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Air Passenger Faces Felony Charges; Greece Facing Financial Collapse; Crist To Quit GOP; Pres. Bush and Laura Poisoned in Germany?; British PM Caught By Open Microphone

Aired April 28, 2010 - 18:00   ET



Happening now. As a massive oil slick closes in on the United States gulf coast, the Coast Guard is ready to set the oil on fire to try to head off a potential environmental disaster.

In a CNN exclusive, we'll hear from the head of the company leasing the wells. Stand by.

A former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist facing felony changes accused of making false bomb threats that led to the diversion of a Delta flight. From Paris to Atlanta.

And were President George W. Bush and his wife poisoned -- poisoned during a 2007 are trip to Germany? That stunning possibility is raised by Laura Bush herself in her brand-new book. We have a copy.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM."

Well, we begin with frantic efforts under way right now to try to prevent an environmental nightmare along the U.S. gulf coast. Here are the latest developments.

An oil well ripped open when a drilling rig blew up and sank off 50 miles off Louisiana is still gushing. Forty-two thousand -- 42,000 gallons of crude oil per day. That oil has formed a slick up to 100 miles long and 30 miles wide.

It threatens the coastline from the pristine beaches of northern Florida, the most likely area of damage, the sensitive marsh lands of the mouth of the Mississippi River. To minimize that threat, the U.S. Coast Guard is now prepared to set fire to portions of the oil slick.

We've got details on that and much more from our own Brian Todd who spoke exclusively with the head of the company which leased that well. He is not very happy right now.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He is not, Wolf. Was very emotional when talking about his response to this. We've got new details on safety questions surrounding BP's operations and what the company is doing to prevent this massive slick from reaching land. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): The head of British Petroleum pulls no punches on his initial reaction to this disaster.

TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP GROUP: Initially I was very shocked. I was angry. Actually -- how could the hell could this happen?

TODD: We got right to that central question in CNN's exclusive interview with BP's global CEO, Tony Hayward.

(On camera): We understand that BP has interviewed the crew of this oil rig. What have they told you about the circumstances and the conditions that night on the oil rig?

HAYWARD: I think we -- it's far too early in the investigative process to speculate on the events and what transpired. It's clearly been a tragic accident. And I would -- I feel great grief and sorrow actually because of the people who've lost their lives. And we clearly had tremendous sympathy for the families and friends that they've left behind.

But it's too early to speculate on the course of the accident. What is clear is that the ultimate fail safe mechanism in a drilling operation, there many checks before you get to activating the blowout preventer.

That is the ultimate fail-safe mechanism. And for whatever reason -- and we don't understand that yet but we will as a consequence of both our investigation and federal investigation, it failed to operate.

TODD (voice-over): Hayward says he hasn't ruled out sabotage but he doesn't believe that was the cause. Hayward describes an aggressive $6 million a day operation to attack a swath of oil that's now bigger than the state of Delaware and creeping closer to the Louisiana shoreline.

Seventeen hundred people deployed, 70 vessels in the water, including remote-operated submarines that so far haven't been able to seal off the leaking pipe. And now an effort to burn off oil on the surface.

(On camera): Tell us about this burning operation. How is that going right now? What do you plan on doing with the booms?

HAYWARD: The burning operation is part of a three-pronged attack on the surface. In the core of the spill where the oil thickness is about .1 of a millimeter, we are using burning booms to try and collect it and we'll ultimately see if we can set fire to it.

Also in that central area, we have 16 large skimming vessels deployed. And then in the broader area where the spill is a surface sheen -- that's about 97 percent of the area of the spill -- that is an area that is susceptible to attack through disbursals.

TODD: How confident are you that will surface burning operation is going to stave that off from reaching the shoreline?

HAYWARD: But I think it's not -- the surface burning operation is just one of the attempts. The big efforts are really around the skimming and the disbursal. And we are doing everything we can to contain it in the offshore.

We have also been very proactive in ensuring that more than a million feet of boom is on location and ready to be deployed.

TODD: Is this oil going to hit the shoreline at any point?

HAYWARD: The fact is, I'm not an oceanographer. I'm not an (INAUDIBLE) expert so it would be inappropriate for me to make a forecast. There are better people than me qualified to make a forecast. We continue to focus on ensuring that it doesn't.

TODD (voice-over): We asked Hayward about a lawsuit against BP and the owner of the rig Transocean. Filed by the family of a lost crew member, the suit specifically accuses BP of failing to ensure crew safety, requiring them to work in unsafe conditions and not properly training or supervising the crew.

