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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES

BP and Government Botching Oil Cleanup Effort?; BP Begins New Attempt to Plug Oil Leak

Aired May 26, 2010 - 22:00   ET

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


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, we are live from Louisiana, "Keeping Them Honest" on the cleanup effort that only seems to be going on where the cameras are rolling. That's what people here tell us they are witnessing. It's what we saw today, cleanup photo- ops and off-camera neglect, or worse.

We will show you some of it, both here and in Washington. Whether it's marshland going unprotected, as we saw today and you're about to see, or the White House sending mixed messages to BP and the public, you name it, sunlight, transparency seems the only cure.

So, tonight, as BP tries to stop the leak deep underwater, our mission in this next hour is shining a light up top, "Keeping Them Honest," starting on the coast with local officials and Louisiana's governor.

We have seen and you have probably seen hazmat crews out on some of the more popular beaches cleaning up, but that's where it's easy to get to. That's where it's easy for cameras to get to.

Today, we went out with Louisiana's governor and other local politicians and James Carville to the marshland to see what is happening where the oil is hitting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER (voice-over): In Pass a Loutre, the marshes are covered in crude. The sight is sickening. So is the smell. There's little sound, no sign of life.

We reached the marshes on airboats accompanied by Louisiana's governor, Bobby Jindal, and Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish.

(on camera): BP hazmat crews working on beaches, but, I mean, why aren't there hazmat crews here right now?

BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: They don't have plan. They told us they did, just like they told us it wasn't going to come in here.

Usually, you would pull in here, the fish, the minnows -- a trout would be running behind a minnow. It -- action all over. It's dead. Look, there's not a bug. There's not a squirrel. There's not a fly. There's nothing. And there is no one cleaning it up. COOPER: Why isn't somebody cleaning this up now?

GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: Well, that's a great question.

Again, you know, Billy presented his plan yesterday, and he's basically said he hasn't been able to get a response. He's basically said to BP and the Coast Guard, in 24 hours, if you don't approve my plan, I'm going to implement it anyway.

COOPER (voice-over): The plan is to try and suction up some of oil in these marshes, something Billy Nungesser says he asked BP to do days ago.

(on camera): There is a thick layer of crude oil over this entire part of the -- the wetlands. You can just reach down and, I mean, it just coats your glove when you put your hand in it.

But you can also see it out on the reeds, coating about a foot or two up. The tide has gone down a little bit. But all these plants here will -- they have been killed.

(voice-over): Miles of boom, oil-soaked floats are now in the water, but, for this part of the marshland, it seems, it's already too late.

(on camera): The federal government says that they have got a boot to the neck of BP. Do you see that here?

NUNGESSER: No. No. You know, they keep talking about the thousands of people. They have -- and they do have a thousand people eating in the tent there in Venice. Why aren't they out here cleaning up? Do you see any boats out here?

COOPER (voice-over): Billy Nungesser wants to dredge a berm, a sand barrier offshore to prevent any more oil from entering the marshes. But his plan hasn't received approval and an emergency a permit from the federal government. He and the governor are fed up.

(on camera): Do you agree that the federal government hasn't lived up to its responsibilities here so far?

JINDAL: Oh, look, we have absolutely there needs to be a greater sense of urgency, whether it's getting more hard booms, skimmers, jack-up barges and resources down here, whether it's shortening the turnaround time on making decisions, whether it's putting more people on the ground with local leaders that can make those decisions, tell BP what to do.

We have absolutely said we need to see better situational awareness, which is why we're doing that with Wildlife and Fisheries. And, right now, almost on the top of our list, approve this emergency permit. Let us help ourselves.

COOPER (voice-over): A helicopter circles overhead. Billy Nungesser believes it's BP monitoring what he's doing.

When we return to shore, we find two birds rescued from the oil.

JINDAL: For every bird we're able to rescue, there's many more out there.

What's especially distressing to us is, many of the young -- if we can -- if we can clean up these birds and release them back into the wild, that's great. Many of their young will still die. Many of those nests, if the moms can't come back, we can't save those young birds. So, tragically, we have already seen dozens of birds that are oiled by this catastrophe.

This is just the -- just the first leading edge of some of the life that's being impacted by this oil spill right here in Louisiana. You have got wildlife refugees all over this area. And this oil spill is coming into important fisheries, also important habitats for residential birds and migratory birds as well.

COOPER (on camera): So, can there -- these birds be saved?

JINDAL: There's -- there's a place -- they call it Fort Jackson -- we have got specialists from all over the country there. They're going to do their best to clean them up.

Hopefully, these two are healthy enough they will be able to release them. A lot of times, they can't.

COOPER (voice-over): Even if the top kill works and the leak is plugged, there's so much oil already out there, there's no telling how much more will still come ashore.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Billy Nungesser, president of Plaquemines Parish, joins us now, along CNN's and Louisiana's James Carville.

