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THE SITUATION ROOM
Desperate Attempt to Plug Oil Leak; Death Toll at 29 in Jamaica Violence; Mexican Gov. Candidate Arrested; President Obama to Host Israeli Prime Minister
Aired May 26, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, HOST: Thanks, Rick.
Happening now, breaking news -- a last ditch effort to plug the massive Gulf oil leak now underway. We're watching the long awaited "top kill" procedure play out live on underwater cameras and we're exploring the devastating consequences if it doesn't work.
Also, a new call for a special prosecutor is hanging over the White House right now -- Republicans pouncing on Democrat Joe Sestak's claim that he was offered a job to try to entice him to drop out of the Senate primary.
And Atlantis is back on Earth, rolling into retirement. But the space shuttle may soon have a second life with a new owner who has millions of dollars to burn.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Five thousand feet underwater -- nothing less than the environment, the economy and the Gulf Coast are at stake right now. The most critical bit yet to plug the leaking BP oil well has been going on for about three hours. The company is, in effect, force feeding heavy mud into the site, hoping to stop the gusher. It could be several more hours, maybe even a couple of days, before we know for sure if the "top kill" procedure has worked.
The Obama administration says it's planning for every scenario, from complete success to total failure.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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 sea floor. And if it's not, there are other approaches that may be viable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: There may be other options, as well. But the "top kill" option is seen as the best hope to finally stop the massive spill at its source and try to recover from this month-long catastrophe. Take a good look at some of this new video just coming into CNN of the oil in the Gulf. It drives home just how serious the situation is right now.
The Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal, is just speaking to reporters.
Let's listen in.
GOV. BOBBY JINDAL (R), LOUISIANA: We were also joined today by James Carville and Mary Matalin.
I want to thank them for coming out to see for themselves some of the damage being done to our marshlands and to our wetlands.
You may remember it was just Sunday we gathered here with Billy and other parish leaders to take matters into our own hands, to fill the void in the response effort.
Today, we come back to Plaquemines Parish. We're going to continue to fight to protects our coast, our way of life, from the oil that continues to spill into the Gulf.
We've got some pictures here of some of the oil.
Now, if you'll come over here. This was taken by helicopter this morning. Those of you that went out with us, these were some of the areas that we couldn't -- we couldn't get close enough to on land, but we could see from -- from the boats. We're going to leave these pictures behind. You can see the oil out there. They're labeled at different points.
Over at South Pass, for example, we went right by there today. We also saw some of the marsh where the oil had been. We went to Pass-a-Loutre today and we're going to have some pictures for you of that -- what we saw there, as well. Pass-a-Loutre is an area where there was some heavy oil over a week ago. Some of you may remember the pictures from over a week ago when we first went there.
Since we've been there, there's hard boom that's been placed around it. There is absorbent boom that's been placed around it. The absorbent boom is saturated. It needs to be removed. It's not doing any good at this point. Oil may be come out of that absorbent boom.
And what's most distressing, you may remember I told you back then, the biologists predicted that within five to seven days, you'd see discoloration. Well, we're seeing it.
And we went into the -- we really into the cane, we went into marsh, you know, on airboats. And you could see the heavy, thick oil still there. This is an area that should have been teeming with life. It was literally still. You could see the discoloration of the cane.
This, again, is one of the most important nurseries for the Gulf. This is one of the most important nurseries for our entire Gulf Coast. This is where the young marine life comes from. This is how it goes out to repopulate the Gulf. So that heavy oil is still down there.
I'm going to Billy talk to you a little bit more about some of the things we saw.
We saw, also, when we came back to the wildlife and fisheries base, we saw oil birds they had rescued from that same marsh today that they're going to be sent to Fort Jackson to be cleaned and hopefully released.
You've got additional pictures on the right is one again. I'll let Billy talk to you a little bit about some of the images you see there about some of the oiled pelicans and their oiled eggs.
We have continued to -- we continue to say, look, we've been fighting this oil for over a month now, requesting resources. We too often find the response to be too little too late.
Out of frustration, we met with our coastal parish leaders again on Sunday, just like we did when we formed our own detailed parish protection plans, when it became clear there weren't plans coming from BP and the Coast Guard, that they didn't have their own detailed plans.
This past Sunday, we -- not only did we develop a strategy for state and parish officials to have better situational awareness of the oil's movement within our coast and our offshore areas. Wildlife and fisheries -- state wildlife fisheries has divided the coast into sections that will be patrolled. And they're that go patrol these sectors continuously so that containment and cleanup efforts can be operationalized quickly. Their efforts are going to be supported by the National Guard and parish officials.
We've already begun communicating our findings to BP and the Coast Guard on a daily basis to ensure our coast is continuously monitored and quickly cleaned. Today, these reports will begin to be also publicly reported so that BP can be held accountable for their cleanup efforts.
We don't have 24 or 48 hours to respond to this oil. We need to do everything we can to increase situational awareness. So by using our wildlife and fisheries resources, combined with local parish leaders and National Guard, we want to provide real time updates on the oil we're seeing out there and the damage we're seeing along our coast.
