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THE SITUATION ROOM
Coast Guard Suffers Setbacks; Oil Spilling at 20,000-40,000 Barrels a Day; Remains Mishandled at Arlington
Aired June 10, 2010 - 17:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks very much, Rick.
Happening now, President Obama remembers the people who lost their lives in America's worst environmental disaster.
What did he say to the families of the workers killed in the rig explosion almost two months ago?
I'll talk to some of the widows who met with the president at the White House.
Plus, the pictures of oil-covered birds that some BP officials don't want you to see. Stand by to find out why we were told to put down our cameras during our coverage of the spill.
And the remains of America's fallen war heroes mismarked, even misplaced -- the shocking revelations about the poor recordkeeping and management at Arlington National Cemetery.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Desperation is spreading across parts of the Gulf Coast right now, along with the oil that's killing more wildlife and more jobs every single day. Sheens of oil now have entered Alabama's Perdido Bay, just west of the Florida state line. Look at how large an area of the Gulf now is closed to fishing because oil has been found there or close by.
The mayor of Grand Isle, Louisiana today pleaded for federal help for shrimpers and fishermen who are out of work and out of money.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR DAVID CAMARDELLE, GRAND ISLE, LOUISIANA: I gave them a credit card before. I fed some families. I make $513 a week as mayor. I've got my own family to raise. And I just talked to my secretary and I can promise you, I will not let no one starve on my island.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Obama administration says BP has agreed to speed up payments to people whose livelihoods are being devastated by oil. In other new developments right now, the embattled oil company says it plans to increase its ability to capture leaking crude by early next week. Fifteen thousand eight hundred barrels were recovered over the past 24 hours. That's up slightly from the day before.
President Obama talked about the oil disaster with Congressional leaders today. Then he went behind closed doors to face the families of the workers killed in the April 20th rig explosion.
Our White House correspondent, Dan Lothian, is joining us now.
What do these families of the victims want the president to do -- Dan?
DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, first of all, I spoke with Keith Jones. He's the father of 28-year-old Gordon Jones, who was a mud engineer. He died in the explosion. And he said that the families are pushing the president to back changes to the Death on the High Seas Act, which essentially limits the amount of compensation that a family member's relative can get in -- for those who have died in international waters. The president, we are told, was very receptive. But -- and he said he would consider it, but he would not commit onto it at this time.
Now, in terms of how they feel the administration has been handling the disaster to this point, Mr. Jones telling me that he's quite pleased with it. And he pushed back on some of the criticism.
Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KEITH JONES, FATHER OF RIG EXPLOSION VICTIM: I don't know what people expected the president to do exactly.
Do they expect him to go down there and wash pelicans or something?
But he's the president. He's not -- he's not someone who cleans beaches. It's important to know -- for us Louisianans to know that we have his support. And I think he's communicated that. He -- if -- if the public relations was inadequate, I can't speak to that. I -- I haven't paid that much attention to it, to tell you the truth, because I have bigger fish to try.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: And about 50 relatives were here at the White House meeting with the president for a little less than an hour. The relatives of 10 of the victims were represented here. We're told that the president will reach out to the relatives of the other victims by phone some time later today or tomorrow -- Wolf.
BLITZER: I know we -- we weren't allowed -- the media weren't allowed inside. No cameras inside.
But what you're hearing, what was it like?
LOTHIAN: Well, for Mr. Jones, he told me, quote, "that it was sedate and respectful, but -- but not solemn." He said that if this had happened -- this meeting had happened a number of weeks ago, that they couldn't have done it because they were simply too emotional. So this was the right time. They said that the president took time to go from table to table to speak individually with the relatives.
And then I asked him about whether or not he was angry at anyone -- did he have any anger?
And here's how he responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONES: It's not anger I feel. And I don't understand that. And I thought I would be extraordinarily angry. And maybe, as time goes by, I will grow angry when I see the real evidence as to what happened. But even on the basis of what I think happened, based on what I'm told -- and I -- and from what I'm told, terrible acts were -- were made or things were not done that should have been done all with the same motivation -- to save money, to make more money. Even with all that, I don't describe my feeling as one of anger. It is a different emotion that I don't have a word for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LOTHIAN: Mr. Jones said that President Obama told him that he still speaks to the relatives of 9/11 victims and that they will not be forgotten -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Dan.