James, I mean, that was the first time you were probably out on the marshes today. What was it like?

JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: The thing that struck me was just the utter silence. There was nothing there. There was nobody today -- there was no fishing going on because everything has been closed.

There were no scientists. There were no people cleaning up. There were no Coast Guard boat. It was nothing. It was just like -- and I think that -- I don't know why, but it was just stunning. It would be like you were in Antarctica. And in this -- at this time of year is a prime fishing time. So, you would see that.

But you would have -- I would have thought that there would be government contractors or some motion out there. But there was nothing. It was -- it was silence.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And, Billy, that oil that we saw out there, you say that's been there for about a week now, right, and no one's touching it.

NUNGESSER: Our crews on the jack-up boats reported that at 6:07 Monday a week ago, and Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, we were told BP was putting a plan together to clean it up.

On Friday, they put that hard boom out. We had called them all weekend to pick up the soft boom that you saw up in the marsh inundated with oil. And, as you saw today, nothing's been done. It's inundated with oil. And...

COOPER: Yes. You have got to pick those soft booms -- you have got to pick those booms that soak up oil, or else they basically just leak the oil again. You can't just leave them out there, like it is.

What's the solution, Bill? I mean, what is...

NUNGESSER: Well...

COOPER: You say you have a big problem with the Coast Guard, that you don't have a Coast Guard person with you who can then make decisions, that they're basically constantly deferring to BP.

NUNGESSER: Well, we have nobody that can make decisions. Everything goes through Houma. Then it gets transferred to Venice. Then they put a plan together.

They have to send out a team to assess before they do anything. By then, it's inundated our -- our marsh. The whole reason for having the jack-up boats out there is to respond quickly. So, we had a crew in Houma today. And if we don't get a response tomorrow or Friday, Saturday, we will put boats in the water. We will go pick up that boom. We will pick up the oil. We will re-boom those areas, and we will start cleaning up our own marsh. We're not waiting anymore.

COOPER: The president, James, is coming on Friday. What does he need to see? He's going to go...

CARVILLE: Right.

COOPER: What does he need to see?

CARVILLE: He needs to see what we saw today. He needs to go into the marsh. And he's a very, very smart man. He will understand how important, how environmentally sensitive and how crucial and how productive and fertile this is. He needs to see that.

If he just goes to Grand Isle, walk on the beach, they are going to have the whole thing -- Tony Hayward is out there screaming at cameramen and directing people. And that's not...

COOPER: It's a good photo-op over there.

CARVILLE: It is. And every -- and you can see that. And they are going to have people like in hazmat suits and it's going to look like they got people from Mars. He needs to go out in these marshes and see what hasn't happened. I think the president, if he come downs here and does this right, he's going to see that people have not been candid with him, that BP has not been candid with him, that certain people on his staff and maybe even some people in his Cabinet have not been candid with him.

He needs to go investigate this and find out what it is. And when he does, I think we're going to get a lot of action. I think this is a man who cares.

COOPER: You think the president is not getting the real word of what is happening here?

CARVILLE: I don't think so, no, sir. There's -- there's -- it's inexplicable that this man, as smart as he is, as talented as he is, would have the real word and saw what we saw today, and not be furious and not tell people to get into action now.

COOPER: Billy, you met with the president. You met with him, I think, for two hours. Is that your sense as well? Do you think he really knows what's going on?

(CROSSTALK)

NUNGESSER: Let me tell you, we put the -- we put the -- the plan together for the jack-up boats, and the commander in New Orleans for the Coast Guard said, well, we don't think it's a good idea.

And the president said, do you have a better one? And he said, we're working on something. He says, well, then put Billy's plan in place. And he said, Billy, I'm going to call you tomorrow and make sure they lived up to this.

The next day in the morning, I got a call. Can you take a call from the president at 11:30?

He wanted to make sure they -- they moved. I truly believe, if I can look the president in the eye and tell him the shambles we are in, and, as James said, look at that marsh, he is a smart man. Two hours. It wasn't a photo-op. He truly cares about us. He needs to hear it. He needs to hear see it.

And I think he will shake some things up and put somebody in charge that can clean this mess up, put our berm out there. I think he will move forward. And I think he will do the right thing. I truly believe he cares. And, as James said, he was engaged. He spent two hours going over our plan on the jack-up boats. We need 15 minutes to explain our plan, what we need to do, and why it's important to save this marsh.

COOPER: I want to talk more with Billy and also, James, with you.

Guys, just stuck around for a moment. We're going to take a quick break.

Join the conversation at AC360.com. Let us know what you think about the pictures you've seen tonight. The live chat is up running.