HAYWARD: The responsibility for safety on the drilling rig is with Transocean. It is their rig, their equipment, their people, their systems, their safety processes.

TODD (on camera): And BP bears none of this responsibility?

HAYWARD: We will deal with these issues in the foremost of time. Today we're focusing on the response, but as I've said, the systems processes on a drilling rig are the accountability of the -- of the drilling rig company.


TODD: Contacted by CNN, a spokesman for the company Transocean said he would not respond to those comments from Hayward or to the allegations in that lawsuit by the family against Transocean, citing pending litigation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: But there have been some questions in the past about whether BP and other oil companies were fighting, resisting new efforts by the federal government to tighten security.

TODD: That's right. The agency that oversees offshore oil drilling had proposed essentially auditing the safety of these companies every couple of years. There was a letter reported by the "Huffington Post" from an executive of BP to that federal agency saying, essentially, we're against this. We don't want this.

I asked Tony Hayward about that. He said his company has not resisted tighter regulations, but he wants to make them what he calls practically impermeable. I don't know what that means but he did cite a safety commendation that his company got from the federal government. BLITZER: And this disaster coming only a few weeks after the Obama White House announced that they would support greater oil drilling off the coast -- Atlantic coast in the Gulf of Mexico. It's a huge problem right now.

Thanks very much for that report, Brian.

We're following breaking news on Capitol Hill as well where Senate Republicans are now getting ready to drop their filibuster of a Wall Street reform bill after three days of block debate.

Let's go straight to our congressional correspondent Brianna Keilar.

We're getting ready for another vote, aren't we, Brianna?

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The fourth vote in three days, Wolf, on this Wall Street reform bill or at least moving this Wall Street reform bill to the Senate floor. But the difference this time is we are expecting that it's going to pass.

This would be a very important step in changing how the U.S. government polices these big banks and these Wall Street firms that were at the epicenter of the financial meltdown in 2008.

And this is very significant right now that this bill would move to the floor if this vote does succeed as we are expecting because it is seen as really -- once it gets to the floor, it's been much more likely to pass because it would be politically very difficult for Republicans to say no to the bill at that point for fear the Democrats would be successful in branding them as being aligned with Wall Street.

So what is the difference here? Why will vote succeed or we're expecting that it will succeed when the last three didn't?

Well, it actually has to do with an impasse between the top Democrat on the banking committee, Chris Dodd, and the top Republican on that committee, Richard Shelby. They have been in behind-the-scene discussions trying to reach some common ground on the bill.

And they actually came to an impasse and this talk that we heard from Republicans was they've gotten the changes, at least that they thought they would be able to get at this point so let's try to move this down to the floor and maybe get some more of the changes that they would like to see -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Have they reached an agreement -- Shelby and Dodd -- on the firms that are supposedly too big to fail?

KEILAR: They have. And particularly on this idea of a $50 billion fund that was in this bill. A fund that would have been paid for by Wall Street and would have been used to wind down any of these large firms that might happen to fail.

As we understand it from Senator Shelby, that provision has been thrown out. That is expected to go by the wayside. But the issues that they didn't really come to an agreement on, Wolf, have to do with how to regulate derivatives, which are these very complex financial products that were seen as at the epicenter of the financial meltdown and the other issue being this consumer protection agency that's in the bill.

Republicans are concerned it's too wide-reaching. It's going to go into too many, as they say, nooks and crannies of the American economy and even down to main street. And Democrats saying that it's an important thing to guarantee the consumers are protected -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Brianna Keilar, working the story up on Capitol Hill. Let us know when that vote actually takes place, Brianna. And we'll inform the viewers. Thanks very much.

Jack Cafferty is coming up with the "Cafferty File." Then the Republican Party chairman Michael Steele, he's here in THE SITUATION ROOM live. We'll talk about all the breaking news including a critical vote on Wall Street reform and the Florida governor, Charlie Crist, quitting the GOP.

Also there are new details about that bizarre note that have diverted a Delta flight and could send a young military veteran to prison for decades.

And why the former first lady Laura Bush thinks she and her husband may have been poisoned in Germany.


BLITZER: Let's go right back to Jack for the "Cafferty File." Jack?

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Everything has to be on the table. That's what President Obama says about reducing our skyrocketing deficits.

Don't bet your lunch money on it. For one thing the president refuses to say which programs may ultimately be cut and other lawmakers have been out all over the place lately saying what they want off the table.

