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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
BP Cleanup Sham; President Obama Visits Louisiana; Oystermen in Jeopardy
Aired May 28, 2010 - 23:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening again from Louisiana, where efforts to stop the BP oil leak from gushing into the Gulf continue.
We'll have the latest on that but we begin with the President's visit and allegations tonight that BP faked it for President Obama and the cameras, putting on what one local lawmaker is calling a dog and pony show.
Now, if true, some other words might apply, a sham, a crock, an insult to the people down here who need help, real help, not to mention an attempt, if the allegations are true, to BS local leaders, Gulf state governors and the President of the United States.
The allegation is simple, and it's stunning, that BP brought in workers to use as backdrops for the President's visit to Grand Isle lending the impression of a large-scale cleanup. Then, when the President left, so did the workers.
A local resident Jerry Lafont (ph) says he saw the whole thing. He snapped a picture of the crews getting out of their hazmat suits and getting ready to leave. He tells us they came in Jefferson Parish school buses pretended -- his words -- pretended like they were working and as soon as the President left everything shut down.
One of our staffers, who was also on the scene corroborates that. He says he has been on Grand Isle for the last three days and has never seen these crews before. Some told -- some told, one of our photojournalists Chris Turner they were on a work release program.
When CNN's Carol Costello asked whether they were there solely for the presidential visit, they told her they were under orders not to say and in fact they would get in trouble if they talked. We asked BP to come on the program to respond, as frankly, as we have every single night we've been here. And in fact this morning they agreed to be on with us. We were very excited.
Then this evening despite repeated attempts to getting in touch the company stopped returning our phone calls, nothing. Since the afternoon news conference when CNN's David Mattingly first brought up the allegations.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, David Mattingly from CNN. We got this from the Jefferson County Parish, an elected official there who says that as soon as the President left all but a dozen workers had -- that were there that BP brought in this morning had left the beach.
He says that BP shipped in about 300 to 400 workers this morning about 7:30 a.m. And as soon as the President left all the workers left except for about a dozen.
Could you comment on that, what was BP trying to accomplish and what was going on there?
DOUG SUTTLES, BP CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER: Well, I think you should first recognize that I think as the President and Admiral Allen and many have said, we've moved in considerably more people to fight this battle on the locations where the oil is.
You should also recognize that these individuals are working out in the heat of the sun. These are long days. They start early in the morning, and they stop in the evening.
So the fact that they were leaving the location late in the afternoon is not unusual. It's not associated with the President arriving.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles there saying these were just normal workers going off shift. And again, we would have liked to have them on with us tonight to answer those questions. The invitation stands as always.
Now, if he knows something we don't, we're all ears. Joining me now is Jefferson Parish Councilman, Chris Roberts who is leveling the allegations against BP.
Councilman Roberts, all right, tell us what happened as far as you know.
CHRIS ROBERTS, COUNCILMAN, JEFFERSON PARISH, LOUISIANA: Well, basically at about 7:30 this morning on school buses, a number of workers came in, approximately 300 to 400. They were given t-shirts. They were given hazmat gear, shovels and rakes and positioned out on the beach to begin working. We have not seen that level or cavalry of people working on Grand Isle.
COOPER: You visited Grand Isle before.
ROBERTS: Absolutely, we're virtually in Grand Isle every day. We visit on the beach. We go by boat. We go by helicopter tour.
COOPER: How many workers do they usually have on the beach?
ROBERTS: I would say probably about 20, max.
COOPER: Twenty workers.
ROBERTS: Correct, correct.
COOPER: And how many workers were on the beach when the President was there?
ROBERTS: 300 to 400, today.
COOPER: 300 to 400.
COOPER: So that is clearly a huge difference.
ROBERTS: Big difference and we don't think it's a coincidence that it was today.
COOPER: So when BP says, well, look, this was just a normal course of events and part of fact that, that look, we are deploying more resources, you don't think this was just part of the normal deployment?
ROBERTS: I'll tell you that we're in this event well beyond a month now. Oil has been washing ashore in Grand Isle for almost two weeks. This is the first time that we've seen any level of troops that have been placed there as far as manpower to be able to clean up the beach, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it happened today.
They came in at 7:30. The President stayed until the mid-afternoon. Just about the time he left, the workers left. But we don't blame the federal government here. I think it's insulting to the federal government, to the state government and local government for BP to come in and try and pull off this dog and pony show which virtually led everyone to believe that they were on top of things, and they are not.
COOPER: There's a lot of different moving pieces to this -- to this whole operation, and the operation under water is one thing.
COOPER: And we'll talk about that later tonight.
But have you been satisfied at the level of cleanup, the resources put to the cleanup by BP over the last few weeks, I mean, not just on your beach? We were down in Pass a Loutre --
COOPER: -- with the governor a couple days ago and there was not a single person out there cleaning up those marshes.