Just ahead also tonight, we have a lot more from the Gulf and also the very latest on how efforts to plug that leak are actually going. That's happening right now.

And, later, another story we're following: a surprising connection between BP and the Exxon Valdez spill 20 years ago. We will have a lot of details on that ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: Hey, we're back in Louisiana, in New Orleans, where -- I'm going to say it again and again -- the city is open for business. It's the same music, the same food, the same people as always. If you have got plans to be here, don't change them.

If you do not have plans to be here, make them, because the city is -- is on top. I just had some great crab cakes, some fried green tomatoes. The restaurants are open. This spill has not affected business here and the life of the city here.

We're talking with Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, CNN's James Carville.

Billy, if you see the president face to face on Friday, as I hope you do, what are going to you say to him? In 30 seconds, what's your message to the president right now?

NUNGESSER: We need to build this berm to protect us. We have got hurricane season. And we have got to have a plan to clean it up out the marsh. And, please, put somebody in charge that takes action, not makes excuses. The Coast Guard isn't getting the job done.

COOPER: You think the head of the Coast Guard should re -- you think the head of the Coast Guard should step down?

NUNGESSER: Absolutely. Absolutely. He's done nothing but give excuses. He has been the problem, not the solution.

He could order the dredges to be moved on location while we're waiting on the project. We could have had 15 miles of this already built in the areas most critical, Pass a Loutre, and where those pelicans are dying every day. That's where oil was closest to shore. That's where we would have put the first two dredges.

Shame on him for not going to work and doing the right thing. He's been sitting on his hands. He's done nothing. He's done nothing.

COOPER: Does it make...

NUNGESSER: Absolutely...

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: James, does it make sense to you -- and the thing -- I mean, it doesn't make sense to me, and I can't get a straight answer from BP the one time they have actually let me talk to them directly -- but, all along, BP has been saying it doesn't matter how much oil has been leaking from that -- from that -- from that leak. And NOAA seems to have gone along with that, saying it doesn't really matter for the cleanup effort to know how much oil is actually spilled.

That just does not make logical sense to me.

CARVILLE: It doesn't -- it doesn't -- not only does that not make logical sense. Where are the research ships? Where are the Woods Hole people? Where are the Scripps people? Where are the people in the marshes telling us what this is?

I have no idea. I have no idea what NOAA is talking about, what BP is talking about. So, you're telling me it doesn't make any difference if you have a gallon of spill or a hundred billion gallons of spill? I mean, that's -- that's literally incomprehensible.

And I just believe -- I mean, I think NOAA is a fine agency. I can't believe that they would go along with this, other than the fact that they both have kind of put out this 5,000 figure, and this guy at Purdue and everybody who looks at says, this is nuts; it's 70,000.

So, then they come back and they say, well, it's really not important whether it's 5,000 or 70,000.

Well, yes, it is important.

COOPER: Right.

CARVILLE: And, yes, it is. And I don't know. I am completely flummoxed about the whole thing.

COOPER: Billy, when you have -- you do talk to the BP people. They do talk to me. They don't talk to me, as I said.

I mean, do you believe them? Do you think they have just been dishonest with you? And, if so, why? What is their motive?

NUNGESSER: I don't think they have a clue. They're misleading. They will get back to us. Why haven't they started cleaning up the marsh?

I thought we would see boats out there today. They knew we were going out. Do -- they just don't care? And somebody asked me, do they have more liability if we know exactly how much oil is being released, because there's a local company that has a plan that could have captured all the oil.

And a lot of people are saying they didn't want that plan because then they would know exactly -- as they move these upside-down barges to the surface and pump them into a ship, they would know exactly how much is leaking, and they don't want to know. So, that's a local company. I saw the plan. I thought they would run with it.

They turned it down, a lot of the people on our team say, because that would measure exactly what's being released, and they don't want people to know. Maybe that's true. Maybe it's not.

COOPER: It -- you do get the sense when you're out there -- or, actually, you don't get the sense that you're at the epicenter of a national emergency, I mean, of an incident of national significance or whatever the president's words were a few weeks ago.

CARVILLE: Right.

Well, first of all, this coast -- the coastline here is unbelievably -- you know, it's the difference between a shoreline and coastline, all right? And it's huge, because it goes in and out. And you're right. It's not something where you see a hurricane and you see a tornado, and it goes in a town, and guys comes out, and, oh, my God, you couldn't -- and it's flat.

It's insidious. But it's destroy all of that land. When people saw it earlier in the show, the black and then the brown, and then the -- that (INAUDIBLE) all that is going to go, and it's going to be mud, and it's going to be destroyed. It's going to go away. The fishing grounds, all of this is going to be destroyed.

But -- so it doesn't look until you go there -- and it doesn't -- contrary to what people are saying -- we're sitting here in New Orleans. It smells great. There's a nice breeze coming out of the south.