We've also asked the Coast Guard to refocus their effort so they've got greater command and control on the ground, where action needs to be taken quickly to save our coast. We asked the Coast Guard to forward deploy personnel with decision-making authority in every basin area of the coast so they can work closely with parish officials there, so they can see the impact of the oil firsthand, so they're better able to have eyes on the problem and respond quickly.
We don't need to see a repeat of some of the situations we've seen recently. Terrebonne last Friday, we -- we've literally flew the Coast Guard in our helicopters to show them the hard boom on the dock that had been sitting there for three days while the oil was coming into Timbalier Bay. You saw it Saturday in Grand Isle. The mayor literally had to commandeer resources that weren't being used.
Here in Plaquemines Parish, when Billy asked for a hard boom around Cat Island, no hard boom was available. He had to put out his own absorbent boom that quickly became saturated. And we saw the result of the oil on the pelicans. And even more recently, Billy is going to talk to you about his frustrations getting a quick response from BP on a cleanup plan for the Pass-a-Loutre area and some of these other areas.
The bottom line, we still need the Coast Guard to make sure they've got decision-making authority -- Coast Guard officials with decision-making authority, at least in the critical basin areas. And the Brighton Sound (ph) area and the Timbalier-Terrebonne Bay area and the Barataria Bay area and ideally also poised, ready to be deployed in the Chappala Bay and the Wrigley's area, as well.
We need folks in each basin that can make decisions, that can mobilize resources quickly to prevent the oil from coming here, to contain it when it arrives. We cannot afford to wait 24 or 48 hours.
Now, let me stress this again. We know by the law, BP is the responsible party. But we need the federal government to make sure they are, indeed, held accountable and that they are, indeed, responsible.
Our way of life here in coastal Louisiana depends on it. Taking matters into our own hands this week, we've already moved forward on a number of initiatives in Plaquemines, Jefferson, Orleans and St. Bernard Parishes. We're working with local officials to establish a marsh fringe barrier. That's a combination of plugs and berms to keep surface oil from penetrating our interior marshes. We're looking at ways remnant ridges can be bolstered to create a seal and prevent oil from entering the interior waters. And while Booth and Terrebonne Parishes were identifying, for example, east to west canals that can be fortified with boom to serve as a seal to prevent surface oil from further intruding into the marshes there.
I'm going to talk to you a little bit more about what we want to do to keep the oil out of the marshes at all. And we still continue to await word on our dredging plan. But in addition to that, now that the oil is coming into these areas and we still don't have approval, we're moving ahead on our own on this -- on this marsh fringe barrier plan, to prevent additional damage from happening to the interior of these wetlands.
Let me tell you about some of the other updates, what we're doing our -- ourselves to try to keep this oil out of our coast.
The National Guard conducted an aerial reconnaissance mission with CRPA folks along Timberland islands (ph) and Trinity Bayou yesterday. Actions plans for (INAUDIBLE) operations.
Based on this mission, today they're beginning to fill a 115 foot gap near Trinity Bayou. We're not waiting on federal approval from the Army Corps of Engineers to continue to fight to protect our coast. We cannot let bureaucracy and red tape delay our actions while oil hits our wetlands week after week. We've already redirected a dredge that was conducting restoration work on East Grand Terra and you've got some pictures here from East Grand Terra. We've already redirected a dredge conducting restoration work on East Grand Terra, which is east of Grand Isle, to immediately begin constructing a sand boom that is called for in our dredging sand boom plan. Dredging was already underway there to restore the barrier island as a coastal restoration project. We rerouted this project in support of our sand boom plan to help us keep more oil out of our marshes, off our coast.
We're also looking at our existing permit for work on Whiskey Island, to see if we can also use that permit to begin that sand boom work there, even as we're waiting for this Corps -- even as we're waiting for the Corps to respond to our plan.
And so oil continues to hit our coast week after week. We're identifying second and third lines of defense. That is why we need more boom, more skimmers, more jack up barges, as we originally requested under our worst case scenario plan for five million feet of hard boom, three million feet of soft boom, 30 jacket barges, back here on May 2nd. Nearly a month later, we've received 813,800 feet of hard boom. We've deployed 680,435 feet of hard boom. That leaves us with only 133,364 feet of hard boom on hand.
In the last 24 hours, we received 28,000 feet of hard boom and they deployed 30,000 feet. And, again, it shows how important it's going to be to continue to get more resources as we stand up additional lines of defense against these waves of oil that continue to hit our coast.
To give you an idea of the damage being done to our coast to date -- and this number, I'm sure, has already grown since we got it this morning. To date, more than 100 miles of our shoreline has been impacted by this oil spill. That is more than the entire sea coastline of Mississippi and Alabama combined. A hundred miles of coastline already impacted by the oil. We don't have time to wait. We need this dredge plan to be approved.