ROBERTS: It's gotten better I'll tell you that. We had an incident last week where we had a number of boats that were positioned there that had the skimming devices. Oil was coming in from the Gulf of Mexico into Barataria Pass. Those boats weren't moving. Our emergency management director went in and virtually commandeered the boats and positioned them to where they needed to be and got them to working. It's gotten better since then.
The federal government has had meetings. They brought the Admiral down and they've met with the local leaders. The President had them assign someone directly to work with each parish and that seems to be working better.
I just think it's a shame, that you know, BP in the midst of all that's going on would try and seize the opportunity because of the President being here and the governors being here to try and make it look as though that they have what they need and have the people on the ground responding which is just not -- not the case.
COOPER: So the question tomorrow is I guess will 300 to 400 workers show up?
ROBERTS: That's a big question, that's something that we've asked too.
COOPER: And even if -- if it wasn't going to happen previously, if this was a stunt, it would still --
ROBERTS: Oh they're working tonight --
COOPER: -- it would still be in BP's best interest to get 300 to 400 workers to show up there tomorrow so that people don't say --
ROBERTS: There is no question about it. And as you said earlier, when -- when some of these workers were approached by our emergency management staff, they said that they were under strict orders not to talk to anyone.
COOPER: So these workers, it wasn't even just workers not talking to reporters?
ROBERTS: Right. They were not talking to -- to any of our emergency management officials. The sheriff's office did manage to get one person to speak with them, and that individual said they were hired yesterday and told to report to a staging area at 7:30 this morning, so it just doesn't add up.
COOPER: And the other thing that's annoying about this, if it's true, is that you've got a lot of fishermen who would like to be employed by BP going out and helping.
ROBERTS: There is no question.
COOPER: And they are -- they've put their names in and they have taken courses, and they were sitting around waiting to be called to help in this effort.
ROBERTS: There is no question about it. When you look at this time of year, May through September is our time of year, particularly on Grand Isle, because you talk about the shrimping season opens May 1st and tourism goes on throughout this entire time. This is Memorial Day Weekend; this was usually the first big weekend, the big rodeo that had to be virtually cancelled, the fishing part of it this weekend.
And you've got a number of people that are sitting around that are virtually unemployed. So they are looking to come to work. They know the island and they know what needs to be done there. And instead of busing people in from the outside, you would think some of these people that you've been impacting --
ROBERTS: -- would be the ones you would --
COOPER: And a lot of these fishermen who I've talked to, they said look I got a $5,000 check from BP.
COOPER: But they would -- I mean, given that this is prime shrimping season.
ROBERTS: They would rather work. They'd rather work.
COOPER: Right, they'd certainly rather work but also this is prime shrimping season. They would be making a heck of a lot more than $5,000 over the course of a month.
ROBERTS: No question.
COOPER: That they have been sitting around.
ROBERTS: And the thing for us is that we went through a very cold winter. And typically, when you talk about a Louisiana fishermen, their year happens between May --
ROBERTS: -- and the end of the summer.
So it takes being able to be successful during that time to survive all year long.
COOPER: Councilman, I appreciate you being with us.
ROBERTS: No. Thank you.
COOPER: Thank you very much. Good luck to your parish.
ROBERTS: Thank you.
COOPER: Chris Roberts thanks again.
Again, we tried to get BP to come on the program tonight, and we said this literally every night. The invitation remains. Only I'm not sure -- they will be on lots of other people's programs. I'm not sure why they won't on this one. But I'd welcome them. And I won't bite them or anything. I'll be nice.
Let us know what you think. We just want some answers. The live chat is up and running at AC360.com.
Up next, more on the President's brief visit, the local reaction, plus James Carville and Doug Brinkley. James Carville has got a lot to say about what happened today.
And later a day with an oyster fisherman who's been working the waters here all his life like his father, his grandfather and his great grandfather who came here in the '20s. The question tonight, will this be the end of the line?
COOPER: All right, normally in this program we'd be showing you the live picture of the leak camera, the BP leak camera on the bottom of the Gulf. Apparently the camera has moved. It's actually being -- it looks like it's onshore right now. I think it's being cleaned or something. We're trying to figure out exactly what's going on with that, but that's the reason we're not showing it to you live.
President Obama, of course, has come and gone. Not everyone is happy about that. A lot of folks said they hoped he would stay longer, of course.
He said the people of the Gulf Coast though, will not be forgotten, will not be abandoned. He promised to triple the number of cleanup workers in areas hit or threatened by oil. A lot of people are counting on him.
Ed Henry tonight "Keeping Them Honest".
ED HENRY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): He came, he saw, but the President met very few actual people here, and for some reason bypassed areas hardest hit by the oil spill.
(on camera): Do you think this is enough to show that he's on top of it?