COOPER: Right.

CARVILLE: It's a beautiful night.

COOPER: It's interesting, though, because, you know, I think some people who are not here look at this and say, well, look, this is just environmentalist tree-huggers who are worried about these wetlands.

This isn't some sort of touchy-feely concern about just wetlands. These wetlands have a vital importance, not only economically, but socially, to the life here in Louisiana.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: And to the life in the country.

CARVILLE: Well, the cultural life -- life of the country.

And if you don't like seafood, if you don't like, you know, like the best fish in the world or shrimp or crab or oysters or something like that, well, maybe it doesn't matter to you. But -- and that's part of the richness. And that culture there -- and Billy can attest to this.

These are -- these guys are not just -- not just Cajuns. They're Croatians and Vietnamese and Filipinos. That's a cultural coming- together down there of really good, hardworking people, very sort of productive. And their livelihood is being ruined down there. COOPER: And, Billy, I mean, this is a multimillion-dollar, billion-dollar industry, the fishing, the commercial fishing, not to mention tourist fishing.

And this goes back generations in this area, and not to mention this is a breeding ground for untold species in the Gulf of Mexico, for most of them, 90 percent.

(CROSSTALK)

NUNGESSER: They're scared to death. The families don't know what to do. It's taken its toll on the family life. And when you talk about the wetlands and what's breeding in there, 80 percent of the nourishing food chain starts right there in the marshes of Louisiana that feeds the whole Gulf.

You go fishing in Florida, you come fish the rigs in Louisiana. That's where the fishing is, because all of those small fish come out of the marsh. And it could destroy the whole Gulf of Mexico as we know it today. And -- and we're playing games here. It's absolutely absurd.

COOPER: Billy Nungesser, appreciate you taking us out today on the boat -- James Carville as well. Thank you very much.

A lot of ahead -- again today, just as we have done every day for weeks now, literally weeks, we invited BP's CEO, Tony Hayward, to come on 360. Again today, the answer was no. He does the morning shows. Maybe he doesn't want to stay up late. We will stay up. We will -- I will wake up early to talk to him as a service to viewers, so you can hear the company's side, because we do want the company to be able voice their side.

We put the one and only interview we have done with a BP executive, not Mr. Hayward, online at AC360.com. Take a look at the interview. See if maybe you think I did something in that interview that would make them not want to come back on this program. I can't, for the life of me, figure it out. I did a lot of research for the interview, but I think they're up to it.

Up next: Is top kill working? The latest from a mile down.

Also tonight, why is an honored ATF agent doing virtually nothing day after day, week after week? Why is he surfing the Web and not out on the streets? Answers when 360 continues.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: You're looking there at the collection of live feeds from the Gulf floor, the top kill procedure under way right now, as we speak. The images you're looking at are not being streamed to the public. They're only for lawmakers and government agencies.

And, apparently, our Tom Foreman, he's there in the room where all this video is coming in.

Tom, you have been watching this process and those pictures all day. What are we seeing right now? What's happening?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, what we're seeing right here is an unprecedented view for anybody.

The Environment and Public Works Committee here, Senator Barbara Boxer, insisted on having the output from all of these different robots down there punched into this wall, so that experts here could watch this titanic battle of forces down there.

Look, see this part blowing out right down here? We will bring up the video of the -- or the animation of the blowout preventer on top of it. That's about a 50-foot-tall device. This is the top end of it, where this part is blowing out.

Throughout the day, we can't tell a lot from the color, but this seems to indicate that some of that fluid we're talking about is coming out mixed with, not just with oil, but also with natural gas. It's all mixed in here and with methane, all of which will come blowing out through this process here.

So, what they're doing with these cameras, Anderson, is watching a titanic struggle down there between enormous forces. Remember, the ambient pressure down here, the normal water pressure is 2,000 pounds per square inch. So, for anything to come out into this, it's overcoming that pressure first.

So, this may be coming out at a force of 4,000 or 5,000 pounds per square inch, so much, if you think about it, that, if you had like an eight-inch pipe and you had a bulldozer sitting on top, this would be enough force to blow it off the top. That's what they're using all of these cameras for, Anderson, to track every piece of this equipment, to keep track of lines, as much as they can get the robots around to look at it, of course, a tremendous distance, to make sure that, in this process, nothing else simply breaks loose and starts spraying more oil into the -- into the ocean -- the ocean, the Gulf there, as they deal with this titanic struggle between these forces, Anderson.

COOPER: So, how do we know when -- when or if it's working?

FOREMAN: Well, when or if it's going to be working is a gradual process. This isn't like turning off a faucet so much. This is more like clogging up a drain in your house.