For the second straight day, Congress held multiple hearings on the oil disaster. Lawmakers heard a lot of raw emotion and disturbing facts. The head of Louisiana's Department of Wildlife testified that the environmental impact of the spill could last more than three lifetimes.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROBERT BARHAM, LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF WILDLIFE AND FISHERIES: LSU tells us that the transfer rate for neutrally buoyant particles at 5,000 feet to the surface is potentially up to 300 years. That is a frightening scenario. It will be long after all of us are gone that people will be studying this event.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: That's very frightening. Lawmakers also heard a lot of complaints that it's still not clear who's running the cleanup and recovery operation in the Gulf.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILLY NUNGESSER, PRESIDENT, PLAQUEMINES PARISH, LOUISIANA: I still don't know who's in charge.
Is it BP?
Is it the Coast Guard?
When I get mad enough in a meeting, the Coast Guard in our office stands up and says, I can make that happen. When I throw a BP official out of my office, he comes back the next day and approves something. I have spent more time fighting the officials of BP and the Coast Guard than fighting the oil.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: We'll hear more from Billy Nungesser, the Plaquemines Parish president, later here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
The Republican leader in the House of Representatives mocked his colleagues for holding so many hearings on a crisis that's still far from being solved.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), MINORITY LEADER: Well, this is Congress at its best. (LAUGHTER)
BOEHNER: You know, why don't we get the oil stopped, all right, and figure out what the hell went wrong and then have the hearing get the damn law fixed?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Now to the spill zone for an up close look at a key line of defense against the creeping oil. We're talking about those berms.
In the wake of the oil disaster, President Obama has now approved an initial plan to build about 35 miles of berms along the coast of Louisiana. Some of those berms are supposed to be under construction right now.
Our Brian Todd is joining us now from Grand Isle, Louisiana -- what's going on, Brian, with the berms from your vantage point?
BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we did get a firsthand look at where one of the berms is being built. This is East Grand Terre Island. It's a barrier island off the Louisiana coast. This is a very ambitious plan, massive in scale. When we were there, we saw huge amounts of sand being dredged up from the sea floor and pumped onto the shore. We got a really good look at it, went out offshore on a boat to see the dredger that was doing it. It was fascinating to watch this really, really ambitious project.
It involves miles of pipes being laid to pump that stuff onto shore and then bulldozers moving into place. But this is backlogged. To answer your question about when it's going to get started, it was supposed to start today, but it's been delayed a little bit. It will start in earnest over the next few days.
But Governor Bobby Jindal has been pushing for this for weeks now. He's been very frustrated in his efforts to get permits to build these berms. The Army Corps of Engineers has been causing some frustration with the governor. But the Corps has always said, look, we've got to do an environmental impact assessment before we give you these permits. They did that. They got the permit. So we're about ready to get started on this.
The berm that we visited today had actually been started before the spill to protect that coastal island there. But it's going to be kind of added onto this program.
The question is, is it going to stop the oil?
That's the question I posed to the Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Dan Somma, who toured this area with me today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Do you think this is going to be effective to protect these islands?
LT. COMMANDER DAN SOMMA, U.S. COAST GUARD: Well, it's hard to say what's going to be effective right now. But this would be one strategy for physical containment or deflection of the oil. So hopefully it will work.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
TODD: Hopefully it will work. And the price tag, of course, not cheap. The plan right now is for this to cost about $360 million. At least that's how much BP has committed to it.
When all is said and done, they hope to build about 128 miles of berms along the coastline here -- Wolf.
BLITZER: But I know, Brian, there were some serious environmental concerns.
TODD: There really were. Environmentalists from many different quarters, including the U.S. government itself, have weighed in and said, look, this could really intensify the erosion process along these islands off the coast. That can't happen because these islands are counted on to protect from hurricanes and this could really speed that up.
They also say that it could -- the dredging operations could kind of wipe away some of the existing gas and oil pipelines that are down below right now, far under the sea. That could -- they could disrupt those or even damage them. They also say that it could change the flow of the water, which would affect the salinity of the water, which could hurt the fish.
Now all of that has been weighed. State officials say that they have actually nixed plans to go into some areas. So they're only going to focus on areas they don't deem ecologically sensitive.
BLITZER: Brian will be back later with more. Brian, thanks very much.
We're learning more about what went wrong on the day the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. It turns out the Coast Guard had some serious equipment failures that may have prevented lives from being lost. We're looking into that.
And we're also seeing some heart-wrenching pictures of birds covered in oil. There are more pictures coming out today. Apparently, BP is trying to prevent those -- some of those images -- from getting out in the first place.
Stay with us.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We're getting some new information on the flow rate coming out of the spill. That's coming up in a moment. But let's check in with Jack.
He's got The Cafferty File right now -- Jack.