ROBBIE SCHEXNAILDER, GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA: Oh, no. It's too little too, late. It's too late, the impact, the destruction.
HENRY (voice-over): This is Grand Isle, a small community dependent on tourism. People come to sit on the beach and go fishing. Some were thankful for the President's second visit.
CLYDE PREGEANT, GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA, DEVELOPER: We have a major catastrophe on our hands. We appreciate him being here.
HENRY: But others were upset that after a quick tour of a nearby beach and a long meeting with federal and state officials here -- BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I ultimately take responsibility.
HENRY: The president made his comments and was on his way, without lingering to meet the locals.
BILLY WARD, FISHERMAN: This island is people, ok? I hope he hears our yells and screams that we want to preserve this heritage we have. And -- and I'm very, very concerned that this oil is going to take it from us.
HENRY (on camera): These are known as tar balls. These are essentially -- this is crude mixed with sand. You can see them all over. They are very small, but, when you look at them in my hand -- I have had a couple in my hand for a couple moments with a seashell -- look at that oil coming out on my fingers right there.
And -- and, when you smell it, it is -- it is pretty foul. You can tell, obviously, that it's oil. Some of my colleagues who have been here longer on this beach have been telling me that they have stopped holding them in their hands because they just get kind of a sickening feeling.
(voice-over): But it's much worse just miles from Grand Isle. Get in a boat, and you'll see marshes completely covered in oil, something the President didn't make time to do.
People here worry it's only a matter of time before the oil out there could destroy their way of life.
(on camera): On the side of the road, I noticed young Elijah Mecklenberg (ph), 10 years old, holding up this sign, "Don't forget us." He wanted the President to see it.
And I want to talk to his father, Lee (ph).
Why do you think the President is going to forget about you?
LEE MECKLENBERG, GRAND ISLE RESIDENT: Well, this is going to take years to clean up. And, you know, I -- it's going to affect our economy down here for years to come.
HENRY (voice-over): Which is why some here fret that it could be worse than Katrina.
WARD: I'm not scared of hurricanes, ok? I get concerned when they are coming, but, when -- when they are gone, we roll up our sleeves, we go to work, and we fix it.
The fear right now is the fear of the unknown. We don't know if we will ever get back to normal.
HENRY: Ed Henry, CNN, Grand Isle, Louisiana.
COOPER: Joining us now is Plaquemines Parish president Billy Nungesser, who spent time with the President today.
Billy, how did the meeting go?
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: It went very well.
I will tell you, you know, the first time he was down, we got the jack-up boats approved. We had three concerns, you know, making sure the fishermen are made whole and making sure we have cleanup crews to respond quickly into these areas that you visited to suck that oil up, to minimize the damage, and the third most important is to start the barrier islands.
They did task BP to pay for one reach. We said that wasn't acceptable. There were six reaches --
COOPER: When you say one reach, you mean one part -- one part of that -- that barrier?
NUNGESSER: Yes, sir.
We got six permits.
NUNGESSER: We want to do all six.
The President committed by early next week, we will have an answer and I believe that he's going to task BP. As long as it -- the group agrees that it will protect us from the oil getting in the marshes, which everyone does, we will have a call early next week.
And if -- if that's the consensus, he will then task BP to pay for it and we will get started.
We -- we discussed some of the miscommunications, and he made me commit and I agreed that, if we have the same mess-up in chain of command, or things not getting done, that I will give him a call at the White House before I call you, Anderson.
So, I made that commitment. As long as --
COOPER: Wait he actually said -- wait --
NUNGESSER: -- as long as we can move it along --
COOPER: He actually said that -- he didn't actually say that?
NUNGESSER: Yes, sir. Yes, he did.
COOPER: Wait. He said call -- he said -- that's funny.
NUNGESSER: Before I call 360.
So, we're going to -- I truly believe that he cares. And, you know, we had a lot of things happening very quickly. And we're -- we're behind the -- the cleanup now, but there's a lot of things changed. I've got a senior official in my office that can make decisions.
And we're going to give him the benefit of the doubt.
COOPER: Well, that's a big step, because that's been --
NUNGESSER: And --
COOPER: That's a big step, because that's been a concern and a complaint of yours, that basically, for the last couple weeks, you've had rotating Coast Guard people in who didn't seem to have decision- making authority.
So, now you feel like you've got somebody who can make -- really make decisions?
NUNGESSER: Absolutely. And he's going to be there for a while, a minimum of three months. And they committed to that.
And the fact that I can pick up the phone and call the White House -- and trust me, I will do that.
But, like I said the first time, I truly believe he cares. He's engaged. I think there's miscommunication amongst his top people, that he wasn't getting the whole story. And we're going to give him the opportunity to -- to help us win this war down here.
COOPER: That's interesting, because, I mean, you know, it's rare to hear from someone who is looking the President in the eye and sitting in these meetings with him.