Look at this. Again, if we come in here and look at some of this bursting out through here, as they pump this fluid in, we can watch for changes in this color, which are a little hard to tell, because the lighting can make it look very, very different.

But, as this goes on and as this fluid builds up in the system, if it works properly, you should gradually see that starting to lose a little bit of its steam, because, just like clogging up a drain at home, the big pipe begins filled -- begins to fill with this heavier liquid, which starts tamping down the flow of the oil and gas -- of the oil and gas, which move a little bit more freely there in. So, gradually, Anderson, hopefully, if it works properly, over the next 24 hours, we could see that start to die down, die down, and maybe go out. We will see.

COOPER: Well, a lot of people hoping and praying, certainly, on that tonight. Tom, thank you.

There are many people here in the Gulf and around the country who are comparing this disaster to the Exxon Valdez disaster in Alaska in 1989, which also sent millions of gallons of oil into the water and had a devastating impact. Of course, we don't know how many -- how many -- how many gallons, how many barrels of oil have been sent into the Gulf here.

There's some surprising connections between both spills. We're going to talk it over with Zyg Plater, a professor of environmental law at Boston College Law School. He worked with the Alaska Oil Spill Commission back in 1990.

Professor Plater, you say that what we're seeing here along the Gulf is really a result of the government and the oil industry ignoring the lessons of Exxon Valdez. What should have been done differently?

ZYGMUNT PLATER, PROFESSOR OF ENVIRONMENTAL LAW, BOSTON COLLEGE LAW SCHOOL: I mean, it's heartbreaking to see. And I hasten to add I'm not an expert in the Gulf. I only know what I see on TV from you and from the Alaskans who have come down to the Gulf and who have phoned me about what's going on.

But -- but it's pretty clear that the same problems with government and corporate interactions that we saw in Alaska are being here replicated 20 years later, in spite of those horrible lessons we learned 20 years ago. And -- and that's a terrible frustration.

COOPER: And -- and, what, there's just too close a relationship between the people who are supposed to be watching a group like BP?

PLATER: Well, in Alaska, we talked about it as a mega-system that was potentially going to be create a mega-catastrophe. And it was characterized by complacency, collusion and neglect.

That means both the corporate and the governmental officials were either asleep at the switch or -- or too close together, so that, in creating the preconditions to -- to the incident and also to prevent adequate response plans to be made. We see all of this happening now in -- in the Gulf. And, as you just hinted...

COOPER: Do you think it's a mistake -- do you think it's a mistake for the federal government to continue to allow BP to run the response effort? I mean, there's a lot of folks who say, well, look, the government simply doesn't have the expertise of dealing with a situation at these kind of depths.

PLATER: Well, our commission -- I worked for this really incisive, very intensive commission that -- that made a series of recommendations.

And one of the first ones was that government officials must be in command. And it's clear that the company has a lot of resources and equipment that's going to have to be deployed, but you need the government in command. And you need a good contingency plan beforehand.

What we have seen tonight is a bunch of people scurrying around like mice all over the floor, with no sense of a good, competent contingency plan before the fact.

I think that President Obama needs to get some practical expertise, so that a command center really can be in command, and -- and -- and BP will -- will have to do what the -- the governmental commanders tell it to.

That's not the case right now, as I understand.

COOPER: And -- and you -- you say there's a strong connection between BP and the Exxon Valdez disaster. I mean, it's a complicated story, but -- but, quickly, what was their role up there in Alaska during that catastrophe?

PLATER: The way we remember that is a captain who drank too much.

But our commission made it clear, this was an accident that was not just possible; it was inevitable, because Alyeska, which is the consortium of oil companies that run the Alaska oil system, dominated by BP, had created this complacency, collusion, neglect, so that the preconditions for disaster were there, and the response mechanisms had been cut back, cut back in a series of cost-saving measures that came from Houston, from -- from BP.

COOPER: That's interesting.

And we -- I talked to...

PLATER: And that whole story was missed.

(CROSSTALK)

COOPER: I talked to the parish president today. They said the exact same thing over the last couple of years. They've seen, you know, response, infrastructure cut back, cut back for cost-cutting measures.

Professor Plater, I appreciate you being on tonight. Thank you very much. It was an interesting discussion.

We're going to be back with more from the Gulf after the break. We're also going to bring you a story about federal agents who say they're afraid to complain because of what may happen to them. That's coming up. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) COOPER: You're looking at live pictures of the efforts at the bottom of the Gulf to shut down that leak. We're going to have more on that ahead as our coverage continues. Right now, let's check on some other stories we're following. Joe Johns has a "360 Bulletin" -- Joe.

JOE JOHNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Anderson.

Jamaica's government says more than 500 people are in custody after four days of deadly gun battle. The violence erupted after a failed attempt to arrest alleged drug kingpin Christopher Coke. An official today put the death toll at 44.