No value added tax, no cuts to Social Security, and not allowing the tax cuts for low and middle income families to expire. All this as the president's 18-member bipartisan debt commission gets to work.

The commission is meant to bring the federal budget down to 3 percent of this country's GDP by 2015. Right now the deficit is on track to be double that -- 6 percent. Fed chairman Ben Bernanke warns if we don't do something about the deficits, they will do great damage to the U.S. economy.

Bernanke says our debt levels are at an unsustainable path. Budget experts point out that new measures will have to reign in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security costs. But we continue to be represented by people who won't make any tough decisions because they are afraid that if they do, they won't be reelected.

It's time to vote these people out. We cannot keep kicking the deficit can down the road any longer. And don't get too excited about this the debt panel either created by President Obama. It has no legal authority whatsoever. They need to 14 of the 18 members to agree to any recommendations which can then be ignored by the Congress.

This is sort of like sitting on the railroad tracks, seeing the train barreling down on you and refusing to move out of the way.

Here's the question. How serious is Congress about reducing the national debt and deficits? Go to and post a comment on my blog.

BLITZER: Jack, thanks very much.

Republicans right now divided over Arizona's controversial new law cracking down on illegal immigration. Let's talk about that and much more with the chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. He's joining us in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Mr. Chairman, thanks very much for coming in.


BLITZER: As you know, the former Florida governor Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio is running for the Senate from Florida. Another Republican. They are among an increasing chorus of Republicans thinking well maybe the Arizona law is a mistake.

What is Michael Steele, the former lieutenant governor of Maryland, say about that?


STEELE: Well, Michael Steele, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, understands that the realities right now for the country as reflected in Arizona and elsewhere is that we have as a people to come to grips with this issue of immigration. We can no longer use it as a political football.

We must keep in mind the families that are impacted by the lack of decision in this area. And the leadership has to confront what has always been the growing chorus of concern from the American people is, let's deal with border security and control. Let's put that house in order and the rest then takes care of itself.

BLITZER: Did the governor of Arizona do the right thing signing this law -- signing this bill into law?

STEELE: The governor of Arizona acted in the best interest of the people of Arizona. And you may find that the governor of another state may come to a different conclusion based on what's on the best interest of the people of that state. That's why the federal action at this time so important. And my hope is that the administration and the leadership in both the House and the Senate do not engage in some political footballry here with respect to this very important issue that has a direct impact on jobs and has a direct impact on families, and an even broader impact on --

BLITZER: But you know there are some Republican strategists -- Karl Rove among others -- who are worried this is going to alienate Hispanic voters. The Republican Party needs these people.

STEELE: I think Karl Rove is exactly right about that. And we need as a party to be mindful that our prior actions in this area and certainly our rhetoric in this area has not been the most welcoming and the most supportive of helping those who want to assimilate into the way of life of America, learning English, getting a good job.

Coming through the process in a legitimate way has not helped that. So now we have an opportunity, I think, and our leadership has pressed this fact, that we can go about this a little bit differently. And we can create a path the way that assimilates individuals who respect and follow the rule of laws, who come in through the right doors, fill out the right forms, have a little apple pie, home -- you know, sing a few bars of the "Star Spangled Banner" and get to work.

BLITZER: Here's what the governor -- the former governor of Virginia Tim Kaine who is now the chairman, as you know, of the Democratic Party, your counterpart. He announced a new Democratic Party strategy today to try to win in November, the midterm elections.

He said this. He said, "Democrats under President Obama's leadership have been a results party and that is what Americans want. The Republicans, on the other hand, have been a party of obstruction. We think Americans will reward results rather than obstruction."

All right. Go ahead and tell us why you think that's not going to work.

STEELE: Well, it doesn't work because look at the results.

BLITZER: They got health care reform and they're about to get financial reform, right?

STEELE: Wait a minute. But wait a minute. Wait a minute, Wolf. A health care reform that 60 percent of the people in the country said they don't want. That's not a result. You mean to tell me that if I force-fed you something that you didn't want, that you thought that would be a good result?

No. So look, you can call it results all day long, the reality of it is, the real result will come in November when Republicans sweep in the House and then the Senate and governorships around the country, very much as we've already seen in New Jersey, Virginia and Massachusetts.

