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Interview with David Axelrod

Interview with David Axelrod

By John King, USA - May 24, 2010

JOHN KING: But first, mounting outrage over the BP oil spill and escalating efforts by the Obama White House to convince increasingly skeptical Americans it is keeping an eagle eye on the company's efforts to stop the flow of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. That effort, however, seems at times muddled by a lack of information and mixed messages -- a good place to begin a conversation with top presidential adviser David Axelrod.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KING: Secretary Salazar yesterday outside of BP headquarters said if we find they're not doing what they're supposed to be doing, we'll push them out of the way. And yet at the White House briefing this afternoon, Thad Allen, Admiral Allen, the coordinator of all this almost laughed when he was asked that question saying essentially the government doesn't have the equipment. The government doesn't have the means to be down there doing what needs to be done. Is the administration perhaps -- should Secretary Salazar perhaps have chosen his words more carefully?

DAVID AXELROD, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER: Well I don't know. But we should understand what the law says. What the law says is that the company has the principal responsibility for dealing with the spill. We have oversight responsibility over the company and ultimately the responsibility of holding them accountable for any damage that is done. They have every impetus, John, as you know, to try and seal off this leak.

And they're working hard to do it. And we're working with them. All the scientists within our government are a part of their strategic team in dealing with this. The Coast Guard's been on the scene from the beginning. Now, where our interests diverge is on the question of how much oil is being leaked into the Gulf. Because that will have something to do with the liability that they face once this is -- once this is finished. And we have a separate and independent operation going on under the aegis of federal scientists and the federal labs to determine exactly how much oil is being leaked. KING: And as that effort is under way and obviously the most urgent effort is to stop the leak is under way.

AXELROD: Absolutely.

KING: There are several layers of the accountability question. You said on "GOOD MORNING AMERICA" April 30th, no additional drilling has been authorized and none will until we find out what happened here. And yet we know from government records seven new permits for various types of drilling have been granted. Now those are on existing projects, I grant you that. But seven new drilling permits have been granted and federal regulators have granted at least 19 environmental waivers for Gulf drilling projects and at least 17 drilling permits in other places, some of them for projects just like the Deepwater Horizon project. Given the fact that we have now learned essentially that there's no fire department that can go down and fix these things because it is so hard, shouldn't there be just a total time-out until we figure this out?

AXELROD: Well let me say, John, that of those seven permits that you mentioned -- yes, they are all on existing projects. They're amendments of existing permits as it were. Two are in Deepwater -- on Deepwater wells and those have been suspended. And yes, we should hold up. And the president has said we should hold up any new exploration until we determine what happened here.

And the president just appointed a commission to look very closely at these issues. There is a place, obviously, for domestic drilling, for offshore drilling. It's been done in the Gulf for 40 years before this incident. But it has to be done safely. It has to be done securely. We have to have reasonable plans for dealing with accidents. And unless we can say that, then, of course, we could move forward.

KING: The president is going to go up to the Senate Republican luncheon tomorrow, a interesting trip in the middle of this very contentious election year. And I'm told one of the things he'll be told is yes, Mr. President, we could support conceivably the 23, $25 billion you would like to keep teachers from being laid off across the country and we would support a lot of the other emergency spending requests the administration has asked for but only if we find other places in the budget to make the offsets, to cut spending elsewhere to pay for these proposals.

Is the president prepared as an olive branch of the Republicans to say I will go to the Democratic leadership and say that's right, if we're going to give, let's take the $23 billion for teachers, example. You help me with votes on that, I will get you the $23 billion elsewhere.

AXELROD: Well first of all let me say it's heartening that the folks in the Republican Caucus have become so concerned about this because, as you know, many of them were in the Senate when President Clinton left office with a $237 billion surplus and when President Obama took office, he had to manage a 1.3 trillion deficit largely because of the policies that many in that caucus supported, so their sensitivity now is greatly appreciated.

We'll have that discussion, and on this and many other issues tomorrow. And we're always going to look for common ground. We all recognize that because of the policies that we saw over those many years, we have a tremendous problem with these deficits and we have to control them in the mid and long term. We also have a continuing economic emergency for many Americans.

As you know, you know 300,000 teachers are in the process of being laid off across the country. That has enormous impact on our kids. It throws us back in terms of education reform, so -- and that is a true emergency. So we need to work through this issue.

KING: Let me ask you, lastly, to help us resolve once and for all the great political mystery this campaign season. Joe Sestak, the congressman, is now the Pennsylvania Senate nominee, the Democrat in Pennsylvania. You initially -- the White House did support it -- another candidate, Senator Arlen Specter, the Republican turned Democrat. Congressman Sestak says early on he was offered a job in the administration to get out of that race.

Robert Gibbs, the White House press secretary, said lawyers in the White House and others have looked into conversations that were had with Congressman Sestak and nothing inappropriate happened. But the White House has refused to say what happened. If nothing inappropriate happened then what appropriate happened?

AXELROD: Well look John, I didn't have any conversations with Congressman Sestak and I didn't have any conversations with anybody connected with Congressman Sestak. So all I can tell you is what Robert told you, you know these allegations were made, they were looked into, and they were found unwarranted --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: But David, forgive me for interrupting. But candidate Barack Obama promised the most transparent administration in history --

AXELROD: And he's delivering that as well.

KING: If these -- if these conversations did happen, it marches up into the gray area, perhaps into the red area of a felony. It is a felony to induce somebody by offering them a job.

AXELROD: Certainly.

KING: So why won't the White House just say here --

(CROSSTALK)

KING: -- either Congressman Sestak is lying or somebody had some conversation with him about a job.

AXELROD: Well John, you're absolutely right, if such things happened, they would constitute a serious breach of the law, and that's why when the allegations were made, they were looked into. And there is -- there was no evidence of such a thing.

KING: So the misunderstanding is on the congressman's side of this equation, is that fair?

AXELROD: I don't know -- I don't know that the congressman would disagree with what I'm saying here.

KING: And you -- but you cannot say what the conversations were?

(CROSSTALK)

AXELROD: I was not -- I was not a party to the conversations. So no, I can't say that.

KING: And you haven't been briefed on what the lawyers told Robert Gibbs?

AXELROD: All I know is -- well, I've been briefed as Robert has that they looked into it and their conclusion was that it was -- the conversations were perfectly appropriate.

KING: So then why can't we understand what those conversations were? We're talking in circles here (INAUDIBLE) can somebody say --

AXELROD: We're not -- we're only talking in circles because I wasn't a part of those conversations so I can't relate to you what the conversations were.

KING: Can you make available the people who had the conversations?

AXELROD: I'm sure that all of this will be -- you know I don't think any questions will be left unanswered on this.

KING: Well, we're right here for you (INAUDIBLE) when you're ready to make those people available. I'm not trying to be a jerk here. I just --

AXELROD: No, no, I -- and I don't take it that way. I think these are fair questions.

KING: All right David Axelrod at the White House, appreciate your time.

AXELROD: Thanks, John.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

 

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