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Crist on Greer: I empaneled the grandjury and 'justice will be done'

Gov. Charlie Crist appears on John King USA tonight and the governor repeats his comments that the Jim Greer arrest and allegations were a bummer.

KING: Are you concerned that this scandal now enveloping Jim Greer could come to your doorstep?

CRIST:  No I'm not, but I find it -- it's all very surprising and very disappointing, and it's unfortunate.  But I know that the judicial system will handle this well and appropriately.  I'm the one actually who empanelled the state-wide grand jury that came down with this decision.  And I believe in justice and I think justice will be done.

Here's the transcript:

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR:  Tonight, Governor Charlie Crist is warning Florida residents that oil and tar balls from the Gulf spill could hit the western panhandle in a day or two.  He's just back from an aerial tour of the coast and joins us now from Tallahassee to go "One-on-One."

Governor Crist, let's just start with that.  What is your sense?  When will it hit your shores and how much damage are you looking at?

GOV. CHARLIE CRIST, FLORIDA:  Well we're not sure.  We really just don't know at this time, John.  You know, I was in the panhandle all along the coast over Memorial Day weekend, and went from Pensacola to Dustin down to Panama City.  And we had been briefed on, I guess it was Monday, Memorial Day itself, that it was about 80 miles off shore.  Then we find out, you know, late yesterday, that they thought it was about seven miles off.  And then last evening it was back to 10 miles off shore.  So it all depends on the weather and it's difficult to tell. 

But I've toured the area today, and the idea there was to make sure we had enough boom, we could protect our state and do what was necessary to make sure that we keep our beaches as clean as possible.  It's a huge industry to Florida, tourism is so important and we want to do everything we can to protect the beauty of the Sunshine State.

KING:  Well let's start with the protection part.  Are you getting everything you need from BP in terms of financial help, equipment, anything you need or are you waiting?

CRIST:  Well thus far we are, but the emphasis on "thus far"; we've made another ask for additional monies. 

We received an original $25 million in order to help prevent the oil from coming on the shore in addition to cleaning it up.  Then another $25 million thereafter to promote tourism so long as the tar and the tar balls and the oil didn't come on the beach.  We've asked for additional monies on top of that because it looks like it's fairly imminent that this will hit Florida.

KING:  And what's the worst-case scenario they give you?  I was looking at some estimates today that say hit the western area, the panhandle area first, but with this loop current, could also end up coming ashore around Miami, down there.  What is the worst-case scenario you're getting form your officials?

CRIST:  Well the worst-case scenario is that they wouldn't be able to put the cap on this thing and slow it down till at least August.  That, obviously, would be a horrific event.  We would have to be at the ready 24/7, which we of course will be, and do everything that we can to protect our state. 

But you know, that is the worst-case scenario.  We certainly hope that that isn't the case.  That they're able to plug the hole and have an opportunity to stop this thing before it gets worse than it is already today.

KING:  And what are you hearing from your economic development, your tourism officials about?  A lot of people, you know, they act on fear, Governor, what people think it might be a problem.  Are you seeing cancellations of hotels?  Cancellations of vacation plans?

CRIST:  Well we had seen some of that, but then we started the marketing campaign Memorial Day weekend and they had a great weekend, frankly.  You know, record turnout at some of the restaurants and hotels, and we're very pleased for that.

One of the things that we can do and we want to do is if there are cancellations, which inevitably there will be, is to make the people, the small business owners, make them as whole as possible from an economic point of view.  That's very important for us to do on we're on it.

KING:  I want to read you a quote from Tony Hayward today.  He gave an interview to "The Financial Times" and he said this about their -- about their readiness for when this happened, "What is undoubtedly true is that we did not have the tools you would want in your toolkit."  He went on to say, "it's an entirely fair criticism to say the company was not fully prepared for a deepwater leak."

What does that tell you about BP if the CEO is saying, yeah, you're right, we didn't have what was necessary?

CRIST:  Well what it tells you is they shouldn't have been doing it in the first place, in my opinion.  I think that, you know, if you didn't have backup plans, if you weren't prepared, if you didn't have the tools necessary to stop something like this once it began, then you shouldn't have been doing it from the get go.  And so that begs the question, why were they doing it?  How did this come to pass?  And we've got to put a stop to it.