The real result will come in the polls, you know, that are really reflective of how people feel about what this administration is doing with the leadership and the Democratic Party has failed to do. That is to create jobs. That is the bottom -- that's the result --

BLITZER: But the economy continues to improve. It's certainly better today than it was a year ago. If the economy continues to improve --

STEELE: But that's great --

BLITZER: -- between now and November, won't that help the Democrats?

STEELE: The Dow hit 11000, great. Did 11,000 get created today? Did 11,000 jobs get created this week? That's where the reality is. And folks who like that's great, we love all these other indeces out here that are doing things that are bubbling up, but they're not bubbling up jobs.

This administration has fundamentally failed to address the core concern that people have for over a year and a half now. Could you please put me to work? Would you give me the opportunity to get back into my small business, to create jobs, create the opportunity for me to go back out into the workforce so I can provide for me and my family?

BLITZER: Give me your quick reaction to Charlie Crist, the Republican governor of Florida, a man you know well. He's going to announce tomorrow he's running as an independent for the Senate from Florida.

STEELE: Well, you know, that's Charlie Crist's decision. As I've said from the very beginning, I'm looking forward to going into Florida in November and supporting the Republican nominee for the United States Senate.

We want to keep that seat in the Republican column and we are looking forward to going forward with the nominee and if Crist is not in the primary any longer, then we know who the nominee will be. That will be Marco Rubio and guess what? There will be no Senator Crist.

BLITZER: You know the polls showing a three-person race. He's very -- you know, he's potentially a winner.

STEELE: Well, that's a real possibility. It's a dynamic, that's unfortunate in my view. I think that the voters out there should be given a chance to have a clean call between the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee, Congressman Meek.

And we're looking forward to helping carry the Republican nominee across the finish line.

What the governor -- you know, I would not want the governor to leave the party, but that's his decision to make. My responsibility is to make sure that the Republican wins the seat. And that's what we're going to be committed to doing.

BLITZER: A quick question on this Republican Party 2010 Congressional District census that was sent out with your name -- STEELE: Yes.

BLITZER: -- right on page one. You're getting a lot of criticism that this was a fund-raising device, but it looks like a real census. And people are saying this was inappropriate, this was misleading.

I want you to respond to the criticism and you've seen plenty of it.

STEELE: Well, yes, I met with Congressman Issa on this and I've talked to other leaders in the party. We've talked to our lawyers that this was within the law as written. And we were not outside of those bounds. And, you know, I can't help that the Democrats wrote a bad bill. The reality of it is we complied to what the law required. And the mailer went out.

BLITZER: Are you still enjoying your job? Are you ready to think about --


BLITZER: -- moving on at some point?

STEELE: No, no. I enjoy my job very much. I'm looking forward to bringing home victories for Republicans across the country. The state-wide level for governor and certainly other offices in Congress and the Senate.

So it's going to be a great year. We've got a lot of work to do, still, Wolf, as you know. This is a long season given there's only seven months left and still a lot can happen. But we're committed to raising the dollars necessary to win the races that we're required to win.

BLITZER: We'll see what happens and we hope you'll be a frequent visitor here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

STEELE: You know I will.

BLITZER: Mr. Chairman, thanks very much.

STEELE: Someone has got to check up on you, man.

BLITZER: I know. We love having you here. Thanks very much for coming in. We'll continue this conversation.

STEELE: All right, Wolf. You got it.

BLITZER: There are new details emerging right now about that young U.S. Air Force veteran who prompted a bomb scare on a Delta flight bound for the United States including what he wrote in a bizarre note.

And the British prime minister finds out the hard way that an open microphone can be a politician's worst enemy. Details on what he said when he thought -- when he thought no one was listening, but guess what, Mr. Prime Minister? The whole world was listening.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

BLITZER: And it involves Wall Street reform. Let's go to Brianna Keilar, our congressional correspondent, to report on what has just happened.


KEILAR: Wolf, we saw Democratic and Republican senators agree unanimously to bring this Wall Street reform bill to the floor. This after three previously failed votes to do so in the last few days.

A very important step in Congress, changing how the U.S. government polices these big banks and these Wall Street firms that were really at the middle of the financial meltdown of 2008.

And so what we are going to be seeing over the coming days are Republicans trying to get some changes, trying to pass some amendment if they can, Wolf, as they try to get some of these last minute issues that they weren't able to come to an agreement with Democrats on.

BLITZER: All right. Important step forward as the -- these lawmakers in the Senate move forward with the financial reform legislation.

Brianna, thank you.

