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Russian Government Puts Widows Of "Militants" On House Arrest, Tracks Down Stray Dogs Prior To Sochi Olympics; Is Kerry Pushing More Aggressive Stance On Syria Than Obama Administration?; Mitt Romney Reiterates Lack Of Desire For Another Go At The Presidency; Is Clinton Inevitable?; Remembering Philip Seymour Hoffman

Aired February 3, 2014 - 16:30   ET




JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Now let's turn to some more world news. There are just four days left before the opening of the Winter Olympics. Four. And with terror threats still looming, Russian president Vladimir Putin's tiger hunting, tough guy reputation is very much on the line. So in an attempt to keep a lid on all possible threats, the Russian government is putting the widows of what they call militants under house arrest until the Games are over.

Our Nick Paton Walsh joins us live from Sochi. Nick, who are these women? Are they really a threat to the games?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they say they are not, but they admittedly all have former late husbands who were militants killed by Russian forces. In fact, one of them showed me a picture of her son-in-law who had been killed only months earlier who was declaratively an insurgent here (ph).

So they've basically stayed in one town. I spoke to six separate women there. Most of them worried about talking but all saying they have been told by police, don't leave town til the Olympics are over. We're going to check up on you three times a week or so, and if you do leave town, you'll be on the wanted list immediately. And they gave the reason for that as being people concerned they might blow themselves up.

But they have made it absolutely clear that they're not a threat to the Games behind me. They feel their civil liberties are being violated, but of course, Russian authorities are doing all they can to suppress anything that might possibliy be perceived as a threat.

Another town I went to, Jake, as well, 64 men and women on the list. Some of them Salafi strict Muslims, also told not to leave the area, and signed a declaration to that effect by police. Police not confirming this, though, saying nothing to us at all. Jake. TAPPER: We're also, Nick, hearing reports that the Russians authorities are rounding up stray dogs in Sochi?

WALSH: That's part of the general clean-up act going on here. We've heard similar reports, too, and there are animal activists obviously concerned about the impact of that, certainly upon the dogs, if any of them are killed. In fact, I can hear one howling in the background behind me.

But that gives you an idea really of the starting point for this town, really not that developed when this first plan was hatched. $51 billion has done a lot to transform the landscape behind me. Quite remarkable, almost Vegas-like site between me and the coast here. But still some basics that can't really be changed. Obviously when the Games are gone, much of Sochi will go back to what it was before, which is a border town, frankly. Very close to Georgia in the southernmost extremes of Russia, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Paton Walsh in Sochi, Russia. Thanks so much.

In other world news, has secretary of state John Kerry split, even if privately, from the administrations' official stance on Syria? Kerry returned late yesterday from a trip to Munich, where he spoke at a security conference and met with officials from Israel and the Ukraine.

But he also sat down with other a dozen members of a bipartisan congressional delegation in a closed-door meeting where he reportedly gave a frank assessment of the situation in Syria. Two of the members of the delegation, Republican senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, provided Bloomberg View columnist Jeffrey Goldberg and two other reports with details of the meeting.

Jeffrey Goldberg joins me now. Jeffrey, thanks for joining us. What did Graham and McCain tell you that secretary of state John Kerry told them about Syria?

JEFFREY GOLDBERG, BLOOMBERG VIEW COLUMNIST: Essentially they said he made a case that the current policies are failing. Cited obviously the statement last week by the director of national intelligence that Salafist groups or jihadist groups in Syria are now thinking about targeting the America homeland.


There are a whole set of other issues. The slow rolling by the Syrian regime of the removal of chemical weapons. A whole set of issues -- Kerry, they said, feels like Russia is subverting the chance for a peace settlement.

And so the clear impression that a number of people in that meeting got was that Kerry feels that it's time to sort of up the game, that the administration is going to have to get more engaged or this problem is going to get much worse, spin out of control even.

TAPPER: And of course, the back story on this is that Kerry had advocated for a much more muscular --

GOLDBERG: Look, Kerry has been one of the prime people in the administration who has been calling for, for instance, arming rebels over different periods of time. So this is not surprising. What is a little bit surprising is that he would be as frank as he was in front of a bipartisan delegation. These are not just Democratic Congressman.

TAPPER: Right. Always risky.

GOLDBERG: There you go.

TAPPER: State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded to you and Josh Rogan and Fred Hyde, who also wrote about this. She said, "The message he was conveying privately was no different than what the administration was saying publicly," end quote. "The meeting was an opportunity to hear from and engage with members of Congress, and it's unfortunate that it's being mischaracterized by some participants." And here is White House press secretary Jay Carney and his response.


JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I think the stories you're referring to actually appear to be a reflection of what Senators McCain and Graham think of our Syria policy, not what Secretary Kerry thinks.


TAPPER: So big push back from the administration.

GOLDBERG: Look, I admire their willingness to push back on this. However, people who cover this subject well know that John Kerry has always been more forward leaning than other people in the administration on the Syria question. And they may very well be right. I mean, we're heading towards a worse and worse crisis.

Also, I would point out that I spoke to a couple of Democratic Congressmen who were in the room as well, and they don't feel that McCain and Graham were sort of spinning a fantasy out of what happened in that room.

TAPPER: They agreed with what --

GOLDBERG: They agreed that they got the feeling that John Kerry was actually testing them a little bit, asking them about the tolerances their constituents have for more action in Syria. I think Kerry believes very strongly that the administration is not going to go forward on more aggressive action on the Syria front unless they feel that the American people are ready for that kind of action. So that was one of the things that he wanted to know.

TAPPER: And you refer to one of the Republican senators saying that Kerry in this meeting referred to Obama's own director of national intelligence, General James Clapper, referring to what was happening in Syria. Here's what Clapper said in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee just last week.


JAMES CLAPPER, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE: What we spoke about before in Syria, what is going on there is a -- maybe in some respects a new Fatah force. And what is going on there and the attraction of these foreign fighters is very, very worrisome. Aspirationally, al- Nusra front to name one, is - does have aspirations for attacks on the homeland.


TAPPER: So that's not different from what Kerry supposedly said, that there are jihadis that are now talking about --


TAPPER: Do you think attacking the United States homeland, do these groups have the capability of to do that?

GOLDBERG: Well, he - I mean, there are two points. On the one hand, Clapper used the hand aspirationally. They would like to. It doesn't mean that the intelligence committee believes that they can.

However, this might represent a real turning point in the story. Remember, the story is framed in Washington usually as a humanitarian catastrophe, a threat to regional friends. But if they had the -- the chief spy of the United States is now arguing in open testimony in Congress -- and backed by the secretary of state, also apparently -- is arguing that people in Syria now are thinking about attacking the United States.

What he's saying in essence is Syria has the potential to return to a pre- 9/11 Afghanistan. So I think any number of things that have happened in the last couple of weeks that have made John Kerry really, really worried about Syria and worried that our response is not strong enough.

TAPPER: And of course, the concern from the Obama administration is then, okay, what do you do? The last thing that they want to do and the last thing that you could get Congress to do would be to vote to send in ground forces in this area.

GOLDBERG: Well, nobody is -- not even John McCain or the real Syria hawks are talking about ground forces. But what people like Lindsey Graham are talking about is -- and he said this very explicitly to us. He said, either you deal with this problem before terrorist attack or you deal with it after the terrorist attack.

Now again, the DNI, James Clapper, used the term aspirationally. It doesn't mean that they are plotting anything. As we know from recent history, jihadists who were fighting each other or fighting their enemies in the Middle East often pivot and then turn on America and its friends.

TAPPER: Jeffrey Goldberg, thank you so much. We appreciate it. GOLDBERG: Thank you.


TAPPER: I will get a chance to ask secretary of state John Kerry about these claims coming up later this week on THE LEAD. Plus the latest on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program and more. Don't miss my one-on-one with the secretary of state. That's this Wednesday right here on THE LEAD.

Coming up next on THE LEAD, does no one ever really -- does no ever really mean no in politics? Why some are saying that the third time is a charm. That's why some are saying Mitt Romney should be thinking of pulling a Ronald Reagan and running for president a third time. Third time's the charm.

And later, if you weren't happy at the ending of Harry Potter, you're not alone. The mistake author J.K. Rowling is saying she regrets making, and why she's apologizing to fans.




TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. The Politics Lead now: whether it's on the NFL honors, red carpet, in the pages of "The New York Times," or in the middle of a sexy slow jam on late-night, the Romneys have been very clear when they say count us out of the 2016 presidential race.


ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: We are so -- we are so ready to watch the next person step up and take that nomination.

MITT ROMNEY, FORMER GOP PRESIDENTIAL NOMINEE: Jimmy, I'm not running again. There are a lot of great candidates for 2016, and I'll support the Republican nominee 100 percent.


JIMMY FALLON, LATE NIGHT HOST: Don't you mean 47 percent?

ROMNEY: That's a low blow, but it's pretty funny.

FALLON: I had to do it.

ROMNEY: Uh-huh.


TAPPER: But if Mitt Romney is not running again, what's he suddenly doing back in the limelight? Here to talk about it, reporter for the "New York Times," Ashley Parker and national political reporter for, Peter Hamby. Ashley, you have the chance to interview Romney how many times did he say no when you asked him if you're running again?