The International Committee of the Red Cross is defending its practice of providing medical training and supplies to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Responding to criticism the group said it has an obligation of neutrality and a mandate to provide help to all sides in a conflict.

And Art Linkletter has died at the age of 97. In the '50s and '60s, he entertained millions of television viewers with his long- running variety show. He was best known for his interviews with school children, who famously told him the darnedest things. A legend of television, Anderson.

COOPER: What a life, 97. Joe, we're going to have much more from the Gulf on the spill. The "top kill" procedure now under way.

We want to tell you about another story, of disturbing allegations being made against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Now, agents for ATF are on the front lines in the fight against homegrown terror. Gun smugglers, militias and more risk their lives every day.

But tonight, several of them are speaking out and telling us about what they say is a culture of retaliation within the ATF.

Special investigations unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau has the story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Vince Cefalu is a 24 year veteran of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives for ATF. His work undercover with drug dealers, motorcycle gangs and white supremacists has earned him many honors.

That's Cefalu in the car, under cover, posing as a bad guy on a murder-for-hire case. He looks the part, and he knows it.

VINCE CEFALU, ATF SPECIAL AGENT: My forte has been in street level violent crime, gangs, undercover.

BOUDREAU: That was Chefalu's career for 19 years. Then, suddenly, he says ATF turned on him.

(on camera) Five years ago, Cefalu was the lead agent on a racketeering case.

(voice-over) He became aware of what he says were plans for an illegal wiretap involving the main suspect. So he complained to his superiors.

CEFALU: I was told if I didn't sit quiet -- I can't say it on television. They were going to bring it to me.

BOUDREAU: ATF disputes Chefalu's claims of an illegal wiretap. Still, since then, he says the bureau has done everything it can to force him out.

CEFALU: Had I not exposed some unethical, potentially criminal conduct and actions by law enforcement that I was working with, I would still be out working in the field.

BOUDREAU: Instead, he sits in his office near San Francisco with little to do. He says it's punishment for speaking out.

CEFALU: Now, I report to where they told me to report to, and I sit for eight hours a day, and I go home.

BOUDREAU (on camera): You do nothing?

CEFALU: I do nothing.

BOUDREAU: And he's not exaggerating. We gave Cefalu a camera and asked him to document five days at work.

CEFALU: It's 3 p.m. in the afternoon. Watching a little news, surfing the Net, answering some e-mails, doing whatever, waiting to find something to do.

In-box again. Still, I have no pending assignments, no waiting assignments.

Took a few minutes, drove over and got some Taco Bell. That's been the highlight of the day so far.

BOUDREAU: Cefalu is still a special agent with ATF and gets paid more than $150,000 salary, plus benefits.

CEFALU: It's been personally, physically, emotionally draining.

BOUDREAU (on camera): It appears that complaining at ATF can be career suicide. We've talked to dozens of other active and former ATF agents, supervisors and employees who said that, once they filed a complaint, they were labeled as troublemakers or were demoted.

HIRAM ANDRADES, ATF SUPERVISOR: It's almost like being in a -- in an abusive relationship, actually. It's almost like domestic violence, really.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Hiram Andrades is currently an ATF supervisor in the Washington, D.C., field office.

ANDRADES: You know, you think that things are going to get better and things are going to improve, but they don't.

BOUDREAU: ATF has not had a director in four years.

(on camera) What needs to happen?

ANDRADES: We need to et a director that's going to come in, and it's not going to put up with this nonsense and put up with this bull -- (EXPLETIVE DELETED). Basically, that's what needs to happen. Right now, they're leading this agency into the ground.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Deputy Director Kenneth Nelson has been leading ATF since last year.

KENNETH NELSON, DEPUTY ATF DIRECTOR: When I first came into ATF. When I went around and talked to people at headquarters and around the country, my specific and very emphatic message was that everybody is to be treated with respect and dignity, and there will not be retaliation. I will not stand for retaliation against people who are abiding by our orders and reporting violations of law or regulations.

BOUDREAU: Our investigation found that, in the last six years, ATF has had more complaints filed per employee than either the FBI or the DEA, both much larger agencies.

Nelson says since he joined the agency, the number of discrimination complaints has gone down 40 percent.

(on camera) Then why are we hearing from so many people the same story, that if they file a complaint, they're retaliated against? And this is under your leadership.

NELSON: Well, there hasn't been retaliation under my leadership that I know of.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): But agent Vince Cefalu says he's being retaliated against right now.

The bureau says he's had discipline and performance issues. We saw Cefalu's personnel evaluations. Every one is good, with the exception of an unacceptable review following that 2005 wiretap complaint.

CEFALU: I am sitting here with an empty inbox and nothing to do.

BOUDREAU: Nelson is not allowed to talk about specific cases.