A former U.S. Air Force intelligence specialist now faces two felony counts for allegedly telling U.S. Air Marshals on a transatlantic flight that he had explosives on board. That Delta airliner was diverted yesterday to Bangor, Maine where the man is in custody.

We're getting new details about this case. Our homeland security correspondent Jeanne Meserve is working this story for us and it's a fascinating story, Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: And it's very strange, actually. During a brief court appearance this afternoon, a competency hearing was ordered for Derek Stansberry at the request of the public defender who's representing him.

Stansberry, who's 27 years old, is facing, as you mentioned, Wolf, two felony counts which could carry a 20-year potential sentence for allegedly making a false bomb threat.

An affidavit in the case alleges that Stansberry passed a note to a flight attendant on that flight saying, "I am not an American citizen. I was in Ouaga illegally." That's an apparent reference to the capital of Burkina Faso where he'd been working.

He also said in this note, "My passports and identity are fake. I bough that bag on eBay and have no association with the United States. I will take whatever COA," we think that means course of action, "the U.S. wants. I will leave my wallet and passport on this aircraft. Please let my family know the truth. I blanked up and I will let the HN president over prosecutions. And that I love them."

HN may stand for home nation in this contact. We don't really know.

Well, the federal air marshal took Stansberry into custody at that point and Stansberry allegedly told him he had dynamite in his boots which were located in his backpack. He had a pressure switch which would detonate the dynamite and explosives in his laptop.

Well, after the flight was diverted to Bangor, the affidavit says Stansberry claimed people on the plane have been following him, ridiculing him and interrogating him. And he says he made that bomb threat to divert them from the fact that he was carrying classified information.

Well, a possible clue to all this unusual behavior, he allegedly told an air marshal he had taken eight Ambien, a sleep medication, and had previously taken a Valium -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Why is the federal government right now pressing charges? Because it's moving very, very quickly.

MESERVE: Wants to make a point here that this is serious business. You are wasting time. You are wasting resources when you stage this sort of bomb threat. And in fact there was another one today, on a Continental flight. It was diverted after flight attendants found the word "bomb" scrawled on a mirror in the lavatory. It turned out to be absolutely nothing, but again, it takes time, it takes money, and its inconvenient.

BLITZER: Do experts -- and I know you've been looking into this thing (ph), that Ambien, even if you take eight Ambien, could cause this kind of bizarre behavior?

MESERVE: Well, it seems a little unusual that anyone could take eight Ambien and still be alert enough to even write this note. So we're still looking into it, trying to get to the bottom of it. And that's one reason why the public defender today said, Hey, let's have a competency hearing.

BLITZER: At a minimum. Thanks very much, Jeanne, for that.

You know how tough it can sometimes be to back into a parking space in a garage. Well, you don't know the half of it. Take a look at this. We're going to tell you what happened to one driver in Oklahoma.

And could European economies start collapsing like dominoes? What that could mean for the United States. We have good insight for you on that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Greece is now on a path to financial collapse unless it gets a multi-billion-dollar bail-out by other members of the European Union. Is Greece simply too big to fail? There's new concern right now that Greece's troubles are spreading across the European continent.

Lisa Sylvester is joining us now with more on a potential domino effect that could have major ramifications for folks here in the United States.

LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And this is one way to look at it. You know, just like a lot of home owners, they borrowed a lot of money, they found themselves overstretched, well, so did the entire country, the government of Greece. And now it has no way to pay it back. Greece's debt is 115 percent of its gross domestic product, or GDP. That is an enormous number.

Standard and Poor's downgraded Greece's debt to junk status yesterday, and that started this domino effect. Investors are now worried about other European countries with large debt loads. Portugal, for example -- its rating was also downgraded two notches yesterday.

And it's -- think of it this way. It's a lot like having your credit score lowered. It means that to borrow, it's going to cost you more money. And today Spain was impacted, which has a much larger economy than Greece's. Spain's rating dropped one notch.

So how does this all affect the United States? Well, it's putting a lot of pressure on the Euro, which fell to new lows against the dollar. Well, that might be good news if you're an American tourist, you're on vacation in Europe. But that is bad for U.S. companies that do business in Europe. Those concerns are now dragging on the U.S. stock market. The Dow-Jones lost more than 200 points yesterday. Today it's up just a little bit, about 50 points. But there is a lot of concern that all of this could stall an economic recovery, Wolf.

BLITZER: How are the European countries, the richer European countries, specifically reacting to all of this?