ASHLEY PARKER, REPORTER, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": I believe when I went back and ran the tape, he said no actually a dozen times.

TAPPER: A full dozen, 12?


TAPPER: But your colleague, John Martin, on CNN's "INSIDE POLITICS" over the weekend, seemed to think it's a possibility, a real possibility.

PARKER: Well, he seemed to think that there is certainly some buzz in the donor world and it's unclear and more likely it's not actually coming from Romney. I mean, I have to believe him when he said no a full dozen times. It wasn't even a weird double negative. It was just an unequivocal no. But it's sort of wishful thinking in the donor community. Look, they really like him and got to know his family. The Romney campaign ran the donor outreach. The donors have a good experience. It's sort of like a sunk cost. They've put a lot of money into him.

TAPPER: Right. So Peter, Romney's already running ahead. He's a frontrunner in New Hampshire, according to a poll conducted by purple strategies, a bipartisan polling firm, 25 percent of the voters in that poll and then you have the documentary "Mitt," on Netflix. That people are watching and saying it really shows a very nice human side of him. Here's a little from the documentary.


ROMNEY: My time on the stage is over, guys. I'm happy the time I had there, but my time is over.


TAPPER: Maureen Dowd in a column titled rather uncharitably "pealing back the plastic" writes about the new documentary. She says those who have seen Mitt are a guy that filmmaker Greg Whitely has accomplished what Romney himself the gleaming ever replicating Romney clan and the candidate's high priced political strategist cannot will or admit Romney seems all to human. So he's having a little bit of a renaissance?

PETER HAMBY, CNN NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, CNN DIGITAL: Yes. There is a few things going on here. One is that, it's not just a documentary. It's just his media interviews. He's been loose. You know, he's been kind of funny. He's been pretty good in a way that he wasn't during the campaigns so maybe some Republicans like this guy is not so bad.

Part of it, like you mentioned, there's a little bit of restlessness in the donor community as they look at Chris Christie. They want someone more palatable perhaps to run for president. Frankly, he's got a lot of friends. You know, Mitt is a good man. He's got a lot of friends and allies who talked to national reporters and whisper in our ears, and say, you know, maybe he is an option.

As Jonathan said over the weekend, the guy is bored. You know, he's been in the spotlight for six years and now he's just little restless. He goes for the Super Bowl with one of his buddies, Wood Johnson, and you know, never talking about it. But I talked to one Republican today who said he's absolutely not going to run. I think we all believe this and he referenced "Mean Girls" where the girl says try stop to try making fetch happen.

TAPPER: That is so fetch you saying that, Peter.

HAMBY: Thanks.

TAPPER: Ashley, let's move on then to other contenders. Hillary Clinton is suddenly dominating Chris Christie by 16 points in a hypothetical 2016 matchup after being two points behind in December. It seems that Bridgegate, however unfair one might think out there that it is, Bridgegate or fair, Bridgegate is taking a toll.

PARKER: Sure, yes, it's certainly taking a toll on Governor Christie.

TAPPER: I didn't mean the pun, by the way.

PARKER: It was a nice one.

TAPPER: Thank you.

PARKER: Also, it's very easy to dominate someone in the poll sort of three years out from Election Day.

TAPPER: Right. Peter, the same shows -- the same poll shows 70 percent of Democrats backing Hillary Clinton, 70 percent and there are other contenders, Vice President Joe Biden is certainly one of them. Is inevitability, do you think, dangerous for her?

HAMBY: Yes. It was in 2008. It is again. Paul Begala said the same thing in "Politico" today Democrats don't like this inevitability thing. Democrats have this thing where they look ahead. Republicans, you know, generally tend to nominate the next person in line. There is just this sort of emotional core whatever it is in the Democratic DNA where they look for the next fresh face.

So if someone comes along and goes to Iowa and works really hard and Hillary stumbles, perhaps maybe, but she's definitely a little more inevitable now than she was in 2008. Talk to any Democrat in Iowa, New Hampshire, wherever, they just don't seem the same calibre-bench that existed in 2007 and 2008.

TAPPER: I have to say, she's not exactly hiding from the public. She's not doing interviews certainly, but last night during the Super Bowl she tweeted, it's so much more fun to watch Fox when it's someone else being blitzed and sacked, a spokesman for her said it was a 100 percent humorous tweet. HAMBY: She's getting the hang of this Twitter thing. Remember last fall during the height of the Syria stuff when we put out the report about human rights violations?


HAMBY: And she put out a tweet about Diana Nyad? And everyone sort of tweeted at her, what's your response about Syria? This was good. People watching the super bowl with the devices in their hands, it's kind of funny.