Let me give you some quick updates on some of the other things we've done. Heskill baskets (ph) -- the National Guard has deployed two and -- deployed 2.5 miles of Heskill (ph) baskets in the Fuschon area (ph). In terms of land bridges, the National Guard continues to conduct maintenance on the land bridges at Elmer's Island and Thunder Bayou, where they have actively been holding oil back from entering our interior wetlands.
And yesterday they have built -- as of yesterday, they have built five gaps in the vicinity of Thunder Bayou and Fort Buchon. Tiger Dance (ph) -- National Guard engineers are working to secure 7.1 miles of Tiger dams in Southwest Pass. Five miles of Tiger dams have been staged on Grand Isle, where they're preparing -- they're going to install those today, working local officials.
Over two and three quarters miles of the Tiger Dam in Southwest Pass is completed. Another two miles of single air Tiger dam has also been erected.
In terms of sand fill operations, CPRA and the Guard -- the National Guard -- have leaned forward. They identified 40 locations where gaps in our barrier islands can be built with sandbags or dump trucks of sand. This would compliment our...
BLITZER: All right. The governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, who's going through a lot of specifics. The bottom line -- this is a disaster. He says 100 miles of the shore of the State of Louisiana now have been seriously affected by these oil spills, that are coming closer and closer.
Let's go CNN's David Mattingly.
He's over at the command center, working this story.
About three hours or so ago, they started the "top kill" procedure.
Are we getting any indication right now over these first three hours, David, whether this is working or not working?
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We have been in touch with BP officials here at the command center and in Houston just within the last 15 minutes. So far, nothing to report. They know when this operation started early this afternoon. It's been underway for several hours now. Everyone sitting in a wait and see posture to see if this worked. Everyone waiting to see how this goes, because this is the single biggest moment since this disaster happened and that rig sank into the sea.
This is BP's biggest chance -- its best plan to stop that flow of oil.
This "top kill" procedure is essentially trying to drown that oil well. They are pumping heavy liquids through that once damaged blowout preventer at the bottom of the ocean. The plan is to create enough pressure with that heavy liquid to push that oil back down and then put a cement cap on it as a temporary stop until they finish a relief well that they've started, that will be ready in a couple of months -- Wolf.
BLITZER: The fear is -- and this is the great fear -- not only might it not work, but it could make matters even worse. That would be the real nightmare scenario, is that right?
MATTINGLY: That is the one thing they've been afraid of with every proposal they've looked at. In fact, they went through every -- extremely delicate diagnostics all through the night last night, to make sure that they could go forward on this "top kill." They hooked up hoses down below. They did pressure checks on multiple points of entry within that blowout preventer.
The fear is that perhaps the pressure was miscalculated. The fear is perhaps the -- the structural integrity of the blowout preventer was miscalculated. They're being very careful as they go through this, because they feel this is their best chance -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to stay in close touch with you, David.
You're at the command center.
The "top kill" operation has never been tried so deep underwater -- a mile underwater. A lot of questions about how it could work, as well as if it will work.
Let's get more specifics. We'll dig deeper.
CNN's Brian Todd is working this part of the story -- you're getting sort of all of us, Brian, a crash course in "top kill".
Walk us through it.
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf.
And as you mentioned, it's been successfully tried on the surface before and on land, never this far underwater, never a mile underwater.
So we're going to show you some of the live feeds that we're getting from BP to kind of take you through some of this.
First, this is the live feed of the blowout preventer. We're going to go in tight on this. As David Mattingly just mentioned, this is kind of a key flashpoint in this operation. This where that heavy drilling oil -- the so-called mud and the cement -- will be going into. And we have an animation now that we're going to put on the wall here to show you how that's going to work.
You know, this is, again, a very much anticipated operation here. It goes down through here, into the blowout preventer. This is an animation of the blowout preventer. You're going to see kind of the heavy drilling mud here going in. And then it will be followed by an injection of cement into the blowout preventer so that it can get into the well and essentially stop the oil from gushing, as David mentioned a moment ago, long enough so that they can get those relief wells drilled.
Now, let's go back to the feeds here and see this blowout preventer yet again, because this is the key thing here. The blowout preventer and the condition of this is really crucial. The blowout preventer has been damaged. It was either damaged in the explosion -- we know, also, that it experienced hydraulic leaks before the explosion. So if this blowout preventer does not hold up, sprouts some kind of a leak when they inject the heavy mud on there or inject the cement in there, that could cause other leaks. It could cause other problems. And then we could just be back to square one and starting over again.
We can also show you an illustration -- some video now of one of the leaks coming out. The pressure involved here is very, very key, Wolf, because once it goes through the blowout preventer and starts to get -- get into these gushers coming out, the pressure is key. They're pumping 50,000 pounds of this heavy drilling mud in here. And it's go got to go in with such force and such speed that it's got to essentially outrace the pressure coming out of these leaks. It's got to go in quickly and with huge force to try to essentially outrace this pressure, plug it up and, again, get it to essentially stop the flow of this coming out.
And plenty of potential pitfalls here. If this doesn't work, they've got to try those relief wells. And as we've been mentioning all along, that could take a couple of months.
BLITZER: What a nightmare.