CAFFERTY: At a time of skyrocketing federal deficits and a debt that just passed $13 trillion, the Democrats in Congress can't be bothered to pass a budget for next year. That's their job. Congress is supposed to decide how to spend the taxpayers' money. They are mandated to pass a budget and presumably to stick to it. But that's a whole other story.
Yet efforts to pass a budget have stalled in the House because Democrats can't agree on what and how much to cut. See, it's an election year and we can't be seen cutting things in an election year. It's simply outrageous.
Republicans say the Democrats are making a huge mistake by not passing a budget and they're right. House Minority Leader John Boehner suggests President Obama should find someone's ass to kick when it comes to the budget deficit. He says the GOP will be relentless on this issue.
One Democratic Congressman, Jerry Connolly, from Virginia, calls budgets "inside baseball." That's a quote -- suggesting that it's not something the public is interested in.
Hey, it's our money.
Meanwhile, our government just keeps spending and spending, from the Wall Street bailouts to the economic stimulus, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care reform, on and on and on. They're bankrupting the country by running up an astronomical bill. The national debt is now estimated to be $19.6 trillion in less than five years. And that's a debt that can never be repaid.
Our government is in the process of destroying this country. And despite warnings of the dire consequences of their actions, they continue undeterred, taking us down the road to financial ruin.
Here's the question -- why is the Democratic Congress refusing to pass a budget?
Go to CNN.com/caffertyfile and post a comment on my blog.
BLITZER: Good question, Jack.
Back in the days before the deep water rig explosion, many Americans had never heard the term blowout preventer. But now, as we know, that device is supposed to shut down and oil and gas well if something goes wrong. But on April 20th, the blowout preventer simply did not work.
Let's bring in our senior correspondent, Allan Chertoff, who has been looking into this story -- the drilling safety issue specifically -- Allan, tell our viewers if a disaster like this could have been prevented.
ALLAN CHERNOFF, CNN SENIOR CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly, it could have been prevented. But experts are saying the fact is, it actually could happen once again. The oil industry had been treating these so- called blowout preventers as virtually fail-safe. But clearly, they're not.
CHERNOFF (voice-over): An out of control oil gusher off Western Australia last year. Offshore and onshore, there have been numerous so-called oil rig blowouts, just like this one in Louisiana -- just not as big as the Deepwater Horizon.
PROF. STEVE SEARS, LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY: The blowout preventer should be able to close and prevent any escape from the well bore. But, obviously, nothing is absolutely fail-safe, as we've recently seen in the Gulf of Mexico.
CHERNOFF: The safety of oil drilling depends on the reliability of a blowout preventer. Rig workers use them to keep a well under control, especially when oil and gas surge or kick up from the well.
(on camera): The blowout preventer is basically a faucet on top of the oil well that prevents oil and gas from gushing up to the surface. When its valves don't do the trick, the blowout preventer also can choke the actual drilling pipe, just like I'm squeezing this straw. But when that doesn't do the trick, there's another line of defense. Blowout preventers have giant shears are supposed to be able to cut the drilling pipe, just like I'm snipping this straw.
Now, the problem is deep underwater, the pressure is very intense and these pipes have to be thick, especially the joints between them. And those joints, they are very hard to cut.
(voice-over): A study done for the government's Minerals Management Service warned of such trouble in shearing drilling pipe deep underwater. Initial research painted a grim picture of the probability of success when utilizing this final tool in securing the well.
U Cal Berkeley Professor Robert Bea is the former chief offshore engineer for Shell.
PROF. ROBERT BEA, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA: If the blowout preventers had a probability of failing to crush that pipe that approaches 50 percent, that it would be like getting on an airplane and having a 50 percent chance of making it to your destination.
CHERNOFF: Professor Bea warns blowout preventers are not reliable in the deep sea.
BEA: You can keep on pushing equipment to the point of where it breaks and I think we broke it.
CHERNOFF: In fact, BP told Congressional investigators there were leaks in the hydraulic system of the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer, as well as a dead battery -- yet another safety concern, the dead man system -- the final safety switch for a blowout preventer that's lost communication with its oil rig. It's supposed to trigger the blowout preventer to shut the well. But another study for the Minerals Management Service found many operator and contractor personnel refuse to arm the system from fear that it will either not operate when needed or activate inappropriately, causing downtime. The dead man switch did not activate during BP's April 20th blowout. That's another reason why industry experts concede oil drilling safety improvements are now critically needed.
BENTON BAUGH, PRESIDENT, RADOIL: This is likely an event like this will happen again. We need to be better prepared next time.