It's kind of stoking the Democratic base by poking fun. This was a pretty tweet on her part.

PARKER: And she's always been sort of funny and that tree mark Hillary -- we hear a lot about, but don't see when she first came on Twitter and made her Twitter bio. It said she was a wife, mother, lawyer, but also hair icon, aficionado, glass ceiling cracker. It's sort of this venue where she will have a little fun.

TAPPER: One of the interesting things about the Hillary Clinton inevitability story is the idea that how this is affecting other races because obviously we have a few more before we get to 2016. The "Wall Street Journal" is reporting that the early drive for Clinton unsettles Democrats. Some worry it will siphon money from candidates in midterm elections. Do you think that either of these super PACs for Hillary Clinton, Ready for Hillary or Priorities USA are going to hurt Democrats?

HAMBY: I don't think that. Because one thing about Hillary Clinton, she has a lot of supporters, but a few weeks ago, I was in Iowa. There's also not this real grassroots energy, enthusiasm. I don't think there are a ton of people clamoring to give to a super PAC for Hillary Clinton 2013. Base Democrats are genuinely, you know, fired up to support their candidates in certain states. I don't think Bruce Brailly and Mark Warner are going to have problems raising money because of the super PACs that are out there ringing the bell for Hillary.

TAPPER: Peter, Ashley, thank you. Really appreciate it. Great to have you on the show.

Coming up, whether he was playing a CIA operative, a baseball manager, a nurse, he was the type of actor who never really seemed to be acting. We'll take a look at the incredibly diverse career of Philip Seymour Hoffman next.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD, a sad pop culture lead today. Author Truman Capote once said, quote, "When God hands you a gift, he also hands you a whip and the whip is intended for self-flagellation solely." It's a fitting quote when you think about the life and death of a man who won an Oscar for his captivating portrayal of "Capote," actor, Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The Oscar died in his West Village apartment in New York City yesterday according to law enforcement sources. Police found close to 50 envelopes of what they believe is heroin along with used syringes and prescription drugs, a sign that the gifted actor who conquired every role on his resume could not battle the demons that haunted him for decades.



TAPPER: The first time many of us remember seeing him was as a rich jerk in "Scent of a Woman."

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN: We don't tell our parents. Stonewall everybody.

TAPPER: And then a few years later he was back chasing tornadoes in "Twister."

HOFFMAN: Strolls up to the twister and he says, have a drink.

TAPPER: That character, Dusty, was the best and the only thing I still remember about that movie. Recognizing the rich jerk who had suddenly become a scrappy storm chaser, I was amazed at Philip Seymour Hoffman's versatility. It was the quality that defined his quarter century on stage and screen. Every time Hoffman appeared he had transformed himself entirely. It didn't matter that fundamentally he was the dishevelled every man off screen.

Once the curtain raised, he could be anyone, an evil villain in "Mission Impossible 3," a transgender character in "Flawless," a priest in "Doubt," a hilarious former child star in "Along Came Polly" or even the high-pitched, short statured Truman Capote, a role that the booming 5'10 actor won an Oscar for.

Director Mike Nichols once told "The New York Times" that Hoffman acting was wilfully rearranging his molecules to become another human being. Nichols tapped him to be his Willy Lowman in "Death of a Salesman" on Broadway. But when Hoffman wanted to transform his reality off screen, he turned to drugs.

The actor told "60 Minutes" he entered rehab for the first time at the age of 22. Some press accounts say that Hoffman was clean for more than 20 years, but he returned to rehab last year. Sunday, the 46- year-old was found in his Manhattan apartment after an apparent heroin overdose.

A critic tied Hoffman skill to his addiction, writing in "The New Yorker," quote, "Genius whether at its most constructive or destructive, its most sublime or its most repugnant is unnatural." Hoffman lived for great art and it's impossible to escape the idea that he died for it. (END VIDEOTAPE)

TAPPER: We know that to be the case, that there is a connection. I do know, however, that his three young children are without a father and his partner and friends have lost by all accounts a sweet and generous soul and now the rest of us are now deprived of his art. Whatever the reason, we are all poorer for it.

If there was anything such as the real housewives of Hogwart, author J.K. Rowling latest confession might have led to drink firm in her face. Rowling says she got the plot line from her Harry Potter books all wrong and leading lady should have ended up with Harry Potter and not his friend.

She confessed her regrets in an interview with "Wonderland" magazine that comes out this week.


Rowling says time has given her perspective on the characters and she took things saying not only is that couple a mismatch, but they would likely end up needing couple's counseling. The interview was conducted by actress Emma Watson who portrays the heroin in the Potter films.

That's it for THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. Right now I turn you over to Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM" -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, Jake, thank you.