All right, thanks very much, Brian.
We're going to get back to you.
The Gulf Coast certainly has had its share of disaster -- more than its share, I should say.
I'll ask the Mississippi governor, Haley Barbour, about the threat to his state from the oil spill and how he thinks BP and the federal government are handling all of this. Haley Barbour is standing by live.
And the Interior secretary found himself in the center of the oil spill blame game today.
Will finger-pointing help solve the problem or possibly make it worse?
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news right now in the Gulf of Mexico. BP is using that long-awaited "top kill" procedure to try to finally plug the month-old oil leak. This could be, repeat, could be a major turning point in the disaster, for better, maybe, God forbid, for worse.
Let's talk about it with the governor who is on one of the front lines of the spill, the Mississippi Republican, Haley Barbour.
Governor, thanks very much for coming in.
GOV. HALEY BARBOUR (R), MISSISSIPPI: Thank you, Wolf.
Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: And I should say thank God your shoreline in Mississippi, so far, has not really been affected, is that right?
BARBOUR: Well, it is, Wolf. You know, it's -- what has happened with the well is a terrible thing. And we feel awful for our neighbors in Louisiana, because they have had a lot of oil and -- and emulsion get in their lands. But we haven't had, really, any impact. I mean, we haven't had enough oil hit Mississippi's beaches to fill up a milk jug. Now, we're prepared and we're prepared for the worst. But thus far, we haven't had any kind of incursion, except the news coverage is killing our tourist business. Everybody thinks that the Gulf Coast all the way around is ankle deep in oil. And, of course, it's not.
BLITZER: So Bobby Jindal, your colleague from Louisiana, we just heard him. He's passionate. He's deeply concerned, for obvious reasons, about what's going on. If this "top kill" procedure, Governor, doesn't work, how worried are you that this will expand and Mississippi could find itself in the same place as Louisiana?
BARBOUR: Well, there's no question that we're at risk. And the tides and the winds and -- have blessed us. And Louisiana, of course, is much closer to the well site than we are. And we feel terrible that we are trying to help them any way we can and any resources that we can make available to them.
But if this "top kill" does not work and the well continues to spew out oil, it actually, as you said earlier, it could come out at a faster rate, because in the process, they may blow it more wide open, so to speak.
We are prepared in Mississippi. We have a multi-layered defense to defend our shores. We've got hundreds of vessels that are ready to go.
And -- but, yes, the best thing that could happen to everybody is if today we stop the amount of oil that is streaming out and then focus on cleaning up what's already out there.
BLITZER: When you say you're prepared for that worst case scenario, what are you doing?
BARBOUR: Well, we have about 750 vessels that are -- that we're in the process of training. Most of them have been trained now, with their crews, to fight the oil off our barrier islands, then to try to prevent it from getting between the passes, between the barrier islands, keep from getting into the Mississippi Sound.
Some of it undoubtedly will, if it comes our way -- enough comes our way. Then we will try to clean it up and deal with it while it's in the Sound, where we think it will sort of be like a washing machine going back and forth between the -- the beaches and the barrier islands.
Heavily, we will defend the mouths of the bays and the areas that have fragile wildlife habitat on the beach. Most of our habitat is in the bays, is in a little bit, is up the rivers. And so the fourth line of defense, that is the one right at the mouth of the bay, the mouth of the river, the mouth of the bayous, that is the next to last line of defense -- a critical line of defense.
If something gets past there, we will try to clean it up in the bays without harming the marshlands. As you know, there's a real risk that trying to clean it up could actually make things worse.
BLITZER: Getting all the help you need...
BARBOUR: But so far, we haven't had it get here.
BLITZER: Are you getting all the help you need from the federal government?
BARBOUR: We have. BP has never said no to any requests we have made. Now, some requests we've made they haven't been able to perform. But they have never said no. The federal government, whether it's the Coast Guard or whomever, has worked hard with us. Like I say, they're
giving a lot more attention to Louisiana and should be.
But we are satisfied that they're trying as hard as they can and that they are being very cooperative. I'm not going to complain.
This is unprecedented. We've had more than 30,000 oil wells drilled in the Gulf of Mexico off our four states -- Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama -- in the last 50 years. And this is the first time there's ever been something like this, after more than 30,000 wells.
And I am -- I'm not going to criticize the government when they are dealing with something literally unprecedented and it's like trying to do brain surgery a mile deep on the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
BLITZER: All right. Governor, good luck to you.
Good luck to all of the folks over there.
Thanks for coming in.
BARBOUR: Thank you.
Thank you for letting us differentiate the situations...
BARBOUR: ... So our tourists could get here.
BLITZER: Yes, all right.
Well, you make an excellent point.
Appreciate it very much.
He's one of the most outspoken critics of that massive oil spill threatening the Gulf Coast and he's just back from that boat tour of the damage with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. I'll speak with the president of Plaquemines Parish about that and more.
Stick around. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, startling new details about the desperate moments before that massive rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
Could the oil spill have been prevented?
Brian Todd has the new time line.