CHERNOFF: All these problems point to the possibility, however remote, of another tragic accident.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
CHERNOFF: And that is exactly why the Interior Department is scrambling to toughen up rules for this industry. The Department is requiring, by the end of the month, that companies actually report third party verification of the safety and effectiveness of blowout preventers and also install a secondary control system for that blowout preventer -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Why didn't the drillers build in more safety into this entire operation?
CHERNOFF: Wolf, unfortunately this is all about money -- expenses. One expert told me that, indeed, if that pipe is sheared, if it is cut, we're talking $10 million at a minimum to get the flow of oil going once again. It's very expensive to have these security systems in place and to actually utilize them. And, obviously, the companies want to maximize their profits.
BLITZER: We're learning a whole lot more every single day. Allan, thanks very much.
We're getting new information into THE SITUATION ROOM right now on the flow rate of this massive oil spill.
And guess what?
It's a lot, lot worse than we thought. The details coming up -- new numbers.
And two governors leading their states through the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history.
Will their political futures of Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist now be empowered by this crisis?
We'll talk about that and more in our Strategy Session.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: Significant breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
The federal government has just revised its estimate of the amount of gas and oil coming out of that well in the Gulf of Mexico.
Let's go to Lisa Sylvester right now -- we're getting new numbers, Lisa, on what the destruction -- the oil spill was before they cut off the top of that riser. And it's a lot worse than we thought.
SYLVESTER: That -- that is right, Wolf. In fact, there was a teleconference that just ended a few minutes ago. We have to put these numbers into perspective. The numbers that we are talking about are all prior to the cut of the riser on June 3rd. Now, scientists initially came up with two figures. They said that the rate was either 12,000 to 19,000 barrels or 12,000 to 25,000 barrels per day, in that range.
Now, the head of the U.S. Geological Survey, Dr. Marsha McNutt, she says those numbers are higher. On the low end, that we're talking about 20,000 barrels per day to as much as 40,000 barrels per day before the riser was cut.
And they arrived at these numbers by looking at new high resolution video that you can see on our screen and, you know, getting into a little bit of the methodology, what they do is a thing called particle imaging -- taking a look at the particles coming out and also looking at the pressure estimates around the riser.
And, Wolf, they are now saying -- and this is also a key thing -- it's 40 percent of what was coming out was actually oil, not gas, not something else, but actual oil.
And we have some of the clearer video that we can also show. But a big question right now is, you know, what is the impact of the cut -- that cut -- that riser was cut, part of the cut and cap on June 3rd?
Scientists are meeting amongst themselves to determine the outflow of the post-riser cut. They're going to be holding a conference amongst themselves tomorrow and we hope to have more details, because, clearly, this is something people want to be able to compare, you know, what was the impact. Once they did that cut, it certainly seemed, by the pictures, where that gush of oil seemed to increase. But exactly how much it increased, that's what we're still waiting on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We're going to crunch these numbers with some experts. This is important information, Lisa.
We're going to be all over it, because, if, in fact, it was really 40,000 barrels a day, as opposed to 12,000 or 19,000 or 25,000, it was -- if it was 40,000 and once they cut it, they said it would increase by at least 20 percent, that would make it more than 40,000 a day. And even if now they're collecting 15,000 barrels a day, there's still 25,000 barrels a day potentially spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.
We're getting experts to discuss this, to assess this. But these numbers a whole lot worse than BP originally estimated. At first, they said 1,000, then 5,000. And it's obviously so much worse than all of us thought.
CNN correspondents are in the oil spill zone. They're working to get the story out about the damage to wildlife and the coast. You're going to find out why someone tried to stop our own Jim Acosta from taking pictures of the oil-covered birds.
And could lives have been saved when the deepwater rig exploded?
We have new information about the failures the coast experienced that day.
BLITZER: You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Happening now, it's a CNN exclusive. Our John Roberts goes one-on-one with BP's chief operating officer and gets a rare look how a company charged with causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history is responding.
And could the effects from this crisis last for decades?
Our Mary Snow takes us to a marsh in Massachusetts that is still scarred from a spill that happened more than 40 years ago.
I'm Wolf Blitzer.
You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: New reports this hour that the Coast Guard suffered some equipment failures in the process of rescuing works from that massive rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico.
Our homeland security correspondent, Jeanne Meserve, is monitoring the story.
Jeanne, what's going on?
JEANNE MESERVE, CNN HOMELAND SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, a Coast Guard official confirms that some equipment did break down as first reported by the Center for Public Integrity on the night the Deepwater Horizon exploded. The hoist on one helicopter malfunctioned. The crew had to switch to another aircraft. That delayed their response by about 38 minutes. That's eight minutes longer than usual.