(on camera) How would you feel if you knew about an agent who sits around and does pretty much nothing all day long?

NELSON: Well, I certainly would look into it and find out why he's not doing anything all day long. I'm sure his job description doesn't tell him to do that.

BOUDREAU: Why not leave?

CEFALU: I spent my whole life standing up to bullies. That's all I'm good at. The bullies right now are government bureaucrats who are abusing their oath and abusing the expectations of the public. I'm not leaving until this is resolved.

BOUDREAU (voice-over): Abbie Boudreau, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Several days after we began promoting our investigation, Vince Cefalu says he was questioned by two internal affairs investigators from Washington. We'll keep watching what happens to him, and our investigation continues tomorrow night. We'll heard from a man agent Cefalu blames for his alleged retaliation, somebody he has something in common with.

Still ahead, the "Raw Politics" of the Gulf oil disaster. President Obama and his administration are feeling major heat. Are they doing enough? Are they in control of this crisis? We'll talk to David Gergen and others ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: As we said, President Obama is coming to Louisiana on Friday, his second trip to the region since the spill began. As you've also heard tonight, Governor Bobby Jindal and Clackamas Parish president have blasted the government's response, as well as BPs.

Tonight, the oil spill is awash in "Raw Politics." And Ed Henry has more on that.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ED HENRY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dating all the way back to the president's first trip to inspect the oil spill, his top aides have been repeating the same mantra to claim they're all over the crisis.

KEN SALAZAR, SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR: So our job is basically to keep the boot on the neck of British Petroleum.

ROBERT GIBBS, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our boot on the throat of BP.

HENRY: But now, more than a month later, even some of the president's Democratic allies are just not buying it anymore.

JAMES CARVILLE, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: These people are crying. They're begging for something down here. And it just looks like he's not involved in this. Man, you've got down here and take control of this thing and put somebody in charge of this thing and get this thing moving. We're about to die down here.

SEN. BILL NELSON (D), FLORIDA: If this thing is not fixed today, I think the president doesn't have any choice. He better go in, completely take over, perhaps with the military in charge.

HENRY: White House officials have repeatedly rejected calls for the federal government to wrest control from BP. And as he wrapped up a fundraising tour in San Francisco, the president still seemed to be tentative about what would happen next if the "top kill" procedure fails.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it's successful -- and there's no guarantees -- it should greatly reduce or eliminate the flow of oil now streaming into the Gulf from the seafloor. And if it's not, there are other approaches that may be viable.

HENRY (on camera): But dispassionate language like that has some top Democrats privately telling CNN that this oil spill is becoming a bigger and bigger liability for the president.

These Democrats say they realize that there's no magic solution. But they worry that the president holding three fundraisers out here in San Francisco for Democrats, including one at the home of Gordon and Ann Getty of the Getty oil fortune, is just leading to a perception that Mr. Obama has not been hands-on enough.

(voice-over) Rushing to the president's defense is a top Republican in the Gulf region who says this is mission impossible right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm not going to criticize the government when they're dealing with something literally unprecedented, like trying to do brain surgery a mile deep on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

HENRY: The president heads back to the region on Friday to reinforce the mantra his interior secretary, Ken Salazar, repeated yet again today.

SALAZAR: We are holding BP accountable. And that accountability effort that we have under way, we have them by the neck and we will keep them by the neck.

HENRY: But with the spill still not contained after 37 days and counting, at the very least, the White House may need a new metaphor.

Ed Henry, CNN, San Francisco.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COOPER: Well, a lot of local officials who still have faith in President Obama say Friday is going to be a huge test once he comes down here. They say maybe he's being misinformed, maybe he doesn't -- maybe he's not aware of the real situation on the ground. They want to inform him face to face. And after that, they want to see big changes, and if they don't see them, they are going to be very disappointed indeed.

Joining us now, senior political analyst, David Gergen.

David, you said something the other night to me which I've been thinking about a lot. You said, you know, if -- if we fought World War II with the same kind of attitude and energy with which the government is fighting this, a lot of us would be speaking German. Do you still believe that?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I believe it more deeply today than I did yesterday, Anderson. Watching you out there on that boat today with James and Billy and Governor Jindal, one couldn't help but be saddened by the sense that you were looking at a dead sea, that nothing seemed to be living out there. You said to me even the bugs, you couldn't find bugs out there.

But most importantly, you couldn't find anybody who was cleaning it up, who was trying to fight back. And I think that for -- especially for the younger generation that is so green, I was just talking to producers here at CNN, the younger producers. They're walking around. They're really just sort of downtrodden. They're just pessimistic about this, because they've invested their hopes in having a cleaner environment and a clean America. And now we see this and we see so little response organized by the government.