And our own James Carville and Mary Matalin -- they're just back from a boat tour of the spill with the Louisiana governor, Bobby Jindal. We're going to get their firsthand account.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
We want to show you the oil spill and the "top kill" operation as only members of Congress are getting to see it. There's a special screening available on Capitol Hill of several live underwater video feeds coming in from BP.
Our senior Congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is joining us now from the scene -- all right, Dana, show us what the members of Congress are seeing.
DANA BASH, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, these are the feeds that are coming from robotic cameras, Wolf, underneath the sea. And they are cameras that Congress demanded and actually got a special password from BP to access. Just for example, this is the top of the blowout preventer you see there. And this is the bottom of the blowout preventer. And earlier, I talked to the chairwoman of this committee -- Environment Committee in the Senate, Barbara Boxer, about why she and others thought that this video was so crucial to have.
BASH: Why is it so important to see these images coming from the bottom of the sea?
SEN. BARBARA BOXER (D), CALIFORNIA: I think the first reason it's important is that our country is an open government. We -- we believe the truth is important and there should be no cover-ups. We already believe that BP tried to underplay how much oil was gushing out of the pipes. And we want the truth known.
BASH: How important is what you're documenting here to that case and, ultimately, to getting taxpayers their money back?
BOXER: Well, I think it's crucial because, remember, BP, when they got their permit said, no problem. We can handle this. If there's a problem, we have state-of-the-art technology.
Then after the fact, their first comment was, we don't know what to do. We've never drilled this deep before. They didn't tell the truth.
So I think it's key to have this -- this documentation. It just shows how BP can't get a handle on this.
BASH: I interviewed Senator Bill Nelson, who has been your -- your ally on this, who said...
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. BILL NELSON (D), NEBRASKA: If this thing is not fixed today, I think the president doesn't have any choice and he'd better go in, completely take over.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: Do you agree with that?
BOXER: Well, the Coast Guard is in control. It's the incident command. That's how it works. And it's the president's Coast Guard. I do not want BP to do what they want to do because, clearly, they don't know what they're doing. They weren't prepared. They admitted it.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
BASH: Now, Boxer defends the president, who was in her home state of California last night raising campaign cash for her.
But walk the halls of Congress here, Wolf, and talk to lawmakers -- even those in the president's own party -- and there is increasing frustration that his administration needs to do more to get a handle on this dire situation -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're all sitting on pins and needles waiting to see those pictures change and that oil simply stop coming out of the -- that damaged well over there.
All right, Dana.
Thanks very much for that.
There is certainly outrage over this Gulf oil disaster. And it's actually fueling calls right now for a boycott of BP.
But as our CNN senior correspondent, Allan Chernoff, reports, punishing the oil giant is easier said than done.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: (voice-over): "Boycott BP" is the rallying cry for those fed up with the mess in the Gulf. More than 100,000 people have joined "boycott BP's" Facebook page, including Patricia Jarsinski (ph).
PATRICIA JARSINSKI: I won't buy their gas anymore. You know, I won't patronize a company that's destroying our planet.
CHERNOFF: Bp's environmental catastrophe has public citizen a consumer advocacy group calling its first boycott against an energy company.
TYSON SLOCUM, DIRECTOR, PUBLIC CITIZEN: The boycott sends a clear message that we as American consumers are not going to tolerate corporate illegal activity.
CHERNOFF: There are more than 11,000 BP stations in the U.S. selling over 42 million gallons of gas per day, but BP doesn't own the stations. Independent franchisees are the owners.
CHERNOFF (on-camera): Truth is, boycotting BP isn't as easy as many activists may think. BP is one of the biggest companies on the planet with so many different businesses. So, even if you're not buying BP gasoline, you may be putting its Castrol motor oil into your motor vehicle, and that soda you're drinking today or the aluminum can, the aluminum may have come from Arco aluminum, and the road that you're driving on would have been caved with BP asphalt.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): BP says it's working to make amends.
TONY HAYWARD, CEO, BP: I think this is clearly a major reputational issue for BP. There's no doubt about it, and we are doing everything in our power to respond in the right way.
CHERNOFF: A gas distributor on Florida's Gulf Coast says business is down this week for BP stations by nearly one-third. Many BP station owners elsewhere tell CNN, business is jut fine.
RAJ SINGH, BP FRANCHISEE: Business is excellent here. We do 12,000 gallons every day.
CHERNOFF: And BP, which generated sales of $241 billion last year says it has felt no impact from a boycott effort. Motorist, Lisa Patterson, says she favors a boycott, but her local BP is convenient.
LISA PATTERSON, MOTORIST: The closest station to my house. I'm extremely disappointed in BP, and I think they're not doing nearly enough.
CHERNOFF: Sentiments shared by Eric Peterson.
ERIC PETERSON, MOTORIST: I actually called up, I thought, oh, God, BP. You know? But honestly, is this oil company any worse than any of them?
CHERNOFF (on-camera): It's one thing to be angry with BP quite another to actually boycott. And among those who are boycotting, they say even if they can't make a dent in BP's sales, at least they can enjoy a moral victory by buying their gasoline elsewhere.