SYLVESTER: Well, they are working right now on putting together a package. European countries that use the Euro and the International Monetary Fund would lend Greece nearly $60 billion -- billion! But some analysts say even that may not be enough to restore confidence in Greece's economy, so they're looking at trying to increase that number. Now, Germany would be contributing the most of any of the countries because it has the largest economy of them (INAUDIBLE) but the German chancellor wants to get this measure and this loan approved by the parliament and wants Greece to implement new spending cuts and a hiring freeze. But that, Wolf, is very politically sensitive.

BLITZER: Very sensitive indeed. And there are enormous ramifications. Lisa, we're going to stay on top of this story.

A stunning allegation in Laura Bush's new memoir. She thinks she and her husband were poisoned at a major international summit. Stand by.


BLITZER: Let's continue the breaking political news we've been following, multiple sources now telling us that Florida governor Charlie Crist will actually leave the Republican Party, where's is facing a very serious Senate primary battle, and run instead as an independent.

CNN's John King is here. He's the host of "JOHN KING USA," which comes up right after THE SITUATION ROOM. Tell us what you're hearing specifically because there a lot of ramifications in the political world from what's happening there.

JOHN KING, HOST, "JOHN KING USA": This is a fascinating race, and as you watch this one race, it also tells you a lot, Wolf, about the fracturing in our politics on both the left, but in this case, particularly on the right. Here's what I'm told. I've talked to a number of Republican sources, who say Governor Crist has spent part of his day calling financial people who have supported him, saying he will run non-party-affiliated. That's the language they use for independent in Florida. He will announce that tomorrow night in St. Pete. And what he's asking those fund-raisers, saying, is, I know you're going to face a lot of pressure from Republicans, but please stay with me. And that is one of the key tests as he takes this step.

If you look right now, it's a competitive race. Marco Rubio, the former house speaker, has become the darling of the conservative movement. And what he has argued, essentially, is that Charlie Crist isn't Republican enough because he has hugged President Obama, took the stimulus money, said nice things about the stimulus program, had some other moderate positions in his career. So this is one of the test cases and perhaps the biggest test case of what some call a purity movement in the Republican Party.

So Charlie Crist will make this big announcement tomorrow. Can he raise the money, Wolf? It's a big state. It's expensive to be on TV in Florida. That's the first big test. He has won statewide. He was once an incredibly popular governor. So he's a serious, credible candidate as an independent. But can he raise the money and can he put together a campaign team? Because his Republican polling firm -- they will announce tomorrow, once he makes his decision, they won't work for him anymore. Some of his staffers who are Republicans are going to say, We won't work for you anymore. So he has to start not from scratch but almost from scratch in building a new team.

BLITZER: Because you look at this poll, the most recent three- person poll, it shows that it would be very, very competitive. Any one of those three could win.

KING: Any one of those three. At the moment, Charlie Crist has a very slight lead. I think you see it there, 32-20, you know, 24. Kendrick Meek is the Democratic congressman.

Here's the thing to watch. You have in Kendrick Meek a Democratic congressman, Marco Rubio, the former house speaker, two very young, attractive, appealing candidates who are fabulous communicators, but they are untested in statewide politics. It's a bit state. It's a complicated state, ethnic diversity, economic diversity. They've never run and won statewide. Charlie Crist has.

So the fascinating thing to watch is if they make mistakes, as untested candidates often do, does this guy in the middle benefit? It's a fascinating race, and again, it's an important state nationally. Florida always is. But it's also as we watch tensions on the right, tensions on the left, big stage in Florida.

BLITZER: You know, Joe Lieberman did it in Connecticut.

KING: He certainly did.

BLITZER: We'll see if Charlie Crist can do it in Florida. We'll be watching you at the top of the hour.

KING: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: John King, thank you.

So what happens when the microphone is left on? Britain's prime minister is finding out the very hard way. Plus, a stunning suggestion from Laura Bush. Were she and her husband poisoned during a visit to Germany? Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER: Were President George W. Bush and his wife poisoned -- poisoned -- during a 2007 visit to Germany? That stunning possibility is raised by Laura Bush herself in a forthcoming book. Let's talk about it with our national security contributor Fran Townsend. She was the homeland security adviser to President Bush.

Fran, here is the book, Laura Bush, "Spoken From the Heart." And in it, she writes this, and I'll read it to our viewers, this excerpt. "Nearly a dozen members of our delegation were stricken, even George, who started to feel sick during an early morning staff briefing. One of our military aides had difficulty walking, and a White House staffer lost all hearing in one ear. Exceedingly alarmed, the Secret Service went on full alert, combing the resort for potential poisons. We never learned if any other delegations became ill or if ours mysteriously was the only one."