In addition, two days later, during the search and rescue phase, another helicopter crew experienced an over-torque and had to return to base for checks. The same day, a generator blew on the Cutter Pelican, forcing it to go in for repairs.
A Coast Guard spokesman says the agency had extra assets on hand in case of breakdowns and he says, "Our crews quickly adapted to the equipment failure so that they did not have any impact on the overall result of the search and rescue," Wolf.
BLITZER: It's no secret that the Coast Guard has some really aging, malfunctioning equipment.
MESERVE: That's right. And it was a factor in the response to Haiti as well. The average aircraft age is 23 years. For cutters, it's 34.
Part of the problem is the agency's missions. It's expanded to include homeland security as well as environmental response, fisheries enforcement, search and rescue.
But the Coast Guard has also been harshly criticized in recent years for its acquisition programs and procedures. Oversight agencies noted recent improvements but just this past April, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general said the Coast Guard procurement system suffers from "systemic issues related to the effective program management, contractor oversight, adequate staffing, data tracking, and performance measures," Wolf.
BLITZER: Is there any serious effort underway right now to get the Coast Guard the resources that they really need?
MESERVE: There's been talk about it. But in his 2011 budget proposal, the president proposed cutting Coast Guard funding. The acquisition budget specifically would be cut by more than 10 percent from 2010. There has, however, been a firestorm of criticism from Congress. It's unclear what the final numbers are going to look like, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope they get the stuff they need, because a lot of people's lives depend on it.
Thanks very much. They are among the most heartbreaking pictures from the oil disaster, birds and wildlife coated with oil and struggling to survive. It turns out some BP officials don't want you to see these images.
CNN's Jim Acosta found that out while covering the wildlife rescue operation in the Gulf.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Recovering contaminated birds from the BP oil spill is no easy task, as we found out following this crew with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service off the Louisiana coast: the birds don't want to be rescued.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We haven't given up. They could be just hiding in the rocks or something.
ACOSTA: We watched this crew try time and again to net two oil- covered pelicans.
(on camera): You see, this pelican right here, he's got oil on him, on his head and along his back, but he's strong enough where he can hop around from rock to rock and dock to dock.
(voice-over): Birds too oily to survive on their own, but determined to escape.
TODD BAKER, LOUISIANA FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE: There's still quite a few out there. There's still quite a few that have varying degrees of oil. And the problem is most of them are not to the point where they can't fly. So, they're still flying, which makes them very difficult to catch.
ACOSTA: Earlier in the day, we saw other crews bring in crate after crate of polluted wildlife to this triage center on Grand Isle. That's where we found the rules for capturing images of these birds had changed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ma'am?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm going to have to ask you to stop taking pictures here.
ACOSTA: We were asked to turn our cameras off. And this official with the Louisiana State Animal Response Team or LSART, a contractor hired by BP, told us we could not enter the bird triage center, even though we received permission to do just that from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
(on camera): LSART makes the last call on this. LSART makes the final call?
CHRIS BUCO, LOUISIANA STATE ANIMAL RESPONSE TEAM: I make the final condition. I make the final call based on the conditions of the birds coming in.
ACOSTA (voice-over): Todd Baker with the Louisiana Fish and Wildlife Service says it's out of an abundance of caution.
BAKER: It's more important for the animals to have a quiet, calm, controlled area at this point.
ACOSTA: Talking to the rescuers was another problem. One volunteer told us off-camera he had signed a document stating he would not talk to the media. Another rescue worker who told us he would be fired if he spoke up, instead gave us these images -- the pictures show birds being scooped out of waters and loaded into crates. Their first encounters in human hands.
The wife of the rescuer who snapped the photo says her husband is having a hard time coping with the job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's pretty rough on him. He don't like doing it, you know? But it's his job. I mean, he don't -- he's an animal fan (ph).
ACOSTA: But why the silence? This BP contract that was initially used to hire rescue and cleanup workers appears to ban any comments to the media. It states, quote, "Vessel owners and employee will not make news releases, marketing presentations or public statements."
Now, BP insists it's not ordering workers to keep quiet. Asked about that contract, a spokesman tells CNN, "BP has not enforced this provision in the Master Vessel Charter Agreement."
If that's the case, the rescue workers we found have yet to receive that message.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
BLITZER: All right. I want to thank Jim Acosta for that report.
But let's get back to the breaking news we're following right now. New estimates on how much oil was spewing from that rig before June 3rd when they had that cut and cap procedure under way as you will recall: earlier, initially, BP thought maybe 1,000 barrels a day. Then it was raise to maybe 5,000 barrels a day. Then a few weeks later, they said, well, the government came in, had an estimate of 12,000 to 19,000 barrels a day.