Allan Chernoff, CNN, New York.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: All right. It's been more than 3.5 hours or so since the top kill operation began. We're waiting. We're waiting for some indication to see if it's working, but you can see these live pictures. The oil and the natural gas continue to explode from that well over there. We're watching it closely. We can only hope and pray that we see a different picture coming up in the next few hours of that oil simply stopping, the flow stopping right now because this is causing such an enormous, enormous disaster. We're staying on top of this.
We're also standing by to hear from James Carville and Mary Matalin. They jut toured the region with the governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal. We'll hear their eyewitness account, a dramatic account that's coming up as well.
Some Republicans now are calling for a special prosecutor to investigate claims by Democratic Senate candidate Joe Sestak. Did someone in the White House do anything wrong by purportedly offering him a job?
BLITZER: We'll get back to the top kill operation underway in the Gulf of Mexico right now in just a few moments, but let's check in with Lisa Sylvester. She's monitoring some of the other top stories in the SITUATION ROOM. What else is going on, Lisa?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf. The official death toll is 29 in the wake of an all out police assault on alleged drug lord in Jamaica. This is the country's prime minister denied media reports that he was known criminal affiliate of the suspect, Christopher Dudus Coke. The allegations come after a failed government attempt to capture coke to extradite him to the United States.
The campaign of a Mexican gubernatorial candidate is fiercely denying accusations that he is providing protection to two drug cartels. Gregorio Sanchez was detained by authorities yesterday. Sanchez has taken a leave of absence as mayor of the popular Cancun Resort City while running for governor. His campaign calls the allegations political.
And despite what has been a tense relationship between Israel and the United States, the White House says Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Obama in Washington on Tuesday. The invitation was extended by the president's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel during a private trip to Israel. A White House spokesman says the president looks forward to a visit from Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the near future.
And the legendary radio and television personality, Art Linkletter has died. The Emmy and Granny winner was known for his popular TV shows "House Party "and "People are Funny" and his best selling book "Kids Say the Darndest things" continues to be a best- seller. Linkletter lost a daughter to suicide in 1969 and a son to a car accident in 1979. He talked about death with CNN's Larry King back in 2005.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Billy Graham on this program recently said, if he died right then and there, he would be very happy. He knew what would be ahead. It would be paradise. He's going to heaven. What do you believe?
ART LINKLETTER, RADIO AND TELEVISION PERSONALITY: You know, it would depend on what's going on. I like a lot of activity. Heaven sounds too placid to me. Now, there's a lot to do in hell.
KING: Do you want to go there?
LINKLETTER: I don't know.
KING: What I mean, if you died right now, he said he would be happy. Have you led a happy life?
LINKLETTER: I've led a happy life, yes. I've worked hard to be successful in happiness. You know, I've been a good husband, I've been a hard worker, and I'm not ashamed of anything I've done.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SYLVESTER: Art Linkletter dead at the age of 97. What a life -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very long life. He entertained a lot of people during the course of those decades. All right. Lisa, thanks very much.
We're monitoring that desperate attempt underway right now to cap the massive oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. We'll have the latest on the top kill operation that's underway right now.
And could an alleged job offer to a Pennsylvania Senate candidate mean new legal turmoil for the White House? We'll talk about that and more in our strategy session.
BLITZER: All right. We're continuing to watch whether or not top kill works or doesn't work. Look at these live pictures coming in that's a mile under the water surface. That oil is still coming out. You can see it on the left part of your screen. We're watching to see if this procedure works. Stand by. We'll get more information these next few hours will be critical.
But let's move on and talk about this and more in our strategy session. Joining us, our CNN political contributor, the Democratic strategist, Paul Begala, and the Republican strategist, Leslie Sanchez. She's on the board of group for Resurgent Republic Eyes. Thanks very much. I want to talk about some other political issues, but very quickly, your friend, my friend, our colleague, James Carville, he is really furious at the Obama White House for the lack of I guess we could say humanity, because he is saying people are dying right now. He doesn't see the White House doing anything. Are you as upset at the Obama administration as he is?
PAUL BEGALA, COUNSELOR TO PRESIDENT IN CLINTON ADMIN.: I don't think anybody is upset as James is, but I do understand the frustration. I really do. This is, I think, very different from Katrina which was completely a federal responsibility. This is BP's mistake and is BP's problem. I do wish both substantively and politically that the president have been more forward lean. And I'm glad he's going down there. I think he's trying to do everything that he can, but he's taking his knocks from both parties on this and, you know, that goes with the territory. I do think a more aggressive response was in order.
BLITZER: We're going to hear from James and from his wife, Mary Matalin. They went with Bobby Jindal, the governor of Louisiana, on this tour of the region. They're both very -- they live in New Orleans. So, there's understandable reason why they're that upset right now, but Haley Barbour, the governor of Mississippi, he says, you know, in the middle of this, he has no complaints on the federal government's response so far.