Now, you were working for the president at that time. You remember that incident vividly.

FRAN TOWNSEND, FMR. BUSH SECURITY ADVISER, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Very well, Wolf. I was not with the delegation in Germany. I was back at my office in the West Wing of the White House when I got a very concerned call. The president often worked sick and -- as most presidents do. They have colds. Bill Clinton would get laryngitis. Presidents often get sick and work through it.

This was very unusual, that the president was down so hard, as we would say, that he literally was dizzy. He felt weak. His stomach was not well. The first lady wasn't well. Steve Hadley, the national security adviser at the time, was not feeling well.

And so, of course, I got a phone call. And you can imagine, as the president's wife, she was concerned for her husband. And as the homeland security adviser, my job was to think the impossible. What was the worst potential? And so working with the Social Security -- remember, Wolf, this is in the context of the presidential candidate, ultimately the president of Ukraine, had been poisoned. There was a poisoning and murder in Great Britain. We were working with the British on that case...

BLITZER: So that poisoning theory, that was on the top of your mind right then.

TOWNSEND: Oh, it -- certainly.

BLITZER: Because at the time what we were told, well, maybe the president had a little stomach virus. He wasn't feeling that good. He himself said at one point, I need some fresh air, I got very sick this morning. But we just thought it was a stomach virus. That was the story that we were given.

TOWNSEND: Right. And Wolf, the truth was, ultimately, we didn't really believe that there was a basis to think they were poisoned. But you can understand -- you would have thought us not competent if we hadn't considered the possibility and looked at it.

And it really was the president himself who decided -- he was very concerned. He didn't want to disrupt the meeting in Germany. He didn't want to draw attention away from the substantive issues to himself, to something that may have turned out just to be a virus. And really, he was very gracious, very graceful, and wanting to be a good guest, if you will...

BLITZER: Did he think...

TOWNSEND: ... of the German government.

BLITZER: ... he might have been poisoned? Did the president believe that, as the first lady now writes?

TOWNSEND: Well, you know, it's interesting, Wolf. This is not the only time that I had to have a very difficult conversation like this with the president. I remember after his trip to Georgia -- there had been an attempt on his life. The president was very sort of live-and-let-live about it. His attitude was it came with part of the job. There were going to be attempts against him. It wasn't successful. That was the point. And he was prepared to move on. And the president didn't dwell on these sorts of things and didn't want us to dwell on them. He wanted us focused on the business of keeping the American people safe.

BLITZER: And did you ever follow up and find out what was the cause of that illness? Did you do some port-mortem, if you will?

TOWNSEND: Well, certainly, the Secret Service -- as the first lady indicates, the Secret Service, as you can imagine, as more and more of the U.S. delegation are getting sick, they were concerned. The doctors there who attend to the president were on site, looking into it with them. They believed it was just a virus, a local virus. But you know...

BLITZER: A whole bunch of people got it.

TOWNSEND: But you look at all sorts of possibilities, like things -- was there spoiled food, or intentionally poisoned food? There was no indication of that. And I will tell you, Wolf, I have tremendous confidence not only in the physical security capability of Secret Service, but there's a whole host of tools they use to make sure the food, the water, everything around him is secure.

BLITZER: Coming on the heels of what happened in Ukraine, clearly understandable, the president goes to Europe and that's what happens. It's a serious...

TOWNSEND: He was very sick.

BLITZER: Yes, I believe it. And Laura Bush -- we're going to be speaking to her here in THE SITUATION ROOM. That's -- that interview I'm looking forward to speaking to her about this and lot more. Thanks very much.


BLITZER: Jack Cafferty is coming up with your e-mails. Also, a car on the edge. We're going to show you how this happened and how it ended. Plus, what the British prime minister said when he thought no one was listening. Will his open mic nightmare cost him and his party the election?



BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.

JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: The question this hour is: How serious is Congress about reducing the national debt? We have that -- President Obama's debt reduction commission started to work, I think it was, yesterday, supposed to come up with some answers on how to keep us out of the economic ditch.

Rick in Seattle writes: "It won't happen until constituents say that they're willing to accept cuts in entitlements in exchange for serious cost-cutting, tax reform and loophole filling. And when it does happen, I expect the heaviest burden of cuts will fall on programs that benefit poor and struggling individuals, rather than the tax-incentivize corporate welfare programs, including defense and agriculture, to which our economy has become addicted.