KING:  But it begs this question too, do you trust them now?

CRIST:  Do I trust them -- do I trust them now?  Well, I think, you know, hard to say.  I mean, if they tell us now that they didn't have the tools necessary to deal with it, and obviously that is the case, you know, you want to be able to trust them but you have to be very skeptical at this point.

KING:  And what does it tell you about the federal government, which is the oversight of this industry offshore if BP is operating in the deepwater and we know now the devastating possibilities if the federal government is not making sure they have that toolkit?

CRIST:  Well, I think we've all seen some of the news accounts that have talked about the potential corruption as it relates to, you know, the agency that's supposed to manage it, the one in charge of giving the permits, and that there was a cozy relationship there.  And certainly it appears that that was the case.  It's inexcusable.

KING:  And what about now?  You are in the Gulf region just the other day, among the officials you met with, of course, was the president of the United States.  How is he handling this?

CRIST:  Well, I think the president is doing everything he can.  You know, from my perspective, he's been here a number of times.  I'm sure he'll continue to come back, that's important for the administration to do.  And they're doing daily phone calls with the governors in the affected area. 

You know, it has to be all hands on deck, we have to be working together, we have to work together in order to try to stem the tide of what we're dealing with here.  I don't think it's the time to be pointing fingers, I think it's a time for us to come together, work together and do everything we can to protect the Gulf states and in my case, Florida.

KING:  Maybe not the time to be pointing fingers, but your perspective seems very different from that of Bobby Jindal, the republican governor of Louisiana, who in the last 24 to 48 hours has become increasingly frustrated saying he keeps asking for things and he keeps being called to meetings or being told it's being kicked up the chain of command.  He says he can't get the White House and others in the federal government to give him the things he needs urgently.

CRIST:  Well, you know, he can only speak for himself.  And I understand that and I can certainly appreciate the level of frustration, it's already on their shore.  But from our perspective, we've had good cooperation and hope that we continue to do so.

KING:  I want to talk to you a little bit about your relationship with the president, because while we're having a conversation about an environmental catastrophe here, this has also been part of your political year back in the state.  You know full well you're now running Senate non-party affiliated, essentially as an independent, but you were initially running as a republican.  And that famous hug when the president came to see you back in February of 2009, you were greeting him, he was coming down, you said nice things about the stimulus plan, you were hammered by Republicans for that.  And so, everyone was watching the other day when you were in the Gulf and you came up to the president and you had a little back slap with him there.

Any conversation at all about your current political environment when you were having your interaction with the president?

CRIST:  Well no, not really.  I mean, just an appreciation for the fact that he was down on the coast.  I think it's important that the leader is here and is present and attentive. 

As it relates to the stimulus, it's clear to me, John, it was absolutely the right thing to do.  It saved, you know, hundreds of thousands of jobs in Florida, 20,000 of those educators.  You know, we were at a time in our economic history where it looked like the economy was literally going to fall off the cliff and I think we had to do something in order to help the patient, in this case America's economy. 

And it has helped.  It's helped here in Florida and it's helped throughout the country.  I think it was the right thing to do and we're grateful for it.

KING:  And one last question, sir.  Just today the man several years ago you handpicked to lead the Republican Party of Florida was charged with essentially as being a scam artist, of using his position as chairman of the Republican Party to skim off money from fundraising. 

And among the allegations is that he was threatening people, essentially saying help him with this shell company he had set up and if they didn't help him, he would shutdown access to you, the governor of Florida.

Are you at all concerned that this scandal now enveloping Jim Greer could come to your doorstep?

CRIST:  No I'm not, but I find it -- it's all very surprising and very disappointing, and it's unfortunate.  But I know that the judicial system will handle this well and appropriately.  I'm the one actually who empanelled the state-wide grand jury that came down with this decision.  And I believe in justice and I think justice will be done.

KING:  Governor Crist, appreciate your time tonight and certainly wish you the best in the days and weeks ahead as you deal with this tragic oil spill. 

    CRIST:  Great, thank you so much, John.  Good to be with you.

KING:  Thank you, Governor, take care.