Well, now they've gone back, looked at the high resolution video of what was coming out before June 3rd, and there are new estimates that it was going out at a rate of 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day.
We are joined now on the phone right now by Professor Ira Leifer of the University of California, Santa Barbara is joining us on the phone right now. He's been involved in the flow rate technical group that's been looking at all of this.
Are you surprised -- I suspect the answer is no -- by this new, much higher rate of what was coming out before the cut and cap procedure?
DR. IRA LEIFER, UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SANTA BARBARA (via telephone): Certainly, I'm not surprised. It took a lot of hard work to get to this point. I should note that this is not from the really high resolution video that BP has been provided. But is from video before the cut, which was not as good as what they've been providing now.
BLITZER: So, in other words, once they really take a look at the great video, the high resolution video, they could revise this estimate once again?
LEIFER: There probably will be some slight revisions to this estimate, which is, for the past in the next few days as it's finalized.
BLITZER: Correct me if I'm wrong, Professor Leifer, but when they did cut off the top of that riser, they thought until they put the cap on, it would increase -- increase -- the amount of oil flowing out of that rig perhaps by 20 percent, although you thought it would increase it by a lot more than that.
LEIFER: I still maintain that this is a question that's not been resolved. We've been analyzing the data at this point, and -- at this point, we're still trying to discuss how to interpret it.
I should also add that that increase was basically a prediction, and it's not clear exactly how the prediction is made, whether or not it would be -- how to say this. It's unclear to me exactly 20 percent relative to what. So the number 20 percent could be very accurate to something after the number that Marcia McNutt just released today. I'm hoping to learn the details myself.
BLITZER: She's the -- Marcia McNutt is the Geological Survey Director. But I assume what they meant was 20 percent above, now when they say 20,000 to 40,000 barrels a day, 20 percent above those numbers. That was the assumption I had. But correct me if I'm wrong.
LEIFER: I -- that's one way to interpret those numbers. I'm not really exactly familiar with what the 20 percent related to exactly.
BLITZER: If they're capturing right now, BP on the surface, 15,000 barrels a day, which they've said, Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard admiral who's the point man on the scene, if they're capturing 15,000 barrels a day, there are still at least 10,000, maybe 20,000, 25,000 barrels a day coming out, maybe a lot more.
LEIFER: I mean, the 20,000 is -- that was before is a low estimate. It's not a best estimate. The best estimate is in the higher part of that range. There was certainly some increase, I believe, I feel related to this event. And I'm not quite -- as we analyze the data, we'll actually figure out what it was.
BLITZER: So, the bottom line is, it was a whole lot worse than we thought and right now, it's still awful, still terrible. There are thousands and thousands of oil continuing to spew into the Gulf, that oil that's not being captured by BP.
LEIFER: And one of the things that happened today is that Representative Markey has demanded that BP actually let the scientists make measurements when they switch the cap so that we can actually, instead of doing a very difficult effort to figure out how much oil and gas is coming up, we can measure it and know.
BLITZER: We're going to stay in close touch with you, Professor Leifer. Ira Leifer is a professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He's an expert on the oil flow. He's a member of the government's technical team looking at this. We'll stay in close touch with you. Thank you, Dr. Leifer.
We're also watching other news, but we'll get back to this story, including some major political news happening right now. Bill Clinton helped Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln become the new comeback kid. Can he work his political magic now for the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid? We're getting some new information.
BLITZER: Checking with Lisa, she's monitoring some of the other top stories in THE SITUATION ROOM right now.
Lisa, what's going on?
LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Wolf.
Well, a possible threat for British Prime Minister David Cameron to change his schedule while visiting Afghanistan today. A British military source tells CNN, Cameron was traveling by helicopter in Helmand Province when an unspecified, quote, "operational situation" made it necessary to change Mr. Cameron's itinerary at the last minute. The source says Mr. Cameron was not attack and was never under direct threat.
A cell phone video obtained by CNN is shedding new light on a U.S. border shooting that killed a 15-year-old Mexican boy. The video you see there contradicts the border patrol agent's claim that the teen was shot while the agent was surrounded by suspected illegal immigrants throwing rocks. Attorney General Eric Holder is calling the incident extremely regrettable. The Mexican government is requesting a quick and transparent investigation.
And former President Bill Clinton is in Nevada today stumping for the Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. He's expected to tout the Democratic senator's work in creating jobs and strengthening the economy in his state. Reid faces a tough fight for re-election in November. He will now go head to head with tea party favorite Sharron Angle, who won the Republican Senate primary Tuesday -- Wolf.