I think -- look, I think there are two things that are going on. We have to separate the problems out, Anderson. One is the problem of trying to plug the leak. And all of us wish that BP succeeds in the next 24 hours with this "top kill."

If they don't, I think the president has no choice but to do what Senator Nelson was arguing today, and that was to put the government in charge, with bringing in the military to help coordinate that. And I think Bill Nelson from Florida is right about that.

The other part of the problem, though, is, even if BP succeeds in the next 24 hours, somebody has got to save these coastlines. These are a precious part of America's heritage, whether it's commercial or fisheries or tourism or just a sense of who we are as a people, protecting New Orleans and protecting Louisiana. Where -- where are the people? Why are you the only people out there today? I don't understand that. It's bewildering.

COOPER: Yes. It is stunning. You know, you would think there would be hazmat crews out there, you know, in those marshes, soaking it up.

And apparently, they only -- BP only put down booms out there to soak up oil after they had been informed that the oil was already in the marsh. And they basically put down booms once the oil was already in the marsh. And no one seems to have picked up some of these booms that are supposed to soak up oil. So basically, they'll just re- release that oil because you're supposed to pick those booms up. You can't just leave them out there.

This new CNN poll this week found that half the country isn't happy with the way the president has handled this situation. Half the country doesn't think the spill is going to end any time soon. I mean, are those Katrina-like numbers for the president?

Because I was thinking, I mean, if this was President Bush, and you had President Bush going to a fund-raiser for a Republican Party at the home of -- you know, of the Getty family for oil, you would -- there would be a lot of people saying, "Look, how can he do that at a time when we're seeing all this oil in the water?"

GERGEN: There's no question if it had been President Bush, he'd be hammered by now, hammered by the press and by others, especially for the fundraisers.

We don't yet see the polls in the Katrina-like sense. Katrina, as you remember, was a turning point for the Bush presidency. The sense of complacency, the sense of not caring, really, I think doomed that presidency well beyond what happened in Iraq. That hasn't yet happened here -- and with President Obama.

We do have the CNN poll and we have another poll today from CBS, both of which confirm that the country generally -- there's general disapproval. But it hasn't reached sharp levels yet. But it's going to, Anderson, if this "top kill" doesn't work, and if, in the next two days, the president doesn't take full control of this and bring in the top military people to coordinate it and the type minds and the top technologists and engineers to get it solved. It has to be done. This is what government is for.

The reason we come out of a state of nature, going back to original documents being in a natural state and coming together and forming a government, it's all about forming a government that can protect us from wars and natural -- and catastrophes like this.

COOPER: I'm getting a lot of e-mails from people saying -- defending the Obama administration, saying, "Well, look, what could the federal government have done?"

I'm no expert, but I can tell you two things just from being here on the ground that I know they could have done. NOAA could not have -- could have actually made an effort over the last month to figure out how much oil was actually leaking from -- from that leak. NOAA was going along with BP all along, saying 5,000 barrels, and in fact, no one was saying, it doesn't even matter how much because it's not going to affect the cleanup. That just doesn't make any sense to me.

And the EPA could have been doing more to test on some of these dispersants. Now, they say they're testing, but this is after a month of letting more dispersants be released here than probably just about anywhere else in the world.

Those are two things that -- I mean, and again, I'm not particularly smart, but I can see on the ground here, those two things are things the federal government could have done in answer to the e- mails I'm getting.

I've got to go. I'm out of time, David. I appreciate you being on tonight.

GERGEN: OK.

COOPER: We'll have you on tomorrow, as well.

To Louisiana next. Plus, other news, the capture of a former model accused of being a drug queen pin. A story we've been following. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COOPER: A lot more happening tonight around the country and the world. Joe Johns is back with a "360 News & Business Bulletin" -- Joe.

JOHNS: Anderson, a 360 follow. A former beauty queen wanted on drug charges is no longer on the run tonight. Angela San Clemente was captured in Buenos Aires where authorities suspect she was using models as drug mules.

Earlier this year she posted a message on Facebook saying she's innocent of the charges.

Back home, a delegation of police chiefs from across the country told Attorney General Eric Holder today they worry Arizona's new immigration law could harm their local law enforcement efforts. They warned it could lead to mistrust between police and the Latino community.

And a new milestone from Apple. In trading today, the maker of the iPhone and other gadgets became the world's largest technology company. Apple's market value is now nearly $3 billion more than arch rival Microsoft and second only to ExxonMobil.

COOPER: Wow.

JOHNS: Amazing. Fates and fortune. Ten years ago, it seemed like Apple was headed for the scrap heap, and now look at it.

COOPER: If only I'd bought stock.

JOHNS: Yes.

COOPER: Joe, thanks very much.

More at the top of the hour, 360 in the Gulf. And we'll be here tomorrow tonight, as well, and Friday night. Join us.