LESLIE SANCHEZ, FORMER BUSH PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: There's a lot of frustration. Let's not deny, this could be Katrina in slow motion. There is a definite cry among individuals all along the Gulf Coast who want to see the president embrace this issue, look like a commander in chief. I mentioned Israel, when I was in Israel recently, they were saying we want to see the president embraces on these issues. I hear the same thing here. They want to see a president that's taking action. And in this case, it's very symbolic. They want to see the gesture and the resources.
BLITZER: We'll probably see it on Friday when he goes down there.
BEGALA: That's right. It's why a good mayor goes to a fire, right? I mean, the mayor can't put out the fire.
BLITZER: He did go down once already.
BEGALA: He did, and he's going like a second time. I think it's important. It is important to be there but also to agitate. I mean, you saw Governor Jindal, again and again saying, give us an answer.
SANCHEZ: And look at the truth. It's not -- it's not a political issue of a sense. You're seeing a lot of left to center, a lot of liberals come out and show frustration with the president. I think he has to act and act soon.
BLITZER: Let me pick your brains on another issue right now. This letter that the Republican numbers of the judiciary committee wrote to Eric Holder, the attorney general, saying this whole issue of the Joe Sestak, the Democratic Senate candidate in Pennsylvania supposedly having been offered a job by the White House is now a subject. They want a special prosecutor to be named. Let me read a little bit from this letter. They say this, "the allegations of this matter are very serious and if true suggest a possible violation of various federal criminal laws intended to safeguard our political process from the taint of bribes and political machine manipulation."
Goes on to say, "we do not believe the Department of Justice can properly defer to White House lawyers to investigate a matter that could involve a serious breach of the law." Now, here's the question for you, Paul. You served in a White House, in the Clinton White House. You understand these kinds of legal matters well. The White House says they investigated. Their lawyers looked at it. Nothing was wrong. Case closed. Question to you is, if nothing was wrong, what do they have to hide? Why not fully explain what was offered, what wasn't offered? Tell about the meetings, all that stuff to get this behind them?
BEGALA: Why not? I think that's fine. I can't imagine, as a lawyer and as a former White House aide, and a former congressional aide, what the hell law they're talking about though. There's no violation of law. Even if what alleged is true, there's no violation of law. There's just not. I looked up and talking section 600 of the criminal code, 1800 U.S. code and that speaks to offering jobs in order to essentially bribe voters or maybe bribe officials to do certain things. It's never been used this way.
I can't think of a single prosecution. The head ethics lawyer in the Bush senior administration, Richard Painter, says it is difficult to envision this as a bribe. Peter Zeidenberg who's a former federal prosecutor from the public integrity unit at the justice department, he says that this would have a horrible precedent if we criminalize the political process and Ron Kaufman who you know is -- he says every White House in history has never done this, to Ron Kaufman who is in the first Bush White House. What's the crime? And who's ever been prosecuted for this?
BLITZER: But you agree the White House should just say, look, here's the timeline of exactly what happened, what was said, what wasn't said.
BEGALA: But they're talking about conversation and so you're going to have people's memories are going to differ. I mean, it's just --
SANCHEZ: I don't think we're going to answer it in the arena of the media. I think that's why we're looking for an independent investigation. Let's look at this. This is not --
BEGALA: It's not a crime. Who's ever been prosecuted for this?
SANCHEZ: Let's be very clear. This is not a partisan issue. A Democrat admiral coming forward and saying he may have been a victim of a bribery attempt.
BEGALA: It's not a bribe.
SANCHEZ: May have been. He's alleging that. BEGALA: He's not. What's the bribe?
SANCHEZ: I think all reasons that the justice department would look at Rob Blagojevich investigate this issue in all fairness, to have parity, why wouldn't he open it up and allow them do to the same here?
BEGALA: When you have the Republican head of the Bush White House ethics units saying there's no crime here. When you have a career former justice department public integrity saying (ph), I've looked at it, there's no crime here. There's no crime.
SANCHEZ: There is nothing wrong with have the parity.
BLITZER: Clearly -- guys --
BEGALA: They're trying to criminalize. No. The Bush administration was not. We're trying to criminalize basic politics here.
SANCHEZ: The justice department came against Bush for firing four U.S. attorneys, and we saw all of this. Why wouldn't --
BEGALA: Who was the prosecutor for that?
BLITZER: Clearly, your colleagues not going to lay off on this.
BEGALA: It's silly.
BLITZER: Until some more wholesome (ph) explanation from the White House and from Sestak for that matter. We'll see what they have to say and we'll then move on presumably. Guys, thanks very much.
We're standing by to speak live with the president of Plaquemines Parish in Louisiana. He's just back from a boat tour of the Gulf. He's very passionate about what's going on. Stand by.
And if the top kill procedure now under way in the Gulf doesn't work, you can bet that the finger pointing over the oil spill will rise to a new level. There may be serious risks for playing the blame game, though.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news right now, the most critical day yet in the BP oil disaster. We're joined by the president of Louisiana's Plaquemines Parish, Billy Nungesser. Mr. Nungesser, this is a horrible situation. You just returned from a tour of what's going on in the Gulf of Mexico. Tell our viewers concisely, briefly, what you saw.