BLITZER: It's going to be an exciting political season for all of us to cover. Thanks very much for that.
The Gulf coast disaster seems to be giving Governor Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist a political boost, and there are some disturbing new information coming out about the mishandling of remains at Arlington National Cemetery.
BLITZER: Let's go right to our strategy session. Joining us are: CNN political contributor and Democratic strategist, James Carville, and our senior political analyst, David Gergen.
Let me get your immediate reaction. You're in New Orleans, James. The survey -- the technical experts now say that flow rate before the June 3rd cap was, put on that cut and cap, wasn't 5,000 barrels a day, wasn't 10,000 or 12,000 or 19,000 barrels a day -- it was between 20,000 and 40,000 barrels a day.
And we just had Professor Ira Leifer on, who's an expert, a member of that group. He thinks probably more in line with the 40,000 barrels a day than the 20,000 barrels a day. How surprised are you by these shocking numbers?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Not at all, not at all. Every piece of information that we've gotten has been wrong and it's been wrong on the side what's been most favorable to BP. I have no idea why -- I have no idea why NOAA came up with these 5,000 barrels a day.
And I'll tell you, the credibility loss is hurting everything down here because people, frankly, and for a good reason, don't believe anything, and you can't blame them. And this kind of thing is -- this government has to be sure that all information that goes out is correct if anything, and they need to be cautious in any estimate that they make from here on out, because we're in this thing for a long haul and we've got to be able to trust all the parties here.
Nobody is going to trust BP for anything, but the government has to do some work to get our trust back because we've just gotten too many erroneous things.
BLITZER: I think, David, James makes a fair point. If you don't trust the government in a crisis like this, the people are going to be not only disappointed and sad, but they're going to be furious.
DAVID GERGEN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Absolutely. And I think we're already seeing that frustration and anger and we have a series of polls now saying a majority of the country disapprove of the way the government has been handling this right from the beginning. And I think it's really critical now, Wolf, as we get into the long haul that there be transparency and honesty in the -- whenever they keep the reporters away, it strikes people in the public. This is a cover- up. There's something they don't want us to see.
They've got to be very transparent and now, that the government under President Obama has said, we're in charge, they're responsible for these numbers. They have to keep -- and I think that Thad Allen, to his credit, have been low-balling things, but others are not.
BLITZER: You know, you heard Jim Acosta's piece, James, BP is giving orders not letting reporters or photographers take pictures or talk to people who are try to deal with the cleanup. I hear this kind of stuff as a professional journalist, it makes me crazy. But -- is there any justification at all from preventing the American people from seeing what's going on?
CARVILLE: Not at all. Of course, my view is that we're at war, but it's a war that you don't need to keep anything from the enemy. The enemy is the oil. It don't care. It doesn't know.
And what we do need is transparency, because we're in this -- it's going to be years and years that we're going to be struggling to deal with this. And we need to be transparent. We need to be open and we need the best scientists and the best estimates. We haven't gotten so far and that's what we got to work on it.
And, by the way, the government, the Justice Department, just tells BP, you don't -- you don't interfere with our journalists, you don't do anything. You have despoiled our coastline. You've wrecked our country. You don't have the right to deprive anybody from doing anything. We need you to fill up the hole, write the checks and shut up!
And I'm serious. That's the message that they need to get.
BLITZER: Because, David, they've hired some of the best P.R. people in the country to help them, BP -- you think they'd be doing a better job controlling this situation not preventing photographers from taking pictures?
GERGEN: You know, it's totally -- it's incomprehensible how this has been handled. There was an interesting story in one of the British newspapers saying that, you know, the company, BP, is run by so many people who come from Europe, they don't quite understand American traditions, but you'd think by now they'd have enough journalists and P.R. consultants from the American side who understand the insistence upon people in this country to understand what's going on and to be told the truth -- and we don't yet have that.
And one of the reasons that Bobby Jindal is doing well in Louisiana and his numbers are going up and Charlie Crist is doing well in Florida, as you've said, is that they seem to be on top of this -- whereas the government in Washington doesn't yet have a complete handle.
GERGEN: We've been arguing this for a long time. They don't have a full handle on it.
BLITZER: I think you're right. Bobby Jindal and Charlie Crist, they are out on the front lines.
James, correct me if I'm wrong, and you're a political strategist. The public in Louisiana likes Bobby Jindal more now, and in Florida, I suspect, they like Charlie Crist now more.
CARVILLE: Yes. And I mean, you know, when you're a governor, the state doesn't have many resources to deal with this, so, you know, you have the advantage of being able to be out there, but I think they're both being very effective. The government is drawing a lot of attention. I was honest (ph) with the government down to the mouth of the river where we saw some devastating things.