So, a lot of the criticism I have heard just from folks around today is that, you know, they wish he had spent more time here. They wish he had met, you know, with -- with fishermen and the like.
But -- but, when you looked him in the eye, you felt he was engaged, that he wasn't dispassionate, that he really was focused on this?
NUNGESSER: I really do. You know, I told him, Mr. President, I have got to look the people in Plaquemines Parish in the eye and tell them I'm doing absolutely everything physically possible to save these marshlands. And, if you can do that to the American people, then we're on the same page.
And we shook hands and left the meeting feeling that -- that the federal government was going to step up to the plate. And the changes made in the last two days here, we're going to give him that opportunity.
COOPER: So, what happens tomorrow? I mean, what's -- what's -- you know, there was a lot of focus, obviously, on today because of the President's visit. What's going to go on tomorrow? What's going on the next day for you?
NUNGESSER: Well, we -- we have a crew here tonight. I'm meeting with some of my people here in Venice. We've got two of these suction machines. We'll go out in the morning to look where to deploy them to suck up some of this oil out of the marsh.
And we will begin to clean up those areas that fell -- fell by the wayside for the last couple of weeks. And those -- we've got a couple new teams approved that will deploy immediately upon the strike teams identifying the oil from the jack-up boats. They will be immediately deployed, not plan, not set up meetings, but they will be immediately deployed to clean up the oil, and we will start that tomorrow.
COOPER: Billy, just a quick funny story.
When I was in the -- the Coast Guard office in Venice a couple days ago -- or, I guess, yesterday -- about to interview Thad Allen, I looked on the wall, and they had pictures, surveillance pictures of all the different marshes.
And I don't know if you remember. When you and I were out in the marshes, you saw a helicopter circling. And you said, you know, I bet they have been looking at us and following us.
Sure enough, there were photos of us all in those boats from that helicopter from that day.
So, you were absolutely right.
NUNGESSER: Everywhere we went, they were overhead.
Billy Nungesser, I appreciate you being on with us tonight.
NUNGESSER: Anderson? Anderson?
COOPER: Yes, go ahead.
NUNGESSER: Thank you for everything. You've been a great help here in Plaquemines Parish, South Louisiana.
COOPER: Well, we'll continue doing it.
And after you call the White House next time, feel free to still call me.
NUNGESSER: Ok. Thank you.
COOPER: All right, Billy Nungesser. We'll continue checking in with Billy.
Up next, Doug Brinkley and James Carville, on the president's visit. You know, James has been very critical. He's received a lot of heat from the White House about it. We'll talk to him and to Doug Brinkley. James Carville, a die-hard Democrat, he says he felt relieved by some of the things the President said, but he also said he felt that it fell a little short. Here's what he said earlier.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: You know what? It's -- we're not going away, Anderson. We're not. They -- get used to us, because we're going to be in their face, like -- we're going to be on them like gravy on rice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: You heard Billy Nungesser a moment ago on the President's visit today.
Earlier, I spoke with Democratic strategist James Carville, who has been very critical of the President leading up to this, and has received a lot of criticism back, I should point out, from the White House.
I also spoke with Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley about the visit today.
COOPER: So, we've now heard from this councilman who said that they think BP shipped in 300 to 400 kind of fake workers to be there for the photo-op --
COOPER: -- while the President was there. Does that surprise you?
CARVILLE: No, not at all. It would be very consistent with BP's behavior. They lie about everything and they fake everything, so I'm not surprised at all. And Anderson --
COOPER: BP, by the way, says they did not do that.
CARVILLE: Right. Ok. But I don't believe them.
But it doesn't -- it really doesn't matter, because the President did say the right things today. And I think that's a real positive step in the right direction, saying that he's not going to abandon Louisiana and that he's committed to it, and he's committed beyond the time the cameras are here. And I think that's important.
It doesn't matter -- yes, this was a staged event. It was -- I don't -- I kind of figured that when they were going to Grand Isle, but the important thing is, is, he said the right thing, and hopefully he follows through with it. And, if he does, that's great. COOPER: Doug Brinkley, what did you take from the President's visit?
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: Well, it was an important visit. It was important just to have the visual of him there on the beach and trying to stop that hemorrhaging that he was not the commander-in-chief in charge of what's the biggest environmental disaster in American history.
So, I think he helped himself.
There's some disappointment that he didn't spend a night or a little bit longer in the Gulf region. But the Gulf crisis isn't going anywhere. He can come back soon. So, I think he helped himself.
BP, meanwhile, has a Memorial Day weekend strategy. It is trying desperately to get the stock market to shut down, as it -- as it had on Friday, then come forward a little more with -- with talking to people, and ultimately hope that, over the weekend, when the -- when it's a slower media cycle in some ways, they can get this thing capped.