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRES., PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LA: Absolutely nothing. You know, the same oil that's been out there two weeks ago is still out there, and nothing is being done. The marsh is dying. It's dead. And there wasn't a boat. There wasn't -- nothing. And it's embarrassing.
BLITZER: Why isn't something being done? What's the problem?
NUNGESSER: I don't know. BP, the corps, the coast guard, I'm speechless. This is disgusting. They should be fired. The coast guard is -- could demand that they put the dredges out there and start pumping. They could demand that they start cleaning up the marsh. How can you let that oil sit in the marsh for over a week and not clean it up? They had no plan to keep the oil out even though they said it wouldn't come ashore. They had no plan to clean it up. They have no plan to make the fishermen whole. It's like it's being run with a bunch of seventh graders.
This is absolutely ridiculous and unacceptable. And our only hope is the president coming down on Friday. I got to believe that he's been shielded from this because the two hours he spent here in Plaquemines Parish, coast guard did not want us putting jack-up boats out there. He said, do you have a better plan, they said no. He said, when they put the jack-up boats, Billy wants out there. He called me the next day to make sure they were done. He showed that he cared. Friday when he comes back, he needs to change the command that's in charge of this. The coast guard need --
BLITZER: Let me press you on that. You're talking about fatal and the commandant of the coast guard who's the federal official in charge you're saying, he's not doing a good job.
NUNGESSER: Absolutely. He's done absolutely nothing. All he's done is give excuses. Let me tell you, for him to say we don't think the dredge plan could be done in four to six months, a year to two years, when is he worked on a dredge? I've got experts that have been doing this for 30 years. You know what, it doesn't take a leader to tear apart a plan. Tell me what he's going to do. He's done absolutely nothing. He is an embarrassment to this country, and he ought to resign.
BLITZER: Well, he did step down yesterday although for the time being his tour of duty, I should say, ended yesterday. A chain of command, but he's staying on for a few more weeks at the request of the president in order to lead the federal response to this disaster --
BLITZER: You're going to meet with the president on Friday. Now, I want you to look in the camera. Tell our viewers here in the United States and around the world what you're going to say to President Obama.
NUNGESSER: Well, I hope I'll be invited to meet with him, and I'll tell him he picked the wrong leader. This guy is no leader. All he's done is critiqued and criticized everything we've recommended, but he's offering no solutions in return. A leader has a plan, executes the plan. He's executed nothing but excuses. You all asked him on camera, are you doing absolutely everything possible to save them wetlands? You know what he did? He pointed the finger, he said BP's in charge. You ask BP, they say the coast guard's in charge. It's like a couple kids pointing the finger at each other. It's an embarrassment to this country.
BLITZER: Who's more responsible for this lack of response to what you need right now? BP or the federal government?
NUNGESSER: The coast guard. They have the authority to tell BP move the dredges, you're paying for them. Step up to the plate. Do your job. Save faith with the American people. Everybody's supporting this plan. Republican, Democrat, the environmental groups who never agree, because you know what, they all saw the alternative. They all said if we don't do something massive like that wall out there to keep the oil out we would never clean it up.
And in path solution, we saw 50 miles of marsh that is dead. Next year, that path will start 50 miles inland. And if we get a small storm, it will blow it in 50 or 100 miles more, and we'll lose all our marshlands, and it's his fault. He didn't step up to the plate and be a leader. He didn't pull the trigger when he had a chance.
BLITZER: What about the army corps of engineers?
NUNGESSER: Well, you know what, they need to get a calendar because they said days not weeks. We're over a week now. Get off your butt and issue the permit. You know what, that's the reason we got things like Katrina because they're in charge. They don't know how to manage anything either. It's an embarrassment to this country. They couldn't work for me in Plaquemines, they'd both be fired.
BLITZER: We got four hours now since they started this operation top kill. Oil, as we can see from these live pictures, still spewing major from that oil well. How hopeful are you that this is going to succeed today?
NUNGESSER: Well, I'll use the captain of the coast guard in New Orleans when he said what are you going to do to keep the oil out the marsh, he said, we need some work and we've got to pray. If we got BP, the coast guard in charge, we need a lot of luck and a lot of press because what I've seen, they've done absolutely nothing. You know, we said when are you going to make the fishermen whole. We've got to concentrate on blocking this pipe off.
Well, I don't think the same guy that's in charge of that is writing the check to the fishermen. At least maybe he is, that's why they can't stop the leak. But we got to multitask here. That's absolutely ridiculous excuse. And that's all we've heard. Excuse after excuse after excuse.
BLITZER: Billy Nungesser --
NUNGESSER: I'm fed up.
BLITZER: I know you are, and we'll touch base with you tomorrow. Good luck to you. We really appreciate your thoughts on this. Wow.
NUNGESSER: Thank you.
BLITZER: Billy Nungesser is the president of Plaquemines Parish. We'll take a quick break. Continue the breaking news coverage right after this.