And, you know, when you're in a situation like this, which is not a crisis, it's a catastrophe, you've got -- the state is trying to pull together and deal with this, but what we got to have is accurate, truthful, candid information. And that's something that we got to insist on. And I -- and I think that the president honestly, I think, he needs to fire some people. He needs to show that he's irritated by the fact that the citizens of his country are not getting the information they need.
BLITZER: President is heading back there next Monday and Tuesday, to Alabama and Mississippi and Florida, met with the family members of those killed in the initial explosion. Much more on that coming up.
Guys, thanks very much.
Jack Cafferty is coming up with your e-mail.
And new revelations of mistakes and mismanagement at Arlington National Cemetery.
BLITZER: Let's get right back to Jack for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, THE CAFFERTY FILE: The question this hour is: Why is the Democratic Congress refusing to pass a budget?
That's their job.
Bill writes, "Cowardice, lack of vision and principles. Fear of being unseated for doing the hard work of governance. Unwillingness to buck the system for the betterment of the rest of us. Not wanting to seem stern or hurtful to sectors of the electorate. Pick your own reasons.
Too many of this bunch are foursquare behind the participation trophy idea. If you never make a decision, you can't be responsible for any result. November can't come soon enough."
Steve in Oregon writes, "You know as well as I do, we are the problem. If the politicians do what we sent them to do, we won't re-elect them."
Katie in Washington says, "You've already found your answer, Jack. It's an election year, and Congress would rather put itself first and the country second."
Jerry in Oklahoma, "I've never seen a politician or a CEO ever worry about future generations. Have you? Case in point: 40 years ago, there was an oil embargo that produced an oil crisis. Nothing has been done in all of those years to help this nation become energy independent. Thanks to the big oil companies and the big three automakers.
Though in the last 40 years, every single politician has declared we must and will do something, they are all bags of wind. The only thing they focus on is themselves, how many perks they get from the lobbyists and getting elected and re-elected."
Tony writes, "Democrats, budget, two words that have nothing in common. It's tax and spend, pure and simple. We don't need no stinking budget."
John writes, "Jack, you're an idiot. If President Obama didn't do what he did, we'd all be in bread lines and you'd be unemployed. The second part would actually be a good thing."
If you want to read more on this -- thank you, John -- you can find it on my blog, CNN.com/CaffertyFile.
BLITZER: I would not be happy if that happened, Jack.
CAFFERTY: I wouldn't be happy either, neither would all my children.
BLITZER: All right. Stand by.
Let's get to can shocking revelations right now about mismanagement at Arlington National Cemetery. Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is working this story for us.
Chris, what are you learning?
CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you've got potentially the ability of hundreds of families to come forward and say, this is not my husband, this is not my son that's buried in the cemetery where I thought he was. You know, bad management and poor record-keeping is what caused this problem.
LAWRENCE (voice-over): Missing burial records, unmarked graves, and burial urns put in a spillage pile. That's the bottom line from the army's seven-month investigation into mismanagement of Arlington National Cemetery.
JOHN MCHUGH, ARMY SECRETARY: I deeply apologize to the families of the honored fallen resting in that hollowed ground who may now question the care afforded to their loved ones.
LAWRENCE: But no one's getting fired. The army placed the number two man, Thurman Higginbotham, on administrative leave. Superintendent John Metzler was allowed to stay on in a lesser role. He got reduced benefits and a letter of reprimand. Quote, "Given your decision to retire, I have elected not to initiate more severe disciplinary action," and, "this derogatory information will likely overshadow your 19 years of dedicated, faithful, and selfless service as superintendent."
LT. GEN. STEVEN WHITCOMB: Clearly, we found nothing that was intentional, criminal intent or intended sloppiness that caused this. Not that kind of that culpability of willful disregard for the responsibility.
LAWRENCE: The Army says there are about 211 graves in question, mostly older, but at least two recent casualties from the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. But its own report states investigators did not review some burial sites and that inaccurate maps are a, quote, "systemic problem."
WHITCOMB: I don't know that there could be many more, but there could, in fact, be more.
LAWRENCE: Most troubling, with more than 300,000 graves going back almost 150 years, the Army admits it can't guarantee all of them will be accounted for.
MCHUGH: I don't know if anyone can ever assure everyone that circumstances are perfect.
LAWRENCE: Well, the Army has also appointed a new executive director of the cemetery as well as an independent advisory board. But, you know, that's just not good enough for some in Congress who have launched their own investigation into the cemetery's problems -- Wolf.