If it does not, if we get into next Tuesday, I think you're going to get a whole new kind of anger wave. So, they have about three days here now, while people are distracted, and going on vacation, et cetera, to try to get that thing capped.
COOPER: Do -- do you believe -- do you agree with Doug? I mean, do you think that this is sort of orchestrated by BP to try to push this so that it's not when the stock market is open that -- you know, on a kind of a quiet Memorial Day weekend?
CARVILLE: Well, I mean, I -- look, I think they are trying to plug that hole. I don't -- there's nothing that I think that BP is not capable of.
However, I do think that they really want to plug the hole. I really --
COOPER: That's the one thing -- that's the one thing --
CARVILLE: That's the one -- that's the only thing, the only thing.
But I do believe that. And I -- yes, there -- there's a good reason that people, you know, are concerned about -- about their share price. But they -- they deserve it. I mean, what -- what can one say? I mean, it -- it -- what they have done, it looks like, you know, definitely horrendous tort, civil action. I think it's criminal.
And I think that, you know, one of the things this President is going to have to do is he's going to have launch a massive criminal investigation, as will these coastal district attorneys in Louisiana.
COOPER: Do you think that's the only way --
COOPER: -- that things will actually -- will actually get to the truth of what happened?
CARVILLE: That's the only way, it's because these lawyers, they -- they -- the company made $23 billion. They will beat these fishermen back. They're already trying to get it before some of the industry- favorable judge in Houston. They're trying to get people to sign waivers. They will delay this thing. Discovery -- civil discovery takes forever.
What we really need is a criminal investigation. We need subpoenas in there right away. We need to get people under oath. We need to get people to start accepting pleas and we -- we -- that's the only way.
And, then, once you have that, and then it becomes part of a -- something -- a larger thing, then we will get to the truth. We will get there pretty quickly. If the President is committed, that's the one step that he's got to order the attorney general to do.
COOPER: Doug Brinkley does -- I mean, obviously, the president said some things here which -- which people will take to heart. There were other people, of course, who were disappointed, as you said, that he didn't spend more time here, that he didn't actually talk to fishermen and other folks who really are affected by this.
But do you think, organizationally, his visit is going to make a difference? Because there has been a lot of criticism that we have heard over the last couple days from parish presidents, from the governor, you know, that the command structure that the Coast Guard has had in place has been too bureaucratic, too centralized, and that -- that folks don't have decision-making power who need to.
BRINKLEY: Anderson, all BP keeps doing is kicking the can further down. We're going onto day 40 here. And, each time, you know, we -- we had a -- the media gets very worked up.
Wednesday, it's happening. Now it's Thursday. Now it's Friday. And they are buying themselves time. They have been surrogating out spokespersons late today. And they -- they have been playing around the President's schedule a lot. This gives BP, over the weekend, a chance, as James said, to maybe make this work.
But I think that where the -- where we're at in this crisis is still going to depend on if that gets closed or not. If, over the weekend, they close it, the "top kill" works, I think then BP, suddenly, people are going to say, gosh, they did it. Thank goodness. And the stock- plummeting prices would have stayed at about losing 25 percent.
But, if it goes into next week and the American people are understanding that we're going to be seeing that oil coming out on the screen for another two months, it's going to be a new wave of crisis.
I think BP has manipulated the media this week and the White House to try to buy themselves a little bit more time. COOPER: There's a big difference between what BP is doing underwater and what's happening on the shore. And it's important to make that distinction.
COOPER: In terms of what we have seen on the shore, what you have seen in the marshes when you went out with the governor and us just the other day.
COOPER: The President says, look, they're going to triple the amount of people they have devoted to -- to cleaning up.
CARVILLE: If they triple the number of people that they had devoted to cleaning up where they were at the mouth of the river where we went for three hours, you know how many people would be out there? Zero, none, nada, because there wasn't a single person out there.
You were there. The governor was there. The Secretary of Wildlife and Fisheries was there. Every cameraperson was there. We rode for three hours. We saw acre -- miles and miles and miles of distressed coastal wetlands, of this (INAUDIBLE) grass. We did not see a single person doing a single thing.
So, they can triple anything they want. They don't have anybody down there. And that's for a fact. And we saw it. And -- and people here -- let me tell you, people here have just had it. They are not going to take this anymore. We're not going to -- we're not going away.
Every time somebody comes, if it's Katrina, if it's offshore drilling, if it's the canals, if we lose our coastline, and they are just sick of it.
They're sick of it. They're sick of being second. If this would have happened -- there's not a person in this state -- and Doug Brinkley knows this -- if this would have happened in Nantucket, happened in San Francisco bay, if this would have happened in the Chesapeake Bay, if this would have happened in Lake Michigan, the response would have been entirely different.
And you know what? We're not going away, Anderson. Get used to us because we're going to be in their face, like we're going to be on them like gravy on rice.