Shirley writes: "Some of the 18 members of the debt commission were on the similar debt commission during the Clinton administration. And if memory serves me, they made great strides and left the country debt-free, with an actual budget surplus. We can only hope that this commission will do half as well."

Ed in California: "About as serious as they are when it comes to implementing the already standing immigration laws."

Dee writes: "Not at all. This is the most corrupt, dishonest Congress I've ever witnessed. No real effort to correct years of misguided fiscal policy and too willing to increase spending on anything that can keep them elected."

Andy says: "Until the government actually decides to cut back on military spending, they'll never be serious about balancing the budget. We have endless amounts of uproar about Welfare, Social Security, health care, but all are dwarfed by what Iraq, Afghanistan and our contracts with the military-industrial complex cost. And until that is addressed, the U.S. will never pull out of debt."

Finally, Al in New Hampshire writes: "Congress will never get serious about the debt until someone takes away their printing press. They remind me of my ex-wife. We can't be out of money. There are still checks in the checkbook."

If you want to read more on this, go to my blog, -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Will do, Jack. See you tomorrow. Thanks very much.

You know how tough it can sometimes be when you're trying to back into a space in a parking garage. Well, take a look at this, a car hanging halfway through the outside wall of a garage in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There was damage below from falling debris, but fire officials say no injuries, fortunately.

An open mic and a politician in a tough election battle -- it's a recipe for disaster. Stand by.


BLITZER: An open mic is a very dangerous thing, and the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, is the latest politician to learn that lesson the very hard way. CNN's Jeanne Moos takes a most unusual look and listen.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An open mic opens a can of worms. But first, it was a little like the time then candidate Obama crossed paths with the guy who became known as Joe the plumber.


MOOS: Only in this case, the leak came from British prime minister Gordon Brown. Brown was campaigning when he came upon Gillian Duffy, who gave him an earful on taxes, the deficit and immigration.

GORDON BROWN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's been six months... GILLIAN DUFFY, BRITISH VOTER: You seldom (ph) say anything about the immigrants because you're saying that you're -- you're -- well, all these Eastern Europeans want to come in.

MOOS: Brown was all smiles as they parted. But once he got in his car, he forgot he was wearing a wireless mic.

BROWN: That was a disaster. Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that? It's just ridiculous!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What did she say?

BROWN: Oh, everything. She's just a bigoted woman.

MOOS: Watch Gillian's eyes when she's told the prime minister called her bigoted.

DUFFY: You're joking! Very upsetting, that!

MOOS (on camera): You think she's upset, watch the prime minister's body language when he has to listen to his own gaffe played back to him during a BBC interview.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Someone has handed me the tape. Let's play it and see if we can hear it.

BROWN: Should never have put me with that woman. Whose idea was that?

MOOS: Is this thing on. Anyway, of course, the prime minister apologized.

BROWN: I phoned Gillian. I've apologized to her.

MOOS: And apologized.

BROWN: I apologize profusely to the lady concerned.

MOOS: The prime minister even went to her house for a face-to- face apology that lasted 40 minutes.

BROWN: I've just been talking to Gillian. I'm mortified by what's happened. I've given her my sincere apologies. I misunderstood what she said.

MOOS: There was speculation the gaffe could sink the Labour Party's campaign.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a disaster for Gordon Brown!

MOOS: Now Brown joins other illustrious victims of the open mic, from Prince Charles ranting about a reporter...

PRINCE CHARLES: These bloody people. I can't bear that man.

MOOS: ... to then President Bush at a summit. GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: See, the irony is that what they need to do is get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this (EXPLETIVE DELETED), and it's over.

MOOS: ... to Jesse Jackson complaining about Barack Obama.

REV. JESSE JACKSON, RAINBOW/PUSH COALITION: See, Barack's been talking down to black people on this faith-based -- I want to cut his (EXPLETIVE DELETED) off.

MOOS: If you're going to cut something, cut the mic!

BROWN: If you like, I'm a penitent sinner.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos...

BROWN: I was sorry.

MOOS: ... CNN...

BROWN: Sorry.

MOOS: ... New York.

BROWN: ... profound apologies, and that's...


BLITZER: Jeanne Moos, thank you. Remember, you can always follow what's going on here in THE SITUATION ROOM. I'm on Twitter. You can get my tweets at Wolfblitzercnn is all one word.

I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. "JOHN KING USA" starts right now.