storms that one of the problems in the area. The areas have been so damaged by so many storms. The officials say restoring the wetlands was key. They need these wetlands to absorb the surge and to take like a sponge and take in the water while you have the storms right here. The east side of the Mississippi River levee running along the blue line. This is the particular area he was talking about in here.
BLITZER: Plaquemines Parish, Donna tells me, Donna Brazile, there were 28,000 Louisianans living there before Katrina. 22,512 have returned to their homes, but right now we are deeply concerned about this one levee that the president of the Plaquemines Parish, Bill Nungesser, is telling us is on the verge of breaking down.
General Russell Honore is with us who understands the situation. Give us a perspective and tell us what this means.
LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE, U.S. ARMY (RET.): Good news, Wolf. This is happening in daylight. If it happened at night, the probability of them seeing that to get the people out, the parish president has people out. The impact of it on Plaquemine Parish is significant. There is one road that runs the length of the parish that connects to a fishing village in the south. It's a wait and see game for what impact they can get everyone on the levee. BLITZER: Stand by. Donna Brazile, you know this area and personally you have been there, Plaquemines Parish many times. How worried are you?
BRAZILE: After hurricane Katrina all of the focus was on New Orleans and the surrounding area, but they had some real tough devastation. It's home to our fishing industry and some of the best crops in the country. I'm worried about the levees as they are privately own and not part of the U.S. core. It's good that this is happening now and the people can leave and get to the Mississippi Riverside and perhaps avoid that flood.
BLITZER: As we wait for Cindy McCain to start speaking at the republican convention momentarily, she will be taking the podium behind us. James Carville I think is with us.
James, you know this area quite well.
JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: This is where the river goes to the Gulf of Mexico and Donna's right. It's rich in agriculture and minerals. One of the things I'm not sure about, we alluded to the fact that it was the river levee that's breaking which is different from the agriculture levee. I'm a little bit -- we have guidance as to whether the main river breaking are the secondary levees.
BLITZER: Based on what we know, it's a secondary private levee called the diversion levee. People only know of it who know the area.
CARVILLE: I thought so. That's what I thought I heard President Nungesser say. It's a very important parish. It's rich in agriculture and in minerals and the wet river at the mouth of the river you can see it's a mistake.
BLITZER: Hold on a second. I think President Nungesser is back with us on the phone. I am going to hold on, President Nungesser, with you for a few minutes because Cindy McCain is about to speak at the republican convention. She will be delivering a message not only on behalf of herself, but her husband, Senator McCain and much is going to deal with the devastation from Gustav that is affecting your parish and New Orleans and most of the gulf coast right now, including the Louisiana state capital of Baton Rouge.
Let's listen to Cindy McCain and resume the breaking news and breaking news fortunately has a real symbolic significance because the levee looks like it can be breaking even as we speak.
Let's listen to Cindy McCain.
CINDY MCCAIN: I am so honored and proud to be standing next to Mrs. Bush as we work together, yes, as we work together to extend our support to relief efforts in the gulf.
As each of the gulf coast governors expressed to us, their challenges will continue in the days ahead. I would ask that each one of us commit to join together to aid those in need as quickly as possible. As John has been saying for the last several days, this is a time when we take off our republican hats and put on our American hats. In that spirit, we would like to ask that you go to a website called cause greater or www.causegreater.com to allow us to aid those who have been affected by hurricane Gustav.
Although the task of helping the region recover is too large for any one individual or organization together, together we can accomplish so much to help those who have been affected. This fund will play an important in contributing to relief efforts already underway. Thank you.
LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY: Americans -- Americans are known for coming to the aid of their fellow citizens when crises such as these arise. Today and in the coming days, let's work together to provide those affected with the means to restore and rebuild their communities.
The charities listed on the screen behind us have been identified by each of the Gulf Coast governors to accept donations of funds, clothing and other necessary and much needed supplies. As you can, and as you are willing, please support this important effort. Thank you.
Thank you all, and God bless you.