COOPER: Like gravy on rice, James said. He's just getting warmed up, by the way. We're going to continue the conversation that we had earlier today right after this break.
We also got some late reaction tonight from the White House spokesman Robert Gibbs about James Carville. He said, and I quote, "I don't think James understands all of what we're doing. I don't think James understood the facts." You'll hear more from James Carville and Doug Brinkley in a moment. President Obama's visit; why Louisiana deserves better? The rest of our conversations coming up. Plus, a small fishing village where oysters are a way of life and have been for generations. They're still ok to eat, delicious in fact. I just had some but how much longer?
And what will happen to people who make their living selling the oysters if the oysters don't survive and if the oil comes there? We'll talk to the oyster men ahead.
COOPER: I talked earlier to Doug Brinkley and James Carville, and frankly such an interesting conversation, we let it go on for quite a while. So we're playing now part two of it.
We spoke earlier about President Obama's visit and the notion here that whenever disaster strikes, Louisiana kind of ends up getting the short end of the stick.
COOPER: Doug, let me ask you. If this had been President Bush who came down here for three plus hours and then gone back on vacation to his home, would -- would the media be tougher on him than they are being on President Obama?
BRINKLEY: I think they would have been, but, you know, remember, the anger -- most of the anger has been directed at BP and the President actually for 30 days, he had a couple of weeks he got away from a lot of the pressure. I'm surprised he didn't spend a night there, have maybe a meal with families down in Grand Isle because what's happening here.
If this gets capped, James is right. It's going to be the legal suits. Ripping into MMS and BP, on and on, but what if it's not? What if this doesn't work right now and we're starting into a hurricane season with continual environmental damage hitting the whole coast?
And remember, these dispersants that have been dumped. We don't even know the chemical, you know, reaction that people are going to take to that, what it's going to actually mean to the marine system.
CARVILLE: Doug is right. If this thing goes on here for, you know, another week. Things are going to get dicey down here. People, it's not going to be -- it's not going to be good at all, and I'm -- I'm very -- I spoke to LSU law graduates today. And people don't feel like there's a system for recompense, that there's a system where justice can be meted out.
That's what this country is about. That's what advanced nations are about. And people here are, we've had it, man. I mean I'm telling you. I don't know how to explain this to the rest of the country, but it -- and we've had the President, you know, I'm trying not to criticize the President. I really am trying.
And Doug makes a point that is valid. He did say it right. One thing I was very distressed about is he criticized the secretary of the interior who I'm not a big fan of because I don't think he moved very fast on the MMS, when he said he would keep the heel of the boot on the neck and the President said he didn't like that language. I was not happy to hear that. I think the Secretary of the Interior was precisely right.
COOPER: You've been criticized by the White House lately for being so vocal.
CARVILLE: I understand that and I really do like a lot of people in there. I think David Axelrod is an understanding man. I wish David would come down here and let me take him around. I think he would feel a lot different.
He and his wife are wonderful people, and I understand why they are mad at me. I knew they would when I did this, but I'm just not going to quit. I'm just not.
I can't -- it's uncomfortable. I don't like doing it. I'm trying not to, but I just know what these people are going through down here and I know what I'm going through personally and Charlie Melancon. They just don't understand us, don't understand our culture.
And the President -- sorry he didn't spend a while here, but if he spent some time understanding who we are and what we're about and the things that we love.
And we're different people. That doesn't mean that we're bad. I think we're the best people in the country. We're different than they are. We don't like their Beltways and Applebys and the food they eat and anything like that.
We're different people here in south Louisiana. We want our culture. It's being destroyed and it's been destroyed over a period of time, and we're sick of it.
COOPER: It did seem like, Doug, I mean there was something I found really sad about so many people here in New Orleans and all the around Louisiana kind of hanging on every word that the President said looking for some sign of connection, some sign of understanding. And I just thought that this is so sad that a people are kind of hanging on every word looking for -- reading tea leaves.
It seems like the President had a prime opportunity this memorial day weekend to spend the weekend down somewhere on the Gulf shore, spend the holiday down and part of his message is that the beaches are open throughout most of the Gulf. Why not spend the weekend if not here, for security reasons somewhere else on the Gulf. It just seemed like that was an opportunity missed.
BRINKLEY: I think so. And what James is saying is this is such a special culture. Small towns and villages up against a company like BP that's been cold and callous when Tony Hayward said this oil is like a drop in the bucket. How could you expect people like James Carville not to be angry by that kind of talk and not to be upset at the federal government for not feeling -- making the Louisianians feel that they mattered more?
When Katrina happened, I used to criticize George Bush for saying he didn't do what Lyndon Johnson did. After hurricane Betsy, LBJ went into the Lower Ninth, went into the floodwaters, put a flashlight in his face at night and said, "I feel your pain. I'm here with you."
And it becomes a mythology of Johnson and Betsy. Bush didn't do that, and I think President Obama's kind of splitting it. He connected some by coming down today, but I think a little more time interacting with the working people, the blue collar people that work these boats and live along the shore would have gone a long way.
COOPER: I was just out with oyster fishermen in Point a la Hache today. This guy's great, great grandfather came here in the 1920s, started going for oysters back then. It's been in his family all this time and he's just waiting to be told that the water shut down.
CARVILLE: You know, it is a great opportunity. And I would tell David Axelrod. You know, Mrs. Obama is doing this wonderful thing about healthy eating. The healthiest food in the world is produced off the Louisiana coast: shrimp, oysters, crab, fish.
COOPER: I just ate K. Paul's (ph) last night and I guess my arteries are a little clogged.
CARVILLE: You can put some stuff on that. This has more omega-3 oils out there off the coast of Louisiana than anywhere in the world.
Come down and eat our food, Mrs. Obama. Mr. President, take your wife down here. We have great restaurants, we have great people. We want you here. We're not -- we want you here. We want you to understand us.
David Axelrod, Robert Gibbs, come down here. I'll take your around. We'll take you out there and show you. We don't want to be mad. We want you to help us.
COOPER: All right. Doug Brinkley, appreciate you being on. James Carville as well, thank you.
COOPER: I should point out as we have every night on this program that New Orleans is open for business. I mean, the restaurants are open. The seafood tastes amazing, as it always has.
You know, people should not be canceling hotel reservations to New Orleans or frankly to anywhere along the Gulf coast; there's only three beaches in Louisiana which have been shut down. All the other beaches are open.
And the city of New Orleans, I mean, is open for business, and there are folks out having a great time as they always do. So if you're thinking about coming you still should because it's as good as it has ever been.
Still ahead, how the oil spill is taking a toll on the oyster men who're trying to make a living working here. We'll take you "Up Close" next.
COOPER: It's one thing to hear about what's at stake for the people who live and work in the small towns and villages along the Gulf where fishing is a way of life and has been for generations. But to really understand the stakes, you have to see it up close.
Today we went to Point a la Hache, the seat of Plaquemines Parish on the east bank of the Mississippi River. Here's some of what we saw.
COOPER (voice-over): In Point a la Hache the boats are idle. Oysters are still being pulled from the water, but time and oil are not on the oystermen's side.
VLAHO MJEHOVICH, OYSTERMEN: This is kind of like a second Katrina, the feeling. And I mean just, you know, there we have something to do, try to get our boats back in the water and try to get going.
Right now, it's just like there's nothing we can do to stop this from coming. Once it comes, that's it.
COOPER: Vlaho Mjehovich has been working for 14 days straight, trying to get as many oysters as possible before the waters are declared off limits.
MJEHOVICH: No water, no nothing, see.
COOPER: The oysters are still untainted by oil.
(on camera): They're good.
(voice-over): But these waters have been declared off limits once already, and they expect it will happen again very soon.
MJEHOVICH: And if we can't fish there's no point, you know, for us to keep up these boats, and it's like, you know, to have a boat like this, it takes a lot of work, hard work.
COOPER (on camera): So you were -- the way of life out here may --
MJEHOVICH: Yes. These boats are just for fishing oysters. They're designed for that. You know, you can't do nothing else with them. They're real slow. You can't take people fishing.
ARTHUR ETIENNE, OYSTERMAN: UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's not just the seafood; it's our life.
COOPER: This is your way of life?
COOPER: Your kids aren't going to be able to be fishermen?
SHAWN ENCLADE, OYSTERMAN: No. Because it's going to be over.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Katrina went up and the water went, but this is poison. It's gas.
COOPER (voice-over): Many of the oystermen have volunteered with BP to help in the cleanup, but they've been told there's not enough work to go around.
(on camera): What would you do if you couldn't fish?
MJEHOVICH: I don't know. You know, I've been doing it for 20 years professionally, and it's hard, you know, and there's no retirement like this. You know?
MJEHOVICH: Yes, it's scary, but you know, you've got to take it day by day.
COOPER: Coming up next, the ATF under fire. Special agents describe a bureau where they say speaking out means being silenced. What our investigation uncovered ahead.
COOPER: More from the Gulf and the oil spill in a moment.
But first, an investigation we've been working on. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives is small compared with the FBI or DEA. There's just 5,000 employees and nearly half of them are special agents.
Some of these agents tell CNN the bureau has a big problem. They describe a culture where speaking out or just filing a complaint brings retribution.
Special investigations unit correspondent Abbie Boudreau uncovers how that alleged retaliation can happen even at the top.
ABBIE BOUDREAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Most ATF agents say they're happiest in the field. That's how Vince Cefalu spent the first 19 years of his career at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF. But those days are over.
Now he just sits in this office all day and pretty much does nothing. He says it's punishment for complaining; ATF's way of forcing him to quit.
(on camera): So we gave him a camera and asked him to document five days at work.
VINCE CEFALU, ATF SPECIAL AGENT: After several transfers, suspensions, attempts to terminate me, attempts to attack my credibility and my reputation, the end game was they would assign me to this position.
BOUDREAU (voice-over): Five years ago Cefalu was the lead agent on a racketeering case and complained to supervisors about what he says were plans for an illegal wiretap. ATF disputes his claim and says he's had disciplinary issues. But since then, he says ATF has made his life miserable.
(on camera): Cefalu says there's a lot of blame to go around. But there's one man he especially singles out, Edgar Domenech, the former second in command at ATF.
CEFALU: For years, Edgar Domenech had been part of a machine that had created this circle of distrust and self-promotion of the senior managers using the agency for their personal playground.
BOUDREAU: Domenech had been named in several complaints by agents who blame him for retaliation and discrimination at the bureau.
(on camera): Some of these people are now seeing psychiatrists because they feel like they suffered depression. They feel like their lives have been turned upside down because of your retaliation.
EDGAR DOMENECH, ATF MANAGER: I can sympathize with them. And I know there are folks who accuse me and have blamed me for their ills. And all I would say is that in any proceedings that have been taken against me, there has not been one where I have been found to be -- have done anything in error or have been wrong.
BOUDREAU (voice-over): We asked him about Cefalu.
(on camera): Do you think he was a good agent?
DOMENECH: I have absolutely -- I wish Vince well.
BOUDREAU: But do you think when he was out on the street, a street agent, do you think he was a good agent?
DOMENECH: Again, I wish Vince nothing but the very best.
BOUDREAU: You don't want to answer that question?
BOUDREAU: But you think that there's more you could have done to make sure that this kind of retaliation wouldn't take place against agents while you were the deputy director?
DOMENECH: I would dispute the issue of the term Vince -- regarding retaliation. I would dispute what he terms to be retaliation versus what was management's prerogative. BOUDREAU (voice-over): And yet, it's odd, the two men, Cefalu the agent and Domenech, the former deputy director at ATF have something in common.
(on camera): Both spoke out when they saw critical problems at ATF. Both paid for it.
(voice-over): At one time Domenech accused his boss of wasting money on the new $207 million ATF building. So he reported it.
DOMENECH: I thought this was money that could be used elsewhere within the agency. I just didn't think it was a proper use of taxpayer dollars.
BOUDREAU (on camera): so how difficult was that for you to go and report all of this?
DOMENECH: Very simply it was career suicide.
BOUDREAU (voice-over): Domenech says he anonymously reported the abuses to protect himself and his family. But his name later came out through the investigation. And that's when he says his career was destroyed.
(on camera): What did you feel like?
DOMENECH: I pretty much felt like my value had just been discarded. And that was very, very demoralizing.
BOUDREAU (voice-over): Domenech thought things would get better after his boss, the director, resigned. But when a new one arrived, Domenech was told ATF was going in a different direction and he was demoted. He went down not one level but three.
Cefalu feels he got what he deserved.
CEFALU: Only when he became subjected to the system he maintained for so many years then did he cry foul. And he may have been subjected to reprisal. He built the system.
BOUDREAU: Domenech filed retaliation complaints and he settled with the bureau for an undisclosed amount. He is still a manager at ATF. And though he's no longer in charge, agents tell us there is still a fear of retaliation just for filing a complaint.
Deputy director Kenneth Nelson has been leading ATF since last year. He's not allowed to talk about individual cases.
KENNETH NELSON, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, ATF: There hasn't been retaliation in my leadership that I know of. The instances where there's allegations of retaliation occurred well before I came to the ATF.
BOUDREAU (on camera): You take this seriously?
NELSON: I take it absolutely seriously -- absolutely seriously. If there's somebody that is afraid that they're going to be retaliated against, if they file or complain about fraud, waste, abuse, or illegal conduct, then they can come talk to me about it and I'll make sure that not only will the investigation be conducted, but they won't be retaliated against.
BOUDREAU (voice-over): Cefalu says if retaliation can happen to Edgar Domenech, it can happen to anybody.
CEFALU: He was the second highest man in the bureau. If that -- if he cannot feel comfortable and strong enough and have enough power and position to confront unethical conduct in the government, why should I?
BOUDREAU: Abbie Boudreau, CNN, San Francisco.
COOPER: Neither the former ATF director, who Domenech reported, nor the one who demoted him would comment. Claims of retaliation are so widespread at the bureau that the agents and employees share their stories on a Web site called cleanupatf.org.
Deputy director Kenneth Nelson says he had the site blocked from ATF computers because it contains unfounded information posted anonymously. He says employees are free to look at it on their own time. We'll keep you posted on any of the developments on this story.
That does it for 360. Thanks for watching.
"LARRY KING" starts right now.